Wednesday, February 27, 2013


We've been back in Davis for a just under a week, and it's so nice to be back.  The trip home was uneventful, in the sense that the kids behaved, the flights were smooth and on time, and there were no national strikes or natural disasters.  I did not fare well, however, which is fairly typical for me, since I generally can't sleep on planes and 22 hours is a long time to stay awake while eating crappy food, not drinking enough water, and having to constantly monitor two munchkins.  Halfway through our longer flight from Munich to San Francisco, I developed searing headache that didn't go away until several hours after we got home.  That was followed by about 5 days and nights of jetlag that our kids just couldn't seem to adjust to.  It was rough.  I was in a complete daze, and didn't manage to unpack until yesterday.

Now things are nice.  The kids are happy to be home and have their old toys back.  I am happy to be home and have my garden and my house back.  I spent today out with the kids running errands, and worked in the garden while they slept, then went for a run and had a nice shower.  We cooked a yummy dinner.  Now I should probably be cleaning litterboxes and picking up toys and folding laundry and sorting mail, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Yesterday we went to the library, after two months of not having access to one.

Everyone was thrilled.  Turtle begged for Thomas the Train books, since he remembered that we used to get them there, and we had to have a librarian go dig some up for us, since another mom had taken all the ones available on the shelf.  We also got a few Richard Scarry and Berenstein Bears books, our other new favorites.

Today I worked in the garden, and it was sunny and glorious and awesome.  Even if it's too early to plant much, I'm taking advantage of my enthusiasm and trying to get as much done as possible before I run out of steam.  I planted some lettuce under our beanpole teepee, which will get some super-long climbing green beans later in the spring.

This is where the tomatoes were, which I pulled out today.  I should have waited to take the pictures until AFTER I leveled this plot and planted a few spinach plants in the corner, but oh well.

And here are some of the leeks I planted last spring.  They didn't do much last summer, but they look great now!

I also have some bush shelling peas germinating on the counter, and I prepped some 6-packs to start more lettuce in, but then the kids woke up from their nap, so that will wait until tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning we will go visit our Montessori preschool for a while.  I'm super nervous about leaving the kids there since they've become MUCH more attached to me.  While they've never been the type to run away from me without looking back, they have become much more nervous about letting me out of their sight.  Possibly two transatlantic flights plus two months in a foreign country away from their home and schedule will do that to a two-year-old.  Sigh.  Poor babies.

Tomorrow is another day, though - more housework, more gardening, definitely not more running just yet!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Winter turns to spring

It's technically not that close to the end of winter, we still have over a month to go (I guess that means that we're only a little over halfway through), but I really love the tail end of winter.  Here in the mountains in Italy, we have longer days with more sunshine, which for a Californian like me is really important.  Late winter and early spring skiing are really nice, with days that are often warm enough for cross-country in just a long-sleeve shirt.

Yesterday we drove to Pra-Loup in France for a full day of downhill skiing, something we don't get to do much of since our little ones arrived.  It was a beautiful day, cold enough for the snow to stay nice and solid, but not so cold that you suffer from it.  Lunch on a sunny deck halfway up the mountain was a special treat, as were the excellently groomed runs.  Driving home involved a climb up a windy road to the Colle della Maddalena, with a 360 view of the snow-capped peaks of the Alps in the late afternoon sun, and as I admired the landscape, I thought with a bit of sadness about our impending return to California.  Even with all the fun and activities that await us, one of the big things I will miss here is the view, the mountains, the fresh air and wilderness just outside our door.

We have been here for two months, and I am ready to go home.  I'm ready to start planting some seeds for my garden, growing some lettuce for fresh salads, shopping at the local Farmer's Market, having lunch at the co-op, baking bread, running and hiking and maybe even some skiing up in the Sierras.  We'll see what the future holds, but mostly I'm looking forward to spring.  To the first Easter that my kids will really understand the idea of hunting Easter eggs.  To really getting out in nature with them, checking out flowers, planting seeds, watering the garden, digging in the dirt, and running in the grass.  To longer days, sunshine, and eventually short sleeves and sandals.  To the Whole Earth Festival!  To throwing open the windows, and cleaning and organizing my house (thanks pinterest!).  It's going to be a good spring, I can feel it.

And I know that before I get there, I've got to say good-bye to everyone here, pack up our bags, and transport our whole family including two toddlers from Italy to California - two flights, two car trips, one layover, two trips through security, immigration, and customs ... I'm a bit tired just thinking about it.

Perhaps it's best to think instead of the very short term - a lovely family lunch tomorrow at Gli Allemands, where my in-laws have a vacation home on a wooded mountainside a couple miles outside of town.  It looks like it's going to be a beautiful day, and for that I am thankful.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Life and death in a small town in the Italian Alps

This morning was beautiful.  Now that we are halfway through February, the sun climbs above the mountains by 9:30 in the morning, and the sky was clear and blue.  After playing inside for a while, Tadpole, Turtle, and I bundled up and walked across the plaza and into the heart of the village to the panetteria to get our typical mid-morning snack of focaccia from the local baker.  Tadpole is completely addicted to this focaccia - I have to remember to go buy a few slices the morning we leave so she can eat them on the plane.

My father-in-law joined us on our walk, and we rounded the corner and headed up to the ancient stone church to fulfill Turtle's regular request to see the bell tower.  We walked hand-in-hand up the cobblestone streets, pausing in one lane to greet a 3-year-old friend on her way to preschool with her grandmother.  Near the top of the hill, a thin coating of ice and snow still covered the street, leftover from the storm we had on Monday.

We turned left and made the final ascent to the church, which is tucked inside the stone wall of the town, very near the highest point in town.  We admired the bell tower, checked out the thick ice sculptures created by the rushing water of the fountain, and exclaimed over the length of the icicles hanging from the walls of the fort (they were impressively long).  Since we were there at 10:30, we thought there was no chance to hear the bells ring for at least a half hour, but it turned out we were wrong.  An ancient woman was making her way to the church, and told my father-in-law, in the local dialect, that she was on her way to have the bells ring to signify the birth of a new child in town.

The bells of the church here have three different chimes that signify the passing of time, in cycles both small and large.  The small cycle is the hourly one - the bells chime out the hours around the clock, and also toll for a while at 7am (I'm not sure if this is a call to services ...).  Then there is a certain type of ring for births, and another for deaths, tolling the cycles of time on the scale of a human life.  This town has a retirement home, which has residents from all over the valley, particularly from the upper valley which has towns much less populated and no resources for the very ancient.  And many of the young people have left this place to look for work and opportunities for their families, so the average age here, I suspect, is quite high.

Since we've arrived, two months ago, there have been at least 5 or 6 funerals, and probably more that I wasn't aware of.  One of the funerals was for the mother of the baker whose bakery we visited this morning, as we do most mornings.  I often don't know the people who pass away while we are here, or I know of them only because I know some distant relative who is a friend or relative of my husband.  I didn't go to the funeral, but I happened to come upon the funeral procession as I was coming home from one of my regular walks in the mountains above the town.

Funerals here are very different from anything I've experienced in the US, although I know that part of it is because this is a small town and everyone knows everyone else.  Since this woman was one of the people who run the town bakery, she was very well known, and people came from all over for her funeral.  I'm not sure I've ever seen such a big gathering of people in this town before.  After the funeral, which is held at the town church we walked to this morning, the people form a procession and accompany the hearse down to the cemetery, which is located at one of the lowest points in town, not far from the river that snakes along the bottom of this valley.  There was a policewoman who stopped traffic on the main state road between Italy and France, and the bells of the church tolled.

At the time (this was a couple weeks ago), I thought about how perhaps in some ways this ceremony could make death less scary and easier to accept.  To know that at the end of your life, everyone you knew would show up for your funeral and accompany you through your hometown to your final resting place, within the walls of the place you thought of as home for most of your life, and to know you would remain there, most likely with all the people you knew in life - somehow it made death feel less lonely to me.

And then today, I realized that the same woman probably had those very same church bells ring when she was born some 70 years ago.  That those bells rang for my husband when he was born, and I think also for my children (thanks to my mother-in-law) when they were born two and a half years ago.  I thought about how I have nothing like that - no ties to any place on earth.  My mom is from Pennsylvania, my dad from Kentucky, and I don't even know if their parents were from the same towns they were from.  I grew up in one town in California, then we moved to another, and then I went to two different universities and have never felt connected to anyplace.  What an amazing thing to have an entire community so tied together, to be a part of something bigger than yourself, but still human in scale.

I am not completely ignorant, though.  I know that there are down sides to living in a town like this, and I've experienced them this winter.  It can be lonely here, and the winters are cold and dark.  There is little work to be found here, and people are leaving, the population is gradually dwindling.  The shops and cafes and restaurants are closing, there are very few left, and as a result, there is not much to do here.

But hearing the church bells ring, today for a birth, several times over the last few months for deaths, helped me realize that there is something here worth having, as well.  Seeing my children surrounded by a huge extended family that dotes on them, hearing the entire town greet them by name when they are downstairs in my in-laws' shop, makes me wonder if we are giving up something that is more valuable than we are gaining, when we leave our families and our hometowns in the name of opportunity and independence.  It's hard for me to say, really, not having grown up in a place like this.  Still, I think it's some good food for thought.

(P.S. I'm sorry I don't have pictures, if I can I'll try to add some later.)