Good Choices

We have big plans for this upcoming weekend to get all the thousands of pictures moved into one place so we can begin the process of sorting, editing, and remembering. Until then, we’re writing posts of general purpose. No specific-to-a-location posts.

Buds and I have talked a lot about what we liked about this trip; what our good choices were.

1) Packing light is definitely a good decision for our family. We ended up feeling 3 outfits (plus the clothes we wore) was too much. All of us had at least one or two items of clothing that we didn’t wear. We saw so many people lugging their huge suitcases, straining to pull them up onto the train, attempting to run with their albatross of a suitcase banging along behind them. Because of the time of year of our trip, we could have even gone without jackets, although I was often grateful to have mine. The rest of the family has some sort of internal dragon-flame, so they were all fine.

Packed and ready.

Packed and ready.

2) Each of us needs a kindle-type device. All the electronics we took with us were used extensively. We only brought home 2 new books, compared to a carry-on suitcase of new books from Ireland. The tablets worked great.

3) Packing outfits into gallon-sized ziplock baggies was genius. It made finding items on the planes and trains so simple. During the trip we used the ziplocks for storing other items, including food. So simple, organized, and multi-purpose.

4) Private Tours are a good choice for us. We learned so much from our various tour guides. And the ones that worked hard to include and interest the children made such a huge difference. The drawback is that The Buster and Monkey, especially, like time to meander and read and think their thoughts, which isn’t an option when you have a timed tour to focus on. We tried to balance it with non-tour days between tour days, which generally worked well.

The Valley Of The Temples with our guide.

The Valley Of The Temples with our guide.

5) Eating in rather than in restaurants. We had some delightful, memorable meals at restaurants, but the food system in Italy is so strong, so local, and so fresh, we preferred the cooking we did at home over 75% of our restaurant meals.

Buddie-made bruschetta

Buddie-made bruschetta

6) Plan for quiet errand days at the beginning of the trip. Having two days in Milan to purchase any forgotten items, and having time to find a vodafone store to get our Italian sim cards, was critical to our long-term comfort on this trip. Because of the length of our entire trip, we had the luxury of not feeling rushed, which was a huge blessing. When my sim failed on the second day, it was so easy to go back to the store where we had purchased it to have them replace the card.

7) Use the trains and buses, but keep in mind the planes. Our train trip from Sicily to Rome was about 11 hours. There are several cheap airline options in Europe, and as we rolled into hours 5 and 6 on the train, Buds and I both wished we had checked on plane tickets for that leg of the journey. The train is relaxing and exciting and pleasant, but that was a long ride.

8) Gelato nearly everyday. This needs no explanation.

9) Take time to mosey.

The Buster is a natural Italian. His meals are always relaxed, slow, gustatory events. When we are walking down the sidewalk, he’s always telling a story as we walk, taking his time, thinking his thoughts.

He and I had walked out to the grocery store together, and I was still in the mode I’m in at home, “Must rush to get everything done and zoom from here to there.” Then I realized I was walking down an Italian street with my son, and what the heck did I think I was rushing toward?!

The best time of my day was right in that moment, walking along, listening to him spin his tales of adventure. It was a heart-filling reminder I hope to emulate now that we are home.

Climbing on the rocks.

Climbing on the rocks.

10) Finally, know your budgetary limits, your rest needs, and how much quiet time is required.

We saved up for this trip for years, hence, we used the money we had saved to create the trip that we felt would bring the most memories and value for our family. My brother asked me if we stayed within our budget, and the answer is, “yes,” because we didn’t really have a budget. We had a bucket of money we knew we could use. It took a vast amount of stress out of that aspect of the trip.

Piles of money.

Piles of money.

If we needed to rest, we rested. We spaced out our outings so that family members who sleep late could get sleep, and family members who get up early could go to bed early, and everyone stayed flexible. The gift of time was a large factor in the pleasure we all took in the trip.

Snuggled in with a game.

Snuggled in with a game.

And, a large one for our crew; quiet time. I got my people-fixes as we were riding around on trains and buses and in museums and with our tour guides. That time talking to people restores and revives me, generally.

Most of my crew, it’s not that way. Being out in crowds, having to talk and focus and converse and remember names, that can be exhausting.

We were able to honor all the personality types on this adventure. Monkey needed/wanted time alone at home to work. We made sure she got it.

Buster and Yessa needed to get out of the house and play and splash and wrestle, we made sure they got that time.

Splashing.

Splashing.

Buds needed to work regularly. I needed to work some. We were able to balance it all with good humor and good grace.

And when people were done, we honored that when we could. At The Valley Of The Temples tour, Buster and Yessa only lasted about an hour. The three of us went to the car while Buds and Monkey finished the tour. Monkey and Buds had a fantastic time. The Littles and I had a fantastic time, too, even if it was in the car, telling stories and making up games.

Sometimes we pushed the children and ourselves, and that’s a fine lesson, too. But we didn’t make that a habit.

Several people have asked if we really had a good time. We really, really did…an amazing time. I can’t wait to write more blog posts about the specific events to immortalize them for years to come.

Italy Trip – The Stories That Make Me Guffaw

I’ve freely admitted to several of you that I’m sad. Everyone was excited to get home. Buds was excited to head into the office today. The children were excited to talk with and see friends.

I loved our seven weeks of intensive living: Having Buds home every day; Being with the children, walking, talking, learning, laughing; I was in a happy bubble.

My life here at home is also incredible. I’m not indicating otherwise. I am recognizing my need to grieve the end of this amazing time we created as a family.

Despite that sorrow, I have been laughing out loud as I recall four of my favorite moments from the trip.

In no particular order:

1) We visited the Basilica di Santa Lucia in Syracuse, Sicily. Saint Lucia is the patron saint of Syracuse, so they are very proud to have some relics in the Basilica. To the uninitiated, “relics” in the Catholic sense are bones from the specific saint. On the trip to Italy we saw relics from Jesus’ knucklebones to full mummified remains of some bishops. (Pictures of that in other posts.)

But, at Saint Lucia’s Basilica, our tour guide proudly told us the gold chest under the altar contained, “3 arm bones from Santa Lucia.”

Yessa tugged me down so she could whisper in my ear with her warm, moist breath, “How did she get three arms?”

Gold chest, right there.

Gold chest, right there.

A few relics.

A few relics.

Yup, that's a skull.

Yup, that’s a skull.

2) Monkey and Yessa worked very hard to collect a large basin of rain water on a gray, rainy day inside the walls of Lucca. After getting soaked for their efforts, they boiled the water and poured it into a wine bottle for later experiments.

We carried the bottle with us to our next destination: the Lucca Farmhouse. Buddie’s parents had joined us by this part of the trip. One afternoon I walked out into the kitchen to see Buddie’s dad pouring a wine glass full from the rainwater wine bottle.

I said, “You do know that’s rainwater that the girls collected, right?”

“No, no, I did not.”

As I poured the water back into the bottle, I realized that the bottle was already one glass down.

As Grandpa walked out into the living room he said, “I thought that wine was awfully mild.”

3) Buddie insisted on taking the rings to Italy with him.

They do look a little like torture devices.

They do look a little like torture devices.

These are the rings used for practicing pull ups and muscle ups. I reacted to his plan to take them negatively. Packing light was the vision. We were taking our jump ropes, wasn’t that sufficient?

Nope. It was not.

He carried them the whole time, so I had no cause to complain, but I did roll my eyes every time I saw them.

At the airport on our trip home, security was greatly increased. Imagine my eventual delight when the x-ray scanner person spent several minutes looking at his backpack, then he was pulled aside to go over his backpack with the female security agent. She went right for those rings and their straps.

I watched with sparkly eyes as she held them out at Buds accusingly and asked what they were. He had to pantomime how they are used for exercise.

She looked disbelieving and a male security guard was called over.

In that Bro-mance kind of way, the male security guard seemed intrigued and understood their purpose, and eventually Buds was allowed to gather his rings, their straps, his backpack, and his dignity, and wander over to where I was helpless with laughter, waiting for him with the children.

4) And finally, no trip would be complete without me getting into trouble.

Some of you may remember my bauble at the beginning of the trip to Ireland when I held hands with the stranger on the first flight.

Before this Italy trip began, Jenny told me she was excited to hear what funny situations I got myself into on this trip.

Besides accepting the ride home from a stranger, who then asked if I’d like to have a meal with him, I had been doing quite well until the second to the last flight home.

I was putting my backpack into the overhead bin, which was over the head of a baldheaded gentleman in the seat below. I managed to catch my falling metal water bottle before it landed on his head, and feeling proud of myself I looked down to see if he had noticed my slight of hand.

I realized that I had my bosom resting on top of his bald head as I stretched up to stuff my backpack over head.

He didn’t complain, so I didn’t even apologize.

Yup, I think that beats the hand holding.

A Glimpse Into the Culture of Gemignani

As an anthropologist, this trip was an opportunity to live unobserved with the Gemignani tribe. I was deeply embedded within them; I even had my own backpack!

The Gemignani (sometimes spelled Gengawn) live together in small family units of five or so. They can be observed traveling by train or miniature automobile. Migrants, they seldom stay in one place for long. Fortunately, these omnivorous migrants leave little environmental impact behind them.

It was a chance to observe the younger members of the tribe blossoming in their own special ways that brought the richest cultural rewards.

The eldest redhead, was named Monkey. Her work habits were truly astonishing. Seizing her mother’s computer she would work far into the night drawing, plotting, sketching and planning on game creation software called “RPG Maker VX Ace”.

The middle male, named Buster, was perhaps prophetically named for his chaotic tendencies. While other family members had little problem remaining shod, he required no provocation to remove his sandals. Sometimes his bare feet could even be seen on the side of the dinner table, which earned scowls from the elder members of the tribe.

The youngest, a girl named Yessa, was a force of her own. Prone to ritualistic chanting, I often observed her on trains bursting past travelers with a rhythmic call of “stranger danger”. This seemed to strike her as humerous as she would whirl to a parental figure with a mad gleam in her eye. The second phrase that she often shrieked while attacking her brother (mock battles being one of the characteristic pass-times of this people) was “purple nurple”. Initially, I thought this related to a common childhood character.

Purple Nurple?

Deeper (and painful) research made it clear that “purple nurple” was culturally related to an 1980s American tradition called a “titty twister”.

The Gemignani are a very intriguing people who live simple lives that seem to require only the light of electronics to sustain them. Though I have unpacked my backpack, I will not forget this time with them.

Italy Trip – Day # Last – It Is Finished.

The Buster asked me to please be sure to write a blog post today to let people know we had arrived home safe and secure.

Several funny stories from the trip home, but I’ll just write about one in this post.

As we boarded our flight from Boston to Nash at 6:30 this morning, Monkey stopped as we entered the plane to let the flight attendants know that Southwest Air is her favorite airline. The attendant she spoke with took time to introduce Monkey to the pilots and to pass along her compliment to them.

During the flight the children shared with another attendant that we were on our way home from an extended visit to Italy. We talked about Italy, what they enjoyed, how excited they were to go home, etc.

As we prepared to land, the crew chief announced gate connections…all the standard information…then she said, “And I want to welcome Monkey and her family back to the U.S. after a long trip to Italy. Monkey’s favorite airline is SWA, and we are so glad she brought her family on board today.”

Buster and Yessa were giggling with excitement during the announcement, and I looked over at Monkey across the aisle to see what she thought.

She was leaning on Buddie’s shoulder, sound asleep and softly snoring.

Fame is such a fickle mistress.

A few loads of laundry, and we’ll be settled back in at home.

Thousands of pictures to follow in upcoming posts.

Smiling till the end.

Smiling till the end.

Italy Trip – Day 51- Each thing is a countdown…

I just completed my last load of laundry in Italy.

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It, of course, made me think of this article from The Onion: Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean, but anyway…

Each thing we do now is a countdown to the last time we will do it in Italy.

That argument Buster and Yessa had this morning…hopefully the last one in Italy.

Two more sleeps in this apartment, one at the hotel by the airport…last three sleeps in Italy.

Today, last trip to the Colosseum, which will be our second-to-the-last tour in Italy.

It’s drawing to a close.

Italy Trip – Day 50 – We Explore Rome

Day 50! What a great number. The end of our trip is zooming toward us, but we’ve got a few last adventures to enjoy in Rome.

Just a quick post to say all is well. The lack of blog posts has been due to lack of time, not lack of stories.

Latest new word created on the trip: Droomy.

A combination of “droopy” and “gloomy.”

Yessa created it when she told The Buster he looked especially “droomy” one afternoon.

“I really thought it was a word!” she exclaimed.

And, they all tossed their coins in the Trevi Fountain, so I guess we’ll be returning to Rome.

IMG_20151111_113741651-ANIMATION

The fountain collects 3000 Euros PER DAY, which is used subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy.

Glad we were here to do our part.