27 November 2006

italian grocery list

Well, we started writing our grocery list in Italian.
Yesterday's list:
-fave nero
-formaggio ricotta
-succo di arancia
& a handful of other things that we didn't know in Italian yet
...needless to say, Chris had to go back for 3 things we forgot (since glancing at a list in another language doesn't trigger the memory as quickly!)

26 November 2006

back-roads thanksgiving

This past week we headed up to the Carolinas to visit my extended family for the annual Bethea Thanksgiving Reunion. Although I went every year growing up, the last time I visited was the first year Chris and I were married (5 years ago)...it's been too long and we were excited to see everyone. It ended up to be a wonderful time of kicking back, sitting around the fire, eating, laughing, and exploring. Thanksgiving morning began with huddling around the heater and watching Macy's Parade on TV and then heading to my great-grandmother's old house for the big meal. We drove through miles of cotton fields and passed the old "Bethea Lumber Co." sign that I've seen so many times, and arrived at the home that was quickly filling with relatives.

There are always so many traditions that I look forward to, and it's funny how they take on even more meaning as I grow up. We walked to the old sawmill, rode 4-wheelers to the pig farm, shot rifles at Coke can targets, played frisbee in the massive front yard, rocked on the porch, and found many great photo-ops.

I think the last count I heard was between 80-100 people between Thanksgiving dinner and the barbeque on Saturday. I had to constantly go over names in my head to keep everyone straight - especially all the kids! 5 years is a long time to have missed, and so those who were in elementary school now look completely different, and I've never even seen all the kids under 5yrs old. Everywhere I turned, they seemed to multiply and I failed the quiz of "who do I belong to" ! :) We listened to Van Morrison, bluegrass, and gospel out on the lawn with Greg on guitar and Kelly on violin.

One of the main traditions is the food - a big Thanksgiving dinner with baked (and fried) turkeys and a "pig-pickin" barbeque on Saturday, complete with homemade brunswick stew made in a huge cauldron outside. We all warmed up by the fire barrel and the kids roasted marshmallows. Of course, being vegetarians posed a slight set-back for us, but we fared just fine. Least to say, our bodies were craving fresh salads and veggies when we got home!

On Friday evening at sunset, a group of us took a "field" trip (pun intended), out to the "Sweat Swamp" graveyard. Set in the middle of the woods, it dates back to 1796 when one of the first Bethea's in America was around. John Bethea, nicknamed "Devil" was a Revolutionary War vet and supposedly hung a man who tried to rob his parents, but instead poured hot pitch on Mr. Bethea Sr's head - and dad drove us by the old yard where the hanging took place. It was so interesting to read the grave stones - a little strange though!

Least to say, it won't be another 5 years until we go back! (click on the images above to view entire album

19 November 2006

night of lights, tapas, and karaoke!

This past Saturday night was the official "TURN-ON" of the annual St. Augustine "Night of Lights" celebration (along the the start of the many festive activities that happen in our lovely town this time of year. "St. Augustine, Florida’s annual “Nights of Lights” provides one of the Southeast’s most memorable holiday events. In a manner befitting the Nation’s Oldest City, this inspiring display of light is based on the tradition of the town’s original Spanish colonists who placed a white candle in their windows to brighten the nights during the Christmas holidays. This 13th edition of the festival features more than two million tiny white lights adorning the palm trees and buildings of the city’s historic district. Reflected in the waters of Matanzas Bay, outlining the colonial city, and including the nearby beaches and lighthouse, this light display creates a holiday wonderland in a place with real history on every street corner." -night of lights website

We normally ride our bikes from the island to downtown b/c the parking gets so bad, but this year, we parked at a friend's house that lives in that area. (Last year was also an exception - we ate dinner on a friend's boat docked right in the downtown harbor and watched the lights from the water!) Our itinerary filled up quickly and we ended up having an exciting, spontaneous night of activities! We met several people on the hill by the Castillo de San Marco Fort and had a picnic dinner with several thermos full of hot chocolate and apple cider. Next, it was on to walk through the masses of tourist on St. George Street to the downtown plaza which was full of vendors, a live Christmas band, and people, people, and more people. We waited until the countdown to when the lights all switched on - and listened to the "ooohhs" and "aahhhs" of the crowd. small movie clip

After shuffling around the group, some of us headed across the bridge to the island to try a new tapas restaurant Zhanra's that opened that night! It was very tasty...and we'll be back! Next, we headed across the street to the British Pub and I did my first-ever karaoke performance as a trio with 2 other girlfriends (Cindy Lauper: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun). Good for some laughs! ...then we walked back to the mainland, through downtown, and to our car (we burned up the calories of our hot chocolate and chocolate fondue at the restaurant!)

17 November 2006

oxfam hunger banquet

Last night we attended an OXFAM Hunger Banquet that was put on by a friend of ours. For those of you who may not be familiar with Oxfam, it was founded in 1942 in England, and the America division began in 1970. Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 organizations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to global poverty, suffering, hunger, and social injustice. Every year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving Oxfam America puts on a "Hunger Banquet" which raises awareness (and $ from tickets) for global hunger at a time when most American's have a bounty of food. (I first was introduced to Oxfam when we visited England, and learned about their Christmas campaign: Oxfam Unwrapped...more on this in another blog).

A basic breakdown of how it works: Each person draws a card from a bowl when you enter the dining area. Each card represents who you will be for the night and what "income class" you are in (low, mid, high). Low income represents those who make under $911/yr (about 60% of the world), mid makes $912-$9000/yr, and high makes over $9000/yr. If you draw a low class card, you sit on the floor and only get rice and water for dinner. Middle class gets chairs and rice/beans/water, while high class gets to sit at a table and eats rice/beans/chicken/water. Each card also has a real story of someone around the world that Oxfam has touched in some way. We listen to the host read about poverty, etc and also watch 2 short films about real people across the globe while we eat. Chris and I both drew low class cards. I ended up being "Enrique" - a 40yr old man from Guatemala who lived in a Mexican refugee camp for years during war, and now back in Guatemala has received some assistance from Oxfam to buy some cows for a new start.

After the banquet was over, we had a good amount of food leftover, so we walked it a couple blocks away to the main plaza in downtown, where there is always a group of homeless people at this time of night. I came about 10min after the food containers were taken, and by the time I arrived, there were several pods of conversations around the benches of the plaza between about 8 of us from the banquet and about 6 homeless men. We met and talked with them about work, our town, and their lives, while they ate the food and thanked us for bringing it. Ed and Danny were two men that we talked with most who gave us a rundown of how they see our community and practical things that could be done to help. Ed seemed to be moving forward with a steady job as a mechanic and plans to buy a cheaper boat that he could live on. ...One man who didn't give a name, with unfocused eyes and half of his teeth asked why we brought this food. I briefly told him that we were learning about poverty worldwide and had a dinner to raise awareness. He then made 2 wise statements that were life truths brought in an unsuspecting way: "So, what you were doing was learning how to be REAL missionaries." I nodded and raised my eyebrows in slight surprise, that yes, this was true. He continued, "You know, what I like to say is that if you're a Christian, don't TELL people you're a Christian - just BE one!" ...sounds like a good idea.

16 November 2006

fun blogs & city webcams

I've added some links on our menu bar to some great websites. Some are several other blogs about Italy (people moving/living there) that I've spent time reading and learning more about the process that others have gone through to obtain a similar experience that we have planned. I'll probably add to this list in the future as I find more... It's great to read about the highlights (and lowlights) of moving to another country, learning a new language, living in a different culture - the process, the surprises, the food, the finances, the bugs and bidets. Even in the small amount of time I've been connecting in online forum communities and communication with other "bloggers", it's beginning to feel like we may have a group of acquaintances when we arrive in Florence.

For a fun LIVE view of Florence and Rome, check out the webcam links. Maybe when we're over there we'll run in front of the camera and wave...just look for the 2 Americans with just a couple euros in their pockets, smiles on their faces, and an espresso in each hand!

12 November 2006

solomon's castle (not that one)

Last weekend (Nov 4) we went to Lakeland (central FL) for my mom's birthday and a family day-trip to "Middleofnowhere" Florida (also known as Ona). It took us about 1 hour to drive there from Lakeland and we seriously passed about 3 cars there and 2 cars back + 1 half carcass of roadkill. Our treck led us to Solomon's Castle, a strange place to say the least - but a castle none the less, all made of recycled materials. Recognized on the BBC, PBS, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and HGTV, this place is an interesting day trip and a good time of chuckles, funny pictures, and eye-rolls.

The shiny castle sits on an estate of over 70 acres with a creek (moat), nature trails, and a 60-foot replica of a 16th century Portuguese Galleon ship in the moat that houses the restaurant. According to the website: “This structure was built entirely by the hands of the artist, Howard Solomon, internationally known sculptor. The gleaming exterior is made of the printing plates discarded by the local weekly newspaper. Within the castle are the family's living quarters, a stained glass studio, a main entrance hall, and the extensive galleries, exhibiting Solomon's "found object" sculptures. There are more than 80 interpretations of stained glass windows throughout Solomon's Castle.” All the tiles and walkway bricks are painted on the floors, and there is a 4ft iguana that lives in a cage outside the main gate as the castle dragon! His gallery was filled with sculptures all made from recycled tools, etc (like an elephant of old oil drums) - even our tickets to get in were taken back to be used again. There was also a full size gator swimming in the moat while we ate lunch. *Click on a pic above to view the entire album* -e

08 November 2006

let the labeling begin

Well, unfortunately we missed the first class of our Italian 2 course last Wed (because I kept thinking that we had 2 weeks OFF - not that we were supposed to be BACK in 2 weeks :( ). But yesterday we hit the books again. We had quite a bit to catch up on (lots of food vocab, and a long list of verbs). We're trying to get better at remembering to speak Italian when we can at home...normally asking what the weather's like, what we're having for dinner, using random adjectives in the middle of English sentences! It's funny that a lot of time we know most of the words of a sentence that we're trying to make!

Yesterday's menu:
Per pranzo del Erin: tortollini formaggio, insalate con venduno, avacado, e condimiento. Per pranzo del Chris: riso e fagiolo rosso con erbe, e formaggio, avacado, aglio, peperone, e pomodoro panino. Per cena: venduno panini e cavolo con sedano, cipolla, e erbe....e un dolce (pasticcio mela)! (I'm sure this may not be 100% correct...)

So, needless to say, we have begun labeling the house: (furniture, food, appliances, etc) to help with the vocabulary!

03 November 2006

expats in italy

ExpatsInItaly.com is a website that I've been reading for the past half-a-yr or so since we started our moving plans. It's a great informational site, and the forum has been super helpful in talking with people that have made the move, and others that are planning on it. I've met many friendly people, and the expat community on this site seems very supportive and eager to help with questions. We are currently really trying to get a solid idea of living costs while we're in Italy (water, electricity, gas [to heat our FL-climate bodies], Internet, TV tax, cell). We've had several posts to our question on the forum, and I think that there is a "cost-of-living" report that will be up soon (tallied from many members' budgets). So far, it's looking like we'll be paying more than we're used to (especially during the winter for heat)...and the exchange rate isn't helping either (currently $1 to 1.27euro) OUCH! We'll keep you posted on the budget!