30 July 2007

will we use that up in 3 weeks?

enjoying a St. Augustine sunrise

That's the question I've been asking myself lately as we buy things...groceries, toiletries, work supplies, etc. It's funny that we're already at the point of trying to use things up before we leave to save unnecessary purchases, not waste, and have less to pack. We took the last load of boxes (we had only about as many to fill up one standard closet total) down to my parents house this weekend (*check), stopped by AAA to get our International Driving Permits, in case we ever need to rent a car while we're gone (*check), looked into and paid for the storage area where my car will be kept (*check), detailed Chris' car and put it up on Craigslist (*check *check). Since last night, we've already had 5 inquiries...hopefully we'll sell it soon!

Our 2 large duffel bags that we're stuffing with all of the belongings we'll be taking to Italy are already beginning to expand...so far we've packed all of our winter clothes, electronic converters/adapters/powerstrip, couple of books, and toiletries. I'm in love with the travel compression bags, though I am preparing for the possibility of weight-overage fees from the airline. These bags have been slowly getting bigger and bigger and have been on our bedroom floor for about 3 weeks now and many friends have looked at them with wide eyes and said, "um...that's it?!? I mean, you're not shipping boxes over or anything?!?" Nope. That's really it...but of, course, we'll have our (highly-recommended) carry-on travel backpacks which are normally all we take with us when traveling, and the other allowable carry-on of a large "purse/laptop case". These will mainly hold what we'll need for the 2 weeks trip before settling into our apartment.

I double checked today with our school that everything is in order with our paperwork and that our tuition balance is not due until our first day of class. Also, they are helping us to get our Italian health insurance (INA Assitalia) in order before we arrive, so it's one less official thing we have to do as soon as we move in. I also spoke with our rental agent today and found out that the landlord installed A/C last month (which wasn't expected...but a nice surprise), and touched base about the date of our arrival.

The countdown is most definitely on...and coming to an end. We have a "good-bye" dinner planned with our Italian group next week and then a big moving party with our friends the week after next (the last week we're in town).

29 July 2007

thank you. thank you very much

GRAZIE MILLE to nyc/caribbean ragazza for nominating me for a blogging Schmooze Award! Since many of you are probably scratching your head and wondering, what exactly a schmooze award is...

This award goes to bloggers "who effortlessly weave their way in and out of the blogosphere, leaving friendly trails and smiles, happily making new friends along the way. They don’t limit their visits to only the rich and successful, but spend some time to say hello to new blogs as well. They are the ones who engage others in meaningful conversations, refusing to let it end at a mere hello - all the while fostering a sense of closeness and friendship."

This is my first blog award and it means a lot because of all the friends and connections that I feel that I've made over the past year and a half of getting involved in the blogosphere, both reading and writing. Throughout this time, while we've been planning our move, so many people have asked me how I knew certain details of our planning or a piece of information required to get through all the Italian bureaucracy - and so many times my answer has been, "Well I've read so many accounts of expats going before us". Through websites like Expats in Italy, and countless bloggers who have helped with their informational or encouraging accounts (probably without knowing it), we feel much better prepared for our move to Italy.

So, in no particular order I am passing along the Schmooze award to 5 other bloggers who I appreciate and applaud:

**First I must mention that several bloggers who I would have "schmoozed" have already had the honor bestowed upon them, so I'm spreading the love to those that haven't been recognized to my knowledge**

1. Valerie at 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree moved to Ascoli Piceno with her husband, Bryan and they have both been so helpful to us with their informative posts about their moving process.

2. Nicki at the life I choose who gives wonderful anecdotes on her life in Positano, one of our most favorite Italian cities, complete with beautiful photos that capture the everyday events that hold special places in our hearts.

3. Melinda of Living in Florence, has been an indispensable wealth of knowledge and kind-hearted friendship during this past year of preparations. I'm very excited to finally meet her in person once we arrive in Florence!

4. Tina from Pecorino e Miele has an infectious outlook on life...very adventurous and always following her heart. She's an active member of the expat site and it's been great to "get to know" her through her writings in Italy, South America, and Seattle!

5. Caroline from First Paris Then Rome is a newer blogger to my feed, but gives interesting accounts of her life in Rome with "the Frenchman" and their "bambina"!

Thanks to all of you who share your knowledge and thoughts on your expat (and life) experiences!

Here are the directions to participate:

1. Write a post with links to 5 blogs that have schmoozed you into submission.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the award.
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Power of Schmooze Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.

25 July 2007

beads and hospitality

On Monday evening, I co-hosted a Bead For Life party with my friend, Lauren. She introduced me to this wonderful organization after attending a previous party in town. Started by a group of American women who visited Uganda and realized the extreme conditions that could be majorly impacted by a small program, this company is quickly becoming recognized across the world. "BeadforLife eradicates extreme poverty by creating bridges of understanding between hard working and impoverished Africans and North Americans who want to create a world that works for all. Ugandan women turn colorful recycled paper, into beautiful beads. This beauty becomes income, food, medicine, school fees, and hope. It is a small miracle. Our members are women with children living on less than two dollars a day. Many have fled the war in Northern Uganda. Others live with HIV or other serious health challenges. They are incredibly welcoming, hard working, resilient, and creative." - BeadForLife.org

The beads were beautiful and very popular with the guests. We have been selling some after the party as well, but I think we will be sending over $500 to the company (since 100% of the funds go back to the company and Ugandan women). We also wrote encouraging "thank-you" notes to send back to the women. It was a fun "girl-night" of eating, shopping, chatting, and raising awareness for the women and their families whose lives we can help so much by doing so little. **To have a Bead Party of your own, just visit the website to sign up! It's easy: they send you a packet of jewelry, a DVD and music CD to play during the party, and price list! The prices are from only $5 - $30 - great to stock up on for gifts! Then you mail all the money and remaining inventory back to them after the party in the stamped return box that they provide!**

When I got back home from the party, I was just in time to get the house ready for Katrin, our first guest through HospitalityClub.org. We've been members of this site and also, CouchSurfing.com for several months now, because it's something we hope to use for weekend trips while we're in Italy. They are both active communities of people that are interested in travel, meeting new people, and bridging gaps between cultures. You can be a host or find a host to stay with for free around the world. We've had 2 requests so far, but were unable to host the first member that contacted us. Katrin is from Germany but has been studying in Washington DC for the past year and since this is her last month in the states, she was able to do some traveling. In order to fit as much of St. Augustine in about 8 hours, we woke up early enough to catch the sunrise on the beach - then had smoothies at a neighborhood cafe. We walked around the historic downtown and I pointed out the highlights, and ended up spending a while just talking about cultural similarities and differences sitting on the edge of the fort wall with our feet dangling over the edge. She was so excited to see some dolphins (look closely at the photo) on her last day in Florida! Chris met up with us for lunch at The Present Moment Cafe, a raw/living foods gourmet restaurant in town that we love. She is a rawtarian (or raw foodist) and had already picked out this restaurant from online reviews! We ended up having quite a lot in common, and hopefully will meet up in Germany sometime!

23 July 2007

have you ever lived in europe?

I was in the express line at the grocery store last night quickly unloading my basket of food on the small checkout counter. I pulled out my canvas shopping bag (one of several that I bring for normal shopping days) and told the cashier that he could just hand me my items back and I'd drop them in my bag. When almost finished ringing me up, he asked if I was sure that they would all fit, to which I replied, "of course" as I stuffed the last head of broccoli in between the pita.

As I turned to leave, the "female-half" of this adorable old couple behind me in line leaned over and asked, "Excuse me, but have you ever lived in Europe?". It took me off guard a little but brought a smile to my face as I said "No" and then caught myself as I added, "but I'm actually moving there in a month!" She said, "Oh, you just looked as though you might have because of the small amounts of groceries and bagging them yourself in your own canvas bag." Then she gave me the name of what they refer to these bags as...but I was still gathering my thoughts and so I didn't quite catch the name (something like 'titsh' ...anybody out there know?). The man spoke up and said that their daughter just got back from Italy and that she wants to move there. (Oh, isn't that the case with so many :) ) I said with a big grin, "Well that's where we're moving!" They wished me luck as I walked out of the line.

One of the European practices that I think America should adopt is that of the reusable shopping bag. Many of the grocery stores that we
visited in Europe require customers to bag their own groceries and bring their own bags or pay extra for the disposable plastic ones. Since over 1 million plastic bags are used per minute, causing enormous harm with unknown future consequences - it looks like more countries should embrace the PlasTax. This is a piece of legislation that was passed in 2001 in Ireland and which has reduced disposable consumption by 90%.

When asked "plastic or paper?", I (most of the time, unless it was an unexpected trip) happily decline both and hand over our canvas bags - which I also plan to bring along with us when we actually do live in Europe ...which by the way is exactly 1 (yes, as in UNO) month away from today!!!!

How Can I Get One?

• For great inexpensive, fair trade canvas bags visit PristinePlanet.com.

• Many supermarkets such as Publix and Whole Foods offer their own reusable bags for purchase in the store.

• There are even designer grocery bags if you want to fork out up to $900.

• Or, for an even better idea, visit: Oxfam America for a FREE bag by filling out a "grocery report card" - letting them know where your local grocer stands on moving towards sustainable and fair trade practices.

22 July 2007

extremely interesting and incredibly thoughtful

I just finished the book "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer, author of one of our favorite stories (made into the movie Everything is Illuminated). It's hard to sum up this wonderful story in any one way. It's really several stories from different people at different times going through similar emotions extreme (and everyday) circumstances in life. The main character, Oskar Schell, is a nine year old boy living in NYC, dealing with life and the baggage of feelings after his father died in 9-11. Beyond the bottom level plot, there are many side stories to pull from. And the main point that I really like about this book, is how the author writes. It's more than just a book of white pages with black type - he disregards classic punctuation and writes visually, sometimes using illustrations, photos, red pen editing marks, spacing gaps between pauses in conversations, and even three pages of the type (during an outpouring of thoughts) gradually getting closer and closer together so that the last page of that chapter ends up being black.

The nine-year-old Oskar, is more like a witty, small-adult with how he deals with his emotions and relationships with his mother and strangers. The author brilliantly allows you to see two sides to this boy: one that had to grow up quick because of what he went through losing his dad, and the side that just wants a hug from his mother. Oskar's quick responses and blatant honesty made me laugh out loud several times. And although there is an example per page almost that I could pull from, I found this excerpt to illustrate his personality:

"Isn't it so weird how the number of dead people is increasing even though the earth stays the same size, so that one day there isn't going to be room to bury anyone anymore? For my ninth birthday last year, Grandma gave me a subscription to National Geographic, which she calls "the National Geographic." She also gave me a white blazer, because I only wear white clothes, and it's too big to wear so it will last me a long time. She also gave me Grandpa's camera, which I loved for two reasons. I asked why he didn't take it with him when he left her. She said, "Maybe he wanted you to have it." I said, "But I was negative-thirty years old." She said, "Still." Anyway, the fascinating thing was that I read in National Geographic that there are more people alive now than have died in all of human history. In other words, if everyone wanted to play Hamlet at once, they couldn't, because there aren't enough skulls!"

I read a review that said Oskar reminds us of Calvin from the comic "Calvin and Hobbes". I can see that...and here is one last except that made me laugh a little. Oskar is at a shrink's office for grief counseling and their conversation is written like this:

"What would you say to a little game?" "Is it a brain teaser?" "Not really." "I like brain teasers." "So do I. But this isn't a brain teaser." "Bummer." "I'm going to say a word and I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind. You can say a word, a person's name, or even a sound. Whatever. There are no right or wrong answers here. No rules. Should we give it a try?" I said, "Shoot." He said, "Family." I said, "Family." He said, "I'm sorry. I don't think I explained this well. I'll say a word, and you tell me the first thing you think of." I said, "You said 'family' and I thought of family." He said, "But let's try not to use the same word. OK?" "OK. I mean, yeah."...."Bellybutton." Bellybutton?" "Bellybutton." "I can't think of anything but bellybutton." "Give it a try. Bellybutton." "Bellybutton doesn't made me think of anything." "Dig deep." "in my bellybutton?" "In your brain, Oskar." "Uh." "Bellybutton. Bellybutton." "Stomach anus?" "Good." "Bad." "No, I meant, 'Good. You did good.' " "I did well." "Well." "Water."...

Besides the smart humor, it is a thoughtful piece on humanity and emotions that grip all people, no matter the age or location or time.

19 July 2007

once in a lifetime

Jackie from Allora, Aspetta! wrote about her students who are learning English in an intensive language course. Part of their assignment was to create a blog to help with their English, which they've named The Surviving Fleas. They invited us to participate in a "meme" (type of online game of "tag"). The topic today is:

Once in a Lifetime
Top 10 list of things you would like to do, at least once, in your lifetime.

10. Take a road trip across America with an Airstream

9. Learn to sail

8. Work in Africa on a (probably short term) humanitarian project

7. See the Egyptian pyramids & walk on the Great Wall of China

6. Be in NYC during Christmastime (stay at the Plaza, skate at Rockefeller Center, eat & dance at the Rainbow Room)

5. See the sand dunes of Namibia

4. Hold a sloth and marmoset (not at the same time)

3. Take a season to work on an organic farm in (maybe through WWOOF Italia)

2. Learn another language fluently

1. Live in Italy

These are in no particular order although #1 and #2 are quite high on the list and about to be realized! I didn't think about this list too long..so I'm sure I can add to it sometime- because there are plenty of things (probably the little, simple things in life) that would make the cut if I concentrated more!

What are your Top 10 Things?!

17 July 2007

whirlwinds and random thoughts

I guess I'm wanting to write this post just for the sake of writing, and to relieve my head that bursting with things to do, bits of information, decisions to make. preparation tasks.. planning...things..not . to .. forget... can't...take... .much.....more. [springs and gadgets popping out of my head - smoke beginning to spew out of my ears]. This past week and a half has been a roller coaster (mainly with very stressful work situations on top of getting things prepared to leave). My emotions have gone from happily wanting to deal with everything that needs to be done (the organized side) - and then the next minute, just wanting to get the next flight to Timbuktu and throw my cell phone in a lake (my, very rarely seen, irrational *slash* "type-b" side). I'm sure these feelings are nothing new to many people in a somewhat crossroads place in life, but I seriously witnessed 5 more gray hairs emerge on my pate - and a couple wrinkles appear under my eyes. Now, I'm really hoping that this can be reversed soon...because that is why we're going through all this now - to live out a dream that we've had on our life "to-do" list, and I'm very much set on being able to take in this next year for what it is supposed to be, rather than making it just another thing to deal with and thus becoming even more busy than we are now.

One of the first things I remember really being afraid of - I mean even in elementary school - was growing up to work a lot, just so I could live a little. I didn't get that whole concept. We've been completely blessed in many ways, and as the years pass I'm able to see this more clearly...such as: 1) being able to be in a line of work that we can take wherever we are (for the most part), 2) learning to not be huge consumers or even wanting most of the normal "American dream" of a bigger and bigger house, the newest gadgets, big SUVs, 3) becoming more content with simplifying our life and possessions. Of course, there are days when I wish we had extra sq. footage, or a wave runner, iPhone, or a new outfit from Anthropologie :)...but knowing that freedom from a stationary office and feeling like we don't have to keep making more money to support our growing consumerism, is worth so much more than any of those things.

I made a pact with myself some time ago that I wouldn't ever let a job get in the way of my life (being rational of course, since I'm not lazy - but I realize there's a delicate balance between not contributing or enriching society and getting caught in the rat race). I feel like I'm walking the line of this situation sometimes, but I keep telling myself that if I don't make boundaries, especially for this next year - that there won't be a reason to even move.

So... a couple resolutions I'm putting on paper:
1. I will continue to work hard, organizing as much as I can, and training others in my jobs as best I can before we leave in only 5 weeks - because I think this will help free up time when we're gone and the day we fly out will feel much more rewarding
2. During the 2 weeks we are traveling before we settle in Florence, I will treat these as a much needed vacation and know that the world will keep spinning even if I don't answer my phone or check email
3. While we are in Italy, I will concentrate on language school, meeting new people, taking time to drink a caffe' and visit gardens
4. At the same time, I will also continue my job, but will set out time boundaries. Work will stay within this time bracket and not lop over into the other enriching experiences of which we've picked up our life and shifted so many things around to experience
5. I will remind myself daily of the bigger picture in life, and will know that we are blessed, we will be taken care of, most "worst-case-scenarios" don't come true and even if they do we still have a purpose and can bless and love others
6. I will slow down and try to not live for the next planned thing tomorrow, but will listen for what God's plan is in my life and how I can best be a lover and peace maker in our world.

Ok, I think I'm done writing for now...just had to clear my thoughts (but be prepared for several other outpourings in this next month I'm sure) :)

...breathe again...in....out...

14 July 2007

north carolina visit

We just returned from our last visit to see Chris' family before we move. We had a great time (although only several days long) spending time with family (parents, sister, grandma, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, and nephews).
Our trip in photos...

• saying hello to the cat, swinging on the porch, laughing with family •

Collected memorable quotes from our trip:
"He was so southern - it just made you wanna eat a magnolia" -Uncle Mike
"She cleans her teeth quite often, but hardly ever puts them in her mouth" -Uncle Mike (referring to Chris' 97 yr old great-grandmother and her funny quirks)
"I don't want to hear him talk in his English accent about drinking his pee" -Chris' mom (referring to Man vs. Wild Discovery Channel show host - as if talking in any other accent about drinking his pee would be acceptable)
"If I was a wrestler, my signature would be a hot pepper - and the announcer would be like 'Oh no! He's pulling out the hot pepper!' " -Chris' dad

• checking out the garden and eating fresh selections everyday including tomatoes, squash, peppers, corn, beans •

• exploring the old buildings downtown •

• enjoying the beautiful sunsets, walking the neighborhood, counting rabbits •

We did some Italy-visit preparations for some of the family that is planning to stay with us in Florence! Now we're back home and the count-down continues...only 5 weeks to go!

09 July 2007

4 out of 7 ain't bad

Well, this past Saturday (the 7th day of the 7th month of the 07th year) the New 7 Wonders of the World were announced after almost a year of voting from people around the planet. I wrote about this last month and discussed my 7 choices out of the 21 nominees. Well, 4 of my 7 made the final cut!

New 7 Wonders:
• The Great Wall, China (my vote)
• Petra, Jordan (my vote)
• Christ Redeemer, Brazil
• Machu Picchu, Peru (my vote)
• Chichén Itzá, Mexico
• The Roman Colosseum, Italy (my vote)
• The Taj Mahal, India

Yay for Italia in making the list!

Next on the agenda is the New Natural 7 Wonders, which is being hosted by the same organization. Nominations are now being taken for the list that will be voted on and announced next year on 08/08/08! My future predictions of some of the winners: Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, Sand Dunes of Tunisia...those are some that initially come to mind.

Another great event that took place on 07/07/07 (besides tens of thousands of weddings being named one of the most popular and 'lucky' wedding days of all time), was Live Earth. We watched a little of this "24-hour, 7-continent concert series taking place on 7/7/07 that will bring together more than 100 music artists and 2 billion people to trigger a global movement to solve the climate crisis...which reached a worldwide audience through an unprecedented global media architecture covering all media platforms - TV, radio, Internet and wireless channels" on TV - and read more about it on their website, which is even "green-hosted" by an all solar-powered computer server hosting company!

05 July 2007

places to see :: al paradiso di frassina

Only about 110km away from our apartment is the town of Montalcino, which is home to the winery Al Paradiso di Frassina. There are several wineries that we'd like to visit, especially being a bike ride away from theChianti region of Tuscany, but this one in Montalcino definitely caught my attention after reading an article in Wired magazine. Mixing Vivaldi among the vines, this winery is the testing grounds for experimenting with sound vibration and plant growth by the agriculture division at the University of Florence. The owner states that even before this experiment began, he "...often played my accordion to the grape pickers working in the vineyards, and my feeling was that the harmony of music created a magic atmosphere around the grapes...". I'm curious to know how the experiment is going, but the three wine varieties that they produce get good reviews. Hopefully we'll get to stop by and take in some Tchaikovsky with the tasting!

our 4th celebration

...with a side of:
Chips & Salsa
BBQ Ribs (Vegetarian style -tofu version)
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Roasted New Potatoes
Herbed Mint Tea
Blueberry Cobbler

This was part of our low-key Fourth of July with friends. Some swimming, reading, hanging out on a big porch looking toward the sunset in the Intracoastal, watching the downtown fireworks show from miles away.

Oh, and of course, some sparklers! I tried to write my name (in cursive, and backwards) but the photo started after I finished the top curve of the "E" and before the end of the "n". Then the second photo began when I dotted the "i" and made some circles for good measure- (it kind of turned out like those Zoloft commercial cartoon heads...and my calves gained about 10lbs from the camera shaking). Chris stuck to a star - very patriotic!

03 July 2007

our 2 homes :: girlfriends

Continuing the post series on "Our 2 Homes" comparing/contrasting/things we'll miss/what we're excited to experience...I figured I'd write about a subject that is very important to me and something that I've been trying to be more aware of in my life - my girlfriends. I guess this post could really just extend to all of my friends, and the community of people in our life here in St. Augustine (and those who are in and out of the area as well). Last Thursday night and yesterday evening as well, we had a "girls' night out" and just packed fun snacks and went to the beach. We chatted on our towels and played in the waves laughing so hard that it hurt - all while the sunset spread beautiful streaks of color across the sky. Sometimes in the midst of a moment like this, I pause...look around...like I'm watching someone else...and try to take it in...and know I'm blessed. And I think that, "yes, these are the moments I'll miss" but at the same time I know that my wonderful friends will be a part of my life no matter where we live.

I also know that I'll be forging ahead to begin new friendships with other wonderful women in Italy; and I look with anticipation to meeting new people and becoming part of a community in our new home town! It's been such a great thing getting to know others through expat forums and blogs - many that have been so helpful and supportive that I feel like I've taken up friendships although not having met in person. There are already a handful of dates that we've made with others in Florence for when we arrive. I'm really looking forward to going out for an appertivo, cooking dinner, or just strolling around the city with new girlfriends - and building community around our life which is so important!