Monday, May 2, 2016

Italy 2016 - Off to Florence

We left Venice by train.  We walked to the train station from the apartment, with suitcases, because it is the only way to get around.  The train wasn't full, and it was very comfortable.  When we arrived in Florence, we again walked with our suitcases.  We should have taken a taxi, but it didn't look far on the map.

The guesthouse in Florence was a short walk from the Duomo.  The streets are noisy and crowded, with more people than can fit on the sidewalks.  Its seems that the streets are pedestrian only, until a car or motorbike comes along. 

We only saw the historic center of Florence, and the train station.  We walked to the Arno River, and crossed the Ponte Vecchio and were shameless tourists.  We were tired and hungry, so we settled on an acceptable tourist trap restaurant in  that area of the city.   The shops were the same as we have in New Jersey, and at Sarah's request we spent some time in H&M.  Then, we took the train to Prato for dinner.  We visited Sarah's dorm, had drinks at a bar on Piazza San Francesco.  Dinner was at Agora Eno Restaurant.  That night we took the last train back to Florence, which was a little creepy.

The next day, Sarah took the train to Florence and we all went to Pisa.  What a wonderful day!  That tower!  We got there in time for coffee at a café and to walk around a little before our time to climb the tower.  The steps are very worn from the millions of feet over the years, and combined with the lean it made walking up a challenge.  After that we visited the church and the baptistery.  We had lunch in a university neighborhood and were very glad to have left the tourists behind.  We took the train back to Florence, and then to Prato for dinner.  Sarah's train from Pisa was delayed and she arrived in Prato only a short time before we did.

Our last morning we visited Florence's Duomo.  We climbed Brunelleschi's dome.  Amazing!  I can't imaging being permitted to do this in the U.S. - the steps were worn and narrow, there was no railing, and at the end it was only wide enough for one person going up OR down.  The view was splendid and seeing the dome paintings up close was impressive.  After this, Bill and the kids went to climb the bell tower while I visited the crypt.  Then, we had a nice lunch, picked up our suitcases and took a taxi to the car rental office.

Now for my disappointments.  First, I should have booked three nights in Florence instead of two.  Second, I didn't do my homework on the sites in Florence.  We discovered when walking around on Sunday that the museums are closed on Mondays.  There wasn't enough time to get tickets and visit the Uffizi on Sunday afternoon, so we didn't get to see it.  More planning is needed than I thought, and advance tickets need to be purchased for many sites.

I will need to return to Florence some day to spend more time and try to get the feel for it.  Our time was so short, and because we went to Pisa we didn't really get to explore any of the city.  It was also terribly crowded with tour groups, I can't imagine what it would be like during the tourist season!!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Italy 2016 - Beginning with Venice

My oldest daughter is studying in Italy this semester.  We decided to take this opportunity for a grand vacation!  After a few months of planning, we were finally on our way!  We flew into Venice, planned two night there in an apartment, then two nights in Florence at a guest house, one night in Umbria, and four nights in the Naples area.

Venice is unique and wonderful.  I can understand the 'mixed' reviews I have heard from friends and family.  First, it is always a tourist destination.  Second, it is expensive.  Third, it is maddeningly difficult to find anything you are looking for.  Fourth, it is full of tourists.

All of that being said, we found it charming and a place we would like to return.  We stayed in the Dorsoduro section in a rental apartment.  This neighborhood, sestieri, is more residential than San Marco and the only hotels were along the Grand Canal.  The squares, piazzas and campos, had casual cafes (bars), neighborhood restaurants, children playing, and market stands with fresh fish and vegetables.  The stores were small groceries, hardware stores, clothing and shoe shops and did not cater to tourists.  To walk these streets was to experience the city without artifice, or the veneer of an international tourist attraction.

When we disembarked from our water taxi, we were a "short walk" from the apartment, according to the taxi driver.  But, with dead cell phones and a simple paper map, we got lost for the first time in Venice.  I don't think there is a single straight street in the city, at least as far as we walked.  And because it wasn't designed for motor vehicles, streets are often walkways between buildings.  We did eventually find our way to the Campo Santa Margherita and then the apartment.

That night, jet lagged, we made our way to Piazza San Marco, and got lost for the second time.  It was raining, but that actually enhanced our Venetian experience.  There weren't a lot of tourists out because of the weather, and we could wander in relative peace.  Every few 'blocks' there would be a turn because of the maze of streets and canals.  When we arrived in San Marco I understood immediately why many people don't love Venice - it seemed to be the Epcot experience: picturesque but soulless, everything in place for the pleasure of people passing through. 

Our full day in Venice will filled with churches.  We started at Basilica dei Frari.  But were immediately stalled - there was a wedding in the church and we couldn't visit until it was done.  We learned that visiting Italy involves patience, good nature, and alternate plans.  We waited in a café across the canal for the wedding to finish.  Knowing that Venice's churches are still being used for worship, and not just tourists, made the experience richer.   Seeing Titian's masterpiece in place, instead of a museum, was perfect.  Next, we visited Chiesa di San Giacomo dall'Orio, a hodge podge of a church with elements from Romanesque to Baroque.  Lunch was delightful at Al Prosecco, where we had plates of cheeses and cured meats, along with prosecco (of course!), fruit and bread.  We took the vaporetto to visit Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, situated on an island in the lagoon.  This is a Palladian church with graceful arches and a quiet peace.  There is an elevator to the top of the dome, where all of Venice is laid out before you.  Dinner that night was in Dorsoduro, in one of the many places we ate without English menus. 

We did get the hang of navigating the streets of Venice without getting lost.  We relied on a combination of cellphone GPS location and paper maps.  We didn't take a gondola ride because of the continuing rain.  We didn't visit the island of Murano or many other places.  But we did spend almost two days experiencing the delight of Venice, and avoiding the worst of the tourist crowds.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Boy Who Couldn't Wait!

Twelve years. That's how long it has been. They have been good years, they have been fun, and oftentimes hard.

It was twelve years ago that my son was born. He is the boy who couldn't wait. He was 16 weeks premature. He spent the first ten weeks of his life in the intensive care unit. We spent the next year walking on eggshells. He was lucky. We are blessed!

This boy, who made such a dramatic entry in my life, is blissfully unaware of pain and stress of those weeks. It was an apparently normal pregnancy. I had no risks, no complications, no warning. We traveled to my family for a long weekend and visited the county fair. That night we went to the hospital because I didn't feel right. Four days, and many drugs later, my son was born.

We were warned of the path ahead, but couldn't really comprehend what we were being told. We heard "50% chance of survival", "possible aneurysms in his brain", "incubator", "NICU", "lung development", "complications". So many words that had no footing in my brain. I was pregnant. I wasn't ready to give birth - that's inconceivable! I had hardly started telling people I was pregnant because I didn't show very much. Of course the contractions would stop ... it wasn't time for him to be born. Or was it?

My family was everything I could dream a family could be. They sat with me in the hospital. They made a home for my two older children and stayed up nights with them, while I was staying up nights with the boy who couldn't wait. They told bad jokes, made me laugh, and soothed me when I cried. They kept talking to me when I was so loopy with medication that I couldn't talk. They took care of things at home so my husband didn't have to worry -- shipping us clothes and toys for the big kids. They let us focus on me, and the boy who couldn't wait.

Then, the time came. I have vivid memories of the hospital, the steps that let me to the delivery room, the activities and conversations, and tension in the room. But, this is about the boy. He was born in a pillow of amniotic fluid. No bruising or bleeding in his brain. He was born breach, but he was so small it wasn't a problem ... and he had his pillow. We didn't get to see him. He was immediately taken by the Team. If ever there was an A Team, it was this group of people. Once the boy appeared, no one else mattered. He was taken into their expert hands, all our love and prayers and hope going down the hallway with him.

What followed was hours of waiting, weeks of watching, and miles of driving. We split our time, and our family, between New York and New Jersey. We needed stability for the kids, but we needed to be with the baby. Slowly the boy emerged from his critical state and began to grow. He is still growing!

My son was born at 24 weeks gestation, and weighed 1 lb 6 oz. When he was big enough, he was transferred to a hospital closer to our home. He was discharged from the hospital weighing less than 4 pounds. Twelve years later his is a big boy, no smaller than the other kids his age. He entered middle school this year and walks the halls like all the other kids. I hardly mention his early start in life anymore. It seems unrelated to the boy that lives in my house today. We don't hide the fact that he was premature. We have pictures of him in the NICU in the photo album. But none of the kids realize how blessed we are to have our boy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Memorials and memories

It was with much sadness, we said our final farewell to Joan, Bill's mother and my children's beloved Grandma. She died in May from cancer. While I will carry the memory of her last months, I will cherish the memories of the years we had with her. Her strength, her courage, her love and devotion to her family will be what I carry in my heart.

I want my children to remember their grandmother and be able to express both their love and their grief. I have a difficult time talking to my children about the "hard" things. I know I am not alone in this, but knowing it doesn't give me the words to use. Peter was very open with his questions, but the other children weren't. I didn't do the greatest job preparing them for this outcome. Where do we go from here?

What is an appropriate memorial? Recently we attended a memorial concert for Bill's cousin. He was an accomplished musician and his memorial was a concert in NYC. A evening of memories and music. Tommy's friends showed their love and shared their memories through music. The audience seemed an afterthought - it was all about the music, as it was the music that tied them together. These friends had an outlet, a way to express their love and grief.

What does a family do? We aren't musicians and Joan wasn't famous. Just an ordinary family. But how do we now express our love and grief, how do we share our memories?

Life with my mother-in-law seemed to revolve around holidays and family gatherings. The last chapter of her life was no exception. It was Thanksgiving that she had her first symptoms. It was just after Christmas we knew the diagnosis. It was New Year's that we spent with Anita, her sister, wishing we could be together. It was Easter that brought her closer to her final days.

My children will remember their holidays and their Grandmother, forever entwined. Grandma always delighted them by granting their wishes and giving freely her love. The holidays always involved Grandma and revolved around family. Our holidays will be a living memorial to her.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Bullies

It is turning out to be a turbulent year for my kids. I must have gone through my childhood in a rose-colored bubble, because I have few distinct memories of bullying. I remember my brother coming home with bloody noses from grade school, I remember an overweight girl getting teased and other teasing because of glasses or braces or whatever. I am sure bullying existed close to me, but I don't remember. I was never a target, nor do I remember being a passive participant.

Now, as a parent, I am thrown into situations for which I have no reference point. My son was teased and "messed with" in 4th grade. He didn't want adult help, just a sounding board. It never went far enough to be "actionable". He has told me about the way the school covers bullying and the videos and lessons presented yearly. He has also told me about things he witnessed and we discussed how he could remove himself or distract the focus. All from a distance ... not close to home ... not hurting my child.

A child has had problems with a bully in school this year. This boy acts as his friend, and then hits his head against the wall when adults aren't looking. Not all of the abuse is physical, but all of it is emotional. He doesn't want his "friend" to get in trouble, so he doesn't speak up. I am also discovering more about his school personality and bothers me. He is an easy target because he really wants to be friends with everyone. He will do things that kids tell him to do, even if he is uncomfortable. The school says he needs to be more assertive, but I just want to bring him home and not let him get hurt. I never thought I would say that home schooling had advantages!

My latest education involves a Girl Scout troop. This group has been together since Kindergarten. Some girls joined in later years, and one just joined this year. There are 11 girls in the troop, and they have achieved much and made the parents proud. Until this weekend. There was a sleepover that involved a group of girls who are all members of the troop. They made prank calls and sent hurtful messages to another troop member. Some of the girls say they didn't know that it had gone too far. They are telling their other friends that it was just a joke and they didn't mean it. They are defending themselves by pleading ignorance.

The girl who was targeted is not popular. The girl who was targeted did nothing to instigate this. The girl who was targeted has been a target by others before. The girls who did this knew all this. They have all been part of this group for years. Why now? Why these girls? What went wrong? I am torn between wanting to know who instigated the abuse so I can take action, and not wanting to know so I can look all of them in the face. The Girl Scout Council advised the leader that the abusive girls need scouts as much (if not more) as the targeted girl. I am not in a place yet where I can accept that. I want them to have to pay in some way for this breech of trust. They have ripped apart the group in a way that I don't think can be mended. One night of "fun" has left anger and hurt that will be scars for a long time.

I am more understanding of the individual boy who bullies in school. I can say ... he is troubled. I can say ... he is taking out his aggression and emotions in an inappropriate way and he can be helped. I can also say to the school separate these boys and protect the victim.

The girls though ... how do we protect our girls? How do we help them navigate this new world? Friends are punished for abusing another friend. A group that was a haven from the stress and emotional rollercoaster at school has been torn apart.

Any why? How did it happen? How could it have been avoided? I am searching my memories for clues that warned of this. I am looking for connections that weren't there before. I am coming up empty. There were small things, insignificant things, really nothing. Did I not notice? Were there warning signs I should have seen? How did this happen? Why these girls? What went wrong?

The girls who were not involved will need help through this. I don't know that I could continue to lead this group. I wouldn't want to have anything to do with the abusers and the abused has withdrawn. What is left of the haven the leader was trying to provide? I remember my years in Girl Scouts as a child. I have seen the high school girls in our town who stuck with scouts, they are strong, they are poised, they believe in themselves. I want my daughters to grow up with high self esteem. I want to give them a foundation that will permit them to hold their heads high and speak up for what is right. I want them to have the strength to make the right choices, even when they are the hard choices. I want them to be able to say NO and not apologize. I want this for other girls too. I want them to have a place where they can just be. Where no one will make fun of them for singing badly or trying something new. One night of "fun" can rip this apart.

How do we recover? How do we move on? How do I teach my children assertiveness? The victim says "he didn't mean it and he's still my friend". The witness says "they were just joking and they said they were sorry". While I didn't deal with bullies in my childhood, they are haunting my life now. This is becoming the biggest challenge I have faced in parentlng. My bullies -- my children -- my challenge.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Last night, as is our tradition, we boarded coach buses to go into NYC to see the balloon inflation. The city has implemented crowd control and the crowds have grown exponentially over the years. Gone are the days you could wander in and out, stop for a coffee and hot chocolate and then return for another view of the massive cartoon characters. The balloons are as impressive as ever, but now they start inflating them earlier so more people can see them - I guess many people didn't like the flat ones.

The unusual aspect of this year's event was the police presence. While there have been police in view since September 11, this year was extraordinary. There were police cameras mounted high on light poles, and there was no point during the walk that we couldn't see a number of officers. There were also helicopters flying over the event continuously. In the past there has been a occasional news craft, but, again, nothing like this year. We commented on it, joked about it, and complained about the "organization" of it all.

Then, with a heavy heart, I read this morning's newspaper. The Taj hotel is the one Bill stayed in for his first trips to India. Luckily for his Indian staff, they moved their offices to a different city a couple of years ago. As the news reports fill in more details, the scene becomes more vivid in my mind. My heart goes out to those living through the chaos today. I can't help but remember our national chaos that September day. Waking up and starting a perfectly normal day, then watching the events unfold and being in shock at the reality. Our world changed that day, but we have coped with the changes and retain our national pride and spirit.

The economy continues to be in the news and I am trying to balance my feeling of insecurity and the desire to hunker down, with the kids exuberance of the holiday spirit. They hear the words about the economy, but it doesn't mean anything to them. Like last night ... they saw the helicopters and police and didn't think about the insecurity of our world.

So, as we embark on this holiday season, I move forward with hope for the future, and prayers for those who are in need. I think of those who are jobless, those who have lost their retirement funds, those who have lost college investments. I think of those in Mumbai and other places in the world affected by senseless violence. I think of our soldiers trying to stem the tide of chaos in places far away.

I have hope because we are strong together. I have hope because this nation found the strength to vote for a president of hope. I have hope because our nation is resilient and willing to help those in need. In those who lived through the depression, I see the hope of the future. In those who lived through war and chaos, I see the hope of the future.

On this Thanksgiving Day, especially, I am thankful for my family, our community, and the strength of both. It is my sincere desire that I am able to show my children and my family how much I love and rely on them. We are all members of the community of humanity, and I will do my best to give back to this community through the year. Especially during this upcoming year of need. It is through family that we learn loving, tolerance and strength. It is through community that we show the faith that we have in others and the hope we have for the future.

So to my family, I give you my thanks on this day. I thank you for your love and support. My children are richer because of all of you.