Thursday, December 30, 2010

Buon Anno Nuovo

Perdonami, ero pigra....sorry, I've been lazy these past few weeks. Caught up in baking and the falderal of Christmas. Now that Christmas is over, it's time to prepare for the coming year and think about what I hope to accomplish in 2011. I've been reading The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone's biographical novel about the life of Michelangelo, and it reminds of the hard work and effort that goes along with creative inspiration.

At the end of each year, I plot out the coming year's goals, and outline what I hope to accomplish. Mind you, these are not resolutions, but commitments I make to achieving specific goals. For the most part, I am able to accomplish most of the things that I set out to do. I won't bore you by reporting on my goals: instead, I encourage you to consider doing the same thing. It's a powerful exercise, and depending on your motivation and will power, it's possible to achieve the goals that you envision.

Once I returned from Italy, I was surprised to learn that I won't have any work projects until February. I usually have a 2-week project in December and an 8-week class to teach starting January 1, so it's strange to imagine doing no work at all until mid-February.

However, it frees me up to focus on other projects here at home. Reading, writing a book proposal, learning to cook....I'll return to more regular blog postings in the spring.

Wishing everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Caos con la neve

Piazza della Signoria


Firenze was blanketed with 30 cm. (11 inches) of snow within 4 hours on Friday, creating major chaos throughout the city. In fact, all of Tuscany was affected by the snow, and airports in Florence and Pisa were closed to all traffic. Trains could not run due to ice on the tracks and streets were jammed with cars, causing major traffic headaches. Though a snowfall of this size is not rare, the city was unprepared to deal with it, even though an alert about the snow forecast was posted on December 13th, several days in advance.

I talked with my friend Patrizia in Florence yesterday; on Friday night when she was returning from work in her car, it took 5 hours instead of the usual 40 minutes to get home. Mamma mia! Tall trees were falling over from the weight of the snow and there was general chaos. She heard on the radio that cars would be allowed to drive through the city center, which is usually only open to taxis and residents of that area, to allow Florentines to get home as quickly as possible. But when she drove by the Duomo, her car was the only one in motion.

Now the streets have turned to ice, and large portions of le autostrade outside of Florence are closed. Residents have been warned to stay home and off the streets. Accusations of responsibility are rampant: how did it happen that no pre-blizzard precautions were taken?

On the other hand, many are enjoying the snow and the beautiful photo opportunities that are possible. I'm wishing I were there to see it myself. Well, not the ice. Instead, the temperatures in my town are expected to reach 50 degrees F (10 C) tomorrow. As long as there's sun, I can dig it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Firenze sotto la neve



I received an invitation to a Christmas dinner tomorrow night in Firenze with the Meetup Group I joined while I was in Florence; they'll be eating at a restaurant just down the street from my apartment. Wish I could go! I'm keeping up with the news in Firenze, and today i giornali italiani (Italian newspapers) are filled with stories and images of the snow that is blanketing Italy, from the North all the way south to Calabria. Even Sicily, and the islands of Capri and Ischia have snow this week! Che bella! After nearly two months of rain, now Italy is being blanketed with the white stuff.

Since I'm unable to see the snow in real life, I've found some photos of the snow in Florence to share.

la neve: photos

Here's a video with interviews asking what people think of the snow. Most people seem to enjoy it: Che bello! (Howbeautiful!), Mi piace tanto! (I love it!), but a few say "L'odio!" (I hate it) or Non mi piace (I don't like it). And in the background, Dean Martin sings the playful tune, Let it Snow!

la neve: video

In the end, snow makes everything more festive for Christmas, and I'm hoping it snows here next week!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Staying warm

My experiences with il riscaldamento (heating) in Florence helped me to learn some new habits that are coming in handy during the Kansas winter. I'm able to keep the thermostat turned down by wearing a sweater and a scarf...it's as simple as that.

While living in Tokyo, my son was used to living without central heating. He used a kotatsu to keep warm. A kotatsu is a low table with a heater attached underneath the table top. A blanket is placed between the two panels on the top of the table, and then you sit under the blanket to stay nice and cozy. He lived without heating while I was in Italy, and has influenced me to keep the thermostat turned below 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. At night, we turn it down to 58 degrees, and perhaps we'll go down to 55 soon. No sense in wasting resources when we are already warm in our beds.

Last night the electricity was off for several hours in our neighborhood. Instead of freaking out, we merely switched gears. I lit some candles, and Jesse got out the head lamp he uses when camping. He continued cooking and washing dishes in the kitchen, while I read by flashlight, then took a bath by candlelight. We were both content to live without our electronic gadgets for awhile.

With the thermostat already at 65, it only dropped down 2 degrees in that two hour time frame. If we were used to having the house up to 68 or even 70, we might have suffered the loss of heat. But since we've both acclimated to a cooler house, we were both comfortable, and I'm content to continue living this way. We will consume less of the earth's natural resources and have lower heating bills. Now I'm quite thankful for the lessons I learned about surviving with less while living in Florence!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Biscotti

Cranberry-Pecan Biscotti

In Italy, biscotti is a general term used to refer to many types of cookies, but in the States, we use this word for a specific type of hard cookie that is eaten with, or dipped into coffee. The word itself means "twice-baked," and biscotti have a long history in Italy. The city of Prato has the first documented recipe for biscotti, discovered in the 1800's, and Prato is usually credited as being the locale where biscotti originated. However, others say that a form of these cookies originated during Roman times: because they are very dry, biscotti can be stored for long periods of time and thus became an ideal food for soldiers, farmers and sailors, who were often on long journeys away from home. Regardless of where they originated, there are now many regional variations of biscotti in Italy.

I am making biscotti for the first time this week. I bought several packages of them at the store last week, and thought they would make an interesting gift. However, the flavor was so poor that I decided to try making them myself. Making biscotti has turned out to be much simpler than I had imagined, and the results are not only tasty, but it's very satisfying to be able to make my own gifts. I've now made enough for several gift baskets, and my son has asked me to make a batch to share with his co-workers.

While in Italy, I often bought cantuccini, a small almond biscotti that is usually served with Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine. However, many kinds of biscotti go well with Vin Santo, and I was hoping to pair bottles of wine with the biscotti in my Christmas gift baskets. Unfortunately, I've run into some road blocks, as Vin Santo is not readily available here.

After calling around to many liquor stores in my town, I tracked down only two bottles of the wine, and each one cost more than $55! YIKES! In Italy, I could easily get a bottle of Vin Santo for less than 10 euros. They even stocked it at the mini-market near my apartment. I can order it online from New York, for about $20 per bottle, but I won't have time to do that for the baskets I'm delivering this week. Instead, I will add packets of coffee and hot chocolate to complement the biscotti in my gift baskets.

Now that I've had good luck with a few batches of biscotti, I'm eager to try more recipes, which are plentiful on the internet.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Parco Ducale, Parma

Parco Ducale, Parma

There are many contrasts between my home in Lawrence, KS and my home in Florence, Italy. One difference I've noticed lately is that very few people in Lawrence take the time to walk anywhere, except to take their dogs out for a stroll. Some people walk for exercise, like me, or to get to a nearby store, but pedestrians on the whole are few and far between in my town. I want to continue my daily habit of walking 1-3 hours, as I did in Florence, but it's more of a chore here because it's boring and very lonely.

Today I walked for nearly an hour along a bike path and I only came across one other person walking, and a group of 6 runners. I've walked downtown several times this week, which is about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from my house, and did not see anyone else walking, except when I was near stores in the downtown area. It's no wonder that I usually find winter to be a very lonely time, as people keep to themselves in their houses and the only time I see anyone is when I seek them out. It's not as lonely this year, however, since my son is living at home: at least I have someone to talk to when he's around.

So even though I enjoy being home, and having sunshine nearly every day, I miss the sense of community that I feel in Florence. Whenever I go for a walk (fare la passeggiata), there are always people around, and I never feel lonely. In Florence, it's common to see people walking at all times of the day and night. It's also necessary, especially in pedestrian areas where few cars or buses are allowed.

I also enjoy the way people gather in the piazzas in Italy, or sit together on benches in the park to chat, which is rarely done here. Even in warmer weather, I rarely see people sitting in the parks in Lawrence, unless there is a special activity going on. Americans don't have the habit of gathering in the piazzas that Italians do, and I miss that aspect of the Italian culture.

One of my favorite parks in Italy is the Parco Ducale in Parma. I had the good fortune to stay in Palazzo Ducale, once the home of Napoleon's second wife, Maria Luigia, for several weeks in the fall of 2007 and 2008, as one of my friends is the commander of the carabinieri (Italy's military police force) for the Province of Parma. The park surrounds the Palazzo, which is now a carabinieri compound and off limits to the general public. But the park itself is open and widely used by the Parmense.

Palazzo Ducale, Parma

Many of the rooms of the Palace have been turned into offices, while others lie vacant, especially the formal rooms with frescoed walls. Other rooms have been made into flats for 15 of the carabinieri and their families, including my friend Paolo. There are also 3 guest rooms, referred to as “La Foresteria,”, where I stayed. My "room" was actually a suite of rooms, quite elegant and comfortably furnished, though very inexpensive. Then last year I spent a few days in Parma at the flat of another friend, and made sure I spent an afternoon in Parco Ducale during my stay.

Parco Ducale, Parma

I spent many hours in Parco Ducale for three years in a row, and found great solace in the expanse of trees that surrounded me there. Parma has free wifi spots in many areas of town, including Parco Ducale, so it was an easy place to catch up on email with my netbook. There are many other reasons I like Parma, but Parco Ducale is the main one. It's the first place where I began to notice how Italians use parks in a different way than most Americans do, at least in my town.

It seems that most Americans go to the park to "do" something for a special occasion, while Italians often just go to the park to "hang out" - to sit and chat, read, stroll with babies or elderly parents in tow, or have discussions. Sure, they also go there so their children and dogs can play, but I've seen more use of the parks on a daily basis in Italy than I ever see in my town, even in warmer weather. Reminiscing about Italian parks reminds me of what I have to look forward to when I return to Italy next May.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Power of Focused Thought

One of the things I’ve loved about my work as a personal coach and teacher is helping people understand the importance of our thoughts. I’ve been amazed by the events that have taken place in my life over the past few years, and feel I can attribute much of it to the fact that I have become more focused on thinking about what I want, and I am acting on opportunities that come up in relation to those thoughts. I’ve been blessed with a life that gives me time to think, and I make good use of it. In this way, I can stay truer to being guided by my heart.

But along with new opportunities that have come my way, I’m noticing that I have less time to think about what I WANT to think about. I’m making more money teaching other people’s ideas instead of my own, and though this provides me with the means to travel more, it interferes with the thinking time that helps me create future opportunities. Still, even in the midst of everything, synchronicity continues to happen.

I recently found a book at the library that is a continuation of a story I read and loved a decade ago, that takes place in Florence. When I read the first book, Italy was an unknown world to me. Now it is a familiar presence, and this new book reminds me of many places that I visited just weeks ago…so much that it’s almost like being there again.

I need to remember that even in the midst of life’s busyness, it is essential to take time and stay focused on thinking about the things that matter most: staying true to ourselves, our beliefs and our integrity. We should also think about our relationships and love; about happiness, joy, and good health; about making the most of our talents; about creating peace in our world. We need to take time to imagine a future filled with these things. We must be the first to believe that our dreams can become reality, and it starts with our thoughts. It’s that simple.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Home again

When I arrived at the Kansas City airport, it was nearly empty. The flight landed nearly 30 minutes early, so my son was not there yet. I had time to retrieve my bags and was waiting by the curb when he drove up. I was happy to see the wide open blue sky, and we witnessed a lovely multi-colored sunset as we drove home.

We drove around looking for a store to buy wine, and it took so long that by the time we reached our house, we decided to wait until the next day to have the Thanksgiving dinner that Jesse had planned for me. On Friday, he roasted two kinds of cornish game hens (teriyaki and traditional) with cornbread stuffing, green beans and new potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. He's a stickler for fresh, organic food, and it was quite delicious!

There are certain advantages to being at home in Kansas. First, it's been sunny almost every day. No cloudy skies or rain to deal with...just cold weather. But my house is warm and comfortable, so I don't mind the cold.

It's nice to have my son around, even though he's gone most of the time. He's working overtime hours to save money for his next adventure, in Argentina! He hopes to take his bike and ride around South America once he's saved enough money.

Jet lag hasn't been much of a problem this year, and I'm not sure why. Usually I'm in a daze for a week or two after spending a month in Italy. I was also relieved to find out I'd only gained a few pounds while in Italy...I worried that it would be much more.

So it's back to mundane reality for awhile, and oddly enough, it feels good to have a break from the constant stimulation that I enjoyed in Florence. It may work out best for me to live part of the year in Italy and part of the year in Kansas; perhaps in this way I can have the best of both worlds. It's not exciting here in Kansas, but for the winter, that's fine with me. I can focus on studying Italian, making money and getting revved up for my return to Italy in the spring. Oh, and getting back to Zumba classes so I can lose the weight I gained!