Monday, October 31, 2011

Items Wanted on Journey

Packing up a family of six to move half way around the world can present some challenges. Most of which are to do with what to bring and what to leave behind. The cost of shipping, not to mention the hassle of all the stuff, can be challenging if not daunting. When travelling with small children or children who are reluctant to move, means you need to bring somethings that you may not have, just to make the transition easier on them.

I decided for myself, I would bring a few of my favourite cook books. While packing to move I set aside some of my cookbooks to go through. From there I would figure out which ones to bring and which ones I would just take a few recipes and put them in my newly acquired Moleskine recipe journal. I also put in the box a few of the new mugs I had just made. I wanted some hand made touches to make us all feel a little bit more at home when we arrived.

In the madness of moving, said box, went missing. I mean I know where it is, it is in storage, but where in the storage room, I am not exactly sure. (My box of shoes made a similar journey, sadly I was able to easily locate them before I left.) So, on my last day before I left Victoria I ran into Russell Books, where I had some trade-in credit and quickly grabbed two of my favourite cookbooks as well as one new one, meant to challenge me.

These are the books I brought;

What I failed to take into consideration is that our West Coast vegetarian diet is heavily influence by Middle Eastern, Asian and Central American cooking. Did you see mediterranean on this, no I didn't think so, which means, many of the ingredients are hard if not impossible to find in a small town Italian grocery store. Perhaps destiny was trying to tell me something when my box of cookbooks made their way into storage.

I had a pretty nicely stocked kitchen in Canada. I enjoy cooking. I have pots and pans I really like, a kitchenaid I love, some nice little tools, and some smoking knives. The knives came with me and let me tell you, it is worth it. I love having good knives around, it seems to make cooking all that much easier. I did pack a box with my pans in the event I feel that I want them sent to me. In the meantime, I am making do and still enjoy the cooking. I love all the fresh ingredients and I love being forced out of the box, and the bit of rut our dinners had become. I know my children are missing three sister burritos, but they don't seem to be complaining, so all is good.

However I decided I would put together a list of things I would happily accept if someone is coming this way:

1. Maple Syrup - you can get here but in small expensive quantities.
2. Peanut butter - the kind that is only peanuts with a bit of salt.
3. Some sort of cilantro (coriander, coriandolo)
4. Chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce.
5. Frozen fruit, (okay, obviously I don't want someone to bring that)
6. Measuring cups and spoons. (I am too lazy to keep looking for them, I know they are here)
7. Vanilla Rooiboos tea.

Wow, that list is a lot shorter than I thought it would be. Okay perhaps I could add to it later. Either I am adjusting well, or not thinking well. I hope it is the former.

I could make a long list of the items that I was grateful that I brought along. Books for the children in English, toys, my knives of course, my knitting, craft supplies for the girls and most importantly, my favourite mug, which I carried on!

Oh what a tangled web we weave....


Parental Warning - The following post is not suitable for young or impressionable minds.

I have often wondered what, as parents, we are thinking when we begin to introduce the likes of Santa, The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and for our family, the Pumpkin Fairy. We tell our children not to tell fibs, yet we spin this magnificent web of deceit yearly with them. Is is to carry on some sort of 'magic' or is it to buy us some good behaviour. 'Santa only comes to good girls and boys'.

I began to wonder if this was the right path when my oldest daughter began to ask questions. I dug myself deeper and deeper into a hole. She questioned the tooth fairy and I typed elaborate notes and printed them in a size 4 font, so it looked as if it was done by small hands. I gave the fairies names and signed the notes. They sent messages from the other fairies. And then the 'brilliant' idea of the Pumpkin Fairy. I heard it from someone or somewhere, you get the children to put all the crap candy they get at halloween into the magic pumpkin and the Pumpkin fairy takes it away and leaves a nice gift. So now I was exchanging the candy my children got for FREE in the neighbourhood for books that I purchased. A somewhat flawed plan I will admit.

Fast forward to us now in Italy. A country where Halloween is only beginning to sink in. No grand schemes of going door to door to collect stuff I don't even want my children to eat. But my children want to know if the Pumpkin Fairy is coming. Yikes!! What have I started.

The children really felt the need to participate in Halloween, so we went to the local market and bought some beautiful zucca to carve and light with candles. And really that is the part of Halloween I love the most. Then we bought some random mystery candy from the grocery store and performed a Halloween meets Easter sort of celebration where the children wandered around the garden collecting candy.

The candy turned out to be not fantastic, so everyone happily dumped them in the 'magic' pumpkin and I now find myself scrambling for creative gifts from the Pumpkin Fairy.

On a side note, when my oldest found out that the Tooth Fairy and Santa were me, she was devastated. She cried on and off for about a week. It was awful and I felt terrible. I tried to sell it to her that she could help carry on the magic with her younger siblings, but that didn't seem to smooth over her feelings of disappointment. And I brace myself as each child gets a bit older and will soon discover the truth.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Autonno in Toscana

You know the scene in Cinderella where she wanders around humming and day dreaming as she cleans and the ugly stepsisters wonder what has gotten in to her. Well that is me. This morning I took a dreamy walk to the village, wandered down some new lanes and just awed at the colours and views in the morning sun. I love autumn, and autumn here is so full of colour and light you can help but feel dreamy.

Yesterday we went to Siena, what a beautiful city perched on the hill. The piazza del Campo was absolutely magnificent. It was a beautiful warm day and the piazza was full of people just sitting and enjoying the day. I loved to see people enjoying a bottle of wine, just hanging in the piazza. The piazza is surrounded by the type of cafes we have all come to know from photos and films. We wandered the cobblestone streets, looked in shoe stores and ate gelato. Mark really enjoyed just sitting in the piazza and soaking it all in. In the evening we went to an art opening and then sort of got lost on the way home. Our GPS 'Sally', tried to take us up the windiest mountain road and when we did not let her, she kept trying to turn us around saying things like 'turn left and then turn left' and even told us to make a left turn that if we didn't we would have driven off the road. By the end of it all Mark got fed up with 'Sally', so we found the Autostrada ourselves and headed for home.

Today we went to the local Frutta e Vedura, to buy some fresh vegetables as well as the nuovo olio. This is the olive oil that has just been freshly pressed. It is less than a week old. We actually bought two different ones to do a taste test. We bought some fresh pane and when we got home, we put some oil on the bread, added a little salt and it was amazing. So fresh. I am not sure which I prefer. The one from about 2km away seems a little more full flavoured while the one from down the road was much more grassy. But both were great, and I know we will go through them quickly.

After a delicious lunch Mark headed outside with the children and our downstairs neighbour to do a little pumpkin carving. Halloween is not celebrated the same way as it is in North America, but to be honest, my favourite part of Halloween has always been the lit pumpkins.

I know this might start to get old, but it is just so beautiful here. And yes, there are certainly some challenges like blowing through 25 euros on my mobile phone in one week because I didn't realize I was getting charged 2.50 when I used my google translate on their 3g network. Or it taking nearly 3 hours to try and top up said mobile phone on the internet, without success. Or the man in the village who insists on talking to me and telling me stories even though when I tell him I only speak English, he says "Si, si" and launches into a very animated tale in very fast Italian. But luckily the fantastic experiences just make the challenging ones seem more manageable. And at the end of the day, there is always gelati and cappuccino!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pane, Pizza e Pasta

I thought I should mention some things we have been eating in Italy. As I mentioned earlier, groceries for a family of vegetarians and one vegan, can be challenging at any time, add to that a new language and differences in dietary habits and things can get a bit interesting. The food in Italy is fantastic. Things seem so much fresher and without so many additives. There is also a lot more local production and seasonal eating. There doesn't seem to be the widespread importing of food, which sadly we North Americans have been so used to. I must admit, I do like mango and avocado an awful lot and with out all the importing these things would not be part of my diet in Canada. Here, I have not yet found an avocado (but I hear they are here). And I have not been able to find frozen fruit.

So here are a few things that we have eaten a lot of, and I mean a lot.
Pane - Lots and lots of pane, it is fresh and it is good. Here in Tuscany they don't add salt to the pane. To be honest, they just don't add the salt the way we do in Canada, no salted butter to the children's dismay. Historically salt was a precious commodity and therefore used sparingly, it is where the word salary is derived. Really when you get used to unsalted food, which is better for you, you don't really miss it, too much. We are generally a whole wheat kind of family, integrale as they would say here. But here, the white crusty bread is plentiful and it make the most awesome paninis.

Pizza - Here there are many pizza places, and it is a pretty easy meal to feed a large family. We found a great place not to far away that makes pizza a metre long. You can have 3 different types of toppings on the one pizza, and it is sold by weight and it is fantastic! Yesterday we visited a little village and the local pizzeria squished the dough in a machine to make it super thin, it too was very good. And for the vegan you just say 'Non Formaggio' and all is good. For me two of my all time favourite foods are rucola (arugula in Canada, rocket in Australia, Roquette I believe in France) and prosciutto, and as luck would have it, the Italians like to throw that on top of a pizza, yeah for me!!!

Pasta - There is a whole aisle in the grocery store dedicated to pasta. And I mean a whole aisle, both sides and that is on top of the giant area of fresh stuff in the dairy aisle. There is an amazing variety of shapes, size and different companies, as well as pasta made with semolina, pasta made with rice or kamut or corn, you name it. For a country full of wheat products there seem to be a lot of alternatives for someone trying to avoid gluten. So far the family is set on a type of fat spaghetti, that actually isn't spaghetti but I forget the name, perhaps bucatini no.9. It is so fat and it is hollow in the centre and they love it.

I know it doesn't start with a 'p' so I didn't put it in the title, two other foods (and one is a beverage) I love are cappuccino and gelato, not necessarily together, but that is okay too. I just love the 'way' of coffee over here, you stand at the bar, you pay as you leave, it is lovely and good and inexpensive. The gelato is an art form all of it's own. In Firenze the gelati was sculpted into beautiful waves dotted with ingredients. We weren't the only ones taking pictures. And if there is one thing that will extend the life of a child after dragging them down cobblestone streets looking at piazzas and etruscan walls, it is a serving of well made gelato. So far a family fav combo is lemon and chocolate.

I promise to post some pizza and pasta pictures when I have some.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And so it begins...

It has taken me awhile to finish this last post. I was unsure how to articulate my feelings. Last week I felt so uneasy and questioning and this week things have swung to the other end of the spectrum. We had a great weekend.

On Saturday I had a great a walk with my lovely downstairs neighbour. I teach her English she teaches me Italian. We walked down the main road from our house and she showed me a lovely path called il Canale Maestro della Chiana. It is a 60 km trail that stretches from Umbria to Arezzo. It is easily accessible from our house and I can hardly wait to take all the children there for a bike ride.

Later Finn and I went for a walk nearby and we saw the olives being harvested. It seemed like a family affair with the signora getting the olives from the low branches. It was so great to see how they are picked. We recently received a bottle of olive oil from the woman who lives on the same property. It was from last years harvest and it was by far the best oil I have ever tasted. It is so fresh, almost grassy in taste. And the children love to dip their pane in it.

In the evening we drove to Florence to meet some friends for dinner. They are Canadian and have lived here for 14 years. They have 3 boys similar in age to our children and they really know their way around Firenze. Mark and I instantly fell in love with Florence. It was just amazing. The buzz of the city, the art, the narrow streets, it was so alive. Molly and Mieran felt the same way and have asked everyday if we can go back. I just love walking the narrow streets and imagining how this is way these streets have been for hundreds of years, minus he whipping mopeds and tiny fiats. It is amazing to see the city buses squeeze down these streets, you have to be very alert.

On Sunday we were invited for lunch downstairs. Our neighbour had a friend, a chef, from Sicily coming by and she invited us to join them. The food was magnificent and we were so full, we could barely move. Afterwards we sat by the fireplace and chatted, it was really a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Monday we decided to drive to Monte San Savino, a town that the area is named after. We really need to get on the Italian schedule. Monday's most of the shops stay closed, but we still really enjoyed walking around the cobblestone streets. Every thing seems so steeped in history, I can't help but have questions, I want to know everything about these places. I really need to find some better books on Italy.

I have been doing some walking in the area and I just love the rolling hills with all the earthy colours. These are the colours that so many paints are named after. I love the terraced gardens the straight lines of olive trees or grapevines. I also love that you can't really tell the new houses from the old, as the architecture seems relatively unchanged.

I can now see how people fall in love with Italy and how people are so inspired that we find paintings of Italy in living rooms and houses all around the world. I am in awe each day of the new things we see and experience, and I am so grateful that we have taken this opportunity and embarked on such an amazing journey.

*Cypress Trees looming overhead.
*Olive Harvest
*Ponte Vecchio towards Duomo at night.
*Monte San Savino
*Rolling hills of Tuscany

Friday, October 21, 2011

The international language of Ikea

Here is a novel concept, start a store that has everything you may need to set up a house. Hire industrial designers to design user friendly products that are current and interesting. Use packaging that printed in as many languages as possible, then put the stores in easy to reach locations all around the world and have the layout as similar as possible. Then, to really make it simple, put arrows on the floor so anyone can find their way around. Oh wait, it has been done, it is called Ikea.

We have been in Ikea in Canada, Australia and now Italy, and there is something comforting about being able to find some basic items, at reasonable prices, as well as one stop shopping for setting up a new home. I also liked the English option on the self serve checkout, as my Italian is still very basic. Sure I would love to traipse around Italy finding all the funky cool gadgets I may be needing, but for one day, having a sense of knowledge that has escaped me the last few shopping trips was a real pleasure. We sent Finn and Pippa to 'smaland', and they had a great time, while I tried to speed through the ikea marketplace. Molly and Mieran loved checking out all the rooms and the designs. And though it took a long time, it was all good.

Our place is starting to feel a little more homey to us. Our stuff arrived the other day and the children have been happily playing with things they haven't seen in a few weeks. This morning I woke up and found Finn quietly playing with his physics kit in the living room. This is a first. Usually he just likes to wake everyone else up.

Each time we go somewhere I am more and more impressed by the beauty. Some of it seems so surreal. It is like stepping into an art book. These are the views that we had become so familiar with, having seen them in countless paintings and books, and now they are our surroundings. I think the children are going to get tired of me saying how beautiful things are. But oh well, children get tired of listening to their parents anyway.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Benvenuto Italia

I was stunned that I did not fall fast and head first in love with Italy as I imagined I would have, having dreamed for so many years about coming here. But I did not. Don't get me wrong, I think it is truly amazing and I am sure love will blossom. But the first few days were rough, to say the least. Perhaps it was the culmination of the wild ride I had been on, perhaps the long journey and most certainly the lack of sleep which led me to a few WTF moments, where I wondered, what had we been thinking. I cried a lot, especially the first night. So did Molly. At 13, she was not excited about the move from the start, she was concerned about missing her friends, her cat and our home.

Each day has become a little bit easier for both of us, I tell Molly to give it a chance, this is something we will look back on and be grateful for this opportunity. For me, I know things will get easier with time, they already are. When I thought about all that had fallen into place to make this happened, how the universe seemed to be showing us this was the right path, I knew that there must be something more, I knew I just needed some sleep.

It has been nearly a week since we arrived in Italy, and already we have had many great experiences, really everything we do is a learning experience. I was a bit intimidated by the language barrier, and I felt awkward at not being able to speak Italian in Italy. It seems so pompous to expect them to know my language. I mean I can't imagine someone coming up to me in Canada and expecting I might know Italian or some other foreign language. But it is amazing how helpful the people are and how understanding. We manage to piece together conversations with the odd word in each language and then a lot of hand gestures.
My new best friend is google translate. So far, I don't think I have offended anyone. But I can't be sure.

Grocery shopping was a great learning experience. As we have some pretty specific dietary requirements, grocery shopping can be challenging at the best of times, let alone, reading labels in another language. Luckily we are all open and I bought many items on 'lets try it and see if we like it' basis and we have already picked some favourites. We are learning more about cheese and milk and I really think it is great to force your self out of your comfort zone at times and experience new things.

I am impressed by the quality and variety of the foods. It is great to see so many locally made products. Already we have found that there are lots of options for a vegetarian family. I must admit it has been mainly pasta, paninis and pizza so far, but as I get more settled I will get more adventurous, both in shopping and cooking.

We like to walk each day to the nearby village for a cappuccino and some gelati. It is a beautiful stroll though the olive grove and then down into the village. And each day we see something new. Today we sadly found out the gelati is done for the season. But hey, they are still open for cappuccino!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Room with a View

I am sorry for not posting but it has been a wild few weeks, not to mention I have been having some in depth thoughts about this blog. When I started blogging, it was really about me, so I changed a few names, to protect the innocent, as one would say. But now this blog is morphing more into a blog about my family and our journey, so I felt weird about referring to them by all their 'blog names' as they like to call them. So let us clear up a few things. Sam's real name is Mark, the children's names will just pop up where necessary, thanks for this interruption. Now, on with the blog.

As I say it has been a wild few weeks. We moved out of our house, moved our stuff into another one, then went to Vancouver. Mark had arthroscopic surgery on his ankle. We drove to Calgary for a week and then back to Vancouver, Mark drove back to Victoria to pick up belongings that we would ship and then the next day we flew to Italy. We left Vancouver on Monday at 4:30pm, flew to Toronto and then on to Rome the next day. It was a long few days and needless to say when I arrived at our new apartment, I was not in the best of spirits.

I was wobbly tired and unable to sleep. My sister who is visiting from Australia would be within 20 minutes of our new place, but without a phone or any internet access, we were unable to connect. This made me feel very isolated and lonely. My other sister was also in Italy, having flown over with us, but was in Florence and was also unreachable.

I really wondered what we had been thinking, packing up our life and our belongings and heading off on this journey, it almost seems ridiculous as I write this, clearly we were just jet lagged. And I did realize that at the time, but let me tell you, telling yourself it will get better with some sleep does not necessarily make it better. It really does take a few days, a couple of awesome cappuccinos and some great gelati.

Okay so this will be a small update and I will get more into detail, but I thought I should at least get started and at least show you the view.