Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday is Thanksgiving in Italy

Just a quick note and a picture to show you what we're up to (yes, those are devilled eggs)--we're in the midst of making Thanksgiving dinner, so this is just a post and run...hope that you are enjoying your weekend, even if it means lots of expat Thanksgiving cooking! Good luck!

Happy (Saturday) Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 23, 2007

Last Minute Blogging

It's just about midnight, so I'm just barely making my daily blog (for NaBloPoMo) entry in time. I have spent almost the entire day in the kitchen, baking and preparing food for tomorrow's big feast, so there's really not much to tell, except that the apple pie is ready, the persimmon pudding is done, and I'm working on the stuffing as we speak. While Thanksgiving was yesterday, today also brought some blessings that I am thankful for:

• The Colts won yesterday's Thanksgiving day game! Yay Colts!

• The butcher called and said that the turkey would be bigger than we had ordered (Antonello is going to pick it up tomorrow morning), which I found out was necessary yesterday when talking to Cyndi about the correct turkey sizes, so that was a little bit of a blessing!

• And, when I finally did have a bit of a break to go running this afternoon (between the persimmon pudding and the apple pie), it was beautiful outside: the hills in my neighborhood were blanketed in fog, which had slid into the folds of the countryside, making everything more fairy-tale like, the churches in the far hills silouhetted against the early evening sky. As I ran back through the country toward my house, the sun began to set in red and gold splendor. It was a wonderful way to take a break from all of that kitchen duty.

Okay! Back to work! Have a great weekend everyone!

- Jackie

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving in Italy

When I woke up this morning, it didn't hit me right away that it was Thanksgiving. Being so far away from the states makes it kind of an ordinary day at first glance, since there's no turkey today, and no big feast to celebrate along with family. Our Thanksgiving day will be this Saturday, and we have invited a big group of friends and family to celebrate with us, but that's still two days away, and it feels like there is all of this time left before the guests arrive. As I was sitting down at the kitchen table, thinking about my to-do list, I looked over at my husband, a bit of a smile on my lips. "Happy Thanksgiving!" I told him. Oh that's right! Today's Thanksgiving!

It hasn't been a very good week this week, especially with things at work, and I feel like I haven't been thankful for much at all, even if I realize that there is a lot to be thankful for. At the same time, everyday this week I keep reminding myself, "this is Thanksgiving week! Try to stop thinking about all of the other stuff, and just focus on giving thanks!" I try to relax a bit, and it seems like I just keep coming back to the same old stuff, to the same old worries that seem to be festering in my mind.

So this morning, as I went on my morning run, it was the same: I was thinking so much that I was having trouble counting my laps around the park. And as I was running, I looked up around me at the grey sky, the trees, with their leafless branches reaching up. I tried to block out my worries for a moment and to let the day, even if it was grey and lonely looking, take place. I remembered again that it was Thanksgiving. And I thought, as the steps of my run began to match the rhythm of the music on my ipod, that it was time to stop fretting and start smiling a bit more. There was a whole day before me worth celebrating, and it was about time I caught up.

Hope that you have a wonderful day, wherever you may be.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

All The Trimmings

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and while that doesn't mean much here in Italy as we're going to be celebrating on Saturday, I know that people back home in the states are getting their preparations ready, tweaking the menus, and baking pies. I wish I could be a part of it too, and even though I feel a bit far away from the action, my brother is having Thanksgiving at his house this year, so the neat thing is that we will be able to communicate via skype (does that mean I get to try the cranberry relish too?). In the meantime, to prepare a bit for my big Saturday dinner (with Americans and Italians alike) and to bring a little bit of Thanksgiving to the blog, here is some Turkey Talk for you:

While I am a vegetarian and don't get to partake in the main course, I love side dishes. This New York Times article that Corrie sent me about vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving sides is a great way to expand my dining options (even if I definitely get more than just cranberry sauce on normal Thanksgivings!). This does remind me of the time my mom made mushroom gravy for us non-meat eaters (my sister-in-law is also a vegetarian) and my uncle confused it for the meat gravy and drenched his mashed potatoes with it. Needless-to-stay, based on the funny face he made after a bit of chewing, he was not pleased with the results! Those poor mashed potatoes ended up in the trash.

This little tidbit from an Expat in London over at the San Francisco Chronicle struck me as just right for me, an expat over in Italy, to be reading. The difficulties with trying to make Thanksgiving just right were all things I could relate to: finding a turkey, getting that turkey to fit in the oven, making the meal as American as possible, and finding good fall decor. The article is definitely a good read, and here's a snippet:

One year we had to perform a bit of surgery before a roasting could take place. Last year this problem was inadvertently solved when I couldn't find a whole bird at all and had to assemble the turkey myself from bits and pieces. I managed to get two legs of somewhat varying sizes and one nice, plump breast half but had to build the other half with ground turkey and give the poor beast wings from a duck. It looked a bit Frankensteinian -- although it is amazing what a garnish of lots of parsley can do -- but tasted delicious.

And finally, thinking about that from another perspective, I wonder what my grandmother and grandfather's first Thanksgiving in America was like, right after they'd moved across the ocean from the Philippines? Here's Vangie Baga-Reyes's article about what a Filipino Thanksgiving might be like, complete with adobo-flavored turkey stuffing. Now that's something to try!

Good luck getting your bird ready, or whatever Thanksgiving preparations you have to do! Tomorrow is the big day!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Writing Lists

I'm a listmaker by nature, and recently Antonello and I have been busy savoring a bit of Thanksgiving-related listmaking. From a list of guests (we're still trying to organize this a bit better) to a list of dishes, to a list of ingredients, our list have grown from short to long to really long. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and list making, I decided to get started on a short list of online sites and blogs that I've been exploring over these past few months.

- The Olive Notes: Chris and Erin moved to Florence, Italy just a few months ago, but reading about their experiences--all of those first time things that I still hold fond memories of, from those first gelato spoonfuls to the first frightening moments of culture shock--has been a bit of a pick-me-up from what sometimes becomes "the ordinary"--is it possible that some days I forget how lucky I am to live in this beautiful country? Therefore, remembering Italy when everything was still brand new is such a warming experience. I love to think back on my own first memories, and reading about Chris and Erin's, it's easy to feel like a first time expat again, and be excited for the discoveries they are surely making in bella Firenze.

- With blogs in mind, another favorite is my brother's blog: Locussolus. He's been blogging for years, and it's always a pleasure to read his writing and see his pictures. If him pointing the direction to this Calvin and Hobbes link wasn't enough, check out this oldie but goodie (just in time for Thanksgiving!) Spinach Mushroom Quiche recipe that I will definitely making for our Saturday feast!

-Esperia Travels: My dear friend Cyndi has recently started her own tour company, Esperia Travels. Her trips take you into the heart of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, focusing especially on bella Romagna, an area which she is quite familiar with due to the fact that she lives there and has loved her years spent there with her Italian husband. Over the past few years, she has thoroughly explored the region, fallen in love with it, and now she wants to share that with other people! So...who wants to take the tour with me? Check out the website to see everything Esperia Travels has to offer, and then go explore the region with Cyndi!

- Shopping anyone? For some reason I've fallen in love with these scissors (they remind me of a children's book that we used to read at home called The Ice Cream Cone Coot and Other Rare Birds), but I love everything else Kate's Paperie sells as well. It's all a little too expensive for me, though!

- And more shopping: Gemma's shop in Ohio isn't quite reachable for me, over here in Italy, but I've been lucky enough to order some of her beautiful handmade jewelry through her Etsy site. I love the earrings I bought, and it's one of those places that has pushed me to get interested in jewelry making myself.

- NaBloPoMo: As it is National Blog Posting Month, check out the website and their ever-lengthening blogroll. While I'm observing the month by participating every day, I didn't get started until November 5th, so I'm not really qualified to be on that long list. But, plenty fellow expats ARE on the list (making this more like an "international blog posting month," right?), including: Bleeding Expresso, Jeff in Puglia, and At Home in Rome. Even if you might think that we bloggers would run out of things to say ogni santo giorno, the truth is, there's almost always something new to talk about, or to catch up on, or just to mention in passing. What might normally be an ordinary everyday detail of living in Italy all of the sudden becomes just right for that Wednesday blog post. I've found that blogging every day is actually a great exercise in writing and observing, and I'm enjoying my first taste of it.

Finally, like I mentioned before (and have now placed over on the sidebar): I'm participating in a little photo contest over at Easycar--I could win some serious travel goodies! Anyway, please check out the photos and vote for me! One photo is from Corrie and my visit to Brescia last spring, and the other is a view over Macerata's main piazza from the English school where I work. Thanks in advance!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Green Cheese

Earlier this month, it was a gift to return to bell'Italia, even if only for a quick trip of thesis presentations, graduation, packing up the apartment, and -- the sweetest part -- visits with friends. Jackie and Cyndi cheered me on during the UNISG graduation ceremony (grazie, amiche!), and we laughed our way around Parma's winding streets, crumbling castle, and best gelato shop. With entirely unfair timing, a nasty stomach plague stole a couple precious days and cut short a trip to Le Marche. So for only one delightful afternoon, I met Jackie and Antonello for a seafood (and chickpea soup) lunch in Ancona.

Between the boot and the Hoosier state, though, I enjoyed another short trip. A day and a half in Dublin meant more than the chance to lug too heavy bags on more buses and planes. It felt so good to be a tourist between there and here, a cushy transition between Italian studenthood and the new job search that awaited me back home.

The sun was shining on my chilly day in Dublin, and I set out to make the most of it, crossing al the outdoor sites off my list before finally giving in to the inside spots when the sun was going down. One door I couldn't resist stepping inside, though, was the entrance to Sheridans Cheesemongers. The shop is small but manageable and well-stocked. After glancing around at some pretty standard European cheese selections, my eye caught the Irish cheese offerings. A kind staff member noticed my focused attention and generously offered samples of nearly every island cheese on display.

Between nibbles and mouthfuls, she told me that most Irish cheeses use vegetable rennets and chatted about particular producers and areas. It was a difficult decision, but I ended up walking back out into the sunshine with my own thick medallion of mature Saint Tola. It's an organic, aged, raw goat's milk cheese with a thin, wormy rind and a compact but creamy interior that's not nearly as barn-yardy as some other aged goat cheeses I've almost not been able to swallow.

Deciding on where and how to devour my cheese treasure was nearly as difficult as the decision I'd had to make in the cheesemonger's shop. (With more time on the old sod, I'd have gone back to take away a chunk of one of the delicate Irish blue cheeses like Cashel or Bellingham.) Luckily, I found the rainbow's end in the food court of Avoca. This almost too-trendy shop seemed like what would happen if Martha Stewert combined a Pier One with a Sur La Table. But the food court in the basement offered a cozy stool at the bright bar and freshly baked treats. I ordered a warm raisin scone and a cup of coffee (already too much tea in my system) then unwrapped the now tempered cheese round.

I have to admit that there was an, um, pungent smell when I lifted the last fold of the wax paper around it, but the cheese mellowed quickly, keeping its pleasant punch but loosing all offensiveness. First a bite alone, then with the warm scone, then with tart raspberry jam, then with the warm scone and jam, then all alone again. The Saint Tola was delicious in every combination and solo. The subtle animal scent of the creamy center lined up nicely with other, slightly sweeter flavors, but the deliciously wrinkled and evenly gooey rind gave it just the right zing to stand alone.

I'll miss Saint Tola and the many other native Irish cheeses, but luckily--here at the other end of the rainbow--there are lots of cheese treasures to attract and distract. More next week!

Macerata Monday: I Cancelli

Considering all of the times I complain about how autumn and winter are cursed with the sun going down so much sooner, and the sky turning dark when I firmly believe that there should still be a steady stream of sunlight coming through, the fact remains that I actually love walking around Macerata as the sun goes down, seeing the sky take on that unmistakably clear blue that somehow I never really noticed back home in the states. Today, walking down one of my favourite streets--Via Garibaldi--which cuts right through the old town and connects Macerata's walled city center with the traffic-filled outside streets--I had wanted to get some nice shots of the festival lights which have just been put up, but I wasn't too impressed with how the photos turned out. The sun was going down, that blue sky was starting to deepen, and I was worried I wouldn't get any shots at all.

The city gates, or I Cancelli, on the far side of town, one of my favourite little sectons of Macerata.

So finding myself at the end of the road, I saw these city gates before me, and all of the sudden I was thrilled to have my camera with me. All of the years that I've lived here, and even before as a student, these lamps and the intricate wrought-iron gates have appealed to me--the idea of this ancient medieval city centre's entrance opening up onto the main street with an elegant, villa-like entrance, fancy gates framing the long cobblestoned drive up into town--but I've never even taken a single shot. So here is the first of what I hope to be several shots in the future of these city gates, which would be neat to capture during the day as well, but I'm glad to have gotten a photo of the lamplight anyway. Welcome to one of the best parts of town: a place in Macerata that I've somehow always forgotten to chronicle. Enjoy the early evening!


P.S. Speaking of photos--please check out these two links: Macerata's Main Piazza and Bella Brescia, both in a contest called SNAPPED over at Easycar. Vote for me please! I know it's a long shot, but it would be great to win this!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

About Bugs and Other Adventures

Two Sundays in a row, Antonello and I have been good, busy caver people. Not usually a rarity for us, lately, we've been a little bit slack in terms of caving. In fact, these 2 Sundays just begin to make up for the last few months, during which we have done very little to even approach a cave, and our spelunking flexibility skills (climbing in and out of small tunnels, climbing up and rappelling down ropes) have gone downhill. fast. So it was time, last weekend, as we gathered round with a group of our fellow cavers (some of whom were in similar situations as we were), to head to our favorite practice wall at the church of Sant' Eustachio to do some rope work. Sabrina and I, both having been appointed assistant caving instructors (aiuto istruttrici) back in May, were put in charge of helping out some new spelunkers, explaining the basics and taking them up the ropes for the first time, while some of the other cavers (among them two other new assistant caving instructors) set up the ropes course. As always, a day at Sant' Eustachio is something that I really enjoy. Caving often means crawling through tight spaces in the darkest little corridors, but I secretly love being outside in the open air just a tad bit more, climbing ropes where you can see all around you, and, as you scale that last wall, you're able to look do and see everything from an entirely new vantage point.

And with that memory in mind, this morning it took me a bit to be coaxed out of bed, where this Sunday's temperature was a lot lower than last Sunday's, and the day ahead meant an actual cave, a place I hadn't been inside for what seemed like an eternity (but was more like a matter of months). But I did get up, and we did go, and, as we drove toward the caves, I got a little jolt, a moment of excitement to get back into a cave and explore.

Finally, when we had changed clothes, met up with our caving companions, and climbed our way into the cave entrance, I found out what we would be spending the day doing.

We were collecting bugs.

What's this? You ask. Bugs? Have you accidently stumbled upon a Calvin & Hobbes comic book? Or maybe you've found someone else's blog on accident? No, no, unfortunately it's not so. You're still right here at Jackie and Corrie's blog, and you read correctly. We started to scrounge around the cave floor, searching for little pill-bug-like creatures. We needed to find thirty pill bugs. I couldn't believe it. I shook my head as I got down on all fours, searching for bugs and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into.

Thirty pill bugs and almost an hour later, we got up, brushed ourselves off, and went off to another part of the cave, and I was eager to get down to some serious exploring. I had all of my tools and rope stuff fastened onto my caving harness, and I wondered, "what would we be up to now?" climbing up and down ropes? I was almost ready to forgive the last hour of bug searching if we could only do something more interesting--check out rock formations, do some rope work, even collect samples from one of the many lakes that were found in this particular cave. We stopped in front of a big pile of bat guano, and the head of our little group knelt down in front of it. "What now?" I asked.

"Another thirty bugs," Antonello said to me, as if it were obvious. I glared at him--since WHEN had he mentioned these bugs? Did I have any idea before we entered the cave that this would be our day's destiny? NO! I was starting to ache in my harness, and my legs were uncomfortable, and I did not want to be searching for insects in a big pile of bat poop. My knees hurt from crawling around to find the last thirty bugs. I wanted to shake my hands in disgust, to give up and head back to the cave entrance. This is ridiculous! Why bugs? I'm a spelunker! I thought, proudly. Bugs are bugs. What did they have to do with me?

But I stayed around anyway, turning over a rock here and there in search of a bug or two. The day would go on like this, and I would continually be bad at finding the pill-like bugs, only finding a total of three within the first hour and a half. Finally, at the last room, the last thirty bugs to collect, I began to have a little more success finding the little guys, and it was eventually explained to me about the bug habitat and how it seemed that the number of bugs had gone seriously down within the last few years. We were collecting bugs as part of a bigger project to see how the bugs were evolving in their habitat. I tried to look at the day differently--the assistance I was offering as a bug collector was helping some biologists figure out some very important information about the environment inside the cave. This was a major scientific project! I wasn't just a simple bug collector, I was a biologist, a researcher, a field worker. I hurried along, looking for more bugs, remembering past experiences as a "cave scene investigator" when members of our caving group did research on newly discovered caves. What a feeling to be part of something bigger than me! Yes, I decided, this was serious stuff! I tried to convince myself to think like that, biting my lip as I closed the plastic box of bugs just in time, before one of the little rascals managed to crawl onto my hand.

Thirty bugs later, after having collected various water samples and mud samples, we talked to the biologist who was leading us through this bug collection phase, and we discovered that he had taught university students in the United States a few years back. As we left the cave, from the crystal caverns inside to the freezing cold outside, we chatted about his memories of America, laughing about his experiences there, and my experiences here. I decided not to mention that this experience today--crawling around the cave floor searching for bugs as if we were children on a search for fireflies on a summer night--was one of those spelunking experiences that I might never forget. How could I? When was the last time I had ever hunted for pill bugs before? And here we were, our boxes of 30 pill bugs each, changing out of our muddy uniforms into normal clothes and discussing life in America, as if a conversation can turn from terrestrial isopods to American traffic law in just a matter of moments.

But I guess it can, as we had forgotten about the day's work, and we spent time talking and sharing stories, before packing up our bags and heading home. Driving back to Macerata that afternoon, Antonello and I laughed about scrounging around in search of bugs, but oddly enough, I didn't regret it at all. It had actually been a fun morning, despite my achey knees and memories of turning over rocks to find centipedes and pill bugs beneath them. It's amazing what my life as a spelunker has meant--some of my craziest moments in Italy have been spent with fellow cavers, and sometimes it's hard to believe all of the strange situations we've been in, all of the unlikely things that we've done--crawling in and out of caves.

But who would want to trade all of the laughter and fun, all of the stories that we have, all of the fantastic adventures, all of the friends that I have made over the last five years for normal, ordinary things? Who would REALLY give that stuff up? Would you? Not me. And if that means bug collecting on a grey Sunday morning, I'm happy to do it. I'm happy to be a bug collector, thank you.

- Jackie