Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gli Uffizi

May 30

We brave the rain to visit the Uffizi museum this morning. The gallery houses seemingly endless works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Reubens, and many many more. The ceilings are painted with intricate designs or layered with gold leaf. 

When we need a break from the intensity of famous art and the push of the crowds we head to the open terrace on the roof. The rain has let up for a time and we can see the Duomo through he stone railing. A little bird hops over to us looking for crumbs. The clouds are heavy with moisture and we can feel the sky above us. The Palazzo Vecchio is so close it feels like we could reach out and touch its toothy parapets. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wash Board

May 29 

I feel like I've stepped into another world when we stay at Nonno and Nonna's tidy row house in the outskirts of Florence.  Clothes are washed mostly by hand in the outdoor wash basin. There are three faucets: hot, cold and well water. Nonna says well water is better for colors because it doesn't fade the clothes. After a good scrub on the inclined stone washing board clothes are hung to dry on a line in the garden.  

My girls love to play washer woman. This morning after diligently washing a pair of socks and a washcloth they decide to make Flower Soup. Nonno takes them around the garden collecting faded blooms. They mix and stir them until it is time to pour the mixture into the little hole they have dug with Nonno's ancient hoe. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Santa Maria Novella

May 28

This morning we visit Santa Maria Novella. The white and dark green marble has recently been returned to its original state by a team of experts with very small brushes and a lot of patience. 

We continue our stroll under sprinkling skies through medieval streets designed for horses and pedestrians. Thankfully most cars are now prohibited from the area, but one has to keep an eye out for a speeding taxi or delivery truck. 

A sliver of Il Duomo appears ahead. Someday we will trek to the top but today we are happy to crane our necks to admire its majesty. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Bardini Gardens

May 27

We stroll the gardens of the Bardini family. Once a private estate the gardens are now public. The family made its fortune dealing in Renaissance antiques during the time of Napoleon. We pass under a tunnel of wisteria and even without blossoms it is magical. An ancient stone wall is home to a species of rose from the time of Michelangelo. I have seen these roses in paintings. But to take in their perfume is something different all together. My sister in law tells me that the older the rose the stronger  the scent. 

We come around a corner and there is the famous Duomo, the domed cathedral of Florence, third largest in the world. I have never seen it this way, framed by trees, nestled into the city. Saint Mary of the Flowers is its full name. A cathedral after my own heart. 


May 27

The morning is spent with Nono in the chicken coop. My girls get to know the new hen and name her Little Chocolate. She pecks at anything shiny or bug like. They feed her lettuce, give pets and sing her songs. After a while we check the laying box and there it is, a brand new egg. It is delivered to Nonna with utmost care. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

San Miniato

May 26

We are up and out early this Sunday morning. We visit San Miniato, the church that overlooks Florence with sparkling mosaics and monks who chant in the ancient crypt. 

The sky is robin's egg blue and we soak in the much appreciated sun. Florence rests before us. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Nonno's Jungle

May 25

It is pouring when we wake up. I've set two alarms and asked Nonna to please come check that we are up by 8:30. The first day is the most important in getting over jet lag. If we sleep in today we won't be tired tonight and it will take forever to get on track. 

My second grader (to be) gets up with me and dresses in her auntie's sweater. We did not pack for wet and cold. La Zia (auntie) takes her to get shoes that will keep the water out. 

After lunch it is still raining but we can't resist. While unpacking the store of toys we only get to use once a year we find two kid sized umbrellas. Perfect. On with the new shoes and into the dripping jungle of Nonno's garden. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

The first strawberry

May 24

We are home by lunchtime. The fast train whisks us from Rome to Florence in just over an hour. Nonno and Nonna grab us for bear hugs and kisses on both cheeks. It is perfect to arrive at meal time. My mother in law shows love with food. 

My girls burst past the kitchen to the garden. They check in with the chickens they named last year and the year before. Nonno shows them the roses, grape vine and tomatoes growing in his little patch of Eden. His garden is lush and curated. He knows every inch and cares for it like a friend. 

My little one spots the large pot of strawberries and announces that she'd like one very much. "It's the first of the season," says  Nonno. "I saved it for you." 

When in Rome

May 23

We fly all (well most) of the night and arrive in Rome. The sun is coming up as we get off the plane and head to the train that will take us into central Rome. It feels good to need a sweatshirt as we walk the long outdoor hallways. 

Looking out from the wide train windows we see fields dotted with giant hay rolls, the European version of a bay bale. Little villages with red tile roofs and sand colored houses flash by. 

When we arrive at the central train station we are early for he fast train to Florence. Tired as we are we leave the station to stretch our legs and see the sun. After years of traveling through time zones I have found the best aid to adjusting is to get outside as soon as possible. Somehow our bodies note the position of the sun and begin to re-orient. 

We walk a block from the bustling station and find a quiet park. We head through the ornate gate hoping to sit on a bench under the trees for a bit. Out of nowhere comes a man in uniform. "E' chiuso Segnora." He has the tone that we should have known that the park is closed. We back onto the street and pause a moment to take in the city around us. 

Orange, yellow, and pink buildings line the street. First floor businesses topped by four stories of residences. It is the pallet that gives me pause. Colors so subtle as to blend into the background, the softest of rainbows. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nonno, here we come!

May 22

It is packing day! Tomorrow we head out to the wild blue yonder. Well, Italy actually! "Is today the day we go to the chocolate factory," asks my little one again this morning. 

A short walk from Nonno & Nonna's house is in fact a chocolate factory. I'm sure we will be their best new clients. 

Today we are still home and Nonno's purple flowers are giving us quite a send off. We play on the deck a bit in the morning and check on the developing blueberries. Still small and green we may not be home to enjoy them before Mr. Squirrel does. We will head to the backyard when it cools off this evening. The sweet six weeks is over and we are now in air conditioning weather. Windows closed, fans on. 


May 21

Today we hit the park for an end of the school year party. As we are getting out of the car we look up and see a wasp bobbing around the tree we are parked under. "He's eating the leaf," says my little one. Just then he alights nearby with a large scrap of leaf in his mouth. I'd assumed he was looking for flowers but he seemed very happy with his chunk of leaf. We leave him to his meal and head up the path to the playground. 

Wait, a worm!

May 20

My little one is out of school for the summer and we spend the day playing in the wonderful yard at a friend's house. Finally it is time to go and we head to school for our little walk up the hill to meet my older daughter. The humidity has arrived and yesterday's 75 degrees has turned into a sweaty, moist, uncomfortable 75 today. As I look for shade as we walk my little one shouts, "Wait, a worm!" She has spotted this little guy on the sidewalk and bends down to get to know him. I marvel again, that she is so incredibly afraid of flies but loves every worm she meets. Looks like a good day to go dig in the garden and make some more friends.

Bird Seed

May 19

We are getting ready for a very exiting week. My first grader ends her school year and we head out of town. So it is time to get everything ready. Refilling the bird feeder is one important step. We've noticed that when we put the mix seed in our feeder most of it gets dumped on the deck while the birds search for the sunflower seeds. So this time, just the good stuff!

And it looks like our very crafty neighborhood squirrel has not only found a way to climb onto the feeder and swing as he chomps on our seeds, but has done some chewing on the feeder itself! We discover big teeth marks and a hole in the edge of the feeder. We have seen him some days head down apparently doing a handstand in the feeder. The top disappeared ages ago, I have a feeling we know who made off with it.

Pick up ten

May 18

We eat outside under cloudy skies. I love sitting out munching on deliciousness just off the BBQ. After lunch my husband and little one head in for a nap. My (only for a few more days) first grader and I get out the cards. We play Go Fish, Crazy 8's, and War (which I've re-named More).

Then the teacher in me can't help it and we lay out the cards face up in three rows of three. We take turns picking up cards that equal ten. You can make ten with a two cards as shown (4 & 6), or just the 10 card. If you want to get fancy you can pick up several cards such as 6, 2, and 2. Aces equal 1 by the way. As cards are picked up then next cards underneath are revealed. The game is over when no more 10's can be picked up. We played again and again  under the open sky.

Ant hill

May 17

We visit a new outdoor art/play center today and it is marvelous. Three, four and five year olds painting on big easels in the woods, exploring with magnifying glasses and rolling out sparkly play dough under the open sky.

On our way inside for a story we stop and spend some time looking at this little ant hill. "There are fire ants in there," assures me my little one. We wait for a while but no ants reveal themselves. "They must be sleeping," she goes on. "But that is their house."

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Biking the neighborhood

May 16

Today is the day that I finally leave the car at home and bike my way through the day. We ride to school and my first grader is thrilled to park next to the big kid bikes. My little one and I ride on to preschool. She proudly carries her helmet into class and her teacher exclaims, "Did you ride on a bike to school?" A big smile spreads across her face.

And then I ride my bike to the dentist, yep, now I'm feeling a little kooky. Just a cleaning, don't think I could ride my bike after Novocaine. I am amazed, again at how close everything is once I'm out of the car. And I'm amazed at what I thought was a slight hill! In the car everything is flattened and most of the detail is lost.

 I head back to preschool for the end of the year party and then on home. On our way we pass a little lake and see a baby gosling swimming along next to Mama. We stop for a nice long look. This is a detail we are very happy not to have missed.

Mr. Lizard

May 15

We meet a friend at the park for hours of play and a picnic. My little one is red faced and sweaty as we head toward the car tired and happy.

As we pass a little creek near the parking lot we see this shiny beautiful guy sunning on the rocks. "Why isn't he moving Mommy?" asks my little one. "I think he's hiding. He thinks if he stays very still we won't see him." I answer. We stand watching him watch us.

A couple of big kids come tromping along and Mr. Lizard darts across the rock and into a small hole. "It's his house!" shouts my little one. "He's in his house!!" We wait for a while and he reemerges looking this way and that. He skitters up a rock and stops. "I think he likes the sun," I whisper. My little one nods seriously. "That's his house," she whispers pointing.


May 14

And here it is! In just over 24 hours this blossom has opened into its full glory! How can this happen so fast? If I sat and watched for three hours would I see another one open? We walked past the garage on our way to the back yard and there it was, this purple masterpiece.

"Let's send Nonno a picture," suggests my older daughter. How amazing is this world that we can send an image across an ocean in an instant. How connected are we that we can hear a cat purr in another country. My girls only see their grandparents twice a year but our weekly phone chats and sharing photos makes it seem like they are just a drive away rather than a flight over an ocean.

Nonno's Flower

May 13

We play in the driveway today. Same as usual, riding, running chasing. We stop to notice that grandpa's most impressive flower is about to bloom. The first two years after he planted bulbs all around our yard this one came up with one huge purple beauty. But now we see multiple stalks with at least five buds getting ready to bloom. It seems such a mystery that all winter this patch of ground near our garage door is empty but come spring strong green leaves shoot up and out come these blossoms.

We call grandpa or Nonno, as we call him, and give him a report on his flowers. He tells us about his chickens and what he's planted this week. He puts the cat on the phone and asks if we can hear him purring. Soon we will be in Nonno's back yard looking for tiny wild strawberries and marveling at the grape vines he trains to cover the back of the house each summer.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

May 12

 It's Mother's Day and we spend most of it outside.
This is the best gift I can imagine.

Hidden Treasures

May 11

 It is Mother's Day weekend and I just want to get out with the whole family. Rain is on the way but we jump on our bikes and head out. My husband sets the pace on foot and we head toward the park.

Next to the road I drive so many times every day there is a nice wide bike path, a railing, and then a wide deep ditch. A place for extra rain water I suppose or maybe where a natural creek bed once was. I glance over and see the a garden of wildflowers down the side of the bank. A little hidden burst of color. I can't see them from the car, and even if I could would I notice? Probably not. Now I know that these bright yellow and violet flowers are growing here. Once the blooms are gone I'll remember the flowers and smile as I peddle past.

Further on our journey we cross a little blue bridge. Looking down my little one shouts, "Look! A waterfall." There it is, a tiny rapid and a little stream. Invisible from the road just yards away.

As we head up the final hill to the park it starts to sprinkle. We turn and head for home. By the time we are on the final sprint it is pouring and we are all singing It's Raining, It's Pouring at the top of our lungs.

Magnolia buds

May 10

A friend comes over after school and we head out to the back yard. While the girls are playing I get to have a nice long chat with the mom. Our Magnolia trees are about to blossom and I am struck by their long tightly curled buds. Long as the shiny green leaves and pointed at the tip these will open into lovely white blossoms soon.

We sip our coffee, watch our girls and enjoy a Friday afternoon. Soon it will be summer and the days will be too hot and humid to be out running like this without some kind of water to cool us off. But for now it is perfect, just perfect.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mud pie

May 9

"Mom, can I make Mud Pie?" asked my almost second grader. That may be one of my favorite questions ever. I spent a lot of time playing in the mud as a kid. It was great. I made pie and pizza, mud balls rolled in leaves, anything to get my hands into the wonderful squish.

We found a good spot in our garden bed in between our new plants. I turned the hose on to a trickle and away she went. Slapping and patting, digging and squishing. She found several new worm friends and had a small insect take a swim in her pool. She fished him out with a twig and set him to dry.

Meanwhile my little one looked on not quite ready to dig in. She did enjoy being served the pie for pretend at the end and declared it delicious.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cloud Lady

May 8

It was a full day and we were outside for most of it! Back to our perfect weather we decided to visit the zoo. We spent hours walking and visiting the animals. We petted goats and rode the carousel. We ate a picnic next to bamboo trees and saw a panda sleeping on a log. 

This afternoon we headed to friends and played with a tub of water, dress up and ate dinner standing up. It was a full day. Summer is right around the corner and we are ready! 

This evening my tired girls looked out the window just as the sky was turning pink and they were heading to bed. "Come Mama, come quick!" they shouted. "There is a lady in the clouds!" I rushed to the window and there she was. She had a long tipped up nose. and little mouth. She gazed to the right and her puffy hairdo swept back to the left. There she was, a lady in the clouds. We stood watching this little bit of magic. A moment together at the end of the day. A moment to take in the wonder.

Holly Berry Flowers

May 7

I stand corrected. Those little balls on the holly bush were not immature holly berries, they were . . . flowers!!! As my little one and I walked towards the preschool entrance we noticed that our favorite bush was covered in flowers. Yes, sweet little white blossoms! Oh, I felt so silly, and happy at the same time. Now are the holly berries going to come next? I was so sure! But it makes sense, flower first then fruit. Seems so simple, but I've just not been paying attention to these things. When the red berries do appear on this bush now I will be able to say, "Remember in the spring after all that rain? The sun came out and the flowers popped open!"


May 6

The rain stops. Finally. We head down to our little garden after school and start to dig. The earth is dark and wet. Every turn of the shovel brings up big wriggling earth worms. My girls squeal and want to hold each one. I gently pull the marigolds out of the plastic pots and hand them over one by one. I ask them to figure out where they should go to help keep the plant eating insects away. We have a long discussion about butterflies, lady bugs and daddy long leg spiders all who are deemed helpful and we hope are not bothered by the marigold scent.

I dig holes for the tomato and strawberry plants. We gently pat the earth around them and admire our new additions. Then we move on to planting the marigolds. They have been laid out around the edge of the bed, some closer than others. Not perfectly spaced as I would have attempted. But they are perfect just the way they are. Gardening for us is about watching things grow, for noticing, and for getting excited about worms.

Monday, May 6, 2013


May 5

We are ready to plant tomatoes, strawberries, and marigolds in our little garden. But it is still pouring. So we head to the deck to visit our little plants and play in the rain a bit.

I explain how the smell of the marigolds is yucky to bugs and will help keep our plants safe. My girls take turns smelling the flowers and seem to like the scent. "I guess you're not bugs," I say with a wink.

They help Daddy get the extra water off the awning. Together they push a stick up under the pooled water and it comes whooshing off with a splat. "A waterfall!" shouts my 3 and a half year old (as she now identifies herself).

We keep playing until we are quite wet. There is no sign of a break in the rain.


May 4

It is raining raining raining and our little river is back. As we'd planned we gathered a basket of bath toys and headed out to try our luck at floating them down stream.

My husband brought a rake and cleared the way to help the water rush faster. My little one picked a good spot mid way along our back fence and carefully began putting boats, a rubber duck and a small Dora into the water.

The toys bobbed and tipped. Some got stuck right away but others wobbled their way down with the current. "They're floating, they're floating down the stream! It's working!" shouted my 6 and 3/4 year old (as she now identifies herself).

We picked up stuck toys and returned to the launching spot again and again. The rain started in earnest and we finally headed inside. The basket of toys set by the back door ready for another day.

Green Green Green

May 3

I pull into a parking place and see this mosaic of green in front of my car. I am mesmerized. I get out and stand staring at the bright spring green of the leaves. They seem to stretch back forever into the depths.

I help my girls out of the car and they join me to admire the leaves. "Where does it go?" my (not for much longer) first grader says. I gaze deep into the bushes and trees and cannot find the source. "That's your favorite color Mommy," says my little one. "Yes, it is," I reply taking another moment to soak in the green green green.

Baby Holly Berries

May 2

As we left preschool today my little one stopped short by the holly bush just outside the school. "Look! Baby Holly Berries!!!" she announced pointing. And there they were, little light green berries just forming into holly berries. I saw deep in the bush a red berry hanging on from last season. The new growth was spread all over the bush like a coating of green frosting.

And best of all we now know what baby holly berries look like.

I love that she stopped to notice this little detail. I love that we are on the sidewalk holding hands discovering what is all around us. Even in the bush just outside the school door.

The letter B

May 1

We met friends at the park today and discovered this beautiful letter B in the parking lot. My little one is quite taken with the alphabet these days and was quite excited to see such nice big letters on the sign at the entrance to the play area. "B like bubble!" she said with glee.

We stopped to admire each letter in the sign and talk about the different words we could think of for each.

We headed along the shady path to the play structures and found our friends. We spent a lovely morning scooping sand, swinging, and playing hide and seek (the kind where you know where everyone is but pretend not to be able to find them).

We rounded out the playtime with a very vigorous swing/spin on the tire swing. Afterwords my little one said,   "My tummy is still spinning."