Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: What do you mean, climb a mountain?

For Ride #5 my most adorable husband said "Sure Lucy, Michele and I would love to ride with you and John up to Fiesole tomorrow!" We need to have a discussion about when he can and when he can't speak for me.

Innocent sounding words, aren't they? And yet, they made me start sweating and working on my "I can't go for a ride because...." reasons. These reasons, in no particular order are:

Lucy is a triathlete. I swear Leif doesn't know any women who aren't triathletes or your garden variety super athlete in only one event. Her husband claims to be a non-athlete, but I think he's really saying in comparison to his super-wife he's not an athlete.

Fiesole isn't at the top of a small hill. It's at the top of a mountain and the route they chose is a loop that climbs the mountains behind it as well. I haven't climbed an actual mountain with my road bike. For all I know, it's impossible. I'm just getting the hang of riding it on the flats.

I still only have half the gears I should because they are worn and the chain won't hold in most of them. It takes a lot of experimentation sometimes to find the gear that won't slip but is right for the incline, and mostly I end up in a gear that's slightly too difficult and I look like a cartoon cyclist trying to ride up a cliff. Or I can't move the bike at all and I look like I've frozen in place till I start to tip over. It ain't pretty.

I've only ridden with one other person besides Leif and while she's a cyclist she's also a good friend and I don't mind totally sucking in front of her. In front of complete strangers that Leif respects and likes? Um, thanks but no thanks. This was bound to be one of those situations where a perfect storm of physical limitations, bike malfunctions and Italian traffic would converge to make me look and feel like the rankest of amateurs. I just wasn't sure if my self-esteem would survive an entire morning of saying "oops, wrong gear," and "sorry."

Maybe most importantly, it's only my fifth time on this bike and I kinda thought I'd get to practice a bit before tackling a ride that experienced riders choose when they want to really work a bit. You know, a couple of weeks on some fairly flat rides followed by a couple of weeks in those "rolling hills of Tuscany" before attempting to climb a mountain.

But he said yes, and by my silence my agreement  was implied so the next morning we got up and prepared to ride. We met them near our house and started off on our adventure.

I've walked this route a few times so I know what the incline is like. Truthfully, my heart was pounding before we even met up with these folks so I wasn't approaching this climb with the calmness I should have. But I did the best I could, which meant that I only had to stop three times on the way up. And then only for about fifteen seconds at a time. Just enough for me to mentally shake myself and catch my breath and make the tingly ache in my legs go away. Because as I said before, the bike doesn't let me use the gears that I need for steep inclines.

The first part was the worst, both mentally and physically. The rest of the ride was just beautiful.....and long......with more hills but not as killer as the first one. We stopped twice for coffee which I really, really needed.

The second coffee stop was in a little town just before we started back downhill. The elderly man behind the counter was sweet, asking about our ride and when I showed him how cold my hands were he held them till they warmed up a bit. Then he showed us his picture on the wall and darn if he isn't some kind of famous cyclist from years ago. His name is Guido Boni and he loves to talk cycling. I'm sure we'll stop there again. Because yes, Leif will probably get me back up there sometime.

After a quick picture with Signore Boni (he managed to get himself  squeezed in between me and Lucy) we got to throw ourselves down the mountain, which as you know is my favorite part and my reward for climbing all that way up. Absolutely fantastic, just like flying. But don't worry Mom, I never got above the speed limit. That's probably not as comforting as it was meant to sound.

Our ride can be seen here if you're interested. I climbed over 2000 feet that day. I kinda rock. At least for today.

I wonder how long he'll wait before deciding I can start using clips. Nothing like being nearly permanently attached to your pedals to make an exciting ride even more fun. And I wonder who he'll have invited along to witness my first (and certainly subsequent) fall as I struggle to tear my foot away from the bike. I can hardly wait.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My first act of civil disobedience happened outside the US. Probably not the best idea I've had lately

I rode in my very first Critical Mass ride last night and I did it here in Florence. I had no idea what to expect. It was probably better that way.

I'm not so sure if Italy is really a tolerant country when it comes to civil disobedience. Also, I'm not sure if gathering a bunch of Italian bicycle commuters (a different category from Italian cyclists, believe me you only make that mistake in conversation once) to ride together is really some kind of bold political move or simply an accident waiting to happen.

City commuters follow a different kind of logic than every other vehicle on the road. Their goal is to get from point A to point B preferably "as the crow flies" which means going the wrong way on one way streets and using the sidewalk when necessary. They maintain a slow and steady speed, run red lights and stop signs and seem unconcerned about the cars that barely miss running them over or the pedestrians they force out into the street. They probably don't even see them as they talk on their phones.

Put about two hundred of these very independent thinking and oblivious riders together and you have a group that ebbs and flows like a river and you never know if you're going to be caught in the current or shuffled off to a little eddie along the bank. Or faced with a giant boulder and have to dive left or right....or collide. How anyone escaped major accidents or injuries is beyond me.

There were kids on their  kid bikes and moms on their mom bikes with a kid in front and a kid in back (no Burleys here). There were twenty-somethings with stereos in backpacks blasting Italian reggae or speakers mounted on their racks playing classical music and others plugged into their ipods in their own little world. There was a proper Florentine lady, about 60 years old, wearing her beautiful tailored skirt, jacket and high heels with her hair and makeup perfect. There were businessmen in sharply pressed suits and ties and even a few tourists in sweatshirts and shorts. There was a man in an actual ringmasters jacket and tophat on a lowrider bike.

The bikes were just as diverse. City bikes, hybrid bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, track bikes, bike taxis and custom bikes.  There was even a quad that served as a rolling bar passing out plastic cups of wine. Some were perfectly maintained, others probably saw their last maintenance years ago. The one uniting feature were the green balloons everyone fastened to their bike and the noise they made. Horns, bells or shouting, everyone made noise as we rode through town.

We hit all the big spots: Piazza Santa Croce, the Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, and a ride along the Arno River (and several times over it) to Porta Prato. We stopped traffic. The goal as the organization stated it was to "become traffic". We stopped cars and scooters, buses and trams (twice) and pedestrians just stopped to stare. The group expanded from one lane to four lanes as we rode from the center onto one of the major streets and then funneled back down to one lane when needed.

For the most part the other traffic on the road respected what was happening. Tram drivers took a smoke break, motorists (after the first few seconds; they always honk first and look second) sat back and enjoyed the show, buses waited for the group to pass before moving forward and tourists lined the street taking pictures while store owners stepped out to see what all the excitement was about.

I grabbed my only cup of wine from the bar on wheels under the watchful eyes of the police, which honestly made me so nervous I could hardly drink it. But it's impossible to hold a tiny plastic cup of wine while cycling on worn cobblestones without splashing everywhere so I drank it as quickly as possible and kept moving. Obviously it will take me years to get to the point where I can drink  a glass of wine or a bottle of beer while riding the mean streets of Florence.

It was a great experience but today I'm a little sore. Riding at a walking pace for two hours is tough on the body. Like holding the top position on a push up for over two hours. For you yoga lovers it was like holding plank position while being dragged over a plowed field. For two hours. I'm surprised I can even type. Of course chances are I'll be back on a bike tomorrow regardless of how my arms feel. I'm funny that way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

OSHA would have a fit

I've seen some pretty interesting work site situations here in Florence. If the lack of guardrails on narrow mountain trails and giant holes in the middle of sidewalks with a single piece of yellow tape around it are any indication, Italy is a country where you're free to do whatever you want as long as you remember that you alone are responsible for your safety. Consider every trip out your own front door as perilous from start to finish and you'll be fine. No one is going to go out of their way to warn you of danger ahead or point out the obvious. There shouldn't be any need for expensive railings at the edge of a cliff. Everyone knows that if you fall off you'll get hurt, so use your head. And if you don't you are the one responsible.

The same idea seems to hold true for the workplace as well. I saw three city workers at a stop light. One man was shaking his finger and his head at the woman stopped for the red light while rolling some kind of adhesive onto the road in front of her bumper. The other two guys were furiously rolling out and cutting a wide, long piece of white reflective tape. The man with the roller kept saying "Vai, vai!!!" or what we as Americans would say "Come on, come on, get going!" The woman's eyes darted between the man shaking his finger and the red light, obviously trying to calculate whether or not she could dart through the intersection before they get that roll of stuff in front of her car.

Why the great hurry? Because they were trying to do this during the short cycle of the red light. During rush hour. Without a guy with a flag to stop traffic or to divert it. They weren't wearing high visibility vests or reflective anything. No warning signs to drivers to be careful ahead. OSHA would be appalled.

It was like watching those pit crews during a NASCAR race. The light turned red and they all sprang into action trying to beat the green light. Wet glue flying everywhere as the man in charge urged them to move faster and faster. Struggling with large roll of reflective material that kept trying to spring back into it's roll shape like Christmas wrapping paper.

I think they got it done with only seconds to spare. My only question is how long is a stiff piece of reflective tape floating on an ocean of liquid adhesive going to stay where it was put as hundreds of cars drive over it before the glue actually dries? I'll have to check later. My guess is it's moved about half a block and has about six creases in it and part of it even now is stuck to the bottom of  a car on it's way to Pisa.

Monday, October 22, 2012

More tours up the mountain (boring title) OR Have I got a guy for you

This one's for my sister. You'll see why later.

Torre a Cona
Saturday Leif and I took another group of Swedes up in the hills south of Florence to visit the same vinyard we took the school class to in  May. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the air smelled like spring and fall at the same time. Flower blossoms and fresh cut grass and wood smoke. Amazing.

This time I got a little closer to my ideal group. Just ten guys about my age who've known each other for forty years. The trip to Florence is a kind of celebration for them. As far as I know there were no super athletes. Just middle-aged guys in pretty good shape for the shape they're in. Who like to eat and drink and pretty much act like the ten year olds they were when they met in school.

We got everyone onto a bike. One guy put his in the van and said he was only going to ride downhill on the way back. The guy riding with me in the back (there has to be someone who's last) told me halfway through town that he had a heart condition, which pretty much made my own heart skip a few beats as I tried to figure out how I would handle a slightly overweight Swede suddenly keeling over on his bike in the middle of the Tuscan countryside. Then I watched him ride and realized his heart was the least of our  worries. He was like a four year old who just got the training wheels off. His guardian angel was working overtime Saturday as he narrowly missed parked cars, cars in motion, road signs, other riders and the occasional pedestrian. When the first hill made him stop the bike and lean over it gasping for air I bribed him into the van with promises to release him back into the wild once the tough hills were over. He stayed in the van till we got to the top. Thank God.

The next guy with me in the back had a fantastic camera and told me that this was the first time he'd been on a bike this year. Each time he stopped to walk his bike up a hill I'd slow down and ride behind him to talk. Finally I just told him to try riding the next hill because he was working harder to walk the bike than he would riding it. He looked skeptical but gave it a try and when he was able to ride the whole hill he looked pretty darn proud in a laid back Swedish kind of way.

We had lunch at the villa and I ended up sitting next to the heart condition guy. We had a long talk over the food and wine. At one point he turned to me and said "Do you have a sister? I'm  serious....." When I said yes he made me take his picture and gave me a message for you, dear sister.

"Tell her I'm rich and a pretty nice guy."

I know, that's not enough. But he doesn't live with his parents, although he is currently sharing an apartment with another guy in the group. He's well spoken, at least in English. For all I know he's a boor in Swedish, but somehow I don't think so. He has a job (obviously, if he's rich) and it's one you'd highly approve of.

He's a coffee wholesaler. That's right. You'd get your caffeine straight from the roasters. But you'd probably never really, really get along because (and this boggles my mind) he says that the way coffee tastes doesn't matter. I suppose it doesn't to his bottom line, but it damn sure matters to those of us who drink it.

I've done what I said I'd do.....send you his picture and his invitation to get to know each other. Of course there's a slight wrinkle there. I don't even know his name. We called him Red Shirt all day. If you'd like my opinion, and I'm sure you don't, I'd just let this particular one get away. Even though he can afford to buy you all the coffee your little heart desires.

After lunch and a tour (where Red Shirt asked a million questions) we got to the really fun part. We got to throw ourselves down the side of the mountain. It's like being a bird. Everyone should try it once, without worrying about crashing or road rash or anything. Just feel the thrill of the speed and the wind rushing through your hair. It's amazing. I told the guy who worked so hard to get up those hills to remember that all the downhill he was enjoying now were hills he climbed this morning. He looked surprised, said "Precis!" (for those who speak Swedish I totally trashed that word, I'm sure) and then he looked a little proud. Which he should be. Those aren't small hills.

When we dropped them off again at the bike shop they all hugged me and shook Leif's hand. Pretty warm and fuzzy for Swedes who only met me that morning. Of course Red Shirt had to have the last word.

Seriously, if you want an introduction to my sister,
don't be kissing me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: Getting the clothes right

This morning we went for my second ride on my new/old bike. It's fall now so I'm faced with the challenge of dressing myself for the weather without any real resources to do it with.

Part of the image of a cyclist is the clothes. Let's face it....would any of the super-cyclists look so super if they were wearing cut-offs and a ripped Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt? Probably not. Does the clothing make a difference in a non-professional rider? Meh...some. So the key is to balance just how good you think you are (or could be) against how much you want to (or can) spend. And whether or not you care what the people you ride with think.

Making this a no-brainer for me. I'm almost certain that at my age I should aspire to nothing more than "pretty good" and I would like to do it for free. So for this fall I have to come up with a clothing strategy out of my closet that actually works. Creativity counts and in fact is needed for this. Warm but not too warm, cool but not too cool, comfortable but still fits like a second skin. I'm not exactly comfortable with the whole "second skin" aspect, but then again I don't have to look at myself so I don't worry about it too much.

I think I've come up with a combination that works, although when I bought all these things a couple of years ago I had no idea what they'd be used for. They belong in the category of "clothes that are too on sale to pass up and just might come in handy some day, not today or tomorrow, but someday."

  • Smartwool socks, because they're God's gift to humankind. Everyone should have at least one pair of these.*
  • Cycling shoes. They're actually more like sandals, but with the above socks I was toasty warm.**
  • One pair of actual cycling shorts because I need the cush they provide.*
  • One pair of black silk long underwear from Cabella's.*
  • One pair of black leggings from Target.*
  • One UnderArmour compression turtleneck in black with "Augsburg" tastefully embroidered on the neck. This is one of those things I bought not knowing why, except that it was super cheap and "I might need it someday." A crazy rationalization that actually panned out. I think my original plan was to wear it shoveling snow.*
  • A borrowed Florence By Bike jacket, because every cyclist needs pockets.**
  • A little beanie hat I got from a friend who said I might need it if I'm gonna keep riding bike.**

* bought on sale
** gift from a friend

Honestly, any Real Cyclist out there would probably cringe at what I'm wearing, but on the upside at least it's all black and therefore matches. Only those with truly discerning eyes will catch my fashion faux pas as I whiz by. I hope.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting mushwooms.....

Sunday I went hunting for mushrooms with my little friend Mia and her dad. Because I was supposed to babysit while he went for a ride, but it was raining and he didn't want to get wet so he told me to forget it. Then Mia was upset because she wanted to see me that morning so they invited me along on their mushroom hunt. I'm not sure how he thought walking around the forest with a three year old in the rain would be drier than riding a bike in the rain.....but then I'm not a real cyclist and don't have the mindset yet.

Lest I get into all sorts of trouble, let me clarify a little bit. Legally, to hunt mushrooms in Tuscany you must have a basket (so the mushroom can drop it's spores) and a stick (because you're walking in the hills and you need to move leaves and such to find the mushroom) and a license (because in Italy everything, everything requires a license or a stamp of some kind). We had a three year old along so what we really did was go for a walk in the woods while carrying an optimistic plastic bag and a broken branch we found on the side of the trail and talked about what it might be like to actually see a porcini mushroom. Which he assured me we wouldn't do as we had a three year old girl along and couldn't look properly.

So when he started to explain what I should be looking for and we both pointed at something on the side of the path and he said "sort of like that" and then looked all amazed and said "actually, exactly like that." Then he got a little worked up because he had just finished telling me that I shouldn't expect much because he couldn't remember how many times he went looking before he actually found a mushroom. Like telling someone who's batting for the first time in baseball not to worry if they don't hit a home run the first time because no one does....and then they do. Worse yet, we could still see the car. We didn't even actually get into the forest.

We spent the rest of the morning just wandering around the woods listening to Mia play the harmonica and discussing mushrooms and chestnuts and other woodsey things. They let me take the mushroom home to show Leif. It was a very, very small porcini. About two inches tall, beige and mighty tasty. We had it with pasta that night for dinner.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: The first real ride

Have I mentioned that my husband is super-excited that I show any interest at all in riding a bike and is practically over the moon that I am willing to try a road bike?
He came to the breakfast table dressed to ride. I was still trying to decide what to wear.

I finally came out of the bedroom ready to go and we hit the road. I'm absolutely certain every biker out there today was totally impressed with my half (real cycling) spandex and half clearance rack at Target outfit. I was stylin'.

Leif took pictures of everything. Me on the stairs inside our building preparing to go out and actually ride. Me standing next to my bike. Me sitting on my bike. Riding my bike. Stopping for coffee. Stopping to rest. Returning home. He took so many pictures I felt like I was training for the Olympics, or possibly creating world peace.

I didn't feel like I would be very photogenic on this ride. Honestly I was kind of dreading it because I've ridden far too many hills with my mountain bike and quite frankly it's exhausting dragging that bike up the hill. I don't glisten becomingly....I glow fire engine red and sweat enough to put fires out. I was hoping this bike would be easier to ride. I also resemble the Michelin Man in my spandex. None of these things make for a photo album that you show to friends and family, much less put out here on the internets for everyone to see and comment on.

Typically on my mountain bike I stick with just a few gears except when climbing the big hills. It's my comfort zone. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to figure out the gears because they're quite different. Only two on the front and I don't know how many on the back. Leif told me that the mechanic said that I was one gear short because my chain is new but the gears are old. No problem since it was one I had no intention of actually using every gear on the bike.

However, once we were making the long slow climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo I  found that the chain was slipping a lot and we decided that I really only had about 4 gears on the big front one (don't you just love my technical language here?) which totally fits into my comfort zone of using only one or two gears. Thank goodness that was one of the most severe climbs we had on this trip.

See how thoughtful he is? He could have taken me somewhere with some pretty tough climbs but instead he took me to Greve in Chianti which has hills but none of them killer. In fact it was very fun to climb a hill without thinking "He's trying to kill me," and without becoming completely drained by the time I reached the top. I'm sure there will be plenty of hills that will try to kill me later, but for today this was perfect.

He was also pretty confident in me to take me that far from home (~40 miles round trip) on my first trip out.

We saw five women this morning which Leif says is a pretty big number. Usually he sees one, maybe two women out riding on any given Saturday. Compare that to the fifty to sixty men we saw and you get a good picture of what it's like to be a woman cyclist here in Italy. You're a curiosity. Sure, they'll flirt with you madly (even when heading the opposite direction at top speed) but they probably don't' take you seriously.

Which is fine with me. I'm looking forward to the first time I pass a guy and when he tries to save face by catching up and finds that he can't. Plus, the small number of women who ride here means I'm part of a pretty exclusive club. That's right. I'm special.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: The beginning

Three years ago I considered bikes a reasonable way to get around. You know, when the weather was good and I didn't have to carry anything heavy (or anything at all for that matter) and I didn't have to go far. So basically I never rode one.

Then I decided to move to Italy which made it necessary to sell my car and suddenly biking was way more sensible and easy. Certainly faster and cheaper than the metro bus. Of course I still had friends with cars and so I didn't totally embrace cycling. I had a back up plan....borrow a car when needed.

Then I actually moved to Italy. Suddenly getting around an a bicycle became the only logical way to get around a town whose car drivers all aspire to be race car drivers and who view every traffic law as either negotiable or written for all those other fools out there....not them.

 And I fell in love with a Cyclist. Well, truthfully I was in love with him when I moved here. I just didn't understand the depths of his relationship with cycling. Or how much (even though he loves me dearly as a non-cyclist) he hoped I'd like riding here in Tuscany.

Which explains the long romantic rides (just an excuse to train me without my knowledge) and the daily question "So where did you ride today?" and the big smiles every time I had an answer. Honestly, he's kind of like a dog...all I have to say is "wanna go for a ride?" and he gets a big  smile on his face and his eyes dance around and if he had a tail it would be wagging.

When I expressed an interest in trying a road bike he didn't waste any time. He found one that would fit me and was in our price range and available now. It's currently in the shop being fine tuned so that I can start riding as soon as possible. What's funny is that I've had a bike for over a year and a half, yet no one except Leif has wanted to ride with me. Now that I have a road bike everyone says "wow, we should ride together." It's like a ticket into an exclusive club, except I have no idea what the club is like. Guess we'll find out.

Chances are it's gonna be quite a ride.

Me on my first ride in Florence mere weeks before
breaking my elbow in  April 2011.
Me the first time I rode along with Leif
as an assistant, May 2012.
Me and one of the clients on my second
job assisting Leif in September.
My first Florence by Bike ride still assisting Leif.
Face it, I'm not ready to be alone with paying
customers yet. But I'm no longer totally clueless either.

Me with my new yet very used road bike a couple
of days ago.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Back to my mommy days

Me and Mia.
Today an amazing thing happened.

The little girl I watch on a pretty regular basis did something incredibly sweet. This is the little girl who for the last year has cried (sometimes the whole time I'm watching her) every time I see her. We had reached a point where she would only cry a little, and only at first and then we could get on with the fun.

A couple of months ago she started asking  for me  when there would be a long time between visits. She still cried when I showed up, she just remembered that I was pretty OK when I wasn't around to enjoy it.

Lately she's taken to telling me she loves me randomly during our visits.

Today as I left she ran back down the street to me, grabbed me tightly around the neck and pressed her crumb-laden, chocolate smeared face firmly into my cheek to kiss me and kept yelling down the street as I left "I love you, Michele!"

When she did that I was suddenly taken back twenty-some years....it was my daughter covering my cheek with chocolate kisses and whispers of love. It was my son patting my cheek and saying "I love you, Mom."

Kind of makes any day Mother's day, a kiss like that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The weekend in review

Wow, it's been quite a weekend. Well, really, it started to get interesting on Thursday when we celebrated the second anniversary of my arrival in Florence. Thursday was also Cinnamon Bun Day in Sweden, and therefore also here in our own little Swedish Holler. We drank Swedish coffee (pretty much American coffee) and ate buns and cookies and felt superior to everyone who wasn't Swedish because if you aren't Swedish it's just another October fourth. We had a quiet dinner at home, alone. It was perfect.

Friday I babysat and enjoyed the beautiful fall weather. Not an exciting day, true. More like the calm before the storm. Because on Saturday I rode with Leif on a Florence by Bike tour for the first time and I was nervous as hell.

I've ridden with him for other tour operators, but Florence by Bike is special. It's one of the first groups that Leif worked with when he got here, so he's been with them for almost eight years now. Also they sponsor the bike team he's on, so there are many levels of relationship between Florence by Bike and Leif.

No surprise that I was more than a little nervous about this. Riding along for tour operators I've never met, and probably never will, is one thing. We spend a certain amount of time at the bike shop and with people from the bike shop and from the team. I screw up here, I screw up in a very public way that reflects on Leif as much as on me.

On the other hand the opportunity to earn money is appealing, especially if I can earn while doing something fun like riding a bike. I mean, I already earn money babysitting, which is basically getting paid to swing, slide, color and play with dolls....watch the occasional cartoon and maybe take a nap. Why not earn money riding a bike too?

Ready to ride.
Of course I was hoping for clients that were couch potatoes with desk jobs. Naturally what I got were a husband and wife team of super athletes. She wore her New York City Marathon 2011 t-shirt and he carried his Ironman 2012 backpack. I wore a borrowed Florence by Bike jersey and felt a little like a fraud.

As a group  we were certainly a study in contrasts. Leif, Tim and Carol are tall, lean, athletic machines. Their legs went all the way up to my armpits. I looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy next to them. Short and round and slightly soft.

But wicked strong, mind you. They did their best to lose me, even Carol who claimed to be "the worst biker ever," but I stuck with them. When we finished they said (I should clarify this, HE said) that this was the best day of their trip so far. I think she would have been much happier running those hills than riding them. But it was nice to think that I helped to make their visit to Italy just a little more special.

After they left Leif said "You did good, those are the two fittest clients of the season." Just my luck. On the other hand they didn't have to leave me behind, so maybe I did all right. Maybe next time I'll get the clients who climb slower.

The birthday boy.
Sunday we had a birthday party for one of our good friends here in Florence. He's Italian and married to a Swedish woman. It was a fun and loud night of food and wine and jokes in three languages and laughing and friendship. I always leave feeling a little dizzy and dazed, but happy to the center of my being.

Yes, it was a good weekend.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Speaking of change

I'm so excited for my friends who are experiencing great changes in their lives right now.

That moment when the idea becomes action is a breathless, exhilarating, and hopeful yet terrifying time.

It's standing on the edge of a cliff with your arms spread like wings and taking that first step off. Knowing absolutely nothing and believing absolutely everything. The body may be tied to the earth but the soul can soar and maybe for the first time they're really understanding the difference. Seeing the whole world spread before them and knowing that where ever they land is the perfect place for that moment.

Sometimes I feel closer to them than I do to anyone else. They don't simply admire the adventure from afar....they've plunged head first into the unknown with me. We share that motionless stance on the edge of the cliff and that moment of decision followed by a step into thin air. A heart-in-the-mouth, stomach-in-the-shoes roller coaster ride that is completely balanced by the love they give and receive from the people around them.

For all the uncertainty that they face they are the most content, happy and centered people I know. I'm honored to call them friends.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Change is good....right?

This weekend a couple of things happened that made me stop and think....then realize that I'm changing. Of course I expected some changes, but these surprised me.

First off, those who know me know that I have pretty much always been a woman with curves (from the waist down.) Stated bluntly, I have a butt that can't be ignored. Sometimes it's bigger, sometimes it's smaller but it is always a presence. Living here hasn't changed that. I know there are those who would like to hear that moving to a different place and eating different food will make it disappear but I'm sorry, it won't.

So Saturday Leif and I took a short trip to Siena for business and got on a city bus. A bus with hard plastic seats and no padding whatsoever. I sat down and was instantly uncomfortable. Something down there hurt. My butt bones (sorry, I don't know the correct term) were sitting directly on a muscle, one  I'm sure I didn't have before moving here. I shifted my weight slightly to one side and felt that bone slowly slide off the muscle and into a softer place. Nice....but then my lower back hurt from sitting sideways.

I looked at Leif (I'm sure my eyes were giant at this point) and he looked back and asked what was wrong. I said, "I have a muscle in my butt that I didn't have before and sitting hurts." He kind of laughed and said, "And you say I'm delicate!"

I told him that I'd been restless sitting for a week or two, but just thought it was my legs bothering me, not my butt. I asked him if this is normal, does he have this problem, does it go away?

He said, "My little biker...."

I gasped (I actually did) "You mean it'll always be this way?" Because, you know, I'm enjoy this bike riding thing and don't intend to stop now. He just laughed again. For the rest of the trip, every time I adjusted my seating he'd look at me, raise that eyebrow and laugh. This is weirdness number one.

Then yesterday we were in the kitchen talking about the grocery shopping list and looking at our wines and I heard someone say "I'd happily give up a gelato or two for more of that wine!" I looked around the kitchen and there were just the two of us and he was looking at me with this funny smile on his face and then I knew that I was the one who said that.

Let's not tell Dad that I said that. Ice cream was a dessert after supper and bedtime snack from birth till I moved out, in great part because Dad wanted ice cream every night and he couldn't just eat it in front of us because it's hard to enjoy your ice cream with six big sad blue eyes staring at you. Ice cream is the treat for every difficult job, for every celebration, for...well....everything. With that kind of conditioning how is it possible for me to casually offer to exchange ice cream for wine?

I blame Leif. You should too. I didn't even drink wine before I came here. Now I'm offering to trade ice cream for wine like it's the most natural thing in the world. He's totally corrupting a perfectly good, dependable, mid-western woman and turning her into a bike riding, wine drinking, Italian speaking woman.

Well done, Leif.