Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Revolution of a cyclist: sigh

Today, at last, everything came together. The sun was shining, it was almost warm, I didn't have to work and my husband wasn't riding with "the guys." Which somehow to me implies the same group of guys, but no, it means whichever group of guys he picks on a particular day. I swear they line up to ride with him. But today he was all mine.

Looking at the calendar it's been far too many weeks since I was on my bike. Enough perhaps to even make a, that's just too depressing. When he suggested a ride last night I was all cool, like....sure, I suppose if you want to we could. Cool, right? I'm sure he

Spring has definitely arrived here. Even though the temperatures aren't always spring-like nature is going ahead with it anyway. Trees are flowering everywhere. Pretty lavender flowers and pinks and whites, even one tree with absolutely no leaves at all but covered in giant white flowers. The ditch weeds are blossoming too. Tall yellow flowers sway in the wind while little purple flowers peek out from the short grass. Everything has that hazy, yellow green color of new grass and tree buds. There was even the hint of manure in the air, a definite sign of spring in Benton County. I was surprised to find it here, which was probably silly on my part. This is farming country after all, there's just a different kind of crop.

My favorite spring sighting today wasn't any of the pretty flowers, but an old woman about a meter tall with perfectly coiffed white hair in a proper navy blue wool dress, white apron and fuzzy slippers sweeping the winter dust and dead leaves off the stairs leading from her house to the street. Sigh....this is Italy, I thought. And as I was having that moment I passed her and she gave me a look and threw a broom full of winter right at me. Oh yeah, this is Italy.

The other inevitable spring sign is potholes. Leif is good about warning me what's coming up with a little point at the possible problem spots. Sadly past experience has taught us that pointing it out usually only encourages me to ride right into the middle of the hole. As time went by (and he would hear me hit the hole and possibly although not always swear just a little) he became a little more animated in his sign language. He would point at the offending  hole several times, sometimes wagging his finger back and forth in essence telling me "No, don't ride there." Of course I do anyway. It's like I have no control over my body when he does that. I think "OK, move over," but nothing happens. I can't explain it, I only know we're both a little frustrated by it. Leif because sooner or later I'm gonna break something and he'll have to fix it, me because it's just painful sometimes to bounce in and out of a hole. And frankly, I'm a little embarrassed. How hard can it be to miss a hole in the road, when it's not even a big hole?

Today he was gesturing so hard a more sensitive soul might have thought he was yelling at me "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON'T RIDE INTO THIS HOLE!" He probably was, but I'm totally insensitive. I even missed a few of the potholes today. Although, to be honest I think the potholes I missed are ones that he wasn't pointing to. But still, I missed them, which is better than before so I think we can call this progress.

Of course I'm already scouring the weather sites, doing my usual forecast averaging between the Norwegians and the Americans to come up with a probably scenario for the coming days. Sadly, it doesn't look good. Warm temperatures are no good if they come with a layer of rain. So I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Random thoughts from this week, because nothing is happening

By nothing I probably mean that there's been no riding or really recreation of any kind. So that's right, in order to keep the practice of writing, I'm writing when nothing of significance has happened for me to write about. It's not that I'm living in a vacuum, mind you, but all I've been doing is working which isn't exactly exciting stuff. It's not exciting to me anyway and I'm the first filter all this stuff runs through. Anyway, on to the good stuff.

Fun fact for the week:
A baby awake weighs about 3 kilos less than a sleeping baby. This could be nature's way of telling us that they're asleep so we don't have to gently sway across the room to the mirror or it could just be that my arms lose their strength at the same exact time he falls asleep, every time. When babies mature into toddlers they take this innate ability and couple it with their other magic trick, the ability to become boneless, making it impossible to hold onto them. True fact.

Accomplishment for the week:
Olivia learned how to work snaps this week. It doesn't sound like my accomplishment at all, till you realize she practiced this for over an hour on one of my shirts while I was wearing it. It's an accomplishment to sit still (on your hands so you don't help) and watch a three year old figure out how things work for as long as she wants to try. Her mom was so excited she asked me to wear a button shirt next time. We'll just have to see if my patience continues to be limitless.

Both only slightly used but awesome
I do believe I rock  at shopping
Personal fulfillment for the week:
I went to the big outdoor market today. It's the perfect place to feel the thrill of finding a deal without spending too much. They have absolutely everything there. One booth even had an entire roasted pig. I was all disappointed that I forgot my camera till I got home and realized that it was in my bag the whole time. Honestly, some days I don't even know how I find my way home. For the rock-bottom price of 4 euros I got a backpack suitable for carrying wine or olive oil when out riding and a sweater that's so not "me" that it's gotta be the new me. I feel fulfilled. I don't feel hypocritical at all for buying the exact backpack I was mocking mountain bikers for using just a few days ago. I can admit when I was wrong....I assume they are all transporting bottles of wine and olive oil back home.

Cycling note for the week:
By no cycling I meant no road bikes this week. I've been making my usual mad dashes across town on the city bike. Today I noted that when riding the city bike (ie sitting upright) on a slight uphill into the wind it feels like I'm dragging an elephant behind me. I've also noticed that I get more than a few looks as I hit a corner full speed in mountain bike stance; standing on the pedals, leaning over the handlebars and a grim look on my face. In my defense, it's only grim because I have to keep my teeth from smashing together as I catch the tops of the cobblestones. Apparently city bikes are the Lincoln Continental of bikes, driven by the elderly and those who can't be bothered to be in a hurry. I don't fit the profile of a typical city biker. What's new?

In other news:
The tourists have arrived in Florence, in numbers that will surely grow but already enough to slow traffic and frustrate the natives. (I include myself in this category.) I'm trying hard this year to avoid eye contact and stifle my very Minnesotan desire to be helpful. If I don't it will take me twice as long to get across town as I give directions and take countless photos of complete strangers for their scrapbooks. I know it's selfish of me, but I have a life too. Interestingly enough, the mosquitoes arrived at about the same time as the tourists. Coincidence?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I've been missing for awhile. A friend e-mailed me to ask if I was OK, as I was unusually silent lately. I appreciate her concern. Out of everyone in my life, she's the only one who checked, and I've never actually met her in person. So for Christine I'll give a short recap, and if you were worried but too shy to ask....this one's for you too.

It's been raining for three weeks. I'm not exaggerating. Except for an occasional afternoon or morning of sunshine, it's been raining and cold. If global warming continues in this manner I'll have moved to a southern climate only to have that Minnesota weather follow me. That would be ironical, to say the lest.

Because it has been raining I haven't been riding. Now, I'm no super athlete training for a big race. True. But I enjoy riding and my body reminds me often that it's not being used to the fullest of its abilities. I've replaced it with mad dashes across town on the city bike for work or walking to work when it's just raining too much but it's just not the same. My road bike has a thin layer of frozen dust on ain't pretty.

Another reason I haven't been riding is because I've been working a lot, sometimes five days a week. Or nights, which are even harder on me. Working with kids requires constant vigilance, not just to make sure they don't play with the kitchen knives, fall off a balcony or in any other creative way hurt themselves or the other kids. That's important. What's tiring is the mental work involved. Everything I say has to be run through a variety of filters....the parents, my own value system and the twisted little minds of the children themselves. Because let's face it, a debate team of three year olds would wipe the floor with any college team on the planet. Every word out of your mouth comes back to haunt you because you were either too specific or not specific enough in a particular situation. Logic plays little part in their arguments, their most powerful tool is the ability to say the same thing over and over and over and over again. Arguing, time outs and conversations about why are wearing on this old mind. On the other hand neither of them can negotiate well. When I offer two books for bedtime Miles counters with a loud and confident "No! One book!" and then looks at me like he just negotiated peace in the Middle East. Don't worry, even though it takes me ten minutes to convince him that two books is a better deal, I do it. I'm not a monster.

I've  been working a lot of nights and have come to the conclusion that even though I'm no longer one of the morning people, I still have a long way to go before I become a night person. Or maybe I just need to be better about insisting on my nap. I'm going to make an awesome elderly woman. I have learned to love my naps and sleeping in till I wake up, ie without an alarm clock. Naps = happy Michele. The math is easy on that one.

In a moment of rash optimism during a sunshiny day we turned the heat off. Naturally the next day temperatures plunged and the sun disappeared. Our apartment is made of stucco and plaster and stone. If you want ice cold water we can provide it. Why not just turn the heat on again, you ask? We tried it, but now it makes an incredibly strange and loud noise and the radiators stay cold. We'll wait till the summer to get it fixed. If we want heat we have to huddle around the electric heater or wrap up in blankets.

An unexpected consequence of no heat is that our clothes don't dry for days. Sometimes a whole week. Which is tough for Leif, who's been riding rain or shine. Although after a couple of kilometers  in the rain, what's the difference?

Our toilet remains unpredictable. It performs perfectly when we have guests and does its Niagra Falls impersonation when they leave. I'm not being sensitive or imagining things. One of these days we're gonna have to borrow a super tall ladder and fix it. In other bathroom related news, the drains are working perfectly. So perfectly in fact that when I drain the kitchen sink after dishes I hold the counter so I don't get sucked in. Makes me wonder what happened down below to make things work so wonderfully.

That's about it I think. If I remember anything really, really outstanding I'll add them. Chances are this is as exciting as it gets. Which for a winter in Florence isn't all that bad, I guess.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Who am I, really?

I've been wondering....really more than wondering....actively, strenuously questioning the reason why the only kind of work I seem to be offered is babysitting. It's not something that I did in the States. I didn't go to college to become a teacher. I have in no way arranged my life to be around children. Why is it that here in Italy, far away from all the people I know and who have every reason to have preconceived notions about me and my capabilities, do I feel so pigeonholed into a certain kind of work? I feel trapped and that's not at all part of the dream I had about living here in Italy.

Then today I found myself getting a little angry. Why do people with so much on the ball themselves ignore the greater part of my abilities and focus only on this small part of what I'm capable of? I was stumped for the longest time. Then I had one of those revelations, an aha moment that was quickly followed by a mental slap to the forehead. Because one should never do that for real; it makes people wonder if you're, you know, all there.

They don't know what I can do because I don't tell them what I can do. Or what I've done. Or what I want to do. Before you send me telepathic "duhs" let me explain.

I grew up hearing the mantra "Don't toot your own horn," or in non-musician terms "Don't talk about yourself." It was considered bragging and in poor taste to talk about the things you excel at. And you might be wrong. I'm sure there's also something Biblical in there, like pride goeth before a fall, but I can't be sure.

Anyway, the result of this practice for my life now is that I'm no longer surrounded by people who have known me for years. I'm living with people who only know the me they see now and the things I tell them in conversation. Which, if you've really read the preceding paragraph, means that they hear nothing about what I've done in the past or what I believe I'm capable of. They hear about what I've been doing since I got to Florence, which is babysitting.

All I have to do is turn my back on fifty years of indoctrination and practice in the art of being seen but not heard. I have to become my biggest fan (so to speak) and talk out loud to people who aren't close friends about all the things I've accomplished in my life and the things I have yet to do. I have to act the way I feel and not hide behind that calm and serene exterior that everyone except me seems to see. I need to stop accepting that the role others offer me is the only one I can have.

I have to be as passionate about creating my life here as I was about moving here in the first place. I didn't let anyone, and I do mean anyone, cast doubt on my decision to move. I need to stop floating through the days here accepting the occasional sitting job and kinda whining about being undervalued by others. Or worse, making babysitting a full time gig when it isn't where my passion lies. I'm letting that happen, and it stops today. No doubt I'll slip now and then because let's face it, I'm much more comfortable being a wall flower than a rose smack in the middle of the table, but that's exactly what I am and where I need to be if I'm to make my life here as amazing as it promises to be.

Of course, I have no idea how to start talking about myself without sounding like all I do is talk about myself. I wonder if it's even possible? Where to start, what to say? This is gonna take some thought.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Return of the haunted bathroom or Ritorno del bagno stregata

If you don't remember our haunted bathroom click here to read about it. If nothing else the illustrations are awesome. But for those who don't want to invest time in actually reading I'll provide a short recap. Every time we have visitors coming the plumbing in our apartment goes all Exorcist on us, complete with strange sounds, disgusting liquids, and mysterious events that make no sense whatsoever.

This time, granted, things started getting weird waaay before our company is scheduled to visit. As soon as she contacted me with her intention to come and stay with us for a few days the madness started.

First we had to turn on the heat, which here is in fact plumbing. Unfortunately we already knew last year that the ignition for  the boiler needed cleaning so every time the boiler does its start up it sounds exactly like those spontaneous fires that start in movies. This year instead of the single whooosh that signals the start of the cycle we hear a series of whooshes, sometimes as many as seven. All day and all night with surprising frequency. Did I mention that the boiler is in the kitchen? Kind of annoying but not life threatening so it will wait for better days to get fixed.

Then the toilet began its little mutiny, refusing to stop running no matter how much we jiggled the little button in the wall. It started as a little trickle and just kept growing till finally it would run freely, constantly. Leif started turning the water off and on as flushing was required. (he's the only one tall enough) Then we decided to give up on that and just use our blue bucket to flush because the cheap plastic seat and cover threatened to break from his weight. Thank goodness my farm upbringing taught me to work with what we have, not with what we want. Our plan is to find someone with a super tall ladder we can borrow (the ladder, not the someone) and replace all the inside stuff. Someday. But for now, while we have company, we'll turn on the water and flush with great abandon. We can just say it's a state of  the art, self-flushing, self-cleaning toilet.

When we were a week away from company (Monday) the drains stopped working again. Very reminiscent of the last times complete with ugly water and strange smells. Actually, it started with the one sink we've never had trouble with, the bathroom vanity. Obviously Leif's manly stubble and shaving cream simply became too much for the ancient plumbing to move out. So we got out our handy bottle of Disgorgante (isn't that just an awesome name?) and poured a generous amount into the drain and ran for the hallway as the smoke started filling the room. Good thing we have experience, Leif had already opened the window to let out the worst of the smell and smoke. I'm not even kidding here, the stuff smokes.

Later we went in to flush the drain. It was still plugged so he (brave man) poured more in and ran. This time we were successful and the sink ran like it was meant to....but water started coming up the bathtub again. We didn't get rid of the plug, we only moved it. Sadly, it lodged where it affected all the drains in the house, again. It wasn't end-of-the-world plugged, just annoyingly slow to drain. So we left it be, mostly because we had used up the last of our Italian drain cleaner and didn't  feel like going out and finding more.

During this last attempt on the vanity sink we lost water pressure. Then we lost water. The timing couldn't have been worse. We had pipes of an indeterminate age and material filled with chemicals that eat through absolutely everything and no way to flush those chemicals out or even dilute them somewhat. Adding to the stress level is the fact that every time the water mysteriously shuts off (yes, it happens often enough to have an emergency plan) we have to turn the electric hot water heater off because, for unknown reasons, it doesn't have a one way valve at the inlet and when we lose water pressure all the water drains out. Ten minutes later the water came back on (again mysteriously) and we were able to get the chemicals out of the drain.

I had resigned myself to finally having to give that care-and-feeding of the bathroom speech that I had prepared almost two years ago....but wait! After doing one load of laundry (even though I thought it was pushing things a little too much) everything works fine. My very German side wants to know why, why, why does it work now and how can we repeat this the next time it happens? My rapidly growing Italian side has already shrugged her shoulders, thrown up a small grazie to the universe and accepted that there are things in this world we humans aren't meant to understand like God and plumbing.

Of course, our guest doesn't arrive till Monday night so there's still plenty of time for more bathroom drama but I'm  hopeful that the universe, in her infinite wisdom and with tons of compassion, will decide I've had enough and allow us to make it through the next week without mishap. What do you suppose my chances are?