Monday, November 25, 2013

Getting Comfortable...

  It's amazing to me how much of anyone's comfort level has to do with knowing language and culture. This is something that had never occurred to me before I moved here. If you've known me for a while you probably know that in my lifetime I've moved a lot...I mean, A LOT!! My dad's job included relocating every few years so I spent my childhood moving from town to town and sometimes house to house within the same town. Then I got married and spent the first 12 years of my marriage moving. Before we settled in Fort Worth the longest I had ever lived anywhere in my life was 6 years. I've been both relieved and blessed to be able to live in Fort Worth, in the same house, for 13 years. More than anything I wanted to give my kids something I never had...a hometown. And (as anyone who has moved can attest to) each move came with stress. For me it was starting new schools, meeting new people and becoming familiar with all the new things around me. But in all that time two things never really changed. The language and the culture around me. I could still walk into any school, store, church or office in my new town and speak, knowing I was going to understand and be understood. I was completely familiar with the process of going pretty much anyplace and getting what I needed. 

 Fast forward a few years and here I am in Italy. Never before have I felt stress and anxiety in a move like I have this one. I have written in my previous blogs about some of this and it's not like it's a totally new thought but every now and then something will hit me like a ton of bricks. It happened a few weeks ago. Mark and I are taking language lessons on Saturday mornings and like everything else in my life, sometimes they go well and sometimes they make me want to run screaming back to the U.S.  I wish I could make my brain be "on" all the time but I have times that I just can't think or recall anything very well. But this particular Saturday I was not only able to recall needed information, I was taking in the new stuff like a sponge soaks up water. The few days that followed were wonderful because I was able to communicate (still limited of course) with people I came in contact with. For the first time since we came here I didn't feel extreme stress just stepping out my front door! That's when it came to me: being familiar with language and culture, especially together, has so much to do with comfort levels.

 Let me give you an example using a trip to the grocery store. The shopping carts are locked and attached to the other carts. To get one you need a Euro coin to put into the small lock box in the handle of the cart to unlock it. When you are done with the cart you insert the lock chain back into the lockbox and get your Euro back. I might have figured this out without someone explaining it to me but it wouldn't have been a speedy process. You also need your own shopping bags or you can buy them at the check-out. 
In the produce section, you have to put on plastic gloves, bag your items and weigh them to get a price sticker. If you don't know this you can get yelled at in Italian. Of course you have no clue what that person is saying. If you get a nice person they won't yell but you are still clueless. I was blessed to have someone take me to the supermarket for the first time and explain it to me, however the first time I went on my own I forgot about weighing and pricing the item. Fortunately the checker was very nice but it took me forever to figure out what she was saying.
 If you want to buy something at the deli counter you first have to know what you are buying. A lot of the meats look the same and if you don't know the differences you can end up with something you don't want. Knowing the language here can come in very handy. Knowing how to ask is important also. Italians don't respond well to anything they perceive as a demand. Plus, you can't ask for anything in ounces or pounds. It's grams here but of course you also need to know the Italian for gram. It's also helpful to know that deli items are sold by the etto which is about 100 grams. So you can ask for un etto, due etti (200 grams) or un etto e mezzo (150 grams). But figuring out what to say is only half the battle. Understanding the responses can also cause the deer in the headlights look...These things also apply to figuring out parking meters, asking directions or just being able to order coffee.  

 Do you get what I'm saying here? It's no wonder I had never really thought about these things before. I was born into the American culture and English is my first language. Yes, you have differing cultures within America but if you speak English it doesn't take long to figure something out. Never once while living in the U.S. did I ever have to look up and then practice what I wanted to say so I could go to the store ask for cheese. 

 I've come to realize that knowing the language and understanding the culture is the key to having peace of mind for this type of thing. I wish I could tell you that I've conquered this completely but I can't. I still feel anxious when I'm going someplace and I still get back into the car and breathe a sigh of relief when I'm done. But I'm getting there. My comfort level and my confidence are growing be it ever so slightly. We've been here for almost 6 months and I can definitely tell things are better than they were in the beginning. I'm hoping by the time our 1 year anniversary comes around the correct words and phrases will just roll off my tongue without much thought. Honestly, if I'm never fluent in Italian that'll be okay. I'll just settle for not wanting to crawl into a hole and then pull it in after me! 

 On that note, I guess I should go "studio il mio Italiano". 

Ciao tutti!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Learning Lessons...

  Anyone who's known me for more than 5 minutes can probably tell you that God is the deciding factor in everything I do. (At least I hope this is how people see me, otherwise I am doing something wrong.) I do my best to seek God's guidance in my life and in all things both big and small. Am I perfect? Far from it but I do believe that God cares about all aspects of my life and will guide me through any place or situation I find myself in...if I let Him.

  So why am I here? Why do I find myself 5000 miles away from everything I have ever known and most of the people I car about? A place that while it is very beautiful is also frustrating and confusing to me quite often. I have asked myself this question many times since this adventure began and do you know what the answer is? I have no idea!

 Well, maybe I have some ideas...

  It is obvious to me that God put me here for a reason (or reasons) that right now, only He knows. Will all of those reasons ever be revealed to me? Maybe... maybe not. One of the cool things about the way God works is that He knows what His plan is and can work out things in our lives without us ever knowing how or why. But I also think He reveals the things He needs us to know. Things that teach us about ourselves and help us discover who God is.

  This new situation, the new environment, culture and the people that are being placed in my path are all teachable things if my eyes, ears and heart are open to it. I was recently speaking to a friend in the same position I'm in and she said, "I've never been so homebound in my life." Wow, can I ever relate to that! I'm so used to having my independence and a car to go along with it. Here, we can only afford one car and Mark has it most of the time. Oh, once in a while he gets a ride to work and leaves the car for me and I relish those days! But what if I could learn to relish the days I have at home too? After years of having kids, schools, errands, commitments, appointments and responsibilities pull me in a thousand different directions, I suddenly find myself in a quiet house. Yes, I still have responsibilities, things that need to be done, but I also have days that I don't have much to do. That could drive me crazy if I'd let it. But what if, instead of bemoaning the fact that I have no place to go and no way to get there, I stopped and listened to the silence? Looked out the window and saw the beautiful sky, trees and flowers and thanked God for his creation? Enjoyed the time I have to paint or experiment with new recipes? Not only doing the things that for years, I complained about not having the time to do, but just sat still and let God speak to my heart? What kind of difference would that make?

 I am convinced that God is always speaking to us. Trying to draw us in to know Him intimately. The problem is that we're usually so busy, running at a breakneck speed, trying to accomplish everything on our "to do" lists that we don't hear Him when he speaks. For the first time in recent memory, I am in a position to really listen.

  Honestly, this is not an aspect of our time here that I sought or expected. I agreed to live here thinking about all the cool trips we could take and wonderful things we could see. I love how God takes my tiny little plans and turns them into something amazing!  

 Mark and I have a group of friends from our church that we get together with a couple of times a week for Bible studies. Very recently, our minister's wife brought a DVD to watch with the ladies that was all about this very thing. Being still and listening to God. I don't think it was a coincidence that this subject has come up just as I find myself in this situation. God is using the time I have to get my attention. Like a lot of people I know I've spent years going to church, helping with various ministries, going to Bible studies and "church" activities but somehow I've missed the intimate relationship that God wants with me.  He has stripped away all my excuses and given me the time I have always longed for so that I can get to know Him. What an awesome God we have! My "independence" is exactly what I needed to be taken from me. Who would have thought I would be brought to Italy to experience who God is?

  So, is this the only reason I'm here? Probably not. I don't even need to know all the reasons. All I need to know is that God loves me and wants me to know Him. And now I have the time to do it. To really seek Him and praise Him for who He is. What more could I ask for?

  Psalm 46:10...He says, "Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth".



Wednesday, September 11, 2013


  I know. Zip-Zorp is a strange title. I'll explain it as best I can.

  I guess living anywhere that you're not accustomed to the culture, things are going to seem a bit odd to you. Keep in mind that I have never lived outside of the U.S. before, so things might be a little more strange to me than they would someone who's done the international thing before. At any rate, I find myself constantly shaking my head and asking, "What's up with that?"

  Just days after we moved here Mark and I were trying to figure out how a particular cafeteria style restaurant worked. People were getting their trays but there was no rhyme or reason to getting their food. There was no line to speak of, people just seemed to be crowding around certain areas. There were some self-serve spots and others where you had to go order, and a lot of the food did not look familiar. Keep in mind neither of us understood much Italian so reading the menu did very little to help. For all we knew we were ordering boiled squid with chocolate sauce! Also, we didn't know simple phrases like, "Can I have..." or "I would like..."in Italian.  It was just another confusing experience and we were already unsure of ourselves. Finally Mark said, "It's like being in a Dr. Seuss book. You walk into a room and all these strange characters are hopping on one foot yelling Zip-Zorp, Zip Zorp! You don't know IF you should join in, HOW to join in or even if you're hopping on the correct foot." I love my husband's sense of humor! Ever since that conversation when something doesn't make sense one of us will say, "Zip-Zorp!"

For instance:

  There are SO many people here who drive with their arm hanging all the way out the window. Not just a few people. It's like if you're Italian, that's what you do. Zip-Zorp.

  The lines painted on roadways are merely suggestions here. People weave in and out of their lanes and drive ON the lines like it's necessary to driving. It's like the answer to the question "Which lane do you want?" is YES! Not just a few people, we see it all the time!  Zip-Zorp.

  Do you want to have someone come to your house to perform a service? Maybe they'll come, maybe they won't. Zip-Zorp.

  Going to the store? Will it be open when you get there? Maybe. Maybe not. Zip-Zorp.

  Looking for artwork for your home? Do you like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson? Well then you're in luck because Italians are obsessed with dead celebrities! You don't just find them in artwork but in clothing and textiles as well. Zip-Zorp.

  These are just a few examples of things we encounter frequently. In my previous blogs I've mentioned crazy parking lots, "hidden" malls and the insane rules for obtaining a driver's license. There are other anomalies I just don't get. A good example of this is that nothing, and I mean NOTHING is ever torn down from what I can tell. I fully understand the historical importance of some of these ancient structures but it is totally out of my realm of comprehension why anybody would leave an old,
rusted- out car wash still standing. Everywhere you go there are buildings that are falling down with caved in roofs and foliage growing out of every opening. If someone wants to build something new they just move over from the old, falling apart building and put up a new one. It's a very bizarre mixture of old and new.

  And while I get that the economy here is bad, I don't understand places that have long since gone out of business leaving their signs up like everything is still in place. We've gone to more than one place that turned out to be a deserted waste land...Zip-Zorp.

  I'm sure given enough time I'm going to learn to deal with the absurdity of it all. It's been difficult for me because at heart I'm an optimist but I think having no expectations and a laid-back attitude is the key to all this. If I can work on that I'll be okay.

  In the mean time I'll just roll down my car window, hang my arm out and drive on the lines to a store that won't be open when I get there...Zip-Zorp.

Until next time,


Thursday, August 22, 2013

My SWISS adventure...

  One of the advantages of living in Northern Italy is the travel opportunities we have. I've really enjoyed the few brief trips we've taken and last week we had the pleasure of going to Switzerland. Now, anyone who knows me well is aware that I'm not much of an outdoor girl but I have a special place in my heart for mountains.  I spent much of my childhood in New Mexico and Colorado and as an adult I've spent time in the Smokey Mountains but nothing I've ever seen can compare to the spectacular mountains and valleys of Switzerland! It is an amazing place where God's glory is present in the snow capped peaks, the trees, flowers, waterfalls and the peaceful, green valleys.

 Italy has it's own beauty. The Alps are visible from Italy and they are lovely but driving over the Swiss border you are transported into some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.  I think our eyes and our "Wow's" got bigger around each curve and over every hill! I am blessed to be married to a man who understands my need to photograph such beauty and he obliged me by pulling over every 5 minutes. Interesting thing is, according to friends who have gone several times we didn't even take the most scenic route! I'm anxious to one day go back and take it.

 One of the most unique experiences we had was taking driving onto a ferry train to take us through a long tunnel. The trip took about 15 minutes and was in total darkness. I'm just a little bit claustrophobic so the light at the end of that tunnel sure looked good!

 Our first stop was the small, Alpine village of Gimmelwald. There is a hostel, a bed and breakfast and two small hotels there. The hotel we stayed in was very old and the rooms were tiny. With toilets and showers down the hall, it was one step above a hostel. The rest of the village is made up of quaint log cabins, farms complete with sheep, goats and cows, each wearing bells around their necks,  all surrounded by breath-taking mountains and lush green valleys.  It is a quiet, peaceful place that is only accessible by a gondola that goes up the mountain from the village of Stechelberg. One of my favorite activities was taking a morning walk in the cool, crisp air and listening to the music of the bells worn by all the farm animals. The next village up from there is called Murren and it has some wonderful hotels, restaurants and shops where we bought our Swiss cuckoo clock! (Mark has wanted one for years.)

 We also took the opportunity to go paragliding! Mark brought up the idea to me before we went and my first response was, "No way!" Then, after we got there, I watched the paragliders and it looked like fun. In the end it was me who talked Mark into it! I think he wasn't so sure about the whole thing but then I told him he could just watch me do it. His response to that was, "No way are you doing it without me!" The result was the most exhilarating experience of my life! We took off from the hills above Murren at about 9000 feet and glided next to cliffs, waterfalls and over the valley of Stechelberg for about 15 - 20 minutes. I'm not altogether sure I would do it again, but I will never regret having done it the fist time! There is more to do in these villages and we're definitely going back. I may have just found my favorite place on earth.

 The next leg of our journey took us to Luzern (Lucerne if you're not from Switzerland). It is a large, bustling city but it's old town is so charming and full of history. It has two beautiful old wooden bridges, built in the 14th century, that span the river (although one of them burned in 1993 and was rebuilt). Lake Luzern is huge and surrounded my mountains and almost everywhere you look there are swans (reportedly a gift from Louis XIV.) One of the restaurants we dined in is 400 years old and served wonderful German food. There are a ton of museums and churches and we didn't get to stay long enough to see everything but we did enjoy our visit there. Luzern may be on our list of places to go back to one day.

 We still have many trips to take and many countries to see before this adventure ends but I think I will always have a special place in my heart for Switzerland.  I thank God for allowing me to experience something so wonderful!

Auf Wiedersehen!
                                                   Flying high over Switzerland...

                                                     On the drive up from Italy...


                                           The ferry train...


                                         One of our "musical" goats...

                                        A beautiful little village on the drive to Luzern...

                                         One of the wooden bridges...

                                        Some of the many swans...

                                          The Jesuit Church...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Some of our travels...

 This is why we came to Italy...

  I love some of the day trips we've taken. We decided not to take any trips that required an over-night stay until we get out of the hotel. It just doesn't make sense to leave one hotel (that's already paid for) to stay in another so all of our trips have been one day excursions. The nice thing about our location is that we live very near some really nice places. Since I've already posted about our trips into Milan and Pisa I'll talk about our most recent visits.

 I'll start with Verona, not because it was the most recent but because honestly, it was my least favorite so far and I feel like I've already used this blog to complain too much. I'd rather end this one on a high note!  Some will recognize the name as the setting for "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Romeo and Juliet". It's possible that at one time it was a very beautiful and romantic place and maybe that's what inspired Shakespeare but honestly, as a modern city I wasn't very impressed. Maybe because they've modernized it a little too much. There were some interesting sites there. Among them a colosseum that is still standing and is still used for performances. The problem is since they use it today, they've converted it into a modern day stadium complete with rows of theater type seats. The only parts that even look ancient are the outside (if you can look past the banners and lights) and the very top. I was completely disappointed.

  There were some areas of the city they've left alone, an ancient wall and some statues but with so many merchants (mostly peddling "Romeo and Juliet" souvenirs) it's hard to see the town square that still has marble streets and an ancient fountain.

 It wasn't all a complete loss. We did visit a church and a duomo that were almost stunning in their beauty. It's funny to walk up to an almost non-descript, plain looking church only to have your breath taken away by the incredible detail of the inside. I've heard that the reason for this is that the Catholic church wanted the poor people in these communities to have a place to worship that gave them a glimpse into Heaven. Most of the interiors of these churches have marble floors and columns and some of the most exquisite paintings I have ever seen! I'm thankful that most of them allow photography so I can revisit them. The churches are what made the trip worth it.

 Then there were the visits to Lake Como...

  Oh my! Talk about beauty! We've actually been twice because there is a lot to do there but I'm sure we will be going back. It's just north of Milan so it's a very close trip for us. During the summer months it's pretty packed with tourists so we've found it best to take the train since there's very little space to park a car. Even with the tourists it's one of the most peaceful, picturesque places I've ever been. The lake itself is glacier fed so it's always cold and fairly clear in the shallow ends. It also doesn't have that fishy, lake smell that I'm so used to.

  The villages surrounding the lake are all quaint and so interesting to walk around. They have been there for centuries and all of them have cobblestone streets and beautiful little churches. They are built into the sides of the mountains so there are a lot of steps and steep hills to climb, reminding me just how out of shape I am! There are a few large villas with lush gardens and views of the mountains and lake. We visited two, Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello, both built at the end of the 17th century. Villa Carlotta is a huge estate type home with some of the most incredible gardens I have ever seen. It was so big we didn't even have time to see all of it. Just walking through the flowers with the heat of the sun warming the blossoms makes for an incredible sensation not only for the eyes but for the nose as well! There were trees of just about every type, amazing arbors with grapes and lemons growing overhead and I can't even count the variety of flowers. I may have to go back just to see the rest of the garden.

  Villa Balbianello is more sprawling than Carlotta with it's own chapel and a shaded, flower-laced terrace overlooking the lake. The terrace is where they filmed the wedding scene of Star Wars, Episode 2 and they used the estate and grounds to film Casino Royale. I probably went overboard with the pictures but with all the statues, trees and flowers with the lake and mountains in the background I couldn't help myself.

  Lake Como is so big we still haven't seen all of it and I'm not sure we'll ever have the time to. It's one of those places that you dream about long after you've left and it's one memory I'll cherish forever.

 I'm sure once we get moved into our house we'll be taking a lot more trips. We're planning one to Switzerland in August since Mark has several days off then. I keep hearing how beautiful it is there so expect to see more blogs and pictures in the future.

  Once again I'm reminded of just how blessed I am to be able to have and share this opportunity. I hope that people don't get sick of hearing that from me but I'm convinced that God lead us here. I have had my frustrations with this place but I'm doing my best to focus on the positive things. I'm here with my best friend, every day we find something new to laugh about, and we've met some really great people, most of whom are happy to talk to us (even with our broken Italian and their broken English). I am being cared for, clothed, fed and sheltered so really, what is there to complain about? I'm thankful for each new experience, even the ones that don't seem positive at the time.

 Speaking of new experiences...we're supposed to be moving into our house in about a week and a half. I'm getting quite anxious about it and will post a new blog and pictures when it happens. In the mean time I covet your prayers for the process to go smoothly. Thank you again to everyone who takes the time to read the thoughts that come out of my mostly-functioning brain! I miss all my family and friends so much but knowing I can share my experiences brings me a lot of comfort!

Love to you all,

                                                        The top of the colosseum in

                                          One of the many beautiful ceilings in the church.

                                            A beautiful piece of art in the ceiling in the duomo.

                                                                     Villa Carlotta

                                                  one small section of the garden.

                                              One of the lovely views from the house.

                                                         The terrace at Villa Balbianello.

                                                      More of the terrace...and Mark!

                             Varenna, (not to be confused with Verona) a small fishing village
                                                            on Lake Como.

                                                         Just another gorgeous view!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship with Italy...

  It's funny how living someplace gives you a whole different perspective than just visiting does. It's pretty easy to love someplace when you're only visiting but when you live there it can be a whole other experience. I tried to keep this in mind while preparing to move here but there are just some realities that have to hit you in the face. It's kinda like trying to prepare yourself for marriage or having kids when you've never done either. You sort of know it's not going to be easy but you still envision unending dreamy, romantic evenings with your spouse and perfect, smiling, cooing "Gerber babies." At some point reality sets in and you realize just how silly those ideas were. It's not that you never experience good things but you become acutely aware that the real world has very little in common with the fantasy.

 Just to be clear I am definitely having some wonderful experiences here. The traveling has for the most part been amazing and we still have a lot more to see and do. I'll write more about that in my next blog. What I want to focus on for now is the reality of really living here. In conveying my feelings about these things I am aware that my perspective is that of an outsider. The way things are done here are probably perfectly sensible to someone who's native born. But as an American I can tell you that to me, NOTHING here makes any logical sense! Let me try to give you the best examples of this...

 Speed Limits: Trying to merge onto a freeway you would think it best to increase your speed to match the speed of other cars. Not here. The merging speed limit is 40 km. per hour (approximately 25 mph)! If you're traveling on the highway in the right lane and someone is merging you'd better move over or slow down! It's odd because this is the only place I have seen Italians actually going the speed limit.

  Drivers Licenses: The Italian government has made it impossible for immigrants to get a local driver's license.  We do have our international licenses but they are only good for 1 year. After that you are expected to get an Italian license. Here's the problem: You have to apply for a driver's permit. Sounds easy enough. The permits cost approximately $250 (of course that's in Euros) and from the moment you obtain your permit you have 6 months to learn the rules of the road and then take the test for your license. Plus you  have to put a large letter "P" on the front and back of your car, you can't drive on the freeways and you must drive ONLY with a licensed driver who is under the age of 60 and has had a valid license for at least 10 years. Now if someone can tell me where to find an Italian who's willing to drive with us to work, the grocery store, church and every other place we have to go I'll do my best to get a license. Oh by the way if you fail the test which is 40 questions (you can only miss 4) your permit is torn up and you start the whole process all over again... And the test is no longer offered in English. Brilliant.

  Parking lots: I talked about this briefly in my last blog but I still can't seem to grasp this concept. It should be a simple enough thing. You drive to a store and you park your car, right?  Here that's only if you can get through the maze of barriers, one way arrows and "Do Not Enter" signs to FIND the parking lot! I have never seen anyplace more bent on keeping people out!! And it doesn't seem to matter where you're going. Grocery, hardware and furniture stores, government offices, malls...Oh, let's talk about shopping malls. 

  Italy likes to play a little game called "Hide the Mall". Here's what I mean: 

Last week we were trying to find a mall that we had been told had an Apple store.    Like a lot of men, my husband is an electronics maniac and loves electronics stores so we looked online to find out what the mall was called and a map to the place. Following the directions on our GPS we ended up at a shopping center that had 3 large stores, Italy's versions of The Home Depot, Academy Sports and Garden Ridge. At the opposite end of the parking lot were some industrial looking buildings with almost no cars parked at that end of the lot.  We decided since we were there to park and go check out the stores even though it wasn't the mall we had hoped to find. We found an underground parking lot (a good deal of parking here is underground) and realized that it went on a lot further back than we realized. We drove to an area where there were a lot of cars, got out, rode up a motorized ramp and... VIOLA! We were in a huge shopping mall! Those strange, industrial looking buildings with almost no cars in the upper lot WAS the mall!

 Now this might seem like an isolated incident but we came upon another mall a few days ago the same way. By parking in an underground lot and walking into a set of non-descript doors. We've also been to a few outlet malls where all of the stores face in and the back of the stores are what face the maze.., uh, I mean parking lot! Oh and by the way, every store in this particular mall was closed...on a Monday. The only things that were open were the restaurants and pizzarias. And that leads us to the subject of business closures...

 A lot of businesses, particularly the smaller ones still follow the siesta schedule. From about 1pm to around 3:30 or 4:00 they close up shop. That's really okay with me, as a matter of fact I kind of like it, but it's not something I expect from a large store. I found out the hard way the other day that some of the bigger places do it too. Also, there are hundreds of small towns and villages and each one has a patron saint. If any of these towns happens to be celebrating their individual saint on any given day the businesses will be closed. No way of knowing unless you're a local what day that will be, but whatever! You learn pretty quickly that if you want to go someplace it's probably a good idea to find out if it's going to be open when you get there!

    In the interest of keeping this blog entry shorter than your average novel I won't go into all the other things that seem completely illogical here. There are plenty of them I assure you. In joking about it the other day while we were searching every "logical" place to find a shower rod for our new house and not finding one Mark said, "maybe we should check a shoe store!" 

 ... And that is how we're handling all this! God gave us both a unique and quirky sense of humor and using it has kept us both (somewhat) sane! We do get angry and frustrated from time to time but we're at least trying to see the humor in our new situations. It also helps to have other Americans who are in the same boat to talk to. Once again, as stated in my previous blogs, I'm thankful for the people God has put in place for our journey here. Especially the church we have become a part of. I'm still not clear on the purpose for our being here, and I'm aware I may not ever really know. But knowing that God has put us here is what I keep relying on. Frustrations aside this has been and will continue to be an interesting adventure!

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. I will focus more on the positive things in my next blog, I promise!



Friday, July 5, 2013

Some everyday stuff...

Just your average trip to the eye doctor...well, maybe not!

 I was kinda hoping our first trip to a doctor would happen later, when we were in a house and settled. Well, if I'm being honest what I was hoping is that we'd both make it through the next two years not having to go to any doctors here and just maintaining our medical visits on our trips home. So much for that idea!

 Some of you may know that Mark only wears one contact lens. He had lasik in his left eye several years ago and unfortunately it didn't go as well as planned. He was so near-sighted and the surgeon had to remove so much corneal tissue that when the "flap" was replaced it didn't smooth out as hoped. The result is that his outer corneal flap has "wrinkles" for lack of a better description. In certain light and up close he actually sees fairly well out of that eye but if it's darker he sees "ghost" images. After hearing him describe these ghost images to one of our regular optomitrist's assistants her response was, "You see dead people??"...Anyway, he wears a contact in his right eye and about once a year give or take, that eye gets an infection. Well wouldn't you know it waited until we got to Italy to act up?

 This has happened often enough that he knows not to put his contact in and to get in touch with the eye doctor as soon as possible. First things first, where do you go to find an English speaking eye doctor in Italy? Fortunately there is a woman here working with all the LM people as a liaison to help with their needs. She called and scheduled an appointment with an "occulist" for this past Wednesday at 7:45...PM. Yes, PM.

 Mark went to Google maps and found the place and it's fairly close to the Airport. (Fairly close in this area of Italy means about 20-25 minutes) We put the address in our GPS and actually got there pretty easily. We found a parking lot in the back of the building and proceeded to walk to the entrance. Keep in mind that this in no way resembled what we've come to know as a "medical building". It was a 3 story building with brown siding that has a small grocery store attached at the back. There was a locking mechanism on the door, the kind where someone has to buzz you in. There was someone coming out as we were entering so we didn't need to push the button. Once inside we noticed the building was very dimly lit. There was a tiny, and I mean 2 person maximum tiny, elevator in the middle of the building and doors with doormats and no signs all around the perimeter. We decided to go up and see if we could find the place. On the second floor, more doors. No signs. We went up another floor, more doors. No signs. Dead calm. Dim building. Not a sound. Beginning to feel like lambs lead to a slaughter we nervously got back in the elevator and went down to where we had come in. There was a man coming out of one of the doors heading for the exit. In our best Italian, which isn't great and with the help of my phone's translator we asked him where to find the occulist. His face lit up (I guess we asked correctly) and he waved his hand and said, "Vieni" or "come"! The three of us got back on the two person elevator and he took us back up to the 3rd floor, got off the elevator and walked around to the back where there was a door with a sign! We thanked him and went inside.

 There was a woman, I guess the receptionist leaving as we came in and the doctor was behind the counter eating a sandwich. He got up, went in the back and from his office yelled, "Mark Porter?" We said yes and he came out and guided us to the examination room. First time in my life I was ever in an eye doctor's office that had a window! (For those of you not lucky enough to have vision problems, eye doctors need exam rooms without windows so they can turn out the lights and see through their equipment properly.) He was speaking Italian and Mark said, "Parli inglesi?" His response? "Little." (Oh, this should be fun.) Mark explained as slowly and clearly as possible what the problem was and while the doctor's English wasn't perfect, it really wasn't that bad. He did his exam and said, "I prescribe drop, anti-biotic, cortizone, yes?" We said yes and he wrote the prescription out and asked if we could come back on the 12th at the same time. We agreed and left, at least knowing what to expect when we come back.

 I went to the airport pharmacy the next day to try to get the prescription filled and was told, "non ce l'ho" or I don't have. I called Mark and he arranged to come pick me up so we could find a pharmacy to fill it. (The good thing there was I got to leave the hotel and have lunch with my husband!) After lunch we found the nearest pharmacy on my GPS and drove there. Only problem was we forgot most places close up in the early afternoon for their "siesta" time. We drove back to the airport to drop me off and Mark went back to work and gave the prescription to the liaison so she could call around to find a pharmacy that had the drops in stock. She found one (around the corner from the one we had tried to go to after lunch) and told Mark to go pick it up after 6:30. After work he came back to the hotel and picked me up and we went to the pharmacy. Just a side note here, I've never seen a country so bent on keeping people from parking near their businesses! It's like they purposefully make access to street parking and parking lots impossible to find! We drove around the pharmacy and back again and finally found a place to park. When we went inside the girl at the counter of course spoke almost no English! I think we must look like chimps to these poor people who are trying to figure out our broken Italian and best charades moves! Once again with the help of my translator we finally got our point across. She went in back and came out with a few boxes of the drops and said, "Open one and no more use". These are basically single use containers so we understood what she meant. What's odd is that there was no prescription bottle, no prescription label, just the boxes with drops in them. They do things so differently here but we've had our first medical incident and survived!

 As strange as this whole thing seemed, once again I'm pleasantly surprised at how nice (and patient) people are. We have learned that our at least attempting to speak their language softens them immediately. They are so willing to try and help when they can. 

 This is just one more reason I'm glad I came along for the ride! Until next time...


Monday, July 1, 2013

The First Month

One month...

 I can't believe we've been here one month. In some ways it seems longer, maybe because trying to pass the time while living in a hotel is so hard to do. I find that I'm living for the weekends because we always find something to do outside these walls. Not that I'm without a routine here. Every week day I get up, get dressed, go have breakfast, go for my morning walk around the airport (really the only place to walk), read, check facebook, read, check e-mail, read, play candy crush, read...honestly it's getting a little old, but I'll survive.

 Things are progressing however. We're only a month (give or take a day or two) away from moving into our house. It's funny how you can get so tired of doing the mundane things of life. Laundry, cooking, cleaning...I haven't had to do these things for a while now but I actually miss them! Not only to have something useful to do but maybe to feel like I have some say in what I do and when I do it. If the hotel would let me do my own laundry I'd be happy to do it!

 We have also found a church, or should I say God led us to a church. This is a non-denominational English speaking group who do their best to follow the Bible as closely as possible. They have a few traditions I'm not used to but traditions don't matter when you need people to worship and fellowship with. One of my biggest concerns in moving here was to find a group of believers who treated each other like family, and we've found it. I can't imagine the isolation we would feel if we hadn't found people who already care about us simply because we are Christ followers. God is good!

 As for our adventures, we have been to the town center of Milan to see the Duomo and the Galleria and we've been to Sforza Castle. We have a good friend coming in August and we're going to see da Vinci's "Last Supper". I'm really looking forward to it but I doubt seriously that they'll let me photograph it.

 This past weekend we went to Pisa. The drive (about 3 hours on a good day, 4 because of the traffic) was beautiful. Pisa is in Tuscany so we did see a little of the rolling hills and trees you've seen in photographs but it was so interesting to see palm trees and tropical flowers on one side if the road and snow topped mountains on the other. I wanted to take a lot of pictures but unfortunately on the autostrada (the highway) there's very few places to stop and my camera needs time to focus. I got a few good pictures of the mountains from the car but that's about it. Maybe next time we go to Tuscany we'll take some back roads so we can stop for pictures.

 The leaning tower and the cathedral were amazing but the town itself isn't much. As a matter of fact it's pretty filthy! There are merchants set up all over the place selling "souvenirs" if you want to call them that. Mostly cheap tourist crap if you ask me. Some of these people are "in your face" types that try to stick stuff in front of you so you'll buy it. Now don't get the wrong idea, these merchants are not just in Pisa. They are everywhere tourists might be, there just seemed to be more of them in Pisa. I'm getting pretty good and holding my hand up and saying "NO!" You have to be pretty firm and sometimes downright rude. But as dirty and crowded as it was, I'm glad we went. 

 Climbing the tower is an incredible experience. The steps (256 of them) are very worn from centuries of use and as you're going up and especially down you're very aware of gravity throwing you off just a bit. It's kind of a surreal experience. Also, I knew that the top was a bell tower but I didn't know there were 7 bells of varying sizes. Standing at the top gazing over rooftops and mountains is wonderful. We were blessed by great weather too! I'm really glad I got to experience climbing the tower. It's something I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on.

 The great thing about living here will be all the excursions we get to go on. Everything is in such close proximity it would be crazy not to take advantage of it. One thing I'm looking forward to is the overnight trips we can take once we've gotten into our house. We're planning to go to Switzerland for a few days in August and I can't wait!

Thank you again to everyone who's sharing in our adventure by reading this blog. I miss my family and friends terribly and being able to share this means so much to me!

For now, 

                                      Some snow dusted mountains
                                   on the drive from Milan to Pisa

                                                           The Leaning Tower of Pisa (obviously!)

                                                       View from the bottom of the tower
                                                        looking up...

                                          Just on of the well worn steps...
                                           One of the 7 bells in the bell tower...

                                                      Over looking the city from the top!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Climbing out of my box...

 I don't think I've ever been the adventurous type. I don't race cars or ride motorcycles, I have no desire to go bungee jumping or white water rafting, I'm not into mountain climbing or sky diving (although I did do indoor skydiving once), I'm just not much into trying new things.  In other words, I like my comfort zone. I like things like shopping, painting, reading, watching t.v., visiting with friends and talking on the phone to my mom. Things that are familiar, some might even say boring but honestly, that's okay with me. I'm good with boring. So why am I living in Italy? Good question... 

 Part of me is still trying to figure it out. If you read my first blog you'll remember that this was something I had to be talked into. Several years ago when Mark first brought up the idea I wasn't at all keen on it. Most of it had to do with the kids still being in school. I had moved around so much when I was growing up and I really wanted them to have a place to call home. But I have to admit part of my hesitation was that I liked my life. I liked my house and my car and my neighbors and my church. I liked that I could hop into my car and go shopping or any other place I wanted to go and it was all familiar. I think deep down I knew that if I agreed to this I would lose my version of comfortable. And indeed I have.

 I am truly a stranger in a strange land. Comfort has gone out the window. Honestly, if I were to dwell only on the negative I could truly hate this place. For example, the majority of people smoke. It's just part of the culture but I really hate walking out of a building and being hit in the face with smoke. (Funny thing is that this is a culture that is obsessed with youth and beauty yet they not only smoke they're avid sunbathers. Talk about things that will zap both youth and beauty!) Also, thievery is rampant here. We know several people who have had their houses or cars broken into and several who have been pick-pocketed. The rule of thumb here is: every evening around sunset, close and lock your shutters (every house has them) and leave nothing of value in your car. The thieves here have devices that can read electronic signals telling them if there is something in the car worth stealing such as GPS devices, ipods or other electronics. We ourselves have been victims, someone having stolen our camera battery out of our camera bag in our hotel room. Fortunately we had the camera and our other valuables locked in the safe. And don't even get me started on the driving! It is totally crazy, with narrow (sometimes one lane) winding roads. Motorcycles pass between cars, usually in very dangerous situations, there are bicyclists everywhere, occasionally slowing traffic to a halt, and the drivers themselves are insane! I thought it was bad in Dallas but it can't compare. There's no going the speed limit. You'll get run over if you try and even going over the limit you have cars right on your tail most of the time. I have seen cars pass and just barely make it back into their lane before being hit by oncoming traffic.  We have come upon 2 separate major accidents and I wonder why we haven't seen more. The prices in most stores are sky-high, there's no way to get to those stores quickly, most places are at least a 30 minute drive, many of them an hour or more...I could go on but here's the thing. I don't want to focus on the negative. There are many things here that are wonderful.

 The setting couldn't be better. Beautiful views of the Alps, moderate temperatures, gorgeous flowers and trees that have wonderful scents that (depending on where you are) permeate the air with a sweet smell that just makes you want to inhale constantly! The history in this area is fascinating. I can't tell you how awesome it is to realize you're standing in a building that was occupied by Leonardo da Vinci or gazing at a piece of artwork created my Michelangelo. In addition, for the most part the people are very nice. We have had more than one person help, or attempt to help in situations where we didn't know what to do or didn't understand the language. One Saturday as we were struggling to understand a parking meter a man who spoke English very well stopped and showed us the sign that informed us we didn't need to pay because it was after noon. One of the bellman at the hotel has helped us with our Italian and many store clerks have tried to work a little English into their vocabulary when it was clear to them we didn't understand. We even had a train conductor overlook the fact that we forgot to validate our tickets before boarding the train (normally a 50 Euro fine). I think it was obvious to him we were foreigners and not too bright!  These acts of kindness have come full circle for us because we have also been able to help some people who needed it this past weekend. While walking to board a train to Milan on Sunday we helped a woman who spoke German but very little English board the correct train and then we helped guide a family to Milan's town square since we had been there before. It felt kinda nice to be the helpers instead of the helpees! 

 I guess what I'm trying to convey is that it would be very easy to stay holed up in my hotel room (or my house if I ever get moved in) and not speak to or interact with anyone. That's my natural tendency because it's comfortable. But I didn't come here to stay in my box. My box needed to be broken out of and now I'm doing things and going places I never thought I would. I'm ready to plan new experiences not know what will happen but knowing that God is always watching over us. I think one day I'll look back on this whole thing and think, "Wow, I'm really glad I did that!" 

And ultimately, that's why I'm here. Yes, it's frightening and uncomfortable but it's going to be a lot more interesting than staying in my box!

Until next time: Arrivederci!
 A tree that I thought was really interesting.
 The view from our hotel room.

Part of the colosseum in Aosta left standing from the Roman occupation.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

 While reading one of my daily devotionals I came across this sentence:

 God won't allow anything that makes man look self-sufficient in his own eyes.

 That got me to thinking about my current circumstances. Right now I am feeling anything but self-sufficient. I have spent a great deal of my life moving from place to place and each move has had it's own set of difficulties. There is always the search for a place to live, a place to worship, a place to shop, etc. but this is unlike anything I've ever experienced. There is nothing in this place that is comfortable or least right now. 

 Don't get me wrong, I am NOT complaining. I am aware that not very many people get this kind of opportunity and Mark and I both feel that God led us here. If you read my previous blogs you'll know that everything that happened from the time we "put our names into the hat" was smooth and effortless. Trust me, we are not arrogant enough to believe we had anything to do with the ease of that part of this transition.  

 This part of the transition is the difficult part. As I write this, I'm sitting alone in my hotel room. We are staying in a nice place but it's located by the airport and there's not a lot to do out here. Mark is working and has our one and only car and to be honest, the roads are so confusing that I don't feel comfortable driving yet anyway. I have my kindle, my computer, magazines and a sketch pad and pencils but I feel somewhat like a prisoner in a nice cell. If I get really bored I can go walk around the airport. Also, there's the problem of the language barrier. My Italian is pathetic to poor at this stage despite using Rosetta Stone for the better part of a year. I think it's because most Italians speak so quickly and I tend to get that "deer in headlights" look when someone speaks to me. If I'm thinking quickly (which is almost never) I can say "Non capisco, puo parlare pui lentamente per favore (I don't understand, can you speak more slowly please). I guess one of the good things about being near the airport is that some people do speak at least a little English. I can't tell you what a relief that is!
 Also there's the cultural barrier. When you live in one culture all your life it's easy to get the hang of stuff, to know how to do everything. Just simple things seem so different here. I was getting so exhausted just doing everyday things last week and then it dawned on me that I was tensing up every time we went out. It's because not knowing the culture and language makes everything more difficult. Going to the post office is a good example. They have machines when you walk in that dispense tickets based on what you want to do there. You have to walk up to the machine and push the correct button. The buttons are of course labeled in Italian. And no one tells you this is the procedure. Walking up to a line and standing there will get you nowhere. Partly because the lines are different based on what you want to do and partly because the tickets are numbered and they call your number based on which ticket you get. Did I mention that nobody goes to the post office to mail anything? The post office here is a business that does everything from handling immigration papers to selling the latest novels. There's no way we would have known any of this save for the fact that the lawyer handling our immigration explained it to us. And on that note...

 Thank God for the people He's putting in our path. Our lawyer is an American who's been living here for the past 14 years and not only knows the language and culture but knows how to get things done. We also know a couple named Mike and Veronica (Mike works with Mark) who are getting us connected with a church and Bible study groups. I will be so glad to have those kind of relationships again. You can feel so isolated without them. We are going to their house tomorrow night to meet some couples from church and a Bible study. Also on Friday morning I'm going with Veronica to a ladies Bible study group and then we're going to Switzerland (about a half an hour away) to do some shopping! I'm very excited about that! 

 As I stated above, I'm really not complaining. There is a lot about this place that is so interesting and I'm sure when we finally get into a house things will be much brighter. We have already found a place but the process here is slow so we're just waiting. It could be a month or more so I guess I better just cool my heels! In the mean time I appreciate your prayers on our behalf. God is good and I know he'll take us through this difficult part and lead us to something beautiful. He always does!  For now:


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

After an exhausting trip...

  We finally made it to Milan. We've been here for 5 days and it seems like we've been going non-stop. I think I'm still a little jet lagged because I am getting very tired very early in the day. Hopefully I'll adjust soon.

  As a matter of fact there are a LOT of things I'm going to have to adjust to. To be honest I knew that signing on to this excursion but there are a lot of things here I didn't expect. First of all I don't know how I'm ever going to get my bearings. While we have a beautiful view of the Alps from our hotel window, the roads and so winding and narrow with so many trees on either side I can't tell what direction is what. Plus there are round-a-bouts everywhere, which really do make more sense than your average intersection because they keep traffic moving, but talk about getting turned around! Adding to the chaos is that most of these crazy roads aren't labeled anywhere. Forget about street signs, they're almost impossible to find. Even with our GPS we've gotten temporarily misplaced. I'm learning to look for landmarks so we'll see how it goes.

  The next thing I'm going to have to get used to seeing on those narrow, twisting roads is...(are you ready for this?)...prostitutes. Basically they just stand or sit on upside down 5 gallon buckets, yes you read that correctly, waiting to be picked up. If you drive on those roads you will see them every day. Some of them are dressed like you'd expect to see prostitutes dress, some are just in everyday clothes but there's no mistaking why they're there.  It's just one of those things that all the locals know about and shrug off. Strange and a little sad if you ask me.

  Also, we took our first trip to an Italian supermarket the day after we got here. It's a fairly modern place with a lot of the items you'd expect to see but there are a few things I wasn't prepared for. For example in the meat department you have your basics: chicken, ground beef, pork. Then there's the section labeled "Eqino". If your Italian isn't good, that's horse meat. They also sell whole skinned rabbit. Um, no thanks. Kinda makes me wonder what other surprises await me.

  As for the language barrier it's just going to take some time. My Italian vocabulary is very limited and while we come across some people who know English, many do not. We're learning to listen and watch the gesturing. It's amazing what you can pick up by doing that. The good news is that the Italian people seem to be very warm, friendly people and they seem to appreciate our efforts at speaking and understanding them. It's still a little intimidating to walk into a store or restaurant because you never know if you're going to be able to communicate but we're doing our best. 

  So far things are going pretty well. We had our first house hunting trip today and I think we may have found something. The process takes longer here so we just have to put our bid in and wait. We've got the hotel room for 2 months but I'd much rather have my house and be able to cook and do everyday things. Also, we're starting the immigration process tomorrow. That's something else that will take time. I think God is putting me in a position to work on my patience because everything here works much more slowly that I'm used to. In any case, it'll all work out. I do appreciate your continued prayers. 

  I'm sure I'll be posting more in the coming days with new discoveries and pictures. We ventured into downtown Milan and toured the Duomo and visited the Galleria so enjoy the photos! (I'll add more when I'm out of our hotel and the internet isn't so slow!)




Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's getting down to the wire...

  One week from today. Our stuff is getting packed up tomorrow and there's a tiny bit of stress in our house. Okay, there's a lot of stress in our house.  We're not doing too badly considering. There's a lot of heavy sighing but to our credit very little yelling. I guess after you've been married for 25 years you learn how to deal with each other's way of doing things even if it's not the way you'd do it.

  I will be happy to get this portion of things over with. As you can see from the photos below we have quite an extensive pile that has been growing for months. We have everything from pots and pans to pillows, clothing to toiletries and everything in between. There are things that we were advised would be hard to find and things that will help us to remember the comforts of home. The hardest part was getting everything cataloged and trying to come up with a replacement value in case something happens to the shipment. In any case, I will be happy to have the corner of my bedroom empty again if only for a week.

  As far as everything else is concerned I guess we're as prepared as we can be. Yesterday we spent the day in a cultural training class designed to help us adjust to life in a foreign country. It was all very useful information but it was also a lot to take in. By the end my head was pretty much spinning from everything we learned and at this point I'm just hoping I can remember half of it.  

  Now the focus will be on packing for the trip.  We bought 2 new suitcases and are gathering things to go in them.  This part is hard as well because we could be in a hotel for up to 2 months.  It's one thing to pack for a regular trip and think, "I need shampoo" but quite another to think, "Oh wait, I need enough shampoo to last 2 months."  In case you're wondering, yes, Italy has shampoo but it's something else that's very expensive there. 

  One note about my last post: as of last week the friend who wanted to buy Mark's car decided against it but almost as quickly as that happened, the same neighbors who are buying our van decided they wanted the car as well!  I love how God works things out!  We're making the official deals and turning the cars over to them on Saturday.  Fortunately Jake is home for another few weeks and we can borrow his car as needed this coming week.

  I can't believe I'm about to be posting from Italy. I'm excited and nervous and more than a little sad about saying goodbye to everyone here.  This coming Sunday will be our last to attend our church home for a while and it's going to be bitter-sweet I'm sure.  Thanks again to everyone who takes the time to read my scattered thoughts.  My friends and family mean the world to me!

For the last time from the U.S....Arrivederci!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

  One month from today...
  We will be on a plane headed for Italy. I can't believe how quickly the past 5 months have gone.  We have been very busy preparing as best we can. The work visa has been processed, the doctor's visits and physicals are done, we have our international driver's licenses, and the moving company has evaluated our stuff and will be packing us up on May 24th. Right now one corner of our bedroom looks like an episode of "Hoarders". Since we have a furniture allowance we're not taking any big ticket items but we are stocking up on items that will be hard to find or will be too expensive to purchase in Italy.

  As I've stated before what is completely amazing to me is to see God opening all the doors for us and pushing us through. While we've had to check and double check everything, it seems like the waters are all parting ahead of us and everything is just falling into place. This was most evident to me when we decided it was time to sell our two cars.  If you've ever been through the process of selling a car it can be rather daunting, especially if you're selling to a stranger because you never know if they're going to follow through on everything. A few months ago I jokingly said to my neighbor of 13 years, "Hey, you guys want to buy our van?" She very seriously said, "YES"!  They have twin daughters going off to college in the fall and need an extra car. Then a few days ago my husband called them and not only did they agree to our asking price they told us we could continue to drive it until we're ready to leave. The next day at church we were approached by a friend asking if he could buy Mark's car.  He also agreed to the asking price and said we could drive it until we're ready to leave. An amazing coincidence? I think not! God is definitely working things out for us!

  At this point it's probably a good thing for us to be so busy. That way I don't have time to think about how much I'm going to miss our family and friends here. Our oldest son just graduated from college and has a job lined up which is great but I really wanted to be here to help him get settled in a new apartment. Our youngest son will be going back to college in the fall and I hate the thought of not being here to get him into his new dorms. I know they're technically grown-ups but it's still hard for a mom to let go of some things. I'm thankful that my parents are close by and are willing to help with such things. They have blessed my life in so many ways and this is just one more reason I love them so much!

  We also have a group of very supportive and loving friends that will be so missed. They are taking us out for a farewell party in a few days and while I always enjoy our time with them this one will be bitter sweet.  Saying good-bye is never easy but I know we'll be making new friends soon. 

  As we continue to anticipate the things to come I ask for your prayers. I am confident that God is leading us on this path and I know he'll bring us through any obstacles we come across along the way. Hopefully the next time I post it will be coming from Italia. Get ready for lots of pictures!