Saturday, August 29, 2009

Memories of West Virginia

Our three wonderful weeks in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia have come to an end. We will always remember the new friends we made and the new experiences we had. My parents have chosen a beautiful corner of the world to make their home in. And lucky us! We get to share it with them every once in a while.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Hike in the Woods

A peaceful walk through the local park here in West Virginia can be full of adventure and discovery.
I've captured some of the fascinating flora we found along our way.

I've never seen such a variety of mushrooms before. I suppose they are all poisonous...we didn't taste-test!

I'm liken' that lichen! Ok, forgive me, that was pretty bad...

As for fauna, we scared a large deer out of a grove of trees, met up with a large black bull (luckily on the other side of a fence), saw various spiders and birds, and found this fantastic paper wasp hive.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Weekend in Baltimore

My mother's family is from Baltimore, so every visit to the States has a mandatory Balto stopover. My boys love this part of our trips and expect to do certain ritual things every time we are here.
First and foremost is playing with Aunt Kitty (our extremely generous and loving hostess) and her darling doggy, Kimmie. The boys insist on being woken up in the early morning to accompany them on the first walk of the day, and participate in as many other walks as possible. Kimmie goes out and about several times each day.
Another tradition is the tent bed that my aunt sets up for them. They can create their own world in there...and she always fills it with gifts for them.
We paid several visits to my grandmother, who the boys call Gigi. That's short for "great-grandmother" in our family. She is 91 years old and doing quite well, in my opinion!
We had a great time at the National Acquarium. And a good laugh remembering the last time we went there, when Danny was 3. He threw a major tantrum at the entrance, after we had paid for our tickets, of course, and repeatedly screamed, "I don't like fish!!!" Things went a bit better this time...
I was amazed at the incredible variety of marine life they have on exhibit. There is a special exhibit on jellyfish on now, called Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance. Apparently, there are too many jellyfish floating around, and judging from their map, a lot of them are in the Mediterranean Sea around Italy. We'll have to keep our eyes open when we get back home. Wouldn't want to run into the guy below...
A new discovery for us was the American Visionary Art Museum near Federal Hill (where the national anthem was written, just in case you didn't know!). This museum showcases works of art by self-taught, "outsider" artists.
The works of each artist are accompanied by a short biography, which I often found as interesting as the work itself. I'm a biography buff, admittedly, but each of these people seems to have an amazing life story and an amazing path to the discovery of their artistic talents.
I only have photos of the outdoor exhibits because no photos were allowed inside the museum's two main buildings.
This egg was one of my very favorites.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Vacation Workout

When my stepdad suggested a canoe trip down a branch of the Potomac River, I thought, sure, why not? And imagined a leisurely paddle down a gentle stream. I mean, my parents are in their late sixties and no athletes, my sons are just 9 and 12 and had never canoed how tough could it be? Besides, in August there's very little water in the river, so there wouldn't even be much in the way of rapids.

We set off in 3 canoes, my husband and I each with a son and my folks in a canoe together...and our adventure began. The first problem for me was steering. I had no idea how to handle the canoe. It went left when I tried to steer it right and vice-versa. Gabri and I were the first to crash onto the rocks and he tumbled out of the canoe halfway.

The second ones to go down for the count were my parents who had bravely attacked a set of tiny rapids...only to not see the big rock in the middle and get dumped out unceremoniously into the river. That required a lifesaving effort by me to get my mom, who doesn't swim, out of the middle of the rapids. And stuff-saving efforts by my husband who had to help my stepdad salvage the canoe which was stuck on that sneaky rock, and Danny who swam around picking up bits and pieces of personal belongings that had fallen out helter-skelter.

Unexpectedly, one of the main problems of the ride was the lack of water in the river. For one thing, the river didn't exactly flow along very quickly. We had to row constantly all 6 and half miles if we had any hopes of moving forward at all. Then, we were constantly having to get out and push and/or pull the canoes over vast stretches of rocks that stuck out of the extremely low level water.

Did I mention the thunder and lightening storm? The one with extremely high, cold winds? Yeah, well that was another element of adventure in our day... Luckily, we docked and found shelter under a metal (hmmm, in an electrical storm?) garage sort of space in somebody's backyard. We set off again in the rain, once the thunder and lightening had passed by. I mean, we were all already soaked from the crash, what difference did it make?

And then there was the map provided by the canoe guy. Let's just say that colorful was his forte, accuracy was not! We followed all the curves in the river that were drawn in the map and then...well, as far as I was concerned, we were off the map. After a worried cellphone call (how did my stepdad keep that thing dry even when he capsized?) to John, the canoe guy, we discovered we had two more miles of paddling still to go!

So, here we are, tired but happy. Missing: one tennis shoe, one flip-flop, one pair of women's sunglasses, and one men's extra-large dress shirt. Gained: two tomatoes given to us by John the canoe guy's wife (compensation?), my husband's admiration (he wants to sign me up for one of those survival reality TV shows!) and the most complete complete-body workout of my lifetime. I'll be lucky if I can walk or lift my arms above shoulder-level tomorrow! And there I was missing the gym...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tomatoes Galore

Coming back to the States always triggers a sort of "reverse culture shock" for me. I've lived in Italy for so long that it is home and "normal" for me now. The US has become exotic for me!

One of the main shocks here is the amazing quantity of CHOICE in product offer as compared to the provincial southern Italian town I live in. I mean, we just got our first mall a couple of years ago and it is full of boutique-sized stores. Walking into a Walmart here is such a sensory overload, it makes my head spin!
But, I never expected to have the same experience in a simple little Virginia roadside farmer's market...

All I wanted was a pound of tomatoes...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Language Lessons on the Lake

If you have ever tried to learn a foreign language, you will know that it's a process filled with risk and peril. You know the words, you know the grammar, you put it all together...but something goes wrong! Somewhere along the line that innocent little error on your part muddles up the whole communicative act. You have to be a brave, risk-taking kind of person every time you open your mouth because you never know when you're going to say something that's funny, incomprehensible or even offensive!

I can hardly count the thousands of times that I have said something in Italian and gotten blank stares or snorts of laughter as a response. And isn't that frustrating? What? Was that a swear word I just said to my mother-in-law? What? Did I just talk about the "bachelors" on my back rather than my "shoulder blades"? Can't you just understand what I mean, rather than listening to the nonsense I say?!

Well, on this trip to the States I am getting a lot of satisfaction from being on the other side of the language divide. My husband is creating all the language snafus while I just sit back and enjoy the show! In a real supportive, loving kind of way, of course...

The best one so far was at the lake the other day. It was our turn to take a spin in the canoe, but I could barely sit down on the seat because it was burning hot from the sun. My husband helpfully suggested, "Why don't you sit on the lifeguard?" (meaning the life-jacket!)

Well, honey, if you insist!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Country Roads

This is the road that eventually leads to my parents' home deep in the woods and mountains of West Virginia.
On our first day, my stepdad proudly played the song "Country Roads" by John Denver in the car.
As we all belted out the words (in our varying accents and level of text accuracy!), in his enthusiasm my 9-year-old leaned onto the fire extinguisher that was stored in the back seat side pocket and SWOOSH, the car suddenly filled with a cloud of white powder!

We immediately pulled over to the side of the highway to get out and make sure we all got enough oxygen! Within 5 minutes a "highway helper" pulled over to make sure we were all okay. Apparently, it's their job to drive up and down the highways and check up on people in difficulty. Now that's something you won't see in my corner of Italy!
Luckily, we were all fine. It was nice to know that someone cared enough to stop and offer help. But, if that hadn't been enough we could always have turned to the the Holy Ghost Fueling Station, for example!

We can't hear that song now without bursting out laughing...