A Crawford Christmas

Christmas in Italy.  Our first with just the four of us.  The first the girls were *really* excited about.  The first without a baby/ puppy around trying to eat ornaments :-)

We had an elf visitor, who I now realize neglected to show up in any of the pictures.  Christopher Popinkins entertained himself drawing pictures on the windows, making snow angels in powdered sugar, and hanging out with the Rapunzel doll despite (according to Kylie) having a husband back at the North Pole.  Upside: we're raising tolerant kids!  Downside: anything to do with elf sexuality.

We wrote many letters to Santa...
Avalon: "I'm writing a letter to Santa.  Ummmmm the letter J.  Yes."

We have determined that through some Christmas magic, Santa receives mail via tree.

Made an authentic German gingerbread house (complete with witch, Hansel, and Gretel)...

Yay, icing!
Most benign looking cannibal-witch ever

 And (of course) cookies...

Avalon reacts to news of cookies

Kylie is told we can't eat them until they've cooled off (and immediately finds a fan)

Snowman pizza for the kids while the grownups had Cuban Christmas Eve

Post-sleepover pancakes
Then, finally, Christmas morning!  The girls were going to be so excited!  Scott and I rushed out to the living room to see their happy faces!  Their faces were still sleeping.  So we sat on the couch and went through our stockings and wondered if 8:30 is too early to wake them up :-)

Since the kids aren't awake, I guess we can just take pictures
Kylie gingerly picked the chocolate off the top, then decided it was present time
"A tricycle!!!"
"I'm playing with Stella outside, you guys can finish  opening presents."


Kylie-frog "helps" Ava-owl get her tricycle 'nice and clean'

After putting on dry clothes and moving inside for more presents, they made up
A very merry Christmas from the Crawfords!



I just deleted several link-heavy paragraphs because a week is too long for a single blog post.  I'm going to try shutting my eyes and remembering the stand-out moments and typing those :-)

Overwhelming beauty and grandeur.  The austerity measures make me sad.  It was like seeing a grand old regal lady living from one social security check to the next, wondering how she got there and where she went wrong.

Fresh squeezed orange juice everywhere.  Even in the greasy little hole in the wall places, there was a juicer and the freshest, most amazing juice I've ever had.

Kindness and generosity unlike anything I've encountered.  The girls were showered with gifts and affection, from chocolates to stuffed animals to magnets to jewelry to toys... hair was tousled, realizing we spoke English, people walking down the street would exclaim "princesses!" or "oh, the angels!" and smile and wave to them.  They lead a blessed life.

The Acropolis was stunning...

 the Temple of Poseidon surreal...

"Oh this poor little flower doesn't have any dirt for food energy!  I will give it kisses for love energy."

   Getting custom made shoes from the Poet's son amazing...

but I think this was the best part.

The little gypsy girls were selling flowers as we ate lunch.  I declined from purchasing any, but offered them bread to feed to the birds with the girls.  After a few moments of bird-feeding and establishing names, a motorcycle came zooming down the sidewalk.  The youngest girl yelled "Ava!!!" swooped her up in her arms, and ran her to me to make sure she was safe.  

I said thank you, gave her all of my change, and started walking through the market.  The girls decided to come with us and as we meandered past carts and blankets full of goods, they pointed things out to Kylie & Avalon.  We stopped and bought pistachios.  When the little gypsy girls saw that Kylie couldn't open them on her own, they started shelling them for her.

When we got to the statue and the kids (their brothers/ friends had now joined us as well) saw I was trying to take Kyle & Ava's picture, they made funny faces and pointed at the camera to help me get a good shot.  

As we neared the end of the market, they gave flowers to Kylie and Avalon.  I smiled, said I had no money, and asked the girls to please give the flowers back.

The kids said, "no.. a present for my friend" and continued to hand the flowers back.  The oldest girl dashed off to a cart with the money I'd given her, and I hoped she would get some food for herself and her friends.  She returned with a wide smile, and 2 little chocolate cakes.  One for Ava, one for Kylie.  

With a wave and a kiss on each of the girls' foreheads, she ran to the market, back to work for the day.

Moved.  Humbled.  Blessed.


Athens Classic Marathon: Bucket Listed

Apologies in advance for those who visit this blog for updates/pictures of the girls, but this post is going to be a bit more Scottcentric / numbery. This post is about my experience running my first Marathon  -- something that has been on my bucket list for over a decade -- so if you don't care to read about such things, you can turn away now and standby for the forthcoming combined blog post Linds & I are working on for the rest of our trip to Athens, Greece.  This will include lots of pictures of the family and high-minded ruminations about the birthplace of democracy, the nature of man, and a concise summary of the geo-political situation in countries currently affected by Germany (and the rest of the EU)'s heavy-handed 'austerity measures' . :)

If you're still reading, I'm going to assume you're the sort of person who cares what I had for breakfast, so here you go: corn flakes and coffee.

Allow me to elaborate in excruciating detail:  I wake up at 4:30 a.m. to my alarm going off on the first ring (this never happens), and quickly/groggily gather my running attire / extra energy gels / music player and snap this mostly awful picture:
Not a morning person.
I give each of the girls a kiss on the forehead.  None of them seem to be particularly excited about the fact that I'm going for a jog and subsequently continue their boring routine of  'happy sleep-indifference'.  I head downstairs to grab some breakfast before walking to catch the bus to Marathon (it's a city as well as a goal of Mid-life Crisisians the world-over).  I eat a bowl of cereal and drink a cup of coffee.  I don't particularly want coffee before running, but it seems to be the preferred fuel for old men who run long distances, so I succumb to their superior wisdom and drink the coffee anyway.  The lobby of the hotel is filled with ~100 runners who are also planning on heading to the buses for the marathon.  Nobody is speaking English. Va bene.  My extensive reconnaissance efforts from the night before (i.e. asking the concierge) reveal that the city transit system doesn't start working before 6ish and a cab will be the best way to cover the ~2 miles to the buses.  I disregard this sound advice.

Instead I opt for the creeper method of seeing a large group of seasoned-looking French runners walking out of the hotel and following them at a distance of about 12-15 creepy-yards.  I assume they have a good plan.  They do not.  Instead of a direct route to Syntagma Square, they head the opposite direction (thought: they must know a good route to a subway station or something).  They stop to discuss.  I awkwardly mill about behind them.  Finally, they are headed in the right direction.  I bump into a friendly German man who is also confounded by their circuitous route.  We walk to the buses while he tells me about his previous 9 marathons.  His English is better than mine.  He convinces me that Barcelona would make an excellent choice for the next marathon if I don't die from this one.  After the couple miles walking, we get to the bus pick-up point with plenty of time.  On-board the buses, they are playing an informational brief on what to do when arriving in Marathon (locations of the   bathrooms, when to report to the starting line, etc) in at least 3 different languages.   The nice German man is annoyed that nobody seems to be listening to the rules. Typical.

After about 45 minutes on the bus, we arrive near the stadium/starting line in Marathon.  Almost universally, the runners on our bus are *extremely annoyed* that our bus drives an extra 1/4 mile or so past the starting line to leave room for the trailing buses to park.  I am amused by the fact that so many people are about to run 26 miles but can't tolerate an extra 1/4 mile walk.  I also grumble indignantly.

Its now around 7 am. The pre-race atmosphere is not unlike the large cross-country meets I ran in high school, although more intense.  There are lots of people mingling / applying copious amounts of Vaseline to various body  parts / showing no respect for the Male/Female signs on bathrooms / stretching / performing other pre-race rituals.  I opt to drink about a gallon of water and several "energy gels" to help ensure I don't "hit-the-wall".  This means 5 trips to the porta-potties and the disappointing realization that not all porta-facilities are equally equipped with toilet paper.  I persevere.  

After performing all of my own pre-race rituals, I drop my bag of pre-race clothes off and begin to walk to the starting line as the sun is just starting to rise over the mountains and warm up the day.  Its about 16° C -- perfect running weather. The stadium in Marathon is a beautiful venue--  just a small village in the middle of a quaint town surrounded by ancient mountains on all sides. An eternal flame is lit at the top of the stadium with many taking pictures.  I drink more water and have another energy gel.  This is probably a mistake.

Wonder if that dude can see my bumcrack?
Official race start time is 0900, so I get into my starting block (the 5th wave, for all those slow people who don't have an official time to put on their registration form) about 0840 and find one of my friends a midst the crowd who is also running.  We discuss the scents associated with running a race in Europe and a few other related topics.  I am regretting not making an additional trip to the porta-potty.  Finally, mercifully, the first group begins their race to the revelry of several hundred fireworks (Italian style) and we all begin to ease our way toward the start.

Once our starting pistol fires, I start running - slowly, very slowly - I don't want to start out too fast and run out of gas early.  Also, my shorts aren't tied tight enough, and my mp3 player and energy gels are pulling down my shorts in a plumber-fashion.  I realize I'm being a whiny b-word. I re-tie them before the 1/4 mile mark while running to avoid offending anyone behind me.  I wonder when the crowds are going to thin out enough for me to pull off on the side of the road and relieve myself.  I decide I can probably make it to the 3 mile mark or so.  My entire focus at this point is to not run fast and find a place to pee. I finally get to the 3 mile mark (~5 km if you're non-American) and there is a water stop with bathroom facilities near the Tomb Of The Athenians- Praise Zeus!  By my watch, this process takes just shy of 2 minutes.  I am feeling much better.

The next 5 miles go quickly as I find a comfortable pace: 8:51/8:50/8:51/8:50/8:51 and a good podcast (Dan Carlin's Common Sense).  I find myself having a conversation with myself (How do your legs feel? Good.  Feet? Good. How's your breathing? Good.  What's your pace count? 180. Hungry? Nope.).  I've often heard of runners doing this, but never really participated in self-dialogue (dual-monologue?). Mild disgust ensues. I realize I can run faster at this point, but am holding back because I know the hills start around mile 10 and I don't wanna die.  I focus my efforts on making sure I get enough water and energy gels at each of the rest stops (there are 15 on the course, and I'm fairly certain I got something at every single one).  I start to speed up anyway.

The miles seem to pass quickly between the friendly locals shouting "Bravo", the small children holding out olive branches (literally), the podcasts, and the mundane monotony of a thin blue line painted on a highway.  Close to mile 10, I begin to pass people who are walking up the small hill.  I feel better about myself.  Around mile 12, (and the bottom of a well-timed downhill), I feel the crowds/hordes of runners have slimmed down enough that I jump off into the bushes on the side of the highway for a 2nd opportunity to relieve myself - Praise Poseidon!

I reach the halfway point at 1:53:43 and figure I've got about 6 minutes to lose and still hit my goal time of 4 hours.  I speed up. The hills don't seem as difficult as I had anticipated and my legs don't feel too bad either. A vague thought occurs to me that the Kenyans who started this race first are just about to cross the finish line.  I grumble silently at their skills.  At mile 14, I get a pain on the outside of my left foot.  I tell my foot that it better start hurting a lot worse if it wants me to stop running.  It quits its bullshit and I feel completely fine again by about mile 14.5. The climbing continues.  We're now running through whatever the Greek equivalent of strip-malls is. More kids with olive branches and plastic replicas of the Marathon finishers medal. More Dan Carlin.  I pass the 15 mile mark and realize this is the furthest distance I've ever run consecutively.  I feel good.

Pace vs. Time - I'm happy that I ran negative splits each 1/4 of the race
At mile 18, I still haven't hit the wall.  I've switched from podcast to the motivating music playlist I put together. Bob Marley's One Love comes on.  I am euphoric.  More walkers fall by the wayside.  The uphill continues unabated until right around the 20 mi (32 km) mark.  Just an easy downhill 10K left to complete. And I've got an hour and 10 minutes to do it.  Huzzah! Mile 21 is my fastest mile of the race...

Eventually, the buildings start to get taller and the crowds larger. We're in Athens-proper now and I begin to recognize some of the monuments we passed by on our way in to town.  Around mile 22 I realize I will finish the marathon even if I have to walk the rest of the way.  I try to keep my pace up to break 3:45.  At this point, it is mostly left-foot/right-foot trying to reach the finish line.  At 25.2 miles (exactly 1 mile from the finish), my right leg completely cramps up.  I tell my leg that it waited too long to complain and I'm too close to the finish to walk now.  A quarter mile later, my left leg cramps up as well.  I give it a similar admonition.  I realize I'm only a couple laps around a track away from finishing a freaking marathon now. THE Marathon!  As the course turns down past the National Gardens the crowds are in full effect and I find myself nearly sprinting.  I pull out my headphones to try and listen for the girls.  The crowds are too heavy to see the stadium or hear much of anything, but I know I must be close.  Finally I round a slight curve and see the finish line about 200 yards ahead in the stadium. I pick it up into a near-sprint and pass a couple dozen people on the track.

Final time: 3:40:35.
I just do what the chip in my shoe tells me I did.
Mission Accomplished.


I'm actually a bit surprised that the race is over already, but enjoy the walk/waddling past all the event coordinators giving out participation trophies, the free Powerade and the seemingly insurmountable flight of stairs stretching back over the street to the Race Propaganda Area®.  Eventually, I waddle my way back to the girls with one unifying thought-- Barcelona in March?

-- Scott

P.S.  Assuming you made it through the entirety of this self-indulgent post, I figured I would add in some self-indulgent pictures as well.  Thanks for reading!
Speed vs. Elevation

I'm going to pass you.
And you.

"Happiness is hard to find" - The Beverly Hillbillies

I should be less happy.

My precious.


Toscana~ redefining long weekends

We just got back from an enchanting few days in the Maremma region of Tuscany.  As seems to be happening quite frequently as of late, I fell madly in love with it and decided to move there*.  My mom & dad are visiting so the girls stayed home with Gramps & Lolo while Scott and I went up to wine country for grown up vacation.

View from our lounge chairs at Quercia Rossa

The first night after dinner, we made my dream for the last several months come true and stopped at Saturnia hot springs.  Back in February I saw this picture
Special thanks to www.about-maremma.com apparently.

and for the first time in my life made a 'bucket list'.**

The next morning brought sunshine and a delightful breakfast buffet.  Nearly everything was homemade~ bread, jam, honey, cherry tarts, and yogurt (all from local sources)... soft boiled eggs in a wicker basket... local cheese infused with red pepper... cold cuts... and the ever important espresso.

Bellies full and hearts happy, we headed to Sovana and the Etruscan ruins.  These people/ towns are fascinating and deserve/ will get their own blog post later.
    Ancient demon carved out of volcanic stone that stands watch over one of the tombs.

    Pictures are so much easier to take without toddlers in tow :-)
    Now I kind of want cave people from thousands of years ago to design our house...

    From there, we drove to Sorano.  First settled by the Etruscans, it was later inhabited and fortified by Romans. The village as it stands now was build sometime in the 1200s.
    A view from the Fortezza Orsini overlooking the town of Sorano.

    Walking around Sorano was one of the most magical experiences of my life.  As you may know, I've always felt I missed my calling as a medieval princess and this was a chance 5 year old me never could have dreamed of.  Turrets... underground passageways... castles... fortified walls...

    Where the drawbridge used to be.  Because apparently
    enemies were stupid/ brave/ crazy enough to:
    scale the sheer rock up to the town, scale the
    town walls, make their way through a hostile
    village to the very peek where the castle was
    located, and then to attack a fortress.

    Deep in the belly of the castle , these tunnels connected different parts of the fortification to each other underground.

    five year old me hadn't considered how difficult it is to hold an armored hand

    I think the most incredible thing about Sorano is that it is still inhabited... it has so much history that just hasn't stopped.  It isn't ruins or relics, but an ancient place that has never stopped being a part of the world.  Kings and queens and dukes and senators walked those same streets.  Families have lived in those homes for 30 generations... there is just nothing I had ever seen to compare to the timelessness I felt there.  World powers, religions, allegiances, languages, clothing has all changed, yet this is still there, still baking bread, still drying clothes out on balconies, still looking out over the vineyards that have been producing their wine for over a thousand years.

    The roads were built for horses/ walking and haven't changed.  This itsy bitsy truck
    does all the deliveries for the town.  The guy standing gets out and pushes it up hills when
    the going gets too steep.

    So... real people live in houses up these steps.
    It's almost enough to make the tiny
    truck seem respectable :-)
    Wanna stay here?

    On our way home, we once again stopped at the hot springs.  This time it was daylight so we took some pictures.  Blows my mind that we were frolicking in the spas where Roman senators used to go to "get away from it all" and rejuvenate.
    Obligatory pose under a waterfall.
    I can still barely believe a place this perfect exists
    View from about halfway up.

    Inspired by their delicious breakfast, we decided to have dinner at Quercia Rossa as well.  At the table next to us was an awesome couple from Amsterdam who spoke impeccable English and told us all about the Netherlands and the many amazing places they've traveled.  Everything you've heard about Amsterdam is totally true.***

    An awesome local salad.
    Another morning, another amazing breakfast, and we headed to Isola del Giglio, a little island off the Maremma coast.  All of my daring medieval princess fantasies were dashed when the day showed me what a giant pansy I am.  First was this bird:

    It had evil in its soul
    It followed us the very THE ENTIRE HOUR we were on the boat.  Just hovering and swooping about 8 feet from us.  You can't tell in the picture but it had red-rimmed eyes and I'm pretty sure was the devil incarnate...  After landing on the island we hiked around until we found a remote spot to snorkel.  I couldn't get my goggles to properly seal and simultaneously they got a leak and my snorkel tube closed off and I couldn't breathe, and I had a panic attack roughly 15 feet from shore.  I am not such stuff as warrior princesses are made of :(

    Scott didn't freak out, and managed to see a lot of cute little fish swimming in the azure water.
    There's one...

    There's some more!

    (and yes, the creepy seagull followed us the entire ferry ride back to shore as well)

    The next morning, opted for the sanitized, animal-free pool for our water time
    Peroni should use this for an ad campaign a la Corona.   

    My lack of shave is getting more and more noticeable~ Scott

    My shorts-tan is getting similarly noticeable

    Pitigliano was our last stop.  Another 13th century city built on tufa cliffs and owned by the Orsini family.

    Orsini's other castle... crazy Orsini stories to follow
    Menora window in the
    Jewish ghetto

    Viewing this medieval fortress in all its splendor, all I could think was what a giant suckfest building it must have been...

    We heard so many amazing things about these places while we were there...  For the similarly curious, I'll post the details/ stories in a shorter blog once I've done some research.
    *That brings the grand total up to a rather astonishing: Naples, Tuscany, Hawaii, California, Germany, Vermont, and Michigan

    **it contained one thing: going to these hot springs

    ***some rather grown up stories that don't go in this blog, but feel free to ask :-)