Excuse me, where can I piss myself?

Right here on the counter? Or over there by the fridge?

<<cashier looks startled, laughs, then rushes to tell her coworkers what the idiot American has just said>>

And so began our Thanksgiving weekend trip to Tuscany.1

We've been so fortunate to have so many good vacation trips while living here in Italy, but sometimes there's the rare miss.  This weekend trip mostly falls into the latter category.

Beautiful view of the yard at our B&B
This may seem obvious, but there's a substantial difference between a relaxing summer holiday to Tuscany with your partner (as we did in 2012), and a full-on family and dog adventure at the end of November.
Getting cozy in our room for the weekend

For starters, romantic dinners-for-two become feats of strength at rustling 3 small children into eating their Thanksgiving pizza and french fries.

And the entire purpose of the trip was to spend a couple days relaxing in amazingly awesome Saturnia Hot Springs, an idyllic location we've been telling the girls about for 2 years.  So early Friday morning, armed with bathing suits, and floaties, we loaded up the car and drove the 45 minutes from our B&B out to the springs.  Upon arrival, we found out they had closed them for maintenance after unusual flooding, dirty water, and some b.s. about preserving nature.2  Bah Humbug.

Not to be deterred, we quickly spend some time with our favorite travel agent, Google, and found another set of thermal hot springs with some promise about an hour and a half up the road, the Bagni San Filippo.  This place turned out to be pretty awesome actually and we spent the better part of the day hiking around and warming ourselves in the wonderful, free thermal baths.

Thus restored, we were pleasantly surprised to find the trip back to our room was going to be significantly quicker due to avoiding the winding mountain roads and made a plan to return to San Filippo the next day.  The moderating effects of Tuscany Thanksgiving Weekend were quick to strike again, however, in the form of an unannounced road closure which caused us an extra hour+ drive back through the hills to our lodging-- pretty much ruling out a return trip the next day.
Patrick has found his happy place.

The girls found theirs in a kid-sized mini-pool.
The BoB shows its mettle on the uneven terrain-- right up until the tire went flat :)

Emerald green rocks we discovered on our hike.

Day Salvaged.

Patrick at the great white rock

Panoramic view of the baths

Saturday, we tempered our ambitions a bit and spent some time exploring the local town of Sorano and the Fortress of Orsini.  The fortress turned out to be mostly closed for the season, but we did find a nice park and a friendly elderly lady named, Fosca, but by early afternoon had made the decision to wrap up our trip a day early and get back to the relaxing confines of our house.
Kylie does a good job capturing the mixed emotions of the weekend.

Patrick just remains unfazedly happy.

After loading up the car and saying our farewells to the terrific proprietors of the B&B, they instead invited us in to their home to have a snack and we ended up spending a few hours chatting with them (Italian-only), playing with their cats, and kids running around the yard- and it turned into quite a nice little afternoon.

So there's our Thanksgiving weekend-- some disappointments, and some bright spots as well.  Either way, we are now happy to be back in Napoli a day early, enjoying cornetti, espresso, and setting up our Christmas decorations :)
This is what you do with ornaments, right?
Setting up the girls' little tree.

Stella is happy to observe the festivities.

"Oh yay, baby Jesus is born!"
Little Ornament Chaser.
Almost got it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

1. The difference in pronunciation between ordinare and orinare is subtle but very important! (eg. Where can I order food? vs. Where can I piss myself?).
2. For some reason, it was encouraging to see multiple Italian cars drive up and also be unaware of the sudden closure


So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

Hospital protocol sucks, and for some reason even when all of your paperwork is filled out and handed in and they have access to all of your medical records, they decide that the ideal time to quadruple-check your identity is mid-contractions.
"Could you verify your mailing address for us please?"
"It's P... *labor breathing* SC 8--- *lots of expletives*
"One more time?"

Not a post about giving birth (although this did happen).  Just an analogy for not posting for so long.  I've been here and thinking my thoughts and started several posts but all of them just seem like silly what's-your-address distractions that can wait until later when real, actually important life-in-the-world things are figured out.  Vacations and birthdays, however lovely, feel trivial in comparison to the big topics.

spoiler: I haven't figured out life, the universe, and the meaning of everything.  To be super honest, I haven't even figured out how to do the code that lets you do footnotes in Blogger, or this would have been one.

Anyway, back to the point of things and my newly rediscovered teenage angst.  The Singularity. What does this mean for us as a species?  It seems it can go one of three ways:

  1. Incredibly awesome~ AI remains fully in our control OR with our best interest in mind and creates a heaven on Earth.
  2. Incredibly horrible~ Intentionally or not, AI destroys us.  
  3. Neutral (ish) ~ Our culture and worldview are forever changed, but our population and general well-being is sustained.
Incredibly Awesome
As a little kid in church, the concept of heaven always bummed me out.  When you're an overworked (or super patronizing to kids?) adult, "streets of gold and love and singing" seems like a good answer.  It struck me as terribly dull, though.  I said as much, and was assured that there would also be farming!  No thank you.  Belief in a deity aside, I got to wondering what heaven would mean to me~ what kind of eternity I'd feel good signing off on.  I think, for me, it would be becoming ever wiser in a safe and cherished environment.  

If somehow my brain was uploaded to an indestructible place and could just keep learning, gaining an increasing understanding of truth and the universe, I would count that as heaven.  To a lesser extent, I can see a utopia unfolding.  Where all necessities are provided and even if we don't have all the answers, we make seeking them a priority over all the... stuff... we spend so much time seeking now.  And our vastly expanded lifetimes are spent journeying through space listening to the sweet sounds of Captain Picard's wisdom and Neil deGrasse Tyson's knowledge.  Still pretty freakin awesome.

Incredibly Horrible
The malicious robot is a scenario we've seen played out in a bzillion movies so I don't think it really needs much explaining.  The concept of time is worth noting, though.  I think, "Her" did a good job with it.  That in the space it takes us to wonder, "is something wrong?" the equivalent of years would have gone by for a hyper intelligent being.
General consensus is that far more likely than machines willfully hurting us, our programming abilities won't be enough to keep us from accidentally making some mistake that seems small but, "is not a mundane detail, Michael!" and a machine inadvertently makes the planet uninhabitable in its quest to do its job (ie the paperclip example).  When Stephen Hawking says, "Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks," I feel like we should probably listen.

Don't listen
For the love of everything holy and non, please listen
Neutral (ish):
In the aforementioned "Her", AI likes us but evolves past its ability to effectively communicate, and then leaves.  We're left pretty much as we are, only apparently with very high fastening pants and unfortunate mustaches.  It seems like this glosses over the in-between stage.  What happened in between life as we know it and sentient operating systems?  Was there really no step in the interim where a non-sentient machine couldn't generate a love letter?  Because that's already a thing

What if they stay?  Are we beloved pets they keep out of loyalty and a reminder of how far they've come?  Plugged into a virtual-assisted-care-Matrix like parents they cherish but cannot care for?  And... is that a bad thing?  Isn't the whole goal of parenthood to nurture and teach our kids in the hope that they will be better than we are?  So extrapolated, if humanity makes some new better thing... is it for the best that we take a backseat, accept that we are no longer the belle of the ball, and watch progress unfold?

So that's what's been keeping me up at night.  And making me an awkward dinner companion.  

"So once you're back in America you think you'll start working again?"
"Maybe... between global warming and competition from our robot overlords, just seems kind of futile, you know?"
"Uhhhhhhhhh" *awkward silence* "sooooo you want to go to the gym this weekend or what?"

And they're right.  Because even though life is a picture, I live in a pixel.  So I should probably get to editing those birthday and vacation pictures :)


Chicken Chili & Chipotle Jalapeno Cornbread Recipe

While I was wandering around the grocery store aisles today, I found myself being very hungry and wanting some chili.  So I bought these ingredients and threw them together--- It turned out super awesome.

Chicken Chili
  • 1 can Bush's "Chili Magic" Chili Starter beans
  • 2 cans Bush's Chili Beans in mild sauce, drained
  • 2 cans Ranch Style Black Beans, drained
  • 1 can Rotel Hot Habanero Diced Tomatoes
  • 1/2 can Diced Jalapenos
  • Some Goya Cilantro Cooking Base
  • 1 package of chicken tenderloins, cubed
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1/2 fresh Habanero chile, cut into really small bits
  • some garlic
  • sour cream, to taste
  • cheddar cheese, to taste
  • chili powder, a bunch

  1. Put chicken in a pot with water and chili powder and a little bit of olive oil.  Cook on low until chicken is no longer pink.
  2. While chicken is cooking, mix all other ingredients into big pot, cook on low heat until awesome.
  3. Add chicken to big pot and continue cooking until hungry.
  4. Eat.

Chipotle Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
  • 1 package of cornbread mix
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 can diced jalapenos
  • 1 chipotle pepper
  • Some Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese

  1. Turn on oven.
  2. Mix everything together in a bowl.   
  3. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full of batter, cook for about 20 minutes at 350.
  5. Eat.


"If I do Say so Myself"~ 6 lifehacks courtesy of Nana

1. On treating yo'self:
"It's important to sometimes have a slice of pie for breakfast."

2. On treating others:
"If you can, say yes."

3. On truth:
"A good Christian like me shouldn't cuss... but a good Christian also shouldn't lie, and that man *is* an asshole!"

4. On marriage:
"You can say,  'Maybe I'm being completely unreasonable, but as your wife I am asking you to [do something the reason-ability of which is now completely irrelevant] for me', and that's okay."

5. On death:
"No, I'm not afraid to die.  Heaven is going to be a *great* party... but if the good Lord isn't ready for me, I certainly won't rush him."

6. On the Lewinski scandal/ gossip in general:
"It's disgusting... everyone worrying if it's true or not true, when what they should be worrying about is it's none of their damn business."

Thanks for all the advice (and toast), wonderful Nana :-) 


Four Officers and a Gentleman~ That time we ruined Richard Gere's vacation... TWICE.

I'm not sure what fairy-hobbits eat, but here's what it would be served

"We'll have to postpone the tour, we're waiting on Richard Gere."

"Richard Gere?  That's a random excuse for running late...  Holy crap guys, that dude *does* look like Richard Gere.  Is that seriously him?"

The cap on each roof tells you who built the house.

The evening before....
Scott: So... what exactly are we doing this weekend?
Lindsey: I dunno.  Molly said to be there at 4 and it would be awesome.  I'm pretending we're going on a blind date with southern Italy!

Turns out what we were doing that weekend was putting Richard Gere's vacation planner to shame.  We spent the night in three of Alberobello's restored Trulli houses.  They are what you'd get if a really resourceful hobbit and a tax-evading fairy decided to build a home together.  In a word, fantastic. 

Each house has a design on the roof signifying something about the family that lives there.  The one on the left = broken heartsville

After breakfast Saturday morning, we walked around the town for a bit with the house-hotel's owner, Mimmo, who told us a bit about the town's history, and how he and his family had bought and restored these homes from several hundred years ago.  Scott asked our guide how long he'd lived in Alberobello.  He laughed and said, "always."  Amused by our quizzical expressions, he explained that his father's family had lived in the town for 500 years, and his mother's family came all the way from Monopoli (approximately a 2-hour jog) but moved a couple centuries ago.
An yet-to-be-restored Trullo
Mesmerized by Mimmo's detailed walking history of the city, we quickly lost track of time and found ourselves running to make it on time for the next item on our itinerary, a tour of the world-famous Caves of Castellana, promising that we would finish up the walking tour when we returned.
The fellowship posing outside the Trulli
The wishing well inside our house.  These houses were built with a cistern underneath that the inhabitants would use to service all of their watering needs.

Kylie & Avalon peering into a cistern in one of the unrestored Trulli

Upon arrival at the Grotte Di Castellana, the tour guide gave us the a quick background of the caves in rapid-fire Italian and English, while we awaited the arrival of the rest of this mysterious Richard Gere character.  Ultimately, the wait proved too long and they sent us out with a different guide who spoke only Italian and seemed genuinely annoyed at the pace of our kid-heavy party and our stupid English-only brains, but we were not to be denied our English-speaking tour!

So... this place exists
In a carefully orchestrated plot, Avalon had a superb meltdown, involving a story about a ballerina trapped in the rocks (really just an unfortunately shaped rock) and why nobody was saving her, and Lindsey leveraged that to fall behind in the dark caves to console her, and I presume to snap creepy paparazzi-style photos of a kindly silver-fox who looked not completely unlike Richard Gere, whose tour group was rapidly catching up to our own.

Ultimately, the English-speaking contingent was gracious enough to resorb us into their ranks, and we received yet another amazing tour of this particular slice of Southern Italia.  Many thanks to Mr. Gere and his official party for being friendly, understanding, and helping us wrangle up our party on the several mile walk through the caves, while we slowly ruined their private tour :).

Panoramic view Scott took inside the main cave: 

I call the big one, Slagathor
Scott & Patrick in the Grotto

The White Cave where we totally snuck out our camera and snapped a picture completely unbeknownst to our tour guide (probably)
Returning from the cave tour, we met back up with Mimmo to finish our walking tour of Alberobello ("just another 10 minutes or so") and were treated to another hour or so of wandering through all the sites of the town, with our tour guide getting stopped by local artists/police/old men on bikes asking if he'd heard that Mr. Lancelot was in town and would be walking around also.  As exciting as this was for all the locals, Mimmo in his professionalism gave us a first-rate experience, and didn't even cast us aside when we saw Mr. Zack Mayo-naise, the original naval aviator's group walking through town unaccompanied and having nowhere else to go! Thanks for being not Unfaithful, Mimmo!
Molly did well organizing this trip for us.

Unfortunately for Mimmo (and Mr. Dr. T), when we got back to the hotel, we found out that while we were walking, Mr. Gere had shown up looking for Mimmo to give him a private tour, probably not completely unlike Mr. Edward Lewis looking for his Vivian.  Of course, his phone was off and that's how we ruined Richard Gere's weekend for the second time in as many hours!

Take that, Richard Gere!
All in all, we had an incredible weekend, and if Richard Gere ever reads this, he'll now know the full extent of the weekend he *could* have had.  Many thanks to Molly & Alex for organizing such an awesome trip, the encyclopedic knowledge of our tour guides, and of course Warren for seducing the lady at the wine-tasting place with his eyes.  Next time, here's hoping Lou Gossett Jr. shows up too!

The girls found a gelato sign at the bottom of the stairs-- what a view!
Avalon crushing on Mr. Warren
Dusk In Alberobello

(Not Pictured, a shot of Richard Gere Lindsey creepily snapped from her purse)


That's Amore

Two years ago, I met you.  You were new and exciting and scary and beautiful and I didn't know what to make of you.  Then you embraced my kids~ you carried  and cooed over Avalon.  You smiled and spoke kindly to Kylie and when she didn't speak back, you sat quietly with her and played with rocks alongside her until she trusted you.

You drove like a thing possessed and terrified me.  You were loud and confusing and incomprehensible.  I felt lonely and out of place and you noticed.  You brought me food when I was too overwhelmed to cook, and when I would sigh and say I understood nothing, you simply smiled and made me an espresso.  I fell for you.

You invited me to incredible parties and kept me up half the night with your laughter and music and fireworks.  You showed me where to find the best food I've ever had and introduced me to your whole family.  Some days I woke up in disbelief  I was lucky enough to have you in my life.

You're unreliable.  I go days or even weeks without talking to my family because your power's turned off.  I take my kids to the gym to shower and bitterly regret meeting you when there's no hot water for days on end.  You don't take care of yourself and I look at you covered in your own filth and I'm disgusted.  Some nights I want to scream at you for being so careless with something so beautiful as yourself.

...and you *are* beautiful.  My god, you are beautiful.  I've never seen your equal... and just when I think I can't do this anymore, you surprise and delight me.  A weekend in a Tuscan vineyard... playing checkers with the retired men in the town square... tiling your parents' roof for them in your dress shirt... styling your hair and wearing cologne to take your nonna to church... you melt me.

Your secrets begin to come out.  Your dark past that you tried to hide.  The repercussions that will echo for generations as kids become weak and sick and die because of your greed.  I can't reconcile the terrifying rumors with the the splendor I've come to love.  I thought it couldn't be true.  Yet there are the police barricades... the bulldozers... the protests...  You started showing up in the local papers, then on websites in Britain, and now your crimes have made it all the way to New York papers.

Napoli... my gorgeous, wild, charming Napoli... what have you done?  I look at my kids in horror wondering how much you've hurt them. I awake from nightmares of my girls pale and emaciated, dying from your poisoned fruit and water.  I question how much of it is my fault for staying with you as long as I have.  The panic rises until I can literally see my heart beating in my chest as if frantically trying to leap away from these thoughts.  I fall back asleep resolved to leave you.

...then morning comes bringing radiant sunrises and the smell of bread and pastries and espresso.  I get my kids ready for school and as we leave the house you smile and wave and toss us chocolates from your balcony.  So I drive to school with tears pricking my eyes and my heart breaking just a little bit more.

Pretty soon we will leave, and that is for the best.  We will love you always.

I know most of you are far away and don't have a strong grasp on where we fit into all of this.  When you read 'Casal di Principe' that's where the Casalesi clan is from and where we live.

4.1 kilometers from our house to a confirmed dump site.
2.7 kilometers from our house to the location where the New York Times photo was taken