Sunday, November 28, 2010


The most pressing reason that we moved back was that Italian junior high wasn't working for our family, so it is with great relief to say that American school has been great for us so far. The boys seem happy, the teachers are actually nice, in fact, seem to want Shae and Shad to really make it. There have been cultural adjustments, of course, but nothing that has been too difficult with the exception of one; getting the boys to understand the American grading system. They are doing fine except in English and American History which is totally understandable given that they've never had either subjects before. I've been fairly relaxed about it. Junior high grades rarely make or break a person, and given that they are improving every week, by the end of the year we should be good to go. 

I realized a few weeks ago, however, that I needed to step up a bit when one of the boys did a fist pump in the air when he got a 68% on his progress report. I said, um Shae that's a "D".  Yeah, he said as if there was no reason to be worried. I tried in vain to explain the letter grade system, again. In Italy it was a number system so A, B, C, D, F mean very little to them. The next day at work I ran into a mom who had raised her kids overseas as well. When I told her my dilemma and she finally helped me with a way to explain it to the boys. In Europe you start with a zero and work your way up. So a 68 would never be the equivalent of a "D", more like a low B or C. . You've worked your way over half way up. In America you start with a 100 and work your way down so you've lost quite a bit by the time you get to a 68%. The next day I tried again and finally recognition started to dawn in his eyes. One more hurdle cleared. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Time Limit

It seems that I am nearing the time where it is becoming socially unacceptable to keep struggling so much with the fact that I've left a whole life behind in Italy and am now living in Orlando Florida. Before I go on, let me clarify that there are many many people that have been and will continue to be amazingly supportive, safe, loving, understanding....true gifts from God. We COULD NOT have made it without so many people that God put in our lives from the very beginning here, the Alexanders, Streets, Brockmans, Petersons, people I work with, those of you who have written, called, commented, Marty who as I write is hauling food accross the ocean from Italy to give to us, Nancy who is sending me money for a special bottle of wine... I could go on and on and so I have to say I feel so incredibly blessed.

But outside certain circles I will have to begin to be careful what and how I share. Not that I care what people think but they just don't get it and I don't have that much emotional energy right now. In the beginning of course everyone understood and I shared freely. However, I had a conversation yesterday that went something like this. "How are you doing?" "Well", I said "it is going to take awhile" Really? (Questioning tone). Yeah, they say maybe two years. Really? (Incredulous tone) Now I could be making everything up, but I am starting to sense that some people who haven't walked this particular path are ready for me to move on. This is familiar ground. Grieving for some (in Christian circles especially) is given a time limit. When that time limit is over it is time to move on and put on your praise bracelet.

Don't get me wrong, some days I can really be a pain to be around because of all the transition so I understand that some might choose to avoid me and I respect that. Ok I've always been a bit of a pain but seriously, right now, I need to put a shirt on that says don't mind me, I'm critical, grouchy and negative because I'm going through withdrawals and I don't like the taste of life here. Or maybe it should say, Stay away from the bear, she bites. Anyway, I do wish the process was faster. Why does it take so stinking long?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Allergic to America

So I have broken out in hives. The more I itch the redder they become and the less I sleep. This has never happened before in my life and so I start asking around and consulting the vast amount of online medical journals. I have to say I'm quite good at coming up with the right diagnosis for whatever ailment my family and others are suffering from. As a mother living overseas you have to become good at this for various reasons.  My cabinets sport quite an array of homeopathic as well as other medicines.

In Italy I would determine the course of action and then trot down to the local pharmacy where the pharmacist would give me whatever I requested. He knew me and trusted me and so why bother the doctor? Here, however, I was pretty sure that wouldn't happen, so after I made my diagnosis I made an appointment with a local doctor so that I could get a prescription for what I needed.

I walk into her office and decide that I'll tell her right away what the problem is to save her time. "I've broken out in hives because I'm allergic to America" I say. "I probably need to take steroids for a week" She didn't believe me at first, but after going through all the options and doing a few tests she finally agreed with me and I walk out with my prescription. The problem is that the steroids ease the syptoms but don't really solve the problem.

I wish there was anti-rejection medicine for America that I could take similar to what they give patients who have had heart transplants. Maybe I need a heart transplant too because I'm pretty sure my heart is broken.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Since leaving Italy we have been reading this passage from the book of Joshua as a family:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you, nor forsake you.
Be strong and of good courage; for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.
Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded you: don't turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

"Be strong and courageous" I say to the boys as they jump out of the car and head into their new school.
"Be strong and courageous" I say to myself as I get out of bed in the morning.
"Be strong and courageous" I say to Sean as he tries to find a good bottle of wine in Florida on our budget.

What could be more comforting that the fact that God is with us wherever we go? Even in this strange planet.

This life of transition is not for wimps. Be strong and courageous.


Elfi (friend from Italy) asked if the fact that I haven't been blogging has to do with the fact that I'm doing better. The answer is no, but it is complicated, like most things in my life. I can't really answer no or yes. I guess the best answer is the one I gave my mom when she asked how I was doing recently. I happened to be looking at the transition chart I've posted on my refrigerater and I said, "Mom according to the transition chart I'm doing great, getting straight "A"'s in fact. " Straight "A"'s because I basically could check off everything listed during the cultural transition period: emotionally unstable, judgemental, critical, disconnected, identity crises, low emotional reserve, stessed, depressed. All normal expected emotions during this time.

The other thing that has happened is that there are hurricanes here. I'm not talking about the ones that come from the sea, accompany rain and wind and cut off the electricity, but this whirlwind of activity that the people from strange planet are swept up in and well it got us too. Why is it that there is so much running around. Chickens with no heads come to mind. We do have teenagers and when you add the craziness of soccer.....everyday.... well that is enough in and of itself. Now in Italy soccer was more than a sport, it was a part of their DNA. But even there we didn't have practice everyday and never during the dinner hour when you were supposed to be eating with your family. Which again brings me to my ongoing biggest struggle here, not only what am I supposed to feed my family but when can I feed my family all together.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sleepless Nights

I'm awake at 2:00. Not jet lag. Something else but can't put my finger on it. Just sad I guess. Summer nights in Italy were divine. I listen to Max Gazze'-Mentre Dormi and dream of running away to one of my favorite places in Italy. I should be on the beach. It is August, after all, and I need to fortify my body with the minerals of the Mediterranean to stay healthy through the winter. All sorts of things come to mind that I can't mention to escape the grief I feel. Still not taking the secret stash of prescription drugs my friend Laura sent with me. Tempting though. Sean keeps saying that he is more worried about the non-prescription drugs. Guess I'll settle for melatonin and try to go back to sleep.

It's HOT...and cold.

It's so hot and humid that Sean gasps when he goes outside. Literally gasps. I gasp when we go inside buildings because the air conditioning is turned up so high that it is downright cold. Shae gets angry, "Why do they do that?" he says as he pulls his arms inside his sleeves. Sean keeps trying to borrow the scarf I put around my neck to keep from getting sick. Get your own scarf, I say. He looks around, none of the other male inhabitants are wearing scarves and he is trying to fit in. Shae finally does catch a cold. Stupid air conditioning. I knew it would get us in the end. How are we going to stay healthy with our systems being shocked back and forth?

Week 2-Strange Planet

We are very thankful for our apartment that has been arranged for us during our year here. There are some really amazing things about it like the hole in the bottom of the sink where you can put food in and it disappears. This has to be the best thing about Strange Planet so far. What a brilliant invention. We try all types of food and it just chops it up and disappears. Shad is amazed as he has never seen anything like it before. "Look mom at the eggshells going down!" Shae thinks it is hilarious to put in long spaghetti and see it spin around and fly out and hit the refrigerator.

The strangest thing about the apartment, however, is the soft stuff we walk on. I'm used to cleaning my terracotta flour several times a day from food, dirt, dog hair or dust. I love the way it shines after I put cera on it. Here, however, everything disappears into the soft stuff. It's been 10 days without cleaning (no vacuum cleaner yet) and it looks the same as when we moved in. I'm tempted to think we aren't dropping anything and have morfed into a clean family but then I watch one of my sons eat. I'm suddenly grossed out. How much stuff has accumulated beneath our feet in ten days? What a strange thing to put on the floor.....

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 4,5,6

The days blur together now as we plow through our list of things to do to become a Florida resident and get the boys registered for school. I feel off balance. Awkward socially. I can't figure out how to greet people. We pass people outside and they look us in the eyes and say, "Hi, how are you today?" I turn to Sean and ask "Do you know them?" A woman in the elevator downtown tells me half her life story. Very strange. I feel invaded. Yet, when I enter the business room at our apartment complex no one even looks up and acknowledges my presence. So rude. Someone needs to teach these people some manners!! Sean is afraid I think I'm the one to do it. I think I'll just cry instead.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 3-Strange Planet

Day three on strange planet starts off well as we go out for breakfast to a rather hip looking coffee breakfast place.  We have always enjoyed going out to breakfast before in America so we looking forward to taking the boys. Shad is thrilled with his Soy Chai Tea. Our coffee, however, arrives in soup bowls. I look at Sean. "Are you ok with the soup bowl or do you want to ask for a different cup?" He says he is ok so we just go with it. We sip away and after awhile she comes to refill our cups. Sean looks up surprised. Are you kidding? This will last us until next Tuesday!

That night, lying in my bed I feel so disconnected. It definitely doesn't feel like home. I decide to pretend I'm just on vacation and then I feel better. Yes, I think I'll go with denial. 

Day 2-Strange Planet

Day two on strange planet starts off quite well. We have so many choices for lunch, Mexican, Chinese, Janpanese, Thai, BBQ, TGiF, Subway, the list goes on and on. We are not used to these choices but it is kind of fun. We  finally choose Chipotle. Shad orders a small lemonade and is handed a huge cup. He hands it back correcting the mistake. "I said small please." The guy behind the counter says, "That is a small" We all laugh out loud. It is hilarious to us but he has no idea why we are laughing. We will have many of these inside jokes I'm sure.

In the afternoon, despite feeling jet leg coming on, we decide we really need to gather some essential supplies. At this point we make a tactical error and head to super Walmart. In retrospect I see the foolishness of this move but at the time it seemed to make sense.

Sean drops the boys and I off and says he will find me. "Are you sure", I ask, "it looks like a small city in there. We could wander around for days and never see each other". I'll find you he says firmly. I get my huge cart and start going up and down the aisles. I start in the food section as I've heard they have a gluten free section where I could get some things for Shad but I can't find it. I can't find anything.

On our visits to strange planet, I've always enjoyed going to Walmart. Great prices and I can grab the select goodies and out I go. This time it is totally different. This is where I live now. As I wander up and down the isles my cart stays relatively empty. I pass by hundreds of inedible things in 50 different brands. Somewhere between passing the 15 brands of ranch dressing and arriving at the 2 brands of disgusting pasta choices a lump starts to rise in my throut. How am I going to feed my family? I turn down another isle and see Sean wheeling  a cart towards me. He has one thing in his cart and notices I have very little in mine. “There’s nothing to eat here,” he says. “I know” I croak, and then I start to cry and I can’t stop. Sean, seeing this could get really ugly and embarrass the the boys, trys to cheer my up. There are other places these people find food, we just came to the wrong place. Don’t worry, we will find something. Then he pulls out a bag he has been hiding behind his back and says look, they’ve invented risotto chips. Now I’m laughing again. They’ve never eaten true risotto in their life. Otherwise they would know you make arancini out of leftover risotto, not chips.

Day 1-Strange Planet

We arrive in Orlando and I am momentarily confused about what line to get into-visitor or resident? I'm not visiting but I certainly don't live here yet. Sean guides me toward the resident line. We flash our passports and the guy says welcome home. There is no use in correcting him. This doesn't feel like home. Our home is still in Italy.

Thankfully Darin from our new team is there to pick us up. I am so grateful that we have the Lake Hart Stint team to help us settle in to the housing they have set up for us. I can't imagine having to land on this strange planet and figure everything out alone. We walk across the street and eat Sushi for our first meal which is Shae's favorite non Italian cuisine and then fall exhausted into bed.

Can I just stay in Frankfurt?

We arrive in Frankfurt, and make our way slowly to our next gate via Starbucks. The guy at the security checkpoint takes an inordinate amount of time looking through our passports. I glance at the terrorist posters off to my right to see if anyone in our family resembles anyone on the poster and finally ask him if there is a problem. “No” he says, “it is just that you have a lot of stamps and I need to look at each one.” All the years of dragging our boys around flash before my eyes. I picture them when they were knee high with little backpacks on and so excited they don’t sleep for 20 hours, carrying Shad through the airport throwing up all the way from America to Italy, jumping up and down on our bed at four in the morning yelling jet legs! I feel sad for some reason. I’m not sure why.

We finally arrive at our gate and hear an announcement that the plane is overbooked. We’ve been in this situation before and in one glance at each other Sean and I say, “Let’s do it” We sprint to the ticket counter and volunteer to take the 600 euro vouchers for our seats. We wait until the final boarding call and they confirm that the vouchers are ours.

When we get to the hotel they’ve provided and settle in we are exhausted. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we stayed up all night packing. We should be better at this by now. We talk the boys into going to dinner at 6:00 (unheard of in Italy) so we can go to bed early. They reluctantly agree, but when we get to the hotel restaurant Shae has second thoughts. “How embarrassing mom” he says, “they will think we are Americans.” It isn’t the first time I’ve heard this over the years but right now his words hang in the air like water right before a downpour. I bite my lip to keep from pointing out the obvious but useless facts: 1) You have an American passport. 2) In less than 48 hours you will be living among these embarrassing people. 3) You will need to learn to make friends with these strange people or you will be beat up at school.

They should have special passports for third culture kids like ours. Neither an American or Italian passport is sufficient to identify his cultural leanings. I say a silent prayer that he will figure life out as a third culture kid. I pray we haven’t made life too hard on them by our crazy lifestyle. Not feeling like you belong or fit in anywhere isn’t easy at 12 and 14.

In bed that night I decide if the plane is overbooked again I want to stay another night in Germany. I wonder how many times in a row we could do this. I realize it isn’t because of the money, but because I’m apprehensive to enter life on the strange planet. If we did this every night for a year we could earn a million dollars.


We leave Italy at 4:30 in the morning after I have cried for a whole day saying goodbye to friends. Gary took us to the airport which made me want to cry too because it meant so much. We are leaving a community of people we really like, we have a sense of belonging, people know us. I step on the plane and suddenly have this sense of ontological lightness. Like I have been launched into space and am floating around. No home, no car, no community, and heading towards a place I don’t know. Strange planet here I come

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Buon Rientro

The last few days we are leaving our beloved Fiesole we are invited into the coffee bars for a final toast together. We hear over and over buon rientro, buon rientro. It doesn't really translate that well but it means "have a good re-entry". I like it because it doesn't involve the word home which right now feels ambiguous. I am up thinking about what a good re-entry would be and so I pop it in the google search to see if anyone else is blogging about it. The first entry looks promising "an outsider observing the reentry process" but then I realize it is a blog about the radical transition from prison life to life in society. Second one on reentry to the earth from space. Third about soldiers returning. Fourth, another about prison to society. Several more about space, then some about Muslims being denied reentry into America.

I'm sure if I were in a lighter state of mind I could make some really hilarious parallels with the aforementioned blogs but alas, I am not. I still am struck by how ignorant I feel about how to return to the country of my birth. I secretly fear that I can never go back. I have spent the last 15-20 years learning how to become an insider into other cultures so I wonder if coming back requires the same set of skills or an entirely different set that I don't have.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

From Brividi to Lacrime

Last night was our last night at the campone. The place our boys grew up going to school and playing soccer. It over looks Florence and it is so beautiful at night. We were with one of our friends, Agnese and some others eating outside at the Festa dell' Unita ( a summer food fest with leftist roots) At the end my friend broke down crying and then of course so did I. Now with our friends, instead of goosebumps we are hugging, crying, kissing. There is so much emotion. One of the Italians starts rolling a cigarette. I suddenly want one. I've never smoked in my life except with my best friend when she discovered her husband was cheating so I know I'm feeling out of control. I realize it is one of the saddest times in my life.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I've heard an Italian word more in this last month as we are preparing to leave than in the last 10 years here-Brividi. It means goosebumbs. It has been a common reaction when we tell people in the village we are leaving. Our close Italian friends have known for months, but as we are leaving we are making sure to tell the people we've seen everyday at the Pasticceria, the baker, the legnaia, our favorite store clerks etc a special goodbye. Their eyes widen, they grab their arms and say, "You've given me goosebumps." The first time, with Lucia who works at the local grocery store  I even checked. Sure enough, her arms were filled with goosebumps. With eyes wide, full of shock they go on, "But you are Fiesolani now, you are so Italian, how can you leave?" Peccato-what a shame. Tears always come to my eyes. I feel deeply touched and honored to be called a Fiesolani (one from Fiesole).  I like who I've become here. I found myself here. And now...I'm heading to a strange planet. I hesitantly refer to it as home since it is my country of origin but I know that it won't feel like home when I arrive. I've changed too much and well, America has changed too. I not sure we will like each other. Goosebumps, now that I think about it, are a very appropriate reaction.