Friday, August 22, 2008

Practice Round 1

We took our first big ride today in preparation for biking in Italy, just over 30 miles with the kids on the tandems (but not pulling the trailers yet). It sounds like a long way to bike with kids, but if you break it up enough it really isn't bad at all. We went about 1/4 of the way and took a stop for smoothies, then at halfway we stopped at a park in a small town and played for a good long time. It helped that the temperature was a very balmy 79, instead of our last longish ride which sweltered around 96 degrees. At the park, Asa found a black button and we took turns hiding the button and then giving the rest of the family hints like "warmer" and "colder" until the hiding place was discovered. My dad used to play this game when I was a kid, only it was "hide the thimble", a perennial favorite with my sister and I. The kids were cracking us up with hints like "warmer... hotter... global warming... nuclear meltdown!"

On the way home, we stopped and picked some of those perfect summer blackberries, the kind that are as big as your thumb and so warm and fragrant from the summer afternoon, they just melt in your mouth. I think I feel a cobbler coming on, and some homemade ice cream to be cranked up soon. Then we stopped by a friend's house for awhile, and all in all it took us about five hours to make the whole circuit with stops. I'm thinking that will be about right for our 30 mile days in Italy, maybe a little longer when you count in all of the photo stops we'll be making. Very doable though. On Sunday we'll pull the trailers and tackle a small hill, that's where the rubber will really meet the road so we'll see how it goes!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Year of the Cat

Since Miss Patches adopted me in July of last year, and then proceeded to give birth to kittens just a month later, our lives have been full of cats. There's cats underfoot, cats on the bed, cats on any lap that sits still, and cat hair everywhere. Patches has become "my dog", following me everywhere (including when I ride off on my bicycle and see her galloping down the street behind me, so that now I have to make sure she's safely in the house before I take off). Every time I turn around, there she is, and nothing upsets her more than to see me packing my suitcase (so she usually sits on top of it whenever I get it out).

Each of the kids kept one of the kittens, and those kittens are strangely enough very similar to their respective kid. Bandit, Asa's cat is extremely gregarious, meowing loudly and rubbing against you repeatedly if enough attention has not been paid. He's very funny and is always keeping us laughing by doing oddball things like tightrope walking across the upstairs railing or drinking from the faucet. The one way he differs from Asa is that he's so fastidious that he not only keeps himself clean, but he frequently tackles his slovenly brother in order to groom him up to appropriate standards.

Mackenzie's cat Garfield eats everything in sight (not unlike a certain soon-to-be-12-year-old boy we know). He's a bit of a loner and can be seen crawling to the back of the closet behind the hanging clothes just to get a bit of privacy, especially from his "let's play now" sibling. Huh, sounds just like Mackenzie going to his room for "alone time" vs. Asa who would play non-stop from sunup to sundown. Garfield is not a very needy cat, and will pretty much only sit on Mackenzie's lap. Pick him up and pretty soon he'll be wanting to get down, whereas Asa can tote Bandit around all day.

And then of course, my old guy Noggin has turned 16 this year. Despite his advancing years, he still rules the household (and the block). He's still the loviest cat of the bunch, always finding a lap or legs to sit on. And lately he's been turning up in the funniest positions and locations, like this: "Waiter, there's a dead cat on my table!"

Here's a few more cat pics from our cat-filled family, starting with the kittens just a year ago today:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Family Hug

Dorcas writes in Life in the Shoe about those mushy moments that younger couples share that may wane as people are married longer and longer. As always, she has such a way with words, writing "one learns to be knit together in mind and heart in many ways by the time you've been together 24 years, even if you forget to intertwine fingers."

Whenever hubby and I manage to steal a little kiss or hug or even a surreptitious bum grope behind the kitchen counter and away from little eyes, the kids' radars seem to go off. Wherever they are in the house, they come running grinning from ear to ear and shouting "Family Hug!!!!!" They pile into us, forming a circle facing inwards and squeezing us all together. Maybe someday they will turn their heads away with teenagerish expressions of disgust and excessive eye-rolling. Maybe they will think it just plain wrong for us older folks to embrace, but right now I love the way that they embrace us instead.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do We Have Enough Underwear, Can I Conjugate the Verb Avere, Do I Know How To Get From Cortona to Arezzo?

We have just over four weeks until we leave for Italy and the details are endless. It's more or less like planning a wedding for two hundred guests, or an invasion of Britain, or any other minor such task. Wayne and Mackenzie are not the world's best linguists. Asa is fabulous, but a bit too young to want to sit down and do dedicated study (although she's so fast at acquiring language, I think she will pick up the most of any of us while we're there). But that leaves me as the sole communicator of la famiglia in the many parts of Italy we'll be traveling through that are likely to have few fluent English speakers. Rome and Florence I have no worries about, but what if we need to get directions or buy food in Rigutino or Fontiano (both on the way from Cortona to Arezzo)? I don't want to be one of those Americans who assumes everyone will speak English, so I've been studying and studying hard.

Funnily enough, I took four years of French in college, and while I did learn it passably well I had no real incentive to do so. Now, I have a burning desire to be able to communicate competently in Italian, so that's fueling my aggressive Italian learning spree. I have Italian on my MP3 player, my computer, my car stereo, my DVD and VCR, and in books and workbooks scattered across my kitchen table.

Besides that, I just need to make sure we have a compact and lightweight wardrobe for all kinds of weather, the biking gear we need, enough training on the bikes to climb the hill towns of Tuscany, cell phones, cameras, adapters for Italian power outlets, maps, routes, train tickets and schedules, and oh yes, enough clean underwear.

Ho mólto fare! I have a lot to do.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Don't You Just Love It When Your Kids Know Something That You Don't???

So I've had maps spread out all over my bed, trying to find bike routes around Italy for our family's upcoming trip (5 weeks away.... gulp!), and I'm bemoaning the lack of data (like, say, elevations, which are quite important when you're on a bicycle with your kids) when Mackenzie comes up and says "Hey mom, why don't you just use Google Earth???".

Um, yeah, why didn't I think of that?

So not only can I see every darn road we'll be biking down (including the three or four road names that each road seems to accumulate in Italy - Via Vincenzo Biani may also be called Via Rapallo or Strada Montebuono), but I can see the elevation at any point along the way. I can see precisely how many meters any given route will gain or lose. It's simply brilliant. If I'd personally hired someone to invent a tool to help me plan this trip, it wouldn't be any better than this. Thank you Mackenzie, you brilliant boy!