On Being 43: 2 adults, 2 children and 2 dogs weigh in on a Sabbatical Year in Lucca, Italy.

Rose: This year we went to Italy.  While we were in Italy, I had mom or dad type in a journal.  They always wanted me to write more and more and more.  I was supposed to write what I did in each week.  I did it for four and a half months which means I did eighteen entries.  My dad wanted us to go for six months but my mom wanted us to get back in time for school.  We did it because my dad had time off that  lasted 6 months.  I always thought that Italy would be more fun than it was because it was really really hot in Italy because we went when the heat wave happened.  It was like you would never want to own a coat again because it was like you would never be cool again.  I was always happy to go to a swimming pool because they were always cold.  I had a lot of friends there. One friend who I’m still keeping in touch with.  I got a letter from her yesterday saying she would probably go back to England soon.  When we got back we were really tired when we got off the plane.  We were half dead because we only got three hours of sleep on the plane.  I had two weeks off before I started school again.  It was really weird going back to school because I was expecting everybody to speak Italian.  At home I still I’m still surprised when people are walking around speaking in English.  When we got home the dogs were really happy because they missed us and mommy isn’t planning to go away until they die and they aren’t dying any time soon.

Vital statistics: age: almost 10  profession: 4th grader, companion and torturer of Christopher, health: good, will need orthodontia soon, growing up,  activities: reading lots, choir, soccer, official emcee for family talent shows, violin playing, learning to type, lots of art projects and imaginary games with Christopher and other friends, loves Harry Potter.


Christopher:  I did have fun but nothing seemed right because everything, because when everyone was speaking Italian it was like, “what who what who?, I don’t even know what this is!”  I did not know a thing that they were saying because I am not Italian.  I’m talking about something different.  I don’t like to go to Pisa or the Leaning Tower.  Pisa is a real annoying place. I mean, I know the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not very good, but they used to make pyramids there.  How did it feel going back to America?  I felt like I didn’t even know what I was saying because I got so used to Italian.  And I was like, “eek, what the heck is this?” in my mind.  School is great.  It’s nice to be here because it’s not so noisy.  But I’m wondering why every teacher doesn’t let me do what everyone else gets to do like going on the computer, but I don’t really like going on the computer anyway.  Soccer I hated.  My team was so annoying.  Have a good year.

Vital statistics: age: 6 profession: first grader and computer game expert, health: good, lost two teeth and another one on the way, his ear tubes fell out and now ha says “what?” a lot, activities: learning to read, playing computer games ( he thinks about them all the time though the mean parents only let him play ½ hour a day) , trying to get the parents to build him a real airplane, or at least a real robot, learning about science,  singing, ruling the earth.


Richard:  I want a new body for Christmas, one with great coordination and strength and without kidney stones or disc herniations.  I wouldn’t mind if it is ordered from one of those giant Internet companies.  If it could come with pre-installed Italian, French and Spanish in addition to English languages that would be great.  I would also like one of those mega google byte memory chips.  The happy-to-help-and-sacrifice-my-needs-for-others device would be OK though I understand there are some incompatibilities with the it’s-all-about-me motherboard.  Despite the obsolescence of the current operating system, Richard 1.0, it still enjoys and yearns for the steep part of any learning curve.  Learning Italian and how to live in Italy was a great opportunity to climb a steep learning curve and, strangely, the return home also provided another learning curve, how to believe that work is really great after all, especially when one is not department chief.  I will be sure to send an effusive thank you note to anyone who gives me the presents that I want.

Vital statistics: age: 43, profession: anesthesiologist, daddy,  health: annoying, herniated disc, kidney stones, headaches, thinning hair, activities: learning to speak Italian, skiing, except it bothers the back, laying low with department politics, learning to speak Italian, Italian t.v., worrying about aging, learning to speak Italian.


Astro: You can watch people, really keep an eye on them, but sometimes they get in the car without you and go away anyway.  Sometimes you have to wait a long time for them to come back.  I watch them really carefully now.  Sometime mom looks deeply into my eyes and tells me I’m a good dog and I know what THAT means.  I try to put a brave face on it but it doesn’t always work. The housesitter was really nice to us but I still keep an eye on them.  Walks are good.  Sometimes I trip.  Hope nobody notices.  Especially not Angie.  I don’t go in so much for fetching these days.  The tennis balls aren’t really what they used to be, actually.  Smaller, I think, and apt to just up and disappear, if you can believe it.  I like the treats at night.  Peanut butter around a pill.  I lick the peanut butter off and hide the pill in my cheek until they aren’t looking.  It’s good to have a family.

Vital statistics: age: 14, profession: shepherd, boss, intellectual giant, health: worrisome from time to time, but what do you want at such an advanced age? activities: staying very close to Rachel, drinking from the toilet, chasing the  children around the house, reminding the people of stuff like going out for a walk, being first, being best.


Angie:  New dog food.  Tastes like fish.  Sometimes we get treats.  I always say please really nicely so they don’t forget.  I’m the one who makes it safe around here.  Lately the dangerous guests sneak up on me sometimes, but I let them have it anyway.  BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK.  Then I stop and wag my tail. As long as they don’t seem TOO friendly. Can’t be too careful.  You can scratch me if you want, no, further down, that’s it.  Cookies are in the kitchen, over here.  Do I know you?

Vital statistics: age: 13, profession semi retired security guard, obstacle, floor cleaner, health:  good, hard of hearing and dimming in other ways but still herself,  activities:  sniffing the ground remains a passionate interest and chewing bones is good, as is eating and lying by the door barking at “strangers”.


Rachel:  Italy was good for me, if not always what I had in mind.  (In fact, in July I suddenly realized that I had wanted to take a sabbatical in England, not Italy, and that I had been duped.  Must remember to check the plane tickets next time.)  The heat was trying, but I learned that it won’t kill me to be hot. People came to visit us from far away, and that was great and I made new friends too.  I started doing art because I noticed it made me happy, which was a good thing.   Then we came home and I became a housewife again, cleaning up after all that had missed me in my absence, we had lots of guests and then school started.  I did lots more cleaning, had more guests, went on a really nice zen retreat, had lots and lots of guests for Thanksgiving, took an art class in pastels (trying to learn about color) and cleaned the house.  I also taught a weekly clay class to Christopher’s first grade class and caught a cold, which is mostly gone now.  I donated my bronze chicken to the Woodland Park Zoo and have been negotiating its installation in a great location near the actual zoo chickens.  I’ve been also doing a full time job of fussing over the unhealthy in the family.  Mostly Rich and Astro.  Still it’s great to be home.  Even though it’s a lot of work to take care of this big house (compared to the little apartment in Italy), I love the space, and I love  my dogs.

Vital statistics:  age: 43, profession: being the ultimate source of moral truth for the children (computer games, candy before dinner, who should stop doing what to whom), health:  just fine as far as I can tell, activities:mothering, meditating, sculpture, learning to use color in drawing, cleaning the house, taking care of the dogs.



2003: The Year in Review:

February: Sent you all the last holiday letter, seems like a long time ago.

March: Managed to do all the necessary preparations for out trip to Italy, including finding a house sitter who was very responsible and loved dogs.  The internet was the key, it turned out, also luck.  Kids had their last month of school here including the standardized testing that they do.  Rose did extremely well. I finished up a bunch of sculptures and got them ready to cast.  Rich and Johannes tried to get them into the van but failed since they weighed about 300 pounds each.  Rich’s back twinged a bit.  Richard attempted to ski as much as was humanly possible.  I squeezed in one more Zen meditation retreat during which time Rich took both kids and two teenage exchange students to Whistler BC for some of the best powder skiing in history.  Rich attempted to ski like a teenager. Back twinged more.  Home again with one more week to go before leaving when one of Rich’s lumbar discs herniated.  Lots of drama and doctors and pain.  We all packed on got on the plane on the 31st anyway, Rich in a big seat with drugs.

April:  Arrived in Italy and were charmed by our tiny but lovely apartment.  Unseasonably cold there.  Had the heat turned on.  Set up the computer and dealt with issues like laundry and groceries.  Liked our language school. Kids seemed to be doing alright with their school thanks to some very friendly english speaking kids and teachers.  Visited cultural hot spots like Pisa and Venice.  Started to notice that kids didn’t really thrive in cultural hot spots and we had lots of conflict over purchasing tacky tourist items.  Reconsidered spending lots of time in cultural hot spots.  Started making friends.  Found that Christopher didn’t eat ANYTHING served in italian restaurants. He also got lost for a whole hour in our little home town.  Everyone was helpful and we found him.  Rich had pain.

May:  Stopped being cold in Italy.  We turned the heat off.  Discovered how much fun pigeons can be, feeding them corn in the piazza.  I started drawing. We took a trip to see some old friends from my stay in the Alps 23 years ago.  First time speaking French again, though we mostly spoke in Italian since they both spoke well and Rich didn’t speak French.  They had kids and we had a great time.  No cultural hot spots.  We started enjoying the history and culture of our own area more.  Was getting warmer and the apartment started to seem a little small.  Christopher was showing signs of stress at school.  After an incident involving Christopher, a plate of peas and a teacher, we hired a private English speaking tutor to work with him at school, which helped  Discovered the Chinese restaurant in Lucca where both kids would eat. Had a whirlwind visit from our beloved former babysitter Chantal and her husband Scott from San Diego.  Lots of fun.

June:  Ventured into the mountains for hiking, much like home except for better restaurants.  Finding dead moles was the theme.  Why all the dead moles?  Rich’s back started to feel better, briefly. Really liked visiting a marble mine.   Kids shopped. We started preferring anyplace with altitude for sightseeing, since the weather continued to get hotter. I started to look into taking an art class.  Rich taking private lessons as well as group and visited Rome on his own for a few days.  Also discovered Italian beaches (Richard loved, I hated, children neutral). Christopher started to eat more things. We visited more old friends in Paris.  At home Angie at home started getting itchy and chewing on herself (first housesitter challenge, except for the plumbing in the bathroom).

July: Our last full month in Italy. Kids were in summer school which was more fun, although hot as anything. I started taking a sculpture class in Florence and enjoyed my time being independent and doing art.  My friend Jane from Palo Alto came to visit and we went to a Laurie Anderson concert in Parma (like the cheese) together.  Rich frantically learning Italian.  Kids finally starting to speak a little Italian.  Gelato extremely important. Temperatures in the high 90s or more, and nearly as hot at night.  We went to the Island of Elba which was lovely (more old friends) but way too hot and Christopher got sick. Also went to the north of Italy to visit the family of an exchange student we knew in Seattle. Christopher lost his two front teeth.  Back in Lucca we had some nice times having goodbye dinners and visits with friends we had made.Then got in the car and drove until we were at a lovely farmhouse at an altitude high enough (6000 feet) to actually get chilly at night.  What bliss.

August: Our final adventures before we went home were a week in the Italian Alps with Club Med  (good time, though very French) and a week with Johannes and his family in Sweden.  Our Sweden trip was lovely, well taken care of as we were by Johannes and his folks.  And Sweden is so sparsely populated!  I kept waiting for all the people to show up.  Rich put his back out of order again weight lifting with Johannes.  Fortunately we  had the bulkhead flying home, so he could stretch out.  Two weeks of unpacking before school started.  Dealt with the plumbing in the bathroom. Christopher started soccer.

September:  Labor Day weekend was fun.  We had 3 different sets of guests at the same time and just reveled in the company and in having the space to accommodate them all 9 of them. The kids went back to school and seemed to settle in happily and quickly.  Rose started soccer again and played really well.  Christopher’s team was a challenge for him (very enthusiastic, which he wasn’t) as were reading and writing at school.  Astro on and off having some upsetting neurological symptoms that had first appeared in summer: trouble with her legs and with balance and with sleeping.  Rich went back to work, his back slowly getting better.  I enjoyed being home and taking an art class .

October:  Rose took up violin at school.  Christopher suddenly learning to read rapidly.  Soccer also going better.  Rose back in choir.  I got a long awaited meditation retreat.  Richard started to enjoy work, realizing that it’s much better not to be department chief. Astro had occasional weak spells.  Rich took a trip to California to go to an anesthesia meeting and saw lots of old friends.  He came home and got a CAT scan for a possible kidney stone which was there and very large. Drat.

November:  Rich got surgery for large kidney stone and during the recovery phase (while visiting friends in Portland) got at least three more stones that lead to another surgery on his 43rd birthday, his second surgery in a week. He got a medal for bravery.  I got a medal for taking care of him and everyone else.  Despite yet another kidney stone after that, he recovered just in time for Thanksgiving which we celebrated joyfully with brother brother Dan and wife, Debbie, sister Laura and family and my sister Janice and family plus their exchange student Chingiz from Kazakhstan.  This is the largest houseful yet with 11 extra people peacefully coexisting at our house.  And nobody got the flu.

December:  Astro went on blood pressure medication and seems much better.Rose was in two concerts this month, one singing and the other playing the violin.  Go Rose!   Christopher got a cavity filled and chewed his lip while it was numb.  Very ugly but temporary. Seattle chilly and getting dark around 4pm.  We got colds and managed to accomplish the minimal required holiday preparations.  We left Seattle for Moscow, Idaho ( where Janice’s family lives) on December 24th at 8pm.  Arrived Christmas morning . Had a nice mellow time with singing and food, old friends and old dogs and snow on our birthday.


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