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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Last But Not Least...

Today was a catch up day, so I have several posts.  I have the big one at the bottom and then as I was selecting pictures, I realized I forgot a bunch of stuff, so I thought it would be easier to put some small posts in to add.

The last thing that has blown my mind here, at least so far are the skies...I've never seen, literally day after day, sunsets, sun-rises and beautiful cloud formations as I've seen here.  There must be something about the climate here that creates that...obviously!  Along with that, kind of 4 distinct seasons.  The rainiest time of  year here is middle of spring and fall.  The summers are hot, but the winters are supposedly mild, not that you can tell by the way the Italians dress.  Unlike the Pacific Northwest which we've spent 17 years in, it doesn't sprinkle, it pours, but thankfully, that's a short season. 

So I'm attaching some pictures I've taken of all of these things.  I can't stop taking pictures and really need to work on my landscape photography skills!  There are so many that I've missed because I haven't had my camera with me too. 

Mt. Etna

I must admit that before we moved here I was very skeptical about moving to the base of what is considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world!  I told Kevin that I wanted to live in a villa at on the beach so that I can jump on a boat if it's blows up!  Well, reality settled in and we're living on base, still about 30 minutes from the real base of the mountain and 30 minutes from the beach, but we've learned to embrace it.  Since we've been hear she's actually blown several times which is unusual and one evening we watched it.  Thankfully, we are on the opposite of the way that she notoriously blows.  The crater faces north, we're south.  So we don't actually see as much as those folks living in nearby towns to the north.  We've made some contacts and hope that next time she blows really high, we can head up the mountain to watch it.  Mt. Etna is the first mountain that has been successfully diverted to avoid towns.  She always blows into her crater, so she is rarely a threat. 

Some advantages to being near a volcano, the soil is rich which means the veggies and fruits are incredible, and the produce healthy as they eat from the land.  A lot of local business' made furniture out of lava rock, it's doesn't break and it doesn't scratch.  I've seen beautiful dining room sets here and it's hard to believe that you can have class and style with wrought iron and lava rock but you can.  It comes at a price, but that is the one big purchase we want to save for here.  We're hoping for a large dining table with chairs and a buffet.  Other beautiful things are made with it.  We look forward to seeing what's out there as we travel across the island. 

She is almost always blowing off steam at the very least. 

I've attached some shots we've captured since we've been here.

 This last one was just taken today, we're were driving up the side of the mountain and this is all I saw, smoke billowing out of the huge white clouds that were already rolling it.  It was incredible. 

Italian Food

Yum, yum...although I must say I still prefer American Pizza.  I get heartburn from Italian Pizza, too greasy!  Pistachios (pronounced piss-takio) are huge here, it's a primary export for Sicily and everywhere you go they make just about anything with them.  Anti-pasta's, deserts, main courses, you name it, they make it.  I've already learned how to make Pistachio Pasta.   Still trying out a lot of local places but we have learned that we love Granita and Brioche for breakfast!  Swordfish and squid or octopus is big over there, it's cheap and there's a lot of it, like Tuna.  I can't really get used to the squid or octopus, too chewy, rubbery and flavorless for me.  Kyle loves it, although I do think that it matters how it's cooked.  Citrus fruits are huge here, another primary export so I'm told in the spring that all you can smell is citrus from all the groves.  Naturally, olive oil is huge, I plan on going on an ITT tour next month which is an olive oil tasting tour!  Can't wait.  Most of the ladies that I know that have been here for awhile, cook insanely with it, so I'm sure I'll be there soon.  Naturally wine is also huge, it's everywhere, the grapes here are to die for.  The markets are always changing, unlike in the states, you can only buy fruits and veggies when they are in season, so you buy what you can get, not necessarily what you're craving, but there is always a ton to pick from.  Some vegetables, like cauliflower and broccoli was actually purple, they are the same breed that's grown in the states, but because of the lava soil since we live at the base of Mt. Etna, they grow purple.  Pretty cool!  We buy fruits and veggies only from the local markets.   Everything at the commissary has to come from Germany, so it's not good.  I'm also buying meat, cheese and eggs from the local markets now.  I haven't become a cheese snob yet, but we're working on that!  I'm attaching a picture of a few things, the Pistachio steak I had recently, the Pistachio pasta I made recently...a watermelon that was the juiciest one I've ever had in my life and some other fun things.

DODD's Schools...

So transition to DODD's schools have been interesting.  The school building is all grades although it's split in half, one for the elementary school and the other a middle high school.  They each have their own administration.  There are a lot of things I love about school here, Oak Harbor was on the right track in some areas, but never got to the end result and then in other ways is so off it's any wonder that our kids are hurting in public schools these days. 

Here is what I love about DODD's, for those of you from Oak Harbor you know about planners!  Oak Harbor never enforcing using it.  For example, every instructor here at Sigonella, checks for certain things being listed everytime, it's THE tool to get information home and it's enforced.  Second, the whole "no student left behind" thought process is absurd in Washington!  Kyle is already struggling with serious bad habits from Oak Harbor class work and homework.  Oak Harbor wouldn't fail a student, they do here and they hold them back, in Oak Harbor homework can be late and tests under 70% re-taken...not here!  After the first quarter of 7th grade, no late homework at all!  During the 1st quarter, only 1 day late, no more and even then they only get 50% which is an F.  No re-taking tests for better scores.  There are other things too, but I'm so glad we're out of Washington for Kyle's sake.

They have 8 classes, A days and B days, so only 4 classes per day.  Kyle has two electives instead of one.  He has video production and band.  He's in 8th grade math/Pre-Algebra and loves it!  The 8th class is Advisory, kind of like the Read to Succeed in Oak Harbor, except that unlike Mrs. Harrington who needs to retire, Kyle actually can go to classes and get help from teachers! I love all of Kyle's teachers except Language Arts, that teacher needs to go...let's hope this school year goes fast cause it could get ugly!

Elementary school seems to be similar in every respect and Brooke loves her class.  I love that they can wear sandals and some other dress standards aren't as strict. 

The kids ride buses to school since the school is located on the other base.  They ride tour buses which is really cool.  They are escorted with a bus monitor and if security levels are increased they have been known to send an armed escort.  The kids both have bus passes that have been issued by the transportation office verifying their eligibility to get on and off base.

What I don't like about DODD's is because they don't have nearly the number of students as in the states, there are no middle sports except running club which is a little frustrating since Kyle will be in 8th grade next year, technically as old as most of the 9th graders, but too young to play high school sports and too old for recreation sports through MWR.  It's a good thing we have out in town soccer!

I don't like that they changed the policy on attendance this year...absences for travel will be un-excused!  Seriously, should we just hunker down on base all year and not show our children the world...stupid rule!  That's okay, they'll just be sick! 

I also don't like that I have to buy lunch tickets for the kids at the exchange, no money can be sent to the school, but that's a minor thing, just annoying.

Overall, if I had a choice, I would keep my kids in DODD's until they graduated for sure.  I think public schools in the states need to develop a similar policy to DODD's!  A couple of pictures to share!

Settled In At Last...

My apologies to all our family and friends.  It's been a long three months, packing out, saying goodbye, traveling south to Portland to spend some time with family, then onto the east coast to see our wonderful friends the Wilson's for a week and then traveling to Sigonella, Italy.  We arrived on July 20th after about 16 hours of time in terminals and on airplanes.  I was mildly surprised that the flight from Norfolk to Rota, Spain (which is straight through) was only 6 hours.  The flight attendants were wonderful and made traveling pretty simple except that Kyle and I struggled to sleep.  We stopped in Rota for a couple of hours and then hopped on the two hour flight to Sigonella.  It was ovewhelming because the terminal is tiny and most of the flight which was moving onto Bahrain emptied at Sigonella, so lots of people, very hot and every officer in the command was there to say hello and help us get to temporary housing with our 8 pieces of large luggage.  Thanks to the Kastrup family who offered all kinds of information and advice to prepare for our move and had food in our refer in temp housing so we didn't have to shop immediately and thanks to the Gardipee family for loaning a car and movies from their collection since the 20 we brought were not enough!

Hmmm, quick observations in the first 48 hours...jet lag doesn't catch up until a night or two later, there is bamboo and cactus growing in the same climate, it's very hot (haven't sweat this much in years!), there are lizards everywhere, it's like the desert but there are citrus trees and vineyards everywhere, kind of like the San Joaquin valley, thought we were going to die the first time we drove into Motta and got lost ending up somewhere in Catania!  Thank goodness for navigation's, but they only work if you have GPS coordinates, there are not street address' for the most part.  On base most everybody you work with is Italian, so you learn the basic words pretty quickly and nothing is fast unless they are behind the wheel of a car. 

Hmmm, then we took a tour to Palermo, very interesting and got a good view of the middle of Sicily.  Saw some churches built as early at the 1500's with Baroque influence.  Skinny, skinny streets where cars barely fit down, beautiful beaches.  We participated in the National Night Out on base, Kyle got to handle some real baretta's, Brooke rode one of the horses with the Polizia...yes, they are all hot!  We've traveled just a little bit since Italy pretty much goes on vacation in August.  It's very hot and so not a lot of people do anything and it's hot all over the country, so we kind of hid out and enjoyed the A/C in our new house.  No household goods until September 16th so not a lot to do.  We met some neighbors and kids made some friends before school started the last week of August.  Soccer on base started at that point, so we've been pretty tied down.  Thankfully, they keep the seasons short so that people can travel.  Kyle will start soccer in town the middle of October.

We took the ICR class on base (Inter-Cultural Relations).  What did we learn...a brief synopsis, Italians live for style, no matter where they go or what they do, comfort is NOT a consideration even if it kills their feet, it's about image.  I've seen ladies shopping at the local markets, walking in the dirt and on the pier to go boating for the day in 3 inch heels.  They are always made up and hair done.  Americans = logical, Italians = fashionable when it comes to dress.  They very rarely wear shorts, do wear some capris but mostly long pants, no flip flops except on the beaches and nothing lose, even with the men.  They never wear 1 piece bathing suits or trunks no matter their build or weight.

They are unusually healthy and I think have a much lower obesity rate than the US especially the younger people and yet I would say the percentage of people who smoke is way higher and they smoke everywhere.  But while their eating habits would seem odd and perhaps not the healthiest in some ways, they do eat very healthy.  Light breakfast with probably more sugar than any other part of the day, so they burn it off.  Pizza or calzone etc for lunch (not nearly as much bread and it's homemade) and a large dinner that is late, but made with the freshest veggies, not fruits at dinner, a serving of salad, antipasti, main course (meat or seafood) and a light desert and eaten over almost a couple of hours.  They don't use sauces...they think American's are crazy because we smother our food with sauces; katsup, mustard, marinades, bar-b-que sauces etc.  They only use olive oil, lemon or a vinegarette of some kind.  They believe American's can't even taste their meat.  The meat is healthier here and they eat a lot of octopus and horse.  An American girl told me the other day that she can't stand the chickens here which are much smaller than ours in the states because they are too gamey!  Really...maybe that's a good thing honey!  LOL

Italians are very animated when they speak, they don't smile if they don't know you, but kiss on each cheek if they do and it doesn't matter what gender you are.  They will stare especially in small towns where they know you are a stranger, it's not rude.  They live for the moment.  When they gather as a family, it doesn't matter if they are up drinking wine until 1 am even if they have school or work the next day, it's about right now.  Riposo does happen most everywhere, they shut down by 1 every afternoon and may be up and running again by 5 pm.  So dinner is easily 8 pm.  Summer breakfast tradition, Granita (frozen Italian ice) and Brioche (slightly sweet Italian bread role).  Yum, yum...I could totally eat that for breakfast every morning instead of toast, cereal or eggs.   This is actually a Sicilian tradition more than Italian and yes, Sicilians do not like to be called Italians.

Every town has a sort of logo, for example the elephant in Catania.  There are stories to go along with that.  Sicily has Arabic, Roman, Greek influence among others.  It's been conquered and ruled by many nations over thousands of years so no matter where you go you will find, ruins, churches, coliseums, castles etc.  It's full of rich history.  We would like to see the catacombs in Palermo next time we go.

Their pottery style ranges from town to town and it's the best you will find.  I cook with the pottery I've picked up so far even in the oven.  Pottery is the thing to get and I'm already developing a collection of my own.

Every town has a dialect that is distinctly different to them.  Sicilians are very touchy feely when they communicate and often appear to be upset or argumentative when they speak, but in fact it's just the animation in their conversation.  They say you'll never see a fight but rather they put a hand behind their back and walk away if they truly disagree and can't come to a resolution; unless it's about soccer, then all hell breaks lose!  Honking on the roads; it's usually more of a warning sound than an agressive action like in the states, you don't think much of it after awhile.  While they are an extremely relaxed, laid back society who thinks nothing of waiting, doesn't believe in lines, or laws for driving, once they are behind the wheel of a car, they dive like their lives depend on it and it's the end of the world.  There are very few stop signs and they don't stop, mostly driving circles which we've grown pretty comfortable with.  

So far since we've been here, we've graduation from nearly stroking out on the downtown streets to being moderately calm and patient, we do still dress more casually that Italians, however, we do step it up a bit so as not to totally look like Americans.  It's okay in the market to bump people and be right next to have to push your way to the front and be used to the fact that even in an organized line if an elderly person walks in the room the customer service will divert to that person no matter how long you've been there.  If you try to use some Italian words, they will politely correct you if you are pronouncing incorrectly, but they love that you try.   

The roads are horrible here, especially the back roads, they fill with a lava type material that disappears as soon as it rains!  Huge potholes and with just three months here and we just learned that both rims on the right side of our American car are dented, so now Kevin takes it to work and I drive our Italian car everywhere!  Kevin's work isn't even a mile from home.  We are living on base which is good for the kids.  It's also easier, contracts in town with Italians can be very sticky and not always a good situation.  We live on the same block with lots of kids that are Kyle and Brooke's age, they are all great kids and great families.

I'm going back to school and trying to finish my Coding certification so I can do some work remotely from home.  We hope to use that extra cash to pay for travel.

We finally did some geocaching today at Mt. Etna and got some great pictures and found the geocach which was a tough one.  We got our household goods a few weeks ago, so we finally feel like we're home, we're going to travel probably to Syracuse on Monday since it's a holiday and Kevin and I leave for Malta on Thursday for our 20th anniversary trip!  The following weekend Kyle and I are taking advantage of an opportunity to travel north with Lisa and Camryn to Naples and see our friends the Rivers.  We plan on seeing Pompeii while we're there.  Kevin and Brooke are staying home and taking an ITT tour to Mt. Etna to pick wild chestnuts and bar-b-que.  We've also booked our tickets to travel to Stuttgart, Germany to see our friends the Tornga's for Thanksgiving and hope, while we are there, to see Munich and Nuremberg.

Things are great, some frustrating moments with Kyle and school but I think it will work itself out.  Being a stay at home mom has been a bit of a struggle, it's hard to stay on a routine, but I do love it.  I'm taking the monthly Italian cooking classes at local restaurants, a member of the PTSO for the middle high school and the PTO for the elementary school.  I'm also involved in the AOSC and hoping to get back on track for the crocheting and quilting.  I go to the Motta market every Wednesday and the Scordia market every Friday to get fresh veggies and fruits which I love.  I've never had a bowl that sits out in my kitchen with fruit because we eat it that fast! 

I attached some pictures, one of the "Do Not Feed the Cats" signs.  A great photo of Mt. Etna erupting amongst the clouds, the school on base, a baroque church in Palermo, Brooke and Kyle at National Night Out, some of the fruit I got from the market, so soccer photos and the kids lost in packing paper!

Now that I think I'm caught up, I will try to get on here once a week and catch you all up with what's happening around Sicily.  I'll post pictures often.  Take care all.  More to follow!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Good Morning from the beautiful island of Sicily.  I sent invites last night to everybody, however, Kevin forgot to update his contacts on Google before we left the states, so our address book is in a box either crossing the US by truck or on a pier or ship about now.  So if you didn't get an invite yet, please let me know and don't be offended, it's not personal.  I'm working off of a very old address book. 

Thus far, we've been living in Temporary Lodging at Sigonella since the 21st.  We have no internet or phone.  Kevin received a cell phone immediately from the command which he can use as needed.  We were also lended a car, so we can get around, but having just received our international drivers license yesterday, we haven't ventured too far from the bases yet.  We got my cell phone a couple of days later, so now we can get a hold of each other while he is at work.  We cracked into my old cell phone so Kyle will be up and running today.  We are very fortunate and were #1 on the housing list, so we move in tomorrow and then get our internet, cable and home phone on Thursday.  Unfortunately, we don't get our houshold goods until middle of September which stinks, but at least we'll be home.  Once the internet is running, I will copy and paste my journal entries from our arrival in here.  Until then, hold tight.  We've taken some pictures.  Kyle and I are taking a bunch today so we can share. 

Take care all and we miss you all.