2 weeks ago, Leilani and I went on a tour to Pompeii! The hubs stayed home because he didn’t think he would be too interested in it. He may have been right. There was a group of 50 or more of us which made it difficult to listen to Aldo. There was also a crying 2 year old who wailed the entire duration we were there. So at times, Leilani and I walked off on our own and marveled at the ruins. Next time, I plan on coming here by myself and taking an audio guided tour. I love history and don’t want to miss a thing. This place is huge and was a city after all; 3 hours wasn’t enough time to see everything. Especially when Aldo would spend half an hour in one spot, answering questions. So for this post, I’ll just share the photos I took.

Before we entered Pompeii, we had a mini tour of a cameo factory and show room. (Men, take note!) Cameos are items – mostly jewelry – made with a carving method out of conch shells! They are bas-reliefs of mythological goddesses that are carved using old tools and chisels. This is such a unique craft carved by the most talented engravers. This art has been passed down from father to son – the man I met has been making cameos for over 50 years. Many countries have tried producing this craft but Italy – mainly the Campania region – holds the position as the leading manufacturer. The showroom was every woman’s dream; rings, earrings, and necklaces full of cameos. I didn’t bring enough euro for a ring I wanted but will definitely make a visit there soon. I would love to pass something unique as this down to Leilani. Also, conch shells remind me of my great grandmother. She had conch shells all over her house. I don’t see them often but when I do, I think of her.

Leilani wanted fresh squeezed orange juice before we began our journey through Pompeii. Here she is holding a type of fruit that’s part of the lemon family. I forgot the name of it but the man said it is very good; you can eat the whole thing including the skin!

Yum, Orange juice!

Now we were off to explore the city that was once buried in volcanic ash. Hover over the next several photos to see a description of the image.

I can easily spend an entire afternoon walking through Pompeii. I think Aldo is the greatest tour guide you can ever have the pleasure of joining with but, I felt rushed. Next time I’ll go solo so I can see the things I missed and listen to mini lessons through an audio tape describing each site. Maybe I’ll write a detailed post when I go again.

Pompeii was incredible. At one point when Leilani and I went off on our own, we found a quiet spot away from tourists. I rested against a column and briefly closed my eyes, trying to picture life 1,935 years ago. My imagination was alive with people in the Macellum, women in the bath house, creaking carriages transporting goods from far away places, and children navigating livestock. I am so happy I was able to experience this before Mt. Vesuvius decides to erupt again – it’s way overdue!

Felice giorno del padre!

Today is Italy’s Father’s day!

Leilani made her papá a card in class.

On the front and inside of the card, it says, “Dear dad, with you I feel… like a fish out of water.”

The back of the card says, “Dear dad, I feel your presence that gives security and guidance in my life. I see your sacrifice and work that sustains every day. Best wishes dad.”

We surprised him with our first demijohn, or in Italian, damigiana. Not just any demijohn but a Superman demijohn. If you know CJ, you know he’s a huge Superman fan. He has also carried that nickname his entire career in the Navy. A hand painted, Superman demijohn will sit perfectly on our patio. Demijohns are said to be $100 or more for an average sized one in America whereas here in Italy, you can sometimes find them tossed on the side of roads or at a reasonable price. They are lined on everyone’s balconies; the green glass is so pretty when the sun shines through them. They also come in different shapes and sizes. I plan on collecting several to have when we move back to the states. These will make perfect gifts for our family and friends!

When CJ came home, he was surprised to see his little gifts from Leilani. He had no idea it was Italian father’s day. It was nice being able to show him we appreciate everything he does. He’s been working long hours in his office so we were happy to put a smile on his face.

Also, Leilani has never written in cursive before because it’s not taught at this age back home. I am very proud of her effort and how well it is written for jumping right into this 2 days ago. She is loving her school but is feeling a little overwhelmed by all the work they are having her do with copying sentences and paragraphs every hour. She is so strong, I know this can’t be easy. When I drop her off or pick her up, it is very difficult for me to communicate with the teachers. I feel like I’m playing a game of charades with them – using a bunch of hand gestures and pointing to objects. It’s frustrating, really. This morning one of the teachers told me to repeat the word, quaderno meaning “exercise book”. I said it and felt good about it. She gives me the “so-so” hand sign with a face that looked like something stunk! I need to work on pronouncing words with the high and low vocal sounds rather than saying it fast like we would speaking Spanish. After Spring Break, I will be taking a 10 week course in Italian. On a tour I took last week, there was a woman who spoke decent Italian; enough for small talk. She gave me the information of the lady who teaches out in town – I contacted her right away! I can’t wait to begin. There is so much more I want to know about Leilani’s school and how she’s doing in class. I want to be involved during this unforgettable time in her life.

In more ‘great news’…

This is me after I received my acceptance letter to           Academy of Art San Francisco!

As children we’re asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” My 8-year-old self wanted to be a sales associate at Sanrio! I know. Big dreamer. As I grew older, I never really knew what I wanted to do or what careers were out there other than restocking Hello Kitty merchandise. Even upon high school graduation I still didn’t have a clue what path I wanted to take. But the truth is, none of us really do. I know so many people who have changed majors half way through college, earn their degree, then get a job that has nothing to do with their major. You’re one of them, aren’t you? It’s OK because it’s all about finding ourselves and what truly makes our souls happy. That’s the journey I’m on right now.

After I had Leilani, I became deeply passionate about birth. I spent 3 years educating myself through dozens of library books on pregnancy, natural and drug free births, pregnancy and birth of multiples, diet and nutrition, etc. I have read many blogs, watched several documentaries, and viewed countless YouTube videos of home births. It was definitely an obsession phase I went through. I’m still very passionate about this subject and to this day, I will never leave the library without some kind of book from the “family” section in my arms. I was intrigued by pregnancy and birth so I looked into Midwife and Doula programs but could never get certified because I was a stay-at-home mom/military wife who was always moving. I didn’t have time to attend unpredictable births that could begin at 2 in the morning; who would watch my 2-year-old while my husband was at work? I knew that this wouldn’t work for me or my schedule. I was really upset because for the first time ever, I knew what I wanted to do. One day – maybe when Leilani is in college – I’ll fulfill my dream of becoming a Midwife just like my idol (one of a few), Ina May Gaskin.

I was back where I was at before I developed a passion for all things pregnancy and baby – nowhere – no clue what I should do next. So I registered for a health care program that would pave the way to nursing. I thought a position in health care meant I’d be in the safe zone. Great benefits, decent pay, and social acceptance. Funny how your job title makes all the difference in how a person perceives you. Being an artistic individual with many talents goes ignored when you have a job at a fast food chain. I knew I was in this program for the wrong reasons. Many people have jobs they despise and never feel complacent with their 9-5 positions. They have bigger dreams and other talents, but careers in the medical field or information technology is viewed as a higher status symbol in society and you become easily accepted. Some families and cultures push their children to become doctors. They are good at what they do but they never experience self-fulfillment. The actor and comedian, Kim Jeong, is a perfect example of this. He’s a physician who pursued acting because it’s where his heart is at. It’s not much of a respectable career compared to being a physician but… who cares? It makes him happy. I didn’t love what I was learning in class. Sure, it was interesting but it wasn’t something I would be satisfied with as a career for a good portion of my adult life. If we never moved to Italy, I would be in the second part of my externship right now. It would be an accomplishment I’d be proud of, but unhappy with the chosen path in the long run.

Once again, I was back at square one. I was beginning to think college wasn’t for me. But there had to be something that I could do; something that I wholeheartedly enjoyed. One of my favorite things to do is follow fashion trends, watch runway shows that are streaming live on the web, and browse collections in department stores and boutiques. I started looking into various careers surrounding fashion and found one that stood out the most. It was like bells were ringing in my head, ding! ding! ding!, and confetti was being thrown all around – “this is what you’re meant to do”! I never felt this way with my health care program or the other random classes I took. I’ll be majoring in Fashion Merchandising which I’ll use towards a career in buying. Classes are 100% online and I start this summer. This is the perfect time to start my studies while I’m here in Europe; art and fashion galore!

I’m following my dreams and watching them unfold. A fashion buyer/midwife is in my life plan. It feels so good to be doing the things I love.

Great news!

Yesterday was Leilani’s first day in an Italian school!

I wanted to put her in an Italian school because this is the most unique opportunity she’ll have in her childhood. She will learn their language, their culture, and develop friendships over the next 2.5 years. But most of all, she’ll be challenged. The curriculum at the base school wasn’t stimulating Leilani enough. She would complete homework assignments in 5 minutes and call it “baby homework”. An example would be ‘match the picture to the word’ or ‘write the missing word in the sentence: Bob ___ his food (eat, ate).’ Unbelievable, right? One thing I also noticed was her lack of enthusiasm after school. I’d ask her how her day was and her response would be a flat “fine”. I missed the little girl who couldn’t wait to talk my ear off about her day or bring home projects and art work like she did with her school back home. It was time to look into a school out in town. (Note: I’m not blasting the school because it’s not the teachers, it’s the curriculum they have to teach to our children.)

Another thing, Leilani had been at this school for 4 months when 3 of her friends moved away. New students are always coming in and other students are moving away – including the teachers. Tours end and new tours begin. This happens on a daily basis. None of us are stationed here permanently so the school is always changing. That can be confusing to a lot of children. Yes, that’s the military life. But if I can help it, I will – that meant moving to a school out in town. Off we went.

I had my heart set on an international school that is constantly advertised here – and where some military children go – but I wanted to look into others before we took the plunge. I am so glad I did! Last Friday, I found a wonderful school that Leilani and I were both very happy with. No English is spoken there so Leilani will be fully immersed! This is exactly what I wanted for her, to jump right in. We were given a “tour” that showed the room which looked unlike anything we have in the states. I quote ‘tour’ because it is very small and there isn’t much to see. The school is divided by 2 or 3 large buildings – which are all the foundation of apartments – one is for the pre-K and kindergarteners, the other is for the 1st thru 3rd graders, and the next building is for the 4th and 5th graders.

When we entered Leilani’s school building (primaria scuola) we were deafened by the loud voices echoing throughout the room; Italian’s are loud and Italian children are even LOUDER.  The school room has 4 classrooms with thin walls that all face each other and are separated by a small hallway. The classrooms are probably the size of an average American master bedroom. They have a traditional setting equipped with a chalk board (s0 cool!) and dry erase board, vinyl flooring throughout, individual desks, a few windows, and a crucifix on the wall. Each class has 8-10 children as opposed to the 28-30 in an American class. So, the entire school between pre-K and 5th grade has less than 100 children. They wear red and navy blue uniforms that resemble a professional soccer team sweat suit (Leilani will wear a uniform in the new school year). They only write in cursive, they are in school 2 hours longer than the states, there is no recess or a park to play at, and they have a full hour of lunch which is freshly prepared Italian food that is served to them IN their classroom; no cafeteria (and no home lunches – score!). Quite an experience, right!? The children are free to be themselves. They don’t have to ask to use the bathroom or to get a book or pencil, they just do it. I was there for an hour and the kids never stopped talking. But you can see the team work of helping each other out. The teacher’s don’t go by first or last name’s but the word, maestra which means ‘teacher’. Leilani’s maestras name is Ana and the other teachers call her “mama Ana” because she is very motherly towards the children, calling them her “bambini’s” (babies) and always caressing their faces, pinching and kissing their cheeks, holding their chins up to her face, and giving them hugs. Leilani’s cheeks were pinched about a hundred times yesterday, haha!

The curriculum isn’t much different than it is in the states. Math, science, technology, geography, history, English, and religion. I believe religion is taught a couple of times a week. English is to our Spanish class; basic words and numbers. During the English period, Leilani got to recite and write numbers 1-20 and she said her whole class erupted in applause. They thought that was the coolest thing when she said it so fast! Each teacher specializes in a subject and when the next period begins, they walk into the other classrooms and teach that subject for the hour. I think the children have a better understanding of each subject because there is less than 10 children in her class, which means a lot of one on one time.

I made a note card with Italian phrases to help Leilani throughout the day. If she didn’t understand something or needed help, she could refer to the little note card that said “I’m sorry”, “I don’t understand”, “I’m learning”, “please”, “teacher”, “excuse me?”, and “can you help me?” all in Italian and with the correct pronunciation. She said she only used non capisco – “I don’t understand” – which is great! When I picked her up from school yesterday, she had the biggest grin on her face. She said she ‘had the-most-absolutely-positively-wonderful day’! She made a new friend who surprised her with a purple rabbit’s foot key chain on her back pack. Her lunch was “delicioooous!!!”, she had fried fish and green salad with a light dressing. She showed me a few pages of her cursive writing – they had her copy a paragraph written in Italian – I’m surprised it turned out decent! It’s something we’ll definitely be working on. The kids write on graphing paper and math on bar graph paper. So, I bought school ruled work books for nothing, ha! When we got in the car she said, “I can’t wait to go to sleep tonight because before I know it, it will be morning and I’ll get to go to this school again!” Now, if that lands her in bed early every night, I did something right!

My greatest fear in her education is of her regressing; especially when we are always moving. I am thrilled to have found this school and given this opportunity for our child. This is definitely going down as one of the proudest moments we have as parents. Her bravery, her enthusiasm and knowledge of being placed in a school that solely speaks their native language, and desire to start a new day makes me a very deliriously happy mother.

I will post a video of Leilani speaking Italian as soon as she catches on. By June she will be 100% fluent! Maybe then I’ll hire her as my teacher and pay her in gelato cones!

Beauty in our backyard

I can’t believe it has been 5 months of living in Napoli.

Five. Months.

In the first month, we took a personal day tour downtown and visited Gaeta twice. In the second month, we saw Rome for a few hours. Last month, we went on a snowboarding day trip to Roccaroso. From October to now, we have frequented the pizzeria off base about a dozen times and drove to Ikea and Vulcano Buono (a short, straight shot to our local mall). Every other time in between our “travels”, we have been firmly planted on base. That pretty much sums up our 5 months of residing in this ancient city. Pathetic, right? Vacationers have seen all of Europe in a two-week time frame than what we’ve seen in 5 months.

I blame my husband. That’s right. No sugar-coating here. All fingers pointed to the fraidy cat. Sure, he was assigned to work here and his priorities are in order; business first and fun last – I understand this and fully respect it. However, he does have the occasional day off and almost all weekends off. His excuse? ‘The roads are crazy and there is a huge language barrier’. There’s more to it but I don’t want to turn this into a post about “roasting CJ”. His patience for Neapolitans and roads with potholes that cross over into other roads with potholes that lead to the exact opposite of where we want to go, is nonexistent. His quiet, internal frustration builds up in the whites of his eyes, causing them to inch out of his skull. He impossibly communicates telepathically to Leilani and I; we then know we are doomed to yet another weekend indoors. Sure, I can just run off with Leilani and do our own thing, but I don’t like the idea of making wonderful memories as a separated family. I have too many of those and we still have a lot of catching up to do. Also, the thought of being in the streets of Napoli alone with my daughter brings chills up my spine; this isn’t the safest city. Shamefully, I sort of need him. I have to admit, his confidence has improved now that he downloaded this awesome map on his iPhone. He effortlessly navigated through a very tough part of downtown with this handy-dandy app. I was so PROUD. Although, we haven’t been anywhere since. Ha! We are so close to moving forward but it doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know Italian. Yes, he may be playing it safe, but playing it safe is costing precious time to go by faster than I’d like! One and only one point he made that I can agree on is how pricey everything is here. Cheap goods are at an expensive price. If you convert the Euro back to the USD, it’s still overpriced. This can be frustrating. However, I am a huge bargain shopper and a decent negotiator – I’m not a sucker. CJ isn’t willing to test this out just yet. All trips stated above were planned by me and costed us nothing but gas for transportation. Not bad, right? That’s because everywhere you look, you are taking a step back in time. You don’t need to throw money away when you’ve got everything you can dream of right in your backyard.

Feeling defeated by my husband’s stubbornness and sporadic amnesia of us being IN ITALY, I fearlessly took a solo tour that MWR provided last Monday. A beautiful trip to Pozzuoli and the Phlegraean Fields was what was on my morning agenda. I was very excited to go on a tour to a place I’ve heard so much about. As I hop on the small bus, I am greeted by a couple who end up being the only two that accompanied me on this trip. The three of us, the bus driver and our tour guide, Aldo, made this a very comfortable journey. The couple was telling me that they’ve been on dozens of tours and Aldo is a fun and amazing gentleman. He is a third generation tour guide who joined his father and grandfather on tours as a kid. He is also a polyglot, fluent in 7 languages! He basically knows Napoli blindfolded and will take you to hidden places that aren’t in the books. Now I was really excited to begin my history lesson with Aldo! The bus stopped off at Capo to pick up Aldo, who was standing on the corner of a side street. He hopped on board, and before the door shut behind him, he wasted no time on beginning his lesson.

On our drive to Pozzuoli, Aldo pointed out a large caldera in the distance – a collapse of land caused by an erupted volcano – that one would think was only a large hill. We were headed to the other side of it. He went on to tell us that the Campi Flegrei or Phlegraean Fields (burning fields) consist of 24 craters and signs of the presence of an active magma chamber in the form of sulfataras (sulfur fumes) and gas emissions. We got off of the highway and drove onto a narrow street that put us in front of the futbol stadium that team Napoli plays at. Note to self: go to a future game! We made another sharp right and parked in front of a university that neighbors La Terme di via Terracina – a roman thermal spa! We dodged cars and walked over the crosswalk or “zebra stripes” as Aldo calls it, to view the baths and were blocked by steel gates. The ruins aren’t open for a closer look to the public so I climbed up on the wall and stuck my camera through the gate to snap these photos.

This structure was built for travelers to rest after a long journey. The baths were lined with tiled mosaics that tell the story of Poseidon and Amphitrite’s wedding which are attended by all the creatures of the marine world. This scene was depicted throughout the spa. As I listened to Aldo’s description, I can hear in his voice how passionate he was about the architecture of this complex. That’s when I learned he used to be a high school history teacher and even helped excavate other structures in Napoli. This site was in such a random place to be discovered, it really made me think of what else could possibly be under my feet.

15 minutes later, we hopped back on the bus and went up a hill passing through the old, deserted Navy base that looks like a scene out of a zombie movie. Just around the corner, higher up on the hill, we stopped off on the side of a road where we saw steam smoking through cracks in the ground. We get out of the bus and the stench of sulfur smacks us in the face. No wonder the base moved. This is a constant reminder to locals that they are indeed living on or near an active volcano. The sulfur smoke wasn’t as visible as it is in the early hours of the morning so Aldo demonstrated with a flaming piece of paper in the trail of the smoke to how thick the sulfur clouds can get and where it exits all over that particular area.

We continued our drive, passing Roman walls that still stand; peeking through trees draped in moss and dangling branches. This tour so far has opened my eyes to how old this city is and how much there really is surrounding us.

We got to Pozzuoli and stopped to take a look at a breathtaking view of  the bay, Iosla D’Ischia (Ischia island), and the Castle of Baia that were in the distance. It was absolutely beautiful!

Next, Aldo took us through one way streets and bumpy roads. Our driver made it feel like a ride at a theme park. We stopped in front of an excavated site of a roman necropolis. These tombs were near families homes! It made me wonder if the locals appreciate this and if it’s often forgotten. As I was taking pictures, two men were watching us with a look on their faces as if it weren’t anything special. Crazy!

You can see two levels of the building that stop in the ground as it is still being uncovered. But, the cemetery is at least 30 feet under ground. The most fascinating thing about this is, it goes on and on for miles. We continued our drive and still saw parts of the necropolis popping up everywhere. Across the street was an old church that sits atop part of the necropolis that will never be dug up.

Once we left, we drove past part of an aqueduct that was peeking through bushes.

Roman aqueduct

Our final destination was in the heart of Pozzuoli. Our time was cutting short so we couldn’t go to the Sulfatara, although we were in the Campi Flegrei region and had a great experience with what we saw. I don’t think I would have been able to stomach a volcano spewing out a sulfur steam bath anyway. Pleh!

Before the end of the tour, we stopped for a cup of espresso. The Italians have an espresso and a pastry for breakfast every single morning. They also have a million espresso breaks throughout the day. All the cafe’s that I’ve passed since I’ve been here, I’ve seen the bars full of people. I’m a huge tea fan and it’s all I drink, but if I wanted to feel Italian for 5 minutes, I would have to sip on an espresso. Before I could order, the woman on the tour with me, Julie, bought me a coffee. She didn’t know this would be my first one in Italy, so I appreciated her kindness. I remember having a taste of my husband’s espresso once and it was awful. So, I asked for a cappuccino. Only because that’s what I hear everyone order in the states! I paired it with a pastry to feel even more Italian. The cappuccino had the texture of hot chocolate and the bitterness of raw dark chocolate. I added 2 packs of sugar which made it taste a wee bit better, but I think I’ll stick to my tea!

A deceiving, pocket-full-of-air pastry and a cappuccino.

A deceiving, pocket-full-of-air, pastry and a cappuccino.

After I dusted off the snow mountain of powdered sugar on my face, we made our way out of the cafe and glanced over at a fish market with a ton of vendors. I really wanted to go check it out but I made a mental note for next time! Across from the cafe was a strange structure I’ve never seen before. It was the Macellum o “Tempio di Serapide”- Food Market or Temple of Serapis. The macellum was dedicated to the Egyptian God, Serapis because his statue was discovered during the first excavation. Although, they say it is wrongly named and is nothing more than a Roman market. The macellum is famous for the phenomenon of the Phlegraean bradyseism (slow movement) that gradually uplifts and descends part of the earth’s surface that is caused by the filling and emptying of the underground magma chamber. When the caldera inflates and deflates, it can easily be identified because of its location by the sea. There are holes that were drilled by sea molluscs that are about 7 feet high on the 3 columns; an obvious example of how the land was once lowered into the sea. If it ever raises that high again, I’m sure all of the people in Pozzuoli will be evacuated due to an imminent volcanic eruption. This site acts as a unique tool to analyze volcanic activity.

Macellum in PozzuoliThe market sits in a large rectangular shape that is outlined with small rooms where the shops used to be. The center is the courtyard that shows ruins from a fountain that once stood there and on each corner there are public latrines (bathrooms).

While we walked to the opposite side of the macellum, a sweet older lady approaches us and starts making conversation. Aldo was interpreting and told us that she lives a couple of buildings over and has a view of the macellum. She said that Pozzuoli is ‘beautiful and everyone else is “living in the belly of the cow” and we are lucky to live here’, haha! She went onto say that she has 5 daughters and 4 of them are married, the other is having troubles with men, 3 are teachers, one is a doctor and still hasn’t given her any grandchildren and… she pretty much told us her whole life story in 10 minutes.

She gave all 4 of us a hug and went on her merry little way. Aldo was saying that the people here are like that; so friendly. They will always make conversation with you. This is another reason why I am teaching myself Italian. I would love to have a wonderful conversation with ‘gli anziani’ (the elderly) to hear one-of-a-kind stories you couldn’t get from a book.

Before we left the beautiful bay of Pozzuoli, I snapped this photo of a red motor scooter on the way out of the macellum.

3rd note to self: Ride a Vespa.

Aldo saved the best for last, Lago d’Averno (Lake Avernus). This lake sits in an extinct volcano. The name derives from the Greek name ‘Aornos’ – a place without birds. The absence of birds was once due to poisonous sulfur vapors that the water emitted from the lake which never allowed the birds to live. The landscape surrounding the lake is filled with fruit trees and vineyards. To the east of the lake sits Tempio di Apollo (Temple of Apollo), one of two ruins still standing. In the epic poem, The Odyssey by Homer, he calls it the entrance to the Underworld. Hard to imagine that this place could ever be ‘hell’!

Lago d'Averno

The tour had come to an end and we made our way back to Napoli. I got one last look of the bay of Pozzuoli to my right, and parts of the miles-long Roman necropolis popping up every now and again to my left. Before we could say our goodbye’s to Aldo, he hops out of the moving bus and disappears into traffic. There goes Aldo. Impressive.

I had a wonderful morning with Aldo as our guide. I look forward to the next tour I take! Now that I have a good idea of how to get to Pozzuoli and what to see, I can’t wait to take Leilani and CJ. As much as I wanted them to accompany me on this tour, it was so nice having some time to myself. Now, for my next trip: Napoli’s best eats!

FYI: I use the word ‘Napoli’ instead of Naples because it’s the correct, Italian way of saying so. Also, Naples is a city in Florida. I don’t live in Flo’da.