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!

Buon Natale

The mouth watering aroma of Christmas Eve dinner pours into each room, scented candles flicker in every corner of the house, Christmas music of my childhood past plays in the background, Leilani finalizing her 3rd Santa letter rough draft on the coffee table; occasionally checking up on Santa’s whereabouts via noradsanta.org, husband still hasn’t left his “workshop”. I sit with feet propped up, looking out my back porch and see Christmas trees lining apartment windows; military families in their homes – I allow myself to exhale – a reminder that I’m not the only one thousands of miles away from family. Tonight marks our first Christmas together in 3 years. Tonight might be best spent alone, but tonight…

I am truly missing family and bottomless tamales on this evening before Christmas.

Thought bucket

Just a few thoughts I’d like to share – in no particular order:

1. We visited Rome for 3 hours last Saturday. I want to go back when it’s not a holiday so I can thoroughly enjoy the history of this ancient city.

2. I’ll be living here for 3 years. I need to remind myself this…constantly. Sometimes I act like I’ll never be visiting these places again and I throw mini internal bitch fits.

3. Last Friday, November 1st, marked our first month living in Naples.

4. Sunday, November 3rd, marked CJ’s NINTH year in the Navy and has recently become the LPO of the pharmacy (the Chief’s “go to person”). Yay!

5. Our home goods won’t be here for another few weeks. I am tired of wearing the same clothes over and over and I just. want. our car already.

6. CJ and I got our Italian driver’s license. Our childhood dreams of recreating a scene out of Cruis’n World (arcade game) will manifest next month.

7. In approximately 17 days, 11 hours and 39 minutes, I will be spending a week in Paris with my MIL, SIL, BIL, Lei and hubby. I can’t even contain my excitement. Spending Thanksgiving in Paris with family; visiting Paris Disney, the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, and cafés on every corner. Ah!

8. Really, the first thing that came to mind about Paris was fashion. One of the 4 fashion capital’s of the world! CHANEL and shopping boutiques. Everywhere. While I wouldn’t say I’m a fashionista, I do have an appreciation for aesthetically pleasing articles of clothing and I know my designers. I have always put my daughter first so I guess you can say my fashion sense and style is lived through Leilani before myself. I’m usually caught in lounge wear 80% of the time. But, when I do decide to doll up, I’m not too shabby. Anyway, Chanel. I am dying to go to 31 Rue Cambon where mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment sits above the original boutique. I’ll probably be sneered at in my peasant clothes, but I plan on picking up one of my favorite perfumes, Eau Tendre. Just so I can get it gift wrapped and walk out with the classic black and white shopping bag with the luxury brand stamped on the side. Because I’ll look so Français.

9. A garbage disposal would make my life easier. (no particular order, remember?)

10. Last week, I learned something about the millions of cats that roam around base and out in towns. The reason Italians feed these stray cats are to keep them in the area so they can continue to hunt rodents! It never occurred to me that there are no rats to be seen with the oceans of garbage in Naples. Thank you kitty’s, but I still don’t like you.

11. As much as I hate to admit this, Leilani just started school yesterday. I know, I know, I’m a terrible mother. I was being stubborn and refused to enroll her in school on base. I looked into my options and found an International School off base, but we had no means of transportation. Last week, the headmaster arranged for a wonderful Navy SO – whose daughter attends the school – to drive me to the site and tour the facility. Oh my goodness. It is everything I ever dreamed of for Leilani’s education in another country. But, no car = no international school. I will have to be impatient until our car arrives; then I’ll pull her out of ‘the home of the Dolphin’s’ and swim on over to the international school five times faster than an Olympic athlete! Virtual high five if you knew that was an actual dolphin fact!

12. Leilani’s second grade teacher assessed her in reading and math and confirmed that she is well advanced for her grade level. Phew, so I guess a month off from school wasn’t so bad after all! Just kidding, I had her nose buried in work books and library books daily. She wasn’t off the hook that easily!

13. I took a stroll down to the thrift store (again) today. I found the cutest, never-been-worn, blue blazer and black vintage inspired heels. Definitely struttin’ in those down Champs-Elysées. My negotiating skills are impeccable (thank you, nana!). I got them both for $10.

14. I will never, EVER, get tired of Napoli pizza and gelato. My heart aches when I think of the last day I’ll eat a box of its cheesy goodness. A brick oven just may be in the works when we move back to the states. American pizza makes me cringe.

15. Gaeta is beautiful, I love visiting. I still haven’t forgotten to post those photos and will do so soon.

16. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus.

First trip in downtown Naples

It’s been a week and a half since we’ve been in Naples and we finally got around to taking our first trip downtown.

This trip was completely spontaneous and we winged every site we saw and alleyway we walked through. We took the bus that takes us to and from the Navy bases, then hopped on the Knight Bus Alibus that stops at 3 different places downtown. I’ve mentioned this before, but I will say it again, the people drive crazy. I felt like we were on the Knight Bus (Harry Potter reference) because the driver was weaving in and out of lanes and even managed to speed through a toll booth! I couldn’t believe the odds of him not scraping the sides of the bus or crashing my precious cargo! It boggles my mind how there were no accidents from the reckless driving we witnessed. Motor scooters were practically touching the side of the bus, pedestrians were walking IN traffic and bustling streets, and cars like this –

The view of a car outside of my bus window.

The view of a car outside of my bus window.

used every inch of space to get by.

We got off on the third stop at Porto di Napoli – the port of Naples, because we figured the deeper we went into town, the more we would see. And that we did! We landed directly in front of  Castel Nuovo.

Castel Nuovo, also known as Maschio Angioino (Angevin Stronghold) by Neapolitans, was originally built in 1279-1282 by Charles of Anjou (king of Naples and Sicily). The “new castle” served as a royal residence and fortress for Angevin monarchs. By the 15th century, the Angevins were carried out by the Aragonese and Alfonso of Aragon renovated and reconstructed the castle to be massive and provided everything needed in times of war. During this period, the Arch of Triumph (pictured above left) was erected to celebrate Alfonso I arrival in the city of Naples; a beautiful example of early Renaissance architecture and one of the best elements of the castle. The castle now houses the Museo Civico (Civic Museum of artwork from the 15th-18th centuries) cultural events, and businesses.

We toured the courtyard, the Barons Hall, the Armoury Hall, the Civic Museum, and viewed the Palatine Chapel through [closed] glass doors.

Leilani stood awestruck in the center of the courtyard because we were inside of an actual castle. It looked like a scene out of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, or to Leilani, Disney’s Brave. After we took in the 360 degree view of this enchanting fort, we climbed up a 15th century staircase that was once walked on by monarchs, sovereigns, and nobilities. The staircase led us to the Barons’ Hall (the main hall)- named after the barons who were arrested here for conspiring against King Ferrante in the late 15th century. The dome vault (pictured top right) is a masterpiece of french architecture made of keystone and 16 vaulting-ribs that took on the form of a star. The hall is now used for meetings of the city council.

Below the Barons’ Hall was the Armoury Hall. What we thought would be a display of weapon artifacts, turned out to be archeological finds of the Roman era that can be seen through glass floors! We were standing above the remains of the settlements that existed long before the Angevin castle. It was a necropolis of adult and children skeletons, buried with personal objects. There was also a large bath and ceramic materials scattered around the site. It was probably the most unexpected thing we saw on our personal tour of the castle. I’m sure we will be running into a lot of these moments during our time in Italy – no complaints here!

Across the Armoury Hall, opposite the courtyard, was the Civic Museum. In the room before the museum, displayed against a wall, was The Bronze Door (pictured above, second to last).  This was the original door at the entrance of the castle in the mid 15th century. It was made to commemorate the Aragonese of their victory over the Angevins. The six projections on the door depict significant events of the war. The third and fourth bas-reliefs are of Troy being taken and the battle of Troy. In the bottom left panel there is an iron cannon-ball embedded in the door due to a sea battle in Genoa, Italy when the door was being shipped to France; the Genoese sent the door back to Naples.

In the Civic Museum were several works of art that were centuries years old. Most of the paintings were of oil based, religious works dating from the 15th to the 18th century. The details of these paintings are so intricate, it makes me appreciate such perfect works of craftsmanship that have been preserved for me to see all these years later.

Castle Nuovo was something out of a movie. I became eager to see what else we’d discover on our free spirited trip…

Like, GALLERIA UMBERTO I, perhaps!?

Ok, maybe I was a little bit too excited about a shopping center. But, when CJ had told me we were moving to Italy several months ago, the first thing Leilani and I did was scour the web to learn about Naples and it’s historic sites. Galleria Umberto I was one of the first photos that came up in our search. When we turn the corner off of a side street and up a few steps, passing several pillars, Leilani becomes curious and runs ahead. I am a few feet behind her when she jumped, looked at me and squealed, “[pointing vigorously] Look, mommy! It’s that place we saw online!” Once she said that, I knew it had to be something great. I froze and soaked it all in. The Galleria had confirmed that we were here. We are really in Naples.

The Galleria was built in the 19th century and is lined with upscale shopping, restaurants, cafe’s and apartments on the 3rd floor. The architecture was absolutely stunning. It was a cross between an old train station and a church. There is a (glass) dome that also had 16 ribs like the Barons’ Hall of Castel Nuovo, 4 glass-vaulted wings that resemble a cross, and inlaid marble flooring. At the center of the Galleria were polychrome tiled mosaics of the zodiac signs. Galleria Umberto I was massive and breathtaking – I look forward to our next visit by night.

We continued onto a street that eventually led us to Piazza del Plebiscito – a very large square that acted as a playground for children playing futbol and a pass-thru for pedestrians with the church of San Francesco di Paola and Naples Royal Palace as its backdrop. Ya know, maybe I should just start acting casual and expecting such majestic sites everywhere I turn; save myself the embarrassment of my jaw dropping facial expressions and gasps because this is becoming a regular occurrence! Unfortunately, we were there for all of 10 minutes because our thundering bellies interrupted our exploring. It’s not like we’ll never go back, haha. Next time I plan to take an audio guided tour of the Royal Palace and snap photos closer to the monuments.

Our final destination was at a restaurant chain called Rossopomodorro. Of course we had pizza, pasta, and a ton of bread. Oh God, the pizza. The pizza is a post in itself. This was the second time we had Neapolitan pizza and it didn’t fail to disappoint. Our first time we had pizza was with Matt’s family (we didn’t fall asleep this time). It was from a pizzeria down the street from base which completely set the bar! I can eat this pizza every day and never get tired of it. It is that good. We were too busy stuffing our faces to take pictures but I promise to do so next time (like tomorrow). This will be the sole reason you visit Naples!

After we finished up dinner, we were homeward bound. On the bus ride back, I reflected on what a wonderful day we had. We were successful at navigating through parts of downtown Naples without a map or recommendations. We went wherever the wind took us and landed in some of the most fascinating aspects of Naples. If we stumbled upon all of this in just a couple of hours, I am eager to see what else we’ll find in other parts of Italy. I am growing to love this little city and am so happy to call it my home.

This weekend we will be visiting my brother in law, David, in Gaeta (2 hours north of Naples). He is also in the Navy and stationed here for a couple of years. Leilani is excited to visit her Uncle David and will probably be glued at his hip this weekend – she just loves him. I look forward to visiting this hidden gem and will post photos in a couple of days.

Our peaceful weekend with family begins in 3…2…1…