Friday, January 27, 2012

LIVING LIKE A LOCAL ON VACATION?

Before we moved to Italy all I wanted to do when in Italy was nest. I wanted to rent an apartment where I could cook, shop at the local markets, hang out at the piazza, stop for gelato on the way home from a visit to the bakery, or post office, or whatever. Yes, I was playing house - something I rarely, if ever, did as a child!

Now, after having lived in Italy for nearly 7 years, and after being back in the United States for nearly 2 years, I'm planning our next trip to Italy and it's downright confusing. Italy still feels like home in so many ways. I can find my way around the grocery store, know where the best farmer's markets are and have learned the backroads - well, most of them, anyway. We have friends in Italy, people with whom we can have lunch, dinner, or spend the entire day with because no one has anywhere to be at any particular time. La dolce da fare niente. The sweetness of doing nothing.

When we visited Italy in September 2010 it was our 'grand' tour - our first chance to visit so many of the places we'd wanted to visit when we lived in Italy. When we sold our house we put aside a certain amount of the money just for this purpose, and we enjoyed every minute of our time in Liguria, Piemonte, Emiglia Romagna, Puglia, and of course, Umbria. For the most part we stayed in apartments for a week at a time, allowing us to once again settle in, but still, moving once a week is time-consuming, and there's always something you meant to see or do that never happened for one reason or another.

Now we're planning to visit Italy in September of this year, and once again I'm hearing the phrase 'you can never go home again' rattling around in my brain. With our time in Italy now limited to a few weeks it's such a struggle to decide if we'll travel around Italy, or if we'll nest.

Nesting is made more difficult if we stay with friends, simply because we can't cook and entertain as we would in our own home. Even renting an apartment for several weeks is challenging, given that most holiday accomodations are small, and the kitchens are neither equipped for serious cooking nor for large groups. And then there's the desire to see more, to do more - I didn't mind sitting at home when I lived in Umbria, but when I'm there on vacation I want to see and do as much as possible!

It's been a few years since we've spent time in Rome and Florence, so I think we'll take some time to enjoy each of these cities during our fall visit. Granted, I won't be able to cook, but at least I'll get to see familiar sites as an old friend. The Mercato Centrale in Florence will be particularly challenging since I won't be able to buy many fresh fruits and veggies, but I'm betting I'll find a way to enjoy some seasonal goodies. Hopefully during our time in Umbria we'll find a kitchen to use for a quick plate of pasta, and if not, finding a porchetta truck works just as well.

Going "home" as a tourist is strange - challenging and confusing, and at times even sad, but I'm determined to do my best to make the most of every moment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

HOW OLD IS OLD???

We now live in a condominium community.  I guess you'd call these patio homes:  four units share one building, one at each corner.  There are about 140 units in this community, built around 1990, and many of the residents are original owners.  Because of the limited yard space, most communities like ours tend to have more retired couples and empty-nesters. 

I'm not much of a group person - too bossy I guess - but when we moved in I decided to go to the monthly board meetings whenever possible, just to get to know people and find out what was going on.  What I found out was that there's a LOT going on, but you have to have been here quite a while to keep up with it all.  You have to remember when so-and-so didn't ask the board for permission to do such-and-such, and to remember when SHE said THIS to THEM, and you also have to know who's friends with whom, and also who's NOT.  Very Peyton Place.

I always envied the dog people because it seems to me that when you're out walking your dog twice a day you not only get to see what's going on (oh look, someone's planted an illegal flower!!!) but you get to talk to a variety of people, people with whom you might not normally be friends if you didn't share your doggy bond. 

A flyer was sent out in November announcing the annual holiday brunch.  While outside on a mild day we spoke with several neighbors, all of whom are around our age.  We'd all decided not to go, and wished there was some way to get to know the other people in the neighborhood who were more like us and less like 'them'.  And who are THEYTHEY are mostly the original owners, the 'really old people', as opposed to people like us, second generation owners, who we dubbed the 'nice, not-so-old people'. 

Trouble is, most of the board meetings are attended by the former, who tend to bitch, whine, argue and generally make life difficult for the rest of us who don't really care if someone wants to hang a basket of flowers on a tree.  (This act is forbidden because apparently trees are 'common' property, and as such can not be taken over by individuals, even if the tree happens to be right outside your front door.)  Knowing that most board meetings tend to run over-long due to all the complaining, many (most) residents don't attend, meaning that we'll never have the opportunity to meet people who live on the next street, the ones who might be our age, our political persuasion, and/or share our less combative attitude. 

And just a few days ago a new issue of TIME magazine arrived;  the one dated January 30, 2012.  In it is an article by Joel Stein which hit the nail right on the head.  Apparently Mr Stein is young,  early 40s I think.  His article is entitled "Hope I Die Before I Have to Live with Old People".  In the article Mr Stein quotes "Orange Coast" magazine:  ".....boomers, who just started to turn 65 last year, are moving into retirement communities and driving the Greatest Generation crazy with their rock music and post smoking.  Again!"   So apparently  I'm not the only one who's noticed!  It's a really funny read, especially if you're like me, old enough to remember the 60s fondly and young enough to still crank up the stereo from time to time!

Here's a link to the article (I hope it works!  If not, see if you can find the hard copy)  Hope I Die Before I Have To Live With Old People

Sunday, January 22, 2012

HOW LONG DO YOU WAIT?

I woke up on the first of November with a sore shoulder. I thought I must have strained my shoulder picking up a suitcase or carrying a heavy bag on it, but honestly I couldn't remember doing anything that would have caused the strain. Oh well, I guess we all know how you can get a crick in your neck in the middle of the night, when your body is supposed to be resting.....

Two weeks later and the pain's still there. Not better, not worse, just the same - my upper arm aches, and sometimes if I move my arm the wrong way it hurts more, but for the most part the pain is pretty steady, maybe a 3 on the pain scale, but still annoying for its consistency. Eventually I call my family doctor, but of course all he can do is recommend a specialist or physical therapy. He tells me I've most likely caused the injury myself, and need to figure out what I did. Thanks.

The first think I did was make an appointment with a physical therapist. Art had found one near our house and really liked her, so I decided to give it a try. Of course by now it was Thanksgiving week so more waiting was involved, but meanwhile the arm/shoulder remained the same.

The physical therapist was helpful and gave me a regimen of exercises to do. After two weeks of physical therapy, and a good six weeks after the pain started, I decided to see an orthopedic doctor to see if more could be done. The physical therapist gave me three names, and singled one out as especially good. I called his office that same day and was shocked when the receptionist asked if I could come in the next day. Yes!

As it turns out, this orthopedic doctor, who we'll call Dr K, is in the same office as the doctor who did Art's hip replacements. Very convenient.  I was also pleased to see that Dr K was young, meaning I wouldn't have to worry about him retiring just when my bones were starting to deteriorate. So far, so good. Dr K took a few X-rays and had me move my arm in various ways - you know, the standard, "does THIS hurt?.....does THIS hurt?"

We discussed how this could have happened, and yes, it's 'just one of those things'. I was told there was inflammation and that it would probably take six weeks or so to get better. I was also advised that I could try a shot of cortisone. I'm not a big fan of needles in general, and I've always thought that cortisone shots were always painful because in order for them to be effective they had to shove the needle in and then move it all around an area that was already in pain. Perhaps that's changed, or perhaps that's just the method used for certain areas or injuries - or perhaps those doctors are just sadists. When I questioned Dr K about the shot he told me it really want too bad - but doesn't the person who's NOT getting the shot always say that????  In the end I decided to get the shot simply because sometimes my entire arm was achey and I was starting to favor my left hand over my right, which is NOT a good thing since I'm completely right-handed with little if any signs of ambidexterity. (In other words, I can barely hold a fork in my left hand, much less use it for any practical purpose.)

The good news is that the cortisone shot DID work, and combined with an anti-inflammatory I barely noticed the ache. I continued to do my exercises, but at some point the cortisone started to wear off. I asked my physical therapist how long the cortisone would block the pain and she told me it could be anywhere from six weeks to six months. Apparently I was one of the six weeks people. And by this time, close to the end of December, it had been eight weeks since the pain began.

I decided to call Dr K again to see what else I could do, or if this was going to be something I'd have to live with. Unfortunately this time I had to wait another two weeks to see him, but because it wasn't life-threatening I wasn't too concerned. I really just wanted to pick his brain and see what my options were, since obviously at this point the inflammation wasn't going away.

 On the appointed day I got up bright and early - a feat in itself for me - and headed to the medical complex not far from our house. I was probably there a good fifteen minutes before my appointed time, but at least I could catch up on the reviews of who was wearing what at the Golden Globes. Time flies when you're having fun. Now I thought my appointment had been for 9 o'clock. At 9:20 I went to the desk and asked if I'd come at the wrong time or if the doctor was running late. Oh yes, they told me, he is running a little behind today. When I asked how long it would be I was told that there was just one person in front of me, then I was next. Not really knowing what that meant, but still not being in a huge rush, I said okay and sat back down.

 Maybe ten minutes later, after feeling like everyone in the waiting room but me had been called back, I again went to the desk to ask about Dr K. I mentioned that if he was running behind that's something I would have liked to have known when I checked in. One of the women apologized but then went on to say something like "but since he's double-booked everything is running behind." WHAT??? DOUBLE-BOOKED??? Not only did you NOT tell me he was running behind, but NOW you tell me you KNEW that well in advance? Um, do you just assume that I've devoted my entire day to sitting in this office? Do you just assume that I have no other appointments or commitments, or that maybe I just wouldn't want to spend all day sitting in a poorly lit room surrounded by old copies of "People" magazine?

To reassure me, the woman told me, 'well, he might not have been double-booked when you made your appointment'. But at some point the appointment desk KNEW he was double-booked and apparently NO one was told. Do people still have the mentality of 'oh well, that's just the way it is" and meekly sit and wait? Sorry folks, but not me. I gave up waiting for doctors a long time ago.  If there's an emergency, I understand, but if the office always runs behind then someone isn't doing their job correctly.

Now not only did I want to leave, but I also wanted to stay, just to see how long this would take, and to be able to confront Dr K personally. A few minutes later my name was called and I was shown to an examination room. Okay, maybe this wouldn't be so bad.......

As I finished reading my second issue of "People" magazine I realized I'd been back there quite a while. I looked at my watch, saw that it was 10:15, put on my coat and headed out the door. Just as I was going out some medical assistant was just about to come in to my exam room. I told him, "I'm leaving, and I am NOT happy. I'd like to speak with the office manager, AND with Dr K". Someone rounded up the office manager and I told her my story, starting with the fact that I should have been told the doctor was running X minutes behind when I checked in, and ending with my outrage over the double-booking. The office manager, obviously trying to deflect blame, told me that Dr K himself requested the double-bookings. Okay, then we'd better get Dr K in here too, I told her.

 I stated my case calmly and simply: I should have been told the doctor was running behind when I checked in. I should have been told he was double-booked when I made the appointment. (and if not me, then the people who made appointments after me). I told them both I realized there could be emergencies, that some appointments take longer than others, and that sometimes things just happen. Hell, they could have told me the doctor had a flat tire, or was called away on an emergency, anything, even a lie would have shown that they had some consideration for me and my time.

Both the office manager AND the doctor looked SHOCKED, absolutely horrified!, when I said that I thought the days of arrogant doctors acting as if their patients should just wait indefinitely were over. Okay, so he IS a doctor - maybe he really doesn't have to wait, but honestly, haven't we all been there? What's the point of making an appointment? And if the person with a nine o'clock appointment isn't seen until almost 10:30, what hope is there for everyone else scheduled later in the day?

Neither the office manager nor the doctor had much to say, and I left. There was no screaming, no profanity, no scene, just one very disappointed patient. Damn, now I'll have to find a new ortho guy!

Those of you who know me know that I'm not an optimistic person. I'm not miss sunshine and roses, I'm more of a realist, a term many people like to call pessimist. And so I guess that's why I was so surprised when, a day or two later, I realized that I had really been expecting for Dr K, or even the office manager, to call and apologize. To apologize for wasting my time, and for not respecting me by letting ME decide if I wanted to wait around for an extra hour or two. I guess that wasn’t optimistic, just crazy.  So, how long do YOU wait?

Monday, January 09, 2012

THE PLAN

After trying to figure out an itinerary for this years vacation, which WILL include Italy even if we have to take a steamer-ship, the plans just keep changing!  And, just so I won't be caught unprepared, I also have to start thinking about GERMANY!!!!  My son and his family will move to Frankfurt next summer and will be there for two years!  At first I thought we'd fly in and out of Frankfurt and take a cheap Ryan Air/Easy Jet to London for a few days.  Then I found out you can't drive an Italian rental car into Slovenia because Slovenia, an EU/schengen member that borders Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, is considered an "Eastern European" country, whatever the hell that means!!!  So then the wheels start turning and I'm trying to figure out what we'll do this fall, and what we'll do next spring or summer.  And of course I could go to New York City (just as I could go to Florence, or even Italy as a whole) at the drop of a hat, and of course I've always had this England fixation, and that transatlantic cruise thing, and the two transatlantic cruises we did take were coming from Europe back to the states when the REAL advantage of a transatlantic cruise is going west to east, sooooo, I put them all together and came up with one incredible vacation!  Italy is not included because Italy deserves our full attention when we're there, and I want to just BE when I'm in Italy, not have to wory about the next country or the next part of our vacation.  When I'm in Italy I sort of want to feel like I'm NOT on vacation, I want to feel like I LIVE there. 

So, without further ado, here's the other vacation:  fly to NYC and spend 3, 4, maybe even 5 days in the big apple.  See a play, take a walking tour, wander around the Village......THEN....hop on the Queen Mary 2 and head across the pond to London!!!!  Stay at least 4 days, probably 5, then take the train across the English Channel!  Is this starting to sound like one of those bucket lists???  We'd continue by train to Frankfurt where we'd visit the grandgirls, maybe even do a little traveling with them to some cutesy German village where the beer spouts from fountains and sausages are waiting to be picked liked flowers. 

THEN (you didn't think I'd forgotten about Slovenia, did you?) we could rent a car and drive south, stopping once, maybe twice along the way to Slovenia where we'd spend maybe 4 days before heading back, possibly swinging wide to stop in Vienna, one of those places we've never visited but keep saying we're going to!  So how many weeks does that sound like?  Let's see, 5 days in NYC, 6 days to cross the Atlantic, 5 days in London, one day of travel to Frankfurt, 5 days in Frankfurt, 2 days travel time, okay, say 5 days in Slovenia instead of 4, just in case.  At least 3 days for Vienna, because you have to allow some travel time too, then maybe 2 more days to drive back to Frankfurt, and see the girls one last time before flying out of Frankfurt back home.  33, 34 days?  Okay, sounds good.  Now I'd better go look for more tax deductions or enter some million dollar sweepstakes.  Oh wait, a friend gave me some scratch-offs for my birthday!  Got go!

UPDATE:  the lottery tickets netted me $5 and one free ticket.  Perhaps I need to add a PayPal link to my blog for vacation donations but I'm guessing most people would rather fund their own vacations instead of ours.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Saturday Photo Hunt - Gather

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is "Gather", and this is our family, gathered for Christmas Eve.  Over the years our numbers have dwindled but the tradition is carries on.