Saturday, May 30, 2009

giveaway at Pane, amore e creatività

Linda from Pane, amore e creatività, one of the blogs that I always check out, has organized a giveaway with two wonderful gifts that she made: a bag and two journals. If you'd like to participate, check out the giveaway. And even if you don't, her blog is a great source of wonderful ideas and it's always worth it to see what she's got going! Thanks, Linda!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

bike helmet

Yes, a bike one. In Italy nobody uses one. Go figure, nobody even wears a helmet on scooters. But I don't care one bit and I go out and about my town with my daughter in her bike seat behind me, both of us with our helmets, and I pretend that nobody's giving us pitying looks.

Except the front inside pad had crumbled apart, leaving hideous black marks all over my forehead when I took off the helmet. So I made a new one. Two pieces of flannel, one of batting and a strip of touch tape (the resistent velcro that I use for diapers) to attach it to the helmet. And there you go! I just might make a new pad to replace the top one, just to brighten up that boring old helmet!

Monday, May 25, 2009

RIP puntino :(

Yesterday was a tough day, the due date of the baby that I lost in October at 9 weeks. Don't worry, I'm not going to bother you all with tales of the despair that a woman who miscarries feels nor how insensitive some people can be (though I should. It seems that few people realize how frequent miscarriage is. Some say up to one in three pregnancies end that way, but it often happens before the woman even realizes she was pregnant in the first place.). Instead I'll tell you a bit about what I did for a little emotional healing.

After losing a baby, many women feel the need to do something to remember it by. Some get a tattoo, others plant a tree or flowers. I've never been able to choose a tattoo that I would like to have for the rest of my days and I was worried that a plant could die on me. So I thought a bit. One of the things that I was saddest about was that I really would like for my daughter to have a sibling, someone to play with. So yesterday I sewed a doll for her. I bought the "John" pattern from the Etsy seller Bit of Whimsy Dolls, a PDF pattern, which is great because there's no need to mail it. I'd never made a doll in my life, but the instructions were really easy and it only took a few hours. I'd never embroidered either, for that matter, but I must say that I found it quite relaxing and I'd like to try more of it in the future.

Friday, May 22, 2009

paper or plastic?

I recently read an article on about what type of bag you should choose at the supermarket. The author, however, write that it isn't as important what type of bag you use as what's INSIDE the bag. Condiser a bag full of meat, potatoes, tropical fruit and soda and another bag with a vegetarian diet with soy protein and produce coming from your country. It takes 113 MJ (megajoules) to get that first bag of groceries on the dinner table and 24 MJ for the second. On the other hand, it only takes 0.5 MJ to produce and dispose of a plastic bag. Therefore the energy saved by a family of four eating a diet from that second bag of groceries would be enough to manufacture 186 plastic bags or drive the average American car (meaning: big) for 15 miles (24 km). And all this backs up what I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the harm eating meat does.

Ok, so even if we just buy dry beans and local fruit and veggies, we still have the plastic vs. paper dilemma. It seems (according to that article) that it takes 20 times the amount of energy to produce a paper bag than a plastic one. But you can easily recycle paper bags while plastic ones take centuries to decompose, they're dangerous for wild animals and they create other problems, like blocking public drains. And so there's no doubt about it that reusable/washable bags win hands down.

There are all sorts of possibilities for reusable shopping bags: cloth ones, juta ones, more resistent plastic ones, etc. In the United States reusable bags are relatively popular, but Italy (or at least southern Italy) hasn't quite caught on yet. Sometimes I actually have to argue with shopkeepers or cashiers because they insist I use their plastic bag. I could understand slightly if they had a bag with their logo to give them advertising, but generally they're just anonymous plastic bags.

One problem I often run into is when I decide to buy something when I'm already out and about, without my collection of washable bags. Those who usually move around by car can just keep their reusable bags in their car, but it's a bit harder for people on foot to bring around a bunch of cloth bags. Last year I was given a very nice gift, the ChicoBag. It's a bag made from 7 recycled plastic bottles, is super light, and gets closed up inside a little pocket sewn on the inside to bring it around. You can't use it for really heavy things (I had to resew some of the seams after I put too much weight in it once), but it's really convenient to carry around in your bag all the time for when you make a spur of the moment purchase.

Those bigger plastic shopping bags are easy to reuse in other ways, like for your trash or to carry around other stuff. But my main problem were those smaller produce bags. They get dirty, and so are hard to recycle, and they're too small to really reuse for many things. And just look at all that plastic used to bag up a single cucumber! Ridiculous! Then I saw some produce bags made of organza or nylon mesh on the founder of the website Cloth Pad Shop (where I sell cloth pads and other things)'s personal website. It seemed like a great idea, so I copied it. I got some nylon mesh and added a drawstring recycled from the same pyjama pants I made my potholders from. Next time I'll use some lighter (and prettier) ribbon or something for a drawstring. They looked at me kind of funny when I asked to use these bags at the supermarket (though I'm used to this, being a "weird" foreigner who always does things "differently" than everyone else!) but they didn't have any problems with them. And just look how pretty groceries are with these bags!

There are, however, people who put plastic bags to good use. For example, there is a seller on etsy (which unfortunately is not at all used in Italy, despite the fact that there are exceptionally wonderful things there) that makes jewelry, bags, hats, etc from crocheted plastic bags, as well as other things made from recycled plastic bottles and cloth. I bought one of her bags and some jewelry, and she even sent them to me in the coolest boxes she made out of folded magazine pages. Check it out!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

it's spring! time for elder-ly stuff

Oh how I love spring! The sun, the heat (without that horrid summer stickiness), everyone's happy, all the kids can play outside! And it's the end of the year for all the kids and teachers (like me) out there! I haven't have much time to be able to write much of anything because I've been hiding out under masses of end-of-the-year work: tests to make up and correct, a whole bureaucratic mess of stuff to do for the government-funded PON courses I'm teaching, preparing my students for their Trinity exams. So I'm stealing a topic that I found on another blog and I actually had the time to try out. And that would be...

...elderflower syrup! I had no idea how to recognize the plant. I thought it was a smaller plant, but I finally found my elderflowers on huge trees. This is the recipe that I used, but it's in Italian, so I'll summarize it for you anglophones. Pick about 10 big "umbrellas" of flowers, rinse them off nicely and let them soak for 48 hours in 1 liter of water and 1 kg of sugar. After 48 hours of soaking, filter it and put it into a container, preferably one that you can put in the fridge. Put a bit of syrup in a glass and fill the rest with cold water. Yummy and thirst-quenching! Though next time I'm going to try putting in less sugar because it was a bit too sweet for my beverage tastes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

yah moms!

Happy mothers' day to all you (us) mammas! We even have a lovely sunny day to enjoy, ahhhh!

Seeing as I'm posting a picture of one of my plants, I'm also adding an update to my attempts to grow plants from fruit seeds. In January I wrote about the little lemon plant that was popping out, and just look at it now! And a bunch more have popped out, too!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

a mother's day gift that's really worth giving

I'm honestly really sick and tired of buying more and more crap for myself and my loved ones, so I'm always looking for some different type of gift to give without so much waste. This year I made a donation in my mother's name to CARE. Here's some information that I'm copying from the email they sent out today:

In countries throughout the developing world, many mothers never get to hold their babies, celebrate first birthdays or see them take their first steps. That's because 1,400 women die every day from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. The majority of these deaths are preventable. They take place in poor communities where access to basic healthcare and skilled health professionals is scarse.

With more than 50 years of experience developing and implementing maternal and child health programs in the world's poorest countries, CARE is committed to reducing the risk of women dying during pregnancy or delivery with programs that:
  • Educate families and communities on the health benefits of family planning;
  • Ensure women have access to health care and good nutrition during pregnancy;
  • Remove barriers to maternal care and increase access to skilled care during labor and delivery;
  • Strengthen postpartum care to monitor for complications and provide support to improve newborn health and survival.

After making a donation of any amount you want, you can personalize an e-card to send to the person in whose honor you made it. Does your mother really need another trinket, piece of jewelry, bouquet of flowers or whatever else you normally get her? My guess is no. I know mine doesn't! :)

"I can't stop eating meat!"

I've recently heard a few people say this, that they'd like to stop eating so much meat, but don't know how to get by without it. How would they get their protein?! And meat is so fast to get ready! Once I saw one of those shows where a judge puts in his two cents' worth after two people fight it out in which a divorced and vegetarian mother was against the fact that her ex went out hunting with their son and they ate the meat together. The whole audience (and also my mother-in-law) kept saying that the mother was pretty much abusing her son by not feeding him meat because how in the world was he supposed to grow big and strong?! I can't remember the judge's ruling, perhaps because it was so stomach-turning that I had to leave the room.

First off, I want to say that I'm not a vegetarian (though I do eat very little meat) even if I would like to be. But I've found that very few people realize wat harm eating meat can do, not only to the poor animal, but also to the environment, your wallet and your own health. And people often don't realize that vegetable protein is very valid, as well as being better for the human organism without harming the environment or mistreating animals, not to mention while costing much less. There's a wide range of legumes (beans, that is) that can be cooked and eaten as they are or prepared into products such as tofu and seitan. And they are really really good.

I've recently started using soy protein, dried chunks of soy which can be used instead of meat. I made a lovely vegetarian bolognese sauce (bolognese is a sauce full of ground meat), first sauteeing garlic and chopped-up carrots, then adding whole canned tomatoes and the soy protein (after having boiled it for about 15 minutes to soften it). Tossed with penne pasta and... voilà! Preparing this soy protein this way, this bag which cost me about €2.50 was worth 6 portions of meat. Not bad! I also made a yummy fennel and orange salad, one of my favorites, cutting raw fennel into strips and peeled oranges into chunks, mixed with a little oil and salt (or gomasio, crushed sesame seeds, instead of salt). No meat and we were stuffed full at the end of dinner.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

ciucci ciucci coo

It can really be hard sometimes living in a country that isn't yours with a different culture and language to boot. But it's all worthwhile when you get nice happenings like this past Sunday. Camposano, a little town near Nola, had their annual Palio, or race. But not a horse race like the famous Palio of Siena, but a donkey race.

Oh how much I do love donkeys! They have such sweet and sad expressions. So we brought our daughter, who has also been a big fan of ciucci since the time last year that a friend's donkey ate her cracker which she'd dropped in the mud. The ciucci raced down a straight blocked-off street, but in their own way, so not paying much attention to the riders, going in the wrong direction or refusing to budge an inch. It was such a fun event and totally Italian, nothing you'd find anytime soon in the States.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

kitties on potties

Today we finally started organizing our "box," our storage area on the ground floor of our building, where we'd dumped so much stuff that we couldn't even walk in it anymore. And we found lots of fun stuff we'd forgotten about. Such as the tray I used when I tried to potty train my cat. Yeah, like in "Meet the Parents." Like this nice kitty in the picture. That way you don't have to buy any more litter, or clean it, or step on it, carrying it all over the house under your shoes. Ecological and money saving to boot, cool!

I bought the CitiKitty kit, which includes a sort of tray that you fill with flushable litter and put on the toilet seat. It has concentric circles that are removed bit by bit so that a hole opens in the center and gets bigger and bigger until the cat is just forced to do its stuff into the toilet. And finally you take the whole thing off, but the cat keeps "eliminating" right where we do, too.

I was all worked up when I started with our darling Macchia. I got rid of her regular litter box and put this tray on the floor with litter to get her used to using it. When she was ok with it, I moved it onto the toilet seat and she used it there, too. Great! But when I made the first cut (only half of the central circle, the smallest one), she kept doing #1 there where she should've, but not #2. Instead she would do it on our living room rug or in the houseplants with the biggest pots, digging holes in the soil and then covering it up and leaving soily and I-don't-even-want-to-think-about-it-y paw prints all over the house. Oh joy! After 2 weeks of this service, I gave up. And Macchia was oh-so-happy to have her regular litter box back again. Oh well, at least I tried! So if anyone out there is interested in trying, I still have the tray with all the information. Let me know, and it's all yours!