Tag Archives: Sinalunga

Gratitude, Courage and The Single Mom

Yesterday morning I was hit with a vivid memory that soccer-punched the air out of me and left me with a longing and nostalgia that I haven’t felt in a long time.  I had just driven past the Madonna Del Rifugio (ancient convent near our villa dedicated to the Madonna and child) on Via dei Frati (our dirt road, translated to “The Brothers”)  in Sinalunga, Italy. I was on my way to buy pastries to take back to the villa. We were leaving for Rome (where I am today) and my man was at home packing up all the many bags and machines he needs to keep his 80-year-old father alive—who is the reason for our trip this summer, back to his grandfather’s homeland.

As I navigate through the narrow dei Frati, past olive groves down into town, the soulful tune “Oh, What a Lucky Man, He Was” starts to play on the radio.  Tears of recognition sting my eyes. The Emerson Lake and Palmer song was playing 3.5 years ago as doctors performed a C-section to deliver James. The memory came rushing back as the song played, and I could literally see the hospital room at UCLA and the doctors and nurses and my ex sitting at my head looking down at me.  I pulled up to the coffee bar, smiled at my new friend Eva serving cappuccinos, and sat listening to the words. I raised one finger and nodded, letting her know I’d be inside soon, put my sunglasses on to hide my eyes, and felt a knot form deep within.

My OBGYN, who I consider a friend, played the mix tape he had made for his wife when she was delivering their son 20+ years earlier, at my delivery. I was insanely honored. I’ve known this man for 11 years and he is the reason why we moved back from London, in order to let him over-see the birth and my bed-rest. His first name is William and his brother’s James—the names of my two children coincidentally. He saw me through the chicken pox, then the premature contractions that landed me on bedrest for two months, and then this emergency C-section. October 24, 2008 was such a special day and hearing that song slammed me back to a time when I was filled with hope.

It’s a little ironic that our street in Italy is named the brothers. Little James always refers to his big brother and his best friends as “the brothers.” He often says, “I want to stay up and play with the brothers!” when William has a friend over to spend the night. It’s adorable and always makes me think that he was in a brotherhood of some sort in another life. This month we’ve also stayed down the road from an ancient, but working, convent that celebrates the Madonna and child. Our villa is on the hill above the village of Sinalunga, which is also dedicated to the Madonna. (Probably many villages throughout Italy are!) But everywhere you look, above door ways, bars, restaurants, churches and even offices, you can find paintings or sculptures of the Madonna and child, like the one in the picture above that I took.

Everywhere I’ve looked throughout my month away, I have been reminded of how important and revered motherhood is. There is no higher calling in Italy. It’s renewed my strength and filled me with more gratitude.

Life rarely works out the way we plan, does it? Who would have thought 3.5 years ago, after I delivered an adorable baby boy with crazy, spiked red hair like a British punk rocker, that I’d be separated and raising the boys solo 8 months later. It was too painful for words, so I won’t bother. But hearing that song again yesterday haunted me and felt like a wake-up call.

I am the lucky one.

Life has crazy twists and turns and so much is out of our control. But what is in our control is the power to see what is good and what is important in our lives. Flash forward 3.5 years and who would have thunk that I’d be spending a month in Italy with a boyfriend and his 80-year-old father who I adore. I’m seeing how vulnerable and tenuous every moment is through their eyes. And although some in America may not value motherhood as much as the Italians—you and I should never take their viewpoint seriously.

No one could argue with a woman who puts her children first, while no longer being a doormat. However you need to take care of them—if you are putting their needs first—you have your head and your heart in the right place.

Keep reminding yourself that you do have a job, you are competent, and that you are important. You are more than important—you are your children’s emotional security and source of love—that provides a roadmap for them to love themselves and others as adults.

So next time you find yourself having to defend what you do, or defend the needs of your children, or stand up for yourself, do what I plan to do: take a deep breath and focus on your children’s faces. They’ll inspire you to do what you need to do. And I, for one, intend to remember to always show gratitude. If your ex is taking good care of the kids, like mine is this week, say thank you. If your ex takes pains to call the children, tell him you appreciate it. It’s a little step towards a peaceful future.

Tuning in to the Rhythms of Tuscany

I can’t seem to tire of the Tuscan landscape. I have been here for two and a half weeks now and am still in love with the rolling hills, the textures and the vibrant colors of this region of Italy. Deep greens, golden fields and silver wisps of leaves surround me. As you drive, or walk, throughout Tuscany you see amazing landscapes such as this, that have been manipulated by man for centuries.

The curved rows of plowed, mustard-yellow fields are of the semolina wheat used to make pasta (that I am eating too much of!). By the end of June, most fields are plowed with bales of wheat rolled and waiting.

I adore the ever-present groves of olive trees, like these just outside our window. The Frantoio Franci olive oil company is  in walking distance to our vila. These are younger trees that are not producing usable olives just yet. Off in the distance, are older, more rugged trees with darker leaves, that are being harvested.

We are awakened each morning by the sound of tractors and the yips from the workers’ dogs who accompany them. The red ladders and three-wheeled mini pick-up trucks are often back in the fields after siesta—when the temperatures drop again and it is easier to work. Siesta, which is approximately from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is completely understandable to me now. With temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily, it’s critical to slow down—especially when working outside. Most businesses, except restaurants, are closed during this period as well. There seems to be no option but to take life slowly in Italy. When we first arrived in the province of Siena, I was concerned by the fact that there was no wifi in our villa and it was hard to come by in the village. I had an article to finish about Autism. I managed to do it on a dialup modem—but it was a looong and frustrating process. I couldn’t Skype with my boys. Email was hard to check. It felt like I was adrift. Once the story was in, I relaxed and started to breathe deeply and became more in tune with the rhythms of this world that are intrinsically linked with its landscape. My siestas became endearing to me. Here’s a typical siesta:

I sit in the local piazza. I notice a grandfather making amusing faces at his grandson as he buys him a gelato before heading home. I hear the adorable singsong voices of children who say papa! as they run home. A woman smiles and makes fun of me, calling me an “Alaskan” since I prefer ice cubes in my drink. I notice a momma bird feed her baby bird bread crumbs on the piazza floor.

I see a momma cat and her kittens hide in the shade of chairs.

I watch bees harvesting nectar from the potted lavender bushes and hear the bells chime from the convent on the hill above the village. A Vespa whines in the distance. I take a bite from my panini of prosciutto di Parma and Fontina cheese and think how marvelous it is that I haven’t once looked at a cell phone text or read an email. This won’t last, of course. But I am so thankful to have been given this temporary taste of freedom from my addiction to the Internet and with the need to keep up with all things and all people all the time. I give in and tell myself that my boys are just fine without me for a brief time. I pull out a map and start to plan a day excursion to another village. I begin to think about dinner—the obsession with food is quite contagious in Italy. And by the end of an hour, I head back home. Perhaps boring for some, but for me, being in the moment and present in my surroundings is a gift. I want to bottle it up and take it home.

When we arrived at the end of June this was just another green field with rows of leafy plants. Within two weeks, like so many of other fields in this region, it literally burst overnight with bright yellow and brown heads beaming up towards the sky. Driving past later in the afternoon, I shot this picture from the car window. I didn’t have time to stop with another car close behind me on a winding two-lane road—but I couldn’t resist the urge to capture their newly emerged faces. These proud, tall sunflowers seemed to scream “Smile, Damn it!”

And I did.

Slowing Down in Tuscany

View from my bedroom in Sinalunga, Tuscany

Tuscany reminds me,  in some ways, of my summers in the South. I know, there are no olive tree orchards (like you see here) or cypress tress or fields of sunflowers or lavender and rosemary bushes the size of small trees. But, with that said, one has to slow down here. It’s so hot, for instance, that you really do need a siesta in the afternoon. Stores and restaurants shut down from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s completely understandable. There is no air conditioning, anywhere.  So you close all the shutters and windows during the day, walk very slowly when out, seek lemonade and gelato and try to find spots in the shade.

Lavender bushes outside our kitchen in our villa. The smell is amazing!

Everyone slows down here, especially the cats! (And there are so many wild cats!) This sweet gal hides in our rosemary bushes outside our kitchen with her babies. Of course, we are feeding her…how could we not?

Look closely. Do you see her?

What I love most about Tuscany, is that the minute you arrive, your spirits begin to lift. How could they not? On the drive from Rome, you see fields of sunflowers, or a castle up on a hill, or a Romanesque, walled town off to your left. As we pulled into our villa, I smiled ear-to-ear. How can one not be affected by such picturesque beauty?

Our closest neighbor on a nearby hill.

View from my other bedroom window. The owners of this villa owns the working olive tree orchard and makes their own olive oil. I’m sure we’ll take home a few bottles!

More lavender behind the house. My absolute favorite scent at the moment!

Newt Gingrich in Tuscany!

Callista Gingrich and Newt Gingrich after mass in Trequanda, Italy on July 1, 2012

I guess you could say our first day of vacation in Tuscany has been pretty remarkable! James and I decided to venture out of our villa in Sinalunga (the municipality of Sinalunga is in the province of Siena) in search of the rare Tuscan store that is open on a Sunday. Last year when we vacationed in Tuscany, we often travelled to the medieval village of Trequanda and thought we remembered a store or two that might be open. After driving up the walled hill that once marked the entrance to the ancient Cacciaconti castle, we parked just outside a park and the entrance to the piazza. I am shocked when I notice former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich following his lovely wife into the historic church “Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea.” I later learned this ancient Romanesque church with a unique white and ochre checkered facade, dates back to the 13th century.

Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda

Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda

The former journalist in me just can’t believe that the Republican Speaker of the House who recently withdrew from the presidential race—is here in this same remote village in Tuscany attending mass. Even though I’m a Democrat, I admire Newt’s intellect and his ability to debate. As a former Atlantan, I also have heard many stories and arguments over the years from Republican friends who support him. Because of this, I  watched several interviews between himself and Piers Morgan this winter and spring while he was running for the Republican nomination and just after he withdrew his candidacy. I got so excited that they are here, I convince James and his brother Tommy to sit on a bench outside of this church and wait for them to finish mass so we can say hello. As we wait in the 95 degree temperature, we begin to get antsy and while Tommy looks around, I also take in the surroundings of this quaint, historic village and it’s piazza.

Piazza near Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda

For a Sunday, it is still alive and well with tourists sight seeing and locals strolling and stopping for a bite to eat.

Cafe across from Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda, whose owner took our photographs with the Gingrich’s. After mass, the former Speaker of the House and his wife had lunch here.

Side steeple of Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda.

I was amazed by this tiny side door of the church and its unique stone carving above the doorway.

Tiny side door of Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Andrea, in Trequanda

After about 20 minutes, Callista Gingrich walked out of the church. Dressed in smart Khakis and a pressed blue shirt, she smiled as we stood up to say hello. You really could not imagine a more friendly person. Because of her demeanor, my butterflies disappeared. James said hello first and she immediately held out her hand and introduced herself. We knew who she was, clearly.

“Are you vacationing here too?” she asked while smiling. We told her we were staying in nearby Sinalunga and she remarked how beautiful the remote villages in Tuscany are. She didn’t seem fazed at all by us and brushed off my apologies for “bothering” them while they were on holiday. She later told us that they were vacationing with friends and love to go to mass while on holiday. When Newt walked out, he wasn’t as friendly at first, but then held out his hand instinctively and said hello, asking our names and where we lived. When we asked if we could take their picture, I was surprised by Callista asking for my camera and then walking over to the owner of the nearby cafe to see if he would take a few pictures of all four of us together. When I chuckled and said, “Thanks for this” to Speaker Gingrinch, he laughed and said, “Well, it makes her happy,” and shrugged.

Not only did the cafe owner take our picture, but Callista asked him to take a few more, just in case they didn’t all turn out.

Callista & Newt Gingrich with us: Laura Roe Stevens & James La Rossa Jr.

What a kind and friendly person Callista is! Clearly, while the two of them are finally enjoying some anonymity in such a remote village in Tuscany as this—especially after so many stressful months campaigning—they didn’t have to take the time to chat with us and pose for pictures. I hope the two of them enjoy a wonderful, peaceful holiday in Tuscany!