Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Robinsons


It's been a while. But the reasons are legit. Had I been able to either halt time or add a few hours on to each day, blogging might have fit into the schedule, but even with those kind of super powers it would have still been a struggle.

Since I returned from Italy things have been insanely, nightmarishly busy. I am working Mon, Wed, Fri at my old ad agency, Tues and Thurs at the clinic, and I had 3 tough classes that I only had time to study for after a 9 or 10 hour workday. By the beginning of August I was running on fumes. Everything was suffering--my advertising work, my therapy sessions with clients, and classwork. But 3 finals later I've finished the semester from hell, while still managing to keep a 3.95 GPA. Hell yeah. I mention this not to brag or toot my own horn, but because I'm pretty freakin' proud of myself. I got divorced, travelled around the world, lived in Italy...and still got straight A's. Genius, anyone?? ;)

No, really, it is pretty astounding because had you known me in undergrad...a straight A student I was not. I majored in having fun and minored in procrastination, both of which I was summa cum laude. I still managed to get decent grades, but it certainly wasn't because of the enormous amount of time I spent studying. So this is a big deal for me, so much so that I've hung my transcripts on my parents refrigerator, proudly displaying my A's like a first grader.

To treat myself after 3.5 months of non-stop brain functioning, I spent the last 10 days in Italy visiting Paolo. I have a break between semesters, so I jumped on my only chance until Christmas to make the trip across the pond and relax in beautiful Salento.

Getting there was an ordeal (I'll write my anti-Alitalia blog next...those living in Italy can comiserate without even knowing the story yet). But once I finally arrived, things were wonderful. Again, more details and photos to come, because we went to some really cool places. But this blog is dedicated to yet another conversation with Paolo that is definitely worth documenting.

So, this conversation took place as we were laying in bed one night. We were so happy to see each other again...it had been two months. We were snuggled up, basically forehead to forehead, having a groggy, just before you drift off conversation, when he said:

"One day, can we have a family like the Robinsons?"

The Robinsons? Huh? What is he talking about? So I said:

"The Robinsons? Huh? What are you talking about?"

And the rest of the conversation proceeded like this:

Paolo: "Yeah, you know from the TV show?"
Me (racking my brain for TV Robinsons): "You mean Swiss Family Robinson?"
Paolo: "Noooo...it was a black family..."
Me: You mean the Jeffersons!?!"
Paolo: "No, remember, it was the family where the dad was a doctor and the mom was a lawyer, and they had a lot of kids...Rudy..."
Me: (lightbulb) "YOU MEAN THE COSBY SHOW??"
Paolo: "Yes, with Bill Cosby!"
Me: "Why do you call it the Robinsons?"
Paolo: "Because that is their surname."
Me: "Robinson?"
Paolo: "Yes. And the show was called 'I Robinson' "(which means 'The Robinsons' in Italian)
Me: (a bit confused) "But their last name was Huxtable..."
Paolo: "Hugsable? Huctable? Wait, what did you say?"
Me: "Ahhhh...now I see why they were the Robinsons in Italy..."

So our beloved Huxtables were the Robinsons in Italy because the Italians have a very difficult time pronouncing Huxtable. Plus,to them Robinson is about as American as Smith or Jones. And apparently the Robinsons in Italy were equally as popular as their aliases in the States. Paolo said it was one of his all time favorite shows growing up. I can just imagine Bill Cosby's voice dubbed by an Italian actor...

As for having a family like the Huxtable/Robinson clan...the thought was sweet. But 5 kids? Ha! Uh, no thank you. We might have to subtract from that number by about 3 or 4. (He did clarify later that he wasn't not insinuating that he wanted 5 children...he just wants a "happy life like they had" ...WHEW.)

You know, a happy life Robinson-style doesn't sound too bad. Sign me up.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

365 days later...

One year ago today I was in an airport in Qatar, by myself, looking for sunglasses in the duty-free shop. I did not find the sunglasses...but what I found instead was almost enough to make up for the fruitless search... ;)

What I found instead was something I certainly was not looking for, nor even knew if I wanted it at the time. What I found was destined by something much bigger than me; and no matter what happens, it's something that was, still is, and hopefully always will be, a bright shining light in my life. What I found instead has shown me that I can trust again when I had just about written it off as a lost cause...

What I found instead goes by the name of Paolo (or Paldo J. Fox). And today I'd like to thank him for joining me on this journey. When Paolo and I met, I was in a place where I couldn't talk about my past without breaking down. We'd be sitting in a romantic outdoor cafe in Rome or walking through the streets of Casablanca and if the topic of my marriage came up, it was still so raw that I had a hard time keeping the tears back. For most men, I would imagine this would be a major red flag, like, "call me when you've lost the baggage". But not for Paolo. He would listen, ask questions, and allow me to show myself--my real self--open wounds and all. I never felt judged because I was getting a divorce and he always told me how amazing he thought I was for deciding to handle this intensely difficult period the way I did. At that point in time, it was exactly what I needed to hear. It had been a long time since I had a man tell me that he admired me for just being me. I had spent a lot of time by myself on that trip and personally I felt good about what I was doing. I felt stronger each day. But no one can argue with some positive reinforcement--especially when it's coming with a cute Italian accent!

He understood that initially part of me was closed off and that even if I wanted to open myself to this relationship fully, I couldn't, because subconsciously I was still protecting myself. Anyone that has been through a traumatic break-up knows how terrifying it can be to allow yourself to feel again. The pain is so vivid that sometimes it's easier to just avoid altogether. Instead of pressuring me he just held space for me in his heart--wide open--for the day that I was ready to crawl inside.

He was with me the day I got divorced and the day I found out Leslie was having a baby. Both days I could barely look at him, I could barely move. But he never allowed me to feel guilty for not being able to give to him or our relationship at that time. Again, he just waited, heart wide open, waiting for me to crawl back in. He has shown me what it means to be completely accepting and his patience is unmatched by anyone I know. He just has an innate understading of human nature and is able to be completely unselfish because of it. When he knew that I was going to need time he never took it personally and he never pushed me for more. It takes a strong man to be able to do that. It takes someone who knows himself and his own worth to be able to trust that I will indeed comeback and no coersion is needed.

His stability, consistancy and eternal optimism kept me going when I didn't know if I could. Sometimes it's easier to do things for other people than it is to do for yourself, but he would never allow that. No decision I made could be for him. They could take him into consideration and ultimately benefit him, but they always had to be for me.

I have never met a man like Paolo before. The personal qualities that so many of us strive to achieve, he's been blessed with from the beginning. And somehow, in the Middle East, in a duty-free sunglass shop I was also blessed.

So amore mio, this one is for you. Thank you for making me smile every single one of the past 365 days. You've been my rock. I love you. Happy Anniversary.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who decides?

I've been at my clinic for a few weeks now and am just starting to work with my own clients. For the first few weeks I was observing my supervisor and other therapists while they worked so I could see different techniques and become more comfortable with the process. It has been an intense month of learning, not only about the clients but what I am feeling myself. And there is one thing in particular that has been keeping me awake at night...

Who decides?

Who decides which one of us is sitting on either side of the desk? Who decides which one of us needs the help and who gives it? Who decides which one of us had the blessings in life to have an education, a family that cares, and opportunites galore? Who decides which one is sexually abused by a family member? Who decides which one of us has no running water because her father is a crack addict? Who decides which one will cut her arm so deeply just to numb the pain that is life?

How was I born with all of this privilidge? What did I do to deserve it? What did she do to deserve the life she has?

And... how in the hell can I possibly help?

We study in school how to process what we see and hear, we talk about self-care and avoiding "compassion fatigue" and burnout. But until I began to see these things on a regular basis I didn't realize how important taking care of myself really is. There is no way for me to be effective if I can't work through these things.

So, how did I answer these questions? What did I do to work them out? Honestly, for the first time in my life, I've taken true solace in my faith. And although that is still somewhat undetermined (raised Catholic, but by no means practicing) I HAVE to believe that there is something bigger than me out there that knows how this will all play out. Because I can't do this job if I believe that this is the only shot these people get. I've discovered that my belief in a higher power has helped me to hold on to the idea that this isn't it for them. This thing they are calling life--living in horrific circumstances, being told constantly that they are nothing and having that reaffirmed day after day--this is not it--this is not their only chance. I believe that their struggles will be rewarded, either in a beautiful afterlife or another go-round here on Earth where they keep improving on the previous life, until they too reach the beautiful afterlife. Either way, it's totally cool with me...as long as this is not it.

Talk about gaining perspective. This month has been a crash course in perspective. Everyone's struggles are real, we all have a certain capacity for pain. But what some of these people have endured in lifetimes shorter than mine has been mindblowing.

So sure, I've learned all the skills in school to be able to do this. I know all the theories, strategies and processes proven to help. But, really... who's helping who?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Times are a changin'

Guess who's back...back again...

Ok, 'slim shady' lyrics...this might be a sign of early onset severe seperation anxiety. I'm back in Ohio, and this time it's for more than 4 months.


And, not only that. Things in blogland have to change a bit. I start my internship at a mental health clinic tomorrow. Given the confidential nature of what I will be doing and the client population I will be working with, it's probably best to remove all personal pictures and references to my name on my blog. So, take one last look at my ugly mug, cause I'll be re-doing the photos to only be travel shots without people included. I googled myself and since I have changed my name back to my maiden name the blog doesn't come up. Anyone who meets me will be meeting me with my maiden name. Now, and forever.

So...I am going to be living with my parents for the next 4 months (I'm still trying to hold on to the 4 month thing) and then I will be taking over a friend's lease when she moves away (which I am terribly sad about...but at the same time excited to watch her kick ass and take names all over LA). It will be the first time ever that I've lived alone (unless you count the months on end that Leslie would be gone for soccer). I am really looking forward to it.

Paolo and I are trying to figure out our long distance schedule right now, and I'm hoping he can come for a quick visit at the beginning of June. I am going back to Italy for a week at the beginning of August for a friend's wedding, and hopefully he (Paolo) can return with me for an extended period of time. Leaving him was really hard this time around. Last September when I left the first time I was really ready to get home. I had a lot to process from the trip around the world and from meeting him. Plus, there was still a lot of messy stuff to deal with in regards to my marriage. But this time was different. After almost 6 months together non stop, I feel like I've lost an apendage. We talk numerous times a day and at least once on the computer so we can see each other. I love technology.

It will be interesting to kind of "put down roots" again. My life has literally been in constant transition since 2004, that I don't know what it feels like to NOT be in an 'adjustment period.' I am going to keep writing, but since I'm not going to be doing much traveling, it's just going to be more about the thoughts swirling in my brain and what's going on with life. My new job will give me much to think about but not much I can write about. I'm so excited to start, but terrified at the same time. How in the hell am I really going to help someone? I have no idea if I am prepared for it. I know all the strategies, theories, research methods--the book stuff. But when it comes down to someone sitting in front of me asking for my help. Eek. Scary shit.

I am also going to be freelancing for my old advertising agency that I worked for before we made the first soccer move. I gotta pay the bills somehow, and the internship is unpaid. For a year. Ugh. Two jobs and three classes should keep me occupied this summer...

I'm missing Italy a bit. When I left it was absolutely perfect. I spent my last week at the beach almost everyday. But it's really nice to be back to a place where I can have normal conversations without sounding like a slow 2-yr old.

So that's it for now. I have a 4 o'clock meeting on the computer to see Mr. P before he goes to bed.

Anyone up for weekend road trips?????

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Italy: That Guy

Ladies, we all know that guy. The one you are supposed to avoid at all costs but cannot seem to keep yourself away from? The one your dad prays you will never date. The one that stirs up emotions you never knew you have, that causes you to do things you'd never thought you do, that makes you obsessive, neurotic, all around pazzo (crazy). The one that you can hate with your whole being one minute and cannot live without the next...

Well, for me, that man is Italy.

Now let me be clear that I am not talking about Italian men, in fact most of the Italian men I know are not much like their reputations portray. I think Italian men have earned a lot of their reputations simply because they live in Italy. Because it's Italy, not the men, that can leave your heart racing, dumbfounded, on the verge of tears and completely elated all at the same time.

Italy is untamed, spontaneous, and romantic. He's everything you look for in romance-novel man. He's also often unreliable, unfair, and relentless. He can be brash and dirty, yet for some reason you keep coming back for more. Just as you would with that guy. You can't figure him out and it becomes an addiction. Are you trying to change him, fix him, better him, like we females so often do? Are you obsessed with the unexpected? If that's the case, you're in trouble because Italy is the master of the unexpected for stranieri (foreigners), and you'll never be able to really figure him out. Each time you think you're close, he'll catch you completely off guard and send your head spinning all over again. Everything you do in Italy, even the mundane, becomes an adventure. An average trip to the grocery store will likely evoke immensely strong emotions and make you wonder why you continue this torrid affair...

You drive to the store with 4 things on your list. You are prepared, you have a purpose and you are determined to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. (In my experience, this is how an American mind generally works). You pull up to find that the 7 parking spots around the store are taken up by 17 cars, who have not only managed to somehow squeeze into unimaginably tight spaces, but many of whom are parked perpendicularly (the Smart cars length is about the same as an average car's width), and a few are half on the sidewalk. So you proceed to drive around for 10 minutes and squeeze into a spot that is closer to home than the store, all the while wishing you had just walked. And it never fails, when you approach the store the parking area has magically cleared and you think to yourself for the first time that day "I hate Italy."

You are on the verge of spewing all of the Italian obscenities you know as you walk into the store when you are greeted at the cheese counter with a familiar, friendly smile and an offer to sample the fresh mozzarella, the olives that they just got that day, and a couple hunks of salumi piccante (pepperoni). In an instant, you demeanor changes as you are comforted by the warmth of the commessa (shop worker) and you think to yourself "I love Italy."

You proceed to look for the four things on your list to discover they only have one of the four. It's close to one o'clock, which means the stores will be closing for the next 3 hours and you will not be able to go to another shop to find what you wanted for lunch that day. You quickly concoct something new to prepare with what the tiny mercado (market) has to offer and you sulk up to the counter to pay, all the while thinking "This country drives me crazy." And, because you had to change your menu on the fly you come up two euro short. This is when the checkout lady tells you "No ti preoccupare" (don't worry) and waves you away with a smile and a "ci vediamo domani!" (see you tomorrow). And you think to yourself, "I love this country."

This is the emotional rollercoaster that I call Italian living. Each day offers something new that send your emotions reeling from one end of the spectrum to the other instantaniously. You can be walking the coast, completely in love with your surroundings--breathing in each step--the flowers, the sea, the rocks...the trash, the graffiti. And the love quickly turns to disdain for a country that has more natural beauty than one can imagine but it never seems like much is done to enforce the preservation of it. As an American you think "why don't they have higher fines for littering...and why aren't they enforced??" And you want to march straight to the municipal building and tell them what they need to do, and how to do it. How we do it.

As an American you might never be satisfied with Italy and how it works. But, also like with that guy, Italy is not asking for your approval. He is who he is; and that's a major part of his appeal. He marches to the beat of his own drum and he makes no aplogies. He's been doing it for so long that there is no changing him now despite the most valiant of efforts.

All you can do is learn to love him for him. It's the only way to truly receive all that he has to offer.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Magical Olive Trees of Salento

Otranto is located in Salento (or Salentu, if you want to speak like the locals), which truly is the heel of the boot. It is the south eastern part of Puglia, which is one of the 20 regions of Italy. For those of you, who like me a year ago, are clueless as to Italy's make-up, here's a quick rundown:

Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni=plural, regione=singular). It is further divided into 109 provinces (province) and 8,101 municipalities (comuni). So I've been living in the region of Puglia (or Apuglia for us foreigners), the province of Salento, and the municipality of Otranto.

Puglia, like many of the southern regions of Italy (Calabria, Basilicata, Campagnia and Sicily) is know for it's production of olive oil. It seems as though each family owns their own batch of olive trees and produces their own oil. And if they aren't direct producers then they have a cousin of an uncle, or a sister of a godmother's nephew that is a producer, so of course, it's still considered family. And it's hands down the best olive oil I've ever tasted. Which is a good thing, considering they put it on their cereal in the morning (sto scherzando- I'm joking- but really, they do use it to cook virtually everything).

Paolo's uncle produces THE BEST (yes, I am biased, but it's won awards in both Italy and the US) olive oil in the world. His secrets: he does not use olives that have fallen off the tree and hit the ground. Apparently, if the olive skin breaks, it loses some of it's natural properties and becomes "less pure." He also uses a process in which he does not heat the olives to extract the oil. His process is more time consuming and retracts less oil from the olives, but again it keeps the oil in its purest form. Seriously, I could drink it straight from the bottle it's that good. Oh, and it's almost florescent green in color.

But as fascinating as the olive oil making process is, the place where it all begins--the olive tree--is far more fascinating.

I could use so many metaphors to describe these trees: knobby old men, bent and weathered from a long life of hard work; graceful dancers intertwined as though they are one (and in the case of the trees, they are one); or ghostly characters from Disney's Fantasia waiting for nightfall to uproot and prey on unsuspecting visitors. Each tree has it's own story, it's own character, and the one's I've taken photos of, have had a long, long life (usually between 100-400 years).

Let's have a look:

This old guy with his calloused trunk and arthritic branches reminds me of the old men sitting on the benches throughout Paolo's town. If you sat with him for a while, I bet he'd have some stories to tell...

This is one tree, but like many of them it's split at the base and comes together in the middle. Much like two dancers whose feet cannot touch but whose bodies never seperate. It's rare to see an olive tree grow completely vertically, and like this "couple" many appear to be midway through a sweeping dip in a ballroom dance series.

This younger guy is giving the old folks a run for their money. The twists of his trunk at such a young age (he's probably under 100) shows that he is on his way to trunk greatness. But watch out, because if you are a child playing hide and seek in the dark olive groves, his youthfulness might get the best of him and he'll untwist, rise up to his full greatness, pull his giant roots from the ground and try to play along. Spooooky.

And then there are some that are just plain welcoming. Like their human counterparts here in the south, they are always ready with their arms wide open, waiting for you to crawl in, pose, and smile.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


This blog is dedicated to the wildflowers that I see each day, unlike any I've ever seen before. I don't think we have these kinds of wildflowers in Ohio...

Italy is truly one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen. And one of the best things about it is that the Italians appreciate its beauty. Actually, Italians appreciate beauty in general. Beautiful people, beautiful scenery, beautiful clothes, even beautiful food. You could consider it a culture that is too easily stimulated by aesthetics, but it's understandable since they are surrounded by it.

Growing up in the Midwest there was plenty of nature all around. Flat nature, but pretty nature nonetheless. When I was young my mom would always point out different flowers, trees, farmlands, etc. and explain what they were. It pretty much went in one ear and out the other. I had more important things to think about, like Scooby Doo, My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite. I mean really, who cared about Oak trees or tulips? Certainly not me. Well, Italian children must have listened to their moms, because they all seem to know every type of fauna growing along road, in their gardens, and around the coast. Paolo probably even more than most because of his biology degree. Taking a walk with Paolo is like going to a class--a very interactive class in which the teacher says, as he's taking a bite of a leaf he just picked from the tree, "And Maggie, you can eat this one, try it." Yes, we eat berries, fruits and leaves straight off the trees. Most are actually pretty good, but some I think he just has us try simply because we can, not necessarily because they are tasty...

As an adult, I'm totally digging learning about the trees, flowers and plants that surround me. And in Italy I find myself paying so much more attention to it. I wondered if it was just because I've become so accustomed to what nature looks like at home so I don't see it as much? Or if it's because the culture as a whole places so much emphasis on nature that I can't help but notice. Other Americans living here have said the same thing, so I guess it's not just me.

Anyway, to give you an idea of what I am talking about when I say wildflowers here are a few photos I've taken in the last couple of weeks. They really are everywhere.

A mix of poppies and yellow wildflowers

Some purple flowers along the coast (this is in Otranto, where we walk a lot)

A poppy field and a traditional stone wall near Paolo's town, Sternatia (this photo does not do justice to the reds of the poppies, it is such a deep, deep brilliant red, like really ripe strawberries)

Close-up of a purple flower with poppies and grasses blowing in the wind

Beautiful isn't it? Can you see why I'm more enthralled by them? They are everywhere you turn. I could not imagine a more beautiful primavera (spring) if I tried.