Oh Happy Day
What a wonderful young man! I am VERY happy!
What a wonderful young man! I am VERY happy!
I am high as a kite! On Saturday, we couldn't have asked for a greater arrival day for Federico. He was excited, enthusiastic, and maybe a little overwhelmed by EVERYTHING new. He was surprised by so many things, from all the palm trees and golf courses he saw from the plane upon arrival at PSP to our "Italian-looking" house. He said his room and huge bed was "a room for a king", and was surprised that I spoke and understood Italian. (I held out on THAT until about an hour after we got home.) He arrived with thoughtful gifts for all of us. Luigi is wearing his new collar with an Italian flag scarf attached, and when he found a baseball while "helping Federico unpack", he was given his favorite new ball!
Sunday morning, I was WIDE awake at 4:09 a.m., up and drinking coffee in our dark courtyard. I TRIED to go back to sleep, but no way! I was SO excited to start the day and learn more about Federico. After 15 hours of travel, I knew he would be sleeping late, but he was up and drinking a caffe latte by 9:30. (He left camp in Vermont at 12:30 a.m. on a bus to Boston for a 6:15 a.m. flight to Phoenix, a 4 hour layover, and short flight to Palm Springs)
I know we are in the "honeymoon" phase, and he is VERY eager to please, friendly, outgoing, polite, neat, responsible, and helpful. He did his own laundry from camp, hung, folded and put away everything, made his bed with precision, and has impeccable manners. He asks lots of questions, and has that gorgeous smile on his face most of the time.
Sunday morning, we Skyped Federico's family in Italy from my i-Pad. They were SO excited to "meet us" and get a video house-tour. What a BEAUTIFUL family! They have done an AMAZING job of raising their son. Federico's little brother, Lelio (5), misses him, and kept saying "Hi Palma, Hi Brad, Hi Luigi!" His older brother, Luca, is currently taking final exams in Roma. They plan a visit to California later this year.
After morning coffee cake, we went to Keedy's, a 50's diner, for a late big American breakfast for eggs, bacon, hash browns and pancakes. Federico learned what American coffee with half & half tastes like. He is sticking with my espresso pot at home for breakfast! He has also now experienced home made chocolate chip cookies! : )
Our next stop was the Apple Store. His family decided he needed a new laptop, and he should buy one here. We browsed at Macbook Airs, Macbook Pros, and he marveled at the half-of-Italy's prices of the i-Phone 4s and i-Pads. Then went to Best Buy to look at PC equivalents. He has decided on the Macbook Air. We will be returning to the Apple Store soon. We did a brief driving tour of the neighborhood and Palm Desert High School (which he thinks is HUGE). His high school in Pescara is the size of one building.
We had a relaxing afternoon of Olympics and then went through our list of "Family Expectations" (Rules). We discussed honesty, trust, communication, chores, curfew, homework, etc. There were no shocks, and he appeared to think it was all very reasonable. We had a long discussion on alcohol, drugs, sex, and how American teens
and American high school will be different. He was shocked by some of our stories, and it is clear that his "normal" behavior and family values are all we could hope for.
He is very open and comfortable talking to us. We were so pleased when he said, "I feel like I am at home with my family!"
Finally, dinner was all-American with BBQ steaks, baked potatoes with the works, Caesar salad and corn on the cob. Later, we had birthday cake (his birthday was during his stay at camp and went unacknowledged) and presents. His new Palm Desert High School sweatshirt was a big hit! The "American Flag" cake was also fun! The evening ended with many thanks, and he is generous with hugs, affection, thanks and finally warm "Buona Nottes".
I am in MOM HEAVEN, and finally slept like a baby. I will enjoy the calm before the school year begins and the young women of Palm Desert find him...
I know we are in the honeymoon stage, but I am enjoying every minute. Federico has spent each day with me, (between clients, intern supervision and work commitments), and has been a dream kid so far. I know there is a devilish glint in those big brown eyes, and there will be bumps ahead, but for now all is almost too good to be true. We is very open and communicative. We have discussed the benefits and downside to being an "only child". I have asked him to tell me if I get too smothering or clingy, and soon he will have teen friends, school, sports, etc. and we will not have nearly as much time together. He is neat as a pin, cleans up after himself, and is becoming comfortable with the household patterns. He makes his own caffe latte in the morning, wipes up crumbs, and puts everything rinsed into the dishwasher. He fixes his own sandwich for lunch, and has stopped asking if he can go swimming, or have water or a cookie. He is generous with affection, appreciation and hugs. (I am a tub of melted butter...)
We spent much of yesterday running around the bureaucracy of high school enrollment in our school district, with TWO trips to the high school, one to the school district, and one visit to CVS pharmacy for a required whooping cough vaccine. I swear it hurt my arm when he got the shot! Today I am dropping off all the completed forms on my way to work while he sleeps in!
It has been amusing to watch girls AND "Cougar" women in their 40s (or 50s, as in Palm Desert 80% of women have been "done" with multiple plastic surgery procedures) stop dead in their tracks with double-takes, or stop to flirt with him. We met a mom at the school district who overheard me speaking Italian quietly to him while waiting, and barged in saying she lived in Italy for 10 years and was an actress on the old TV show Beautiful. She was a piece of work with her 10-y.o. daughter present. Then I explained the movie The Graduate and who "Mrs. Robinson" was! I keep telling him I will be carrying a baseball bat to "protect" him from the aggressive "slutty" females. We had a lesson in teen slang words from "gross" and "cool", "bad" and "dope" to the more X-rated terminology... Three teen girls in Target almost walked into a wall when they stopped mid-step to do a double-take, and then giggled OMG!
I asked Federico if it was easy to find girlfriends in Italy. He said, " You have to work at it! You talk to them, be a gentleman, then invite them for gelato, then take them out for pizza, and if it is still going well, then you take them to dinner at a nicer restaurant to impress them."
I told him all he will have to do here is BREATHE. He laughed and thought about it for a few minutes in the car, and then said, "Maybe an American girl will offer ME a pizza." LOL
I said, "They will be offering you much more than pizza!" He said, "What you mean?" He eventually "got it" and blushed profusely. Make that a baseball bat and a stun gun!
I burst into tears of joy each night in bed, overwhelmed with "Mom happiness". Brad is doing well bonding over sports and car talk, and is learning to check for understanding of his 5-syllable vocabulary when he gets a blank look or if Federico looks to me for Italian translation! Federico's mother told me on Skype that if he ever misbehaves or does something we don't like to do two things: 1. smack him 2. call her. LOL
I'm off to work, and I gave Federico a day off from photos, so here is all I have. Luigi is LOVING his new friend!
HOT and sunny! Webegan our day at La Jolla, watching the seals, pelicans, and Federico went for a swim (in the 68 degree water).
Then we had a lunch of linguini vongole and crab cake sliders at the beach before heading to Little Italy.
We are in the "Harbor Suite" at the Porto Vista Hotel, and it is GREAT. We are one short block from Caffe Italia. We have a huge bedroom and Federico has a sofa bed in the living with a huge mural of a gorgeous blond behind his bed. I told him it was the ONLY woman he would be sleeping with here. LOL
After a coffee and cannoli, we wandered around Little Italy, and relaxed a while before dinner in Old Town, where Federico was introduced to his first tastes of Mexican food.
We began with our complementary quesadilla, and the boys devoured two baskets of chips with salsa. Then Federico sampled a carne asada burrito, chicken enchilada suisa, carnitas, chile relleno, beans and rice! We wandered around Old Town, then stopped for a glass of vino for Brad and buona notte coffe for me near our hotel. It was a great first day in SD!
We had another wonderful day in SD.
After coffee, we wandered around the Mercato in Little Italy, and bought a few goodies.
Then we visited Balboa Park. Our first stop was the Torture Exhibit at the Museum of Man.
We also saw exhibits of Mayan artifacts, primates and Ancient Egypt.
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We also happened to be there in time for a fun skateboard competition by professionals (of all ages)! The two tiny blond girls were amazing, but went so fast, I couldn't get a clear shot.
Next, we drove to Coronado Island and had fish tacos at Brigantine. YUM
There is SO much to do around San Diego, I'll continue tomorrow...
After our late lunch, we had a California history lesson at Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first of the California Missions. (I knew teaching 4th grade would come in handy some day.) With all the amazing churches, and ancient buildings in Italy, Federico learned about our native Americans and Father Serra bringing Christianity to the Indians.
After some relaxing time in Little Italy, we had a great dinner at Buon Appetito. We began with an antipasto of burrata. Federico had Linguini allo Scoglio with clams, mussles, scallops and shrimp. Brad had a special pasta stuffed with lobster, and I had a filetto with mushrooms and gorgonzola.
We ended the night with Federico treating us to gelato and coffee at Papalecco, and then a nightcap and travel stories at the hotel bar. Here is my favorite shot of the day! Our FAMILY at dinner:
We've been busy getting ready for school to start on August 27. Thursday is registration, next week Federico has an appointment with his counselor to choose classes and take an English exam to determine which English class he will be in. Though he is a Senior here, he will have one more year to complete high school in Italy. He brought a huge Greek text book to keep up on his school's assignments via Facebook. He plans on taking English, U.S. Government (better during an election year), Latin (to keep up), P.E., and two electives. (possibly a math class)
Yesterday, he had a sports physical, and hopes to play soccer (winter sport) and swimming in the spring. As we speak, he is hosing off an old pool raft to use as a mat for sit-ups.
He learned last week, that if you want to run in the summer in the desert, you better go early in the morning, before it hits 100 degrees. We now have a new motivational exercise deal going that we began yesterday. I get up with Brad at 5:15. At 6:15, Luigi and I walk three laps around Venezia (our gated community) 1.5 miles. At 7:00, I wake up Federico, and he goes running. After his shower, we have coffee. If I don't walk, I have to do one of his chores (feed Luigi, or take out the trash). If he doesn't run, he does the dishes after dinner.
He is VERY neat. He picks up after himself, makes his bed, keeps his room/bathroom neat, hangs up towels and beach towels, clears plates, rinses them and puts dishes/glasses in the dishwasher, and offers to help with food preparation. If I am working, he fixes his own breakfast or lunch. He offers help with other tasks, and unloads groceries.
I am loving every second of this. My heart is bursting with love for this kid, and I am feeling like there is a new baby in the family. He is adorable when he falls asleep on the couch or in the back seat. Yes, I am still a big tub of mush. Tonight we are having over a neighbor family with a teenage daughter who goes to his high school, and Sunday a teen swim party with 7 kids I have scraped up through friends. Let the games (and girls) begin!
As some of you know, last December 26, Brad and I decided we were "Skipping Christmas" in 2012. Last year there was too much of my favorite holiday: baking, gifts, trees, parties, dinners, decorating, etc. We decided we would spend Christmas and New Years in Rome this year. (This was all way before we knew we would be hosting an exchange student. In February, Jerry and Paul decided to join us, and we booked an apartment together for 3 weeks from Dec. 19-Jan 5. NO WORK!
When we first considered becoming a host family, we thought we would have to wait a year, as we couldn't abandon our student during the holidays. We were told it was no problem, as there is a local coordinator in Palm Springs, who has a 16 y.o. son, and a German exchange student. Jamie would host Federico during our trip. We told Federico about this during his first weekend with us, and planned to do an "early Christmas" with him before leaving (trees, cookies, stockings and all...) We want him to experience both the American traditions, as well as his Italian traditions for a Buon Natale.
Shortly after his arrival, we learned, while speaking with his parents on Skype, that they have planned a visit HERE during the holidays! Ooops! Now what? How can we welcome his parents and two brothers if we are in Rome? We would NOT cancel out on Jerry and Paul, and the apartment is paid for! We had not yet bought our airline tickets. This is the ONLY time during the year his whole family can come, as his older brother is away at military school, and can only have these two weeks, and his father has requested time from work.
After a few days of crazy negotiations, Skype calls and much discussion, we have a new plan: What doesn't kill you will make you stronger!
December 16: We will fly to Rome early, and Federico's father will pick us up at FCO and take us to his home in Pescara for 2 days. Federico will stay with local host coordinator in Palm Springs. (If by then he has a close friend who invites him, they can do a criminal check and he can stay with another family or friend of ours.)
Federico's family will arrive in Palm Springs on Dec.24, where his substitute host mom will greet them, and they will rent a car. His whole family will stay at our house Dec. 24-26 (in our absence). I will have a friend bring them groceries and leave lasagna and goodies in the freezer. There will be cookies, trees, etc.
December 27-28 Federico's family will visit San Diego (with our GPS in Italian and detailed maps and directions and hotel reservations). Federico can show them where he visited last weekend and they will stay in Little Italy.
December 29-30 They will visit an itinerary I create in Los Angeles.
December 30: Palma and Brad will fly back a week early from Rome to LAX. (Jerry already rented out our room in the apartment!) We will join Federico's family in LA.
December 31: Are you ready? We will ALL GO TO DISNEYLAND for New Year's Eve.
January 1-2: All return to Palm Desert (no groceries in the house, jet lag, unpack...
January 3-4: LAS VEGAS for ALL
January 5: Federico's family will fly home from LAS to FCO.
We will return to Palm Desert exhausted, think.
Sunday, we hosted a party where Federico met a few teen friends. Brad barbecued burgers for 6 kids and the 7 adults stayed inside with the AC. He held court in the pool, and ALL of us had a great time. School starts in a week, and it is nice that he already has a few new friends.
Saturday, we went to the movies. Brad and Federico went into one theater to watch the Bourne Legacy, and I went into another to see:
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is about a childless couple who after years of trying to have a baby, finally give up their hopes. They write all the qualities they would want in a child on slips of paper, and bury their dream in a box in their garden. On a stormy night, Timothy arrives in their life. He calls them Mom and Dad, and appears to be a wonderful child, but...he has LEAVES on his legs.
Spoiler alert!!! As the seasons change, so do Timothy's leaves. They turn colors, and one-by-one fall off until only one remains. When that is gone...well, you can imagine that what happens is very sad. It IS a Disney movie, so there is a happy ending.
I was a BASKET CASE, sobbing like a crazy person in the theater well through the credits. I saw it as a metaphor for our year with Federico, that will eventually end next June. I went to the ladies room, washed my mascara-lined face, and cried some more.
I went outside (their movie was longer), and TRIED to stop crying, telling myself that at the end of OUR year, Federico will not disappear, just return to Italy. We go to Italy twice a year and we WILL see him again!. I told myself I was being ridiculous, and that he has just been here two weeks. We are NOT at the end of our story.
I met Brad and Federico at Starbucks, and Federico treated Brad to ice cream, while I had coffee. They told me about the Bourne movie, and I told them about Timothy Green, getting teary again. Federico was very sweet, comforting me by talking about all the places we would go together when we visit Pescara, or his grandparent's house in Puglia.
Every day is joyful at our house! We have WONDERFUL talks, discussing philosophy, religion, differences in culture, movies, alcohol, food, travel, and an endless number of topics! Each day is a blessing.
Next Sunday, we are hosting an EF Foundation pot luck party for all the exchange students and their host families in the desert area. There will be 5 or 6 students and all of their host parents, as well as two representatives from the EF Foundation. The coordinators will check in with every family to see how things are going. Each family will prepare a dish to share from the student's home country. Since we will be away from Wednesday until Saturday evening, we all made lasagna together and it is ready to go in the freezer.
Last Saturday, I got up early, and made a huge pot of meat sauce. Then Brad and Federico joined me in the kitchen. Brad and Federico kneaded the pasta dough:
Brad rolled out the dough,
while Federico made bechamel sauce:
Federico layered the pasta, sauce, bechamel, mozzarella and parmigiano.
I supervised the whole operation, including the clean-up! We had enough of all the ingredients left for some individual lasagnettes for dinner.
Federico gave my ragu a big thumbs up saying it was authentic Italian!
We left Wednesday afternoon for our "Show Federico Las Vegas Adventure". We have three days to keep him our of the casino, but there is plenty to see and do. We arrived at 8:30 p.m. with the strip aglow.
We checked in at the Paris, had dinner, and walked, shopped, and saw the Bellagio water show. Federico wandered around the Paris bit on his own, and we had a wee gambling fix. We all dropped off to sleep sometime around 1:00 a.m.
Thursday, we have LOTS to see and do...
Our "Italian movie star" has gotten lots of attention in Vegas. He is loving it.
We had a VERY full weekend showing Federico some of the sights in Las Vegas. On Wednesday night we checked in the Paris, and he marveled at the replicas of the Eiffel
Tower and Arc de Triomphe. It was awesome seeing his face and hearing his gasps in Italian as we approached the Strip from the freeway, and then turned onto Flamingo and Las Vegas Blvd with all the lights.
We had a late dinner, and wandered a bit, checking out the Bellagio fountains across the street.
On Thursday morning we visited the pool, and then the Fashion Show Mall, where Federico hit his favorite store, Abercrombie and Fitch, and bought a shirt. I did some damage at Norstrom and Sur la Table, and bought three pair of shoes.
We had lunch at the beautiful Wynn Hotel.
Next we saw the inside of the Bellagio, the Chihuly Glass in the lobby, and the conservatory of flowers.
We watched the Fountain show, and I got teary, as they played the Star Spangled Banner followed by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing Time to Say Goodbye.
(Federico and I figured they played those just for the two of us.)
We gave Federico a few hours of "free time" to wander the Miracle Mile shops and hang out by the pool. We gathered some points on video poker, and visited our favorite happy hour until meeting up at our room before dinner.
More photos to come, but now I must go get ready for an afternoon party at our house!
Thursday evening we visited Venezia (Venetian Style).
Federico was awestruck with the canals, gondolas, bridges, lights, and scenery of Venice and Saint Mark's Square.
We had dinner, and Federico tasted BBQ ribs for the first time. He declared it the "best thing he ever ate"! He finished his rack and a third of mine, along with all the trimmings! I was SO happy to watch him enjoy his Venetian experience!
The highlight of his evening was getting "arrested" by two costumed "officers" in front of the Paris!
After a late morning and lots of coffee, we headed to New York, New York and it's famous roller coaster.
After the roller coaster, we had pastrami sandwiches and bagels with lox at Greenburg's Deli.
Federico did some shopping and read The Hunger Games by the pool, while we hit the video poker machines.
We met at 6:30 and took a walk around my favorite over-the-top pools at the "Garden of the Gods" at Caesar's Palace. Federico said, "Now, THIS is a hotel!"
For dinner we had calamari fritti and then three delicious pasta dishes at Trevi, in the Forum.
Federico enjoyed Caesar's Roman details, and all the Italian designers featured in the Forum Shops. He also enjoyed it when a costumed young woman gave him a VIP pass to a nightclub he is not old enough to get into, and when another told him he looked like Elvis!
I promise this is my last post on our Las Vegas weekend! It has become a tradition for us to have breakfast at Bon Ami Gabi on mornings we check out of the Paris. Federico enjoyed his strawberry waffle, while Brad has his usual Hash with poached eggs, and I had my Bacon Benedict and a huge bowl of Cafe au lait.
We drove back "the short way" over the high desert, through the Moajve National Preserve, and when he wasn't asleep in the back seat, Federico saw some scenery he is not used to: yucca plants, joshua trees, salt flats, lots of rocks, and finally, close-ups of the windmills near Palm Springs.
On Sunday, after a busy weekend in Las Vegas, we hosted a swim party/orientation for all the the exchange students in the desert, and their host parents and siblings. (Yes, I was up at 6:00 cleaning my house and baking cream cheese brownies.) Our "family lasagna" came out of the freezer, and I also made a Caprese salad, Caesar salad, cake pops, dip/chips and an appetizer.
The kids met with the local coordinator, privately, to see how it was going for them, and to check in about chores, rules, and any problems that have come up. The coordinator, then met with all the parents while the kids swam. I think we won the "Exchange Kid Lottery" with Federico. One young lady has been to the ER three times in the first 3 weeks. All three of us feel very lucky!
Here is my "Mom Update": We all survived the first week of school! Federico was very excited the night before the first day of American High School (and maybe a little anxious). He carefully prepares his clothes each night (even irons t-shirts), get's his backpack ready and Student ID tag ready to go. He gets up at 6:40 for a 7:25 departure and 7:45 first period. After a couple of minor schedule changes, he has quite a load of solid classes: English, Biology, Economics/U.S. Government (proudly cheering for Obama...), Physics, Pre-Calculus, and Latin 3.
His first day, he was a little surprised to find that ALL students didn't look like the pretty blond cheerleaders or hunky football stars in the movies he has seen. I asked if all Italian students were beautiful, and he admitted they weren't, but he was still hoping for the Hollywood variety classmates. He has made a few friends in his classes, and a girl invited him to go to the first football game together. They have ALL heard about him, and LOVE his accent. He has also had a couple of overwhelmed moments. He was assigned a 1000 word essay, and was thinking "1000 pages". He has his first test tomorrow. For the most part, he thinks his classes are fun and interesting, though not as serious as his classical high school courses in Italy. He was surprised to hear teachers making jokes or trying to entertain students. His professors at home are VERY strict.
He is quite comfortable with us at home, yet the "honeymoon period" continues. He is still kind, respectful, open, affectionate, attentive, curious, helpful, neat, funny, and happy. He does nice things without being asked, takes care of his chores and laundry, says "thank you" and shares all about his day. He is conscientious about homework and spends several hours a night studying with no procrastination. He walks in from school, changes into gym shorts, has a cafe latte or snack, and gets right to work. He shows me his homework from each class, and occasionally asks me a question or a word.
He is now only Skyping his parents once a week, and "letting go" of his Italian life in order to fully be here. Tuesday evening he got a message from his dad: "Call me- important". He asked us if he could call, and learned his aunt had passed away. After a few minutes in his room, he came out and told us his sad news. Hugs and tears and support were given, as he told us about her illness and his cousins. Later, we watched The Hunger Games, as a reward for Federico reading his first book in English.
Yesterday, we had our first tiny glitch. I planned three days in SF for Labor Day weekend, because the "official school calendar" showed Friday as a holiday. I THOUGHT we were leaving Thursday after school and driving to the Bay area, planning 3 days worth of stuff to do. Wednesday he came home from school, very frustrated and told me there is school on Friday and he has a test in Economics! He wouldn't consider missing school and making up the test next week. It was a mini-melt down for both of us. (very mini) After 5 phone calls, (Brad, friends in the Bay area, dogsitter, work schedule, and another friend) we made the decision to leave Friday after 3rd period. The world won't end if he misses a couple of the 22 sights Ms. Over-Planner scheduled for three days. I crammed the rest into Saturday and Sunday, and everyone is happy. It led us to a very good conversation about flexibility, staying calm, communicating feelings, trust and compromise.
Funny moment: the other night at dinner, I served carrot-raisin salad. Federico ate about half of what I put on his plate, and everything else. I noticed he was moving the rest of the salad around with his fork. He looked up sheepishly and said, "This one, I don't like too much." I laughed and said he didn't have to finish it. He said, "It is the first time." I asked, "The first time you ate carrot-raisin salad?" He said, "No, the first time I didn't love something you made!"
So, I am still a bucket of mush, enjoying the smiles, the hugs, and doing the mom thing. I want to give a BIG Thank you to Lea and Massimo who have done an AMAZING job parenting Federico. Yesterday during a thunderstorm, I was happy as a pig in mud, baking cookies until it was time to pick him up from school. I have learned every concept in Chapter 1 of Economics and Biology, and I'm loving it when Brad explains something about calculus or football and kisses the kid goodnight on the top of his head. I have no words to tell you how bursting with joy I am. So far, so good!
We picked Federico up after his 3rd period class, and headed toward San Francisco, where we stayed with my friend, Roxanne, in San Mateo. We had a very nice seafood dinner Friday night at Kincaid's Restaurant, near SFO.
Saturday morning, bright and early, we began our tour. Brad showed Federico is high school and house in Daly City. Then we headed at the Cliff House. It was cool and foggy... just as it should be in summer.
Next, we headed downtown and drove through Chinatown, the financial district and Union Square.
Brad dropped us off for the long line at the cable car turn-around on Market and Powell. Federico and I had a fun ride to Hyde Street, and the sun broke through the fog!
We headed to the Embarcadero, and had porchetta panini for lunch at the Ferry building. We did a little shopping for good salami, cheese and coffee!
More tomorrow on our San Francisco adventure...
After lunch, we hopped on a ferry to Sausalito. It was a beautiful day on the bay!
After wandering around Sausalito, Brad picked us up (after being stuck in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge to come and get us), and we saw the beautiful bridge from several angles on both sides of the bay.
The views from Fort Point were beautiful with the fog coming in over the bridge, and the city in full sun.
We made a quick stop at the Palace of Fine Arts, and then walked around Chestnut Street in the Marina before dinner. Roxanne and Brad found a bar for a glass of wine, and Federico and I settled in at Peet's Coffee for a wonderful, long, talk over caffe lattes.
We began our Sunday morning at the beautiful Japanese Tea Gardens after a drive through Golden Gate Park. Federico enjoyed the gardens, the assortment of cookies in the Tea House (Brad had tea, I had coffee, and Federico drank water), and the beauty and serenity of the surroundings. I remembered bringing my 8th grade students to San Francisco for school field trips, and seeing the gardens again through Federico's eyes.
After school is a happy time at our house. I pick up Federico at 2:40 (except Tuesdays, when I do a group in Palm Springs and he gets a ride home with our neighbor, or stays at school and does homework in the library until I can get there at 4:00), and we are home by 3:00. He changes into comfortable clothes, has a snack, and does his homework at the kitchen table until dinner. I am usually cooking, or doing something in the kitchen. He and Brad like a sweet treat after dinner, so I have been baking cookies at least once a week. I am available to answer a question, quiz him for tests or chat during a "coffee break". I t is time we both enjoy, and Federico tells me about his teachers, what happened at school, and what he is studying. Last week, Federico got As on his tests in both Economics and Biology. Sometimes life is like a bowl of cherries (especially when you keep cookie dough in the freezer!)
I'm thinking the honeymoon should be over after 6 1/2 weeks, but I am still as happy as a pig in mud with Federico!
Bragging time: He has gotten an A on EVERY single assignment, quiz and test since the first week of school, and continues to manage homework and assignments in six solid subjects.
Tuesday night, Federico and Brad went to "Father-Son Night" at school. It turned out to a a plea for volunteer parents to direct traffic in the school parking lots of walk around campus with a radio as extra security. They served what Federico thought was "inedible pizza" (which he deposited in the trash), and were home in 45 minutes for a "good dinner". A for effort!
Last week, Federico wrote a wonderful essay for his English class about "the influences that made you the person you are today". He wrote about his family, and how proud he is of them, and how happy it makes him to make them proud of him too. He wrote about why he is a good student, studies hard, follows rules, stays out of trouble, and is respectful making sure he represents his family's values. He also wrote about his culture, and how proud he is of being Italian. He feels like during his stay in the U.S., he is "an ambassador of Italy". After turning in his essay, during one of our after dinner talks, he told me he also always wants to make ME proud of him. He looks forward to calling me to tell me where he is going to university, and someday calling to tell me, "Palma, I am an attorney, or maybe even a Psychologist!"
Federico has made some nice friends, and his social life is improving. We are very proud of him!
I love our evening talks, our drives to and from school, homework time and when he watches TV or a movie with us. I love dinner time conversations. I love having Federico here! Yes, I still cry happy tears, and am often "a big tub of melted butter".
It is the 7th week of school and we are well into our routine. Four mornings a week, Federico and I leave for school at 7:30 a.m., facing the traffic jam in front of the school before the 7:45 bell for 1st period. Only an aggressive driver can make it through this!
My morning hug in the car is good incentive to keep us both safe from the lunatic drivers.
Wednesdays are late start days, and first period begins at 8:40, getting me to work at 9:00.
I pick Federico up at 2:45, every day except Tuesday (When I do a group in Palm Springs), and he either gets a ride home, or stays in the school library doing homework until I get there at 4:00. There are only 4 more weeks of my group.
He comes straight home and does 3-4 hours of homework.
Soccer practice has started. That means he goes back from 6:15-8:35. Brad picks him up, while I make our late dinner.
Last week, Brad and I attended "Back to School Night", and after a general assembly (complete with band, choir, flag team, dance team and cheerleaders) we followed Federico's schedule of 10 minute classes, meeting all of his teachers. They ALL had similar comments: "He is CHARMING!", "I LOVE that kid!" "He is AMAZING!" "I SO enjoy him!" Yes, We do too!
Federico usually goes out with friends on Friday or Saturday nights, and Saturday is Brad and my "date night" when we go out to dinner.
Saturday, Federico sleeps in, while I am up at the crack of dawn getting my tasks done. Sometimes he and I have some "Mom time" to go out for coffee, shopping, an errand, or to see something new in the desert. Yesterday we had a caffe latte, walked up and down our main street and browsed in an art gallery.
Sunday is "family day". Federico SKYPES his parents in Pescara, and then we usually go on some sort of day trip. Today we are off to Oak Glen to the many apple farms, and maybe a hint of fall leaves and temperatures!
Last week was the opening day of cinghiale hunting for Federico's father, Massimo, in Abruzzo. I'd say they did well! When you meet Federico, ask him to tell you his cinghiale hunt stories!
Of course, our minds went straight to cinghiale ragu, cinghiale sausage, salami, etc. and then Brad mentioned something about pork belly...
It has been a busy couple of weeks. School is going well. Mid-semester grades were mailed home, and Federico's conscientious studying has paid off with 4 A's and 2 B+s, all done in his second language! We are very proud of him! He has also made the Varsity soccer team! He will have soccer practice after school Monday-Wednesday, with games on Thursday, and no games on weekends. I can DO that!
Federico has had a friend spend the night, and social events on the weekends. This Friday is the Homecoming Football game, and Saturday is the Homecoming Dance. This year, the dance is girl asks boy. His date asked Federico to the dance in a very clever and creative way. He came home with a large gift bag, stuffed with red, white and green tissue, and pulled out: Italian olive oil, spaghetti, Italian roast coffee, biscotti, and a tiramisu. There was a hand-colored Italian flag with this on the back: "Vuoi venire al ballo con me?" (Will you go to the dance with me?)
Federico also enjoyed his morning at the driving range!
Federico's pumpkin was SPOOKY!
Saturday was the Homecoming Dance at Palm Desert High School.
Thank you to Jackson and his parents for hosting this great party before the Homecoming Dance!
|Free digital slideshow made with Smilebox|
I'm going as a PROUD MOM! Of course, I go everywhere as a proud mom now!
Federico has been chosen as Senior Student of the Month at Palm Desert High School for October. Because of his accomplishments (academic and athletic), he will be honored at a breakfast at Rancho Mirage Country Club this morning at 6:50 a.m.. Representatives from the school, Congressperson's Office and Senate, as well as the newspaper and community organizations will be attending. We are VERY proud of Federico! Off we go to breakfast. Details tomorrow!
Have a safe and Happy Halloween!
Federico was truly honored at this week's breakfast put on by the Optimist's Club at Rancho Mirage Country Club. He received 6 beautiful embossed certificates of achievement from the state senator, California Congress, Palm Desert High School, Palm Desert City Council and the Optimist Club. He also got a beautiful watch and pen!
After introducing Brad and I, Federico was asked to spontaneously give a speech about his experience as an exchange student, and his impressions of school in America, and his high school in particular. He was very poised and eloquent.
After breakfast, we were handed the microphone to speak about being Federico's parents. I talked about working my whole career with teens as a teacher, vice-principal and therapist, but waiting until 60 to experience the joy of being a mom. I explained the process of how we chose Federico, and how all of our hopes and expectations had been surpassed. I talked about his achievements, but also about his character and values, and why we love him as if we gave birth to him. Everyone in the room was teary, and then Brad took the microphone. He was VERY emotional, and soon everyone was crying. He made a couple of jokes, regained his composure, and talked about how proud we are of Federico. It was a wonderful morning for all of us!
Here is Federico with his principal, Robert Hicks. He was teased about the brilliance of recruiting a soccer player all the way from Italy.
We are so proud of our son!
The other evening, at about five minutes to 9, Federico announced that he was "cookieless", and wanted dessert. I was ready to put on my jammies, watch Revenge, and go to bed at 10! He asked if he could make crepes. "Have at it!", I said. With no recipe, he pulled out flour, sugar, butter, milk and eggs. Soon he had my largest mixing bowl full of yummy batter, and was flipping crepes out of my omelette pan! Who knew?
I tried to get an action shot every time he flipped one, but he was too quick for my camera. Trust me when I say, he looked like an accomplished chef, flipping those thin, beautiful crepes high in the air, and having them land upside down in the pan. Brad and I each ate one, Federico, several, and he polished them off the next morning for breakfast!
All dishes were done, and he left the kitchen as clean as he found it! Federico said he perfected making crepes as part of a project in his French class at school in Italy!
We had a very lovely, but short visit with Federico's family in Pescara, Abruzzo. It was our first time in this beautiful region, and we were treated royally!
Here, I am with Federico's beautiful mother, Lea, and his delightful grandmother, Luciana.
Federico's little brother, Lelio, is a doll, and we had fun singing Christmas songs in english and Italian, and translating The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!
We were showered with gifts, and we ate VERY well!
We have had an amazing Christmas holiday in Rome, even though Brad and I have had a horrible cold and cough during most of our time here. We seem to both be a little better today.
I have been dressed like Nanuck of the North in layers of sweaters, tights, socks, UGGs, gloves, scarves, a hat and a parka, but it is still WAY too cold for me!
I have spoken with Federico almost every day, and he has been on my mind constantly. I miss him fiercely! On Christmas Eve, his family was supposed to fly into Palm Springs at 8:30 p.m.. He had a good week with my housesitter, Karla, and Luigi. Then he spent the weekend at the Exchange Program's coordinator's house in Palm Springs, ready to go with her to pick his family up at the airport.
My neighbor came over at 9:00 on Christmas Eve to fill the stockings, light all the trees and fireplace, and take out Italian wedding soup and rolls for a late dinner. I spoke to a sad and forlorn Federico that evening who told me his parents were held up in NYC for the night, and would be arriving on Christmas Day to LAX (while their luggage went to PSP) My poor baby was not with family on Christmas Eve! It broke my heart that he had to wait another day! By then it was well after midnight California time, so I called another neighbor, who is up late, to go to my house and turn everything OFF!
They arrived safely on Christmas Day, rented a car, drove to the desert, his mom followed in Brad's car to return the rental and get their bags. FINALLY! Federico had everything ready for their 20 hour-late-arrival, and they enjoyed the lasagna I left for their Christmas dinner. He sounded very happy, and so I was thrilled! I finally slept peacefully, knowing Federico was enjoying his family, and their long journey was over! Here they are in my dining room! From left to right: 19 y.o. Luca, Lea, Federico and 6 y.o. Lelio!
We look forward to seeing them all on December 30 at LAX!
We were so blessed to spend a total of 9 days with Federico's family (3 in Pescara, and 6 in LA, Palm Desert and Las Vegas). He has kind, fun, and very loving parents, Massimo and Lea, and two amazing brothers we also came to love; Luca, 19, and Lelio who looks like a mini-Federico at 6. You can see where Federico got both his great manners and values as well as his good looks! Here are some highlights of their trip to Palm Desert, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas:
You've seen LOTS of photos of Federico's parents and brothers. It was such a pleasure to spent time with them over the holidays. I wasn't sure what our role would be, and wanted to give Federico plenty of time and space to enjoy his family's visit. As always, they are completely generous in sharing their wonderful son with us, and including us in everything. It felt like one big, happy Italian family! Lea speaks about as much English as I speak Italian, so we were able to communicate pretty well, and do some "Mom bonding".
Brad and Massimo need more translation help, but both promised to improve their second language skills before the next time we meet!
I gave Lea one of my favorite children's books as a stocking stuffer: I Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw. We both cried when I read her (and her three boys) the story.
Federico is well-loved by ALL his parents!
Here are a couple more of my favorite recent "Mom photos":
Once we make it through January (my LEAST favorite month), we have LOTS of exciting plans for Federico's next few months with us.
February: SLOW BOWL weekend! (Includes a stop in Santa Barbara and a visit to Hearst Castle)
In March Federico and I will be spending his spring break at my condo in MAUI!
And in April, we will all have a long weekend in NYC for my cousin's wedding!
Now, if I could just win the lottery to pay for it all!
Federico has been in finals this week, so I made him some of his favorite cream cheese marbled brownies. Brad isn't used to sharing desserts, so he got ONE taste, and Federico declared them "MY brownies"! They were gone in 3 days!
Use your favorite brownie recipe, or a brownie mix and bake HALF the batter for 10 minutes at 375 in a sprayed 7x11 pan.
Cream cheese filling: 8 oz softened cream cheese, 1/3 c. sugar, 1 egg, 1 t. vanilla. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and beat until combined. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Pour over partially baked brownies. Top with spoonfuls of remaining brownie batter, then swirl with a knife, carefully avoiding bottom brownie layer. Continue baking for 30 minutes.
Friday was the first time we let Federico go on an overnight trip out of town without us!
He studied hard all week, doing well on his finals, and had a minimum day on Friday. Friday afternoon he left with two friends to stay at their married brother's home before a day of surfing in Encinitas, CA. He checked in when he was supposed to and texted an "everything is all right, Goodnight, Mom" Friday night. Saturday, they spent a rainy and foggy morning on the beach learning to surf, and he was home by 5:00. He had a great time!
Federico's soccer season has come to an end. No more soccer practice after school.
Here is his coach at the awards dinner last weekend.
Federico gets his varsity letter, award certificate and pin:
Federico and his friend, Richie, the team captain:
After ONE week off, SWIMMIMG practice has started!
Federico and I had a very fun shopping experience on Sunday afternoon. He bought his first suit. We headed off to the Cabizon Outlets late in the day, after pricing tux rentals for the prom, we decided to buy a black suit that he can wear on other occasions. He will be stunning at our NYC wedding. We got a fabulous deal. Here is "Mr. Calvin Klein" (with the tags on) modeling for Brad:
The boy LOVES to pose!
We now have to do something about the Nike's on his feet!
It's been pretty busy around here! Federico has been spending as much time as he can with his friends, during his last few days of school. He has one more final, then a Senior Beach trip on Tuesday, Senior Breakfast on Wednesday, and GRADUATION Thursday, followed by 6 Flags Magic Mountain Grad Night!
Here is Federico with his good friends Seth and Dakota. Congratulations to Seth on Student of the Year!
On Sunday, we had a pre-Graduation family brunch at The 3rd Corner Wine Bar and Bistro. We enjoyed pork belly Benedict, rosemary potatoes, fruit, blueberry mini-muffins and bottomless mimosas.
After we ate, Federico got his early Graduation gift of an unlocked i-Phone 5 (that he can use in Italy.
He was really SHOCKED when he opened his gift (It was in the BIG bag). He was VERY excited! The small bag was a photo i-Phone case from Shutterfly. He is very ready to replace his little flip phone!
After getting an Apple ID, and a quick stop at the AT&T store to switch service to Federico's new phone, I came home and made a few cookies...
More on those tomorrow!
We had 8 teens and 8 parents over for a Pasta Party, "Ciao For Now" dinner for Federico. There was lots of fun, group participation, a poker game, and plenty of great food for all.
After dinner we all watched the "Federico's Year in Palm Desert" DVD.
Last Friday, I was at a professional Law and Ethics conference. I sat next to a wonderful friend and colleague I hadn't seen for a long time. I love this woman, who is two decades older and wiser than I am, still does therapy two days a week, and is beautiful and gracious. We were both there early before the presentation began. She asked me what I had been up to this year, so of course I told her all about Federico, and showed her photos on my i-Phone.
At our mid-morning break, she asked to see my phone and look at the photos again. I made a comment about becoming a mom at 60, and said, "Better LATE than NEVER."
She looked at me and said, "God is never late. He does things when it is exactly the right time!"
Thank you, Rena! So much wisdom in those words!
Federico called me from Rome, saying, "It is so weird. Everyone is speaking Italian!"
He is safe and re-entering his world of family, friends and school. We are at peace. Thanks for all the support!
Because of you, I am a better person.
Because of you, I wake up with a smile on my face.
Because of you, I have learned so much.
Because of you, the empty place in me has been filled.
Because of you, I just bought flights to Italy in October.
Because of you, this is no longer my song.
One year ago today, an angel stepped off a plane at Palm Springs Airport and changed our lives forever!
Federico has been great about keeping in touch with us since his return to Italy on June 11. He Skypes us once a week, usually on Sunday. Between Sundays, there is Facebook and a free text app on our i-Phones.
It has been the BEST year of my life by far! We will see him in 68 days, but who is counting?
It was very difficult for us when Federico left us on June 11. The house was quiet, empty of teenagers, (although a few of his friends stopped by for a visit), and we missed him every day. Though the weather was hot, our "sunshine" gone. I am happy to say, he has done an amazing job keeping in close contact with us. He Skypes us every Sunday, and we often chat on FB or by text. Finding a message when I get up at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. makes my whole day, and Sunday is my favorite time of the week.
Federico is doing well. He had a fun summer in Italy, with daily time at the beach, hanging out with his friends, visiting grandparents in Puglia, a beach week in Gallipoli, and having his brother, Luca home for the month of August. He also had lots of studying to do, both for a TOEFL English exam last week, and for his re-entry into his Greek and Latin classes he missed last year.
We will see Federico in 34 days!!! (Who is counting???) We fly into Bologna, where he will join Brad and I for a weekend before we drive him back to Pescara and spend a week with his wonderful family, Lea, Massimo, Lelio, and his grandparents Luciana and Lelio. We can't wait! I miss my wonderful son SO much!
Martina and Luigi will be in Palm Desert with my friend, Karla, while we are away, getting ready for Halloween!
Saturday was Federico Day! After he got out of school in Pescara, he took a train that arrived in Bologna a little after 5:00. We met him at the train station, where he brought me some beautiful flowers and a card. There were big hugs and kisses and teary eyes! We went directly to Piazza Maggiore, showing him the towers, Neptune statue, and settling in for drinks and muchies at Zanarini. How fun to drink with our son after his year of abstinence in the U.S.! Though he Skypes us each week, it was still amazing to be in ITALY with Federico in person!
We dropped off the flowers and Federico's stuff at our hotel, and introduced him to all our "friends in the neighborhood". Later, we had a fabulous dinner at Biagi: tagliatelle with Bolognese for Brad and Federico, while I had the green taglitelle with prosciutto, and cotoletta Bolognese (topped with prosciutto and parmigiano sauce for our secondi. (Too busy talking and eating to even think of food photos)
After dinner, we continued the catching up, the talking and laughing with much more wine into the wee hours. It was the BEST day!
One of my favorite evenings of our whole trip was Wednesday night, when I made dinner for Federico and some of his friends. I had Nonna's kitchen all to myself, and my Sous chef Brad to help. It was a school night, and they have TONS of studying to do each day, but we had a nice turnout! What a great group of Italian young people. They all spoke a little English, and were SO friendly, polite, appreciative and FUN!
Let's start with the food! We had some simple antipasti, then TWO huge pans of my Mac and Cheese (4 lbs of cheddar I brought and 4 lbs. of pasta), fennel-orange salad, Caprese salad, Fede's favorite Cream cheese Brownies, and some wonderful pastries and an apple tart brought by some of the very thoughtful students.
Conversation was lively, in two languages, and the kids were very open, curious, and engaged. It was a delightful evening for us to get to know Federico's charming friends.
We returned to Pescara on Friday night, and went out for pizza with Luciana, Lelio, and Federico.
He studied until late at night. It is so weird to me that he has school on SATURDAY!
Did you know Federico has a horse?
The back yard is beautiful.
Down a flight of steps, is lots more land for the hunting dogs, horse, goat, and Lelio's pony!
On a Friday morning, Brad and I walked around the wonderful shopping streets of downtown Pescara, where I bought a gorgeous sweater. We stopped by Federico's school just at dismissal time, so I was able to get a tour!
While the outside of the school is very impressive, the inside shows signs of its age, wear and tear. The classrooms are very simple. Quite a difference from what Federico experienced in the state -of-the-art technology and design of Palm Desert High School he attended last year. No pool, tennis courts, sports fields or football stadium either.
One nice surprise, was that I was able to meet Federico's favorite teacher, Professoressa Berghella. I heard so much about her last year, it was fun to meet her in person.
It has been the strangest Christmas of my life in many ways, but the BEST part makes up for all the rest. My favorite gift is the incredibly beautiful and heartfelt letter I received from my son. I cried happy tears of joy, reading his sweet and loving words, as well as those of his family. Christmas is about love, and we are very well-loved!
Federico and his family are celebrating this week on the beach in Madagascar! Then he will spend a few days skiing with friends in Abruzzo. Enjoy, Sunshine!
Fede's vacation in Madagascar was enjoyed by the whole family! Here are some of the highlights from Federico's week at the beach and in the jungle!
And my favorite:
Here are a couple more photos of Federico's vacation. Sunny skies and warm water are a happy thought during January! He and Luca are looking good with that barracuda!
I miss him SO much, it HURTS! I haven't seen Federico since October. I speak with him weekly on Skype, and sometimes text or Facebook in-between, but it is not the same as seeing his smiling face in person!
Last weekend, Federico got a quick 24 hr. break from studying for his finals (all of June), to go to Bergamo, where his brother, Luca attends the Academy for the Guardian of Finance officers. It was their annual big dance, and the whole family attended the event.
Federico, Luca and Lelio looked quite handsome on their way to the ball:
Luca looks dashing in his uniform, and Lelio is a doll, but Federico, in our eyes, is the "fairest of them all."
The whole family is pretty stunning, don't you think?
I will get to see Federico in 29 days!!!
On August 4, 2012, an excited, determined boy with an generous smile arrived at the Palm Springs airport to meet his host parents for a high school exchange program. A "seasoned", childless couple eagerly met him for the first time, with an enormous "Benevenuto banner", and brought him home. It was a happy day, but little did any of us know the relationship that would develop and grow. I was over-the moon excited, but I had no idea how Federico would completely steal my heart.
My life changed in so many ways because of Federico. I love my son FIERCELY, as only a mother can. Even with 6, 311 miles between us, he is in my thoughts every hour of the day, in my sweet dreams at night, and constantly in my prayers for his safety and happiness. He is as important to me as the oxygen I breathe, and while I can humbly say I have done many things well in my life, what I do best is love Federico! It brings me more joy, hope, peace and clarity than anything I've ever done.
That bright-eyed boy is now a confident young man that we are very proud of. He is currently taking the next steps in pursuing his dreams. My early fears about fading from his life are gone, and our bond is stronger than ever.
Saluti a due anni con il mio bel figlio!
The morning our group members left was quite busy! Shannon left with Senorina and Jose at 6:30 (EARLY breakfast duty) for the airport, while Brad and I got the rest of the group breakfast. I was over-the-moon excited, because Federico, his mom, Lea, and his two best friends from Palm Desert were arriving! I hadn't seen Fede since last October! It had been 271 days since I'd seen my son!!! WAY TOO LONG!
Federico texted that their train would arrive in Venice in 30-40 minutes. As we were across town from the train station, I RAN to the vaparetto stop, and got there in record time. Shannon got the next vaparetto to the train station with 4 more of our guests who were heading to Verona for a few days, and Brad got Elizabeth checked-in and settled in her hotel near San Marco.
OMG was I happy to see Federico!
It was wonderful to see Lea, Seth and Dakota as well!
We rode the vaparetto back to Santo Spirito, and dropped off everyone's bags. The apartment was getting cleaned and new towels and linens were waiting for us. Brad was also excited to see everyone. We opened some gifts, and headed to Campo Santa Margherita for a lunch of tramezzini, and then a gelato stop.
We did a "nickle tour" of San Marco and sights, the bell tower, and a beautiful cafe break. We returned home to get ready for dinner at La Cantina.
Shannon and Nan joined us for a huge dinner: a platter of antipasti, a platter of seafood, and one of grilled meat and veggies. The wine was flowing, and I was SO happy to hang out with Federico for a long wonderful evening and a great meal.
When I planned the five extra days in Venice after our group, the whole purpose was to treat Federico to a few days in Venice (his first time there) for his birthday. Deposits were paid on the apartment, and flights were booked. In the original plan, Federico and his family would come to Venice by train with his mom, whoever she wanted to bring, and Federico's friend from Palm Desert would visit him in Pescara for a few days, then come to Venice too. All plans got changed, when Federico's very important commitment for his future got moved up three days, which cut into his Venice time. I was very disappointed, but nothing could be done. They couldn't come early, because our group tour was going on, and our guests were still in the apartment. Lst spring, a second of Federico's friends decided to go at the same time, so Lea came with the three boys. I still had one birthday surprise planned, that Federico didn't know about...a rowing lesson with our friend, Nan.
I told the boys the night before, that we were having a "birthday party" at 9 a.m., and that breakfast was at 8:00. We walked to the marina, and Federico had no idea what the plan was. (I had sunscreen in my purse to slather on all three boys.)
Nan rowed up in a boat from Row Venice. They had met Nan the night before at dinner, but didn't know she was an expert at Venetian voga, and they would have a 90 minute private lesson! Soon, three shirtless young men (a first for Nan) climbed into the boat with their GoPro cameras, and learned the basics.
They each gave it a try and off they went!
After only three hours of sleep for Federico and I, we were up and dressed and off to coffee at the closest cafe with Brad. He had promised us some "alone time" before heading back to Pescara in the afternoon. Everyone else was asleep, and didn't miss us at the apartment. I think I "perked" after my second latte macchiato, and it was so nice to catch up with Fede about everything in his life.
Lea treated us to lunch at Taverna San Trovaso with Seth and Dakota. Later after tears and hugs, Federico and his mom headed to the train station for their trip back to Pescara. It was a fun, but WAY TOO SHORT visit!
I am SO excited. Federico is arriving WEDNESDAY!
Federico arrived at LAX on September 17. I left work at noon, and got there just as he walked out of the International terminal with his bag. What a wonderful day to have my son back in California! We drove back to the desert, catching up on everything since I had seen him in Venice in July. As we approached, he recognized landmarks, the windmills, outlet mall, and soon exits and street names came flooding back. He was very happy to see the front gate, and our house, just as he had left it, in June 2013!
Brad was working in LA, and had an afternoon meeting he couldn't ditch, so he couldn't be there for our first night. I had made a big pan of Fede's favorite, "Mom's Mac & Cheese", and a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. Fede had been up for almost 36 hours, as he left Pescara in the middle of the night to take a bus to FCO for a 6:30 a.m. flight from Rome. He happily settled in his room, and tried to take a short nap. His closest friends had other ideas, and began texting him and me. "Are you back from the airport? Can we come over and see him?" they asked. I suggested they come for dinner at 8:30. Dakota, Seth and Casey arrived to see him and have dinner with us. He was still pretty sleepy, but made it through dinner and I sent everyone home a little after 10. I had big plans for the next day!
I told Federico that the next morning we were leaving for the airport at 8:30 for a "weekend adventure", and made some packing suggestions (clothes for cooler temps), but he didn't know where he and I were headed for 4 days until we got close to the Ontario, CA airport. We were off to Carmel/Monterey.
That day didn't exactly go as planned. Our flight left at 11:00. We boarded, and sat while they fixed a wing-flap. But they couldn't fix the wing-flap without ordering a part, and there was no other plane, so we sat at the terminal. Luckily, the first 50 boarding cards made it onto the 1:40 flight, but we lost a few hours of time. We landed in San Jose, picked up a rental car and drove to Monterey. The weather was perfect! It was 70 degrees and sunny. Before arriving at my friends' Lynn and Gary's home, we drove through Monterey, Cannery Row, along the beach at Pacific Grove and Asilomar, and finally to Carmel, where our friends left us a key, as they had a dinner to attend.
We settled in, freshened up, and had a simple dinner at Taste in Pacific Grove. Federico wanted a big juicy burger and fries! We returned home and chatted with Lynn and Gary on their beautiful deck.
The next morning, I had another surpise planned. After breakfast, we headed to the mountains a few miles outside of Santa Cruz for a Redwood Canopy Zipline Tour.
Fede, in a group of 8, got into their equipment and attended "Ground School" before heading out on the course of 6 ziplines on their two-hour tour. I watched the beginning, then settled in at the office to do some paperwork and return phone calls for work.
After the tour, (he loved it...even the scary parts) we swung through a driving tour of Santa Cruz, and I showed Federico the beach, boardwalk, roller coaster and a few places from my childhood visits before heading back to Carmel. We had a snack and walked around Carmel before relaxing at Lynn and Gary's before dinner.
That evening we had a wonderful meal with Lynn, Gary, and their nephew, Hunter, at Cantinetta Luca in Carmel. I was SO happy and proud to be with my son in one of my favorite places!
On Saturday, we began our day with breakfast at EmLe's for their obscene "World Famous French Toast". I don't know where Fede put it, but he got through a whole order, while I couldn't finish half of my half-order. It was delicious and decadent with the warm cinnamon sauce.
We headed to the Monterey Aquarium, and beat the crowds. I hadn't been in a while, and Federico and I enjoyed the sharks, jellyfish, otters, and penguins.
We headed back down the coastline for a walk on Carmel beach.
On to the 17-Mile Drive! Federico said he LOVED this! Amazing scenery, and a stop at Spanish Bay and Pebble Beach Lodge for a beverage.
We went back to Carmel to relax before dinner at the Rio Grill. Fede and I shared stuffed potato skins with salsa and guacamole, and had spicy chili-braised shortribs with jalapeno-cheddar mashed potatoes and Mexican street corn. Afterwards, we sat out on the deck to chat with our gracious hosts until bed.
On Sunday, we had a leisurely breakfast before heading back to the San Jose airport. We made a quick stop at the Abecrombie Outlet in Gilroy so Fede could pick up some of his cologne. (Mom thought of everything!)
This special time I had with Federico nourished my soul. We talked and talked about everything! We enjoyed the moments, and also reminisced about his year in Palm Desert, and his exciting plans for the near future (more on that very soon!). It was a perfect Mom-Son getaway weekend!
Federico had a fun week when we returned from Carmel. Sunday afternoon, Brad was anxiously waiting for us when we got home from the airport. Later that evening, we went to Fleming's Steak House to celebrate our 14th anniversary with our son.
I worked Monday-Thursday, but since Federico can now drive, he would drop me off, and take my Fiat until it was time to pick me up from work. He visited friends, hit some golf balls, went to the mall, went for a swim, and even visited his old teachers at Palm Desert High School. He spent a day with his buddies at Seth's beach house in Carlsbad, and his friends were in and out of the house. Luigi was so happy to have him home. He would sit outside the door to Fede's room and wait for him to get up or come out. It was like old times for me, except he is older, more mature, and those old high school exchange student rule days are gone. I can treat him as an adult. I loved cooking some of his favorite foods: sausage pasta, cutlets with asparagus and big baked potatoes!
One thing that WAS the same, was baking for Fede. In a week, he went through 2 batches of chocolate chip cookies, a double batch of brownies, and 10 dozen of his favorite vanilla sable cookies!
While Fede was out and about with friends much of the time, he hung out with me as much as possible, during dinner, or late at night before bed. Those moments of Mom time are SO precious!
Since Federico left Palm Desert in June, 2013, he has had quite a lot of studying to do. When he arrived home to Pescara that June, he immediately had to study for tests to see if he could pass all the classes he had missed in his 4th year of high school in Italy. He had written and oral exams, defending the classes he took here and their curriculum. He also had to pass his hardest Latin and Greek classes (he had Latin here, but it was too easy, and no Greek), and what his classmates had learned while he was in California.
Then he began his difficult 5th year of high school, 6 days a week, with MANY more written and oral exams each week, and hours of studying each night. While his American friends were starting college in California, he was studying every day, and getting only Saturday evenings off after school. Sundays were spent studying for Monday's tests. It is hard for an American student with games, dances, and fun social activities to even imagine the routine of a conscientious Italian student. Federico already felt "a year behind" his American friends beginning their futures.
The BIG decision was what to do after high school? Where and what to study? What do I want to do next in my life? Those BIG questions were constantly on Fede's mind.
His application process actually began in February. He applied to the Academia della Guardia di Finanza, a military academy in Bergamo. This elite school trains young officers for the Italian Guardia di Finanza, or Guardian of Finance, an law enforcement agency, whose closest American equivalent might be the FBI. They are responsible for dealing with financial crime and smuggling, and it has also evolved into Italy's primary agency for suppressing the drugs trade. Its activities are connected with financial, economic, judiciary and public safety: tax evasion, financial crimes, smuggling, money laundering, international illegal drug trafficking, illegal immigration, customs and borders checks, copyright violations, anti-Mafia operations, credit card fraud, cybercrime, counterfeiting, terrorist financing, maintaining public order, and safety, political and military defense of the Italian borders.
The first step in the process involved Federico (along with 10,000 other students) taking written exams near Rome. They kept the top 2,000 applicants.
In March, he travelled to Bari to take a 6 hour essay exam. They kept the top 237 students, and he made the cut.
In May, he went back to Rome for 5 days of physical endurance tests, medical exams, and psychological testing. They were down to 180 applicants.
In July, (which cut our planned time in Venice in half), he went to 2 weeks of "Boot Camp" in Bergamo. They were woken up early to run, march, pass inspections, and learn the routine. Classes, marching, following orders, lots of being yelled at, discipline, and running laps for infractions like laughing, or not immediately jumping out of bed were the routine! There were 130 survivors.
On September 2, it was Federico's turn for strenuous individual oral exams in several subjects. They chose the top scores and took the top 57 candidates. FEDERICO is IN, and starts on October 8!
We are SO proud of his stamina, determination, courage, and intellect. He had long talks with Brad (who attended the Air Force Academy), about life in an academy setting.
The road ahead will be challenging and long. In 5 years he will have a law degree, then 7 years of service to the Guardia di Finanza. After three years, he will move from Bergamo to Ostia to complete his training. He will begin getting a salary the first year, which will increase annually. In two years, he will be a commissioned officer, with more privileges (like a weekend off a month).
It all begins for real on Wednesday, October 8! Good luck, Federico. We are with you all the way on this new adventure.
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