Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Traditions

One of the things I am looking forward to the most about Christmas tomorrow is our traditional picnic breakfast on Christmas morning. For the past five or so years, my siblings and I have gotten up early to make breakfast for the family. We do the cooking in the upstairs bathroom, and then we eat it on the floor in the room where Carolyn and I used to live. We chose the bathroom so that we could avoid mistakenly glimpsing the tree and presents before our parents were awake on our way to the kitchen downstairs. Usually the tradition involves sneaking the food, electric griddle, dishes, and silverware upstairs on Christmas Eve, and we always have fun trying to figure out how to keep the perishables cold. Last year, I hung a jug of milk out of Tommy’s bedroom window. On Christmas morning the biggest challenge is to keep the Midas puppy quiet while we cook. David insists that breakfast cooked in the bathroom is a little bit disgusting, but the rest of us fight passionately to keep the tradition alive. We will miss James, our expert omelet chef, this year, but I am eager to introduce Matthew to Christmas Picnic Breakfast. My stomach is growling at the thought of it!

Hooray for Christmas and time off from work! It is my first Christmas with my sweetheart, and I am delighted that we will get to spend it hanging out with my family, hanging out with his family, and listening to books on tape for 20 hours in the car.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crosby Update: Episode 1, Or, the Horse, the Hunts, the Heater, The Host.

Matt and I just had our three-month anniversary (our third lunaversary, I guess), and I thought I’d celebrate by writing about some of the adventures we’ve had together since then. We’ll call this episode one of the Crosby Update. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of everything we’ve done together. It is however, most of the things I could think of that begin with the letter ‘H.’

The Horse: Matthew and I spent part of our honeymoon at a guest ranch in the mountains of Arizona where he used to work as a horse wrangler. We had a lovely time there, and of course, we spent some time riding horses. The last day we were there, as a favor to the ranch managers, Matt volunteered the two of us to go out on horseback and round up the rest of the horses from pasture. I decided to ride Ocho, a horse I felt relatively comfortable riding, and we set off. He did a fairly good job for me up until the point where Matthew and I had all the horses rounded up against the gate leading out of the pasture, about a mile from the ranch. It was at that point that Ocho (I am grumbling and shaking my fist as I type his name) started being an idiot. He wanted to run with the horses, and he kept rearing up when I tried to rein him in. Finally, he just bolted through the gate and began running through the trees. (Matthew had turned for a minute to attend to some stubborn horses). The thoughts I had were these: This doesn’t seem safe. I can probably either 1) get clotheslined by one of these branches speeding by, 2) be thrown from this horse, or 3) fall off. I opted for falling off, partly because I was losing my grip anyhow. Unfortunately, as I leaned to the side in preparation to slide off, the darned horse rammed me into the trunk of a tree. What happened next? I fell to the ground, closed my eyes until the sound of hooves around me stopped, writhed around for a bit, and screamed for Matthew. The end of the story is this: Matthew came over, accidentally lost his horse, used his EMT skills to check me out, and called on Heaven for me. Then he carried me down the hill to the road, where a vacationing couple were providentially passing by. They, mercifully, had a cold ice pack and a roomy vehicle, and they took us back to the ranch. In the end, I was in a lot of pain, but still felt blissful to be married to such a guy as Matthew. I spent that evening at our open house greeting guests from the comfort of an armchair, and Matthew spent the next few weeks proving his love for me by picking me up out of bed when I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, lifting me into and out of the car, etc. Matthew and I wonder: Will Ocho’s name be changed to Nueve now?

THE HUNTS refer to the hunt for extremely good deals on secondhand furniture on the internet and for perfect Christmas trees in the forests of Wyoming. The results were a set of kitchen chairs for $20, a beautiful whitewashed nine-drawer dresser for $65, and this tree, which cost only $10 and a close encounter with a motor home on black ice.

The Heater: We live in a cozy little apartment that we love, and one of the great blessings we’ve enjoyed is that we managed to get a deal with free utilities. The heater does a great job of keeping us warm. In fact, we always make sure to turn the thermostat all the way down before we go to sleep at night, so we don’t get too hot. One night, Matt remembered to turn it off just as we were dozing off for the night. He hopped up and took care of it, not bothering to turn on any lights, and we were out before another minute had passed. The next thing I knew, Matthew was kneeling at my side, nudging me awake, and I was terribly thirsty… and hot. Matthew had in fact turned the dial on the thermostat all the way, but in the wrong direction, so that our house was now 90 degrees. Matt had woken up and discovered the situation, then come back in to wake me up before he opened the door to our house, thus saving me from being startled awake by the sound only to discover my husband was missing. We had a great time cooling the house down and getting drinks of water before we went back to sleep.

THE HOST: One of our favorite things to do together is read, and The Host is the most recent book we’ve finished. Some others of the books we’ve experienced together include The Princess Bride, a couple of The Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Pan, and The Partner. Next up: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Three Months

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gifts to Be Gratefully Acknowledged

At Church last week, my Sunday School teacher read a remarkable quotation from Abraham Lincoln about Thanksgiving. It got me wondering about the history of the holiday. Here’s what I found:

On Sept 28, 1863, a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale wrote a letter to President Lincoln urging him to revive and unify Thanksgiving celebrations by making it a nationally recognized holiday to be celebrated on a fixed day throughout the country. Less than a week after Hale’s letter was written, President Lincoln made a proclamation that established Thanksgiving as a national observance. It was exactly three months after the Battle of Gettysburg. With the country in the midst of war, the President listed blessings the country enjoyed. Then he called for gratitude, acknowledgement of past mistakes and sins, and remembrance of God and the unfortunate. Pretty amazing:

“In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, … peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict…

“No human counsel hath devised … these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that … they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation…”

Amen, Brother Lincoln.

You can read the entire proclamation here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Viva Venezia

Since today is the day of rest and I will not be spending any time on my thesis (Hallelujah! - I'm always most thankful for the Sabbath at times of intense academic pressure), I thought I'd seize the opportunity to catch up on chronicling my time in Italy.

Venice. It's hard to describe Venice. Yes, it's completely crowded with tourists. No, there's not a whole lot to it besides the novelty of roads made of water and the get-your-ticket-stamped Piazza di San Marco. But still, Venice is magic. There's nothing like walking out of the train station and getting your first view bustling Grand Canal. And the side roads (really, canals and sidewalks) are completely charming. Even the hundreds of tourist shops are hard to resist - it's really fun to admire the blown glass and porcelain carnival masks. It has a really unique appeal.

It's weird to imagine people living their lives here, but they do. And I didn't realize it, but Venice is an island in the middle of a lagoon, and the city is sinking. Some of the houses have front steps that end in water, and it made me wonder if there were more steps submerged.
It's kind of otherworldly. You'll have to look close, but you can see in the picture below a couple of gondoliers in their cute little striped shirts and straw hats. Heidi and I did not take a ride - it's pretty pricey and neither of us had a sweetheart with us, but it was fun to see the gondolas.

Another thing that's magical about Venice is walking into St. Mark's square. The first view of the basilica is breathtaking. The photo doesn't do it justice. And I have to admit, although I think the pigeons are slightly disgusting, and I would never entice them to sit on me for a photo op like so many people in the square do, it wouldn't be the same without them. They're sort of lovable in all their diseasey grossness. Again, the picture doesn't do the building justice. It's amazing.

I actually visited St Mark's Basilica twice that day. It's an interesting experience because they try to maintain a respectful, even reverent atmosphere by asking the hundreds of tourists not to talk while they're inside and requiring all the women to cover their shoulders. But it was strange to see all of these Gentiles walking through, gawking, while at the same time on the other side of the ropes set up to guide traffic, groups of people were worshiping at mass. It also felt strange to me that there were various stairways and wings of the building you could go into - each with a separate admission price. Still, it was magnificent. Touring Venice is not easy on the neck because there is so much to look at above you. Here's a little prohibited photograph Heidi and I snapped inside the Basilica. We thought maybe it would be okay because it's not in the main part, but we were sternly told "No photo!" The artwork on the ceiling here depicts the story of Joseph in Egypt. It was cool. Heidi and I also went to the Doge's Palace, which is an eyeful. I think it was my favorite thing in Venice. It was just so opulent - ridiculously so. For hundreds of years it was the place where all of the government and political affairs were taken care of, and it's set up so that people whose business brought them there - like foreign officials - were led through increasingly extravagant and impressive rooms. It kind of makes you feel puny. One of my favorite rooms had maps covering the walls and the most enormous globes I've ever seen in the center of the room. Dad, I was wishing you could see it. One of the globes was the world, and the other was the zodiac.
Another of my favorite rooms was a beautiful, and again, enormous, ballroom (used for grand council meetings far more often than balls, I think). Pictures weren't allowed inside the palace, but they did let us point and shoot out the windows, so here's a view from the window of the ballroom looking across the courtyard.

Other points of interest at the Doge's Palace were 1) a museum of medieval weaponry and 2) the prison, which is attached to the palace by the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs). It was pretty creepy in there. Anyhow, Heidi and I were thoroughly fascinated and delighted with the Doge's Palace, as you can see. If you're ever in Venice, don't miss it.

Other highlights of the trip were shopping for glass beads, being the victim of a hit and run by a pigeon, having gelato (twice) for dinner, and visiting another museum which featured Egyptian mummies, cool boat stuff, really old coins (we're talking over 2,000 years old), and a colossal foot (I don't know where the rest of him is).

A note on travel: We ran out of gas on the way to the bus stop that morning. With the strength of Hercules, Aunt Aleta pushed while I tried to steer the car off of the narrow and busy street, but not into a ditch. It was reminiscent of the time I almost killed Blaine on accident. After that it was smooth sailing. Heidi and I enjoyed the bus ride to the Vicenza train station, which was a lot like that bus ride in Harry Potter where the bus shrinks to fit between some trucks.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Word Vomit

Not a pretty image, is it? Well, writing a thesis is not a pretty job. I've never passed a kidney stone, but I suspect this might be comparable. Actually, I'm sort of glad it's so hard. Getting a master's degree wouldn't feel like as much of an accomplishment otherwise. I really do like hard work. Now all I need to do is give birth to and raise children sometime in my life, and I'll be able to stand next to all the farmers of the world without shame.

I am very relieved to report, however, that a portion of this hard work is now behind me. I finished chapter two today!

Porque él sabe

Okay, I think this phrase means because he knows. (Thanks, Matthew!) Who is this he? James. And what does he know? The location of his missionary service for the next two years. Are you ready to know too? Drumroll, please . . . JamesE will be serving his mission in the Spanish-speaking land of El Salvador!

Congratulations, James! I'm so excited for you! (But I'm glad we get to keep you around until September)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Lots of Italian cities are a mix of the ancient and the modern. But visiting Verona, more than any of the other cities, is like taking a stroll though multiple centuries in succession. We visited Ancient Roman ruins, a thirteenth century castle, and a sixteenth/seventeenth century garden. And along the streets, interspersed with shops and boutiques, the likes of which you might see in New York or Chicago, were the centuries-old homes of Romeo and Juliet.

One of the first sites we stopped at was the Teatro Romano, where an early Christian monastery had been built on an around some ancient Roman ruins. The monastery now houses a museum full of Roman and Etruscan artifacts found in Verona and the surrounding areas from the first century BC through the seventh AD.

Next stop was my number one must-see for Verona: the Giusti Gardens. It was marvelous. This garden was designed to gently lead visitors on a seemingly random path that gradually leads higher and higher, to increasingly impressive views of the city, lending a sense of authority and influence to the family who lived in the villa you see in the background.
The path is sort of hidden so you can't see where it's going, and there are little alcoves and grottoes built into the landscape here and there. It's pretty cool. The stone dragon face you see looming over the stairway in the picture below used to spout fire from its mouth. These guys were all about wowing their guests.
There was also a labyrinth made of shrubbery in one part of the garden. Heidi and I decided to race to the center of the maze. Heidi won...
I came in second. One of the most delightful things about Verona is how everyone gets swept away with the idea of a Romeo and a Juliet having possibly lived there hundreds of years ago. As Heidi and I walked through the archway that leads from the modern shop-lined street into the courtyard of La Casa di Giulietta, we saw hundreds and hundreds of love messages (which apparently include "Bern + Aleta" a couple of times) graffiti-ed on the stone. Here's a view of the house with the famous balcony:

You can't tell from the picture, but there are mobs of people in the courtyard here, many of them waiting for their chance to have their picture taken next to a statue of Juliet. We managed to get a few snapped sans the many adolescent boys and girls surrounding it. As you can see from the highly polished areas, poor Juliet has been fondled to pieces. I think my favorite moment of the day was when a boy who looked about thirteen and sweet as can be took his turn next to the statue and hesitantly put his hand on Juliet's shoulder for about half a second before he decided he was too shy to do that and just clasped his hands in front of him for the picture.

Verona also boasts the final resting spot of Juliet. Here is the tomba di Giulietta:

So sad. Romeo's resting place is apparently somewhere else. Poor Juliet! (and poor Juliet's statue!) For the record, apparently Shakespeare based his play on a novel of sorts by a guy who reportedly used the Verona city chronicles as his source material.

Finally, we walked over to the colosseum on our way to the train station. Unfortunately, we couldn't go inside because there was a KISS concert happening there that night. That explained all the black t-shirts and funny face paint we had been seeing all day.

Two other adventures from the day deserve mention. The first was Heidi and I realizing that we had eaten our lunch of smooshed sandwiches not in a nice friendly park, but in the favorite spot of the Verona homeless. We realized this as a man who looked extremely drunk or otherwise impaired started following us and calling out unintelligible things (unintelligible both from the foreign language and from the slurred speech).

The second involves traveling home (getting from place to place in Italy seems always to be an adventure). We had been feeling pretty good about ourselves after successfully riding the bus and the train and navigating our way around town all day, but we had a little mishap in the train station on the way home. It involved mistakenly getting on a train that was shutting down for the night, nearly getting locked on it, getting off with the help of the conductor, running back down to look at the screen to see if we could still catch our train, and running like mad to the right platform just in time to see our train pulling away. Instead of waiting an hour and a half for the next regional train,
we hopped on a different train half an hour later that went where we needed to go, although it probably needed a different ticket because the fare was higher. Luckily we didn’t get kicked off. Whew!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad, and happy 29th birthday of the Hartvigsen family! Thanks for all you do - I love you!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lago di Garda

On mother's day, after attending church with the little English-speaking branch, Uncle Bern, Aunt Aleta, and I drove up to Lago di Garda, a lake in the Dolomite Mountains. One of the great things about traveling within Italy is the countryside is so beautiful. This part of Italy is full of cyprus and olive trees, vineyards, fields, hills, castles, and churches, and poppies that grow wild everywhere along the roads. The drive up to Lago di Garda had all of that, but it was unique because we drove through a canyon to get there, and the mountains seemed super tall on either side, and in the places where there weren't terraced vineyards and farms on the mountainsides, there was lots of spongy-looking green stuff. Here's one of the first views you get of the lake as you drive up (minus the girl who looks like she smells something funny).

Sometime around the fourteenth or fifteenth century, the Venetians decided they wanted control over the lake and the surrounding area (I don't remember who was in control before them), so they transported a fleet of boats up a river and over land. They finally entered from the valley you can see behind me.

The town we spent most of the afternoon in is down toward the southern end (we're on the northern end here, I think). It's called Malcesine (sounds like mal-cheh-see-neh).
Walking through the town is like walking into another century. It's so weird. As I was wandering around with Aunt Aleta, I probably said about 20 times, "this is weird. It's so cool. This town is so weird and cool." Have a look:

I'm not joking. This is how the whole village is. People live on streets that look like this, and there are shops on these streets. It's so weird! Surrounded by the town and right on the edge of the water is a Scaligeri Castle. It's a very old castle - in fact, there is an Etruscan tomb in one of the courtyards, but the Scaligeri family added some fortifications in the 14th century (this family had a lot of castles throughout the region - they were very powerful. You can tell it's a Scaligeri Castle by the unique shape of the battlements - it's supposed to be a swallow tail or something).

You can walk through the whole castle and there are gorgeous views from all over inside it. It's a very picturesque place.

The bell tower inside the castle was built higher and higher over the centuries, but somewhere along the way, there was a brilliant architect who provided this lovely picture window so that the tourists hundreds of years in the future could take a break from climbing the many flights of stairs and enjoy the scenery.
After we had thoroughly enjoyed the castle and town, we headed back to the north end of the lake, which is a bit more modern (Uncle Bern says on one of their previous trips to the lake they drove up a slot canyon and found several rustic, pastoral towns - the kind where sheep-herding is the main economic activity). This little area, on the other hand, has sort of a resort feel. There are some lake-side cafes in the picture behind me.
And this is unrelated, but facing the other way quirky little building. You may not be able to tell from the picture but the little house is right on a pier.

Anyhow, I think Lago di Garda is great. A+.
And before I finish, I know it's several days past Mother's Day, but I love you mom! I think you're A+ too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Marostica and Asiago

I'm a little behind in chronicling my adventures. All I can say is touring is hard work! It sounds silly, but I'm really wiped out by the time I get home each day. This post will cover Marostica and Asiago, two towns within an hour of where the Vetters live that we visited on Saturday. Before I jump into the story of the day's explorations, I should explain that in this part of Italy, there are castles with walled cities everywhere! Like Uncle Bern says, something made these people pretty anxious to defend themselves back in the 1200s and 1300s. Hilltop castles dot the countryside. Marostica is just one of these medieval fortress cities. Here are a couple of views of it as we drove into town (you'll have to look closely in the second picture to see the upper castle on the hill in the background):

Most or all of the wall remains, and today there are little cafes and residences and shops inside the city wall. One thing that's unique about Marostica is that on even years in September, there is a big festival in the courtyard that faces the lower castle that features people dressing up and acting out a chess game on a life-sized chess board. I don't know how far back in history the tradition goes - I get the feeling it's a fairly recent invention for the sake of the tourists - but the stones in the piazza do resemble a chessboard, and I guess the analogy of medieval combat is appropriate. So here is a photo of the lower castle and one of Aunt Aleta and me playing chess (I'm a pawn, and I think she's a rook) we gave up when we realized our team only had two people and our opponent had none. I guess that means we won?

Inside the lower castle there were some cool frescoes. One of the funnest (most fun?) things about visiting old castles and villas is trying to decipher the frescoes, or what's left of them. Usually, they're paintings of the crucifixion or of the evangelists or the Good Shepherd or Madonna and Child, and it's fun to use what I know of artistic conventions and early Christian symbols to figure out who and what the paintings are about. Also inside the lower castle was this mantlepiece statue. A winged lion is sort of the coat of arms for Venice, so it's common to see statues or paintings like this all over the Veneto district. I think the reason for the choice of the winged lion is that it is also the early Christian symbol for St. Mark, who is very important in Venice (St. Mark's Basilica is one of the main attractions there, and his body is supposedly buried there). Anyway, I thought this was a really cool sculpture. The expression on the lion's face is really neat.
The church behind me in the next picture is a few hundred yards directly below the upper castle. There are a lot of churches in Italy, too. In fact, there is another church just to the right of where this picture was taken. Both churches were really pretty inside.

This picture of Heidi, Maddy, and me was taken from the upper castle. The view up there was spectacular! This is a strategic place for a castle if you like enjoying beautiful scenery, and if you want to keep tabs on the peasants below and watch for enemies coming from the neighboring kingdom. Before we headed off to our next destination we paused for some gelato. This picture captures my first gelato experience, and it was a good one. I'm not sure what flavor it was because the name was in Italian, but it was some kind of white flavor with soft chunks of chocolate in it - yum! Heidi says that this gelato was nothing compared to what we'll get in other places (and admittedly, it didn't knock my socks off - Sweet Cream from Cold Stone ranks higher for me), but it was still pretty darn good.

Then we got on the road again and drove through a lovely and precarious mountain pass toward Asiago, of cheese fame (David, I was thinking of you, and wishing you could see the town). Aunt Aleta says that visiting Asiago is like visiting Austria, and the architecture and meadows did have an Alps-ish feel. We didn't spend a lot of time in the town, but we wandered up to the Church in time for Saturday evening mass, and we wanted to go in and see if there were any singers we could listen to. This stained glass window reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, and I really wanted a picture. Unfortunately, it was right above an altar and some kind of important relic, so as people were coming in for mass, they kept stopping here and crossing themselves, which made it very difficult to take the picture discreetly. My picture did not turn out, because I chickened out halfway through and pulled the camera away. Luckily, Heidi was able to snap this one, but not before she got some dirty looks from the locals. So now I'm sort of ashamed, but here's the picture anyway.
This is just a pretty little fountain just outside the church. It has lots of statues of woodland and mythical creatures decorating it. Picture the White Witch's castle in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where the witch showcases all the little Narnians she's turned into statues. The capstone piece is a satyr riding a stag, so if you look closely you should be able to count six hoofs, which I think is a bit excessive. The pic below the fountain is this cool triumphal-arch looking thing on the upper edge of town. We don't know what it is, but it was cool, so here it is.

For me, the best part about Asiago was the pretty meadows that make up the countryside outside the town. I caught these pictures by sticking the camera out the window as we were driving home. Ah, beautiful Italy!
I just have a few more things to say, if anyone out there is still reading. I think my favorite thing I saw today (maybe tied with the Alpine meadows) was a classic Italian scene on the way down from the upper castle at Marostica. It was just a typical pretty yellow Italian house with flowers spilling out of all the windows and an old married couple sitting on the front steps.
Two things I learned about Italians: 1) They know how to have a good time. In Marostica we passed by a couple of groups of people - one army reunion, and one wedding party - where the people were all just sitting at tables outside, singing and laughing together (and drinking a little too, I think). I get the feeling that they really like just getting together and enjoying each other. 2) They are crazy drivers. Well, they might not seem crazy if they were driving the exact same way in America, but the problem is that the roads here are so dang narrow and twisty. It does nothing for people who have a hard time managing stress.
One last thing: I'm grateful that I'm not lactose intolerant.