Archives for category: Kids

For my last blog post, I was planning to write about saying goodbye to Rome. But as I started it, I realized it was too hard and sad for me. You probably didn’t know this, but when I make my blog posts, I write them out on a piece of paper and then my parents type it on the computer when I am done. But when I started the blog post that I was going to call “Goodbye to Rome” I barely finished a page. I thought you would probably want to know about how I am feeling about moving back to Madison and saying goodbye to my friends and teachers. It was confusing to me because I had so many feelings about leaving Rome. I was also thinking about the cobble stone streets, the motor cycles, the small streets and sidewalks and all the cars. I have these pictures in my head about things I won’t be seeing every day. So instead, for my last blog post I decided to write a happy blog post.

At the beginning of the year, I thought it would be too hard to be friends with the kids who lived here in Rome. At first, I only played with other kids who came from countries that spoke English. But then I started to play with a few Italian kids at recess. And we all became close friends.

One of those Italian girls is named Costanza. She has a great smile and I knew that I wanted to be friends with her. At the end of the year, her family invited us to come to their summer house in Tuscany. Costanza’s family goes to their house there every summer, and Costanza’s mother went to the same place every summer of her life growing up.

We all really wanted to go, so we made a visit the week after school ended. Before I tell you about what we did at the visit, I will tell you all the people in Costanza’s family. First is her mother, Francesca, then her father Benedetto. She has two brothers, Jacopo and Ludovico, and a baby sister named Bianca. One reason that I am very glad that we made this trip was that I did not have to say goodbye to Costanza at the last day of school. She was a very good friend to me this year.

Costanza’s house is on the coast of Tuscany. The temperature there was lower than in Rome.

Here is what we did.

We arrived at Toscana. We went straight to the beach. We got caught in a traffic jam on our way there, so me and Eli didn’t have lunch because we went straight into the sea when we arrived. Except my Mom and Dad had lunch at a beach restaurant. We stayed at the beach to swim and play games until we were all exhausted. Then later that day, we went to an outdoor restaurant for pizza. While we were eating, a show started, so all the kids went to watch the show. It was like a comedy show for kids. We stayed up late watching. Then the people in the show started dancing and so all the audience started dancing with them.

We spent the next day at their pool, had lunch at a neighborhood farm, and then went back to their house. Then the kids had a big water fight with a hose. For dinner, Costanza’s mom served a lot of foods from Toscana that I really liked. For instance, white Tuscan beans, olives, and a local cheese from the farm that was amazing.

Did I mention that Francesca is a FANTASTIC cook? If you know me well, you know that I only like cakes that are chocolate. For Costanza’s birthday, her mom made a non-chocolate cake. I tried it and I liked it the same as chocolate cake!

The next day, we went to a town nearby called Orbetello. I got my favorite breakfast pastry I have had in my whole life. It was an apple struedel. Then we drove back to the beach, spent a few hours there, and said goodbye and drove back to Rome.

This trip was very special for me and I will never forget it. It was special because at the beginning of the year, I never thought I would make a good Italian friend here. And when Costanza’s family invited my whole family to their summer house, I realized that I had made a good Italian friend here.

– Nell

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Last week at dinner, I told my Dad something that I thought would surprise him– and it did. I told him that even after talking about it for so many years, I never really believed that we would actually go live in Rome. Even while we were getting on the airplane in Chicago, I still didn’t believe that we would actually be living in Rome. I thought probably the plane would crash land and we’d have to come back to Madison. So even though my parents talked about this for so long, I actually felt surprised when we arrived here.

I thought that I would never really be living here because when my parents first started talking about it, it seemed so long away. It felt unrealistic. I never started thinking that we were really going to live here until we actually arrived at our apartment on via del Babuino.

When I brought my suitcase into my bedroom, then I thought “well, this is my room.” I felt nervous. It felt kind of like a whole new life. I was worried that I wouldn’t understand things here and what school would be like. It was so strange that I didn’t even really think to myself about whether I would actually like it here or not. But I did think the year was going to be a fun experience even though I had no idea what it would be like.

At first I missed my friends and Michael’s Frozen Custard. In Madison, you just go see people by walking down the block to their house. But here, everyone was in apartments instead of houses and I couldn’t walk anywhere alone. It was okay though, just different. One of the first things I remember noticing was that a lot of adults here smoked cigarettes and that really bothered me to smell it everywhere. The two things that I was most excited about were pizza and soccer.

Now I can’t believe the year is over. I am really sad to leave Rome and wish we could stay here, but I hope that saying that is no offense to the Madison people.

I am sad because I have met so many very nice people here. Waiters, gelato tenders, and the kids at my school were very nice. I have made a lot of friends here this year and it is really hard to have to say goodbye to friends. It was my hardest day all year when I had to say goodbye to all of my friends here on the last day of school.

Rome is now my favorite city in the whole world and I want to come back here every year to visit. And I want to stay a week at the least each time, but maybe longer.

My happiest things have been: meeting all my friends here and trying all kinds of new foods that I love. I have loved traveling and having new adventures in new parts of the world. I also loved getting even more into soccer here and learning about all of the Italian and other countries’ soccer teams.

Learning Italian was really fun, too. When I learn new things in math, I like to look for patterns. And this year I learned you can do the same thing with Italian. As an example, in Italian there are three kinds of verbs. So once I know if the third letter from the end of the verb, then I know the pattern of how to use it. The verbs all end in -are, -ire, or -ere. But once you know the word and the rule, it is very easy to figure out what form it has to be (like in English we just say eat and use the same word for I eat, you eat, we eat. But in Italian the verb mangiare changes depending on who is eating). But some verbs are just weird and don’t follow the pattern and you have to remember them, like essere or avere. And the endings tell me whether something already happened or will happen, so that is easy, too. It is hard when I don’t know the word for something, but if someone tells me I can usually remember it. I really like learning new languages.

I feel that I have more knowledge about other places in the world. And when I hear about different places, I will remember seeing them or know people who live there or have families there. I have liked lots of different languages, and I have tried to learn at least a few words in each place we visited. We have had lots of problems traveling and now I feel like a confident traveller and I think I will always like to travel a lot when I grow up. But not for business, just for vacation.

I am super glad that my parents took us on sabbatical. It has been really, really fun being in Europe. Honest. I liked speaking in Italian, playing soccer almost every day at school, how outgoing and friendly Italian kids and grownups are, how late dinner is here, that the food was not “fancy” but really good. I liked EVERYTHING and will miss everything except the cigarettes and one kid from school.

It is ironic because now that we are leaving Rome, I feel like I spent most of my life here. Like I did when I was leaving Madison.  I don’t remember what my room looks like in Madison, and my bedroom here feels like my room. And my friends here, I feel like I have known them my whole life. I still want to go back to Madison, but I wish sabbatical could last another year or two or maybe three. It is hard for me to believe that I won’t stay living in Rome.

— Eli

One of our motivations for maintaining a blog this year was that we benefitted so much from reading the blogs of other families who had spent a sabbatical year abroad. We felt a need to return the favor.

In writing these reflections, we acknowledge that we were atypical in that we began planning this sabbatical many years before we actually took it. Also unusual about our experience was that we decided to dis-save this year (sorry, college and retirement funds), and use whatever financial resources we could to make things go smoothly. Part of that reflected that we had been saving since our last sabbatical, seven years ago, to have a financial cushion for this year. But part of it also reflected our belief that anything that helped ease us into the year, prevent stress, and avoid tearful evenings during our limited time away, was a wise investment.

1. Because we could, we took a full year. Often there are hard constraints on the length of a sabbatical—what percent salary cut a family can afford, spouses’ jobs, cost of living, etc. But if it is feasible, we are strong advocates of making the move for a full year. We have met many families this year that originally planned half-year visits, and they all regretted not planning a full year. It often takes several months for children to settle in, make friends, find favorite restaurants, feel like their room is their own. Second, it takes time for children to become sufficiently integrated that they do not feel like the “new kid.” It also takes adults a while to really find the people who end up clicking as family friends. Our observations are that children end up having a lot more fun when they attend a regular school or day care program with peers during a year away (as opposed to staying with parents all day). It provides an entrée into a new culture that wouldn’t otherwise be available to a visiting family. Best of all, because of an odd legal loophole, people paid in US dollars who stay outside of the United States for over 330 days do not have to pay any federal income tax!! That has helped make this year much more financially feasible for us.

2. We started language/culture exposure early. A year and a half before moving to Rome, we signed the children up for a very casual Saturday morning Italian class. They really enjoyed the games and food. The point wasn’t to learn much Italian—in fact, our kids left the US overconfident about their abilities. But that was the real benefit of the class. With all the worry they had about leaving their friends and arriving at a new school, one thing they were not worried about was communicating in a different language. This alleviated a great deal of worry for them and made the transition much easier. It is true that once we arrived, they realized how difficult it is to communicate in a non-native language. But at least they were familiar with the sounds, could greet people and introduce themselves, order food in restaurants, say please and thank you, and answer simple questions from friendly adults. All of this helped them a lot socially. At the very least, it is good to arrive knowing how to introduce oneself and say “Can I play, too?”

3. Think about the stuff. Packing up one’s house is a tricky maneuver. On the one hand it is good to get things cleaned out early, especially if someone else will be living in your house. We were very glad that we did not wait until the last minute. It was easier for our children to leave their bedrooms when those rooms were no longer filled with cozy memories; starting to pack things up many weeks in advance helped them slowly adjust to leaving. Still, packing up a house can also be distressing for kids and bring up a lot of anxieties about the upcoming move. Here, we tried an experiment that ended up working very well for us. We slowly started to pack the children’s rooms up removing a few items every weekend and filling separate boxes in the attic with items to be saved versus given away. For each child, we made a box for keepsakes with large labels that read “Eli’s Special Things” and “Nell’s Special Things.” One day, Eli came to us very, very upset because he couldn’t find something that was important to him in his room. We took him to the attic and showed him the box, and he stared at it, and dug around looking at his favorite stuff all tucked away. He felt extremely satisfied. Then, about a week later, Nell was in tears believing that we had thrown away one of her beloved stuffed animals. Eli turned to her and, in a very reassuring and upbeat voice, told her not to worry. “In the attic we each have a box where our special things are protected,” he told her happily, “it even says “Nell’s Special Things.’” Then he took her upstairs to confirm that her favorite belongings were safe and would be here when we returned. Everyone lived happily ever after, and not another word was spoken about stuff that would not accompany us to Italy.

4. Given our children’s ages, we tried to make the destination concrete. This is an expensive undertaking that is not always feasible. But a year before moving to Rome, we visited over the children’s spring break. We looked at neighborhoods and schools, saw some sights, and ate a lot of gelato… We thought that the kids might be less anxious if they could concretely picture things like the school playground or have some memories of parts of the city, making it seem more familiar. Indeed, that seemed to work.

5. To help promote buy-in, we gave the kids some choices. Many families that we have met this year at our kids’ international school have been struggling with children who are not happy about having been forced to move. At the beginning of the school year, the elementary school principal met with the parents of all of the new kids. As the daughter of a diplomat, who had to move a lot herself as a child, she had great insights. One of the things she told the group of parents was really helpful. She reminded the adults that we had chosen jobs that we loved that involved international travel, we were advancing our own careers by opting to spend a year in another place, we were fulfilling our dreams of living in Italy, or we had finally gotten that sabbatical we so wanted. And even though as parents we told ourselves about all of the benefits that this experience would confer for our children, these were still OUR dreams and fantasies, not what our kids had signed up for. She reminded parents to chill out, be patient, and not be surprised if our children are less excited about it all than their parents.

We had thought about this type of issue a bit before leaving Madison.  While the option of going away on sabbatical wasn’t up for a vote, we tried to think of constrained choices to give the kids to give them some sense of control over what was happening. For example, we narrowed the list of possible schools down to ones we liked, and let the children provide input into the final decision. That sense of ownership actually helped a lot. If there was one thing the kids LOVED about this year, it was their school. We gave the kids some choices about our home, allowing them to help pick the final apartment once we had narrowed it down to two choices we liked, and allowed them to choose their sleeping configuration (they had really wanted to share a bedroom this year, probably for comfort). We each brought one large suitcase for the year, and we gave the kids a lot of latitude about what they chose to put in their own bag. First we helped them make a pile of everything that they ideally would want, and worked with them to make sure they made good choices that fit (and ensured that they would have some underwear!). We advised, but their own hands took stuff out of the pile of things to be packed and into the storage bins. There were no tears while packing.

Since we had chosen our sabbatical destination, the kids asked if they could choose some of our trips. So we allowed each of them to select a destination for their birthdays, and their Fall Break destination. We had planned on London, but they really wanted to go to Paris for the entire break rather than travel around. So we showed them how to peruse travel web sites and let them set our activities. It worked out really well, especially since it was a destination that we already knew well as parents. They really enjoyed both the trip and the feeling of being in the driver’s seat. For other cities, we found more limited ways to help them feel involved, such as selecting hotels once we had made a short list, or rank-ordering restaurants we might try to visit based on recommendations by food bloggers.

We think activities like this gave them some authorship over the year. Admittedly, this might be too child-centric for some people’s parenting tastes. But we considered it to be in our own self-interest.

6. We laid the groundwork for a smooth landing. This was another expensive decision, but a good investment. About a month before we moved, Seth made a two-day trip to Rome as an add-on to a conference trip. During that time, he set up infrastructure. He opened our bank account, set up our cell phones, applied for annual metro cards, mapped the route to the children’s school bus stop, found the nearest grocery store to our home, turned on utilities, internet, etc. He took pictures for the children of our street, our closest gelato place and chocolate shops, the nearest playground. When we arrived as a family, almost everything was working, and we didn’t need to spend a lot of our time with the kids waiting on long lines and running dull errands. It helped get us off to a fun start.

7. We may regret this later, but we let a lot of things go this year. The adults in our family were getting a treat, a real respite from the regular demands of our daily professional lives. So we thought the kids deserved a break, too. And we told them so, waiving a lot of the rules that we normally follow at home. This year, the kids are allowed to order anything they want to eat or drink from restaurant menus. The kids wanted a break from violin practice—what the heck, it was a sabbatical, so we allowed them to take the year off. We’ve allowed more TV time, more desserts, more electronics, later bedtimes, more impulse purchases. . .all with the idea that it is a special year for all us. We think of it as a way to mark this time as a special epoch.

8. Invest in eReaders. We were a bit dubious about introducing the children to Kindles. But English language books are incredibly expensive and hard to find in places where English is not the native language. Plus, books are very expensive to ship home. Back in Madison, we shuttle books back and forth to our local library every week and we worried about what it would be like not to have that resource. So we decided to buy each kid a Kindle as a buon viaggio gift. Best. Idea. Ever. We don’t know what we (or they) would have done if we couldn’t simply download new books for the kids. . .and all of their favorite books from the year now only weigh a few ounces. Best of all, a lot of the child classics are now free downloads.

9. We made a decision to budget, and then not worry about money for one year. We had a very funny (in retrospect) and humbling experience a few months before our sabbatical began. We had spent hours figuring out the most we could possibly spend on rent in Rome, then stretched a bit more to “treat” ourselves. But when we began looking at real estate, we realized that we had been living in Wisconsin for too long! Our estimates were so far off that realtors all wrote back saying they had absolutely nothing to show us. So we took the view that our daily lives are pretty inexpensive in Madison relative to what they would be in bigger US cities. Given that, we decided to just live in the moment and stress about finances before and after– but not during– the sabbatical year. We reasoned that we only had a year, and we didn’t want an apartment that required us to spend time on a bus or in a car commuting, or having breakfast in a dreary room, or not being able to walk and get a good coffee or gelato or bread. Sabbaticals are special, and so it did not seem worth it to us to cast a shadow over the time by sweating a little debt for one year; we decided to just make great memories. We’ve uttered not a word to each other , or even focused much, about our daily expenses this year. That said, our friends are welcome to join us for beans and rice next year, because our major austerity measures kick in on September 1st!

10. There are many other topics that we wish we had thought more about ahead of time. It is worth considering how much travel is right for your family (too little and you don’t take full advantage of your location, too much and you miss integrating into local social life); How much effort will you make to avoid using English (kids will follow adults’ lead in their comfort level); How can you maximize meeting other parents, even if it cuts into work time?; How can you best find babysitters (Hint: students studying abroad are not allowed to work and often welcome extra cash, local high school students know the lay of the land, and student teachers are young, energetic and in need of cash); How frequently you can accommodate guests so that you can have fun visits and share your experience, but still be available to accept invitations from locals?

But our take home message is simple: If you’re in a job where you have this sort of opportunity, grab it and worry about the details later! Or, as they used to say in Rome, carpe diem! For all of the planning, work, expenses, and anxiety, we feel that our family got out of this year every single thing that we had hoped for.

We hope that some of these thoughts and suggestions will smooth your future paths, and welcome additional ideas from others who have taken a family sabbatical.

And for those of you on the fence about whether you can really pull it off, we offer an unequivocal yes—just do it. . .go!

– Seth & Jenny

Nell, Kim-Kim, Costanza, and Darcy signing each other’s yearbooks.

June has been a wildly social, frenetic, and satisfying month. We decided not to plan any travels in June so that we could enjoy our time in Rome. That turned out to be a very fortunate decision.

One thing that we did not anticipate was the intense flurry of social activities happening at the children’s school. Birthday parties seem to be taken very seriously here. But nearly all of the families flock from Rome as soon as school ends. Italian families head to their beach villas in in Toscana, or Sardegnia. The UN families get their leaves and are eager to have their children visit families back home. And international business people often send their children to visit grandparents or to camp. Because of this, children with birthdays in June, July, and August all throw their birthday parties in the first half of June.

Nell waiting to get her teacher Cristina’s autograph

A custom here is that parents rent a “party bus” that picks the party-going children up from school and takes them to the party destination. Often these festivities are held way outside of the city center. So we’ve been spending gobs of Euros on taxis to pick the children up. One weekend, we rode the metro back and forth across town shepherding the kids to their various events . . . our combined subway time was almost enough to have flown to North America. Fortunately, many local friends have been gracious enough to offer a helping hand to our auto-less family, and delivered or picked the kids up for us.

Eli collected signatures on his soccer ball.

In the meantime, Eli and Nell had a blast—and we did not see very much of them. They go off to school in the morning, then take a party bus from school to a birthday event, then are picked up by another family for a sleepover, and are then shuttled to another party the next morning! It’s really been non-stop festivities and fun, and an especially nice tradition that many kids invite the entire class to their birthday parties (and sweet that some kids choose very intimate 2-3 friend parties instead).

Hugs from Eli’s teacher, Ms. Curria.

As birthday parties began to wind down, the last day of school approached. The kids moved in opposite emotional trajectories across the day. Eli started the day excited and eager to get to school. But Nell was very sullen and moody in the morning. She was so quiet that one of her only utterances was a melancholic “I’m going to miss this place” as we all sat in the bar near the kids’ bus stop having breakfast.  Her eyes looked so sad that we knew the impending goodbyes were on her mind.

More hugs from Eli’s PE teacher, Ms. Lisa.

Many parents show up at the school on the last day to say goodbye to the teachers, and we had been looking forward to that. But it turned out to be an intense morning. Thankfully true to the stereotype, southern Italians are extremely warm and effusive people. Just as we walked into the school building, Eli’s Italian teacher, Ms. Ana-Maria made a bee-line for us, and in the most touching and heart-warming way, started telling us about how sad she was that we were leaving, about how wonderful Eli’s Italian is “. . . .his pronunciation, it is just beautiful, beautiful . ..,” how we had to help him continue his Italian, what a great experience this has been for him and how glad she was to have him as her student. I literally got a lump in my throat, and then we were all hugging. And then we saw the school librarian, Ms. Viola, whom Nell became very attached to this year. And again, as we were saying goodbye, Ms. Viola became tearful about saying goodbye and so did we.

Nikos, Eli, and Laith

But then we walked up to Eli’s classroom, and the affection being displayed was so lovely and not at all what one would see in an American school. The boys all had their arms around each other. And as kids were being picked up they would run over to Eli and hug him, then begin to walk out of the room, then run back and hug him again. And this was repeated so many times that the parents gave up on trying to get their children home because they were all hugging and some crying, and telling each other how much they would be missed. And although it might sound like a mess in the re-telling, it was all so sincere and affectionate and, frankly, lovely to see a culture where boys are encouraged to be so emotionally demonstrative and expressive. Everyone felt very loved.

Arrivederci, Ambrit.

In Nell’s classroom, the children had each made her lovely going away notes that were so sweet and thoughtful. There was much merriment in the room . . .apparently when the children were seated in a circle to watch a presentation on the SmartBoard, the teacher had accidently left Nell’s report card open on her computer.. .so it was broadcast for all to see. Although we won’t receive her grades for a few days, the word from Nell’s friends is that she got excellent marks this year. . .and many of the comments on her goodbye cards reflected this purloined information. Nell had regained her composure by the time we arrived and was having a great time running around the building having people sign her yearbook. And it was especially nice that the parents of her dearest friend have invited us to spend a few days at their beach house next week. So Nell appreciated not having to say goodbye to that friend yet.

We made our way out of the lobby, stopped by so many parents and children and teachers saying goodbye and wishing us well that I told jenny if I had to say one more goodbye I was going to burst into tears. But then just as we were leaving the building, this all caught up with Eli and he had a good cry. We stood outside the school for a while as he was thinking about how much he has enjoyed his friends this year and how much he will miss them. It was hard to say goodbye, and great to have made such great connections!

Lunch at Da Gino afterward to try to cheer everyone up!

We then headed for a celebratory lunch at one of the children’s favorite restaurants, Da Gino. There, we all toasted each other on a great sabbatical year and offered the kids special recognition for so many of the things they accomplished. We celebrated Nell and Eli’s having integrated into a new culture and new school, having learned to get around in another language, having braved and excelled on the soccer field, having formed such rich friendships with genuinely delightful children, and having become truly inquisitive world travellers.

Then we went home and had a nap.

– Seth

Back when we were first learning to use the nasone.

Rome is normally very expensive, but one of the best things in the city is free! I am talking about the drinking fountains all around Rome, called nasone.

Why are these fountains called nasone (or “big noses” in Italian)? It is because these fountains have long, bent tubes or spouts coming out of them that resemble long noses.  You can put your head under the spout or fill up a water bottle. But the “noses” also have little holes on top. So if you put your finger in the spout, water shoots up out of the spout (like a whale’s blow hole) and it is an easy drinking fountain.

Most of the nasone were first installed in 1874.

They are useful for refilling water bottles.

Most tourists don’t know that the water coming out of these fountains is drinkable. It is especially surprising how good the water tastes. It tastes good and is refreshing because it comes from the mountains, through aqueducts and a mix of springs around the city.

Teaching Zach, Gaby, and Sam to use the nasone when they visited.

Some people think it is a waste of water to have the fountains running all the time. But it is good because people do not need to danger the earth by buying new plastic water bottles all the time.

There are more than 2,500 nasone in Rome.  Most are in the historical center, but you can still find some on the outskirts.

A special naso on Via Margutta, around the corner from us.

I like them because when it is really hot out and I am thirsty, I can wet my head under them and have a drink. My favorite place for nasone to be is when it is right near a gelato place. So if I get stuff on my hands, I can wash it off. And it is always good to drink after you eat gelato.

Nasone are useful for dunking kids in.

There are also more than 90 fountains that you can drink from around Rome. One of the most famous is the “broken boat” fountain near our house in Piazza di Spagna.

— Eli

The nasone and the water are owned by the city of Rome. That is why they all have SPQR written on them. It stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus (“The Senate and People of Rome”). But my Dad keeps saying that it means Sono Pazzi Questi Romani, which is Italian for “These Romans are crazy.” It isn’t true, he is just being goofy.

On Mondays my after-school activity is choir. The choir I do is for grades 2 and 3. At the end of the year, the choir goes on a special trip.

At 9 in the morning we went on a bus and drove to a school where we were going to perform a concert. I thought it would be in a lunchroom or gym, but it was in a little courtyard under olive trees. After that, they gave us ice cream, even though it was only 11 in the morning.

With Darcy, Eve, and Tatiana in the hull of one of the ancient boats.

After that we took the same bus to a boat museum on Lake Nemi. In Ancient Rome times, one of the emperors, Caligula, built these huge boats in the lake, with marble floors and mosaics and gold.  They were apparently party boats of some kind. The boats sank long ago, and years later they were found at the bottom of the lake.

So in the museum they used to display those two boats. But during World War 2, someone came in and put a fire in the museum so the boats aren’t there any more. But there are pieces of the mosaics and anchors and other parts of the boat to see. In the museum, since it is always empty, Mrs. Short, our choir teacher, had us perform a song that was particularly sad because the boats were burned. It’s called The Swan. She posted a movie of us singing in the museum to YouTube. Here is the link if you’d like to listen to us sing.

Then we took the same bus to Lake Albano, which was once a volcanic crater and is also where the Pope’s summer castle is. We had lunch on the beach, and then we went in the lake to swim. It was very cold and the sand was very mushy so people were screaming and shouting. In some places the sand was sticky. My friend Darcy was wearing Crocs and they got stuck in the sand and I swam under and found them.

We stayed in the water for about an hour, playing. My teacher, Mrs. Short, went in the water too. Then we got out to dry. They had real beach chairs and beach umbrellas. So then me and my friends just lay there and sunned ourselves. Then we sang a concert on the beach in our swimsuits.

After that we got dressed and the grownups brought us more ice cream!

I was looking forward to this day so much, and it was even better than I expected!


Here is a link to a slide show  we made about our daily schlep this year: collecting the kids from their school bus stop. You might want to read the text below for context before viewing the slide show!

Many months ago, our friends Pam and Kevin wrote asking us about what our daily lives in Rome were like. But we got so distracted by big things and trips that we never got around to posting about ordinary things—like getting the kids to school.

The whole school bus issue was a big struggle for us.

The children’s morning bus stop is an easy 4-block walk from our house. The piazza where we meet the bus, Piazza Augusto Imperatore (Emperor Augustus Plaza), is really quite interesting. In the center of the piazza is the tomb of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor and the namesake of our final month of summer. On two sides of the piazza are prime examples of fascist architecture (that Mussolini intentionally placed next to Augustus, to lend an air of credibility), and on a remaining side of the piazza is perhaps the only contemporary building I have seen in the center of Rome—the Ara Pacis Museum, designed by the American architect Richard Meier. So there is a lot going on visually.

This would have been the children’s bus stop after school, too. But things are never so simple in Italy.

The children’s school offers a rich variety of afterschool programs. Kids can pick a different activity for each day of the week, but need to stick with that schedule for the year. Nell chose choir, Math-letics, modern dance, and soccer; Eli chose soccer, basketball, soccer, and mixed sports. (Although music lessons are also offered, we all agreed to take a sabbatical from nagging about practicing an instrument.)

There was only one wrinkle in the plan. We realized that by staying for these activities, the kids can’t take their regular bus home, and instead must take a “late” bus to a part of the city that is really hard for us to get to. We couldn’t car pool because we had no car and knew no other families in the area. Taxis and car services were prohibitively expensive.

Given that we live in an apartment in the center of the city with few children or open spaces around, we didn’t want the kids to miss the afterschool activities that have, in fact, become the hub of their social lives. So Jenny and I sucked it up and committed to the two hour round-trip journey every day to get across town to pick the children up. At first we found it really aggravating and complained about it constantly to each other. We tried buses and the metro to get across town, but they were no faster than walking. Then, slowly, we realized what a fabulous walk we got to take all year. Ironically, now with the school year ending, we are going to miss the bus pick up.

Below is a slide show of photos on each block, from the time we leave our apartment, until the time we arrive at the bus stop. (Viewed in Full Screen, it is easy to see a lot of interesting details about the historic center.) We go home by bus or metro- but it isn’t convenient, pretty or pleasant . . . the kids need to get off the school bus and then take two more buses or two metros to get home, but we’ve all made it work.

Here are a few things you’ll see in the slide show that might not be immediately obvious:

Although it was not still the style used at the time, Emperor Augustus decided to have his tomb crafted in the style of the ancient Etruscans. It was a clever political move, tying him to the most ancient civilization of his people. That is why the building is round and has grass growing on top. It is quite a sight in the center of the city.

Mussolini was also a clever guy and followed the same principle. For added credibility, he had his government office buildings constructed around Augustus’ tomb. In this way, he showed his historical tie to Rome’s first ruler. Something that we walked by hundreds of times before noticing was this decoration on the side of one of the buildings. The angel on this relief is holding a bunch of rods. The term “fascist” comes from the Italian fascismo, which is from the Latin fasces.  The fasces were bundles of rods that were tied around an axe, the ancient Roman symbol of authority, used for corporeal punishment. Hence the origin of the term fascist as related to politics. For years Mussolini’s name had been chipped off the side of the building, but it has been long enough that the letters were recently replaced.

If you read the blog post about the ubiquitous Wedding Cake, you can see it a few times in the background during the slide show.

There is a lot of interesting stuff happening in the Jewish Ghetto. It may seem to you that Rome’s Great Synagogue looks a lot like a church. At the time it was built, there were no Jewish architects. Although the building was constructed to be a synagogue, the architects did what they knew how to do. . .design churches!  There is a noticeable police presence here. After a horrible attack following a religious service in which a young child was killed, Roman police are now stationed at each corner around the old synagogue. And a police car is stationed in the center of the ghetto when the Jewish school is in session.

Just after the Ghetto pictures, there is a photograph of Hebrew writing. You may think it comes from the side of the synagogue—but it does not. It is writing on the front of a Catholic Church that faces what used to be the Ghetto walls. Pope Gregory—an otherwise enlightened man who introduced the calendar—required the Jews of Rome to attend Sunday mass every week. The Jews were encouraged to save their souls, and the writing, in Hebrew, reminds them that if they don’t convert, they are screwed for eternity.

The Temple of Portunus, dating to the first century B.C., is (along with the Pantheon) my favorite building in Rome. It is here that we can see how the Romans totally set the stage for everything we now consider standard in a building. The Etruscans built using earth and the Greeks had columns with entrances to buildings all around the perimeter. Here the Romans combine these ideas with their own style. This introduces ideas such as a front door, a porch, the use of concrete rather than single hunks of marble, columns that are decorative rather than functional, a roof that totally closes in and covers the building beneath . . .it’s all there for the first time!

The Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verità) is the portico of the Paleochristian church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The church itself is amazing. But the tour busses stop for what is essentially a manhole cover representing a river god with an open mouth. Legend has it that if liars put their hands inside its mouth, they will lose them. The mask was featured in the film Roman Holiday, in which Gregory Peck challenges Audrey Hepburn to put her hand inside the mouth. The film is apparently a cult classic in Japan and so queues of tourists line up outside the beautiful church for a photo op. Nell and I did it once and threatened each other with embarrassing questions we might ask each other when it was our turn.

Towards the end of the walk, we pass the home of the US Ambassador to the Vatican. The Vatican requires that countries maintain two distinct embassies in Rome: one to Italy and another to the Vatican. Walking past this building is irritating because one block away is the UN organization fighting world hunger. I keep thinking: how many children could we feed a year if we weren’t paying for all of the infrastructure needed to support a separate embassy and ambassador home from each country for the Vatican? Couldn’t one embassy to Italy and the Vatican cover enough ground?

The children’s bus stop is at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). This year we have had the great pleasure of learning more about these kinds of organizations and meeting the extremely bright and dedicated people from around the world who are working to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food and water. Many of the kids’ friends’ parents work FAO or at the other very wonderful UN organizations in Rome, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations that addresses rural hunger and poverty in developing countries, and the World Food Programme (WFP), the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger in the world.

Here is a link to the movie…


Everyone in our family loves cities. We love the thrill of discovery that comes from turning a corner and seeing a beautiful building or a bustling restaurant, and the excitement that comes from so many people all together.

Not everyone in our family loves nature. But Nell and I do. My biggest worry about living in a sprawling city this year was whether I’d still see trees and hear birds (absolutely yes on the trees – we have them growing on our roof and dominating the skyline – and definitely yes on the birds– there is a flock of seagulls that lives in our neighborhood, and if you sit on our terrace and just listen, you’d think you were at the beach).

But sometimes, Nell and I need more nature than we get from our Roman neighborhood’s flora and fauna.

Fortunately, the city is packed with parks that range from sculpted to wild. One recent Sunday, we set off to explore the famous Rome rose garden. The garden is at the base of the Aventino hill, just across from the Forum and Palatine Hill on the far side of the Circo Massimo.

Originally, this land was the Jewish cemetery, and the lanes are laid out in the shape of a menorah. The garden has a very short season given the heat, but it is spectacular, with over 1,000 varieties to see. It was too hot for Nell to sketch, but she took photo after photo of roses to draw at home.

Afterwards, we climbed the Aventino to picnic in the Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of the Oranges). The layout of this park is very unusual. In the center is a big grove of orange trees, whose fruit perfumes the air. Surrounding them are my favorite Roman umbrella pines, which shade the walkways. And at the far end is a terrace overlooking a spectacular view of the city. We ate the fresh sweet cherries that are at the peak of their season and enjoyed the scented air and views.

A few blocks away is a somewhat obscure but very cool tourist sight, the keyhole of the knights of Malta. There’s a doorway in a high wall that holds a keyhole that offers a rather amazing view over the property of three sovereign powers (Italy, Malta, and the Vatican), directly onto St. Peter’s Cathedral a few kilometers away.

While we could have still taken in more nature, a more urgent destination beckoned: the Il Gelato outpost on Viale Aventino. Roses are red (sometimes), and oranges are orange, but there’s nothing like gelato after a long hot walk!

– Jenny

Me and my friends waiting for the game to start. I am number 9.

I play soccer with my school team, that is made up of some 5th graders, 4th graders, and 3rd graders. We practice Mondays and Thursdays after school.  There is about 36 kids on my team. My coach is named Mr. Hough. He is also a 4th grade teacher.

Me, Sam, Nikos, and Loet, waiting between games.

Soccer in Rome is much different than soccer in the States. For example, people play much more rough, and we do not wear shin guards. On my first day of school, the first person to be nice to me was named Charlie (who is from Australia). He told me to never play soccer at recess because kids have broken bones on the soccer pitch. At the beginning of school, I was a bit nervous because kids played much rougher than at home and also all the kids speak only Italian when playing soccer.

Me, Sam, and Nikos.

But I really wanted to play, so after the first week or two, I just started playing. It was weird to see how many shots that seemed impossible the kids tried to make. It turns out that I did get hurt a few times playing soccer at recess, but it was still really fun. I ended up making friends with a lot of kids that I really like now because of playing soccer. Plus I learned how to say a lot of things in Italian (that I can’t write about here because they are inappropriate). A couple of times a month, our coach comes on the pitch to play with us at recess.

Our team jerseys have long sleeves, maybe because the Romans always think it’s cold even when it’s hot.

In Madison, everyone gets to play in games and the coaches give each kid an equal amount of time on the field, whether you are a better or worse player. But they do not do that in Italy. Here, the coach invites only a few kids on the team to actually play in a tournament. The coach only picks the not bad players to play in games, and before the game you are told if you are a substitute player or starting.

My team.

At the beginning of the year, I didn’t ever think about really going to play in a tournament because there are too many good players in Italy. But I still really liked going to the practices. I was SUPER happy when Mr. Hough invited me to play in a tournament. But it was cancelled due to snow. Then I got invited to be in another tournament and that is what I am going to talk about here. I have never played on a school team before.

Right after I scored my goal, with Nikos and Andrew.

Two things surprised me. First, I got to play on the 5th grade team. And second, I scored a goal. I never thought that I would score a goal in a tournament in Italy. I feel like I will always remember this; it was one of the specialist moments of my life.

Only three other 4th graders got onto the 5th grade team. All of them are really good friends of mine. They are Nikos, Andrew, and Victor. My friend Nikos assisted my goal. The best players on my team were Hans and Fillipo and Jacopo. Originally, the coach told me that I was going to the tournament as a sub. But when the game started I was sent in as l’attaccante which means striker. I think in Madison we would call it center forward. That is my favorite position to play.

Waiting to hear the places.

Our team made it through the quarter-finals, semi-finals and made it all the way to the finals. But then we lost in the finals. We got second place in the all-city international schools tournament and we got a trophy. Fillipo got to take the trophy home, because he is the team captain.

Getting our trophy, which was filled with candy.

One of the greatest things was celebrating the victories after our games. We all ran around the pitch shouting in victory and patting each other on the backs and stuff like that.

In the end, it was one of the greatest days of my year in Rome.

– Eli

My friend Eliza came to visit me in Rome. I had been looking forward to this visit for about 3 months. We did a lot of fun things together, and her visit went by very quickly for me.

Piazza di Spagna

Eliza and her sister Hope and mom Emily arrived on late on Thursday, at about 9:00. When she first came, we were very happy to see each other, so we practically just laughed the whole night.

On Friday we showed Eliza and her family Piazza de Spagna (the Spanish Steps) and the Pantheon. If you haven’t been to Rome, in the Pantheon there is a big hole in the middle of the roof. And what I did to Eliza and Hope is I made them keep their eyes shut until they could see the hole. Then we went to my favorite non-pizza restaurant for lunch, which I’ve probably mentioned a few times: da Gino. I have probably mentioned that my favorite waiter, Mario, works there.

Inside the Pantheon.

After lunch I showed them a museum called Trajan’s Market. It is a place where there used to be a real market in Ancient Rome, and you can see the market stall rooms and sometimes they have glass floors where you can see down where Rome used to be. Me, Eliza, and her sister Hope played tag except you had to wrap a scarf around your eyes so you couldn’t see, and you had to stay in a particular room in the ancient market.

After that, since they wanted to see the statue of Romulus and Remus, we went to the Campodiglio to show it to them. It’s a piazza that Michelangelo designed. Hope really liked the Campodiglio because she’s into horses and there were lots of statues of horses. Then we went home and played… Later, we went to our favorite gelato place which I’ve mentioned a few times: Il Gelato.

Inside the caves, looking toward the town of Sperlonga.

Next, on Saturday, we took a train to Sperlonga, which is a beach town a little south of Rome. First we went to explore caves that were by the ruins of the palace of Emperor Tiberius. The ancient Romans used to throw parties in the caves, and the museum has huge statues that were discovered in the caves.

After the caves we went to the beach. And we (the kids) went deep in the water and jumped over the waves. They were so big that sometimes we fell down. And when there was a ginormous wave coming we all ran back to the beach. We did that all day and when we went back on the train, we were all very worn out.

Relaxing on the beach.

Then for dinner that night, we went to one of me and my brother’s favorite restaurants, dal Pollarolo 1936. We like it because it has everything. They are named for their chicken, because pollo means chicken and they used to be a chicken store (since 1936). They have good salads, great pizzas, and great pasta dishes. When we got home the kids watched a little of the movie Parent Trap (the old version). After that, me and Eliza read for a while. Then our parents let us talk for a while. Then they said to stop talking. But we talked until about 2 in the morning!

At da Cesare.

On Sunday it rained. But before it rained we played on the terrace with this kind of stuffed animals I like to collect. They are called Beanie Boos. Then it started to rain so we went inside. Me and Eliza just wanted to play that day so we played until about 1:00, and then we headed out for lunch at da Cesere, another restaurant with a waiter who is nice to kids. After lunch we just played and had dinner at our house.

With Ambassador Thorne. His office was beautiful!

Monday was one of my favorite days of Eliza’s visit. We went to the American Embassy. And we got to meet the Ambassador – he gave us a tour and we went in his office. Eliza’s grandpa is friends with Ambassador Thorne. We got to hold a real gladiator helmet and real sword and shield. He gave us special coins as a souvenir. Then we went for lunch at another great restaurant, San Marco (which is known for their pizza). After that, while we were walking home, we passed a bakery/gelateria. Eliza got mint chip, I got chocolate orange, and Hope got two meringues. As we were going home, we stopped at our favorite pasta shop which makes pasta fresh (if you have been to Rome before you know what I mean). The lady who works there let us go behind the counter to see the pasta machine. After that we went home and played.

Next morning, Eliza left. I miss her but I’m glad I’ll see her soon. That goes for all of my friends in Madison!