Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Temple of Juno

2003-12-28 12:12:30
Temple of Juno
I spent most of my day with a pickaxe which means that now my hands are blistered. But it was a great day! Our team made two wonderful discoveries. The site is turning out to be rich with relics.

Early in the day I had a moment to walk to the Temple of Juno. (Again, since it's still being studied, I can't provide photos here - above is a photo of a temple dedicated to Juno in Sicily). Juno is the Goddess of Fertility: women might have visited the temple to leave a votive or say a prayer of thanks or make a special request, regarding fertility. The temple at our dig site stands atop a lovely hill overlooking a fertile valley below. I sometimes believe that these Godesses still might be listening: "Thanks, Juno!" I whispered as I studied the crumbling remains of her once busy temple, not letting myself get too close to the altar. I'm superstitious like that.

The Milk Grotto, Bethlehem
When I was in Israel 11ish years ago, I visited the Milk Grotto, a holy place in Bethlehem. Women from all around the world, of many faiths, believe that saying a prayer at the altar here will result in a hoped for baby. I didn't know this when I walked in -  I just saw a little passageway marked Milk Grotto with an arrow and followed it down into an underground cave, out of curiousity. I was completely weirded out first
by the hundreds of baby photos taped to the chalky white walls and then by an (inebriated) Franciscan priest who popped out of a doorway and asked me if I was looking to have a baby. (Mind you I was very young and backpacking around Israel without a care in the world - having a baby was the last thing on my mind). He then explained to me that this was where Mary breastfed Jesus. Some think that this cave may have been where Jesus was actually born. The walls, he explained, are coated with a magical milk-white powder that many women believe aids fertility. He pulled a little vial out of his pocket and offered it to me, "Save it - you might need it someday." Just sprinkle it into some tea and see what happens." Of course curious me, on the sherrut ride back to my hostel, decided to taste it. Was it flour? I wondered. I dabbed my finger in the tiny vial and tasted a bit of the powder. It tasted like classroom chalk. I put it back in my backpack and forgot about it. 
And while I didn't fall magically pregnant, when I got back to my hostel, there was a handsome stranger in my hostel room, folding up my clothes as best he could because he we supposed to take my spot for the night and checkout time had long passed. I was on my way to another city. He asked me to go to the beach instead and well, as they always say, the rest is history. That stranger and I fell immediately in love (despite many odds that would ultimately be the end of our relationship) and eventually, that stranger became my son's father. 
I still have that vial and let me tell you, I steer clear of it. Email me if you want to test it out!
Among the many discoveries that we dug up today was an infant burial, the baby likely stillborn or deceased just days after birth. The little one was buried in two pots, one placed above the other, and gently set on its side. I have to admit that at first I found it bizzarre that ancient Roman mothers and fathers would bury a dead child in their home, but today it made complete sense. I thought of the grieving parents, of how they must have so sadly yet lovingly placed their baby in that special place in their home, to keep him or her close to them. At a time when stillbirths and infant deaths were more common than we could ever imagine, this family wanted to hold their tiny baby near. I was sincerely touched. I understood.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In the Italian Garden with My Daughter

Chiara has been tinkering around in my in-laws' beautiful, extensive gardens for hours each day. I love watching her study the ants, organize leaves, pick dandelions, chase butterflies - I love that she has this uninterrupted, quiet time to explore nature.

Chiara is fascinated by ants and bug but especially butterflies.
wild fennel
the olive grove
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The Lead Burrito

I was so tired after my second day of the dig combined with jet lag that I forgot to post - the cool, white wine at dinner put me promptly to sleep. Again, I can't share pictures of the field work, but I did want to share a published find (since it's a published find, I can post a picture):

Can you guess what it is?

It's an Imperial Roman lead sarcophagus dating back to the fourth or fifth centuries A.D., also know as "The Burrito". Because it was found within the walls of the city and not in the necropolis and because the body was buried with covered with an inch-thick shell of lead (almost 1,000 pounds of lead), he or she must have been a very important person - a gladiator, a soldier, a Christian dignitary.
Because it's coated with lead, x-rays and CT scans obviously wouldn't be able to examine what this odd sarcophagus holds.  It will instead be examined using thermography (the coffin will be moderately heated - bones and any artifacts buried within will have different thermal responses) and endoscopy. It may eventually be opened: but only if it can be determined that the dangerous lead dust that would result from the cutting/splitting open could be contained; this would take place in a "clean room".
Whoever is in this burrito of a sarcophagus will certainly give us a good glimpse into life as he or she knew it, 1,700 years ago.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Italy Day 3 - Spent my day digging a (Imperial era) grave

Today was the first day that I worked on the dig at Gabii. I wish I could have taken more photos, but since the excavation is still in progress and unpublished, we can't take any pictures of finds, tombs, etc. I spend most of the day digging around a tomb (possibly two) and sifting through the dirt I dug up: I found some beautiful glass pieces, almost iridescent black pottery shards, and...human bones.
I learned SO much today. I learned how to tell the difference between a human bone and an animal bone. I learned that many early Romans buried their deceased children (under age 2) in their KITCHENS. I learned that the people found at Gabii died with lots of broken bones - the result of injuries inflicted on one another, and that most had suffered from severe malnutrition at some point or another in their lives.
One member of the team summed it up best: that archaeology is like a book that you and only you are reading, a book you must destroy page by page as you read, then retell when you've finished. Archaeology is HARD work: I think I seriously lost five pounds in water weight from all the sweating I did despite drinking more than two liters of water. I made a mental note to myself to take Chiara to work on a dig when she is a tween or so: many of the archaeologists are women that are not only extremely learned and worldly, but they can wield a pickaxe in a way that would make Mike Tyson take a few steps back every time they go to pick it up. I also learned today that there is so much to learn: I wish I had a couple more lifetimes to go back and get a couple more degrees - minus the tests and dissertations :)

               The so-called Artemis of Gabii: a Marble, Roman copy of the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE) after a Greek original traditionnally attributed to Praxiteles. She was found in 1792 by Gavin Hamilton, an amateur archaeologist (read: looter). She now lives at the Louvre in Paris.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Snapshots of Italy: Day 2

Today Daniel and I spent the day exploring Rome together. We visited Piazza di Spagna, the Pantheon, we threw the requisite coin into the Trevi Fountain. We had a relaxing lunch at a Ai Portici in the old Jewish quarter - the only place in the world where I can find fresh carciofi alla giuda (Jewish-style artichokes). We walked miles. We had gelato at our favorite gelateria. I gave in and bought him the dang gladiator sword. I explained to him what la dolce vita is and took him through a few secret passageways. Daniel is my son but also my very best pal in the whole wide world - what a treat it is to wander around the Eternal City, letting whims lead the way, with him.

Pranzo at Ai Portici. We played I Spy.
Carciofi alla giuda
Water break at Bernini's Fontana della Barcaccia
Overlooking the Republic temples at Largo Argentina
The Pantheon
Had to pretty much drag him out of this Roman replicas boutique
Window to the heavens
On the way home: Lago di Albano
We missed Pimpa (our family nickname for Chiara) but she was in the safe hands of her Nonno and Nonna, enjoying her own special, lovely day. I am proud to report that she is officially out of diapers and using the potty! She is thriving in the Italian countryside - what kid wouldn't?!
Just me and my son (eating gelato: dark chocolate sorbet for me; strawberry sorbet and straciatella for him)
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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Snapshots of Italy: Day 1

Fresh figs
Daniel climbing the olive trees
I love this gazebo in the backyard. I told Daniel he should have his
wedding here someday.
Daniel feeling the love from Zia Giovanna

Chiara's first taste of gelato
The photographer's feet
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

Here's where we're heading tomorrow: to Castelgandolfo, which sits atop a hill overlooking a large, lovely lake, about 15 miles outside of Rome. It was voted (by Italians) as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy, but for some reason, it's rarely visited by foreign tourists. Since I've got archeology on my mind, I feel the need to mention that many historians believe that Castelgandolfo is the site of the famous Alba Longa, capital of the mythical Latin League, a city founded by Ascanius (the son of Aeneas). The popes have been vacationing at their summer home here since the 17th century.
It's hard to believe that in two days I'll be sitting on the shores of this lake, Lake Albano, with Chiara and Daniel. It goes without saying that I love to travel; I feel so blessed. Summer in Italy is The Best.
As soon as I am settled, I'll be posting a picture a day, capturing our Italy, Summer 2011.
Now off to packing...

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Monday, June 20, 2011

DisneyWorld - Is it really the happiest place on Earth?

To me, Disneyworld really is ONE of the happiest places on Earth. I went with my parents and sister as a little girl and now as a mom myself it's a joy to spend time at the Magic Kingdom with my own children. I *still* tear up a tiny bit whenever I spot Cinderella's castle.
Not everyone agrees with me: two of my co-writers on the ChiTown Parent blog just wrote a post with a title that says it at all: Disney World: Magic My Tush. In turn, you'll also find my article on Disney at this month: DisneyWorld on the Cheap: Six Ways to Save.
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Comments on: What to Do When No One Can Pronounce Your Child's Name Properly

Jessica Ashley, a writer at Yahoo Shine! offers her take on the name conundrum I posed in a previous Chicago Moms post, in her article When No One Can Prounounce Your Kid's Name.
To answer her question, yes, I do believe that Chiara will have quite a job ahead of her - teaching people to correctly pronounce her first (and last!) name. Perhaps she'll feel compelled to teach other to pronounce commonly used Italian words (i.e. Bruschetta (BRUs-KeT-ah)). I know often find myself teaching people how to correctly pronounce their own Italian last names.

Or maybe she'll decide to move to Italy.

Regardless, for us, Chiara will always be the loveliest name for our lovely little girl.
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Holstein Park: Our "Country Club" in the City

**This post originally appeared on Chicago Parent's ChiTown Parent.

Every June, you'll find our family excitedly counting down the days until our "country club" opens. This year, it's June 17. We just can't wait to jump into that refreshing crystal clear pool water, to savor the elegant dining options at the picnic tables in the park beside the pool (coxinhas from Brazil Legal, tacos from Las Asadas, hot dogs with hand cut fries from Red Hot Ranch - all within walking distance, on Western Ave.), to meet and greet all the friendly faces that populate our local Chicago Park District Pool, Holstein Park.

Seriously, as far as people watching goes, no country club in the world can beat Holstein. Happy families, exuberant teens, giggling babies, 20-something hipsters - they're all there, and more. Lay your beach towel out near the deep end and enjoy. Better yet - Escape from the summer heat and jump in!

Our family has made so memories at this pool. When I was pregnant with Chiara, I would bob around, playing Marco Polo with Daniel, wondering who exactly was living in my belly. Daniel, meanwhile, has progressed from tadpole to shark with his swimming skills here - thanks to the tough love of the swimming lessons staff. Last year Chiara adored the baby pool - where she splashed and alternated between being friendly with the other toddlers and fighting over rubber duckies. I appreciate swimming laps during the first and last hours of the day, when the pools is relatively quiet and divided into lanes.

Best of all, this country club is free! Just bring your towel and a couple bucks for the guy who sells yummy tropical paletas, sliced mangoes and watermelon at the play park beside the pool.

Welcome, summer!

For more info on Chicago park district pools, visit:

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Post-Kids Fear of Flying

***This post originally appeared on

This may come as a surprise considering I do fly. A lot. But the fact of the matter is that since I’ve had kids, I’ve developed a chronic case of aerophobia. I deal with it because I wouldn’t ever want to live a life without travel, one of my true passions. But I’ll always wish that I could just blink my eyes and be wherever I want to be.

I used to love to fly. I actually used to get dressed up for flights. On my first transatlantic flight alone, I wore a dress. I delighted in chatting with my fellow passengers, gazing out the window, take-off and landings positively thrilled me. I must have been a charming and rare sight even then – a happy flyer!

The seed was planted about twelve years ago, when I was on a flight with my entire family – Mom, Dad, (pregnant) Sister and Brother-in-Law, from Miami to Chicago. Upon take off, the plane’s engine caught fire. It was (loudly) released into the ocean. Thankfully, planes have two engines. The captain casually announced this on the loudspeaker, noting that we’d be flying low over the ocean to dump out fuel and then return to Miami.

My Mom smiled and sighed, “Well, we’ve had a great life. And that was a wonderful vacation” (Key West). My Dad grimaced, focused irrationally on the fact that our entire family fortune would go to my Aunt, my mom’s younger sister. My sister, awash in pregnancy hormones, was unusually unphased. But me – “I’ve still got things in life to do!” I panicked.

By the grace of God, we landed safely in Miami. Emergency vehicles were parked in a star like formation around our landing path. We even made it on the evening news!

Soon after I had my son, my fear of flying blossomed. No longer do I simply have “things” to do in life – I have two beautiful little kids to be a Mommy to.

And then, since I’m usually flying with said kids, I can’t even distract myself with Star or US Weekly.

There were also the terrorist attacks of September 11th. There was a terribly turbulent flight that I took with my son from Rome to Warsaw during which he excitedly exclaimed, “Mom, if we crash into the river we can blow up and go for a float in the big yellow raft!” And every other day, I’m hearing about air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job or pilots flying drunk. No, these are just not good times for flight passengers.

I never have had an outright panic attack - usually I just spend flight time running irrational, imaginary scenarios through my mind. It’s gotten so bad, though, that this past vacation, last weekend (we visited the Crystal Coast!), I finally did something about it. My doctor gave me a prescription for Xanax – one for each flight. I had never taken it before (I don’t suffer from anxiety in real life whatsoever). I did feel a bit relieved, but when we hit a bumpy route and a thunderstorm on our return flight, I was back to running panicked scenarios through my mind.

I love travel too much to ever let a little flight phobia interfere with my life, but am I the only one who has slowly developed a fear of flying???? What have you done to confront your aerophobia head on? Any advice/suggestions?

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why can't I try on different lives, like dresses, to see which fits best and is most becoming?

Hera's statue head
Juno, a.k.a. Hera

I loved reading Sylvia Plath's poems in my (briefly) brooding teenage years. (In London once, I passed by the home where she committed suicide and chills passed through me as I thought of what she must have suffered there.) I've always remembered something she wrote, likely with a sigh: "Why can't I try on different lives, like dresses, to see which fits best and is most becoming?"
I find my current life my most becoming dress - flaws and all -and wouldn't trade my choices - both the good and the bad - for anything in the world. That said, I always crave "trying on new dresses" - which for me means trying out new things, visiting new places, tasting other careers, or stepping into other cultures.
This summer, I'm heading to Italy for three weeks with the kids - to participate in an archaeological dig - something I've always wanted to do! My project is being generously funded by Fund for Teachers - they awarded me with a grant that will make it all possible and for that, I'm thankful.
The dig site is located outside of Rome and was once an ancient city of Latium. Some say (Vergil and Dionysius of Halicarnarnassus!) that it was founded by either by either the Latin kings of Albalonga or the Siculu, another ancient tribe. There is even a temple attributed to Juno on the site (I'll have to leave a wreath there in her honour!).
I'll be staying with my in-laws in Castelgandolfo, as will my children, who will be forced to speak in Italian with their Nonni (mwah ha ha ha), swim in the Mediterranean, eat lots of gelatos, and enjoy Nonna's delicious home cooking, while I am away during the daytime. I'm also looking forward to hanging out in the Eternal City with Daniel while Chiara enjoys her string of princess-like receptions (this being her first-ever trip to Italy).  
While I realize that actual archeology fieldwork is far removed from the swashbuckling way its portrayed in movies (i.e. I'll spend less time sifting through treasure troves of emeralds and rubies and more time sifting through dirt under a hot Mezzogiorno sun), I am nonetheless thrilled! Thrilled to try on yet another dress in this lifetime.

post signatureI'll be updating with a photo capturing my project each and every day that I am there, beginning on June 24th.