Friday, November 20, 2009

Buon Thanksgiving: The Last Supper

Some of my teachers! (L-R) Claudio, Andrea (man), and Livia on the right

Today was the last day of class and also our mock Italian Thanksgiving!! We took finals and then proved to Nando that we are all chefs - we actually made our Thanksgiving dinner without his help. I was a little nervous at first because the ingredients were totally different (their brown sugar is course cane sugar) but it ended up working out just great! We had a lot of food and I even made a pumpkin pie from scratch - entirely!! I cooked the pumpkin in the oven, cooled, peeled and spiced it. Then I made the crusts and the finished the inside pumpkin filling. It was a little nerve wracking but it did end up being absolutely delicious!! Nando dubbed it "La Torta di Maria" - it sounds so cute when he says it. He loved my pie, told me it was delicious and then asked me for the recipe!! I'm seriously going to miss the kitchen here, including Nando. Good guy!

Tomorrow (Saturday) we are spending the day in Florence and then we head out to Venice on Monday morning bright and early. Sunday is our last whole day in Siena and it's really making me sad. It's a bittersweet thing. I'm excited to go home but I'm also sad to leave all of the good friends I have made here but I will always remember the experiences I have had!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Week and Counting

Sadly enough I have less than a week left in Siena. We are leaving Monday morning and heading for Venice. It's so crazy how fast the time has gone by. I feel like I just barely got settled into my groove and even started understanding quite a bit of Italian. Such is life. I've decided that once you get comfortable in one place, the scenery somehow changes whether it be good or bad. Thankfully my change of scenery consists of Venice, Rome, London, New York, then the best one yet - HOME!!! YAY!!

I've been a bad little blogger this past week simply because I've been slightly busier tying loose ends before I depart. I'll give you a little run down of what went on this last week in a short and hopefully entertaining list.
-Monday I explored Siena and found a really neat library where Italian college students were studying. It looked surprisingly similar to good ol' Harld B Lee Library and I felt right at home.

-Tuesday Eli opened her mission call: Switzerland Geneva (French speaking) WOHOO!! We also got to visit a ceramics shop. It was pretty neat but I was slightly distracted by the man's disfigured thumb. I think the pottery wheel snagged it.

-Wednesday I experienced my second round of chestnut hunting. I now have a 10 pound package full of chestnuts that I'm going to send. There's some parmigiano reggiano coming Utah's way as well - delicious!!

-Thursday I went to....MILAN. Be jealous. It was so much fun! I shopped a lot and went to the Gothic inspired Duomo. Breathtaking! I also saw a very overpriced baby sweatsuit: 55 Euro for the shirt, 88 Euro for the Jacket, and 140 Euro for the pants. I loved it all!!

-Friday I came home to my fake little brother's (Giuseppe) hamster, Pipi, on his deathbed. His breathing was shallow and he was getting colder by the minute. Giuseppe was at soccer while this was going on. Right when he got home he saw that his hamster was dying and he instantly tried to revive it and kept encouraging it to live. He then ran into his room sobbing when he realized that Pipi wasn't going to make it through the night. It was so sad. It reminded me of when this happened to Trevor and my mom told me to console him. I was the person of choice for the job because I've had many hamsters die on me, including one that Jamie stepped on while we were playing. RIP Benjamin Franklin were a great pet.

-Saturday I went to a Medieval Market in the Campo. It was fun to see all of the different items being sold. It reminded me a lot of Swiss Days. The market was really neat until this weirdy parade started. Road flares were pulled creating this creepy red light haze as intense music blared in the background. 4 interesting figures were dancing around - by interesting I mean dragons in masquerade masks flapping their wings. I forgot to mention that they were also on stilts. It was very crazy!

-Sunday I flirted with the missionaries that are serving here in the Siena branch. SCHERZO (joke). I have hardly talked to any missionaries since my family made fun of me for "flirting" with other missionaries in Florence. Just so you know, talking about college with missionaries is not flirting, it's making conversation to avoid awkward silence. Everyone knows that dearest family of mine. Anyway, round 3 of chestnut hunting after church - they're passionate about chestnuts. I was also approached by my host mom Sunday night. She wanted me to curl her hair like I curl Elizabeth's. She plopped right down on the toilet and handed me her blowdryer and the brush and put me to work. It was really cute. After that Alberto - the 15 year old fake bro - had me straighten his curly hair. It was fun to play beauty salon for the evening. They told me it should be my 2nd job. Love them.

That was my week in a nutshell, a big nutshell. Sorry, I failed miserably at making it brief!! Life couldn't be better here in Italy!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I just realized that half of my posts, probably more, are about food. We made SOFT and HOT cookies for our host family. They were shocked that we like them soft and hot - funny cultural difference. The brown sugar is a little different here so they tasted a little funny but they were still really good - I have been craving these little babies for a long time!!

Thanks Eli for the recipe!

Marriage of Figaro

OPERA - ITALIAN OPERA. The opera we chose to go to was cheaper and as I entered I was a little concerned. The "opera house" was just an old church and there wasn't a stage or any props. Not super impressive initially.

A man came in a red bowtie approached the "stage" and described the opera (in English - nice) and it began. I WAS BLOWN AWAY!! The pianist started playing and he was seriously amazing. Then the actors came out and all of them had amazing voices. It was really cool because they didn't need props, a stage, or an orchestra to make it really incredible. It was a very neat and thanks to the man in the red bowtie, I also understood the story line.

The ceiling of the church with the stage right below
Very small
Kayci (Annie's friend), Annie, me

Once Again - Florence

I went to Florence yet again for the weekend. I think this was my 5th trip! Needless to say, I guess I love Florence. We went shopping on Friday where I got some fun surprises. Saturday I met up with the group and we went to the Uffizi Gallery as well as a Monastery where Fra Angelico painted frescoes. Seeing all of the famous art is so amazing. It's incredible to think of the talent and time that went into every piece in the museum. It's breathtaking. I got to see some paintings by DaVinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Boticelli, Fra Filipo Lippi and others. Really neat.

After that we went hunting for a Mexican food restaurant we heard about from a friend. Everyone in the group has been craving Mexican food, some have even said, "The only thing I want at this moment is a burrito" so we thought it was worth it to search. It was quite the hunt but I got some good practice with my Italian by asking for directions every block. We actually gave up looking for it because nobody we were asking really knew exactly where it was and we were all tired and hungry. We decided to walk back to the Duomo and find something else to eat and - Ecco - we found the place. We'll call the burrito "The Burrito of Gold" because it truly changed the attitude of the group, we went from crabby and stressed to happy in a matter of 10 minutes. Hilarious thing - I didn't even get one, I'm in Italy, let's eat good pasta or something, not crappy Italian imitation Mexican food. I'm waiting for my Cafe Rio pork salad (American-Mexican I know, not true Mexican but still better than Italian-Mexican).

The Burrito of Gold

We also got these waffles with Nutella in the middle. I have a pretty high threshold for sweetness and even I was sick by the end. BAH, I'll never eat another one - it wasn't that good AND they surprised us all by telling us after they prepared it that it was 6 Euro (by by 3 gelati) GROSS!

Cooking with Nando

The kitchen is where I belong. I love every aspect of it. The cooking experience here in Siena has been one of the best things that I have ever done and I've learned so much from Nondo. I've really started to grasp the whole idea of Italian cooking and it's so fun and amazing!

Nando loves me! What more can I say? He asked me to come back next year to help him cook and translate for students coming to take classes from him. I told him that I don't really speak Italian very well and he replied, "I will teach you to cook and you can teach me English." He then again asked me several times to come back. The intern told me that he has emphasized this same point to her quite a few times. Exciting!! Maybe I'll do it.

The most delicious dessert so far!

Happy Birthday DAD


Eli and I created a hilarious music video to a song by Michael McLean titled "She Doesn't Know". We stayed up until all hours of the evening creating this video for our talent show. It's an awful song that he wrote for his wife for Mother's Day this year - if anything it's an insult. Check it out on facebook if you would like.

Day of the Dead

Just like Memorial Day in the States, Italians celebrate the lives of those who have passed on in the beginning of November. The festivities start out November 1 with Tutti Santi where the Italians celebrate all of the lives of the martyred saints. The larger holiday is the following day, Tutti Morti, where all lives are celebrated. Most people would consider this holiday to be depressing and dark but it's actually a holiday that many look forward to. Typically people picnic next to the graves (they always eat food to also celebrate that they are still alive) and exchange "gifts from their dead relatives".

Coincidentally on this same day we had a field-trip with my group to the cemetery. The day was dreary, cold, and raining which was very fitting for what I consider the feeling of a cemetery to be. When I entered the cemetery I was taken away by how extravagant and highly decorated all of the graves were, some even had their own little "Duomo" as the place of burial. Very interesting. The cemeteries also don't have any grass - who wants to mow around all the headstones anyway. Buon'idea.

My new giraffe print umbrella
Cemetery - beautiful

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trick or Treat

Halloween day was not so spooky and was lacking dinner in a pumpkin but it was still eventful and enjoyable. Saturday morning we got to go to Buonconvento, Asciano, Monte Oliveto, and Rapolano. We visited some churches, ate lunch at a monastery, viewed the lovely scenery, and learned about the process of making olive oil. All of the towns were sleepy and picturesque so it was a fun change of pace for the weekend.

The view from the Olive Oil Museum
Some Olive Oil

An old man working in the garden-
Outfit: Tweed blazer, White button up shirt
red beret, skinny jeans and leather boots.
His garden might look a little dry but at
least he is still lookin' good.

Three-wheeler: the steering wheel is not
a wheel, it's a handle-bar. Awesome.
I want one.

Later that night there was a Ward Halloween Party in Siena that we dressed up for. With some ideas from some friends and a little creativity I decided that being Mario would be the perfect costume for an Italian Halloween. Mario is the perfect merger of the two cultures - genius! My partner in crime forgot her costume (Luigi) but it still ended up being just fine. The missionaries also dressed up for the evening: hippie, nun (funny but borderline), gangster (very borderline - it's ok he's the Branch President), and a magician. They did a dance to MJ's Thriller - cute choreography - then it faded into Coolio's Gangster's Paradise (minus the lyrics - still dodgy) while the Branch President (gangster) rapped to it. It was so funny but I almost felt bad for laughing - I still did though - maybe I'll join Grandma in Kamas.

Kaitlin (We Can Do It girl), It's a me, Mario!
Annie (Frodo) - she won the costume contest hands down

Elders: Stanfield, Ranieri (Branch President),
Drury (served with Natalie Johnson) and Shaw
Up close and personal to my mustache.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mal di Gola

Translation - I lost my voice. Italians have a very interesting perspective on sickness and the process of getting sick. They believe that if your neck gets cold, or any part of your body, you will get sick. This afternoon my fake mom heard my voice and told me that I got sick because I left the window open and it was cold in our room. Very interesting. Italians are also very willing to share their opinions about sickness or dressing for the weather, even if you are a complete stranger to them. Eli got reprimanded by a complete stranger for wearing flip-flops in normal fall-type weather.

On a funnier note, last night we had a fun little slumber party with two other girls from our program. Annie, Eli, and I went to the city center and met up with Hillary. Annie and I decided to ride the bus home early. Although we warned Annie to grab her bus pass, she said, "It will be fine, they won't check tickets tonight." Ok, ok. As we were about to get on a bus to go home we saw the officers that check your tickets - we didn't get on that bus - we chose the other one thinking that we weaseled our way past the system. Little did we know that those buses have the same first stop and the officers got off on that stop and switched lines onto our bus. Annie immediately pushed the button to get off but she was caught. She hopped off the bus without me and all I could imagine was cute little Annie without her bus pass, money, or ID being thrown in the slammer for the whole night because she rode the bus without her pass. Needless to say, she got a ticket that included a hefty 40 Euro fine. It was slightly scary at the time but she handled it well and it makes for a good story now. After that, our sleepover was so fun - we pushed 3 beds together and slept any way we would fit. My back is sore and I'm exhausted but it was definitely worth it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Castagne e Funghi

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose....Who knows what chestnuts are anyway? I always thought they were just an easy joke for the immature and perverted mind, I didn't know that they truly existed and that people actually ate them. Sunday I finally found meaning to this yuletide carol nut because I went hunting for them in the forest with my fake family. Hilarious! Chestnuts are enclosed in this shell that is similar in spikiness to a sea urchin and there is a certain technique you use with your feet to open and expose the nuts. I feel like I'm telling the polar bear joke. Anyway, we found a lot of chestnuts that I am going to preserve and send home so that we can all try them! They have a good flavor and they are sort of chalky in texture. Interesting.
What a chestnut looks like
My basket full of chestnuts

The gorgeous forest
The sun peeking in around the trees
We also found some mushrooms in the forest. It was so hard because Benny kept pointing to different types of mushrooms and was quizzing me on the type of species and if it was toxic, edible, fatal, or just plain not good to eat. I was getting frustrated because once I got one type down he would switch to another and I kept getting them so mixed up. He would look at me disappointedly when I didn't know the answer. Oops.

Benny's two favorite things: Funghi and Eli
Beautiful Fungus
Upside-down Fungus
Previously in the week (Saturday) I went to a mushroom convention with Benny. There he taught me some of the species and classifications of mushrooms (hence the quiz the following afternoon in the forest). I got to meet the President and Vice President of the Mushroom Association - both of which know every species and classification of mushroom. Little did I know how popular mushroom hunting was here or that it even existed. I told my program director about this hobby and he said, "Imagine organizing an Elder's Quorum activity to go mushroom hunting in the forest, scarves included." Never in a million years BUT that's why I love Italy.
Man- Pres Woman- Vice (notice the man's scarf - he's handsome)

Cooking in the Tuscan Countryside

9 AM: Looking at this
10 AM: Baking with these two fun people

11 AM: Listening to Norah Jones
12 PM: Cooking pasta

1 PM: Cleaning my little loves
2 PM: Finished
We ate an amazing lunch with the shrimp pasta dish we made and ate the two different cakes we baked for dessert later that night. I've realized how amazing this opportunity is many times before but this experience truly engrained it into my memory for good. Who can beat listening to Norah Jones while cooking with the view of the Italian countryside? Breathtaking and simply perfect.


Mmmmm. Imagine streets and piazzas lined with beautifully organized chocolate stands, free samples, and even a chocolate climbing wall. Perugia's chocolate festival is one of the most famous in all of Europe and for good reason. There were so many different types and styles of chocolate that I felt like I was in heaven (I knew I wasn't quite there-no gelato). It rained the entire time but it made it possibly more fun because it somehow felt more ok to consume disgusting amounts of rich and super sweet treats. 30 Euro later and probably 10 pounds heavier, I don't regret visiting Perugia for a fun little getaway.

Chocolate purchased
Chocolate purchased by everyone in the group, lovely sight to behold

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sardines Anyone? Chocolate?

Tonight Benny brought out fish pasta. I was a little nervous because Eli hates fish and whenever some sort of seafood dish comes out she gets a little nervous and her gag reflexes heighten. Usually if she can't see the shape of the creature she's fine. This pasta dish worked well for her - little chunks of fish, no big deal. Then he brought out a whole basket of fried sardines - still in tact from head to tail with a little batter on them. Insert classic Eli face here, one of courage combined with disgust. She did a great job and ate everything - minus the spines - she couldn't eat those. Way to go Eli!! Most girls wouldn't even touch a sardine let alone de-spine and eat 30 or so.
Me, being the human garbage disposal, loved everything, spines included and even contemplated eating Eli's leftover spines...let's just say that I think I'm ready to be invited to the next General Conference Priesthood Afterparty because I'm a newfound convert to SARDINES (except I won't burp on you, I'm way more polite than that)!!
Tomorrow I'm going to Europe's most famous Chocolate Festival in Perugia, what some would consider a step up from sardines. Let me know if you want anything....mmmm

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Freud was Right

Me being sad and cold in my fake room

Dreams are truly a pathway to the subconscious. Last night I had a dream where I was sitting in the living room of my fake family apartment and Benny started talking to me without speaking slowly or clearly. He then asked, "Hai capito?" (Did you understand?) He repeated what he said and then again asked, "Hai capito?" Everything in my dream was wearing on me and I finally exploded. I burst into tears and I said, "No, non ho capito niente!! (No, I didn't understand anything)." (Maybe it's a good sign, I'm speaking Italian in my dreams). I then continued by saying, "I can't wait to just go home and speak in English where everyone understands me and I understand everyone." Then I woke up. It was a good day. I haven't really felt that intense about not understanding consciously- maybe it truly is my subconscious speaking - I have a midterm in Italian tomorrow.

I do agree with my dream though, all I want is to be understood. It's difficult to imagine myself fluent in Italian and it frustrates me even more when I see little bambini (babies) babbling and speaking in Italian more efficiently than I do. Maybe I will just live in America for good. Problem solved.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Discoteca & Other Less Important Things

Discoteca: Just what it sounds like - a sincere disco dance hall. Well, the one I went to was more of a social pub than a discoteca but regardless, it was amazing. I went with a large group of girls from my group and we had so many fun experiences and interesting social situations together.

We got to the dance pub at about 11 and it wasn't too exciting at that point. We figured that it would pick up later so we ordered a few drinks - not the kind of drinks you expect - and we waited. Eventually some fun songs came on and we couldn't hold back our urge to dance any longer. (Unbeknownst to us, nobody really sincerely dances at this pub but we created a really good dance party on our own). Boys were approaching us and all of the girls were being pretty harsh and rejecting any guy who was even trying to talk to us. I just decided to make it fun and start dancing with boys. It was fun and even a good idea in theory but I soon felt like fly paper in the middle of a cow farm. Thankfully I had very good friends who fought the boys off and helped me out.

At one point I went outside to find all of my friends but they weren't there. Oops. The boys followed me out there and wanted me to take pictures and they even tried to convince me that it would be a good idea to go home with them. No thanks.

Then I met Max. He's this cute boy from Rome who is studying here in Siena. He was completely what you would expect from a typical smooth Italian man. He was telling people that I was his girlfriend and that I was the most beautiful girl that he had ever seen. I wonder how many girls he has really told that to? Too many to flatter me. Anyway, we danced and talked a little (in Italian - thankfully he was patient and super interested or it wouldn't have worked so well) and it was fairly sweet. Imagine this, a tall, dark, and handsome man whispering Italian into your ear while holding you close, then looking at you with his gorgeous smile and dark eyes waiting for your response. Dang, watch out Stephanie Meyer, I think I'm in the running for writing the next hit romantic teen novel. Anyway, although I knew that it would never go anywhere, who can resist that situation? Not me! He tried to get my phone number and tried to set up a time to meet again but I figured that things should end there. Dating is not allowed on the program and that's sketchy anyway. So, right before I was about to leave, Max, my Italian boyfriend for the night, totally kissed me - he stole it from me. I was so shocked and so were all of my friends who saw it. I was so embarrassed BUT - who can say that they kissed a cute Roman boy in Italy? I can. It's bittersweet I suppose, but mostly just funny!
My dancing buddy - for a while
All of these girls are dancing queens

Secondary things:

Earlier on Friday (discoteca night) I went to Florence and found some cute pants, shoes, and scarves.

Saturday: I went to Arezzo and saw Vasari's house as well as the place where Life is Beautiful (a touching Italian film) was filmed. There was also and international market where there was food from all around the world. They also had bread the size of an alligator, it was pretty awesome!
My cute new coat I got for 20 Euro
The view in Arezzo - beautiful
Alligator sized bread
I also went to a pizza birthday party of my fake little brother, Giuseppe. How cute - little boys here have pizza parties for their birthday's too! He just turned 12. The party was hopping with a bunch of cute little boys right around his age. They all pitched in and gave him a really nice cell phone - hilarious. Imagine Nick having a cell phone. Also, during dinner the boys had their own little room and they were being super obnoxious and rowdy. Boys were yelling and betting over arm-wrestling, some were talking on their phones, and others were arguing about whose turn it was on the Nintendo DS. I could imagine them 60 years from now doing the same thing, but just as little old Italian men - probably arguing over Scopa (an Italian card game) or calcio matches (soccer). It was quite the sight to behold. Needless to say, I loved every second, it reminded me of home with all of the little yahoos running around all the time (strangely I realized how much miss it).
The craziness
The arm-wrestling competition

Eventful weekend! I'm understanding more Italian every day! HOORAY!! Thanks for your prayers!

Gelato Count: 23 - Ah, I'm getting behind my one a day goal.

*One sad story: A busy 10 bus means a lost umbrella and guess what - it's supposed to rain tomorrow. Thanks for buying it anyway mom! I loved it and used it for a good week or so of rain.