Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Frugal, Natural, and Environmentally Friendly

When I first arrived here, I had to buy whatever I could find and understand. I was not able to search for healthy foods (like kefir or fresh ingredients to make bread) and I had no idea which brands of products were the best. I "made do" for 6 months but now have officially taken up the task to figure out how to live frugally, naturally, and environmentally friendly in Milan. I asked the Lord to show me these 3 things specifically and felt quite overwhelmed, thinking I could maybe achieve 2 but definitely not all 3 since they "seem" to be mutually exclusive -- especially in this city.

Then, a friend of mine walked into the tuesday night study with a glass jar of what looked like something fermented at the bottom. I jumped up and asked her what it was. She said it was "Water Kefir grains." I had never heard of water kefir and had been searching and searching for kefir and could only find little cups of it for a pretty high cost at a natural foods stand. She gave me the starter jar, which was such a blessing because the only way you can get grains over here is if you know someone who has them. You can't really buy them. I took them home and started reading more about Water Kefir. Come to find out, it is, in a sense, better than regular milk-based kefir because the ingredients cost hardly anything and larger quantities can be consumed. I have been drinking about a half liter to a liter every day and have noticed SUCH a difference in my immune system, digestion, and even energy level. The greatest thing is the only cost involved is a couple tablespoons of cane sugar and 1 piece of dry fruit each day.

As I was searching for instructions on the Water Kefir, I came across this blog:
I started exploring and realized that the lady who writes it is a young mom, previously homeschooled, who now is married with two kids. She seems to have such a great heart for the Lord and I think views her natural living style in a biblical and balanced way. Believe it or not, the theme of her blog is how to be frugal, natural and environmentally friendly! I was shocked! She has everything from information on soaking grains, to recipes, to explanations on how to make your own household cleaning supplies. The greatest part is all of her ingredients are, for the most part, basic items that I can find here!

I did the math and realized that I could save almost 50 euro a month just by using her recipes for cleaning supplies. (for me, that's big...that's like 5 aperitivos with friends or an easyjet ticket to somewhere in Europe!) I also realized I could probably live 6 months longer by cutting the chemicals. And, I can obviously be a better steward of the earth God has entrusted to us to care and preserve by using baking powder instead of formaldehyde and ethylbenzene. So, as of last week, I have completely switched over to my own cleaning products except for detergent. For that, she recommends using something called Soap Nuts but I think you have to order them from the States and, not knowing how long they last, I don't know if it would be worth it to have someone ship them over for me. I bought several plastic spray bottles at the store and am trying different things. If anyone in Milan hears a chemical explosion in the Pagano area, I'm sorry. Chemistry was never my strongest subject.

Here's what I use for my all-purpose and floor cleaner:
1 liter of water
1 c. vinegar (we can only get apple vinegar here unless I wanted to mop my floors with red wine vinegar. It works fine but I just have to go over it with a wet rag)
2-3 tbsp. baking soda
2 tsp. tea tree oil (I know tea tree is a disinfectant but I am mostly using it for the fresh, clean smell especially since the apple vinegar has a smell that I don't love)

I used it on my floors yesterday and it worked GREAT! I actually think it works better than the floor cleaner I was using.

The other big change I have made is I am now making my own bread. I had the hardest time finding bread here. The "pane integrale" or "multicereale" here is not 100% whole wheat and my stomach just wasn't handling it after 6 months. I found a great German bakery that has WONDERFUL whole wheat bread, but realized I was spending 12 euro a week on two small loaves of bread. I decided to try to make my own even if I had no access to fresh ground flour. I found spelt and kammut in the grocery store here. My dear friend, Megan, gave me her recipe and after a few tries, I finally got the hang of it! I am using olive oil instead of butter since it is much cheaper here and it turns out perfectly. I almost think the olive oil makes it less crumbly, especially since we don't have dough enhancer here. Between knowing which ingredients to use and where to find them for the best prices, I can make a loaf for about 2 euro. HOWEVER, gas and electricity bills are outrageous so I might be in for a surprise next month when I see what kind of damage using my oven every other day has done. But, I cannot tell you what a difference this has made also in my overall health and energy level. I also laughed out loud when I tried it for the first time and said, "Oh my goodness! This tastes so AMERICAN!" I hadn't realized how different the bread is here and it was so nice to have a soft, warm, honey sweetened loaf! If you haven't tried to make bread for yourself, try it! It is SO easy and really doesn't take that much time or brain juice. (trust me, I'm still battling reflexive verbs, indirect objects, this stupid "farcela" and all the different places I am supposed to insert a random "ci" and don't have much brain juice to spare.)

So, that is my latest task. I am so grateful the Lord is answering my prayers in really unexpected ways! It's certainly a challenge and can sometimes be frustrating.

Case and point: I went to Esselunga, one of the main supermarkets here, to see if they had Castile soap. I looked in the cleaning aisle and didn't see it. Then, I moved to the bath and body aisle and saw nothing either. There was an Italian grandmother standing next to me and I thought to myself, "Ah, I'll ask her!" Bad idea. I explained to her that I was looking for a type of soap that is very pure and without chemicals. You can use it to wash your body or to clean your clothes or your house. (I love how I explain things in Italian like a 7 year old.) She looks at me and says, "Oh, that's disgusting! We in Italia NEVER use the same soap to clean our bodies and to clean our floors!" (yep, big hand gestures and a "puke-like" expression on her face)
"Nooooo, Signora!" I told her I must have explained badly.
She interrupts me and says, "Come here. I'll show you."
She then takes me to the cleaning aisle and says, "okay, these soaps you use to wash your clothes. These soaps you use to wash your dishes. These soaps you use to wash your floors." She then made me smell at least 20 different bottles as she was giving me a refresher on the concept of detergent verses all-purpose.
I just sat there and held my tongue.
When the stock boy asked what was going on, the lady kindly explained, "This girl is from America and they must do things very differently there. I'm explaining to her how we do things in Italia."
Again, just smiled and held my tongue.
Thirty minutes later, I escaped the Nonna and was finally checking out.

The worst part of the story was when I was venting to Allyson later, she mentions that the Italian version of Castile soap is called Marsiglia soap. Why I did not just ask her first, I have no idea.

If any of you have any other ideas that uphold these three "values," let me know!! I'll be sure to post as I go just in case any of you wind up in Milan battling Grandmothers in Esselunga and trying to keep yourself detoxed from all the necessary Vape use.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Six Months Already?

Yes, you read right. I have been in Italy for 6 months as of yesterday. So hard to believe. I took a stroll down memory lane while laying on a blanket at Parco Treno listening to my italian friends chatting. Here are some things I remember:

1. I remember saying goodbye to all my friends and family in when what seemed like "all of a sudden" Italy was upon me. I remember a really sad last hug from the Elledges in the D.C. airport when we realized that we were not on the same flight to Frankfurt and I had to board in 5 minutes. I remember sobbing all the way across the pond with my mind spinning, though, at the same time, being so thrilled to go to the place where my heart was already firmly planted.

2. I remember the big "welcome committee" at the airport with a sign that said, "Benvenuta, Amber!" that my ragazzo, Jake, made for me.

3. I remember dragging all 4 of my 50 lb. bags up my 85 stairs with Jason. Very well.

4. I remember my first day I took the tram from my house to the Greenwiches house and didn't get lost! (which is great since their stop is the last one and it is impossible to get lost...)

5. I remember my first aperitivo night. I also remember my second when I tried to speak some Italian and I thanked an Italian guy for exchanging tongues with me.

6. I remember the first time I went into the bakery beneath my house and all I could say was, "pane," "si," and "grazie." I also remember when I was actually able to "talk" to them for the first time and the lady shouted to the workers in the back, "She can talk now!!!"

7. I remember my first day of language school....and also when I forgot to take my name tag off that said "Amber, USA" and unknowingly ported it throughout the city. I remember the first time I felt like I was able to have a real and meaningful "conversation" with someone.

8. I remember my first road trip through Switzerland and Germany and the way my jaw was on the floor of the car the entire time we were driving through the alps.

9. I remember when I learned that you have 5 seconds to drain the pasta before tossing it in the sauce.

10. I remember lots of Carrefour and Ikea runs with Allyson.

11. I remember a pretty awesome Cinque Terre trip.

12. I remember meeting a great, new friend randomly in Parco Sempione.

13. I remember riding my bike in the city for the first time. Whew. I also remember when I got the hang of it and learned to "claim my rights" as a bike rider.

14. I remember when I no longer felt overwhelmed in Esselunga and was actually able to read labels instead of "praying and placing in the basket." Who knows what I have eaten...

15. I remember the first time I prayed in Italian.

16. I remember many embarrassing language mistakes. Many.

17. I remember shooting my first photo essay with Mario.

18. I remember having over 20 mosquito bites just on my arms in June before I decided to shave a couple years off the end of my life by intoxicating my house with Vape.

19. I CAN'T remember how many gelatos and caffes I have consumed.

15. I remember when I realized Milan felt like "home." And it still does.

I know it's "just" six months...but the difference between 5 and 6 months to me is the difference between "a few months" and actually feeling like I LIVE here. Living here has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I can hands-down say has been one of the biggest blessings --if not THE biggest blessing -- of my life. I have seen God's grace in so many new ways as a sovereign protector and provider, as well as an intimate companion and guide. I am most undeservedly blessed. The verse he laid on my heart the night before I left, Psalm 73:23-24, has yet to have a day in which it was not recited...and also not seen to be absolutely true.

And the cool thing is:


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Working Through Culture Shock

My brother is studying in England for the next year and it has been interesting to see how he has gone through culture shock there. I feel like Oprah since I am always saying, "Patrick, that's totally normal." Two days ago he said he has been listening to country music on repeat all day, which he always used to make fun of, and is thinking about getting a confederate flag tag for his bike.

Here's today's example:


so.. that "cutie" english girl just started a chat with me, and then called me her "pet american"

I haven't given her the time of day at ALL


I think the "pet american" thing is not as demeaning as you think it is!

it's a very "british" thing to say


oh, okay

then I can relax, right? I was about to dump her in "Area 51"








she just told me that she adores American accents


well, good for her