Friday, November 24, 2006

the three of us

as brandy said earlier, jack is always behind the camera, and not in the picture. she is occasionally wrong. just occasionally. so here, for your viewing pleasure and to calm those who thought i fell into the Tiber river, here we all are:

Piazza Farnese, Roma
This big fountain is from the 2000 year-old Baths of Caracalla. Our strange expressions are telling the photographer--an old passerby from France--how to take the photo with our complicated point-and-shoot digital camera.

Fontana Paola, Roma
This fountain, built in 1612 to commemorate an acquaduct, is high up on the edge of the Janiculum Hill and gives one of the best views of Rome. The Fontana Paola, known as the Fontanana (the mother fountain) is a short walk up the hill from our house, maybe a 1/4 mile, and is a great place to get away from the city while still in the city.

Colosseo, Roma
Here we are in front of the Coloseum (no introductions needed) and next to the Arch of Constantine. I can't explain Nora's pose. Crazy girl.

Stazione Termini, Roma
This is moments before our first trip out of Rome. After this we ran to catch our train to far-away Frascati, known for its views, roasted pork sandwiches (much better than it sounds now that I'm typing it), and white wine. It's only a 30 minute train ride, but it felt like we were hundreds of miles away.

Paestum, Campania
Dinner at an amazing restaurant and hotel, a proud member of the Slow Food Movement , on the shores of the Mediterranean in the city Paestum. Their city was part of Magna Grecia, the Greek Empire, in the 6th century BC, and is near where the Allied trops landed in 1943. We were there on the last leg of our study abroad students' trip to Napoli, Herculaneaum, Pompeii, and Paestum.

We'll make it a point to take more. promise.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A huge sigh of relief

Yesterday we hosted a Day Before Thanksgiving Cocktail Party at our office. (You can put any combination of words before Cocktail Party, and it works.) One of the guests--the spectacularly talented, beautiful, and psychic N--brought us this

She's not even American! She's just plain brilliant. Perhaps she meant to bring it for the guests of the party. Perhaps I should have shared it with the other hosts of the party. Instead I kissed her feet and squirreled that pie away into the fridge. Nobody loves it more than me.
Thank you, N!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Val and Pierre

We had our first visitors last month--Val and Pierre! Val's a friend of mine from Austin, and she met Pierre while traveling this summer in southeast Asia, or New Zealand, or Australia. Of course Pierre is not from any of those places. Go on...guess where he's from. Here they are in front of the French Embassy in Rome.
It was wonderful having them stay with us. It's nice to have familiar faces (and a familiar language) to hang out with. It's also nice to see your city through a fresh pair of eyes every once in a while. We did our best showing them around Rome. (My best is not very good. I still get lost in my neighborhood and never remember the names of very important monuments.) Jack does much better at this. I have to say, even without important details or correct names to accompany the sites, Rome does a pretty good job being impressive on its own.
Here are Val and Pierre in front of the Vittorio Emanuele II. This is an enormous monument right in the center of town. (That's it. That's all I've got for you.)
It's also nice to have visitors, because you get to be a tourist again. We don't really go by the Trevi Fountain very often. It's always crowded with tourists, crooks selling worthless junk, and Italian men lurking on foreign prey. The fountain itself, however, is lovely at night. Here are two pictures of Val and Nora when they went one afternoon.

And here's a pic I took of Val throwing a coin into the fountain at night. (You're supposed to throw a coin in to ensure that you return to Rome.)
And here's a picture of all of us (sans Jack--behind the camera) in the piazza by our house. The instructions were to "look goofy." Apparently Nora and Pierre felt that this was enough?

On special occasions, like having visitors from France, we let Nora drink beer. Very big beers...
...but this makes her crazy...

...and we have to take her home.

Val and me.

We're in Trouble

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, (sorry for the alliteration) and I'm beginning to realize that it is one of my favorite holidays in the states. It is certainly the holiday that carries with it the most traditions in my family. We usually go to Hemphill to celebrate with my dad's side of the family, and we always have the same dishes: a spinach/broccoli casserole (the casserole that taught me, age 7, that vegetables can be yummy), cheese rice that my grandmother makes, a squash dish that my aunt makes, rolls made from scratch by my other aunt, yummy stuffing, and Pink Lady (a dish named by me). OH--and turkey and ham and gravy.

Obviously for me it's the side dishes that make the meal. THOSE side dishes. Those side dishes = Thanksgiving for me.

So let's see: spinach/broccoli casserole--requires sour cream. Not found in Italy.
Cheese rice--I've never made it. I don't know if anyone has ever made it besides my grandmother. I know, however, that there is orange-y cheese in it and those canned green peppers. Not found in Italy.
Squash dish--this one we could probably make. I'll have to find the recipe for this.
Rolls made from scratch--HAHAHAHA ahem
Yummy stuffing--Jack's in charge of this one. I trust that whatever he makes will be good (but I know it won't be right. He got the recipe from I'm pretty sure our stuffing comes from Down Home Cooking)
Pink Lady--this delicacy is made with Cool Whip, powdered Jello, frozen strawberries, and bananas. ...We've got bananas here.

And last, but not least, pumpkin pie. One year my mom tried to substitute sweet potato pie for pumpkin pie (as if I wouldn't know the difference?!?!) I cried. Real tears.
Canned pumpkin and sweetened condensed milk are not found in Italy.

I know our Thanksgiving is going to be delicious. And I know that Thanksgiving is supposed to be about giving thanks for what you have, and griping about not having the right casserole or a yummy gelatin dessert is certainly going against the season.

I don't care.
I want pumpkin pie.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Remember before when I said something like "You might think not knowing anything about Nora's school would make me frustrated?" and then I said you'd be wrong? I'd like to modify that statement. MOST of the time, you'd be wrong.

Yesterday Nora and I showed up at school four minutes late (as usual) and I watched Nora walk up the stairs as I dutifully stood on the sidewalk (parents are not allowed to go inside this secret society of School). Luckily I like to watch her walk into school; luckily because this time Nora did not turn around and give me her usual cute wave, because this time the woman who works the front desk with the wonky eye stood in front of the door and would not let her in.

Other little children were walking up the stairs, but my poor child was being barred. I marched up those forbidden stairs and used a large percentage of my Italian vocaulary to find out what was going on "Perché?" She then launched into some speech at me which I couldn't make out at all, but there was a definite undertone of "and you should have known about this already you stupid woman." "Mi dispiace. Non capisco Italiano." (the remainder of my Italian vocabulary) She then rolled her good eye at me and heaved a huge sigh of "well what the hell am I doing wasting my time talking to you?" I did not budge, however, and stood staring at her and just past her into the House of Learning where there should most definitely be someone that could somehow communicate her angry words to me. Eventually she had the same idea and grabbed a woman to "come talk to the American mother" (I could understand that). I was told that the second grade teachers had a meeting that day until 10:20 and we were to bring the second graders then.

I am fuming for so many reasons.

A. I've worked in schools, and I've had meetings, and they suck. They're supposed to suck. You have to march into the library at 3:15 after the children have all left, after you've been working all day, to listen to the principal drone on about testing procedures and hallway rules, but you accept it as a necessary evil. Since when do they get to postpone SCHOOL to talk about how to improve school? Why don't Italian teachers have necessary evils? A meeting that starts at the same time as the normal work day? And they get two blessed hours without the little boogers? Let's have these meetings every week!

B. Why was I the ONLY second grade mother who was trying to push my child into the sacred House of Learning?? How did all of these other parents know?? I dumped out Nora's backpack and looked through every book, every pencil bag. No note. I began thinking that this Secret Society of School actually did welcome all of the other parents, but they kept out the American as a fun cultural prank. "Those Americans think they're so smart. Let's see how they survive a school year with no communication at all!"

C. The people who work at the front desk of schools are supposed to be sweet and nurturing. Not wonky-eyed gatekeepers.

Later that evening when Nora came home I discovered that there had been a note. Nora had left it at school. I know you're laughing Mom, and I really don't think that I deserve this. I know I perpetually left things at school when I was a child. I know that my leaving things at school was the cause of The Nightmare of middle school. But in a foreign country, shouldn't I be cut just a tiny little break?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Three things I appreciate about Jack

1. He takes pretty pictures. And he's diligent about taking that little camera around. I'm awful in this area, and when I look back on the five years I spent without Jack...well there's not much to look back on. A huge gap in the photodocumentation of my life.
I'm trying to be better about uploading his photos to flickr. Here's the website where I do that occasionally:

2. He has a quirky view on things like tooth fairies and tooth mice. Jack believes that our child should be able to have open communication with these magical creatures. And so...when Nora leaves notes for the tooth fairy (and now the tooth mouse), they write her back! I thought this was a little strange at first. I certainly never communicated with the tooth fairy when I was a child. And I think that I would have been a little creeped out to receive a note under my pillow from a fairy or mouse. It's one thing to imagine this ephemeral being exchanging money for my nasty tooth. It's another to picture this being standing in my room, holding a pencil.

Yesterday was the Day of the Dead. A day when one pays homage to his/her dearly departed relatives, and they in turn pay homage to children in the form of small presents at night. And Jack thought that our dead relatives should leave Nora a note as well!?! Yes, Jack a fantastic idea...for saving money, since then we could move into a one-bedroom apartment because there's no way a child would be able to sleep in her own room again after receiving a letter from a skeleton under her pillow.

3. He often moonwalks for us even though sometimes he hurts himself doing it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

update from jack

"how is it going?" i get this email question and it's not that i don't want to reply to it, but to give the question its due, i can't just say "fine." so let me take a little more time to answer it and send it out en masse.

the really short answer: everything is great here. a bit too busy at work for my liking, but i am a bit lazy, so that's to be expected. the three of us still make time to go out for long walks and yummy dinners. we're in Trastevere, a very cool part of rome--a 10 minute walk to the center of town--and are surrounded by amazing things. too bad our amazing friends are 6000 miles away. we're making some friends but it doesn't happen overnight. you've got to start somewhere though.

we miss home like crazy, it goes without saying. brandy stays close by chatting/emailing with friends, i keep grounded by occasionally talking on the phone (skype, actually) and listening to austin radio (well, KUT only) to feel for brief but wonderful moments that i'm sitting on the couch early in the afternoon in austin. it's warm outside and the cicadas are making themselves known. i'm walking to grab coffee and migas at (insert any of the dozens of mexican food places i miss dearly). my salivating mouth usually wakes me and jolts me back to reality.

i fill up my day with this and other moments. i concentrate on these simple moments throughout the day--like seeing the sun come up over the tiber river.

watching Nora's cute wave goodbye when she goes into her school (she's not yet at that stage of being embarrassed of her parents).

or playing in the piazza santa maria in trastevere by our house. sometimes we people-watch, sometimes we fire-juggler-watch, sometimes we play games, like "chairs," a surprisingly fun game of stacking little chairs on top of one another (thanks jose and maria!)

or going to markets for fresh and inexpensive food. it's a beautiful thing to get 2 lbs of tomatoes (that actually smell and taste like tomatoes) for less than a dollar. nora loves it and buys her own stuff, like this kilo of mussels from the seafood lady.

just relaxing, doing nothing. brandy is excellent at this art form.

seeing kids chase birds in a piazza; smelling 25 different foods cooking depending on the direction of the breeze; hearing the spice and herb seller sneeze uncontrollably for half an hour or the crazy lady yelling in the piazza outside my window. sorry, no pictures.

then there's the walk home across the river.

that's when we leave some of the tourists behind and squeeze into our narrow alleys...

...quaint medieval houses...

...for a few hours of relaxing...


...drinking...the sign on the door of the bar below basically says "...then what the hell are you doing here?" a reference to the fact that it serves only beer. excellent german beers that you've never heard of. they serve nothing else, not even water. so the name is the bartender's reply when you ask for anything but beer, as if you asked for a pet turtle at an ice cream stand...

...and going for gelato.

i know that doesn't answer the question that well, but maybe it gives you a better glimpse? hmm? you can reply to this post or email me, but please let me know how you're doing. we miss you all. nora loves it here and that makes brandy and i love it even more.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tooth Mouse and the Tooth Fairy

(Dictated by Nora; typed by Brandy)
Instead of the tooth fairy there is the tooth mouse. It seems disgusting but he's come to my house; I've never seen him, but it seems like he's very cute. He drew a picture of himself and that's how I can tell that he's cute. And I can tell that I've never seen him because mice can be quite quiet... sometimes.

It all happened one day when I had a very loose tooth. I was brushing my teeth and I worried about my tooth so I wiggled it, wiggled it, wiggled it, and before I knew it, it fell out. So my dad made me drink salt water, which I did not like a bit. It was horrible even though I plugged my nose, and some people say that always works, but the taste was so strong, it didn't.

I woke up the next morning. He gave me money--one Euro, and he talked to the tooth fairy, and the tooth fairy said to him that I like to keep my teeth. And I still have a tooth hole this day.