Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Aurora meets Santa

Kyle and I volunteered last Sunday with the Humane Society for their pictures with Santa fundraiser. Our job was to distract the doggies/bunnies/hampsters into looking at the camera. We decided this was just not something Aurora could miss out on. Here are some of her cute pictures!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Kyle's Italian Experience

So since I just posted my paper, I thought it would be fitting to post Kyle's as well. So enjoy... I know I did!

My Italian Experience
Beginning this journey was something of a Herculean task. Vanessa and I knew that we wanted to study abroad. The question was how in the world we were going to be able to afford it, academically as well as financially. She was in her last 2 semesters of school and I still had some major requirements to fulfill to graduate so it is nothing short of a miracle that we were able to come. That said, it was undoubtedly divine intervention that brought us here. I am increasingly grateful to have been given such a wonderful opportunity to have experienced such a place with such people as these. We all had our ups and downs but even the downs seemed somewhat higher than they are back home. There is so much here that I am going to miss but I will never forget so many things as they have hit a part of me that will never let go of them. It’s hard to put into words the feelings I have for this incredible journey. In a word this trip has been…enchanting. Italy has a magical way of making every care in the world seem somehow insignificant. Time continues and things keep growing and the best you can do is squeeze the grapes when they are ripe and enjoy the cheese when the milk goes bad. There will always be another season. As things wrap up I feel a sense of responsibility ominously hanging over my head and while I know that many more wonderful things lie ahead in my life, I can’t help but feel it would be easier in Italy. I will miss the streets with few cars and the innumerous trees that have spread like wildfire through the valley. The vespas, the truckcycles, the gelato, the trendy teenagers hanging out at the playground, the local drunks staring at us at Rogiro’s, the pizza, the pasta, Rome, Florence, Arrezzo and the jousting, Sienna, Cortona, Orvieto, Montepucciano, Piensa, Pisa, Cinque Terre, scarfs, sunglasses, illegal venders parading through the crowds. Wild boar, gnocchi, bruschetta, olive oil, balsamic, and of course Santa Chiara with it’s hard bread that badly needs salt, it’s stinky bathrooms that you can squeeze into on good days, the somewhat functioning internet, the ping pong table that sometimes has a ball lying around, the TV room that is seldom unoccupied, and the studios that are never unoccupied, and the dead tree that stole our courtyard from us for so long it hurt. The turtles stuck in their corner, the laundry that never gets dry, the wonderful cooks and cleaning ladies that never get mad to our faces. The ever helpful, all knowing RC’s, the incredibly gracious Paolo and Garnet, and the cool but sometimes moody Marco. Above all else, I will miss our people, my new familia. While we all are going back to the same place, I feel that things will never be the same as they were here. It will always be just short of Italy. I am taking with me broadened horizons, having been instilled with a new found appreciation for art and architecture that I may not have found with lesser gods than the ones that taught me here. Wink! I will always see things in a new light now that I know what has come before. There is nothing greater than to learn from those that love what they teach. If there is anything I would change it would be to have more time. It goes by so fast here. The trips were probably the best thing about the entire experience. It felt so nice to have experienced Italy enthusiasts as our guides. I feel that the most valuable difference this experience will have made in my life is to make me so much more receptive and infinitely more interested in other cultures and has made me stunningly more aware of how other fellow humans view us Americans and the importance of that perspective. I know feel compelled to spread this knowledge and instill in others the same since of unity that I experienced here. Am I a better citizen of the world because of this course? Undoubtedly, but not without a feeling of cynicism. I’m not very confident that other fellow Americans are capable of achieving the sense of responsibility that I have acquired. Call me crazy but I’m not quite sure we care enough. If nothing else I would hope that all who travel throughout the world will take back home with them a sense of caring about the rest of the world. Without that I truly fear for our future. Nothing in this world is worse than a society of apathetic ignorants. At least one American is coming home ready to take ‘em all on!

Italy paper

I have been thinking alot lately about Italy. It doesn't seem possible but a year has gone by since we were there. How did time fly by so quickly? There are days when my day seems to last an eternity yet, somehow those incredibly marathon long days have multiplied into the equivalent of a year. As I was reminiscing, I came across the final paper I wrote for the conclusion of our journey. It is a short culmination of the lessons I learned while in Italy. Reading the paper a year later touched my heart in a different way than how it did when I wrote it. The words fished out feelings and thoughts that had taken a siesta in the dark and small pools of my mind. It seems as if they were drowning and demanding for recovery. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

My Italian Experience
Italy, oh Italy, how I love thee. I am twenty-two years of age and my life up to this point has been a series of spectacular events. Italy has been amazing in so many ways that there aren’t even words to try to describe my emotions connected with this experience. Because there is so much to talk about, it is difficult to narrow down the selection, but I will save you the torture of reading a book. The topics I am addressing are my renewed faith in the kindness of others, and the new eyes I have acquired because of Italy.

Italy puts your brain into overactive mode. There are so many things to look at and so many places to rest your eyes. Italy is full of new and exciting sounds and sights. When I first arrived here, I didn’t think I would ever stop looking at the mountains. I wrote a question in my journal, “Do Italians know how blessed they are? They are surrounded by this beauty on a day to day basis. Do they take it for granted or do they marvel at its majesty and greatness on a daily basis? Does it go unappreciated by its own people?” I am always surprised when everything new and novel turns to everyday and ordinary. There were days that I would pass the view of the valley and not even look out at the many shades of green on the fairy inhabited hills. When I do look at the landscape, I find myself holding my breath, waiting to see if it will disappear as a figment of my imagination. But my imagination is not as brilliant as this beauty so I know it is real. The weather might have had some hand in my negligence as well, but it is not an excuse. It is so easy to take beauty for granted when it is no longer new. Appreciating life takes energy and I don’t always remember to fork over that energy into that category of my life.
The churches and ruins were absolutely amazing as well. I nearly squealed with a child’s vibrancy and gaiety at the sight of the first Florence church we pranced into. How could it be that a building hundreds of years old could create such ardor? I had never before seen a building so beautiful and so carefully crafted and loved. The simple, quickly constructed, American buildings we create for ourselves in comparison to the incredibly ornate and brilliantly architected Italian buildings are like comparing a McDonald’s Tonka truck toy with a Mercedes Monster truck at a Monster Rally. I cannot get over how much time, patience and love have been put into many of these buildings. The art adorning the walls is often amazing in itself, but when combined with the grandeur of the architecture and the overall emotional response the space creates, it is enough to give one the chills.

One other thing that has surprised me has been the kindness of others. I am going to tell you the story of how we got to Italy to help give a better understanding of this kindness that I speak of. We arrived in Florence late on the night of the 27th of August. We didn’t know how to get to Castiglion Fiorentino; in fact we thought we would have to take a bus. We went to ask in the information area and this wonderful woman who spoke English extremely well offered to show us how to get there. When I say that she was going to show us, I mean she rode on the train, got off where we had a connection and then said goodbye to take the train back to Florence. There had been some mix up with the trains and there were about 8 Americans who were very confused as to what to do, so she went way out of her call of duty to help some silly Americans tourists. Would I be that generous with my time? How many people are there out in the world who are so willing to lend a kind hand? I was in shock and, I couldn’t express enough gratitude. After she left, the fear of getting lost crept back into my body. We jumped on the next train (it was less jumping and more dragging our exhausted bodies and heavy luggage onto the train). The light of joviality that the woman’s charity had lit started to fade as we quickly realized not only did we not know where to get off, but we couldn’t see out the window. My stomach started to nervously dance and gurgle out of fear and anxiety, my head started to scream “What are you doing in a country where you can not even communicate a simple question?!” I had been anxious all day about this issue, but the bubble had risen to the top and was ready to burst. The only other people on the train were this older Italian couple who spoke English as well as I speak Italian. It turned out, that even without the use of language, we were able to communicate effectively enough. Once again, someone was charitable and kind to us. Every stop that the train made, they would stare out the window with us to help decipher the foreign Italian city names in the dark. They would call out the name at every stop and speak encouraging Italian words which I didn’t understand, but made me fell better nevertheless. Once we found the correct stop we said our goodbyes and departed ways. The fear gurgled to life again as I realized that we didn’t know how to get to Santa Chiara. We made our way up to the bar closest to the train station. We had been traveling since 6:00 am that morning and it was now close midnight and we had only eaten one meal that day, breakfast. I am not actually what time it was, but I do know it was very late, I was tired of lugging luggage around, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I sat down on one of the chairs at the bar, while Kyle attempted his broken Italian with the bar tender. He came back and said, “I have good news and bad news. Santa Chiara is only about a kilometer away, the bad news is it up hill all the way.” I wanted to cry. The exhaustion and hunger had taken over and I didn’t think I could make it up the hill. I think the man saw my desperation, and offered to give us, perfect strangers, a ride.
How many times were we offered help by perfect strangers in this country? It was a miracle we arrived in one piece and if hadn’t been for the help of the Italians, I don’t know what would have happened to us that night. My point with this story is this; I have always had faith in the goodness of people, but I had started to question that faith. Our introduction to Italy blew that faith into full force and I will never question it again. Italy is a country with good reason to dislike America at this moment in time, yet perfect strangers were able to see past our American accents and treat us as human beings. If only we could all learn to treat each other like these Italians treated us, this world would be in much better shape.

I am thankful for what Italy has given to me. It has given me new eyes to look through. My adventure side hasn’t lessened, but increased. I know feel a desperation because of the limited time and money I have in this life and the desire to explore the world to its limits. Italy has only given me a taste of what the rest of the world has to offer, and it was mighty flavorful. But not only has my desire for travels increased but it has given me new friends. The Santa Chiara family will always be with me in my heart for as long as I live. I will remember Italy with overabounding love. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to experience the magic of the Italian experience.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Made up e-card

So my half sister Rachel had an accident last week. Although her car is in car heaven, she has not been seriously damaged and walked away with only a couple bruises, aches and pains. She wrote the family asking for some cheering up and maybe an e-card, because car wrecks have a way of making a beautiful day real ugly real fast. Somehow, however, I couldn't find any free e-cards, maybe I didn't look hard enough, but in my brilliance, or insanity whichever you choose, I decided to make one up. Some days my words and imagery flow freely from my brain directly onto the paper, while other days I have to use a jack hammer to chizzle my thoughts from the wreckage that is my brain and then put all the broken pieces back together like a jigsaw puzzle. And I should say that I suck at puzzles! Anways, this morning was one without the heavy machinery, and I liked the final product so I am posting it for all the world to see, all three of you!

Rachel, I am sorry to hear about your accident! I couldn't find a free e-card to send you, so just imagine pictures with this made up e-card:

Imagine a beautiful green land, like one you would find in Ireland. The grass is sparkling with dew, the trees are jeweled with water droplets that glimmer in the moonlight. A fawn is grazing not too far from you and an angelic, delicate ringing sound dances in your ear. It's notes are kindred to tiny little wind chimes flowing in the wind. But these wind chimes are making purposeful notes in layered harmony, fashioning music not meant for this world. As the sonance increases in intensity, a fairy flys past your ear and playfully pulls on your loose strands of hair that have been waltzing in the air to the magical music. Her touch sends surges of energy through your body like static electricity, but there is no pain, only residues of love and hope. All of a sudden..Don Don Don A T-Rex comes storming through this pristine wonderland, trampling on all that is good and beautiful, but as you gawk at this archaic animal you notice that his tree trunk sized legs seem to be slowing. Has he seen you? You hold your breath, and stand as still as possible, hoping beyond all hope that he hasn't seen you. Your eyes haven't deceived you, his enormous body has halted abruptly right in front of you. He is not facing you, but you can see that his face is contorted as if in concentration. Suddenly a putrid stench encompasses the entirety of your nostrils and a huge mound of dung defiles this magnificent land. T-Rex storms off in pursuit of an imaginary adversary. The contamination is piled 4 feet high and it's stench could kill a horse, but it's not a horse that is standing right next to it, its you! But look at the bright side, at least he didn't poop on you!

Crap Happens!

But at least you have friends and family that love you and will always be there for you. So this is my e-hug to you! I hope that your week gets better!

Love Vanessa

That really goes out to all of you. I want you to know that if you are ever in need of a shoulder (even if it is low and boney) or an ear, I will always be there for you. Have a good day, and if you find crap, just push it aside and find your silver lining! (If only that advice was easy to put into practice!!)

Driving Mrs. Grandmother

I am going to give you my driving saga. Well, I don't know if it could be defined as a saga, maybe a boring tale of epic proportions. It began by Kyle and I driving up to Lubbock to bring Grandmother back to San Antonio. On the way up to Lubbock we listened to a book on tape, "The Nanny Diaries" which was terrific and hilarious. It was kind of like the "The Devil Wears Prada" expect toned down and with a Nanny story rather than a fashion magazine's executive assistant. We finished it right before we arrived in Lubbock. The next day we spent working on grandmother's to-do list, including bathing the dirtiest Athena ever, fixing e-mail, screwing in light bulbs etc. Later Kyle and I took little Aurora on a walk to see the Geese at the duck pond. (We call it the duck pond because most of the year ducks are the masters of the water, until the geese migrate in for the winter re-taking command.) Her knees were working better so we figured she might want to use her legs some. (we had been carrying her everywhere.) She really enjoyed the walk and was wary of the Geese. While we were at the pond, feeding the multitude of water birds, at least 8 flocks of Geese in V formations flew overhead. Well, when I say V formation, I really mean they attempted a V formation but really would make a lopsided W. We tried coaching them in the correct letters of the alphabet, but alas our advise was rudely ignored. Kyle wisely warned that we should keep our mouths shut should an unwarranted excrement fall from the sky. When the Geese would fly over, all of the birds in the water would squawk, or whatever official sound they are said to make, as if to say hello to their fellows. It was quite funny. After a while, we found this novel event lacking in lengthy entertainment value so we decided to walk home. I really felt like exercising but we didn't want to walk Aurora too long, and after we got home, I was bitten by the lazy bug and didn't venture out again. At least until we went to see our movie"Accepted". We enjoyed it for the most part partially because we went in with such low expectations, it wasn't difficult to meet and even exceed our expectations. The movie was about a bunch of kids who didn't get into college so they made one up and then people started showing up for classes. It was pretty amusing, absurd and silly, but entertaining. I was just glad it wasn't one of those movies that hurts to watch like most of Julia Stiles movies!
Driving back to Lubbock was an adventure as well. Kyle had bought several books on tapes to supply our lengthy drive. After Nanny Diaries we had "'Tis" a memoir from the "Author of Angela's Ashes" and old comedy shows including Bob Hope etc. From our last experience driving with Grandmother and having to endure awful language from the terrific book ( not being sarcastic, it really was a wonderful story) "A long way down" we wanted to try extra hard to pick literature that wouldn't be offensive to Grandmother. "A long way down" used profane language, including the F word, a lot. It was an uncomfortable situation. The selections were limited however. Kyle tried two different libraries and then Half Price Books. I suggested a classic book, but of course they were all out except for the books I had already read. Our first choice was the old clean cut comedy shows however, the sound quality of the old comedy shows was bad and my ears were tired of straining so hard to understand the words. After listening to two of these thirty minute selections we switched to the memoir. I thought it would be a safe bet, but I was wrong. The author himself didn't use profane language much, but the people around him did. Especially when he entered the army. After that progression in his life, everything went down hill, screwing was a hot topic of the other solider boys and clean language didn't seem acceptable in the army according to his recollections. I could feel my face getting red as I sat and listened to this story that I would at any other time found humorous. Why do people have to talk about screwing in front of my grandmother, can't they see it makes me feel uncomfortable! The irony of this story is, that Kyle and I continued to listen to it on the way to the coast after dropping Grandmother off and on the way back. That entire six hours was very clean, without talk of screwing or profane language, however as soon as we started to drive Grandmother back to Austin with us, it rared up again, but worse. Maybe not worse, but with more details such as "the nipples are the keys to opening up a girls legs!" It is a curse that I cannot escape. I am just going to accept that my grandmother will always be exposed to ungrandmotherly language and description while in the car with me!
Oh, and also, like in Angela's Ashes he brought up his eye problem. I don't know what it is about eyes or why distortions of the eyes make me feel queasy, when decapitation in movies doesn't even have that effect, but eyes do have that effect and I don't know how to control the overwhelming sensitivity to eye conditions. He had some type of eye disease that caused blood shot redness of the eyes and puss to seep out. He was very embarrassed by his eyes and therefore was too shy to talk to girls. He talked about it for a while, and I could not stop squirming in my seat. I shut my eyes and tried to visualize a happy place, but my stomach was not fooled and reacted quickly to the mention of his eyes. YUCK!
Driving to Lubbock is not my favorite activity, but having my Grandmother down for Thanksgiving is worth it!

Pictures from Halloween