Sunday, July 27, 2008

Moving right along....

We went to my brother Jered's house in Waco a few weeks ago and had a blast of a time with him and Holly and Parker. I am not going to post all of the great pics twice, but please visit her site to see all of the fun we had. I will show a few pics that were my favorite and a few that didn't make it on her blog.

Holly playing play dough with Anna. (video coming soon at how EASY it is to make)...for those of you interested in making homemade play dough.
She did NOT want her picture taken. She is such a diva when it comes to the camera.
At Panera Bread with Jeremy, Nikki and Eleanor Rhodes. Once again, Anna did not want to take a picture.
Eleanor saw Anna's hair and was going in for the kill.

I love both these pics because Anna is having such a blast. It just makes me smile.

So, moving on, we found out last Monday that Anna was able to get into "the" daycare in Rockport, the town where I teach. We put her on the waiting list last year and didn't think a thing about it until this summer, when we realized that Stephen was only going to be in school for three days of the week in Corpus and I was commuting 45 minutes 5 days a week to Rockport. So we called "the" daycare (and I say this because everyone in town says everywhere else, which is not a lot of places, are not worth it in comparison to this one) and because of our previous years placement on the waiting list, she was allowed an upcoming spot. So, we went with it. We started looking for a place to live, and found one within a matter of days that is more affordable than the one we are currently renting. I have three weeks left of summer and two are taken up partly for staff development. So, we have begun packing. Oh, how I loath packing. I have been singing that in my head for the last few days to the tune of Oh, how I love Jesus. It makes me feel better as I open yet another cabinet to find gobs and gobs of junk that we have decided we cannot live without. I really am fine about it...I have had more time to pack appropriately, not just throwing stuff in a box hoping it won't break during the move and I am getting really positively anxious about living in a new place. I could have been a military brat I think with the love I have of starting again and the idea of change. Anyway, I will try to post with pictures of our new place and how things are going once we get settled week after next. I am in PD this coming Tuesday and Wednesday and then on Thursday we move. Stephen is still searching for a job in a restaurant, they are currently finishing up with summer staff who are heading back to college and he hopes to hear from various prospects this coming week. Pray for success in that if you feel so inclined. Have a fabulous week!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The day our lives changed...

Anna was born. Since then, things have never been the same and I know that Stephen and I would rather die than go back. She has a great trust for those who love her. She will try it just because Mom or Dad said it was OK...she really is obedient. She is very tender and sweet and loves to give kisses and hugs. She likes one on one time. I say it more and more, her personality is just like her dad's. She loves to read before nap and bedtime, like 30 minutes of it is fine with her. Her favorite book right now is "The Eye Book" by Dr. Seuss...and that isn't forced Dr. Karen Summers (optometrist aunt)..she just really likes it better than the nose book and the foot book. She is starting to sing songs little by little and it makes Stephen and I want to cry when she notices she is off pitch and can correct it. She makes us laugh moment by moment with every little noise and the words she tries to say, like guacamole was kuh molee today. AWESOME. She brightens our day and we could not imagine life without her. I thank God daily for the UNBELIEVABLE gift He has given me in her and am humbled that she is second only to my salvation which I take for granted more than I should. I hope and pray that when we decide to have another child, that they are just as precious as Anna, and also as well behaved! : ) She has spoiled us rotten as a first child!

We celebrated her birthday in Corpus at my Mom and Dad's house last weekend. Here are some pics of the occasion. Those in attendance were Jered, Holly and Parker Johnston (my brother and family), Great Granny (my grandmother), Granny, Grandpa and cousin Kaylee
(Stephen's parents and our niece) Tommie and Mike Welch (my aunt and new uncle..congratulations are in order :) ) . Libby Grantham (fabulous friend) and her girls Sadie, Tessa and new baby boy Jack. We did things I knew Anna would love. She started the day with a horse ride with J-Paw. (no pictures of this event)
Then the guests arrived and we did some swimming in our rocking 20 dollar pool from Walmart. Can I say, that for 20 bucks, this thing is AWESOME! They had a good time while it lasted. It was getting close to lunch, so we broke down the pool and went inside to do lunch and presents.

When it came time for cake, Anna was not too sure about her cupcake, even though her counterparts had a GREAT TIME. She opted out after about five attempts to eat the cupcake and went for jello instead.
Notice the new hairdo. We cut off the mullet curls.
Not very sure of this fire thing. Let us, just for grins, see how she compares with her cousin Parker when it comes to fire. Flash back to his birthday.....YES! That IS my nephew at ONE YEAR old, trying to grab fire. He loves it. Not so much like Anna on this one....but very much like his Father, who last week, during 90 degree weather mentioned starting a fire in the fireplace...he said he was joking, but I have my doubts. : )

So here is the progression of tasting the cupcake. (which I promise was good..see other children lapping it up for proof...)
First taste.
Obvious disgust.
Notice Stephen talking her into eating the cupcake on the right and Kaylee watching in amazement as another child turns down chocolate.
We even tried using a fork, which she loves, to no avail.
Why is that fire thing in my Jello?

She does NOT play around when it comes to her Jello. She is serious.

Present time was a little crazy. Lots of kids around. They had a good time though. She got some awesome stuff.
That is a lot of kids wanting very badly to tear at some paper and Anna just stood there and looked and wanted ME to open her presents. I could tell it was making the other kids (especially the older ones) itch.
Talking about her bell on her new tricycle from Granny and Grandpa.

Trying out the bell for the first time, she was very excited and surprised.
She loves her friend Tessa. That is Great Granny there in the recliner.

After everyone said bye, we put her down for a nap and she crashed hard. It went over fairly well. After it was all over and I started looking through pictures I realized that there were NO pictures of anyone else except those who were in direct sight of Anna. Some pictures did not turn out that great of other people, because they were not prepared to be photographed. Oh well, maybe I will be more mindful of it next year. We went to Waco two days later and spent the week with Jered, Holly and Parker and had a blast. I will post pictures from that soon.
Have a great week!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Final Chapter..for real

So on Tuesday we spent a majority of time at the Duomo in Florence. We left and on the way out did a little shopping as we walked passed some street vendors. We got in the car and headed for Siena. All the reading we did on Siena talked about how it was a must to see it at night. So, that is what we did. We arrived around 4:30 and started walking the streets. Stephen walked by a bakery (pretty high class stuff) and they were closed already. They had a t.v. in the window playing a video on how they make ricciarelli (biscotti made with marzipan). In case you didn't know, marzipan is almond paste, so they are pretty freakin amazing. Stephen began searching for another location that was open that would sell him some ricciarelli. He found it later, and they were pretty expensive so he bought one and we shared it. WOW. About the same time, Karen and I walked past a print makers studio and gallery. I walked in because I love printmaking and I had wanted to purchase some artwork from Italy and prints are the cheapest thing you can get. His stuff was amazing. Siena was founded originally by Jewish settlers before the sons of Remus, Romes' founder, came to stake their claim. A lot of the proprietors in Siena are Jewish. There is a synagogue there and this print maker was also Jewish. A lot of his artwork had Hebrew letters and such. Siena is also a medieval-esque town. Siena didn't grow much after the plague that devastated it in the 1300's. Most of the town, as we read in the book's, is "frozen in time." The print makers current piece he was working on was the Hebrew alphabet in the theme of illuminated manuscripts. They were stunning. If I could have afforded one of these amazing works I would have purchased as many as possible. I bought a few things that were nice and affordable and we made our way after he bundled them up. After we arrived in Siena about 15 minutes had passed when it started to rain. It was one of those constant slow rains, we knew it was going to rain most of the night. The print maker's studio. I was foaming at the mouth. I would love to have a space like this one day.
The color is a little dark, but you can see some of the detail in the Hebrew letters. They were breathtaking.

We then started walking toward the Cathedral in Siena - in the rain. Karen stopped and bought an umbrella. We got to the Cathedral and Karen and I got an audio guide. This was probably my favorite church from our entire trip (other than the Duomo). The church was absolutely beautiful at first glance, but once inside and exploring a bit, Stephen found the library and recommended that I check it out, and that is where I found this cathedral's real treasure. I walked in and was blown away by the amazing frescoes on the wall. Pinturicchio painted these frescoes in 1502 and 1503. They were some of the most well preserved frescoes I have ever seen. They were amazing and vibrant. I wish we would have had more time there, but as it was getting close to 6, they were getting ready to close the church. I am very thankful though, that I was able to see this collection. Also in the Cathedral was a bronze statute of John the Baptist by Donatello. Supposedly his, John the Baptist's, right arm is housed there.
Exterior view of the Cathedral.

Inside the Piccolomini Library. Frescoes inside the library.
Statue of John the Baptist by Donatello. He was known for having sculptures that were very dramatic and full of texture.

We walked around for about another hour or so, trying to decided where to eat. A lot of our books said that Siena was NOT known for good food, but in one of the books, there were a few recommendations. Trattoria la Torre was the one we chose and we were all the more thankful afterwords. Our dining experience was one that will be remembered for a lifetime. The owner, a large Italian man with an apron, seated us. He spoke in Italian the entire time he greeted us and explained the menu. We muddled through ordering and the food was amazing. While we sat, the owner walked around and visited with his customers. A younger woman, that we figured was his daughter, sat behind the counter singing a Whitney Houston song that played overhead. This was fairly common, there was 80's music playing everywhere in English and they knew all the words, even though they could barely speak the language. I remember thinking multiple times, the music in Europe ROCKS! As we were getting ready to leave, Stephen read an article framed and posted near the front door about the restaurant, by "Under the Tuscan Sun" author Frances Mayes. She wrote this article for the New York Times, International Issue back in 1990, prior to writing her popular novel. As Stephen read, the owner walked over to him and Stephen asked him if the picture was,"tu madre", he said yes and made a gesture for sleeping. We were not sure if this meant she was upstairs asleep or had passed away. It was a good article and a fabulous restaurant.

Owner of Trattoria la Torre.
Article Stephen read and discussed with the owner.

After dinner we walked out into the main gathering place of the city, Piazza del Campo. This area is a fan shaped cobblestone amphitheatre-esque center of the city . The Sienese are looked upon as humanists because the center of their city is a gathering place for people, not a church.

We stopped for Gellato and Stephen finished his way before Karen.
Outside the Gellato shop. The group of people straight ahead were all watching the Europe cup soccer match between France and Italy that night. That is why the whole Piazza was deserted. It normally is swarming with people. The rain didn't help either, it was still raining off and on pretty heavily. The small crowd outside this restaurant and the various employees within each shop would periodically cheer or boo. It was a fun experience....then the game was over, and Italy had won. That was when it really got fun. Young people from each side of the Piazza came strutting into the fan shaped area chanting in Italian. There were suddenly about 50 people where there had been none. They were so excited that their team had won. The rain started back up and they started running around in the rain, chanting even louder and kicking a soccer ball around. It was too dark to get great pictures of this, and the rain made it even harder, but this is the best we got. All in all, Siena was a fabulous experience, and if you get the chance to go, forget what the books say, this place is one of a kind.

The next day we packed up our things from our beloved Villa in the Sienese countryside. We headed out pretty early because we wanted to make it to Pisa to see the leaning tower, and then drive the many miles to Cinque Terra. The drive was very interesting to both. Some stories can only be told in person, because they are too colorful for the blog, but if you feel so inclined to ask, we will GLADLY oblige you. : )

We got to Pisa with little problems and found a parking place with the help of a gentleman walking his dog. We stopped for Cappuccino and a quick restroom break and started walking towards the tower. The first "sighting" of the tower.

Excuse the "up the nose" look, but it was the only way to get the leaning tower in the picture.

I could NOT resist doing the totally dorky "pushing the tower back up" pose. See me there to the right. I asked Stephen if he wanted me to take his pic, he said, very snootily I might add, "no." : )
Stephen and I in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Leaving Pisa and heading for Cinque Terra. The streets were lined with orange trees. SO AWESOME! Anyone in the town could just pick one and eat it.

We headed for Cinque Terra, which is Italian for five towns. These are five very small towns that rest on the edge of cliffs off the Mediterranean Sea in North Eastern Italy. Please see map from previous post for clarity. : ) We did not realize how long it would take to get there or that it would take us nearly one hour to drive down the side of the mountain (cliff) to reach these towns or we would have stayed longer. We only had time after we arrived to see one of the five towns. We were to spend only an hour or two there so we could check into our hotel in Milan that night. I shall allow the pictures to tell the story and beauty of Cinque Terra, more specifically, the town of Vernazza.

Driving on the highway towards Cinque Terra.
After following the road signs until they disappeared...our map did not have the little roads on it that we needed to get to our destination, we stopped and asked this VERY nice man in a range rover. God bless him. We were in the middle of nowhere and there were not a lot of people around to ask for help. We flagged him down and he said we needed, in broken English, to go towards Pignone.
The blessed sign to Pignone. We were really in the middle of nowhere.
We drove a seriously, one lane dirt road and drove through some crops. These men were giving us the, "stupid Americans" look.
Then we made it to the mountain and started driving, in a standard vehicle mind you, down hill. We were at about a 45 degree angle most of the way down. Our first sight of Vernazza. We were SO high up, we could barely believe that was our destination.
A far off view of Vernazza as we came around the mountain after the fog cleared. This gives a better idea of how far off we were.
Walking down the hill after we parked. We still had quite a hike before we made it to the town.
The street into town from the water. Restaurants and shops lined the streets.
The edge of the beach, only rocks and mountain. This made me think of Goonies. : )

Stephen placing his feet in the Mediterranian Sea.
Stephen on the stairway overlooking the boat dock/manmade beach area.
Stephen and Karen tasting Anchovy Bruschetta, which I opted out of.
How Vernazza looks when the sky is clear and no atmosphere clouds the camera. WOW.
That is Stephen way out of sight, getting better directions out of there. : )
We drove to Milan and got into our hotel. It was a very much needed nights rest. We had traveled quite a bit that day and had seen more than I could remember. Our trip had come to an end. We were to catch our flight the next morning around nine. There are so many other pictures and stories that there is just not room for on the blog. I was sad to leave, but SO excited to get home to see my baby girl and I know Stephen felt the same. We had been away from her for 11 days and it was going to be another 20 or so hours before we saw her again. The blessing of this trip will never be forgotten and the reason for it in the first place, the honor of someone who was taken from his family too early in life and the research to keep it from happening to another will be in our thoughts always as we remember our trip. If you want to read up on Nick Gonzales and his foundation and feel compelled to give, please do so. Here is the link to his story of life and the foundation that hopes to save one. Thanks for reading if you have...we had a great time and are happy to be able to share our experience with you all.