Monday, November 23, 2009

If we had a garage, and if our garage had a band...

Last Friday night was a long awaited Girl's Night Out. Nicole and I joined a group of friends for a viewing of the new Twilight movie New Moon, and left Marcos and Nick behind with the twins. Remember them? This is only one, but they're identical, so if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. (Just kidding Brookston; You are unique in all the world, you are unique in all the world...).

It was 1:30am when we arrived back at Nicole's. After watching the movie, consuming amazing goodies at Rebecca's house and having quality, meaningful talk for hours into the night (this made up for the I.Q. points that I lost over the course of the movie), we came back to a quiet sleeping-baby house, and two satisfied men.

While we were away, Nick (who moonlights as a rockstar) and Marcos had spent hours recording their own version of a church children's song called "Baptism" (located at the end of the post). That's Marcos' voice singing the first verse as well as melody in the third, and Nick covering the instruments and percussion, the second verse and the harmonies. I love listening to them sing together.

I have already put out my hints that a great, cheap Christmas gift for me and Giovanna would be to have four or five of the church children's songs recorded by the Daddies, but we'll see how far my suggestion makes it...

When in Rome... Location #6

And back to the European adventure...

After exploring Florence, we took a day trip to Rome to meet up with Amanda, who is like a sister to me, and who is currently serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (our church). Each week she has a day to prepare for life as a missionary, which usually includes grocery shopping, laundry, emails and the like. Marcos and I planned our trip to Rome for Amanda's preparation day so that we could take her and her companion out to lunch, visit a few famous places, and generally enjoy each other's company. It was incredible to see her in action, speaking Italian, and leading us deftly through a country that was recently foreign to her.

Our first stop was the Colosseum, which is a very impressive structure. We debated paying the loads of money and standing in the endless line that would allow us to see the inside, but Marcos tipped the scales with this comment: "Nah. I've already seen all of the movies that show the inside, so I can imagine it perfectly". (Can I opt out of child birth like that? You know, just skip through the painful part because I've already seen movies and I can imagine it pretty well?).

One of the things that we found rather inconvenient about Rome was it's lack of public transport. There were only three subway lines, and as you can imagine, three lines don't really do the job in a huge city. Supposedly the bus system was decent, but for tourists without a command of the language, buses are much less user friendly than a subway system with a good map.

I held a grudge against Rome for about half an hour until I noticed something peculiar as we made our way across town on foot: it was not unusual to see things like the scene below. And it got me thinking: How would I like to try and build a metro system through a city with three hundred layers of ancient ruins to plow through? No thanks.

When in Rome, eat pizza and pasta. With tuna on top. Apparently, it is all the rage to put tuna fish on everything.

Amanda asked a passerby for a restaurant recommendation, and we found ourselves at a place in a narrow street with amazing food. I feel famished all of a sudden, just looking at these photos again...

At Trevi Fountain, we threw coins in over our shoulders to assure that we would return again some day to Rome, and posed for a shot worthy to be hung on the MTC walls. Being with Amanda again after her nine or so months in Italy reminded me of the awesome things that happen to missionaries. Being constantly engaged in the Lord's work and thinking of people outside of myself and my own interests inspired a lot of change in me when I was in Tokyo as a missionary three years ago, and I could see the same miracles working in her. She has become ultra radiant, confident and capable through serving other people.

Not surprisingly, we also saw loads of nuns on the streets of Rome. I couldn't bring myself to take pictures of them, but I felt good about photographing the windows of the shops where these very fancy priest robes and accessories were being sold. We didn't make it to the Vatican City this trip (it was on one of the other two inconvenient subway lines and a bit too far away), but if that coin we threw in the Trevi Fountain works its magic and we are able to return to Rome someday, I will be very interested to see the center of the Roman Catholic church.

After laughing over a massive gelato and hugging and kissing Amanda and her companion good-bye, our last stop of the day was the Pantheon. Meaning "all Gods", we expected that it would feature the Gods of Roman mythology, but it doesn't anymore. The Catholic Church has long since taken over and made it - frankly - a rather uninteresting place to visit...

And that about wraps up the Italian leg of the journey. Stay tuned next time for Metta's Dream Fulfilled: Swiss Alps, a train, and a bag of chips...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dearest Reader in Malaysia...

Greetings from North Carolina!

I am honored that you have read my blog 9 times. However, I do have a concern. You see, three of my friends have, within the last week, announced that they are making their blogs private. This means that I will have to be personally invited to see their blog, and that I will no longer receive any notification when they create new posts. Knowing how hard it is for me to stay current with private blogs, I am hoping not to be compelled to do the same.

So, if we are friends (or friends of friends), I welcome you. If we are not, please enjoy your beautiful country and depart from my internet world in peace.

Love, or possibly no love,


Sunday, November 15, 2009


Q: When is your baby due?
A: April 1st. At our ultrasound, she was measuring within a week of that original due date, so the doctor kept it at April 1st.

Q: Have you thought of any names yet?
A: Yes. Unless something drastic happens (she is born with male parts, for example) her name is Giovanna. We really wanted a name that works well in both America and Brazil, and lo and behold, Italian names seem to be a real winner for international usability. Plus, we think it's pretty...

Q: How are you feeling?
A: Quite well. I still have to eat every two or three hours, and sometimes I have heartburn if I wait too long between snacks, but otherwise I feel great.

Q: Are you showing yet?
A: Well, it's either Giovanna or the result of eating two complete Thanksgiving dinners this week... you tell me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Holiday favorites: Deboning the Turkey!

Last night Marcos and I enjoyed the fun of participating in our neighboring ward's November Relief Society activity. Our friend Frank was lined up to demonstrate to the ladies how to debone and stuff a turkey breast, and Marcos did what he usually does: he volunteered to help.

After showing the unknowing females in attendance an old school Saturday Night Live skit of Dan Ackroyd playing Julia Child (yeah, the one where "she" debones a chicken, and cuts her finger, which gushes blood all over her food and workspace until she passes out - the boys felt this was an appropriate segue into their demonstration...), they showed us how to work the magic.

At the grocery store, Frank had purchased two sets of turkey breasts, which come with the bones lining the meat at the ribcage on the inside, and skin covering the outside. Starting with the breast side up, they flipped it over and basically cut the meat away from the bone carefully, so that the ribcage came out of the center and the breast meat fell connected at the middle into a large rectangular layout of meat, covered on the bottom with skin.

Then came the fun part. Once the bone was removed from the bird and the breasts were flattened out, Frank showed us how to mix up a stuffing, and lay a thick line of it down the center of the meat (where the turkey's cleavage would be, if that is helpful). When the stuffing was patted down into the middle of the bird, the breasts were folded up on both sides, and skewers were used to "staple" the sutures together. They made sure that the skewers were stuck through the skin of the bird, so that the meat wouldn't tear...

The final step was to "sew up" the gap where the stuffing was... well, stuffed... Using a strong string doubled up, they laced up the bird like a shoe, starting at one end, and winding the string around the skewers, and then crossing them and pulling tight so that the stuffing was well wrapped in the meat. Once the string was tied off, the skewer ends were trimmed, the stuffed bird was flipped over, and placed in the pan ready to bake!

Thank you Frank for showing us an affordable way to prepare a large meal of turkey and stuffing! If the smells wafting from the oven right now are any indication of how it will taste, we are in for a real treat tonight!

Holiday favorites: Cranberry Sauce recipe

For those of you who like homemade cranberry sauce, this is a holiday winner! I have no issues with the canned stuff (despite the ridges that cans leave in the jelly that remind me of dogfood), but if you are looking to go for homemade this season, and you want a recipe that doesn't take very long, this is a good place to start.

Cranberry Sauce

1 package of cranberries (pick out the rotten ones)
1 Tablespoon orange rind
1 cup orange juice (about 2 oranges, fresh squeezed)
1/2 cup water
1 cup honey

Mix ingredients in a pot on the stove, and boil until thick! Voilà!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Location #5: Florence, Italy

And we are back to our September European adventure...

There was only one stretch of our European journey where our Eurail passes didn't perform how we were expecting. We had been planning for months to take an overnight train from Paris to Florence, but when we arrived at the train station in Paris a few days before our planned departure date, they informed us that the overnight beds to Florence were totally booked, and, by the way, so was everything else.

By some stroke of great luck, we managed to book train seats that would take us to Italy over the course of the following day, but the catch was that we would have to switch trains a few times, instead of riding one non-stop ride throughout the night. A few times? We ended up traveling with 8 different trains that day! The unexpected bonus was that our route took us southward, stretch by stretch, through the entire country of France to the Mediterranean coast, and along the coast Southeastward to Italy. For a few hours our train ran shoulder to shoulder with the coastline, and we were able to enjoy scenery like this...

And finally, after train-hopping all day, we pulled into Florence at ten minutes 'til midnight. Our first destination the following morning was De l'Accademia to see Michelangelo's David, and the best buns in rock. Photography was not allowed, but I stationed myself clandestinely behind Marcos and got a few really great flash-free photos of this massive, incredible work of art. Isn't he beautiful?

Unlike Munich and Paris, Florence is small; everything you would possibly want to see in the city is within 20 minutes of walking. From visiting David, it was literally just two or three blocks down the narrow street above before we bumped into the famous Florentine Duomo...

Looking back over our photos of Italy, I have noticed that the things we were least fond of when we were visiting the country have made these photos the most interesting of the entire trip. After spending time in clean, efficient Germany, and breathtaking, romantic, gorgeous Paris, Italy seemed to dim a bit in comparison when we arrived. The country simply does not have the same capital as its more northern counterparts, and the infrastructure, the organization and cleanliness of the country were not comparable.

However, in hindsight, these pictures seem more interesting to me than the others. Despite my being pick pocketed in Florence, the crummy Italian trains we rode, and walking past a man urinating on the wall of a beautiful old building, Italy just seems to have a personality that is hard to beat.

Gelato! We patronized numerous gelaterias in Florence until we settled on our favorite, and on occasion Marcos would order one, and then another, and then another in the same sitting. Our favorite flavors were baccio (chocolate hazelnut) and mango. The best gelaterias mound their gelato into giant hills, and cover the mounds with the fresh fruit, nuts, or chocolates that correspond with the flavor. Mama mia!

Most famous cities in Europe seem to have a river running through them. In Florence, the Arno river divides the city, and the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") is its most famous bridge. It was the only bridge left standing after the retreat of Hitler's army in 1944, and although it used to be the center of butchery during the Renaissance era, the Medici family ousted the butchers because of the permeating smell, and it is now a center of jewelery. Below are padlocks connected to a gate near the center of Ponte Vecchio. Lovers write their names on the padlocks, and then throw the key into the river as a symbol of their eternal bond.

Two photos taken in the Uffizi Gallery, which houses a handsome collection of important Renaissance paintings. Above is Botticelli's Primavera, which is quite beautiful.

An artsy shot taken from the top of the Uffizi across a few roofs to the Duomo. See how close everything is in Florence? Below, a fine sweets shop window displays marzipan fruits. Marcos bought me a few as a surprise so that I could try them: wonderful, but I prefer to look at their pretty shapes and colors.

One of the highlights of our trip to Europe was climbing up to the top of Brunelleschi's dome, at the peak of the Duomo in Florence (how did pregnant body do this? No idea...). For most of the kazillion steps upward, we were in a narrow passage way that sandwiched us between the layer of frescoes on the inside of the dome (photo below), and the outer layer of red brick that is visible from everywhere else in the surrounding Tuscan hills.

And at the top? Heaven! Florence is nearly completely covered with red brick roofs, which look stunning against the haze of the green Tuscan hills that surround the city. We spent a long time on top of the world, taking pictures, sitting in the sun, and sending paper airplanes with love notes written on them off of the top of the duomo...

For our final evening in Florence, we walked to the outskirts of town, and climbed a hill to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is even more tightly tucked into the Tuscan hills. It was so beautiful looking out over the city...

...and ending our visit to Florence with this view.

But we couldn't leave Florence without a bang. After enjoying the views, we wanted to spend our last night in Florence at a fancier restaurant enjoying a last, great quality pizza, and so we found a nice place in a secluded street on the outskirts of the city.

Soon after we arrived, I left our table to find the restroom, and was surprised to see a camera-looking fixture in the upper corner of the ladies room. I tried not to imagine that the waiters were in the kitchen, watching me. After a minute of nervously doing my business, the lights in the restroom went out, and I found myself in complete darkness. Part of me was fearful, and part of me was relieved that the waiters on the other side of the camera wouldn't be able to watch me any longer. I fumbled at the wall to find the light switch, and pulled the closest thing to my hand: a long cord hanging from the ceiling.

As soon as I pulled the cord, a deafening sound broke the silence of my darkness, and I realized frantically that I had set off an alarm throughout the entire restaurant. On the other side of the door, I could barely make out the voice of our waiter yelling in broken English, "Push ze white botton! Push ze white botton!". In the darkness, fully exposed and with an alarm going off in my ears, I hit every button in that bathroom until I finally found the one that disarmed the alarm. The restaurant felt huge as I made my way back to our table with everyone staring at me with very amused looks on their faces.

A few minutes later Marcos left to use the restroom, and when he returned he whispered to me, "I used the ladies room just to check it out, and that wasn't a camera in the corner, that was a motion sensor. The lights are on a timer, and if they go out, you can wave your arm and turn them back on again".

Well, anyone can do it the easy way.