"It's my happy birthday party."

Yesterday was the birthday of two important people in my life: the Winged Monkey and Beebs' daughter Taylor. Needless to say, WM is significantly older than Taylor, who just turned 3. With WM being out of town for martial arts training where his friends were taking him out to what h referred to as a mid-shi-shi restaurant and who knows what else, I had the great fortune of attending Miss Taylor's ladybug party. And let me tell you, when Miss Taylor throws a ladybug party, there are going to be ladybugs.

There were ladybug table cloths, ladybug plates & napkins, ladybug cookies, a giant ladybug cake, ladybug tutus, and even real live ladybugs for the ladybug hunt. I'm not kidding about this. Did you know you can buy a bucket of ladybugs for $12? 1500 ladybugs, to be exact, all in what looks like a small, clear butter tub, and which you are instructed to put in the refrigerator until a few hours before releasing in order to slow down their eating. They are, after all, trapped in a small container, and if the food ran out before time, there is a good chance those ladies might turn on one another. What kind of party would that leave you with?

3 1/2 hours with 10 children, all under the age of 4, and their parents was enough to bring me to the conclusion that I am not really all that sorry that I don't have kids yet. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the little munchkins, and I actually quite enjoyed watching them all scramble about looking for the "BUGS!", but, my god, the noise was crazy. And the crying? It seemed like every 5 minutes someone was crying because they wanted a turn playing with Taylor's new pink, battery-operated hair dryer. I want kids some day, but I'm thinking first I need to come up with an alternative to birthday parties because that might just explain some of the crazy moms I've encountered in my time as a teacher. One too many kiddie parties.

I was, of course, the only non-parent/single-type in the bunch, and, therefore had very little to add to the discussions on BMI charts and potty training accidents and pre-natal vitamins. But I did have the satisfaction of getting the best gift reaction out of Taylor. She got so excited over the pig in a tutu pillow I got her she almost forgot about the rest of her unopened presents, choosing instead to hug the pig and lay down on the floor with it.
I may not be a mom, but as an aunt, honorary or otherwise, I rock the kiddie present world!

Posted at 6:16 AM
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Volatizing My Esters

Bossman is what in yuppie circles as known as a Foodie, so he has enjoyed helping me in my quest to develop an appreciation for wine. He recently told me that all the swirling that WM does with his glass of wine does actually have an effect on the sophisticated drink, and that, no, it is not just some pretentious habit designed to make the uninitiated feel inferior. So, I've been working on my swirling technique, but no amount of swirling could make me like the Malbec that I tried last night. Ick, is the term that comes to mind as the battery acid I recently had to clean off would probably have tasted better. Guess the rest of the bottle will have to wait for WM's return...he can drink anything.

Any alcohol typically makes me sleepy, so it was no surprise that I turned in early last night, which accounted for my waking up at midnight, unable to go back to sleep until 2:00am, and only then for about 3 hours. I finally gave up the effort around 6:00 and got up to give my return to running (after a 3 month hiatus) a second chance. Today was a better morning for it, as there was a nice breeze to kind of move the humidity around a bit. Summer in Texas is not exactly a runner's dream.

So now, I'm sitting on the couch, watching reruns of Charmed on TNT and trying to motivate myself to start in on my to-do list for the day, which includes, among other things, buying a birthday present for a 3-year-old, mopping my kitchen, and finishing my Father's Day shopping.

Life is really not all that exciting the past two days, and I can't say that I really mind that much. If my whole year can't be drama free, I guess I'll take the small bubbles of it I can get. No reason to volatize the esters; think I prefer to just sit and breathe.

Posted at 7:41 AM
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Welcome home...sorta

First, we must praise the airline gods for the creation of technology that allows for direct trans-Atlantic flights to Dallas. I'm not sure I could have withstood another 9 hour layover in Chicago like we had on the way to Rome, but the direct flight back from London wasn't to unbearable. There was the jackass in the seat behind me that kept pushing my chair upright while I was asleep, but you can hardly blame someone for trying to get that extra 2 inches of space in the sardine can.

Another bonus came in the form of an unexpected delay in the Winged Monkey's departure on his trip. It had been assumed that we would miss each other by a few hours and that it would be another week before our paths crossed again, but the fates were on my side on this one, and he ended up not having to leave until the evening after my return, so we had almost 24 hours to spend watching Double Indemnity (if you have ever watched a movie with a winged monkey, you know that is not an inordinate expanse of time for one film, as they like to pause and comment every couple of lines) while eating delivery and packing his stuff. We also had just enough time to discover that my car was dead, but not enough time to actually do anything about it before we were supposed to leave for me to drive him to meet up with his ride. Can you say "uh oh"?

Needless to say, I met WM's mom for the first time Tuesday evening, for a total of about 15 minutes, most of which were filled with confusion and frustration on everyone's part as we worked out a plan for the 3 1/2 hour round trip Monkey Drop. Not exactly the first impression I was hoping for. :(

Yesterday was family day, and I spent the bulk of it with Big Sis and Favorite Youngest Niece trying to find pants to fit my incredibly shrinking frame (those Europeans don't believe in breakfast) and trying to get my less than faithful auto in running order again (and, yes, friends, pouring a diet coke over your battery terminals does indeed dissolve any corrosive buildup, allowing for a good connection when you have to jump said battery. Who would have thought something that ridiculous would work, and who wants to drink something that dissolves battery acid?).

So, today, I decided, would be reserved for me and my faithful couch, whom I have missed in every European city on my tour. First, however, I decided I needed to get back on the running horse, so to speak, so I laced up my shoes and headed out at 6:45.

It was 80 degrees. At 6:45 in the morning. Seriously. And it's not even July. This does not bode well for the summer, people.

What also doesn't bode well is the fact that I only made it about a mile and a half, and the bulk of that was walking. It is going to be a long road back, my friends, a very long road.

Posted at 7:23 AM
As part of our last afternoon in London, we took the kids to Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. It was a beautiful sunny day, and Londoners and tourists alike were sunbathing out on the big grassy areas while all manner of opinions were shouted from soap boxes and step ladders and folding chairs. All the "isms" were covered: socialism, atheism, Catholicism, Marxism, relativism, etc.

One man had a sign declaiming U.S. imperialism and the conspiracy of the United nations, though I never really got the gist of what exactly the UN was conspiring about.
A Marxist, red flag draped behind his head, was screaming about the "bio-psychological nature of man", but I'm fairly certain even he didn't fully understand what he meant by the phrase.

Another gentleman proclaimed himself an "adamant heckler" and asked his audience to suggest topics for discussion. He wasn't so much passionate about a subject as he was passionate about the attention. In fact, when asked about his opinions on the hot button topics of our day--abortion, homosexuality, etc.--he repeatedly adopted a "to each his own" stance, which, while possibly admirable, did not a fierce argument make. He was a bit like the Unitarian of the speakers: you are welcome to disagree with me, but let's hang out and disagree together.

A couple of the kids got involved. One girl was told she was one of the most disgusting human beings that particular speaker had ever met. Another of our group climbed a pedestal herself and proceeded to speak about positive energy and its ability to influence people and decisions.

The whole experience was amusing, but I can't say that I was overly impressed with any of the discussions. Maybe it was an off day on the corner,maybe it was the fact that my allergies were acting up under the shady trees and my sinuses were killing me, or maybe I have reached my saturation point for this trip. A girl can only absorb so much history and philosophy and art in a 2 week period, and then she just starts to crave reruns of Gilmore Girls and trips to Target. My cultural experiences require a dash of pop in them to offset the intellectualism and keep me from getting too broody.

I am, after all, a Libra; balance is key.

Posted at 11:33 AM
What is it about traveling that makes me so tired? Not the actual touring part, but the actual moving from city to city. I’ve never quite been able to figure out why riding in a bus or plane or train can leave me completely exhausted. I mean, all I’ve done is sit there for a couple of hours. And usually I get in a nap or two on the longer trips, so one would think I’d bound off a train completely energized instead of stumbling off in my current zombie-like state.

And the bruises! I look like I spent a couple of rounds in the ring of a UFC match. One on each thigh from separate run-ins with my luggage. A couple on each knee from spiteful tray tables and arm rests. One on my hand from I don’t know what, but it wasn’t there yesterday. And of course, I’m pale, even after the Italian sun, so they tend to stand out in the florescent glare of the train station lights.

I think I am much more the vacation type than the tour type. I want to go somewhere for a week or two, hang out, relax, soak in the atmosphere, not feel guilty about occasionally sleeping in past 8:00am. This waking up at the crack of dawn to eat a croissant before dashing out to run around a city like mad hare, rushing from tourist stop to tourist stop can wear a girl out. After 13 days on the road, I am ready to head home and spend a little quality time with my couch and a book.

Don’t get me wrong. I have enjoyed seeing the sights and admiring the art and savoring the food (well, except in England…not known for its culinary genius), but this is no vacation, and I think I am a girl in need of a little vacation. The closest thing I got to real down time were the two evenings I managed to soak for 20 minutes in a hot bath in Zurmatt (after I had conned two of the guys on the trip into trading rooms with me so that I could have the room with the giant pink bathtub, because what teenage guy is going to make good use of a pink bathtub when there is beer to be had?).

My pink Swiss bathtub.

Touring is great, but I think in the future my trips will consist of more time in fewer cities.

So, I will enjoy the last 2 ½ days I have left in England, but then I think I am heading home to be a bit of a hermit for a week or so, and I am looking forward to that almost as much as I am looking forward to seeing Wicked tonight and all the pieces in the British Museum..

Posted at 10:18 AM
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Kandinsky and this thing called life

The showers waited to grace the city with their presence until after we were off of our bus tour, just in time to catch us as we walked to Notre Dame and then on to the Centre Pompidou. But what would a trip to Paris be if it didn't rain? And besides, the weather was a perfect excuse to go in and sneak a peak at the current Kandinsky exhibit.

I happen to like Kandinsky. I have a couple of prints in my house, like this one:It hangs in the hallway to my bedroom and it makes me happy. :)

The exhibition today was really well put together. The gallery was clean and airy, the works were nicely hung, and the whole thing was organized to show the progression of Kandinsky's work as he made his way through a life spanning two wars and a revolution.

According to the program, Kandinsky once said his creations were "great paintings that gradually take form in my heart." Unlike something created in a fit of artistic genius, his paintings developed slowly, and he had to nurture them and wait for their fruition to come in its own time.

This is a concept I have been struggling with in my own life for a while now: how to be patient and let events unfold in their own way rather than always trying to take control of the situation, trying to force a pace faster than what is healthy, or what is even possible. Letting go of your control, rather real or imaginary, is nothing less than petrifying. What if something goes wrong, or, maybe even worse,what if nothing at all happens because I didn't make it?

Posted at 3:58 PM
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The 9:00am Glacier Express

It was raining this morning in Zurmat. The clouds spilled over the mountain peaks and down into the valley, catching in the tree tops, shrouding the sleepy cliffs in a foggy layer of gossamer, cloaking the mighty Matterhorn in a heavy grey flannel .

Lower down, below the tree line, remnants of the clouds float above the rocks like steam billowing into the chilly morning air. Drizzle coated the all but empty streets, where the first grumblings of the day were building toward the impending bustle of hotel trolleys and construction lorries. It was a morning that begged for an hour mores sleep wrapped in the warmth of a white down comforters and a good night’s sleep.

Through the mist you could hear our troop approaching, speechless for once, as the low rumble of our luggage wheels on the narrow asphalt road echoed down ahead of us. A line of drowsy burros pulling their burden behind them made its way to the train station and platform number 5.

We are leaving our mountain hideaway, with its pine trees and birdsong and crisp mountain breeze, and heading back down to the crowds and the traffic and the soot of the big metropolises of Paris and London. In our leaving, I cannot help but think of Whitman and Thoreau and their appreciation of the simplicity of a life among the trees and the rivers and the grass beneath their boots. There is a wisdom beyond words in the woods, and a calm that I have no doubt could settle the most anxious of souls.

As it is, the kids are waking up and the volume of their chatter grows in steady increments, chipping away at the peace of the damp mountain morning. Already I can hear the faint echo of an iPod and the shuffle of a deck of cards as they prepare to distract themselves from the beauty passing them by outside the window of our aluminum train.

Posted at 1:21 PM
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This is one of the many phrases that has graced my hearing in the past two days as I have spent more time with the 38 student-types on the trip. I have to admit I almost spit out my Sprite at that one though. Some of the kids are pretty witty. The picture just doesn't do the colorful bills justice. They are pretty flamboyant.

Some, however, are still 18-year-old boys. And while my theory on men is that they are all really only 17 inside, it has been a while since I have spent a significant time outside of the classroom with those who are not trying to hide this fact in the least. I have learned more naughty sayings, and various genitalia slang in the past 48 hours than I had in the last year. And all of it in the most charming setting on could imagine: Zurmatt, Switzerland.

Zurmatt is a ski resort nestled at the base of one side of the Matterhorn. It was apparently the site of some Olympic ski events several years back, snd since then it has grown steadily so that when it is full of tourists it has 35,000.

Cars can't make it up the mountain most of the year, and there are really no places to park on the narrow streets, so the town is reached by a train from another town further down the mountain. The only vehicles you see are bikes, cute little golf cart type trucks, and horse drawn carriages.

I think I was supposed to be born in the mountains. Feel completely at home surrounded by the trees, and the cliffs, and the snow.

Makes me dread going home to the Texas heat.

Posted at 4:47 PM

Flooded in Florence

Climbing to the top of the Piazza Michelangelo to sit out on the patio of a 4 star restaurant and enjoy a last glass of Italian wine while overlooking all of Florence may sound like the perfect way to end a stay in my favorite Italian stop, but one should always remember to take the weather into account when planning such an outing. Because, you see, while the hike up isn't so bad on a cooler than average June evening, and the view is indeed breathtaking, the slide back down the hill in a torrential downpour is less than heart-warming.

18-year-olds really have no judgement when it comes to weather, so I probably should have just nixed the whole idea of staying for their "one last glass of wine", but they were kinda cute, wanting to be all grown-up-like, so I went with them and watched as they tried to find a bottle of chianti they could afford. This process would have been much easier if the waiter spoke more English, and if some of the girls hadn't already spent quite a bit in the market that afternoon, and if any of them knew much at all about wine. As it was, I was actually enjoyong the show they were unknowingly putting on for the entire bar staff...until the rain started.

At first it was just a little shower, and that only lasted about 10 minutes. But then 15 minutes after that, the real rain came.

Have you ever tried to walk down a gravel hill in leather flip flops in the rain? For the uninitiated, let me just tell you that the water on the inside of the sole of your shoe makes your foot slide foward in your sandal...only to by stopped by the leather piece that laces between your toes..and digs into your skin as you slide downhill. It is not at all a pleasant experience. It is even less pleasant when you a) do not have an umbrella, b) do not have a true raincoat, and c) are having to keep up with 8 somewhat ADD teenagers on what is for most, their first trip away from home without their parents.

The whole experience proved 3 things to me:

1) I should always have an umbrella in my bag when on vacation.
2) There is a reason Americans where their tennis shoes everywhere.
3) I am getting old.

Still, the whole experience was amusing (if more than a little damp), and I know it will be one of the more memorable stories we will all tell about the trip.

And it did give me the bribery material I needed to con two of the guys into switching rooms with me at the hotel tonight...so I spent the end of my evening soaking in the giant pink bathtub :)

Posted at 8:01 PM

Roman Holiday

Rome was…well, Rome. That means mopeds and exhaust fumes and lots of tourists. And despite all that? The Colosseum still impresses, the pasta is still perfect, and, at some point, the inevitable humbling sets in. This time, it was the Villa Borghese and the work of Bernini that left me feeling both inspired and inadequate.

The story of Apollo and Daphne has always been one of my favorite myths. Daphne, a nymph, unintentionally captured the attentions of Apollo, who was determined to have the beautiful creature despite her equal determination not to be had. In the heat of the chase, Daphne calls out to her father for help and is promptly transformed into a laurel tree to avoid Apollo's groping hands. A disappointed Apollo weaves a wreath from his beloved’s leaves, and wears it in honor of the love he was denied. Meanwhile, the beautiful Daphne remains a tree forever.

Bernini’s sculpture captures the pair at the moment of Daphne’s transformation, crystallizing the lust, the terror, the momentum, and the amazement of the tale. Daphne’s toes have sprouted roots, her fingers have blossomed into leaves, and Apollo’s mad grasp is thwarted by her skin turning to bark.

And all of this chiseled from cold white marble.

As an English teacher, I spent years of my life picking apart other people’s creations…analyzing plotlines, dissecting metaphors, etc. I never thought much about the process until yesterday. Standing at the base of the sculpture, I could not even begin to conceive of how one would go about creating something that complex, that detailed, that extraordinary.

How does one make flesh from stone?

I cannot even begin to conceive of the process, but yesterday I staring up at a perfect example of such a result, and I was left completely speechless. (And those that know Daisy know that that that is a completely foreign state of being for this chatty flower.)

I will live out my ordinary life and never be able to create something so perfect and so enduring as that ethereal piece of stone. I have to be content merely admiring it.

And yet I am grateful that in this crazy world, in the middle of a filthy city, there stands a villa that shelters objects so beautiful you can hardly believe that they were made by a mere man. And yet, there they stand: a testament to our potential.

Posted at 2:56 PM

Daisy's Tweets

My Momma Taught Me To Share

Tag, you're it!