Rome

When my husband first proposed a trip to Italy, I was on the fence.  Italy was not one of the places I had ever had a strong desire to go. I mean, it was on the list, but only because I technically want to go everywhere eventually.  I just really didn’t know too much about Italy. I knew there was Julius Caesar, and gladiators.  I knew a little about the Roman empire, but mostly just that once upon a time it was huge, and then it fell.  I knew that Vatican City was the smallest country in the world, coexisting with Mama Italy as the heart of the Catholic church, and the home of the Pope.  I knew a very tiny amount about a minuscule portion of a country that was rich in culture and tradition.  Of course I was not as excited as I could be; I was unprepared for everything I had in store for me.

I am honestly not sure how to condense my entire trip into one post.  Rome?  Amazing.

We stayed near the Colosseum, and visited on both our first and second days.  The first day, we only saw the outside, and on the second we toured through.  It was huge and impressive, and unbelievable.  After the Colosseum, the rest of the trip begins to blur.

We visited Vatican city on Wednesday.  Small tip for anyone traveling?  Make sure to check the Pope’s schedule before you go.  My husband had told me that the Pope would not be in the country when we went; he was wrong.  By not checking the schedule we ended up arriving at San Peitro with hundreds of people who came to hear the Pope speak.  Luckily, a trip through the Vatican museum killed enough time, we were able to enter the church afterwards.

We spent a lot of time in churches.  I am not a religious person, but I love art and the best art in Rome seemed to be in Churches. The truth is, most of the churches sort of blend together in my mind. Of course, the Sistine chapel was distinctive, but it was also one of the few I knew before I went.  We took pictures in the churches were it was allowed, but I’m honestly not certain I would be able tell which pictures came from which church or even which day.

I suppose my favorite would be easy.  It was not a large church, or maybe the part where we visited wasn’t even a church at all.  A portion of the tour was focused on the history of the Capuchin monks. (Side note, according to the guide book we had, the cappuccino got its name from the brown robes worn by these monks.  True or not, I like it.)  The tour ended with a trip through the most beautiful crypt a person could visit.  According to the story, a monk took the bones of dead monks that had been displaced and used them to create art as a sort of penance.  It gave him time to consider his sins, and think about the life he would live after his death.  It was haunting, and disturbing, and beautiful.  I think what struck me the most is the devotion he showed.  There is very little in life I feel that passionately about.  I wished I could feel that way, even just for a moment.  It truly inspired me.  No pictures were allowed inside, but it is worth looking up if you are interested.

The trip was exhausting.  We always walk everywhere when we travel.  Part of it is being slightly cheap; walking is a lot less expensive than taking a cab.  A lot of it is the ease; you never have to worry about parking, or weird traffic patterns in an unfamiliar city when you walk, not as long as you can look around an make certain you are not hit.  However, I learned that five days of straight walking is about my limit.  We were all very sore, and I am still not entirely certain I  have recovered an ability to walk normally.

I also learned that gelato is amazing.  It was a good thing we walked so much, because there were a few days in there were we enjoyed double gelato, as well as pasta and pizza.  I was happy to know that gluten free is surprisingly easy in Italy; we even learned on our last day McDonalds has gluten free burgers.  Not all of the gluten free food was that impressive to me.  Not to brag, but I think my pizza crust was better; however I am pretty sure the crust I had was frozen, not fresh.

The end of our trip left us with one absolute fact.  We need to go back to Italy.  Rome was amazing, but we need to see more, experience more, and find the rest of a beautiful country, full of history.  I don’t think it is a place I would want to live (Edinburgh is still winning that race), but I definitely want to go back.

Welcome Home!!

I am home!

Six days in Rome were wonderful, more so than I ever anticipated.  We went everywhere we could, it felt as though we walked all of the seven hills, though there was so much we missed.  Much of our time was spent in churches, because that seems to be the best place to find art in Rome, and many of them are free to visit.  We also visited ruins of things that were amazing feats of architecture in their time, and impressive to have anything left standing.  I left feeling relaxed, inspired, and incredibly lucky to be able to travel as I do.  I also left feeling very angry.

Now I will get to the good eventually here, but I need a moment to complain about something that angers me to unreasonable levels.

First of all, I am aware that this is unreasonable.  I am angered by something that technically has nothing to do with me.  It is not my business, it is not my problem, but at the same time it effects me.  Is this reasonable?  Should I be so passionately angry about this issue?  No, probably not.  But I am.

Second, I know some people may be offended by these comments.  I know I should say I am sorry for being rude or offending you.  But I won’t.  Your being offended won’t change how I feel about this, just as much as my being angry is not likely to change your actions.  If I say I am sorry it would be a lie.

So what has me riled up?  Smoking.

There were a lot of people smoking in Rome.  Everywhere.  All the time.  And it makes me so angry.

I don’t care that these people want to do something that will hurt them.  It’s their life, they can live and die as they choose, it is not my business.  However when they are smoking in places, blocking pathways with their smoke, and blowing it on my family, it does become my issue as well.

The truth is, smokers can be incredibly rude.  In Rome, I had smoke blown in my face more times than I could count.  Several times I had someone else blow their smoke into my open mouth as I was talking.  Maybe they couldn’t understand how disgusting that is, but it made me gag and cough.  Now, there is a little credit to be given to some smokers who try not to be rude.  They hold their lit cigarette down, trying to keep the smoke out of people’s faces.  However, do you know where that puts the smoke?  Directly at the level of my children’s faces.  Trust me, that is not any better.

Beyond the rudeness, intentional or otherwise, smokers can be a bit dangerous.  These are people who are walking around swinging hot sticks, capable of burning passers by.  No it doesn’t happen often, but trust me, when you feel that cigarette get close it is not fun.

It all just comes down to showing common courtesy.  Smoking all over the place, breathing it all over people, and waving it in their faces is rude.  Maybe I am biased, as a lifelong nonsmoker, but the other side is just as biased to their opinion.

I love living in Europe.  Quite honestly there are times when my husband and I am not sure we ever want to go back to the states.  However, there are also times when I wouldn’t mind going somewhere where there have been limits put on smoking in public.

All right, rant over for now.  If it offended you, well I hope at least it also made you think.  Soon, I will share things much more pleasant about my trip, and how it is helping me to be ready for NaNoWriMo in just a couple of weeks.

Seco

50 Books-Jane Eyre

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

Kindle version, purchased a year or so ago, with 322 pages.  I did notice there was several pages that seemed to repeat in number, so I think that was just a standard thing which can account for font size and other formatting things.  I’ve never noticed that before, so maybe it always does it.  Hmmm.

Have I read this book before?

About the first 5 pages, but that was it.

What did I already know?

Jane Eyre is a woman who did not have a happy childhood.  Other stuff happens that is also not necessarily happy. Charlotte was one of a few writer sisters, with a quirky story as well.

What do I think now?

The first time I picked up this book it was part of an effort on my part to first, read more classic literature, and second read more cheap or free books.  I read the first few pages and decided I had no desire to read the depressing tale of an abused child.  (Oddly enough, I had a very similar reaction to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.)  I can’t say exactly why I gave up.  Maybe I was just not in the right mood to enjoy this book the first time.

When I pushed through I began to see a little more than a sad tale of an abused child. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Jane’s life was hard, but it wasn’t just a story about how hard her life was.  The story was also about a woman who was strong enough to keep going no matter what happened.  She was strong enough to forgive those who wronged her, or maybe just strong enough to forget them.  Her life was not easy, but she never gave up.

The writing was a bit flowery for my tastes, but not bad.  There was simply a certain point where it was too much.  I get it, no one has every loved as you do.  You pool of grief is deeper than an ocean. Message received.

Should you read this book before you die?

This is a hard call for me.  There is nothing about this book that makes me fall in love.  It simply was a story I read.  It does however show a great tale of adversity and persistence.  Read this book when you feel like you cannot go on anymore, and remember that everyone has those moments where they need to keep going.

For those who are following along, get out your copies of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and start looking for a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Happy Reading!

NaNoWriMo!!!

October is moving along, already almost half over.  For writers around the world that means one thing. NaNoWriMo is almost here!

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month, the yearly challenge for writers to stop making excuses, sit down, and just write.

The most common piece of writing advice I have heard is to stop talking about writing, and start writing.  Not only is this the most common piece of advice, but it is the most practical.  I can talk, and I can plan, and I can dream, but if I never put the work in it will never matter.

I’ll be honest, I have never done NaNoWriMo.  Last year was the first I had heard of this event and I wasn’t exactly sure how it worked.  I tried to use it as a push to finish a novel I had already started and it didn’t work out.  Long story short, that novel is still not finished.

This year I am determined to make it work for two reasons.  The first reason, is NaNoWriMo is fun to say, and fun to do.  I love to write, and I need the push.  The second reason is to complete my yearly writing goal.

I gave myself a goal to finish three manuscripts this year.  In January that seemed easy.  I had two that were sitting at 100 pages, and what felt like an abundance of ideas.  Now, halfway through October I still have those two 100 page manuscripts, as well as a third 100 pager, and one that I finally finished.  I need more than just November to be NaNoWriMo in my house; it’s looking like December is going to be one too.

Last year was a disaster, but this year I am going in prepared.  I have spent weeks preparing my outlines, thinking about the characters, plotting the scenes.  I have a plan, and I plan to succeed!

I might be getting a little excited here.   Or perhaps this is the beginning I need.

Let’s go NaNoWriMo!

I’m Still Here!

When I first started blogging, I was certain I should always post on Sundays.  Sunday seems to be a dead zone for most of the bloggers I read, and I always hate that.  I wanted to be a little different, but even for me, it has now turned into a dead zone.  What can I say, I guess there really is no post on Sundays.  (Yes, the Harry Potter geek in me is loving this.)

I intended to have a long and well thought out post today, but tomorrow morning my family leaves for a week in Rome.  It is a combination fall break/birthday trip and I am really excited.  I hardly felt like we were going for the month we have been planning this, but today, with the dog dropped off at the kennel, tickets in my hand, and my bag packed?  I finally feel like we are going.

I still have a few posts coming this week, but I am busy getting ready today, so I don’t have time to try to fix my no post on Sunday’s issue.  I plan on coming in strong in two weeks (though probably not on Sunday), hopefully with amazing pictures and stories to tell.  Until then, you will have to pick up a book instead of my blog, and follow me on instagram for the quickest access to my Roman Holiday.

50 Books- His Dark Materials Trilogy

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Three more books down, I am stupidly proud of myself today.  I have never thought of reading as an accomplishment before, but checking the books off of a list gives me a weird since of purpose for my reading.  I am not just reading, I am doing self guided learning.

His Dark Materials Trilogy- by Phillip Pullman

The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

I ordered this book online through Amazon.  (I know, boycott Amazon for using negotiation tactics that hurt authors.  I’m firmly in the middle on all of this, and Amazon is so easy.)  I thought I remembered ordering a book set, but ended up with a 933 page monstrosity with all three books in one.  It is convenient to have them all together, unless you actually want to carry it somewhere.

Have I read this before?

No.  I thought I had heard nothing about this series and then I realized there was a movie based on the first book.  I haven’t seen it, but I’m pretty sure I own it.

What did I already know?

Absolutely nothing.  Ok, I knew there was a movie, and I assumed there was a compass, knife and spyglass, but that was it.

What do I think now?

I liked it.

During the reading I learned this had once been banned for religious reasons.  I have to admit, I am against banning anything on religious reasons, just as a matter of principle.  Someone else’s beliefs shouldn’t dictate my actions, or my reading.  I could see where there may have been some religious ire going on; the church of this book was definitely a bad guy, and I could see parallels to large religious organizations.  Author confirmation of the intentional tribute does not help anything.  However, it is a work of fiction.  Yes, fiction can effect our view on the world, but I don’t think it would do the large scale damage to religious institutions that some people may believe it could do.  Churches have been going strong for so long, I think they have a little more staying power than that.

If a person is not offended by the anti-church statements of the book, there  is a lot to like. There is travel between worlds, there is love, there is loss, there is companionship, there is family, there is hatred, there is fear, and there is fighting for what you believe.  There is so much going on, so much about all these different worlds to tell, and so many small details included.  A story like this could be easy to mess up, but when it is done well, it is amazing.

Books like this both  make me want to write fantasy and make me terrified that I could not ever do it.  I’ve worked with outlines to help me keep track of timelines and information; this would likely be an entire wall in my house covered with people, events, and colored strings connecting them all.  It would look less like storyboard, and more like a serial killer tracking wall used to catch the killer by an old school cop with an obsession.  Of course, if it works as well as this does it would be worth it.

I was a little disappointed by a few things towards the end.  Keeping spoilers to a minimum, I liked the way the final battles went on, but there was a bit of a relationship thing that I felt was very abruptly begun and not completely comfortable considering the age of the characters.  It wasn’t bad, just not exactly as I expected.  Eh. It happens.

Should you read this book before you die?

There is a part of me that wants to always agree with the list, but I’m not sure I can.  I think this was a great work of fantasy, and I am glad I read it.  Reading fantasy is a great way to learn about writing in general.  For non-writers, I think reading fantasy is a great escape from reality, that somehow manages to teach about humanity at the same time.  Magic is such a representation of human desires; if you could do anything, what would you do, how would it change things, and of course, should you do it?

All of that said should you read this specific fantasy?  If you can handle fiction with religious fantasy, this is a great example of the genre.  If you are going to spend the entire time complaining about the religious undertones, don’t bother.  There is plenty of great fantasy out there, including other books on this list.  Yes you should read a great fantasy novel (or set of novels) but it should be one you can appreciate, not one that will offend you.  Don’t waste it.

I’m already onto the next book, cruising through Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  This will be followed by The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Happy Reading Everyone!

Home Cooking

The weather is definitely turning here in Belgium.  More often than not it rains, and there is a nip in the air. It is now officially boot and sweater weather.  I am partially happy for the excuse to wear the coziest clothing I own, but I have also been hit with a deep feeling of homesickness.

In someways my homesickness is a little strange.  I am not homesick for the home I grew up in, or the places where my family currently resides.  I am not missing the places others would expect.  I am missing Okinawa, the island I called home for eight years.

I wasn’t born in Okinawa, and I know that chances are I will never see it again.  However, eight years is approximately a quarter of my life.  Okinawa is the home my older daughter remembers, the place my youngest was born.  There are so many memories there, how could it not be home?  I miss the friends, the sunshine, the beaches, and of course the food.

Ah, food.  The comfort of my life, and the reason my jeans are occasionally a bit tighter than I would like.  There is so much of life that comes down to food.  I might not be able to bring back my time on the island, but I can try to recreate the food.

There are many restaurants I loved in Okinawa, but by far the family favorite was Coco’s Curry House.  I have had a few different kinds of curry in the past, and I admit a love for Thai green curry which may be greater, but I still love Coco’s.  Over many attempts, trial and error, I have managed to make a curry sauce that is similar enough to satisfy the family, but I cannot recreate the entire meal.  Their chicken cutlets were amazing.  My husband loved the Hirekatsu chicken, and just before we left they had a chicken that was shredded with cabbage, before being coated and cooked.  Seriously, I have never had chicken that was as moist and tender as that cutlet.  It was amazing.

One of the largest tragedies to leave behind I actually gave up a few years before we left.  Naan bread.  My gluten issues are usually not so severe I cannot manage the bit of breading in a chicken cutlet, or the thickening agents in the curry sauce, but actually eating a piece of bread was out of the question unless I was willing to accept the consequences.  But I have never stopped thinking about naan bread.

Coco’s Naan bread is amazing.  It is light and fluffy, just a little crispy, with a flavor that is uniquely amazing.  Granted there may be a little bit of inflation of quality in the memory, but I know for certain it was delicious.  For years I have dreamed of replicating the recipe in a gluten free version, but I have never come close.  It does not stop me from trying.

My most recent attempt involved the use of a paleo version.  I followed the recipe used by My Heart Beets, and cooked the naan as instructed.

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I have to be honest, it wasn’t what I was hoping for.  The naan I remembered was much fluffier, possibly from using yeast and letting it actually rise before cooking.  Not only that, but mine did not look nearly as good as her’s did in the video.  There was no crunch, and when I pulled off a piece it was more like pulling slightly melted mozzarella than pulling bread.  It tasted good, just not like the naan I wanted.  Instead, I stuck a slice of cheese and a slice of ham in the middle, folded it up and called it a grilled flatbread sandwich.  Yum.

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I might use this recipe again, and if I do, I will probably play with it a bit.  But I will definitely spend more time trying to find the naan bread of my dreams.