I’ll Put it on My Eyes

My family had been living in the U.S. for just over a year when we moved into an incredibly cute duplex in a working class town 20 miles south of San Francisco. The house had a front yard filled with wood chips, a sunny eat-in kitchen, and hardwood floors throughout.

We had moved to Northern California from Irving, Texas, not too long before. In Texas, we first lived at my aunt’s house (for…two months? Three? The details are fuzzy) and then a hopelessly depressing apartment.

So the duplex in San Leandro was definitely a step up. And we had an awesome view: the house across the street. It was one of those beautifully refined Craftsman-style houses–incredibly well-kept and sporting a fantastic yard.

The man who lived there was, in every sense, quite neighborly. He was always out in his yard with a huge sun-hat, perfecting the garden, waving hello as we walked or drove by.

We hadn’t been there very long when he knocked on the door one day, presenting my dad with a huge basket of vegetable-garden bounty. I remember there were zucchini, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

My father, already an emotional man, was over the moon. He started praising the vegetables, our neighbor, America in general, and ended with “Thank you so much. I’ll put them on my eyes.”

Our neighbor wasn’t really sure what to make of this, and said something to the effect of, well, I guess you can do that, but it’s probably better if you eat them.

You see, my dad was literally translating a common saying in Farsi. The phrase, which is said when one person gives another something of value, literally means “I’ll put the [insert gift here] on my eyes.” But the real meaning is that the gift is so precious that I’ll put them on my most precious possession, my eyes (well, something to that effect anyway). It’s just a very flowery way of saying thank you.

That little sentence has fueled my love for all things involving literal translations. They are a fantastic, albeit nerdy, source of amusement.

Fast-forward 20 years, as I try valiantly (and often fail) to sing P lullabies that are actually lullabies, and not Tori Amos or Simon & Garfunkel songs. This is how bad I am–until recently, I would finish “Hush Little Baby” in this way:

If that looking glass don’t shine
Mama’s gonna buy you a concubine.

Every night I would think, what if she asks me what a concubine is tonight? So when I remembered, I would use “porcupine” instead. I pretty much learned how to correctly end that song while watching Skylar singing it to her newborn baby on Breaking Bad. (Ohhhhhhhhh Daddy loves you and so do I!)

So when an Italian friend and his American wife, back from a trip to the Ye Olde Country, gave us a book of traditional Italian nursery rhymes and lullabies, I was super excited. If I can’t teach P all the right American songs, at least A can teach her Italian ones.

And then I saw the songs and rhymes.

And they are ripe for a literal translation.

Here’s the first (please excuse my shoddy translations and lack of rhyming. It’s been a while):

Under the Baracca Bridge,

Little Gigin is pooping.

His poop is really, really hard,

So a doctor came to measure it.

He measured thirty-three,

Now it’s your time to count!

It needs to be said: wha? A nursery rhyme about pooping? Really hard, worrisome poop that needs doctor intervention? This may be the best nursery rhyme ever!

Well, that’s what I thought until I read this next one:


Three little owls on the dresser

Were making love to the doctor’s daughter

The doctor got really really mad


OK. WHAT? This is a nursery rhyme? About three owls having sex with the doc’s daughter? Who, rightfully so, gets mad? I mean, wouldn’t you if three owls were having sex with your daughter? All I can say is, leave it to the Italians to come up with a nursery rhyme that involves sex.

A laughed hysterically when he saw these rhymes in the book. I guess it’s one thing to hear them said over and over again, and it’s completely different to see them written on paper.

Well, K and M, friends who brought back the book from Italy: I love it. I’ll put it on my eyes.

The Good Karma House

It’s ours! It’s ours! The letter to the Franks totally worked! And we finally got through the quagmire known as the the home loan process…and closed a day before the stock market lost a gazillion points. But who’s counting?

When A and I were on our honeymoon (Gozo, Malta), we noticed an interesting local tradition. Every house had a name, indicated by a name plate right next to the house number. There was even a house named “Juventus” (an Italian soccer team that obviously has uber-fans internationally).

I totally want to call our new home the Good Karma House. Too much pressure? Will I jinx it by calling it that? But really, when you take over a home from a couple who lived there for a good 64 years, what else can you call it?

Well, maybe I won’t have a name plate done, and just think of it as the Good Karma House in my head.  In any case, I wanted to share some pictures! Here they are, in no particular order.

Mr. & Mrs. Frank

I admit it: I love making grown men cry. Mind you, I didn’t know this about myself. But apparently, I do. It’s not that I go around whacking grown men over the head so I can squeeze some tears out of them. I like them to be moved so much that they cry.

Right now, we’re in the midst of closing escrow on a beautiful house. The closing date keeps getting pushed back–loan applications are not a fun process. As part of the bid package, our real estate agent suggested that we write a letter to the owners, telling them how much we love the place.

This wouldn’t be much of a stretch. We love the place. LOVE it. You see, the Mr. & Mrs. Frank who inspired the title of this post are the owners of this 1940s ranch house with a startlingly large backyard. They bought the place in 1947, and lived in it their entire life, until then entered a retirement home about three months ago.

They raised three kids in the house. They loved the house. You can see how much they loved it. You can see it in the unique built-ins, the meticulously mowed lawns, and quality roof the put in about five years ago.

So late that night, after we came back from our first day of house-hunting, I sat and drafted this letter.

Every homebuyer dreams of walking into a home and instantly envisioning a future there. I must admit that is exactly what happened when my husband, toddler daughter, and I stepped into your house.

Once my daughter P’s feet hit the ground, she was off and exploring the beautiful backyard. As a writer with a historic preservation background, I completely appreciated the wood paneling and detailed care (and love) poured into every carved surface. And my husband, an Italian artisan cabinetmaker, was abuzz with the potential of the little shed as his future woodshop (and respite from the womenfolk!).

The beauty of your house is that we can fully envision our future in it while appreciating your past. The meticulous workmanship inside the house and the painstaking landscaping work outside are unique and need a family that appreciates their uniqueness. I fully believe that we are that family.

I hope that you consider our offer and rest assured that your house will be as loved in the future as it was in the past.

I meant every word of it. It turns out, the letter made the Franks’ son cry. Mrs. Frank, who is apparently suffering from Alzheimer’s in her older age, had a minute of lucidity, read the letter, called her son, and demanded that he sell us the house.

So I’m crossing my fingers, knocking on wood, touching iron (the Italian way)…doing everything I can to send good karma to the bank so that they’ll give us this gorgeous house. And if we do get it, you can be sure that this grown woman will be shedding tears of joy.

Hello world!

“Hello world” is right! This is my first attempt at blogging…we’ll see how it pans out. It was mostly inspired by my friend, Stef, whose blog on the adventures of motherhood have been great at updating the people in her life who live far away. I’m not sure how good I’ll be at this whole blogging business – I do remember having a number of diaries when I was younger and never keeping up with any of them.

What will I write about? Probably about cooking, cool buildings, and oh yeah, the tyke who will join us in the world around Christmas.

So first: baby news. It’s a girl! Very exciting. The name is top secret (somehow A. and I picked out names within an hour of finding that I was pregnant and have stuck with them). I felt her move for the first time last week, which was quite exciting.

Cooking news: I’m taking a cooking class for a friend’s birthday party! Great idea, E.  I’ll tell you how it works out (we’ll be cooking Vietnamese things).

Cool buildings: this one will have to wait!