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:

Bam-bada-dam-badam-badam

Three little owls on the dresser

Were making love to the doctor’s daughter

The doctor got really really mad

Bam-bada-dam-badam-badam.

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.

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Thanksgiving in April

The other day I was walking to work when a bus drove by, the side of it practically screaming the new spring Gap ad with the following slogan: “Be Bright.”

The ad made me think of the Christmas cards we sent out a couple of years ago (which said “Be Merry, Be Bright”), which then made me think of the holidays, and then my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Then it made me think of one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving: reading all those blogs in which bloggers state why they are thankful.

I made a mental note of writing a thankful post for Thanksgiving, and then reminded myself that I would never remember. So I figured I would just do it now. If you can have Christmas in July, why not Thanksgiving in April?

Here goes.

Every weekend, I am thankful that I have a husband who is much, much cleaner than I am. He won’t rest until the bathrooms are cleaned, the house is vacuumed, and the wood floors are Swiffered. It makes me feel slightly guilty for not being so neat, but at least someone will keep me honest–and keep the house from being a complete hovel.

Even though P gets more colds than _______ [insert name of person you know who gets the most colds], I’m eternally grateful that the only health issue I have to deal with are sniffling noses and coughing. Knock on wood, tocca ferro, etc.

I’m so thankful that my parents live nearby, so all those sniffling noses don’t force us to decide whether to skip work or send a sick child to preschool.

I’m excited that close friends are having (or have just had) kids, so P will have playmates outside of her circle of friends in preschool and beyond.

I eternally grateful that someone (ahem, my mother-in-law) finally taught me how to fold fitted sheets, so our linen closet doesn’t look like a bulging mess.

I thank my lucky stars for fantastic friends near and far, especially when they do incredibly generous things like treating us to a hotel stay in Seattle.

I’m grateful that what I thought was a catastrophe a few years ago (being laid off during the height of the economic downturn) actually turned out to be a blessing, leading to a second career as a writer. Things like this will give me perspective when I’m in a funk or generally down on myself.

I’m beyond thankful that the second career in writing gives me the ability to work from home twice a week, saving me from a commute and giving me more time to spend with P.

I’m ecstatic that despite the responsibilities of a family, a job, and a new obsession with the Game of Thrones books, I have some time to jot down a few thoughts once in a while and have people like you read them.

Don’t wait until Thanksgiving. Tell me what you’re thankful for this spring.

The Vacation Edition

We just came back from one of the best vacations ever, visiting the in-laws in the Olde Country. It was one of those vacation when you think…I totally want to move here. Until you slap yourself and think, wait, I already did that.

Anyway, I wanted to do a brief run-down of the 2.5 weeks, so here it is before I forget all the good bits.

The Good

  • Family. P’s complete love for her cousins, especially my 15 year-old, super cute, super patient nephew. She followed him around like a little disciple, and he patiently let her. They watched cartoons together, played with PlayDo, read books, and of course, played soccer. It was beautiful to watch.
  • Sorrento. It’s good to have friends in high places, or friends who have houses in Sorrento. P outdid herself by eating an adult-sized Neapolitan pizza. The original is still be best.
  • Venice. Again, it’s good to have friends in high places, or friends who rent boats for you when you visit Venice. I lived in Venice for a year, so I know my way around the city by foot, but seeing the city from the water is another thing in itself.
  • Beautiful weather. The reason we decided to go at the beginning of March was that last year, when we visited for Christmas, the average temperature during our stay was around 30 degrees. There’s nothing worse than flying across the world to then sit at home for three weeks. This year, it was nice enough that we took a few bike rides along the river that runs through the town A is from.
  • Beautiful food. And wine. I mean, we were in Italy…need I say more?
  • The politics. My brother-in-law is running to be the mayor of their little town. Rather surreal, but very cool.
  • The language. At the start of the trip, P was still mostly conversing in English, even though she was understanding everything in Italian. Her poor grandparents were learning random words in English (including monkey and book, two very important words in P’s repertoire). By the end of the trip, she was definitely talking more in Italian, a habit she has continued on our return.  There was even a funny language moment: when we were in Sorrento, our friend was teaching his daughter to call to a dog in the local Neapolitan dialect. “Vien a qa! Vien a qa!” he kept saying, so the dog would come to him. A week later, we were at dinner again in Northern Italy, and the hosts had an adorable little dog. All of a sudden, P started saying, “Vien a qa! Vien a qa!” Because obviously all dogs in Italy speak Neapolitan.

The Bad

  • The too-muchness. For poor P. She met around 100 people (give or take a few) in a span of 17 days. It was a bit too much. P loves people, and is well on her way to becoming a social butterfly. But even she would flip out after a few hours. One night she started talking in her sleep, saying “no bacini! no bacini! (no kisses!)” over and over again. She was even freaked out by her grandmother, who wanted nothing more than hang out with her. Which was the problem…grandma wanted to be there every minute, while P wasn’t sure she wanted to hang out every minute. By the time she felt comfortable enough to stay at home with the grannies, it was time for us to come back to California. Sigh.
  • The jet lag. I had a friend mock me (mock!) for complaining about the jet lag when I would have a fabulous vacation in Italy to show for it. I don’t care where you are, though, when your toddler wakes up at 1am and is completely wired until 5am, you’ll be pretty miserable. Thankfully, she got over it in a couple of days.

The Ugly

  • The soda. Every time we go to Italy, A’s parents have a party that involves a lot of food and a lot of people. This year, the main event was a roasted little boar…yum (this is not the ugly part). I was sitting across from an acquaintance’s wife, who was keeping an eye on her two kids (four year-old son and two year-old daughter). Trying to make small talk, I commented on a dark liquid in her daughter’s sippy cup. “Looks like she’s nipping at the wine!” I said. “Oh no,” she responded, “it’s Pepsi.” Wait, what? Here I was, in the heart of fine dining, eating a roasted boar hunted not too long ago…and a mother is giving her two year-old Pepsi? Really, no words.
  • The doctor. A friend, L (half American, half Italian) and his wife S (from Tonga via New Zealand and the U.S.) moved to Italy not too long ago. S is now magnificently pregnant, ready to bring a half Tongan, quarter American, quarter Italian baby into the world. She was telling me about their experience meeting with a pediatrician. L and S were happy to hear that she was really into holistic healing, all down to earth. Until they heard her talking about American healthcare and children. Apparently, on this side of the ocean ALL children suffer from ADHD and ALL kids are hopped up on Ritalin. Obviously. Again, no words.

So that pretty much sums up the vacation. As with every vacation, it was too short. Thankfully, I’m pretty sure we’ll be back.

Natale con i Tuoi

[NB: I actually started writing this on January 1. I then got distracted.]

The Italians have a saying: “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi.” A rough translation goes something like this: Christmas with your parents (or family), Easter with whomever you want.

As a good Italian, A has lived by this rule most of his life. Of the 37 years he’s been on this earth, he has spent 34 with his family. This last Christmas marked only the third year that he was not in Italy with the whole gang.

We wanted to spend our first Christmas as homeowners in our new house. We bought a tree (a first!). Heck, we even chopped it down ourselves. (Just in case you didn’t know, a Christmas tree FARM is one of those places where they give you a dull saw and expect you to haul your own tree. FYI. In the off chance you were confused or something.)

We bought a string of lights, some tinsel, and hung up two (count ’em: TWO) ornaments. We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner (menu: homemade lasagna [yes, including noodles] with mushrooms, roasted leg of lamb with tiny potatoes, and trifle for dessert) with my sister and her husband, and some dear friends. We went all out and bought a toy kitchen for P.

It was lovely.

And then on Christmas day, my sister and I hopped in the car for a last minute road trip down to Southern California to help my parents pack up their home in the final chapter (hopefully) of their long move to Northern California.

Christmas and Boxing Day were spent in a flurry of packing, sorting, throwing things away, and most importantly, reminiscing. My parents lived in their SoCal house for almost twenty years…longer than they’ve ever spent anywhere (see my previous post about moving.)

You tend to accumulate a lot of crap in that span of time, especially if you’re big fans of 99 cent stores (which my father is, unfortunately).

But I had to share some highlights of things long forgotten that my sister and I found among the piles and piles and piles of stuff.

  • My tattered Stefan Edberg T-shirt (below). I wore that thing and wore it and wore it until it became a rag. Stefan was my hero.

Stefan Edberg shirt ca. 1989.

  •  A winter ball dress my sister wore in high school. With matching blue suede shoes (totally not kidding). Anyway, she bought it from Macy’s and it still had the $88 price tag attached. Because she was totally planning on returning it after the dance, but apparently never got around to doing it. FYI, price tags have changed a lot in the last 20 years.
  • A home-made bag I made out of jeans for my fourth grade class from when we used to live in Texas. We had to bring in these little bags to attach to our desks, and fill them with stuff that didn’t fit into our desks (extra paper, pens, etc.). Anyway, the pair of jeans I used to make the bag was the last pair of jeans we bought in Iran (I was in third grade when we moved). Some key features of the jeans-bag:

Jeans bag.

Super-fancy decorations with markers, naming my fave bands and actors. A-Ha is on there not once, not twice, but THREE times. (I did have a thing for Swedes, apparently.)

The button.

Just the slogan you want on a button on the pants of a 10 year-old girl.

The tag.

And the best part: the tag. It’s super faded now, but here’s what it says: Blue Jeans Iran. 100% Cotton. Down with U.S.A.

No one saw the irony of putting that on a pair of blue jeans. It’s priceless.

“Natale con i tuoi” totally happened for the good Iranian girls this year. Next year, it might be the good Italian boy’s turn.

The Cleanse in “Marathon Pants”

A lot of people have expressed an interest in the cleanse I mention in “Marathon Pants.” I didn’t feel comfortable “endorsing” a book or a diet on a national website, but hey, I can say whatever I want on my own blog, right? Anyway, it’s a book called Cinch!: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches by Cynthia Sass. It worked for me, but who knows if it works for everyone. Good luck and thanks for reading!

And while you’re at it, take a second to “like” my blog. Thanks!