Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Adam Mossoff's OCON Talks

Just in time for OCON 2011, the Ayn Rand Bookstore has made Adam's 2010 OCON general lecture available for purchase for just $21.95! From ARB's web site:
Intellectual Property Rights: Securing Values of the Mind

By Adam Mossoff

The extraordinary achievements in the pharmaceutical, biotech, telecommunications and computer industries in recent years are dramatic evidence of the significance of intellectual property rights to human life and success. Yet patents, copyrights and other intellectual property rights are under attack today by both collectivists and libertarians, who condemn these property rights as unjustified monopolies.

In this talk, Professor Mossoff explains Ayn Rand's radical justification for intellectual property rights—that all property is at root intellectual property. In recognizing that intellectual property rights represent "the legal implementation of the base of all property rights: a man's right to the product of his own mind," Rand grounds intellectual property rights in her novel concept of value and in her discovery that man's mind is his basic means of survival. In using a combination of philosophical and historical analysis, Professor Mossoff further develops Rand's unique justification for intellectual property rights, demonstrating that all property—whether real estate, personal property or intellectual property—arises from the values that man must first conceive and then act to produce. Ultimately, to understand why intellectual property rights are property rights par excellence is to recognize the radical political and legal implications of Rand's innovative ethical theory.

And here's the description of the optional course he will present this year, which I've taken straight from the OCON web site:
Topics in Intellectual Property: The Computer and Biotech Revolutions
Adam Mossoff
This course discusses how the intellectual property (IP) laws have promoted and secured the incredible innovation in the past 50 years in the areas of computer technology and biotech. No knowledge of science, technology or IP law is necessary, as the purpose of this course is to inform attendees about these subjects so that they can better understand these modern achievements within the context of their existing Objectivist knowledge about the concept of value, the virtue of productivity, the right to property, and the theory and practice of capitalism. After a general introduction to IP law in the beginning of the course, we examine the historical development of computer technology and biotech and explain how the IP laws secured the life-enhancing values produced by inventive geniuses in these fields. Ultimately, this course provides important intellectual ammunition for Objectivists in both understanding IP rights and how they function with respect to the “hot topics” of computer technology and biotech.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Nix the Naps

I've made a big decision. I'm eliminating Samantha's afternoon nap.

She has been a great napper. I am the envy of many parents. Since I'm pregnant, being able to nap myself has been a life-saver. I never thought I would be the one to choose to eliminate such a blessing, but the time has come.

Sam's naps had been growing longer and longer, and she had been having more and more trouble falling asleep at night. I'm quite certain this is how some of us become "night people." Or maybe she just is a night person, and this is how it first manifests itself. Either way, the situation was becoming intolerable. We'd put her down later and later, but she'd still be up for hours, alternating between getting snacks, playing in the nursery (the room next to hers which is currently vacant), or screaming bloody murder. It was becoming common for her to be up until 10 or 11pm. It was obvious that she was simply not tired. One night I gave her Benadryl just to make her sleepy. (Didn't work.)

The problem is, Sam still seems to need more than the eleven hours of sleep she gets at night. Without her nap, she barely makes it to bedtime, and she falls asleep every time we're in the car. That is a sign of a child who needs more sleep, and I agree with Marc Weissbluth that sleep-deprivation is a serious problem. We can't put her to bed any earlier because Adam works late hours and we'd have to eliminate family dinner, which would be a last resort. But Sam is going to have to give up her nap in September anyway, when she begins full-day school, so we're going to have to find a way to get along without it.

So I'm going to allow her to go into her room and sleep any time she needs to, but I'm not going to read her a story or have any official nap time. (I wasn't sure how she'd take to this idea, but she's done it a couple of times now.) And depending on the time of day she sleeps, I'm going to wake her up after either a half-hour or an hour. No more three-hour marathon naps, no matter how pleasant and productive that me-time is.

I'm actually looking forward to getting rid of the naps. It was nice to have the time to myself, but it was also a huge hassle to be home every day from 1-4pm. It really killed the entire afternoon and evening for any kind of outing, because you can't drive anywhere in northern Virginia after 3:30. So for the past two years, I've done most of my errands and grocery shopping while Sam was in school because the few times I've taken Sam to the grocery store or to Target after her nap, it's been a living hell of traffic and mobs of people. So from 4 until bedtime, we usually just go places we can walk to, like the playground. In nice weather, it's not so bad, but it was particularly difficult in the winter. And I've really missed doing errands with my daughter. She and I have a lot of fun together doing simple things.

After school last week, on the very first day of the new no-nap policy, Sam and I went out to lunch and then directly to the grocery store. It was wonderful. I didn't feel that rush of needing to get home to keep the schedule, and when we did get home Sam was happy to play by herself quite a bit, so I ended up with some time to get my own work done anyway. (She tended to be very needy after her nap, so usually her awakening would mark the end of my "work" day.) I think I'll even be able to take catnaps myself with Sam awake in the house. She's mature enough to keep herself occupied, and I have supermom powers even while unconscious that seem to awaken me at the slightest sign of trouble.

School is out for summer in a week, and when Leo and Zoe arrive in September, who knows what will happen. But I think Sam's nap is a thing of the past. It was a good run.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

22 weeks

I missed my last weekly pregnancy update and I'm late this week. There's not too much going on with my pregnancy right now, I suppose.

A Bad Thing: I went for my first prenatal massage and had to fill out a form. I've had a bunch of prenatal massages at this place before and they never made me fill out a form before. Anyway, when they found out that I had had four miscarriages, they said that they need a doctor's note to give a massage for a high-risk pregnancy. Then they sent me home. I was humiliated and hurt. I actually am having a high-risk pregnancy - because I'm having twins! But my miscarriages are irrelevant now since I used an egg donor. I tried to explain this to them, but they have their little liability form and they're going to stick to it. But that's not really the thing that made me so upset. I think I got upset because I felt like they were telling me something they thought I didn't know. Like, "Oh, didn't you know that you're probably going to lose your babies if you have a massage? So sorry, honey. Why don't you go home and lie in bed?" I don't know. I can't say why it was so upsetting, exactly. But getting my doctor to fax a note is going to take at least a week or two and I want that goddamn massage. It just seems so unfair.

A Good Thing: I happened upon a yard sale and bought a bunch of clothes for the baby boy. I've never bought boy clothes before. I'm going to have a son! This little thing made it even more real for me.

We're making progress on all the preparations. We got a couple of bouncy seats free from another mom of twins. It's fun to be part of this little community of parents of multiples. We've gotten rid of almost all of the junk in our house that we've been carting around, not using, since we lived in Michigan. I love giving stuff away using Craigslist. I found a guy to remodel our bathrooms, which is the biggest project that MUST get done before the end of August. It looks like I'll get it done, and that will be quite an accomplishment since these projects usually take me 6-12 months to complete. We have a good plan and a shopping list for everything else. We have a ton of work ahead of us this summer, but I think we can do it.

And we're pretty sure we have the names picked out. It's possible we'll change our minds, but these were the names we picked out before we even knew it would be a boy and a girl. They seem to be sticking, and Sam is now referring to the babies by their names, so maybe there is no going back.

Leo and Zoe it is.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I can remember all of the radio stations - numbers and call letters - that I listened to regularly during my youth in Los Angeles:

94.7 - KMET (rock)

95.5 - KLOS (rock)

102.7 - KISS (pop)

105.9 - KPWR (well, they called themselves "Power 106, so I assume those were the call letters) (pop/hip hop)

106.7 - KROQ (new wave/post-punk/goth/alternative)

But I can't seem to get Sammy to understand the concept of "radio." I don't mean that I've tried to explain the waves, the receivers, the amplifiers, etc. I mean, I can't get her to understand that I can't pick what song will come on next, or even skip a song she doesn't like. She has been raised with iPods, DVRs, Pandora, and streaming Netflix. Radio is very confusing to her, and she doesn't like it one bit.

And now I'm starting to understand the real meaning of the concept "nostalgia."

A Little Thing

Sammy calls our new Honda Odyssey, the "Honda-see."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Italy Part 3 - Three More Days in Rome

(Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't already.)

Our first night in Italy, we did not sleep well. We had barely slept on the flight and we had muscled through a long day, so you think we’d have slept like babies, but we all woke up around midnight (which makes no sense since that would have been around 6pm our time). I woke up because I was hungry. And so began one of the major quests on our vacation: my constant search for food. Luckily, we had some leftover pizza in the fridge, so I pulled out a couple of pieces and ate them in the bathroom so I wouldn’t disturb Adam or Sammy.

Unfortunately, Sam woke up soon after and spent the next two hours screaming at the top of her lungs. Adam had to take her out of the hotel room three times. It was really awful. But when it was over, it was over, and our trip continued.

Friday morning we didn’t have any reservations, so we slept until 9, and that seemed to be enough for all of us to get by. The hotel served breakfast in our room, which was awesome. They actually served eggs and some meat along with the usual breads and sweets, so I was able to have a real meal.  The coffee was not so great, though, so when we headed out, we got cappuccinos to go at the nearest shop. Ahhh, excellent!

This day held the worst weather of the entire trip: it was cloudy all day. We were planning on a lot of outdoor walking, so we worried about rain, but it never came. Our first stop was Largo Argentina, which is just a square block of ruins. We went there, not for the ruins, but for the cats. For some reason, somebody started a cat sanctuary there, so there are hundreds of cats roaming about the ruins. Sam was very excited, but a bit disappointed to learn that she could not feed or pet them. Still, we probably spent 45 minutes there, just trying to spot cats behind columns and on top of huge stones. It was fun.

Next, we headed towards the Colloseum, but we ran into the Monument to Emmanuel on the way. This is an enormous, 20th Century monument to the first king of unified Italy. I know nothing about the man or that part of Italy’s history. The monument was pretty ugly, mostly because it just seemed so out of place. This is modern, political Rome. And in front, there are cheesy Roman gladiators who try to take tourists for fifty Euro tips (about $75) for a photo. Rick Steves warned us about them, so when I told one “no tip,” this is what I got:

I don’t think we ever got a bad attitude from anyone in Rome, which is one of the reasons I loved it. The people were all wonderful.  (And we did give him one Euro.)

Maybe the most interesting thing about the Monument is the statue of a man on a horse in front. I don’t know who it represents, but it is amazing just because of how huge it is. Nearby is Trajan’s Column. We didn’t walk up to it, but Adam told me a bit about Trajan and that was interesting. We inadvertently walked up near the top of the Monument building looking for restrooms (my other continuous quest) but the line was so long I gave up. We did get a nice view of the city from up there, though. But I was getting hungry. It was time to go.

Then we got lost for the first time. We didn’t know we were lost for quite a while, but we should have known because there weren’t any good restaurants around which means we were off the beaten, tourist path. The only food we could find was exactly what Rick Steves warned us about: a place that had big, gaudy pictures of food in the windows, which means that they have frozen dinners that they microwave for you. But we had to eat, and eat we did. It was no worse than any average diner in the U.S. Sam spent lunch watching a movie on my iPad, which became our go-to method for keeping her happy when she was fed up with whatever thing we were doing.

So we headed back out, fortified for the moment. After much walking, we finally realized that we had no idea where we were. There were no street signs, and nobody else walking around could speak English, or if they could, they were lost too. In front of us was a huge, grassy pit. By huge, I mean it was about three blocks long and one block wide, and about two stories deep. In fact, it looked a lot like Chicago’s Midway in Hyde Park. For some reason, we didn’t recognize this as any kind of landmark, which was a bit dense of us. But as soon as we found someone who told us where we were on the map, we realized that it was the remains of Circus Maximus, the ancient Roman chariot racing stadium. Again, I’m telling you: in Rome, you can’t help but stumble upon the most amazing things! We hadn’t planned to see this sight, but it was actually kind of cool to look at it and imagine those chariot races. Here's a ten second video of what it looks like. (You'll have to click the link because Wordpress is not allowing me to embed videos for some reason.)

Before heading back towards the Colloseum, we found a street vendor and got Sam a gelato. A you can see, she was happy.

The Colloseum was cool, but it really is just ruins, and you have to use your imagination for it to be interesting at all. I was a bit surprised at how much of it is left. I’m sure I’ve seen pictures of it, but the image in my head was more along the lines of the ruins found in ancient Greece – just a few columns and rocky ground. I’m glad I went there in person to see it. There are a lot of statues and artifacts in the hallways, but we didn’t spend time looking at them. We just walked up the stairs (so many stairs!) and looked out over the stadium and contemplated what went on there. We read what Rick Steves had to say, and that helped bring it to life. Sam was fascinated by the fact that there were dungeons down there. “Is it dark? Is that where they put bad guys? Is it scary down there? Are we going to go down there?” Apparently, you can go down there on tours, but we didn’t have time for that.

The Arch of Constantine nearby was also neat to see, but really, it was just reviewing the history that made it so.

Looking at the photo of it, I see more detail than I noticed in person, which doesn’t surprise me because by this time, we were all beat. We cabbed it back to the hotel (with Sam totally passed out in her travel vest), and we snacked and rested. Sam watched some Italian cartoons on the TV and the language barrier didn’t seem to bother her at all. I had fun trying to translate.

We weren’t up for too much activity after all that walking, so we decided to go to an annex of the National Museum of Rome which was right next to our hotel.  It was pretty boring, as museums in Rome go, but we saw more statues. Sam noted that there were a lot of penises on display. Then she found a friend, a little girl named Violet, and they raced around the courtyard of the museum for a while. There always seemed to be something to amuse her.

We decided to do at least one splurge dinner, so we headed for one of Rick Steves’ favorite restaurants, near the Pantheon.  On the way, we passed through Piazza Navona (of course) and the square in front of the Pantheon, where there was a clown. Clowns are people in costumes so Sam is typically afraid of them, but this guy was good, just like the white statue lady. He knew how to make Sam comfortable, and he teased her in clown ways and twisted her a poodle balloon. We all loved him.

Just walking the streets of Rome was exciting and beautiful. I loved seeing all the old buildings with such beautiful shops and restaurants inside. The atmosphere of the whole city is so incredibly different than anything I've ever experienced before. I took this picture just because I loved the way the street looked:

Dinner was not all that great. It was good, but nothing special. Rick let us down! I was beginning to think that Italian food was not really my thing. But we did have a lovely time at dinner. Sam tried her first sip of wine. She actually seemed to like it a bit!

On the way home, we used the balloon to make Sam walk faster. It was hard to get her to keep going after all the walking that day, but if I teased her by shaking the balloon in front of her and then plucking it out of her reach as she grabbed for it, she went crazy with giggles and kept up with us. This may seem like a totally insignificant thing to report about a vacation, but it was family fun. We were all feeling good and we had had another great day in Rome. I don’t want to forget that fun walk home.


We slept much better that night and woke up early on Saturday, ready to hit Vatican City. The weather had cleared up and it was a beautiful day. After five minutes in the cab, I realized that I had forgotten the voucher for the tickets I had pre-purchased so we had to turn back, but we had plenty of time and it worked out fine. When the cab pulled up near Vatican Museum, we saw the mile-long line, but we were able to skip it entirely because of those pre-paid tickets. Thanks, Rick!

We decided to tour the Pinacoteca (painting gallery) first. I have in my notes that Adam was impressed by a Leonardo daVinci painting, but I don’t recall anything about it. In fact, I don’t recall much of this at all. We didn’t feel that we could take too much time on anything because Sam would get bored or I would get hungry, so we just breezed through. We’ve taken Sam to art museums before and she does very well for a four-year-old, but she’s used to going just for an hour or two at a time, and only one time every few months. So she did much better with the outdoor activities than she did in museums. Still, what I do remember is how impressed I was with the building itself, and just the sheer scope of how much art was in it. Instead of trying to take in a lot of paintings, or even using Luc Travers’ method of being very selective and viewing one or two works in detail, I just enjoyed the richness of all that surrounded me. Sure, it was all collected and compiled through the force or fraud of the Church, but that doesn’t change the fact of what it is – probably the most amazing collection of art, anywhere.

We had a snack and coffee before heading to the rest of the Museum. The cafeteria food was truly disgusting. I think this was the only bad food I had in all of Italy. But wait, we weren’t in Italy, were we? No. Okay then.

The rest of the Museum was amazing, for the same reasons I’ve already stated. It was beautiful and there was so much art. Sam enjoyed seeing the real mummy on display. She is currently quite fascinated by death. And there was even a mummy of a cat – what could be more cool? Adam and I had time to take note of the Apollo Belvedere, and we both enjoyed the hall full of ancient maps. I love maps. At one point, Sammy was being silly and she exclaimed loudly, “Jesus Christ!” (one of her favorite phrases which she picked up from someone in our household, I suppose, wink wink). Adam and I found that hilarious and I told her, “Don’t worry, we’ll see him later,” thinking of the Pieta in St. Peter’s.

So far, we hadn’t seen anything that really moved us. But then we made it to the School of Athens. We have the print in our house, but it is small and faded. I had no idea how much I would love the original. It was huge and it was bright and clean and beautiful. By this time, Sam had fallen asleep on Adam’s shoulder, so we had time to stand and look at it for about ten minutes. Rick Steves helped us to identify many of the figures, but both Adam and I just couldn’t take our eyes off of Aristotle and Plato, in their poses that encapsulate the entire history of the Western World. For the first time, I could see their expressions – it was clear that they were in conflict, disagreeing, maybe even in the middle of an argument, but that they respected one another. Both Adam and I were brought to tears looking at it. And all of this took place in a hot room packed with people, pushing and shoving, and very loud. And it didn’t bother me one bit. That’s saying something. School of Athens was another highlight of the whole trip. We bought a new print for our home.

The finale was the Sistine Chapel. We got lucky and found a place to sit. Sam woke up. We stayed about ten minutes. It was so different than I had expected. The ceiling has been recently restored and I have no idea how accurate it is, but the colors and clarity were amazing. I didn’t try to look at every aspect of the painting, but just tried to take in the Chapel as a whole. It was so neat to be in the place where the Popes are elected, so full of history. And the ceiling makes the whole place feel magical. The contrast in sense of life between Michelangelo and the mostly earlier works we had just seen in the Museum was astounding. It was a whole new world.

But, by now, the crowds were starting to get to me. We tried to use Rick Steves’ trick of exiting the Chapel through a back door to get straight to St. Peters’, but it was closed, so we had to retrace our route back to the front of the Museum. It’s a long walk. We ate more disgusting cafeteria food, which was mostly bread and didn’t do much to satisfy my hunger. My pizza smelled like dog. I forced it down. Sam had gelato. She was happy. Sam made another friend and they ran around a bit.

Then we had to figure out how to get over to St. Peters’. This is when we began to learn that Italians (even Italians who live in Vatican City) are the worst direction-givers on the planet. No matter what you are looking for, the answer is, “it’s right over there,” with a vague hand gesture. We had to ask about three people how to get out of the building and headed in the right direction. But we did make it. And the walk there was cool because you walk outside the Vatican wall. It really is like a fortress. But then we arrived and saw the line to get into St. Peters'. There was no way to avoid this one, and we were totally exhausted. So we decided to skip it. I was hugely disappointed because Michelangelo’s Pieta was one of the most important things I wanted to see, and of course the cathedral itself is really a don’t-miss as well. But, we made the right decision. We hung out in St. Peters’ Square for a while, and that alone was pretty cool. Again, so much history. Easter was about a week away and we imagined the crowds that would be in this spot. Sam chased more pigeons and fed them crackers. She treated them like dogs, “Here, pigeon. Pigeon, come!” It was really cute.

After taking a cab home, we all slept for three and a half hours. Wow. We were wiped out!

That night, we tried to do Rick Steves’ “night walk across Rome” which includes sights like the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. But by the time we got to the starting point – Campo de Fiori – we were ready for dinner, and by the time we finished dinner, we were ready to go home. We ate right on the square with all of the night life streaming by us. Rick Steves told us that a lot of young locals come here after dark, and we noticed that Romans really love their tiny, designer dogs. There were small dogs everywhere! We actually had a wonderful meal this night – huge portions of salmon and lamb. The food situation was looking up. We met an older couple who admired us for bringing our daughter along, as they had done with their own children years ago. They warned us that Sam would always have the travel lust now.

Best of all, we saw our favorite clown again. He made Sam another balloon.

Then we got gelato on the way home and called it a night. I read a book called Dinosaur-Rumpus to Sam that night. Since she likes to count everything, I asked her how many horns on the triceratops. She counted, “One, two, three. Three penises!” Think we saw enough naked statues?

Sunday, we had early reservations at the Borghese Gallery. Talk about amazing collections of art! This was a private home filled with another mind-blowing collection of sculpture and paintings. Cardinal Borghese sported that title because his cousin was the Pope; but he himself was more of a humanist. I enjoyed the fact that he had so many rooms filled with art, but relegated the prayer room to a tiny, dark closet. Again, I was impressed most by the collection as a whole, and by the beautiful building with its frescos and arches and grandeur.

This is the point in the trip where my memory starts to get fuzzy, and I know the reason why. This is when Sam tired of going to museums and art galleries, and of walking around in general. She was tired this morning and started being very mean to us and misbehaving. I can’t blame her, but it didn’t change the fact that it was very difficult. I think Adam and I had to take turns viewing the Gallery, which was a real bummer. It’s not the same unless you see it with the one you love. But, we did the best we could.

Afterwards, we decided to rest in the park where the Gallery was located: Borghese Gardens. We sat under a tree and had a snack, and just enjoyed the beautiful day, and Sam watched a movie on the iPad.

Then we went in search of lunch. On the way, we found some bumper cars. Sam had been wanting to try bumper cars for a while, so this was a big hit. We managed to get a short video of the end of the adventure, when she crashed and banged her knees, but really, I promise, she loved it! (Again, you'll need to click over to see it.)

We couldn’t find a decent lunch in the park so we headed out and ended up in a ritzy area of the city, with big hotels and expensive shops on a wide, tree-lined street. It reminded me a bit of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. We actually ate hamburgers at an “American” restaurant, and it was good to eat a big slab of cow.

We were all feeling better, so we decided to walk to the Spanish Steps. The walk itself was interesting, and mostly downhill, which was wonderful. Walking really is the best way to see Rome, and if you go without children, I think you could do all of the popular things except the Vatican without taking any cabs or buses. But if you do have children, don’t count on a stroller to solve that problem. The sidewalks (where there are any) are narrow and often rough cobblestone, and there are not always elevators available. There were times during our trip that I longed for a stroller, but really, I think it would have been more of a hassle to have to lug it around. Luckily, Adam was able to carry Sam quite a bit, and that worked for our little family of three.

We came to the Spanish Steps from behind, so we were at the top. The view was beautiful, and we enjoyed going down the steps and not having to go back up.

Sam slid down the steps on her bottom. I'm not sure why. (And I had to throw those pants away afterwards.)

I liked the whole feel of the place and could have hung out there, but it was time for a nap. We cabbed it to the hotel.

The afternoon was reserved for The Forum.

We got a quick cappuccino and gelato for Sam and took another cab there. Adam really loved seeing the ruins, imagining all that had gone on there. I liked to see the actual Senate building, but I was hoping to see something that would resemble what I see in the movies – you know – the scenes of the soldiers returning to the city from battle, entering the gates and arriving at the center of the city where the senators are gathered on the steps of some official building and the crowds are cheering. Well, that’s what I had in my head, anyway. It was hard to recreate anything like that from what we saw. Rick Steves pointed out things like where the Vestal Virgins were, and what this column meant and what that building was for, but it was all very abstract.

Also, most of my attention was on keeping Sam in sight. She was enjoying playing “hot lava rocks” on the ancient stones that still paved the paths. There were a lot of people there, but I wanted to let her blow off some steam while we were outdoors, so I mostly just enjoyed watching her. Of course, she found a cat and she took an excellent photo of it.

She also took a few photos of Adam and me which aren’t too bad.

She met some Italian kids her age and I helped her to understand that she could communicate with them using the little bit of Italian she knew (Mi chiamo Sammy. Come si chiama?) and by using body and sign language. Sammy invited the kids to play by making a “come here” motion with her hand and then showing them how to jump on the rocks. That was quite fun – watching them all struggle and then understand each other.

We had one of our few dinners indoors that night, our final night in Rome. We wanted to reduce the stimulation and have some quiet, and we got lucky and had a really nice dinner. From here on out, the food started getting better. Adam and I learned how to order and share so that we each got some kind of pasta and some kind of meat. Sam watched Scooby Doo for about the fourth time on the iPad. Adam ordered tiramisu for dessert, and I ordered custard because I hate tiramisu. But, it turns out that real, Italian tiramisu is mostly custard, instead of that wet cake crap you get in the United States. I loved it! Who knew!

On the way home, we stopped off one more time at Largo Argentina to see the cats, and we walked through Piazza Navona one last time. We had a bath and went to bed. In the morning, we would pick up our rental car and leave Rome. I think anyone could stay for a month in Rome and never want for something to do or see. But we were tired and ready to go. We packed quite a bit into those few days, especially considering we had Sam with us.

I loved Rome. I loved the contrast of the old with the new. I loved the people. I loved the fact that it is a real, modern city, bustling with activity, sitting on top of all of that history, so much of which still shows. Our hotel room was actually an interesting little metaphor for the city: old on the outside, but modern and stylish on the inside. But that only applies to the structures of Rome. The people are the opposite: modern and stylish on the outside, but old-fashioned (in the best way) on the inside. I’ve never been any place like Rome, and I suspect there aren’t many places like it anywhere. I imagine Istanbul and Bejing might have that combination of old and new. Regardless, Rome is a special place, and my visit there exceeded my expectations by far.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Little Thing

I just went to a yard sale, and I bought baby boy clothes for the first time. Oh my god, I'm going to have a son! A son!

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Little Thing

Sammy has a bunch of Barbie dolls and one of them is black. She has designated the black one as The Prince in her fantasy-play, and consistently calls it "him." Interesting. I suppose it was the most obviously different of all the dolls. I'm sure she looked for a penis first, though.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teaching Children Lessons

Adam and I were watching TV the other day and the commercials came on. Somehow, we got around to talking about how to treat commercials when Sam is around.

Adam brought up the subject by saying that he is very careful not to say negative things about commercials in front of her, because commercials are good, and allow us to watch and listen to all of this programming for free. My response was that I found that disingenuous, because, although it may be true that commercials are not evil (as anti-man, primitive-worshiping morons claim) it can still be true that one can be annoyed by them, or find them distracting, or any number of other valid complaints. I told him that I didn't think he should be trying to teach her this kind of "moral lesson" by faking his true response, and that she would learn the abstract issues later.

But then Adam corrected me (and I probably should have known better than to think what I did). He said that he would not put on an act for her to "protect" her from bad ideas, but that what he was doing by not disparaging commercials was checking his own reactions to them. He thinks that a disdain for commercials is really an out-of-context emotion - a dropping of the whole context of the good that commercials represent, while focusing on some narrow moment of irritation.

Thus corrected, I still disagreed with him that irritation at commercials was necessarily an out-of-context emotion. But I no longer felt that he was doing anything wrong in regard to Sam, even though he would be acting differently than I would be.

Thinking about the implications of this, I generalized and came up with this formulation: if you feel that you should alter your "natural" behavior in front of your child, there is an easy way to check whether that feeling is valid - if you are doing it as an act of self-improvement, for your own sake, it is probably valid; if you are doing it to teach a lesson, or primarily for the child's sake, it is probably an error.

That's an example of selfish parenting. It's also an example of the real way in which "having children makes us better people." It's not because we have to sacrifice, repress, compromise, give up, and suffer, all in the name of some warped version of love. (The idea that this would make one a better person is enough to make my head explode.) It's because children help us to see ourselves objectively. Hopefully we are already morally ambitious, and recognize the benefits of self-improvement. But it's not always so easy to see the ways in which we can improve. When you have children, you see yourself through their eyes. Innocent, honest, trusting eyes - the clearest mirror you will ever have. And valuing that mirror is selfish parenting, too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thinking Tactics to Get Things Done

I just finished an overhaul of my Getting Things Done system. After attending Jean Moroney's Thinking Tactics Workshop last weekend, I had some fresh ideas. I've been letting my system get more and more out of control over the past six months or so, and I was tempted to give it up entirely, but instead I decided to focus on David Allen's principles and to be more open-minded about how I apply them. Here is what I'm doing now:

  1. The Weekly Review does not work for me. I can't commit to spending a half hour to an hour once a week. But I can commit to spending a little bit of time every day, or at least on most days. So I'm doing a Daily Review, which is a combination of reviewing any leftovers from the previous day and planning for the current day, including reviewing any "waiting" items. In order to do this, I had to reduce the number of lists I keep because this needs to take about 5-10 minutes.

  2. I got rid of separate lists for "errands" "short next actions" and "long next actions" and put them all in one list of next actions. I use tags and time estimates (built into my Remember the Milk software) to sort when necessary, but the big change is that I'm going back to dating my tasks. I simply must have a prioritized list of tasks. I'm not really sure how anybody makes Allen's system work without any kind of prioritization. And if I want a list of errands or a list of tasks that take less than 5 minutes, I can sort it that way using the software.

  3. Putting dates back on my tasks allowed me to get rid of the 11 tickler lists I had been keeping to put future tasks in future months. Now I enter everything on my one list. Yes, I have to "postpone" tasks all the time, but that works for me. It's certainly less work than managing and reviewing 11 other lists! Yes, my list is much longer than it used to be, but I don't ever have to look at the whole thing - just the next few days. And it takes longer to enter tasks, but if I'm rushed, I just enter them with no date and put the extra information in the next day during my Daily Review.

  4. Putting dates back on my tasks also will allow me to stop what I had been doing to jury-rig the system - I had been putting things that really have to get done in the next day or two on my calendar, because otherwise they were lost amongst the dozens of other things on the lists. (And then I stopped looking at all of my Next Actions since I knew I had everything on my calendar done so I was okay!) I agree with David Allen that this is not a good way to use a calendar, which should be for appointments or anything that is set to occur at a specific date or time. But, using his system as suggested, I had no way to distinguish urgent (but not date-specific) tasks from tasks that could slide for weeks with no ill-effects. Am I the only one who has tasks like this? I doubt it.

  5. I eliminated my "projects" list. I think there is a huge error in Allen's system regarding projects. I agree with his principle about tasks being concrete actions, not projects. I agree that each task must be a simple, doable action item, with the thinking already accomplished. But there is a difference between a project and a multi-step goal. I have a few huge projects that require their own files and which generate action items. But I have many, many more things that are really just three- or four-step goals, and keeping them on a master project list is a total waste of time. And I can't do a Weekly Review so I completely lose all those projects. What I'm doing now is creating a task for the next clearly defined action item, and then putting the following actions into a note associated with the task. The only thing is that I have to be careful not to hit "complete" on that task, but instead to change it to the next action, or I'll lose the rest of the project. Don't laugh; I've done this before. But I decided it would be easier to train myself than to try to use Allen's system.

Jean Moroney's course is not about productivity, but about thinking skills. But her course is an excellent complement to Getting Things Done. I made these changes after doing about five minutes of clear thinking, using the skills I learned in her course, after having been bogged down for six months! If you're intrigued, she is giving a class the day after OCON in Ft. Lauderdale. Check it out at her web site!

A Little Thing

One of the most common phrases out of Sammy's mouth lately is, "Mommy, when the twins come out of your belly..." followed by some question about what life will be like in the near future.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Little Things, Refreshed

Welcome to the new design of The Little Things! (If you're reading on a reader, e-mail, or Facebook, please click over and take a look.)

I explained the purpose and meaning of this upgrade at the end of my post, yesterday. I don't plan to substantially change anything about the content of my blog, but I'm hoping that the new look and tagline will inspire me to stay focused on my purpose: "Finding meaning in my everyday experiences."

Thanks again go to Lisa VanDamme, for helping me understand what I am doing here. And I would also like to thank Tori Press, of Red Queen Design Studio, who designed my new banner - isn't it beautiful? You can't blame Tori for any inconsistencies in the rest of the design, though. I'm responsible for that, and I know it still needs some tweaking. But if I had waited to get it just perfect, I'd have never made the change.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

20 Weeks

I'm 20 weeks and 1 day along now, and feeling great!


I'd be feeling even better if I could manage to slow down and get more sleep, but we have been incredibly busy since we returned from our trip. (I have the next installment about half-written - hold tight.)

We've been to three movies in the past two weeks. This is just crazy. We usually see one movie a year if we're lucky. But there was a "parents night out" babysitting thing at Sam's gym which we took advantage of (we saw Source Code which was ok), then Sam had a friend sleep over (yes, she is at that age already) and we took them to see African Cats (which was also just ok), and that's when we noticed that Atlas Shrugged was still playing here and there, so we got a babysitter and saw that with some friends. (Too bad that one didn't even rise to the level of ok.)

On Friday, we bought our new car, the Honda Odyssey! It is so full of technology and good design that I feel privileged to drive it. We got the remote engine starter and a tent that attaches to the back and other accessories to make it even cooler. There are two things I don't like about it, though. First, it's hard for me to get in and out of it. This might be partially my big belly, but I think it's more about being short. I was so used to my RAV4, which is the perfect SUV for short people, and I was spoiled. Also, the Odyssey is really hard to park. I'm sure I'll get better at it, but nothing will change the fact that it is so wide it takes up almost an entire parking spot. Sure, it has sliding doors for the kids, but I still have to get in, and it is a rare thing when I can open the driver's door past the first notch. This makes getting in and out even more difficult.

Oh, one other thing I don't like about my new car - apparently, it is invisible. Twice in the first few days, people came really close to crashing into me. Once someone turned left in front of me, causing me to have to slam on my brakes almost to the point of squealing tires. Then, a taxi came into my lane on the freeway and I had to slow way down to avoid a crash. I honked at him and he followed me until I turned off on a side road. Strange. I'm a very defensive driver and these things don't happen to me often. But worst yet, yesterday, on my way to the dealership to get the accessories installed, someone actually did hit me. I had pulled over to put the dealership address into my GPS (I was being safe, goddamn it!) and I stopped in a parking lot in the lane so that I was blocking some parked cars. But the lot was very quiet and I figured if someone needed to get out they'd honk. I could have parked in a spot, but, well, you know, parking that car is really hard! Bad call. I put my car in park and put on my hazard lights. Ten seconds later, a woman backed out of her spot and rammed right into the side of my car. I cried for ten minutes. I cried the entire time we were exchanging information, and then pulled into a parking spot and cried some more. The damage isn't too bad, but my side and front bumpers will need to be replaced. My perfect, shiny, new toy will never be quite the same. Luckily, the woman was honest and her insurance company has already accepted full liability. Now I just have to go through the hassle of getting it repaired. Sigh.

More importantly, buying this expensive vehicle that would be totally useless if we weren't about to have three children has not made me more paranoid about losing the twins. Maybe the 20 week ultrasound was the real turning point for me.

Besides all of that, we're also getting our new deck stained (we had to wait through the winter for the wood to dry out), and we planned a quick trip to see the grandparents in early June, and we got rid of a ton of stuff from our basement including a refrigerator, and we attended Jean Moroney's Thinking Tactics Workshop (which was excellent - I wish I had more time to write about it, but if you have the chance, you MUST go), and Sam started up swim lessons again, and I made a little progress on my homeschooling plans, and I contacted some people about some ideas I have about a new Big Project I'm working on (Montessori-related), and I got my hair done, and had two moles removed, and had my final meeting of the year with Sam's teacher, and, somewhere in there, I finished unpacking and got caught up on the laundry. Oh, and Adam got a motorcycle!


I am so tired, but now is the only time I have to do all of these things. And they're all really good things that I want to do. So blogging is taking a backseat, yet again. In fact, I was considering taking an official break from blogging, until someone posted a quote on Facebook that reminded me of how valuable it is to me. The quote was about travel, which made me tune in:
‎"The difference between travel and tourism is simple. A tourist experiences disconnected sights and sounds and enjoys them without drawing meaning. A traveler roams the earth, digests what he sees and hears, and collects them in a framework of understanding, which he both brings to his travels and deepens with travels. The former is a pleasant interlude in your life. The latter is about life itself."  --George Friedman of STRATFOR (HT: Jason Crawford)

Of course, this reminded me of what I'm trying to do by journaling our Italy trip. But it also reminded me of the purpose of my blog. My blog is my way of integrating my experiences. It's my way of making everything in my life meaningful, by tying all the Little Things to my greater values. I didn't even know that this was what I was doing, until Lisa VanDamme helped me to understand it. In her Making Poetry Part of Your Life course from OCON 2010, she taught us how to first understand the words of the poem, then to isolate what is important about it, then to abstract away from the concretes to understand the universal meaning (which, in poetry is often just a particular emotion or type of experience), and finally, to find a moment from our own lives that has the same meaning. She taught us that once we had internalized a poem this way, it would always be there as a concrete reminder of that meaning, so that in the future, when these moments occurred, we could recognize them and bring all the depth and beauty of the poem into the experience. She called it living life "through the artist's lens." She taught us that this is how we could find meaning in everyday experiences. And after class, she came to me and told me that that was how she saw my blog.

It was the greatest compliment I've ever received about my writing, even though, in some ways, I don't feel that I live up to it. But she was right - this is what I am trying to do. And so I won't quit blogging. And, finally, ten months later, I'm ready to reveal The Little Things' new design and tagline to reflect what I learned in that class. Tune in tomorrow.

A Little Thing

I love maternity clothes. When else does a forty-year-old woman get to wear overall shorts?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

19 Weeks

We're having a boy and a girl!

It's as certain as you can get while they're still inside. We saw their relevant parts over and over again during an hour-long ultrasound, as well as having seen them last week at the OB. Two doctors and one ultrasound technician all came to the same conclusion. Check it out for yourself:

I'm walking on air today!

Of course, this is what we had hoped for, but even if we were having two girls or two boys, it's awesome just knowing. It makes all the difference in the world to me to know their sexes. They have identities now. No more Thing 1 and Thing 2, and we can even dispense with Baby A and Baby B. There is the boy (formerly known as Thing 1 or Baby A), who is lower down, and in a head-down position right now:

And there is the girl (formerly known as Thing 2 or Baby B), who is up higher on the left, and in a breech position right now:

Everything is normal. This was the big, diagnostic ultrasound - the one where we discovered the problems with my first pregnancy - so it was a milestone for us to get through it. I was a bit nervous throughout, but it was also just incredibly awesome to be able to sit and observe our two future children for a solid hour. They were moving around the whole time, too. We saw them yawn. We saw their arms and legs moving around. We saw their four-chamber hearts beating. The coolest thing is that we got to see them drinking the amniotic fluid. Both of them just opened up their mouths and clearly swallowed. The boy's bladder was empty when we began the scan, but after he drank, the tech went back to check and it was full. Awesome!

The tech tried to get us some 3D images, but there was just too much movement in there, and they're too close. Who cares, when you get to see one picture like this:

So, things have been changing quickly lately. I'm growing like crazy, as I mentioned before. I'm starting to grow out of the smaller maternity clothes that I had from my pregnancy with Sam. There is about a pound of baby in me right now (half a pound each) but I've gained about 15 pounds. That's really not all that much, and when I think about how big I was at 20 weeks with Sam, I'm not really all that huge after all. But that will change.

Other things are happening, too. I feel a lot of pressure on my cervix, but the doctor checked and everything is good. It's just that the boy happens to have his head jammed right there. The girl's head is what has been causing me to feel movement high up. Her head is way up on my left side, pretty much at my waistline. My bladder feels like I'm in my third trimester. It's squished so it doesn't hold much, and it's hard to release everything in there properly. I think my lung capacity has shrunk - one flight of stairs does me in. The size of my belly is becoming a physical impediment - already it's harder to reach my feet, and harder to get up from deep chairs or from lying down. I'm also getting nosebleeds (not gushing) and tingly hands, which are normal pregnancy symptoms.

But, really, I'm feeling great. I'm actually feeling better than I did a few weeks ago. There was a kind of awkward stage there for a while, where my body seemed to be adjusting. Now, even though I'm bigger, it feels more comfortable. And I'm really enjoying feeling the babies move. I'm finally back to loving pregnancy! It probably won't last long, though, because with twins, things can get uncomfortable pretty quickly.

Tonight, I went to a meeting of my local Mothers of Multiples group. It was a meeting for new and expectant moms, and it was fun and helpful. Some things were scary - like the woman who had six pediatrician visits in five days, plus a trip to the ER, just because a bad cold was making the rounds in her home. But most of the women weren't freaking out, and they seemed sane, and some of them even bragged about getting their babies to sleep through the night or, at least, on the same schedule. I asked the group if I was crazy to consider travelling when six months pregnant (assuming I get the doctor's ok). Almost all of them thought it would be doable if there was no medical reason not to travel. But they did warn me that I might  not want to - I might just be too exhausted from lack of sleep or plain old fatigue. It depends. One woman was 20 weeks along and she said she was in constant pain already. Another said that she cancelled a trip at five months because she would have had to bring along so many pillows and wedges to help her sleep it would have been ridiculous. I know I probably shouldn't predict how I'll feel, but so far, all of my pregnancy experience tells me that I'm going to feel ok. The day before Sam was born, I was squatting, lifting, and bending while boxing up packages for an eBay business that I had started. I was also walking the dog every day in the middle of summer. I was a bit uncomfortable, but it was really not a big deal. I know I won't be like that if I make it to 38 weeks with twins, but, if I'm feeling this good now, I don't see why I won't feel like that at 28 weeks, for OCON.

Anyway, for now, I'm just going to try to enjoy this pregnancy while it lasts. I feel sorry for all men, who will never get to experience growing a life in their bodies. The only experience I could imagine that might compare is seeing the earth from space. It's something that strips away every mundane aspect of life and shows you the essence of what it means to be human. With pregnancy, you get to experience the more animal side of human nature (especially during the birth!). I imagine a trip into space would concretize the rational side. If I'm lucky, I'll get to do both in my lifetime, but right now I'm enjoying what I've got.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day in the Life

It's time for another exciting installment of Day in the Life of Amy. It was a crazy, hectic, great day, full of surprises, and, in most ways, totally normal.

  • Woke up half hour late

  • Got dressed (no chance for shower), got Sam dressed, got Sam breakfast

  • Made and drank coffee - made some for Adam too because next I had to...

  • Put coffee maker in car to return to Bed, Bath and Beyond (this is our second Keurig that is defective) - the damn thing leaked water all over my floors and all over me - cleaned it up

  • Left to take Sam to school at 8:45am

  • Realized that I left my phone at home - ironic, given how much I ended up using it later, and also, that I thought my day was frantic now

  • When dropping Sammy off, confirmed the time for Mother’s Day Tea school event on Friday

  • Exchanged coffee maker at BBB and bought spoons (I think Sam has been throwing spoons in the trash can)

  • Stopped off at home to pick up phone (can't live without my Droid)

  • McDonalds for breakfast because it is fast and right next to my hair salon

  • Got my hair done from 10-11:15

  • While sitting under the dryer, read this article, Is This A Great Country or What?, which ended up partially inspiring this Day in the Life post by making me think about technology and Target and freeways and how much I was able to do thanks to all of that great stuff people have created

  • Phone message from car dealership (On Sunday, I put in 5 requests for quotes from local dealerships and they haven't stopped calling since)

  • Quick stop at supermarket for milk, tissue, sugar, salmon (we seriously could not wait one more day for more tissue)

  • Home to put groceries away - left phone in the car since I would only be inside for a few minutes

  • Let the dog out - still really loving my new deck with stairs so I can let him out and go do other things until he knocks on the door to come back in (he bangs the glass door with his claws - cute!)

  • 5 minutes until I have to leave to pick up Sam so I sit at my computer and see a phone message from Adam from just a moment ago (Google Voice is awesome - it transcribes messages and puts them in my email where I notice them before I would ever check the phone)

  • Went to the car and got my phone and called Adam back - he rode his new motorcycle to the mall to register it and it wouldn't start back up again - he might need me to pick him up but I need to hold tight until he figures out what he'll do next - luckily the mall is near Sam's school

  • Left to pick up Sam from school

  • Call from car dealership on the way to school - good price, do they have the color we want? They'll get back to me

  • On the way to school, called friend P. to see if she found a sitter for tomorrow night so we could go and see the Atlas Shrugged movie - she said she couldn't find one so I need to try to find one

  • In line to pick up Sam from school, called babysitter and left message

  • Right when Sam walks up to the car and I need to help her get in, got call from Adam - he is just waiting for a tow and do Sam and I want to bring him some lunch and we can picnic outside on the grass near the bike? Nice idea, but can't do it today

  • Off on to the next set of errands - on the way to get gas, got call back from babysitter: yes, she can do it, so now I have to get her the address of P.'s house and time she should come which I'm not sure about yet

  • Got gas (yikes, those prices!)

  • While pumping, got call from friend A. which I ignored for the moment due to complete overwhelmption (nice word, huh?)

  • Burger King for lunch, at Sam's request - it was near Target, our next stop

  • At the Burger King indoor playground, I met a mother with twin girls - she was told they would be a boy and girl at 15 weeks but only found out they were two girls when they were delivered, despite the fact that she had an ultrasound once a week throughout the last half of her pregnancy! They never figured it out because the babies were just too squished up in there to see! Holy shit! My only consolation is that all of that happened in Japan, where I'm going to assume they have their heads up their asses to retain my sanity. (Her husband was stationed there but they were evacuated because of the nuclear plant.) All in all, an interesting lunch.

  • On the 100 yard drive from Burger King to Target, got the call from Adam that I’d need to pick him up from the mechanic where they were towing the bike in about an hour - actually, I think it took 3 phone calls because he had to call me back once and because I had to pull the car over and get out of the car to hear him because Sam had decided to throw a tantrum because I locked the car doors - she said, "You locked me in!!!!!!!!" even though she is strapped down to that car seat with a gazillion buckles and belts - interesting, how a four-year-old mind works

  • Enjoyable trip to Target for a sleeping bag for Sam, which she needed by tomorrow if our Atlas movie plans work out - picked up new leotard and tights for Sam as long as we were there - that girl is growing!

  • On the way out, Sam says, "I'm hungry" even though we finished lunch less than 15 minutes earlier - I guess she really is growing - bought her a bag of chips - some days are just junk food days

  • In the car, called Adam to let him know we were on the way

  • Drove 11 miles to pick up Adam at the mechanic - luckily, no traffic, or this could have been an hour long event

  • Sam napped in car

  • Once we got to the mechanic, had to wait for Adam, so I napped in car

  • Came home with Adam and found that I had left the dog outside for over 3 hours - since I had left to pick up Sam from school - ooops, sorry to my neighbors for what I'm sure was a lot of barking

  • It's now 3pm and I remembered that phone call from friend A. and checked - she had left me a message about meeting at the park with the kids at 3:30 - and on this beautiful day, with Sam having already napped, that was a definite GO

  • While packing up gear for the park, heard the jingle of the ice cream truck - he usually comes at 8:30pm when kids should be in bed and I had promised Sam that if he came at a decent hour we would get ice cream - so we got ice cream!

  • While eating ice cream on the front porch, called friend P. to decide on logistics for movie and dinner tomorrow – she told me I should check with her husband, C. because he thinks we need to get to the theater early

  • Noticed that I had Burger King on my white shirt - went inside to change while Sam finished up her Bubble Gum Popsicle (when will she learn that the blue one is not always the yummiest one?)

  • On the way to the park, called friend A. to let her know we were coming and received two calls from car dealerships which I didn’t answer

  • On the way to the park, called C. and decided on logistics for dinner and movie

  • At the park, learned that friend A. has recently begun to consider homeschooling - we had a lot to talk about!

  • Many bumps and bruises at the park today, for some reason - maybe the kids were having a frantic day, too

  • On the way home from the park, called babysitter but she couldn’t take the info because she was driving so I had to call later

  • Home at 5pm - set Sam up in front of the iPad so I could use my computer for a few minutes without distraction - hadn't sat at it all day, with the exception of that one quick check when I got the message from Adam about his motorcycle - thank god for the Droid, which kept me connected all that time

  • Wrote up most of this Day in the Life

  • Called babysitter and left a message

  • Went online to buy the tickets for Atlas and found out that I had the movie time wrong, but I figured a way to work it out and bought tickets anyway - but now I needed the babysitter at a different time

  • Called babysitter again and got her the correct time and location - finally!

  • Sent email to friends and Adam confirming plans for movie tomorrow

  • Spaced out in front of Facebook and email for 15 minutes

  • Took care of the one other thing on my calendar for the day – a minor financial transaction

  • Cooked dinner - it was relaxing, even though I had to work around a sink full of dirty dishes since I had never unloaded the washer from last night (and yes, there was a sink full of dirty dishes even though we ate fast food for breakfast and lunch because I was still catching up with the dishes from the weekend!)

  • Ate dinner - unfortunately, one of my failed experiments (salmon with grapes - yuck)

  • Put Sam to bed - she read 3 pages of one of her Little Bear Early Reader books to me - one of the highlights of my day

  • Unpacked and checked out the sleeping bag - it will work for tomorrow

  • Took tags off new leotard and tights and put them in the laundry basket

  • Adam set up the new coffee maker and did the dishes and brought all the clean laundry up from the basement, leaving me time to finish this blog post before I head off to watch last week's episode of Survivor and maybe read an interview or two in 100 Voices before I go to sleep

  • Really, really good day. Really, really tired.







Monday, May 2, 2011

Italy Part 2 - First Day in Rome

Before I even begin talking about our trip, I have to introduce you to Rick Steves. His guidebooks are the reason we had such an awesome, hassle-free vacation. I used the books to get a sense of the cities we would be visiting, to understand the neighborhoods where we might want to pick hotels, to choose the most important sights to see, and, most valuably, we used the information in the guides while we were at the sights to help us understand what was important. We didn’t need to spend a whole day at the Vatican Museum because Rick Steves gave us a sense of what we would want to see and what was a waste of time. He offers audio tours that you can download for free, but we preferred the books because they allowed us to edit our sightseeing even further. We’d skim through his chapter on, say, the Borghese Gallery, and we’d know which rooms to focus on. Then, while there, we’d take out the book and read his descriptions of individual works of art, or whatever captured our interest. We found that his understanding of the history, the art, and the culture of each place was excellent. I’ll refer to Rick Steves often during these reports as if he were there in person, advising us. That’s how it felt to us – like we had a good friend and expert along with us on the trip.

I also want you to know that I'm writing these memoirs for myself and my family, really. I want to cement in my mind all the things that we found most important. The same goes for the photos. We don't take many photos of the sights themselves. We buy postcards for that. We try to take pictures of things that are more unique to our own experience: the street performers, Sam chasing pigeons, or the huge plate of pasta with ragu that Sam seemed to order at every meal. So, I'm not sure how interesting this will be to anyone but us. Read on if you wish...

We departed from Dulles at about 6 in the evening, and flew through Amsterdam. The flight there was about 8 hours, and then we had another 2 hour flight to Rome. None of us slept much on the plane, but, despite tossing and turning for hours, Sam did a fine job. I think she handled the flight better than I did. For some reason, I didn’t sleep at all. So my fears of a long flight with Sam were completely unfounded. I still don’t understand why parents are so hesitant to fly with kids. Yes, we only have one, but for the most part, flying with her has been an exciting and joyful experience. I guess it just depends on the child’s temperament. And having said that, yes, I am prepared for two, completely different children. At least, in theory, I’m prepared.

[caption id="attachment_4486" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Our Little Travel Expert"][/caption]

We did the smart thing and paid five extra Euros (about $7.50) for the hotel to send their shuttle to pick us up. It was nice to be met at the airport and have confidence that we were going to get to our hotel without getting lost, which I’ve read can be a problem with these tiny hotels. (From now on, I’ll just convert Euros to approximate amount in dollars so you don’t have to do the math.)

We stayed in the Imperial Suites Navona, just north of Piazza Navona, right in the heart of Rome. I can’t say enough good things about this hotel. Here is the little street where it was located:














So cool! Our room was modern and comfortable, even if tiny (which is to be expected in Rome). The staff was so friendly and helpful and everything was easy. Breakfast was served in our room every day at the time of our choosing and they actually offered eggs and meat, which saved us from having to go out for breakfast each day.

I didn’t plan it this way, but staying so close to one of the piazzas, or squares, was a really good thing. We found out how wonderful it was right after checking in. We were starving and went to the first restaurant in sight – less than a block from the hotel. We had the most delicious cappuccino, pizza, and gelato, and our jet lag seemed to disappear. After a quick trip back to the hotel to unpack, we set out for the Pantheon. On the way, we walked through Piazza Navona:

We didn’t know what to expect, but we found a huge, gaudy Bernini fountain, street performers, tons of restaurants, street vendors, lots of people, interesting buildings, and our first taste of the City of Rome. What we were to learn is that, just about anywhere you go in Rome, you will find history, art, ruins, or something unexpected. But Piazza Navona was particularly good for Samantha. On our first walk through the square, she found one of her favorite things of the entire vacation, the white statue lady:

Sam fell in love with this mime, and worked up enough courage to go to her and shake her hand, which is saying something. Sam is typically afraid of people in costumes. But this woman was really good at her craft, and she read Sam like a book and got her to feel comfortable. She was rewarded with a Euro in her hat from Sam, which was another new experience. We were thrilled that Sam was already having a good time. There were other mimes in the square, but none as good as the white statue lady. Sam looked for her every time we passed through Piazza Navona for the rest of our stay. This is what I mean when I say that our travels are even more enjoyable with our daughter along. I would never have paid so much attention to a mime without Sam there, but little events like this made the trip so much richer.

The Pantheon was one of my favorite sights in Rome. I’ve never stood in such an old building. It was breathtaking to think that it was built in 120AD. The dome was built of concrete, a material lost during the Dark Ages. The strength of concrete is one of the reasons so many structures from ancient Rome remain standing today. The dome with its oculus (the opening at the top) was beautiful in its own right, as was the floor of the building, which has been repaired, but which I believe retains its original design. There were a lot of statues inside the Pantheon but I wasn’t very interested in them. Adam was excited to see the tomb of Raphael inside, and we both loved the inscription on his sarcophagus:  “Here lies Raphael, by whom the mother of all things (Nature) feared to be overcome while he was living, and while he was dying, herself to die.”

Sam was mostly bored, but we didn’t stay long. We walked around the outside and Rick Steves pointed out how the Pantheon actually sits at a much lower level than the current street level of Rome, as do all of the ruins and ancient structures. I’m sure I’d heard this idea before – that modern Rome is built upon the ruins of ancient Rome – but to see the ruins in person, in such a concrete way, made the history so much more real. It’s exciting to walk around the modern streets of Rome and wonder what lies beneath. The Pantheon was awesome!

We made a quick stop in a church nearby: the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, considered the only Gothic church in Rome. We didn’t really know what it was until we went in. It was just close by and we had a little extra time. Inside, we found a Michelangelo statue: Christ the Redeemer. And then we found out that this is where Galileo recanted, but then whispered “And yet it moves.” This is what I’m talking about – in Rome, you really can just stumble upon the most amazing things!

In the square in front of the Pantheon, Sam got her first taste of chasing pigeons, which quickly became one of her favorite activities in Italy.

We also saw a bunch of soldiers or policemen marching around with real big guns. I’m not sure what that was about, but it was clearly a ritual, not a practical exercise:

We walked through the city streets and just took in all of the shops, the street performers, and the buzz of the city. In some ways, Rome could be New York. But then again, maybe not.

We popped our heads inside another church. It looked like nothing on the outside, but it was beautiful inside. I don’t even remember which one it was, but it wasn’t important. It was just so cool that these things were everywhere. Sam was getting bored though, so we moved on.

We had to get used to the Roman traffic. Sometimes it was hard to tell where the sidewalk ended and the street began. We normally don’t make Sam hold our hands walking around, so it was very stressful to keep a close eye on her. I experimented with many methods of walking through the city and we never found anything that worked well for us. If I had to do it again, I would have started the trip with a special rule for Sam that she always hold our hands while walking somewhere. But as it was, we just struggled with keeping her safe and keeping her walking in the right direction.

Since we had eaten a late lunch, we opted for a dinner of appetizers right on Piazza Navona. I ate prosciutto with melon, some strange kind of seafood with suckers and tentacles, and a glass of Chianti. Not exactly pregnancy-approved food! I was unable to escape eating some lunch meat throughout the rest of the trip – sometimes that is the only kind of meat you can get – but I deliberately drank a cappuccino and a glass of wine every day, and that was totally worth it. But I have to say, this first day’s coffee and wine were probably the best of the whole trip.

I haven’t mentioned it because it is so completely normal, but both the meals so far were al fresco, as were almost all of our meals throughout the trip. The food on the piazzas is never quite as good as elsewhere, and it costs more, but the atmosphere, especially at Piazza Navona, was worth it. Sam spent much of the dinner yelling, “Pigeon, come!” and we were able to allow her to leave the table when she was done to wander about the square and chase pigeons or just look around. She made a lot of friends this way.

And that was our first day in Rome. And it was only a half day, really. And we were jet-lagged and a bit disoriented. And it was cloudy and a bit cold. I’m sure I won’t write as much as this for every day we were in Italy. But our first day was really very special – one of the best of the whole trip.