Clara performed in her first real concert in December. I say real because the first year orchestra got to use their bows this time and they performed at the high school performing arts center instead of the junior high cafeteria. I was a little bummed that the fyo just wore their hoodies instead of dressing up though. The philharmonic and symphonic orchestras wore formal concert attire.
Clara is actually quite good at the violin and really does enjoy it. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to play violin, but I talked her into it. She had excelled in choir and intended to continue in junior high, but I really wanted her to at least try an instrument. Linda’s mom had played when she was younger and she left her violin to Clara before she died, so I knew it would be special if Clara learned to play. I told her to give it a year and she could drop it after that if she didn’t like it. Turns out she was just nervous about learning an instrument and thought it would be too hard. Instead, she picked it up very easily, can play by ear and has been 1st or 2nd chair first violin these past two years. I’m glad she took a chance and humored her mother.
Clara opened her gifts when she got home from school that afternoon. The shirt, scarf and headband were a gift she got to open early before school that day. Among her gifts was this body spray that I picked up in a little perfume shop in Rome.
She wanted to go to Ooh La La which is a cupcake and dessert shop. She got the birthday cupcake that’s topped with candy.
After cupcakes, we headed to the pet store to pick up this little guy. She named him Percy Jackson. This was during her Greek and Roman mythology craze and Percy Jackson was her favorite book series at the time. He was a Chinese dwarf hamster and never got any bigger than this.
Clara had an extra special day when she woke up to snow on her birthday! In wasn’t much, but we take what we can get in Houston. Everyone was out before sunrise to play in it. Even neighbors without kids were outside building snowmen. I’m pretty sure this was Robert’s first time to play in the snow. Chris was working a race this weekend, so he missed out on all of the fun. We weren’t the only ones giddy with excitement. Facebook was filled with pictures of people out playing in the snow at 6:00 a.m.
Clara had to get ready for school, but since Robert started school an hour later, he got to stay out and play for longer. If you look closely in this next picture, you can see the snowman across the street built by the empty-nesters that live there.
Robert and I found Chris’ corn cob pipe and a carrot to make this genuine snowman.
This isn’t a sight we see ever day in Houston.
Chris had traveled internationally on and off during his almost ten years working for this company. The bulk of his trips were to Rio, but he had also been to Rome about half a dozen times. His travels also included several trips to Calgary and once to Tunisia, along with some travel within the US. In all of those years, this was the first trip that I joined him on. He had wracked up quite a few frequent flyer miles, so I basically flew for free which included splurging on a business class seat with Chris on the flight home (since he wasn’t about to sit in economy when his company flew him business). Chris and Vance were working through Friday, so those hotel nights were covered, as well as the rental car through Saturday and any taxis we took during their work week. So it was a really nice Italian vacation for a very modest amount of money. Just like I like it!
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 19th-20th— Jenna and I left for the airport in the early afternoon on Tuesday. We had a layover in New Jersey and landed in Rome around lunchtime on Wednesday. Vance and Chris had rented a car for the two weeks they were there, so Vance picked us up at the airport and took us to the hotel before heading back to the office to finish out the workday. Vance was an ex-pat in Rome for seven years, so we basically had an ex-local with us who was fluent in Italian and familiar with driving in the city, so that was nice.
We stayed at the Hotel Panama Garden. It’s located north east of the busy city center, close to the Rome branch of their office. The hotel is fairly small and doesn’t have a lot of amenities, but it’s quiet and clean with a lovely breakfast buffet and the front desk staff is very friendly and helpful. They even remembered Chris from all of his business travels and gave us a discount when we brought the family this past November.
Jenna and I walked around the corner to a cafe for a quick bite and then went back to our rooms until the boys got off of work. I’m pretty sure I showered and napped, but two years is a long time ago, so who knows. I think dinner that night was a short drive away to Vance’s favorite restaurant near his old apartment. The owner was happy to see his old customer and treated us well. That’s where I was stunned to see a kid at the table next to us eating a hot dog and french fry pizza.
Thursday, the 21st— Jenna had been to Rome before, so she served as my tour guide for the next two days while the boys were at work. We took the bus and hopped off at the Piazza Venezia in front of the Alter of the Fatherland and walked the rest of the way to the Colosseum.
This was the only picture I took of the two of us.
After seeing the Colosseum, we wandered along a secluded street adjacent to the Roman Forum for a while and then took the subway to another piazza. I don’t even remember which one. Jenna was on a quest to find several resale shops she had located online. If I recall correctly, we didn’t have a whole lot of luck. We had a quick piece of pizza somewhere and just hopped on and off the bus and subway until making our way back to the hotel.
I can’t remember which night it was, but one night we took a taxi to the Piazza Navona where were were meeting their co-worker Cascone and his wife for dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. We walked for a long time through dark narrow streets trying to find it only to discover that they were closed for vacation. So we went to another place nearby and had a nice dinner on the patio. I loved Cascone! He’s the quintessential Italian– a bit exuberant, fun-loving, friendly and most importantly, he likes busting Chris’ chops. Chris is so good at messing with people, so it was nice to see someone not afraid to get a few jabs in. Ha!
Friday, the 23rd— This must have been on Friday, because I’m wearing different clothes. Chris and Vance met us for lunch perhaps?
Which means these are a little out of order. Friday morning Jenna and I strolled through the Villa Ada Savoia, a huge, sprawling park directly across the street from the hotel.
We then walked to the Catacombe di Priscilla, which is not too far from the hotel. We lucked out and were able to join an English speaking tour of the catacombs beneath us. The entrance to the catacombs is the convent of the Benedictine Sisters of Priscilla pictured below. There were only about 8-10 people allowed on each tour. As we walked through the door to the stairway descending underground, the tour guide locked it behind us. That was a little creepy, but the tour itself was fascinating. I think we were underground for around 45 minutes, walking through the maze of tunnels. Romans were very short back then, so we had to duck as we passed through “doorways”. The walls were lined top to bottom with niches to lay the bodies, including small ones for babies. The niches were then covered by tile or marble slab and decorated. Very few fragments of the slabs remain, but there are some frescoes still intact. All of the bodies have been moved from the area we toured so we didn’t see any bones. I believe that further into the catacombs some bones remain out of view of the public. If you are ever in Rome, I highly recommend a tour of the catacombs. This one is smaller and less well known than ones inside the city walls, but it was still a wonderful history lesson.
We took the scenic route back to the hotel meandering through the city streets and popping into shops along the way before meeting the boys for lunch. We had dinner at one of the boys favorites near the hotel, The Ristorante Mangiafuoco (we also took the kids there at Thanksgiving).
Saturday, the 23rd— Finally the work week was over! Yay! We split up Saturday morning and Chris and I walked down Via Salaria towards the city, stepping into shops and churches without any real agenda. This next picture is outside the wall of the city. We went to the Trevi Fountain and back to Piazza Navona so that I could see it in the daytime.
We met up with Vance and Jenna at the Pantheon and walked around inside for a bit before walking over to a tobacco shop not too far away. Or maybe vice versa. Chris and Vance spent an inordinate amount of time there perusing the pipes and chatting with the owner.
After a long day of walking, we took the bus back, grabbing some gelato before heading back to the hotel.
Sunday, the 24th— The next morning, the four of us loaded into a cab and took a train to our next destination. Chris and I left our luggage at the hotel and just packed one outfit into our backpacks for a night in Venice. We traveled with Vance and Jenna for a portion of the trip and said our goodbyes as they traveled on. When we stepped out of the train station and saw the Grand Canal for the first time, I was just blown away. Venice is such an amazing place. I know some people think it’s overrated, but I loved it! There’s just no other place like it on Earth and I feel so privileged to have been able to experience it, twice now.
It was overcast when we got to Venice around noon and sprinkled on and off all day. We rode the vaporetto down the Grand Canal to our hotel near St. Mark’s, got checked in to our hotel, checked out the amazing view and then walked across the street for a really late lunch of pizza. I had no clue what to expect from our hotel. I chose it because of it’s proximity to St. Mark’s and it’s great reviews. This corner room with canal view was a splurge, but it was only one night and we used frequent flyer miles, so it didn’t seem too bad. I was in heaven when I opened the window to find this view. We had a corner room with four or five huge windows that looked out on to the canal. Opening the windows and looking out onto the canal below was one of my favorite memories from this trip. We spent that evening walking around, just getting lost in the maze of streets.
Monday, the 25th— Since we were only spending one full day in Venice, we wanted to get an early start. After a lovely breakfast buffet at the hotel, we walked over to the Rialto bridge before the shops had opened for the day. Then we did a quick tour of St. Mark’s.
After that we hopped on the vaporetto for Lido. It’s a small island with a quaint main street down the middle. It’s probably pretty busy during the summer, but since it was off-season, the whole island was vacant. We stopped in for gelato and strolled along the beach for a little while before heading back to the main island.
Here we had gotten off the vaporetto from Lido and were waiting for the one to Murano. You can see the island cemetery in the background.
And here’s the cemetery as we passed by it on the vaporetto. I would have liked to visit it, but we didn’t have time.
By the time we arrived at Murano, it was close to closing time for a lot of the shops so we quickly (and carefully) went into a bunch of them to find gifts to bring back to the kids. I found some pretty glass ornaments for my Christmas tree.
We came back to Venice and walked though the streets on the way to the train station. I don’t remember where we had dinner that night, but we were pooped from all of the walking we did that day, so we got to the train station several hours early and sat for a very long time until our night train arrived. That was the worst part of the trip. We had to check out of the hotel around noon, so we didn’t have a comfy spot to hang out all day. I think our train left the station around midnight.
We had no idea what to expect in a sleeper car. I’m glad we did it, but the train was old and it was far from luxurious. It wasn’t the most comfortable night’s sleep, but it wasn’t terrible either. We had a little sink and mirror in our berth but had to go down the hall to use the stinky bathroom.
Tuesday, the 26th— We got back to Rome early Tuesday morning, ate breakfast near Termini and for some reason decided to walk the two miles back to the hotel. I don’t know; I was probably lamenting paying for a cab. Back at the hotel we had a new room with a lovely balcony view of the park across the street. We headed to the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel for a guided tour that afternoon.
Thursday, the 28th— We had a nice cushy flight back home in business class with my cozy socks, Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and yummy food. They really do spoil you and it makes for a much more pleasant trip.
After posting all of these vacation photos, I realize it’s time for another vacation! I haven’t done a lot of traveling but I absolutely LOVE it and can’t wait for our next adventure!
Because our camper was occupied, we weren’t able to take our Thanksgiving camping trip like we usually do. We went to Temple instead. Robert’s birthday was on Thanksgiving this year. He hates that his birthday falls around Thanksgiving, but being on the actual day is a real bummer. I went easy on myself this year and decided to do cupcakes with store bought tubes of icing. He wanted Ninjago cupcakes and they didn’t turn out half bad if I must say so myself.
We paused the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade long enough for him to open his gifts. He got several Ninjago lego sets and a Beast Quest boxed set of books. He was obsessed with these books for about a year. There are probably 150 in the series and I’m pretty sure he read and re-read over half of them. For months we scoured the library and used book store shelves on our own quest to find every last book. This series is what really sparked a love of reading in him.
We bought this cute little mini pinata for him for a special touch on his birthday. He’d never had a pinata before.
I ended up not feeling well that afternoon, so Chris was a good daddy and took the kids to the arcade while the rest of us took it easy. We played several games of Ticket to Ride that week and just hung out.
I was a little late getting my caramel apples made, but I eventually did make a batch to share with friends and neighbors.
One evening Clara and Malana sat the table for dinner and added a special touch with place cards for everyone.
We made it to the Buddy Walk this year at the Sam Houston Race Park to walk with Justin and his family in support of the Down Syndrome Association on Houston.
Clara loved her violin Christmas ornament I got for her this year.
I helped Robert’s teacher with their classroom thankful party. Robert was not very thankful to have me there. This was the best picture I could get.
Trevy-Ann celebrated her 15th birthday right around Thanksgiving as well, so her mom threw her a little party and invited some family friends over for cake and ice cream. The little one seems to be fascinated by the chandelier.
The next week was Thanksgiving and Robert’s birthday and we went to Temple to spend the holiday with Dan and Linda. When we got back, our friends’ house was getting close to completion. The toilets and showers had just been installed and their kitchen was close to being finished, so they decided to move back into their house at the end of November. They were all itching to have their own space again and get back into a routine. They lived with us for 80 days and were one of the first families back in their neighborhood, which was 100% flooded. We celebrated their new home with dinner with dinner out the night they moved home.
Chris and I have had people live with us on several occasions, but never a family. Having houseguests for that long and in such stressful conditions was not without it’s difficulties, but Chris and I both agree that we were overjoyed to be in the perfect position to be able to share God’s blessings with their family and we would do it again in a heartbeat. We fully believe that God puts people in our path that we can be a blessing to. We just have to keep our eyes open and be willing to step out in faith, have our routines disrupted a bit and make some sacrifices. Through the act of sharing our blessings, our faith, family and marriage is always blessed and stronger because of it and we pray that Clara and Robert will learn to listen when God nudges them to step out in faith.
Trevy-Ann and Malana had never carved a pumpkin, so obviously we had to carve a pumpkin. Robert insisted that a reluctant Trevy-Ann stick her hands inside the pumpkin.
I’m pretty sure there was some disagreement about how the jack-o-lantern should be carved, but in the end Jack Skellington won out.
Halloween night was a drizzly, soggy mess, so I didn’t get very good pictures. We pulled out the umbrellas and went around to a few houses in the neighborhood. The kids didn’t last very long before they were ready to call it a night and come back to the house to gorge on candy. I had hoped to get them back in their costumes the next day to get some good pics, but they did not comply with my request. Robert was the Kai from Ninjago.
This was during Clara’s owl phase, so I made her this snowy owl costume and did her makeup. Malana was Moana. Robert stripped out of his costume before I got a group photo of them all.
Robert worked a race with Chris one weekend and he bought an mp3 player and headphones with the money Chris gave him for working. He’s worked several weekends over the last couple of years and drivers and workers alike are impressed with how hard of a worker he is. He’s got lots of friends now at the race track.
The girls helped Wendy-Ann make a traditional South African dish for dinner one night.
Clara’s first orchestra concert was right before Halloween. It was very casual and took place on the stage in the cafeteria. They did so great after only having started learning their instruments two months earlier. I decided then and there that I loved her director, Mr. T. The first year orchestra only plucked their selections. No bows allowed. I was thoroughly impressed with the 7th and 8th grade orchestras. Mr. T does a phenomenal job with all of his students.
The kids had lots of fun together during their stay….. most of the time. They played legos, swam and came up with lots of fun things to pass the time. They even fashioned their own Clue game. There were moments when they needed a break from each other, but thankfully they were few and far between.
We made hot cocoa and lit a fire on the first “cold” day of the year.
Robert attended his first Formula 1 race in Austin the weekend of the 22nd.