La Mamma: di Robin Kay Broussard

A poem written for me on mother’s day by my daughter, Robin Kay Broussard. She’s in the 3rd grade and they gave the kids a choice of copying down a poem or making up their own. Robin chose the latter and I’m quite proud of her. In Italian it’s in rhyming couplets; my translation doesn’t achieve the same but I’ve done my best.


Translated it’s a bit like this:

You are mine

dear Mama,

with you

in my heart a breadth is born.

I love you very much,

both on days stormy and those serene.

From my heart to my fingertips,

you are the queen of my life.

You’re pretty and laughing,

full of life, content and smiling.

Robin Kay Broussard (9 years old)

How am I doing? Sew-sew…

Pair of palazzo pants that I’ve finally finished
Second of two shirts I’m making for Matthew

 I have been sewing like mad lately. I finally finished the pants pictured at left and I’m wearing them! They’re really comfortable and great for hot days when one’s legs are not ‘summer perfect’. Made in cotton sateen, they’re a cinch to iron after hanging up to dry.

I have almost finished the second of two white shirts I’ve been making for my husband this summer. I decided to do the pin-tucks by hand on the second one and then made the mistake of hand-sewing the top-stitching! Now I have done all of the top-stitching  by hand so that it has continuity but…whew it’s a lot of little stitches.

Detail of pin-tucks on shirt

 Meanwhile, I realized only this morning that the girl’s kindergarten had sent home a list of ‘stuff to get’ for the summer session, one of which was ‘uno zainetto’ (aka a little knapsack). I hated to spend yet another 10 euro on some made in china nylon thing that would fall apart after 30 days (or the zip wouldn’t work or, or, or…). So, I made this little knapsack from a dress that my mother had made for her when she was three. It was nice to re-use this fabric for Robin Kay because I have a hard time giving away things that my mother made for her and, darn it, she keeps getting bigger and growing out of them anyway!

Cute little knapsack I made for my daughter to carry her things to ‘summer school’

So sew…that’s been my pile of projects lately (now that it’s too hot for knitting).

A Saracen grain cake was in her mouth…adventures in cooking with buckwheat

 Several weeks ago I was at the Italian version of Whole Foods Market (only much smaller). I was getting some nice organic flour for my bread making and on the aisle on the way to the register I ran across a package of ‘mixed seeds’ on sale, it had pumpkin, sesame and sunflower in there (some of my favorites) and then ‘grano saraceno tostato’. Thinking the Italian version of ‘hmmm, well, what d’ya know?’ which is the much shorter ‘boh.’ – I plopped the little package into my basket and went on with my day.
Of course when I offered some to my curious 5 year old daughter – “Hey, want some of these seeds on your yogurt?”, her inevitable question: “What kind of seeds?!?” was not to be fobbed off with a quick, “Lots of different ones.” So, I had to lay one of each kind out on the table in a row from smallest to largest, and give them their appropriate names in English and Italian:

semi di sesamo = sesame seed
semi di lino = flax seed
grano saraceno tostato = boh, I don’t know, toasted Saracen grain?
semi di girasole = sunflower seed
semi di zucca
= pumpkin seed

And of course mamma’s “I don’t know” was pounced on.
Robin Kay: “What’s Saracen grain?”
Mamma: “It must be these little triangular ones that are so crunchy.”
Robin Kay: “But is it called that in English?”
Mamma: “I don’t think so, but I don’t know exactly what it’s called in English…let’s look it up”

On behalf of mamma’s the world over, I offer my profound thanks to Wikipedia! I found the entry in Italian and went down the language list to English and in a click there it was:

Mamma: “Oh look, it’s Buckwheat, like in Ol’ Suzanna (singing) ‘a buckwheat cake was in her mouth, a tear was in her eye…”
Robin Kay: “What’s a buckwheat cake? Can you sing the rest of the song?”
Mamma: sigh…

Needless to say the next time I went to the store I bought some buckwheat flour and I’ve been experimenting with using it in bread. Today, because I don’t feel like making something as complex as a cake, I found a recipe for a buckwheat shortbread cookie on the L.A. times website.  I made only a few changes based on what I had in the pantry and what I didn’t: I used wholewheat flour rather than white for the 1/2 cup of ‘not-buckwheat flour’, I used brown (turbinado/demerara) sugar and, for lack of walnuts or almonds, I toasted a mix of pine nuts, oatmeal and flax seeds which I then went over a few times with the mezzaluna…

Yes, I know, it looks like a log of compressed wood; buckwheat flour is, well, gray. The dough has to be rolled up and put in the fridge for a few hours before slicing and baking so I’m hoping that, with a dusting of powdered sugar, the finished ‘Saracen grain cakes’ will look as good as they promise to taste (the the bit of dough that stuck to the bowl was delicious!). We’ll let you know how they come out…

Chez des américains

I’ve spent the last 10 days on the French Rivera in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. This sounds more frou-frou than it actually is. My husband is here working and so Robin Kay and I took some time off for a vacation because the train ticket was all of 39 euro for the both of us and there is an apartment with a kitchen and a washing machine. So, it costs about what it does to be at home; but, here there’s the sea! Yes, I know, that’s not a great picture but I’m here with my wonderful telephone/camera and I forgot the connector cable!

Me feeling relaxed, it’s 10 degrees warmer here than in Lombardy!

We went to carnival in Nice twice, to the Matisse Museum and to see the Church near the park where there were ancient Gallo-Roman ruins and the monastery of Cimez. Those have been our Sundays. Otherwise Matthew has been working 7am-7pm and Robin and I have been on our own.

We’ve been taking the bus to the local market at Beaulieu-sur-Mer a few days a week and spending the rest of the time at the beach building stuff with rocks. There are beautiful olive trees everywhere, even growing out of the wall next to the apartment:

There’s a mandarin orange tree and lots of sun. The water is not yet warm enough to go for a swim but it’s still a beautiful turquoise blue down on the beach. Everything smells warm and salty and my hair has slowly gone from the static-filled straw of winter to humid curls.
Two days ago we went to the gardens at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and stayed for a surprising 3 hours. Robin was thrilled with the Japanese gardens and the musical fountains with ‘dancing’ water. Since then she’s been building ‘gardens’ on the beach with tidy borders and large rocks with raked sand around them.
Today she’s off with her Dad, first to the building yard and now to the job-site. I’ll have good pictures of her, carnival, and her seaside gardens when we get back and I find that cable!

Flowers…and more flowers!

portrait of a lady 
Jan Joseph van Goyen

Had a great birthday weekend in Milan! The city has so much to offer even if it’s spread out from one neighbourhood to another. After our trip to the Pinacoteca di Brera where I got an eyeful of wonderful paintings. Matthew did most of the  girl wrangling so that I could look in peace while she had a tour of fancy chairs with velvet cushions. Some of the most engaging paintings were the smallest; I loved the portraits by an unknown Venetian painter that were over to the side of the door in room 20. Trying to look at a notebook sized painting by Brueghel, I had to keep slipping my glasses up and down to see it, I really felt like an old lady! Next to it was this jewel of a Dutch seascape:

After the museum we stopped for a glass of wine and then went on to see our friend Renato at Mint Market, the beautiful home/beauty/flower store for which Matthew designed the furnishings. Renato was just finishing up with some customers so we ordered aperetivi from the bar down the street (one of the pleasures of the city is that, if they know you, the local bar will deliver cocktails down the street to where you are). While we were waiting, Matthew said, “Did you see that bouquet of white flowers?” pointing to a stunning arrangement of roses, broom, miniature lilies and fresia that was as big as our daughter. As we walked over to admire them he said, “Those are for your birthday.” I felt like an actress who’d just won an Oscar without having done anything to deserve it!

My birthday bouquet from Mint Market

 As a testimony to the quality of the flowers at Mint Market, these survived being carried through the very crowded Milanese metro three times, a night in a warm apartment and a 2 hour train ride before I took this picture!
Mint Market’s owner, Renato Baldini, is a truly lovely person. He gave my daughter Robin Kay a splendid bouquet of sunset coloured runculus so that she would feel special too:

Robin’s Runculus and my Cake

Then he let her help carry the flowers in before closing the store. He also gave me this elegant hyacinth so that now the whole house feels like spring right in the midst of winter.

Hyacinth bulb waiting to open


Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…

Advent calendar our family made together

and I think he’ll keep getting fatter because we can only afford a chicken! At least my daughter still thinks it’s cool to make stuff. Last night she asked me to cuddle up with her and talk about Christmas. She asked me what I liked best about Christmas and I listed the standard stuff: the songs, the tree, the decorations, the visiting, sitting by the fire. When I asked her the same she said: “Snow.” It’s cold here but no snow yet…maybe she’ll get her wish yet (along with a puzzle and a yo-yo).

The last weekend of summer…

Mamma and Papa got a little something at the MIPAM too…3 cheeses,
2 kinds of salami and the bumpy thing in the back which is an amazingly sweet pumpkin!
Robin want’s to be a statuette of a ballerina on the mantle

Beautiful, tiny ferns grow in every crevice….

the postman lets Robin do some work sticking stamps to letters

Every so often Matthew does take a break from work.

Robin on her second annual horseback ride at the MIPAM in Laveno

Our little cowgirl ;).

We all pat baby pigs (they’re soooo cute!)

Cat makeup (her first face-painting experience) and a helium baloon


This also was bound to happen…

My daughter (consummate actress) reenacts the wedding.

Papa……………………….Matthew Broussard
Mamma……………………….Robin Kay Broussard
Robin………………………….’baby’ Eme.
Grandmother/wedding photographer………………..Bonnie McClellan Broussard
They do make a cute couple!

Pesto: It’s not just a recipe, it’s an adventure!

My daughter has been asking for Pasta con Pesto for 2 days now. It’s her steady dinner request second only to Pasta al pomodoro. Our basil isn’t big enough yet so today we just decided to play with what we had:

Summer Savory
Lemon rind

Bobbie’s Birth Story

Who knows how the helix wound,
yours and mine together bound;
to make the round globe of my eye insocketed below
the straight line of your brow.
And so this pale pink and golden flower of a girl
flings her narrow arm, in sleep, across my breast:
A peach.
A wing.
How came we, so patently imperfect,
to make this perfect thing?
Saturday, April 21, 2007 for Robin Kay Broussard
by Bonnie McClellan

Matthew, Bonnie, and Bobbie hidden under the flowered dress.

On the 15th of April 2007, I woke up at six a.m. I was, at the time, 8 months pregnant with my first (and so far only) child. Even lying very still on my side I could feel a trickle of water on the inside of my leg along with an achy squeezing sensation across the lower half of my stretched, egg-shaped belly. I thought, “Okay, this must be it.” She was a month early and also small for her gestational age but my daughter was about to be born.

We live in Italy and at that time were staying in an apartment in the basement of an old mill in a valley outside of Florence. Picturesque and romantic, a wood stove for heat and a camp stove for cooking; cold running water and our friends Sandro and Adele upstairs with a working bath. I spent my mornings lumbering along the paths near the stream gathering kindling or sitting next to the stove reading. We had already rented a new apartment in Carrara and had made appointments at the hospital there to go in and get the final tests and find out what we needed to know about what to do for the birth. I remember when we visited the hospital there, as I stood outside the maternity ward, I heard a woman in labour screaming and thought, “Can it really be that bad? Maybe she didn’t prepare well? I certainly won’t be that hysterical.”

Now all of those plans and appointments were off. Matthew helped me out to the car and we started the bumpy ride up the stone paved road that led out of the valley. About half way to the nearest hospital the contractions were five minutes apart and for every other one we had to stop so that I could open the car door and throw up…it was about then that I started wondering how many more hours of this I had to go. I was excited, we would finally see her! I was worried, why was she coming early, was there something wrong? I don’t remember if I was scared.

The one comforting thought was that it would end, I tried the slow breathing, tried imagining the contraction as a squeezing wave and tried relaxing into it. All of that worked, well, sort of worked on the alternate contractions when I wasn’t having the uncontrollable, stomach-emptying, nausea. Still, there was the space in between to gather my wits and try to get my brain around the idea that the baby was finally coming.

It took us twenty minutes to reach the emergency room at Ospedale S, Maria Annunziata at Ponte a Niccari just outside of Florence. In a very brief time I had a bed in a room with about a dozen other women, some in labour, some there for tests, some there because they had a scheduled birth. They may have done a sonogram, they may have done a quick cervical check…I don’t remember. I will say now that despite having read descriptions of labour, listened to friends describe their childbirth experience, and seen preparatory films, none of it truly prepared me for the experience. I suppose that would be impossible, each labour and birth is as unique as the child that comes forth from it and the woman who experiences it.

It is true that I don’t remember the pain, per se. I remember it like I might remember a photograph, in describing it, it’s as if I were watching an almost silent film of myself. I remember more than any other sound, the sound of the monitor that kept track of the baby’s heartbeat. I remember Matthew asking the nurses and obstetricians questions, or at least I remember the sound of his voice. I remember hearing sounds come out of my mouth, and not really caring what they were, being surprised to hear myself saying in Italian, “Dio Santo, aiutami.” But mostly the beeping of the monitor and the red numbers that went up and down.

So the labour continued…contractions closer together and they decided to move me to the birthing room, which was cool with low lighting. Our girl was very small so I had thought she would come quickly but instead she kept starting out and going back in again. The obstetrician checked and indicated it would be soon but then no. The baby was turning and so they were moving the monitor around to find her heartbeat and then the surgeon came in. I didn’t understand what he was saying but I saw Matthew’s face blanch and knew. I said, “They want to cut her out don’t they?”

A cesarean section was the very last thing that I had wanted. I had made a list of things to tell the hospital staff when we had planned to have the birth in Massa, #1. No Cesarean unless absolutely necessary! So here we were. Matthew asked him if it was absolutely necessary and the surgeon said yes, the baby was small and her heart rate was going from 40 to 200 she might not have the strength to do that much longer. I could tell that the obstetricians didn’t agree with the surgeon, they were saying things I didn’t understand completely with clouded expressions. Now I was scared.

They wouldn’t let Matthew come with me into the operating room, they took my glasses off so that all things except the anaesthesiologist’s hands were blurry. The obstetrician leaned my head against her shoulder, and put her arms under mine to help me hold still. Nothing like being told to relax and not move so that they can put a needle in your spine while having a pushing contraction! After that they laid me back down and within a few minutes, no more contractions, no pain, nothing. I was so frightened and tense that I was shaking uncontrollably, could not hold the top half of my body still, could only unclench my teeth with great difficulty and I felt terribly cold. The anaesthesiologist was a gem, he spoke some English, was careful to ask for my name and say it correctly, he held my hand and explained the one of the reasons I was shaking so hard was an effect of the anesthesia. He asked me about what I did. When I told him I was a poet he teased the surgeon into reciting some Wordsworth. He explained everything that was happening on the other side of the drape where i could vaguely feel some pulling. And then I heard her…she was out, she could breathe, she was safe. That sense of relief and joy was as profound as any I’ve ever known. Matthew said that standing outside the door of the operating room he heard her and cried and checked the time, 3:39 pm.

The staff in the operating room kept saying, “Look, you have a beautiful daughter!” I kept trying to explain in my inadequate Italian that without my glasses she was a small fuzzy blotch in the midst of a sea of blue scrubs. Finally they brought her over to me. I was still flat on my back and unable to move so I saw her upside down little face. I wanted terribly to hold her but was afraid to touch her with hands still shaking so uncontrollably. I touched her only lightly, she took her tiny hand and put it in my mouth. She weighed just under 4 lbs. so they took her immediately up to the neonatal unit to stay in the incubator, stopping to let Matthew see her for the first time.

It was 24 hours before I could see her again, between her need to be monitored and my inability to get out of bed I had to wait. Matthew went up and down between floors and told me how she was doing and what she looked like. The next day I went up in a wheelchair to see her (right side up for the first time). And, I imagine, like most new mothers, I thought she was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.

Her first day in the new world.
Her first day in the new world
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