December 31, 2009

May 2010 be a year sparked by kindness, creativity, and peace! Happy New Year from our family to yours!

December List

December 29, 2009

A few things keeping us entertained during this holiday season.

For Laughter:
A Very Special Sedaris Christmas.
For Warmth and Coolness:
Take a look at this. Wouldn't it be a good addition to the backyard?
For Family Fun:
Quadrilla and Bananagrams
For Reading:
NPR's Best Books of 2009

For Amazement:
Starling formations. We witnessed this for the first time this past weekend. Mesmerizing and surreal.

For Creation and Collaboration:
World Beach Project. Be sure to check out the world map.
For Inspiration and Motivation:
Getting ready to start a new year of color + color on flickr.

Snowy Volcano, Pink Flamingos, and Sunny Beaches

December 26, 2009

The title sums up our recent Sicilian experiences. Last Sunday we were sledding down the side of an active volcano covered in snow. And this past Sunday we were playing on the beach. We decided to venture back to Vendicari Nature Reserve and on the way we took a scenic detour through the coastal town of Avola (second pic). When we finally arrived at the nature preserve, we were awed to discover hundreds of flamingos. It really made me wish I had a bigger camera lens so I could have captured it, but perhaps it is better to store it away in my head as one of those magical moments that can never really be captured. I hate to rub this in, but good grief...we are so lucky to live here on this wild and wonderful island. Seriously, wild flamingos and snow both within an hour's drive?!!!

Christmas in Catania

December 24, 2009

We ventured to Catania three times this week. Twice at night and once during the day to explore the Villa Bellini Park (which we were disappointed to discover is closed for renovation). It's the second largest city in Sicily and a fairly short trip for us. Just can't seem to get enough of the energy, the lights, the shop windows, and the festive feel this time of year.

Sticky Rice

December 23, 2009

If your children wake up early and decide to have a morning picnic on your yoga mats, make sure they don't eat sticky rice. Sticky rice on sticky yoga mats is not so nice.

Deep Thoughts from a grumpy mama in Sicily.

Sweet Traditions

December 22, 2009

We have been making these yummy treats every December since Noah was about two years old. Got the original "recipe" from Family Fun magazine and it just doesn't feel like the holidays without them. Perfect for little hands. Pretty in little gift bags or on a cookie platter. And perfect because there are only three ingredients. Each year we play around with the candy combinations. But the general favorite seems to be a Hershey's Kiss topped with an M&M. I guess this is how traditions get started and carried on. This year I found myself missing the traditional pralines that my Ganny would make every Christmas. Little pieces of pecan sweetness individually wrapped in tin foil and packaged up for friends and family. I loved those. Wish I had learned to make them while she was still alive. I gave it a try last week but it didn't work. I think pralines are one of those things that take practice, good weather (no humidity!), and learning in person. Must get my mom to show me during my next trip home. That's a holiday tradition I'd like to share with my kids in addition to our pretzel candies. What's happening in your kitchen these days? Have any sweet holiday traditions or good recipes to share?

Two Euros of Bliss

December 21, 2009

To add to the joy of yesterday's sledding adventure on Etna: our first taste of Italian hot chocolate. Chocolate bliss. Crack in a cup. Pure decadence. I could go on and on. It is so good I think Italy could woo tourists in the winter on this alone. A whole ad campaign based on one cup of cioccolata caldo. Forget the churches, the history, the culture. Drink this. So thick you need a spoon (almost pudding-like), so rich, so chocolatey (that should be a word, shouldn't it?). Makes me angry that I grew up drinking that watery Swiss Miss stuff and thinking that was a good winter treat. This stuff is so darn good that when we went out to eat last night I had to, yes, had to have another cup. And I woke up this morning thinking about it. Craving it. Dangerous. Very dangerous stuff here in Italy. Want to try making it yourself? Here you go.

Five Dollars of Joy

December 20, 2009

During one of our first weekends in Sicily, we stumbled upon a garage sale on base and paid $5 for a sled. Today we drove up to Mt. Etna and discovered it was the best five dollars we have ever spent. Seriously. Cold, wet bottoms (now we need to buy some good water/snow proof clothes for all of us!), red cheeks, and pure joy. Hope your weekend had some joyful moments, too!

The Eighth Night

December 18, 2009

Good friends, latkes, candles, dreidles, wine, chocolate gelt, and laughter: a very good way to spend the last night of Hanukkah.


A few pics from our visit to Taormina in October. Not sure why I didn't post these back in October but glad I re-discovered them because it is a good reminder to return to Taormina. Noah is out of school for the next two weeks and I have been making a list of easy day trips. Taormina will be on that list. Curious to explore the library, visit the Greek Theatre, and spend more time wandering through the Botanical Gardens.

Hanukkah Giving

December 15, 2009

Hanukkah is in full swing around here thanks in large part to the kids and the gifts. Maybe that didn't come out quite right. Don't get me wrong. We aren't really materialistic. We always try to emphasize the larger meaning of the holiday and the miracle that happened so many years ago. We enjoy lighting the candles each night and filling our home with their warmth and comfort on dark, cold nights. But this year when things have been so sad, it has felt good to join the kids in fully savoring the joy of surprises and the thrill of receiving and giving. Here are Noah's beautiful gifts for us. His first experience with sewing and designing his own creations. Aren't they wonderful? A monster face for us and a special button design for Camille. Seeing his pride and excitement in giving them to us was just as wonderful as the actual gifts.And last night I surprised everyone with a very Italian gift: our very own calchetto game. Right before our move to Sicily I gobbled up Calvin Trillin's Travels with Alice. One of the most memorable pieces of that delightful read was his family's affinity for calchetto. I was curious to see if we would have an easy time taking part in this cultural activity (essentially foosball but takes on a whole new level of meaning in Italy!). Happy to report during our first weekend in Sicily we discovered it is alive and well in the local bars/cafes. And now in the middle of our living room (believe me, we need lots of practice to keep with the Italians). It has changed the look of our living room;it gives me hope that we will survive the Sicilian rainy season without too much cabin fever; and it has given us all something to cheer and laugh about during our first Hanukkah in Italy.

The Fourth Night

December 14, 2009

Morning Walk

December 13, 2009

Just the right thing for sad hearts and antsy feet. Through the olive grove, past the orange orchard and out into the open field. Chomping on "sour flowers" (yellow clover blossoms blanketing the orange groves right now), discovering new pieces of nature, running, stopping to feed the horses, climbing a few trees and then heading home.A good way to spend Sunday morning. Thank you for the comforting words and thoughts.


December 11, 2009

Very heavy hearts here. Flip passed away today. He will be so missed. A devoted father, loving husband, good friend, dedicated firefighter, and a man so full of life it is hard to believe today's news. Please continue to keep Jill and the girls in your thoughts and prayers. And hug all of your loved ones tight. May this holiday season truly be a time for peace, healing, and remembering those we love.

Sweet Fun

December 8, 2009

Art Group Week 2 (last week): Cookies by Amy Rosenthal and Cinnamon Applesauce Dough After reading Cookies, we measured 1/2 cup cinnamon and 1/2 cup applesauce into ziplock bags for each child to mash and work with their hands until doughy. Encouraged them to play with the dough before introducing a few simple "tools" (bottle tops, chopsticks, old marker tops). And finally added cookie cutters which we used to cut out shapes for ornaments, decorated them, and set aside to dry until our next art gathering. A very sweet-smelling and tactile morning at art group.

Momentary Clarity

The past few days have been a dizzy blur. Trying to figure out a way to get to my friends in North Carolina. Trying to overcome the shock of what has happened.Trying to adjust to the fact that Adam had to leave suddenly and unexpectedly this past weekend for an unknown amount of time (luckily it appears to be a shorter time than expected). Trying to keep things feeling fairly normal in our house although internally things are feeling very abnormal right now. This morning a friend offered to watch Camille. I had been planning to continue working on flight arrangements, attempt to finish the Christmas packages, wrap the kids' Hanukkah presents, get the oil changed, pay the phone bill, and clean up the office. I didn't do any of that. I rolled out my yoga mat and started to really breath again. I sat in the sun and read my book. I ate lunch by myself and savored the quiet. I watched Mad Men. I felt myself start to decompress a bit. When Camille came home, I rolled out some paper on the patio and she painted while I continued to read. I looked up and took this quick pic. Camille in the sun, happily painting, surrounded by a mess of bikes and it kind of summed up today and the past few days. Momentary clarity, focus, and calmness in the midst of upheavals and scary uncertainties. Thank you for the prayers and good thoughts for Flip and Jill and their family. Please keep them coming.


December 5, 2009

We woke up this morning to some very sad news. A good friend of ours was in a horrible accident yesterday. Please keep Flip, Jill, and their girls in your prayers and thoughts. Today is Jill's birthday. I can't write anything coherent right now but just wanted to get this posted. I believe in the power of prayer and healing thoughts. Even if you don't know them in real life, please set aside a few minutes of thought/prayer for them today.

Palermo: Art, Parks, and Kids

December 4, 2009

As part of last weekend's adventure we decided to spend one day in Palermo (about 30 minutes from our Agriturismo). Four adults, six kids,two cars and our first visit to the capital city. When doing some prelimary research on visiting Palermo with kids, the two places that kept coming up were the catacombs and the puppet shows. Since all of our kids are pretty young we steered clear of those attractions (we had been warned by other parents that they might be too scary). Instead we limited our focus to the La Kalsa area.

We started with the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia which is described as Sicily's most important art museum. A beautifully restored building with striking interior and exterior spaces (see the courtyard in the above pics). It has an impressive collection of work from the 14th to 16th centuries. I was very impressed by how all six of the kids did. As the child of two artists, I spent many hours wandering in museums and galleries. I remember times of true wonder and other moments of sheer boredom. My kids have not visited nearly as many museums as I did as a child but I would still like for them to have an appreciation for art in a variety of settings and a variety of art. This was our first museum experience since moving to Italy. It was a very large collection of religious paintings which actually turned into an interesting way to look at the different portrayals of Mary and the baby Jesus. Not necessarily the typical topic of conversation in a Jewish family but still interesting and probably a very good introduction to what we will be seeing throughout our time in Italy. We made a conscious decision to make the museum our first stop while the kids were all in good spirits and not too hungry or too tired. We also kept our visit fairly brief and didn't attempt to see everything at one time. My favorite piece was the marble bust of Eleonora of Aragon by Francesco Laurana (see above). I think the kids most enjoyed the courtyard.

We followed the locals to a very busy streetfront sandwich shop. We were all so hungry we stood on the sidewalk gobbling down our sandwiches and watching the pigeons fly around us. Not necessarily a gourmet Italian meal, but certainly a very tasty, lively, and quick lunch. Perfect for big and little travelers.

After lunch, we headed to Villa Giulia Park where everyone had a good time despite a little rain (amazing how the tree canopies kept us all pretty dry). Frisbee, hide and seek, running and up down the paths, and even a little land art. Located next door to the Botanical gardens (high on our list for future visits) but without the admission costs. A very nice little oasis in the middle of the city. On our walk back to the car, we came across a smaller park but one that was very appealing because it's enormous banyan trees: Giardino Garibaldi in Piazza Marina. Unfortunatedly, it was closed that day for tree trimming but it is good to keep in mind because it's close location to the puppet museum. We have found that when traveling with kids it is always good to combine indoor activities and outdoor activities. I think that is one of the reasons our first visit to Palermo was such a positive one. Looking forward to exploring other parts of the city on future trips.

Wrapping and Unwrapping

December 3, 2009

Hanukkah packages are finally in the mail and headed to California. Now starting on Christmas presents to fill the boxes headed to Louisiana. Noah keeps changing his wish list. Camille is just focused on her one wish for pink legos. And we are having lots of conversations about the fact that Santa doesn't come to our house. It's a big issue when you are six years old and the only Jewish kid in the entire school. Lots of layers to wrap and unwrap with care.

Sheep and Wolves

December 2, 2009

Ever since Camille has learned to sing the Baa-Baa Black Sheep song she has had her own endearing version of it. I am writing it down here since I have a feeling it will change soon. All it will take will be one person pointing out her "mistake" and then that version will be gone. I would like to think that I will always remember her version, but we recently watched some old baby videos of Noah and all of sudden I realized that I had forgotten one of Noah's first "words". So glad we had it on video: "minga, minga". It didn't have any specific meaning but he loved the sound of it and would repeat it to himself throughout the day, every day. I loved it so much and yet I had totally forgotten about it. And here's another Noah word that I still remember and still love but should record before I forget it: "dribbling" (in place of drizzling rain).

So here is Camille's version of the song:

Baa,Baa Black Sheep. Do you have any wolves?
Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Three bags full.
One for my master, One for my dame, and one for
the little boy who lives down the lane.

Wolves in place of wool. It always makes me smile. Probably just a silly mama thing but with the current state of my mind I feel the need to record it before it is gone. I seem to be in a constant state of disorganization lately. Lost my little black book where I keep all of my lists, phone numbers, etc. Always seem to be running late and not surprisingly all of the Hanukkah packages I meant to wrap, pack, and ship weeks ago still aren't done (sorry they will be late!). This time of year always makes me feel a little frantic and I crave simplicity and organization more than ever. Working hard to re-gain some sense of that this week so I can really enjoy the holidays without feeling stressed to the max. So in light of that it may seem even sillier to take the time to write this post when I should be decorating (Hanukkah starts next week and we still have turkeys and pumpkins hanging around), but actually it does make me feel a little better. It is a good reminder to myself to stop in the midst of the holiday frenzy and to focus on the little things that make life good. Like wolves and dribbling. Eggnog, latkes, and fresh oranges. Stories of miracles and hope. And candles. And homemade cards. And hot cocoa.

Fresh and Sweet

Fresh from Bina's tree to our little juicer. We are loving the start of the orange season here.

Winter Garden

December 1, 2009

Over the past few weeks we have been building and planting our winter garden. Friends who were moving back to the States generously gave us the wood and the dirt from their raised garden bed. Adam moved all of it from their yard to ours with a wagon. Lots of dirty, heavy work (thank you, babe) and then re-assembled it in our back yard. That bed is now full of lettuce, broccoli, onions, and purple sicilian cauliflower. I had some left over cauliflower and broccoli so I tucked them into our front bed (remember our lasagna style bed?). We have truly embraced the concept of edible landscaping. In addition to the broccoli and cauliflower, our front yard also has rosemary,three different types of thyme, oregano, basil, chives, sage, and lettuce. Makes me very happy. The only thing that is not making me happy is a visiting cat who has chosen our new raised bed as his personal litter box. He keeps returning to one specific corner of the bed. Any suggestions? I am getting ready to try sprinkling pepper in that area, but would welcome any other ideas.

Villa Palagonia

November 30, 2009

One of the first stops on our weekend adventure was Villa Palagonia in Bagheria. A very ornate and creepy Baroque villa with an equal mix of decay and decadence. We were the only ones there which was perfect since we were traveling with friends and had a total of six children between the ages of 9 and 1. The kids were able to run through the gardens and create some drama with their voices in the Hall of Mirrors without disturbing anyone except perhaps some of the ghosts from the glory (or should I say gory) days of the Villa. Here's how Frommer's describes the Villa and the story of its monsters. It was a very interesting place and unlike anything else we have seen since our arrival in Sicily.

Off We Go Again

November 27, 2009

Headed off for a few days of exploration. Have a good weekend.
P.S. The frozen turkey was a success.

Turkey Experiment 2009

November 26, 2009

It's Thanksgiving morning here in Sicily and I am getting ready to place the turkey in the oven. A frozen bone-in turkey breast. Yes, frozen. The USDA site and the Butterball site all assure me this is possible. It wasn't the original plan, but I am forging ahead in the spirit of the Pilgrims. Trying something new and hoping it will work out. The original plan was to go to an Agriturismo and have an Italian style feast. We convinced our friends to join us, found a good place, had the guys take a few extra days off, and started to daydream about not having to cook or clean dishes on Thanksgiving and the subsequent days. But then we discovered the Agriturismo doesn't do meals on Thursdays. So we changed our plans and talked ourselves into having a very easy meal. Seriously, I was thinking just turkey sandwiches and hanging out around the fire pit. But then while Noah and Camille were watching The Peanuts Thanksgiving episode, Noah leaned over to me and said "I'm so glad we are going to have a real Thanksgiving and not just popcorn and toast". Ugh. Which is why we decided to do the full Thanksgiving meal but slow cooker style...a turkey breast in the crock pot. No thawing, no checking. Sounded so easy until last night when I pulled out the crockpot and realized there was no way it was going to fit. The panic set in and I headed up and down our street in search of a crock pot big enough for our turkey. No luck. Which led me to start searching on-line for suggestions on roasting turkey breasts and that's where I discovered the possibility of roasting a turkey without thawing it first. And here I am at the crack of dawn putting a rock solid frozen turkey in the oven. I may not be domestic, but I am adventurous.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families. Hope you have a wonderful day and a delicious meal whether it be traditional or not (we may really be having popcorn and toast if the frozen experiment doesn't work!).

Alien Universe

November 24, 2009

A box of chalk + two busy boys= an alien universeThey worked all afternoon and filled up the entire playground surface with drawings of aliens, planets, and spaceships. It really was amazing and inspiring. The chalk showed up nicely on the black surface (much more vibrant than on concrete) and they seemed to love having such a large "canvas". I had to drag Noah in when it got dark and he was up at the crack of dawn to keep working on it. I love being a part of these moments.

Thank You Notes

For the last two weeks we have been doing a lot of writing. Lots of little thank you notes to each other. Good to write them and good to read them. It come about as a sort of convergence of ideas: wanting to do something related to gratitude in anticipation of Thanksgiving and hoping to get Noah out of his writing slump (just hasn't been his thing lately). And then we got an e-mail from my mother-in-law sharing a note she had recently received from a stranger. It turns out the card was from a patient Adam had treated a few weeks ago when he was traveling in Sicily:

"This is to say thank you for having such a wonderful son. My husband B.became ill in Sigonella and your son was his doctor. A good friend of ours,who was head of Cardiac Research at UCLA, reviewed the notes and said that B. could not have had better care. Enjoy the wine and come by for some more if you are ever in Mendocino."

Adam's mom added this to her e-mail:
"Needless to say, my heart is bursting with pride even though I already knew what a wonderful son and doctor you are."

Isn't that nice? Isn't it amazing they took the time to share their appreciation with not only Adam but also his parents? Yesterday, I received a very thoughtful note from a friend in the States that brought tears to my eyes and made me appreciate our friendship even more (Thank You, Laureen). Sincere thank you notes, big or small, sent across the miles or posted on the dining room wall are pretty amazing things. I have been struggling lately to keep the kitchen clean, stay up on the laundry, and get places on time. I have been kind of grumpy and frantic at times, but when I sit down to tell Camille how proud I am of her when she helps her friends on the playground, or thank Noah for the little love note/drawing he left on the table, or thank Adam for staying up late to clean the never fails to make me feel better. I hope we keep this thank you note thing going long past Thanksgiving.


November 21, 2009

A cloudy, foggy morning which makes it easier to sleep late, lounge in pjs, and dream about naps later in the day. Pumpkin pancakes. This episode of This American Life. Adam finally home again after three night shifts in a row. A tea party in the hall. Can't think of a better way to spend Saturday morning.Wishing you a cozy, happy weekend.

Art Group

November 20, 2009

Inspired by The Artful Parent and motivated by a desire to connect with other families interested in fostering creativity, I decided to start an art group. Today was our first gathering. In preparation for the group, I turned to one of my favorite parenting books, Young at Art. It was helpful to review the developmental stages of drawing, especially Striker's thoughts on the importance of scribbling. She emphasizes the importance of allowing young children to fully immerse themselves in this stage without rushing them to label (avoid asking "what is it?")or create representational artwork ("can you draw a dog?" or "that looks like a house"). There is important work happening at this stage: on-going explorations (line, color, etc), physical changes (coordination, fine motor skills), and pure enjoyment. You can read more of Striker's thoughts on this stage here. I kept her words in mind as I was selecting the materials (limited color choices, extra large paper), the work space, and the focus of our activities.

We started our group today by reading Someone Says which is filled with beautiful illustrations and simple text highlighting the magic of imagination and creativity. It seemed to be a good starting point and when the book was finished, the kids enthusiastically started drawing using Slick Stix (highly recommend these for young artists). It was fun to see the different personalities and developmental stages emerge in their drawings. After drawing for a little while, we moved on to making no-cook playdough which also turned out to be a very enjoyable and messy tactile activity. Overall, I think it was a good start. I am glad we have a nice location for the group (a local community center), a friendly group of American and Italian moms and kids, and a weekly time to get together. Looking forward to many more creative adventures together.

Interested in starting up your own art group? Here are some helpful tips.

**Just realized Emily also posted about today's art group, too. Thanks, Emily!

Sicilian Discovery: Posidonia Sphereoids

November 19, 2009

A few weeks ago some friends took us to the fabulous Vendicari Nature Reserve. It is home to a wide assortment of birds including flamingos (we didn't see any, but hoping to on future visits). While the adults were focused on the birdwatching, the kids were focused on the beetles along the paths. But as we got closer to the water we all turned our attention to these:Thousands of them up and down the beach area like some sort of modern art installation. After returning home, I did a little research and found this and this. Not sure if they are seasonal or year round but they are unique to the Mediterranean and we will certainly be looking for them on future trips to Vendicari.

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