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.

Homesick Roast

November 17, 2009

Confession: ever since our return from Turkey last week I have suddenly felt very homesick. In the middle of the big pile of unopened mail, there was a special treasure: a letter from my Aunt Carol. 5 pages of her distinct and familiar handwriting. 5 pages of her voice, loud and clear. 5 pages of family news, tiny tidbits of daily life. 5 pages making me laugh, yearn for more, while also making me tear up and want to be back home right this instant. I have said it before and I will say it again. Letters are some of my most important belongings. Amazing power in those written words. And so here I am halfway around the world, in the midst of a grand adventure, doing more than I ever imagined possible, and at thirty-six years old I suddenly feel just as homesick as I did when I went away to that horrible, stomach wrenching week of 4-H camp in middle school. I know it wasn't just the letter. It was also leaving our good friends in Turkey. It's also just the natural timing of things. It always seems to happen during the first year in a new place when the excitement of our arrival starts to wear off and the reality of all the changes suddenly start to hit me. I know it will pass. But it's here for right now, percolating in my stomach, and I can't seem to shake it. So I got up this morning and decided to make my favorite comfort meal. My mama's Sunday Dinner: Cajun Roast, Rice and Gravy, Corn, and Potato Salad. It might make me feel even more homesick but at least it will fill my stomach and give me a little taste of home.

Imagine Childhood

November 16, 2009

Our recent adventures in Agrigento are being featured today on one of my favorite websites. Imagine Childhood is a lovely mix of nature walks from around the world, delightful farm stories from their own family farm, recipes, book reviews, and more. It's also a perfect spot to do some holiday shopping. All sorts of good things for exploring, reading, and playing. We are currently enjoying James Herriot's Treasury for Children which can be found in their shop along with this and this.

Funny thing about Noah's discovery of the film during that beach walk...he was truly puzzled by what it could be. Amazing to see how things can quickly become ancient relics, isn't it? I keep meaning to dig out my Pentax K1000, but I am not even sure if I could find film for it these days. I still marvel and feel overwhelmed at times by the endless images I can take (and never seem to delete) with my digital camera but I also have to wonder what's next. It's one of the reasons I find myself drawn to sites like Imagine Childhood that bring my focus back to the more simple and natural elements of life.


November 15, 2009

Look who turned four while we were traveling in Turkey! It was actually quite a dramatic birthday. We arrived in Istanbul on the afternoon of her birthday and headed straight for the Grand Bazarre because we knew it would be closed the next day. The Bazarre is a very old, beautiful maze of a shopping area filled with tourists, pushy salesmen, piles of souvenir, and rug stores, lots of rug stores. We spent most of our time in the rug stores, drinking apple tea, and seriously debating if we were ready to make such a big purchase with such young monkeys in our house. We finally opted not to buy one, found a place for dinner, and wound our way out of the bazarre. It wasn't until later that night as we were putting the kids to bed that we realized a very important bunny, Baby Bunny, was missing. We quickly determined that Baby Bunny had been lost in the Grand Bazarre. Poor Camille was in hysterics. She's never spent a night apart from Baby Bunny and now he was somewhere in that huge maze of a place and it was closed until Monday (our departure day). Fortunately, we had the business card for one of the rug salesmen. He didn't have Baby Bunny but he was able to contact the other rug shop owners in the same little alley as his shop and luckily one of them had Baby Bunny. We were all relieved but still so sad that Camille spent the night of her fourth birthday without Baby Bunny. We spent the rest of the weekend speculating about all of the wild adventures he must be having in the Grand Bazarre. And as you can imagine their reunion on Monday morning was very sweet.

Turkish Delight: Istanbul

November 12, 2009

Istanbul: The Blue Mosque, The Grand Bazarre, our first delicious taste of sahlep during a chilly night walk, daily life in the neighborhood surrounding our little apartment, The Cistern with this cool exhibit, a fun seafood dinner on this little street, the resonating prayer calls, and this beautiful green door. A city bursting with life, history, extreme sensory adventures and we only experienced a tiny slice of it.

Turkish Delight: Cappodocia

November 11, 2009

Cappodocia: fairy chimneys, glorious sunsets, hiking adventures, pottery kabob dinner, apple tea, exploring Kale Konak our charming cave hotel, laughing around the fire at night. We didn't want it to end. Truly a magical place.

Turkish Delight: Ankara

November 10, 2009

Turkey was truly delightful! We spent our time in three different parts of the country: Ankara, Cappadochia, and Istanbul. Our time in Ankara was shaped by our reunion with our good friends. Special friends we have known since our time in Japan. Not only do we all enjoy each others' company (not an easy thing to do when you have a total of four adults and six kids) but we are also able to travel together. That's really not an easy thing to find! We have traveled together in Japan, Thailand, The States, and now Turkey. They graciously hosted us and shared their favorite parts of Ankara with us: the castle, the local market, the Hammam (Turkish Bath), the simit (large sesame seeded bagels),the friendly and generous nature of the Turks (the kind boy who shared his Ben 10 cards with the boys, the friendly grandmothers and gentlemen), the joys of Turkish chai/tea, their crazy dance game, and the warmth and love of their home (despite the fact that we shared some bad germs with them: Noah announced his arrival in Ankara with a high fever and some dramatic vomit in the airport...after we signed paperwork declaring we were entering Turkey free of illness and undergoing fever scans). Minus the yucky sick stuff, our time in Ankara was a great way to begin our Turkish adventure.

Halloween 2009

November 1, 2009

Our first Halloween in Sicily: A mix of Italian and American friends, trick-or-treating on base, eating way too much candy, laughing,trying to stay warm, comparing customs, and ending the evening around the fire pit. Hope you also had a good Halloween night. Signing off from the blog for awhile. We leave for Turkey tomorrow. Very excited to explore Turkey and to be with our friends (we haven't seen them since this trip three years ago).

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