The Magnifying Glass

April 30, 2010

Orange Teeth, Damselflies, Spider Webs, and so much more....I am very excited to announce that one of my favorite blogs, The Magnifying Glass, is growing and that I will be a part of that process as one of their new contributors. Ever since Stephani and Eren started the collaborative site, I have been a big fan. It fits right in with our family's never ending quest to explore and learn more about the wild and wonderful world around us. And now The Magnifying Glass is entering a new phase with the addition of some of my favorite bloggers: Dawn, Nancy, Lisa, and Annie (new to me, but after peeking at her blog, I am hooked...books+nature!). I am honored to be in such good company.

And to add to the fun, The Magnifying Glass is hosting a Photo Challenge. Head over for a visit and then head outside!

Hard to Resist

April 26, 2010

A perfect, Sicilian, beach day. Over the weekend, we helped friends clean up the garden around their beach house and then we headed down the road to check out another beach. The beaches here vary so much, even just a few miles from each other (some sandy, some rocky), but the lure of the water never changes. Even though it was chilly, the kids couldn't resist jumping in the waves. And I couldn't blame them. It was tempting...but I couldn't pull myself away from the rocks and driftwood washed up on the beach. Hard to resist those magnetic forces that seem to draw us to the beach with all its wonders.

April List

April 25, 2010

Camping: getting ready to try camping in Sicily. Any tips? Feeling inspired by this interview and this recent article about camping in Europe with kids....the weather is nice right now, the price can't be beat, the kids have been begging to give it a try, and we are starting to research campgrounds. If you have camped in Sicily or other parts of Europe, please share your recommendations.

Reading: The Roald Dahl love continues. Our lastest read was The Witches. Once again, Noah and I were staying up way too late reading "just one more chapter"...hard not to love the pipe smoking grandma and the dreadful, detailed descriptions of "Vitches of Inkland". In the past year we have been making our way through Dahl's books. Which means a trip here this summer will be very exciting for a certain seven year old boy and his mama. I never really enjoyed Dahl's books when I was a kid, but now I am just as eager as Noah. I can't get enough of the wild adventures and clever writing and I cherish this shared reading experience with Noah.

More Reading: I recently gobbled up Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone. I have been meaning to read it for awhile. So glad I finally got around to it. It reminded me of A Homemade Life in terms of the format: personal essays/memoir mixed with recipes, but with its own unique twists and tastes. Eager to read her other books now. And I also inhaled Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler. I love how she crafts such quirky, memorable characters and in her most recent book she has done it again.

Viewing: Adam and I watched In Bruges on our recent train ride from Amsterdam to Bruges. It's a very dark comedy that had us wandering the streets of Bruges re-living some of the scenes. Not family viewing, but highly recommended for adults who enjoy Pulp Fiction,Cohen Brother films, etc. In terms of family viewing, this month's hit has been The Triplets of Belleville. A beautifully crafted animated film that is mesmerizing despite the fact that it is nearly dialogue-free. I remember friends raving about it when it came out several years ago and now that I have seen it I know why. Thanks to my mom for renting it one night during her stay...had us all talking, humming, and re-playing favorite parts (like this one). Also, had me questioning why it is rated PG-13 when so much of the American trash that is targeted at kids should be, in my opinion, rated PG-13. Glad I ignored the rating and showed it to the kids. This is one I would consider buying it. And then there is this. Not quite sure what to say about it.

Gardening: We tore out the remains of the winter garden this week. It was a very productive winter garden. We had fresh lettuce from January-April. Broccoli from February to April. Parsley all winter and still going strong. Onions getting ready to be harvested. In our spring/early summer garden we have carrots sprouting (but thinking we should have planted them earlier? we'll see), dill, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and basil. Need to get cucumbers and beans going soon.The herbs (rosemary, oregano,sage, thyme, mint) continue to do well in the front garden and I have added lavender and chamomile. I miss having access to nice, new shiny garden books. Since our library just doesn't have much of a garden section, these days I spend way too much time reading blogs like these: Garden Porn, Digging, You Grow Girl, Garden Rant and The Inadvertent Gardener. Hoping to make this gardeners hand scrub soon. Sounds easy and handy.

Playing: Dinner Games. Someone gave this to us as a gift a couple of years ago. I stashed it away until the kids were older and recently added it to our dinner routine. What a hit. This is something that any family could make on their own. Simple set of index cards with prompts for discussions and easy table games or you can buy it here.

Listening: They Might Be Giants' Here Comes Science. Over and over again. There are two little scientists in our house (and our car) who can't seem to stop singing about the elements, the solar system, and the circulatory system. Highly recommend it, but also eager to hear if anyone has any listening suggestions for me? I haven't heard anything new in the past eight months (except for kid stuff). Eager to add some new tunes. Any and all suggestions very welcome.

Naples with Kids

April 22, 2010

I have to admit I was a bit unsure about spending a week in Naples with the kids. It's not one of those European destinations you hear everyone raving about, especially with kids in tow, but with a little bit of research and some good advice from friends (thanks Karen, Kathy, Manny, and Barbara) we had a very full and fun week. As the week went on, I began to think of Naples as a pomegranate....rough on the outside, but bursting on the inside with some unexpected little jewels. So here is a list of our favorite things in Naples:

Hands-On Science Fun: Citta della ScienzaThis is a phenomenal science museum with a ton of hands-on activities for all ages and interests. Everything is well labeled in English and Italian. If you have younger kids, be sure to visit the play area towards the right of the entrance. There's even a section specifically for babies and toddlers. And there's also a nice, small outdoor play space. There were lots of school groups during our visit, but the guides did a good job of keeping the groups moving along and once we got to the play area, my kids were ready to pack up and move to Naples permanently. In addition to the official museum website listed above, this link also has helpful information.
Parks and Play Spaces
After our visit to the Science museum, we drove up the hill to the beautiful Parco Virgiliano. Stunning views, tree-lined paths,and several different playground areas. Camille made some new Italian friends, while Noah spent most of his time climbing trees. Paired with a trip to the Science museum this made for a great day with the kids. We also enjoyed our afternoon of exploring Capodimonte Park. And one final recommendation for playspaces: Ikea. Yes, Ikea with two small outdoor play spaces (one in the parking lot far corner and one under the covered entrance) and their larger indoor kiddie check-in play space. I know it may not have the charm of discovering a fun neighborhood park, but for a couple hours of play (and some adult shopping) it was well-worth the pit stop. Pizza!
Not much need for explanantion...Naples is rightfully known around the world for it's pizza and what kid (or grown-up!) doesn't love pizza? The only challenge of eating in Naples with kids is the late hour of dining which is why we found ourselves eating a lot of pizza. Pompeii
This was our initial reason for visiting Naples. My mom has always wanted to visit Pompeii and it wasn't hard to convince Noah who continues to be obsessed with ancient history, but I wasn't sure it would be such a big hit with Camille. Boy, was I wrong. We all loved our time at Pompeii. Nooks and crannies for exploring, street pavers for leaping, pieces of history and art for's a kids' paradise. We used the Rick Steve's walking guide as a rough plan for places to see, but actually the most enjoyable moments were those on smaller side streets where the larger tour groups were not venturing. After several hours of exploration, we treated ourselves to gelato at the cafe (inside Pompeii near the bathhouse). While my mom ventured off to see more, the kids and I hung out in the forum area which is a nice, grassy area. A few more pieces of advice: don't bring a stroller (thanks to everyone for convincing me of that), if you have a little one, plan on bringing a carrier. Bring sun hats, sunscreen, water, snacks, and good walking shoes. Be sure to get the free map and guide book from the information desk before entering. Those were helpful. Also, stop by the gift shop as you exit. There was quite a good selection of books (adult and kids) in English. We had been reading about Pompeii prior to the visit so I think that also helped to make our visit even more interesting for the kids. Check out our reading list at the end of the post.

National Archaeological Museum
After our day in Pompeii, I was a little worried that a visit to the museum would burn the kids out. Once again, I was wrong. This is truly one of Naples' gems. Entering the large red building, I wasn't quite prepared for what we found inside. Not only is this one of the best museums of its kind, it is also a beautiful space and the biggest surprise of all were the creative and helpful signs aimed at children (in English and Italian). As you enter the museum, head towards the sign for the toilets (to the left of the grand staircase). Stop and read the large sign which explains the characters who will be the guides on the other signs for children. The signs are placed throughout the museum highlighting points of interest and setting up games of I spy with different pieces of art. It really helped to keep the kids engaged.

Buffaloes and Cheese
One of the most delicious days of our trip was a visit to a local water buffalo farm famous for its mozarella cheese. After watching the cheese-making process, we headed over to the farm area where we learned about the buffalo and even got to see some of the newest calves (born the day before our arrival!). The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying a fabulous lunch and watching the kids run free on the farm.

Caserta Palace
On our very last day we headed 20 minutes north of Naples to Caserta Palace. To be honest, the kids were not excited about the prospect, until I revealed that parts of Star Wars had been filmed there (suddenly Noah was very eager) and that the Palace was very fancy (designed to rival Versailles...suddenly Camille was also very eager). Caserta Palace did not disappoint. It was massive and breath taking. After touring the palace, we hopped on the bus (worth the 1 euro with kids) and rode all the way to the end of the grounds where we hopped off to explore the British Gardens. The gardens were beautiful with their spring blooms and enchanting paths. We all could have stayed much longer, but we had a ferry to catch. Highly recommend making this side trip. It doesn't seem to get much coverage in the guidebooks we had, but it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Recommended Reading
We always try to read about our travel destinations and there is a ton of good reading related to Naples and Roman civilization. Here are some of the books we recommend:

Pizza for the Queen
The King of Capri
Vacation Under the Volcano
Magic Tree House Research Guide: Ancient Rome and Pompeii
Pompeii (young reader series)
Bodies from the Ash
Pompeii: Lost and Found
Romans (early reader)
Pompeii Buried Alive

And yet another plug for Story of the World: Ancient History. This has become a crucial part of living and traveling in Europe with our kids. Noah regularly relates things that we are seeing to what he has learned from Story of the World. Every family should have this amazing series, but if you are planning a trip to Europe (especially Italy or Greece) we highly recommend it.

Last Day

My mom leaves early tomorrow morning. I keep hoping it won't happen. Is it bad to wish that Icelandic volcano would start to act up again? It's hard to believe her month with us is coming to an end. There are still so many things I wanted to show her, pastries to taste, beaches to explore, ruins to climb. I had hoped that we would cram in a bunch of last minute Sicilian adventures during this final week, but after our busy week in Naples we all came home and crashed. And then Camille got sick and we all continued to just hunker down. We read, worked in the garden, read some more, took walks, played cards and before we knew it, she was starting to pack up her things. Really, how did the month fly by so quickly? I can understand Camille's desire to hide away in her suitcase. Part of me wishes I could do that, too.
Camille and my mom, Pompeii, Italy

The Green Side of Naples

April 20, 2010

On our first day in Naples, we were pleasantly surprised to discover a side of the city we hadn't expected or even heard/read about: the green side. With all of the focus on Naples' serious garbage issues and the crazy traffic conditions, we were prepared for some urban chaos and intense driving, but Naples' green spaces quickly charmed us and proved to be a very welcome antidote.

After spending the night on the ferry and having some down time in the hotel room, my mom and I knew we needed to find a spot for the kids to run around. We located the nearest green spot on the map, Bosco di Capodimonte (Capodimonte Woods/Park). What a wonderful, lush surprise....miles and miles of shaded trails, paved and unpaved. Wide open spaces for soccer games and picnics. Older people laughing and meandering. Pre-school children in school smocks wandering hand-in-hand. Runners speeding past. Signs of spring at every turn. Neon green leaves. Jack-in-the pulpits jumping up in clumps.

At first the kids were disappointed that we hadn't entered an area with a playground (I am sure there must be some playground equipment somewhere in that immense park), but after the first discovery of a fat worm, all was good and we spent the next hour playing in the woods. Turning over moss covered logs, admiring all of the different types of mushrooms, and even building a lovely little fairy house. It was a wonderful introduction to Naples and prompted us to explore other parks throughout the week. Also, a good reminder of why I love traveling with kids. Not only does it force me to see and do things at a different pace, it also pushes me to seek out spots that aren't necessarily on the list of must-see tourist destinations. With kids in tow, we have found that we have to carve out time for outdoor play and free time. To be honest, I have discovered that I need that time, too. And more often than not, those experiences turn out to be some of the more memorable and enjoyable ones during our trips.

**Capodimonte is also the site for a renowned museum and an observatory. We didn't get to visit them on this trip, but I am keeping it on our list for future visits.


April 18, 2010

Happy to have returned from Naples by overnight ferry (so sorry for all of those stuck in traveling limbo throughout Europe); happy today is overcast and perfect for just lounging around the house; happy to be celebrating my birthday with those I love most; and happy to have two budding photographers in the family. These are two of my favorite pics from our trip. Top one taken by Noah, bottom one by Camille, both taken at the National Archeological Museum in Naples.


April 11, 2010

Sorry, I didn't get to post more yesterday. We spent all day outside...working in the garden, riding bikes, catching up with friends, and even into the night hanging around the fire pit. And today we are packing. Yes, packing up and heading out for another trip. It's Spring Break so my mom and I are taking the kids to the Naples area for the week. One of the strange realizations I had last week while traveling without kids was how dependent I have become upon strollers. Now that Camille is four, we are getting close to the end of the stroller era for our family. I always thought I would welcome the day we are free of cumbersome baby gear, but I am now realizing that this will take some adjustment. We'll no longer have an easy way to cram and carry stuff along the way...tired children, maps, water bottles, sunscreen, half-eaten sandwiches, melted crayons, and rocks (yes, rocks...that's what happens when you have a family of collectors). So I am now starting to seriously wonder if there is some way to prolong the inevitable farewell to the stroller. Can I convince Camille to occasionally sit in it to keep up the pretense on the street that the stroller is for her, when really it is for me?

I have spent way too many hours in the past seven years contemplating strollers. Convinced there had to be one perfect one out there, I kept searching and trying different options. Ultimately, it came down to three different strollers which have worked well at different stages and places of our life....The Kelty Combination stroller/backpack for living and traveling in Asia, The Phil and Ted's for life with two kids and rugged paths, and the trusty Maclaren Volo that is always ready and waiting in the back of the van. During our time in the Netherlands and Belgium, we couldn't help noticing all of the cool strollers that kept popping up in the midst of the gazillion bikes that seem to populate the streets and the countrysides...The Dutch and the Belgians are serious about their wheeled modes of transportation!

I am planning to pack a stroller for this trip (still trying to decide which one will be best for Pompeii), but also starting the search for a good traveling back pack (not for carrying children, but for carrying stuff!). Any suggestions for this upcoming transition in family travel? I was very happy to leave the diapers and bibs, but somehow this transition snuck up on me.

A Glimpse

April 9, 2010

Just got back today from our trip to Belgium and The Netherlands. Will try to post more pics and details tomorrow but here is a glimpse from my favorite day of the entire trip. We spent most of our fourth day cycling through the beautiful Belgian countryside. Wonderful bike paths along canals filled with fishermen, water birds, pastoral views, windmills, and quaint towns...had us dreaming about moving to rural Belgium or at least returning with the kids in the future for a more extended stay. Happy to be back home with the kids and my mom, but also very happy to have had such a great anniversary escape.

Easter 2010

April 4, 2010

We dyed eggs last night and discovered the beauty of using crayons directly on warm the wax melts it morphs into some very cool designs. We then dunked the eggs in dye to see what would happen on the wax-free areas and voila! It was fun and brought back some good memories from past Easters. The kids will be celebrating Easter today with mom. We will all be missing crawfish and egg hunting at Aunt Janet's, but I am sure the kids will enjoy hunting for eggs in Sicily, while Adam and I learn how Easter is celebrated in Amsterdam. And speaking of multicultural experiences, here is our favorite Easter story from David Sedaris. Wishing you all a very Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua! Vrolijk Pasen!

Good Friday

April 3, 2010

Good Friday in Enna, Sicily. Little girls dressed as nuns. Boys and men in hoods to hide their mourning faces. Walking in two lines, carrying lanterns and religious items, they make their way into the Cathedral. Mournful music. Crowded, cobble stone streets. Each group represented with a different color and different religious emblems. And as the sun goes down and the temperatures drop, the body of Christ and his weeping Mother exit the church on the shoulders of devoted men. The lanterns are lit and the procession winds its way back into the night. Easter week in Sicily is unforgettable.

Going Strong

April 2, 2010

Next week we will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. It's been 10 years of happiness, growth, love, a few challenges, and many amazing adventures together. We have two great kids. We have lived in five very different parts of the world (New Orleans, Seattle, Okinawa, Jacksonville, Sicily). We have survived deployment, the loss of loved ones, spider bites, hurricanes , typhoons, a nightmare of a kitchen renovation, scary pregnancy complications, and an international adoption involving three countries and the U.S. Military. We have traveled, laughed, and always kept our family rule of dancing together in the kitchen even if we have been fighting. I can't imagine doing any of those things with anyone else. I truly love the man I married and the life we are living together.

Lately, I have been reminiscing about favorite moments together and flashing back to our wedding, but I have also been taking inventory. It started with the step stool in our laundry room.It is a white folding, metal step stool. Just like this one. It's very basic. Nothing fancy, but it is one of my favorite wedding gifts. It came from an older couple (friends of my parents) with a card explaining that they had also received a similar folding step stool as a wedding gift twenty years earlier. When they were newlyweds in the midst of unwrapping the more traditional gifts of china and crystal, they thought it was a very odd gift. And I have to admit we had the same thought as we opened ours, but their card went on to describe how they quickly realized it was actually a very useful gift. The card ended by wishing us many years of stability and happiness together. Who knew a step stool could have so much meaning to me ten years later? But, it does. We use it all the time and I am always grateful to that wise couple for such a practical and symbolic gift.

So the step stool made me think about other wedding gifts. Which gifts have lasted 10 years and continue to serve us well or make us happy and could I remember who had given them to us? I remember spending so much time doing that whole registry thing. Hemming and hawing over china patterns, towels, and kitchen gadgets. The towels are now worn thin and being used as cleaning rags. The plates from our china pattern get used every day so that is a good thing. And the kitchen gadgets have been slimmed down with each move to include only those things that I really use. Ten years ago when we were giddy with excitement and confidence, we ran through the store with that electronic scanner convinced we knew exactly what we needed to start our lives together. But really, it was those gifts that were not on the list that have become so much more valuable to me. It comes down to a mix of handmade and practical items. The handmade gifts of artwork,photography, pottery, our ketuba, my wedding dress made by my mom, the hand embroidered wedding sampler from my sister...all made and given with love. With every move, they give us an immediate feeling of home. I treasure those gifts.

And then there are the practical gifts, like the step stool. They aren't fancy or expensive things. They weren't on our registry, but they are gifts that we use on a near daily basis. Like these Dean and Deluca potholders. I am fully committed to them. They are perfect and I can't imagine ever using anything else. Not too bulky, never feel the heat, and I can throw them in the washer. This is going to sound so weird and juvenile, but if I could, I would marry them. Yes, that is how much Iove these potholders. Did I really just write that? And then there is the electronic tooth brush that seemed like a strange gift, until we started using it every day. And the garden tools. I use that shovel far more often than the crystal candy dish which is currently packed away in a storage unit.

I know that gifts shouldn't be the focus of weddings, but they are tangible reminders of those we love and the lessons we have learned from them. Wedding gifts can also be the source for laughter and eye-rolling. Like my friend who received what seemed like 25 identical casserole dishes. We spent the day before her wedding driving around trying to exchange some of them for more needed items. Another friend received an excessive amount of decorative serving trays. We received a ton of large serving bowls. Adam teases me about the bowls, but I actually use them pretty regularly. And then there is the chicken pitcher. It was a gift from a friend's parents. We just couldn't picture ourselves pouring fresh orange juice from the mouth of a chicken. Just wasn't our style and it seemed bizarre. We quickly found a new home for it. So when we moved to Sicily, we had to laugh because we were suddenly surrounded by chicken pitchers. It seems that it is a popular souvenir item. Who knew we would end up in the land of the chicken pitcher?!

As we prepare to celebrate our tenth anniversary, I am happy to report that our marriage is still going strong(just like the step stool) and although I toyed with the idea of getting a chicken pitcher to mark the occasion, we are actually going to be celebrating with a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands. And my mother is kindly giving us the gift of watching our children while we are gone. Much better than a chicken pitcher, don't you think?

Have any favorite wedding gifts or stories to share? Or have a gift you always give to newlyweds?

Latest Instagrams

© Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish. Design by FCD.