Memorial Day 2010

May 31, 2010

Flanders Fields, Belgium
April 2010

Real Find

May 26, 2010

Yes, that is a big, glass bottle buckled into the seat next to Camille. She wasn't happy about it. Noah didn't even lift his head to see what was happening. He has become blase and accustomed to my dumpster diving ways. Adam is standing at the back of the van smiling and shaking his head. He knows I won't be changing any time soon and he has learned that there really are some treasures sitting on the sides of roads (like those chairs we use all the time, that Japanese lamp,those bookshelves, and too many other things to name). I look at this picture and realize once again that I am truly turning into my mother.

I know it wasn't the safest way to transport that green hunk of glass, but we were close to home and the back of the van was just too full of beach stuff...consider this just another "real" view of our van and of our crazy, little life. Happy to report we all made it home safely and the bottle is now sitting pretty next to our front door (we removed that plastic woven cover). I will try to post an after pic soon, but in the meantime read this.


May 25, 2010

I love Italian laundry. Sheets and socks fluttering in the wind trigger some sort of internal switch and I feel compelled to pull out my camera. There's something so nostalgic about it...the balconies, the sun dried clothing, the little old ladies who slip out of view when they see me or those who stop and wave. By the time we leave, I am sure I will have thousands of images of Sicilian underwear. I am not sure what I will do with all of those pictures, but I just can't seem to stop myself. That doesn't sound quite right does it? A compulsive need to photograph other people's underwear...but it really does look so charming and sweet flapping against stucco and stone.

And yet, when it comes to dealing with the laundry in my own house the nostalgia quickly fades. It is my most dreaded domestic chore. I can weed all day. In fact, I like weeding. Dishes: I enjoy doing those, especially now that I have easy access to NPR and This American Life on my I-touch. Sweeping: I kind of like the hypnotic swishing and the satisfaction of getting rid of little piles of dirt. Cooking: not always my favorite thing to do, but I go through phases of true enjoyment and I do like the thrill of finding a recipe that is a keeper.

But laundry feels like never ending torture, a domestic state of purgatory. I don't mind folding, but I have some strange aversion to putting away the clothes and that always has disastrous results. I know that some people pine for a personal chef or daily housekeeper. I yearn for someone to just come and put away my laundry each day. I'll happily wash it, dry it, and fold it, but I hate putting it away. I am not sure what's wrong with me but there is some block there.

I recently dove into Karen Maezen Miller's new book, Hand Wash Cold. I foolishly read it with a craving for a quick transformation. I wanted something to click in my brain, an instant mental re-frame that would suddenly make doing the laundry as appealing as photographing it seems to be for me. But that didn't happen. That's exactly the opposite of her message. Her message is similar to Thich Nhat Hanh's message about doing dishes. Slow down, be in the moment, appreciate the daily tasks and see them in the larger context of fully living your life, your current life. Not the life you imagine having or the life you left behind in another chapter. It was stupid of me to expect to find a quick fix. But I am feeling desperate lately. Wanting, needing to make a change.

I am letting Maezen-Miller's words seep and soak in my thoughts, but I am still itching for some concrete suggestions. So now I am here. Asking you for help. How do you do your laundry? How do you get it put away and keep doing it every day without smothering under the piles, the monotony, and the repetition of it all? I am hoping that when we leave Italy in a few years I will not only leave with loads of laundry photos, but perhaps I will also leave with a better idea of how to do laundry. Laundry--- free of my current dread and resentment.

Exploring: Caltagirone

May 24, 2010

Caltagirone is famous for its Sicilian ceramics. The vibrant centerpiece of town is the set of tiled steps which are flanked by shops overflowing with colorful ceramic offerings. But the ceramics aren't limited to the steps and the shops, there are splashes of hand painted color on markers and benches throughout the town and even a beautifully decorated bridge on the walk to the ceramics museum. It's a great town for a girls shopping trip or a romantic evening of wandering, but it can also be a good family destination. It might not sound like a very child-friendly spot with all of the fragile shopping possibilities, but there is a shady park next to the ceramics museum that quickly turn this quaint town into one that will appeal to all ages. Climb the winding paths up to the top of the hill and the park suddenly opens up into a large area with a duck pond, a small stage (I think there are concerts here in the summer), plenty of space for playing tag, and two gelato places. I am sure we'll be heading back for more shady park time (and gelato) this summer.

Grateful Retreat

May 22, 2010

Sorry to be gone for most of this past week. Thank you for all of the kind comments and e-mail messages. In addition to my sadness, the break from the computer was also induced by the need for a new modem. Funny how modern technology and old fashioned human needs sometimes work in cahoots. In many ways it was a good week for retreating. Spending as much time as possible outside. Pulling weeds, planting zinnia seeds, an evening walk at the Oasis, and visiting a new-to-us park. And when inside, I spent most of the week reading, taking cat naps,visiting with friends and starting each morning on the yoga mat.

This photo was taken of Camille over a year ago. That's her with her yoga mat. It was taken around the time she was starting to do yoga at preschool. Since our move to Sicily, Camille has been unrolling her mat next to mine. We have sporadically been trying to start our mornings together with some yoga. In the past couple of weeks, we have been more regular about it. About halfway through, she'll usually meander off while I continue and then she will return for the final resting pose. I have to admit that initially, I wasn't crazy about even attempting to do this with her. I wanted to have that time just to myself. I needed to get in that zone without having little hands on my skin or her voice in my ear. But it has actually turned out to be one of my favorite times with her. I have discovered that I can still get to that place within myself even with a little humming next to me. I can do downward dog even with a little girl crawling under me. I can push myself a little harder when I see her natural flexibility flowing through her limbs. And I can giggle way more than I ever did in any formal classes. It isn't always the intensity or the length of time that I crave, but we have a shared rhythm and it feels good. I was especially grateful for that during this past week.


May 18, 2010

I hold on tight to this. Those old boots, that dusty van, his painting clothes, his fingers smearing paint...all such familiar parts of him, his daily life. And if there was some way to add scents to video there would be the familiar scent of sunscreen and sweat...that comforting smell that would drift in the door with him after a good day of painting in the fields or on the beach. I love hearing him talk about his passion. His views on art. I watch it over and over again . Remembering. Thank you, Reese and Wilson.


May 16, 2010

I haven't been sleeping well for the past couple of weeks. I have had a pit in my stomach. I cry when I do yoga. I have been secretly eating chocolate icing out of the container in the fridge. I don't want to, but I now hate the month of May with all of it's bright, shiny, cheerfulness. This week marks two years since my dad's death. I am not nearly as angry as I was last year, but sometimes it still catches me by surprise. And I am still very sad. And I miss his voice, his letters, his hands, and seeing him with my children in his lap. May is hard for me because it isn't just the anniversary of his death, it is all of the pain and gut wrenching pleading/praying/hoping that happened in those weeks leading up to his death. I still feel it down in the pit of my stomach. In some ways I want that to end. I don't want to feel this way every May. But a part of me is also scared that if it that clenching in my stomach disappears that means I somehow don't miss him anymore. And I never want that to happen.

Exploring: Oasi del Simeto

May 14, 2010

So to counteract my wallowing and wanting, here's a glimpse of what makes me feel better. We have spent the past two weekends exploring our very own local oasis: Oasi del Simeto. This nature reserve is a beautiful combination of marsh and beach that are home to all kinds of birds, frogs, snakes, and other interesting critters.There is a raised path leading to the beach which provides a good outlook for the surrounding marsh and a clear view of where the Simeto River meets the ocean. The beach is sandy and full of interesting driftwood (and sadly, some garbage, too). It is also the only place on the island to search for Sicilian amber or Simetite amber. So far, we haven't had luck in finding any of those amazing treasures, but we will keep searching. And did I mention the breathtaking views of Mount Etna? It is almost surreal to walk along with waves lapping at our feet, while Etna keeps watch from overhead... a microcosmic mix of all of favorite parts of Sicily, a snow globe filled with an active volcano, a beautiful beach, a Mediterranean sunset, and birds flying overhead.


May 12, 2010

Sometimes I question our decision to move to Sicily. Don't get me wrong. I love it here. The natural beauty, the food, the vibrant people, the travel, the cultural exchanges. I love all of those things and I feel good about being able to share that with my children. But there have been some sacrifices. By moving here, we left behind a large Jewish community and a great Jewish preschool. Our children suddenly went from being surrounded by other Jewish families to being one of only a handful. Noah is the only Jewish student in the entire elementary school. That hasn't been easy, but it has been the source for lots of good conversations. We joyfully celebrate Shabbat each week. And we enjoy being part of a tight knit group of Jewish families. When we gather for services or holiday celebrations, everyone pitches in to make it work. Most of the time it feels good to pull together and make the extra effort to ensure our faith is strong and our Jewish identity is passed on to our children. Other times, I miss having a Rabbi, weekly services, and a formal Sunday school, but in general our life as a Jewish family here is good. Different from what we had for the past three years, but still good.

However, our life as an adoptive family has not been faring as well. The sacrifices have felt bigger. We left behind friends with families like ours (built through adoption), Taiwanese friends, a very active adoption group, my beloved book club, a city with diversity and two Asian food markets near our house. We know of only two other families who have adopted internationally, but when I attempted to host a gathering there wasn't any response. I am really hoping that this summer will bring a few more families...perhaps I should send out some kind of wanted ad encouraging adoptive families to move to Sicily? Selfish, but maybe it would work?

During our recent trip to Amsterdam, this came into clearer focus for me. We encountered several families who had clearly adopted from Asian countries. It stopped me in my tracks. Literally. I stared and had to fight the crazy urge bubbling up inside to tackle them and tell them that we were just like them. And it hit me then, that I was lonely for those friendships and that support that has always been in our lives until now. Prior to those "sightings" (I sound like a crazed stalker, don't I?) I had been focusing my energy on helping us all to adjust to a new culture.

Since moving here I haven't read any adoption related books, I haven't kept up with many adoption blogs, I haven't gotten on any of my yahoo adoption groups...these are all things that had previously been a big part of life. I think some of that happens naturally with time. Similar to being a first time parent...spend lots of energy and time reading all the latest parenting books, buying all of the newest gadgets and safety items, searching for reassurance that you are doing everything the "right way" and then the second child comes along and suddenly all of that activity seems excessive and there isn't any need or time for it. But I also think that part of my separation from the adoption world is related to this physical separation and it worries me a bit. We are very much in the minority here in Sicily. If we lived in Northern Europe or Spain, we would have larger sources for support. Whenever we travel with Camille...small Sicilian towns, Turkey (lots of commentary there about traveling with an Asian child), Germany, and our recent trip to Naples...we are suddenly under very close inspection. Most of the attention is just curiosity and genuine interest, some of it has bordered on rude, and some of it is religious which doesn't sit well with me (God bless us for "saving" her...see Laurie's recent post where she speaks even more eloquently about this).

Getting attention in public isn't a new thing and in many ways Camille handles it better than any of us, but feeling so isolated is new for us. And I worry that it is happening during a crucial developmental time. Camille is more aware than ever of differences in skin color, family composition, and birth stories. She is trying to make sense of it all and somehow place it in the context of the princess stories she loves so much. I have been working hard to introduce more multicultural stories and characters, but she often refuses and wants to re-read the stories of those lily white princesses that swoon and twirl. I have been pulling out more adoption stories lately (if you have any favorites, please share) and most of the time she is receptive and responsive. And then there is "Year of the Dog" which we have on audio book and she listens to almost compulsively these days. I think she is drawn more to the humor than the Taiwanese connection, but I am glad she enjoys it. But in my heart I know that books and Asian dolls are not enough. I try to reassure myself that she is becoming a Global citizen of the world...speaking Italian, traveling, making friends where ever we go, but underneath it all I also worry that at this stage in her life she shouldn't be the only one. The only Asian child living with a white family in Sicily.

When I recently went to apply sunscreen on Camille's arm, she wanted more because she worried she was getting too brown. She said she wanted to have white skin. It hurt to hear those words coming out of her mouth. I wasn't shocked. I have had friends tell me about similar conversations with their kids. I know that all children have things that bother them, that set them apart, that lead to teasing. I have read books. And I have to admit there is some basis for her desire to have different skin. She is surrounded by people with lighter skin. But it still took my breath away for a moment and made me wish we could give her a different experience. I really, really wish I could get on and order up some adoptive families, some darker skin for myself, playmates with a wider variety of skin tones and have them all sent to Sicily by express mail. Guess I will have to settle for ordering some new books and give some serious thought to where we will move next.

***My mom made the doll in the photo. She got the kit last year during her trip to London. Camille loves her new dolly and promptly named her Ni Hao Kai-Lan...which is way better than Ariel, but still...

Twigs and Sticks

May 10, 2010

Last week during Art Group a friend jokingly called me the "stick lady"...we were in the middle of making coffee filter flowers and attaching them to twigs which I had collected from a field the night before. I laughed when she said it, but then it hit me that actually she was right. We have done quite a bit with sticks and twigs in the past couple of years. They just have so much appeal to me. I love how they bring a unique piece of nature into our creations. They are easy to find. They are cheap. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and textures. They always look better to me than anything store-bought (pipe cleaners, straws, popsicle sticks, etc). And the kids are always happy to help me collect them. So here are a few of my favorite creations that we have made using sticks and twigs. And get ready for more in the near future. The possibilities are endless and I now have a name to maintain!

Koinobori (see above pic)
Paperbag ValentinesGarden SticksButterflies
Fairy Houses
Land Art

Mother's Day 2010

May 9, 2010

A breakfast of one-eyed Petes. A table decorated with hand made cards and flowers. A family bike ride. A late afternoon trip to the beach complete with a picnic dinner. A perfect day. Hope you and your loved ones have also had a good Mother's Day.

Graphic Amsterdam

May 7, 2010

Even though the title of this post might lead some to think this is about the seedier side of Amsterdam, it's not. It is actually about the entertaining and appealing graphics found throughout the city. It's something I don't remember noticing the first time I was in Amsterdam. I have to admit I wasn't a fan of the city during that first trip. It came at the end of a college back-packing trip. I was traveling with one of my college room mates and by the time we reached Amsterdam we were dirty, tired of wearing the same clothes, tired of sleeping in hostels, tired of eating sandwiches, and tired of each other. It seems like we spent most of our time in Amsterdam bickering. So I have to admit I wasn't very thrilled to return to Amsterdam with those memories floating around in my head.But this time, Amsterdam wooed me in unexpected ways. I never thought graffitti, public signs, stickers, and even tampon boxes could ever be so interesting to me. I loved the mingling of fresh, modern designs within traditional settings. I enjoyed the humorous and the clever twists. I liked that someone took the time to make a little sign for their planter box in English and Dutch. It's very polite, very succinct, and even includes visual aids to convey their message. And what about the idea and the look of the little stickers decorating all of the mail boxes? They identify which boxes will or will not accept junk mail. Simple, but brilliant. This graphic side of Amsterdam was much more appealing to me than some of the other graphic aspects of the city.

Second Reading

May 5, 2010

In the past few months, I re-read two books that made big impressions upon me as an adolescent: Catcher in the Rye and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. I had been wanting to read both of them again and finally got around to it. Now I kind of wish I hadn't. I remembered feeling such a strong connection to Holden and to Anne. Despite the significant differences in time and setting, their voices and their views of the world felt very similar to mine at the time. The young adult lit world wasn't the busy place it is today and in the classroom setting we mostly stuck to the classics, which is another reason I think these two books stood out for me. They were books that everyone read which meant the classroom discussions were much more lively. Yes, I was an English geek and I loved when I was not the only one who read the book.

So it is now twenty years later and I am a stay-at-home mother of two who decided it would be interesting to return to Anne's and Holden's worlds. But it was different. This time around Holden drove me crazy with his adolescent antics. Very impressive writing on Salinger's part, but I had to force myself to finish reading it. By the time I finished reading it, I didn't want to think about it any more so I didn't even take part in the discussion with my on-line book club.I was so let down. I had remembered Holden in such a fond a spunky, rebellious, but sympathetic guy. Not anymore. I think my mama lens is too thick right now. I am dreading the day my sweet little Noah morphs into some version of Holden, but as I was reading I had to acknowledge that Noah is now closer in age to Holden than I am. That put a damper on things. Wish I could say it didn't, but it did.

And then there was Anne. How did I overlook all of her critical commentary, especially regarding her mother? And how did I forget her frank discussions of sex and her changing body? Well, it turns out I didn't. It turns out that the version I read in 8th grade was the version that was printed under her father's watchful eye. He carefully edited out those judgmental or uncomfortable sections and they didn't make an appearance in print until after his death in 1980. I don't know what version kids read in school these days, but it almost felt like two different books to me. Once again, I am sure my current status as mother, a Jewish mother, was playing into my second reading of the book. I had much more empathy for Anne's parents than I ever did when I read it for the first time.

Anne did not drive me nearly as crazy as Holden did, but I wasn't quite as taken with her as I remembered being the first time. Instead of feeling a strong connection to her, I felt a greater sense of awe and gratitude with this second reading. Especially after visiting The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam for the second time. Just like the book, things have changed a bit with the house, too. Since my first visit to the house in 1994, the house has been gussied up quite a bit with interactive displays, photographs, and moving interviews with those who helped the Frank family, with some of Anne's friends, and even with her father. It is very well-done (including the ease of being able to buy advance tickets on-line, highly recommend that option). Unlike my second reading of the diary, my second visit to the house had a much greater impact.

I think the additional displays contributed to that, but beyond that I now carry the weight of knowing my children could easily have been exterminated just as Anne was. I didn't have that same weight on my shoulders or in my heart when I read the diary and visited the house for the first time. I was sad, I was horrified, but I wasn't nearly as connected to the Holocaust experience as I am now. And that's why am grateful and in awe of what one adolescent, Jewish girl was able to accomplish with her plaid diary. Part of me wishes I hadn't re-read it because I didn't want to see the whiny, critical teen-aged side of her, but after re-visiting the house I am glad I re-read it and in it's full text. She was who she was and thankfully her diary was saved as a record of her voice and her experience. It was nearly 9 pm on a Sunday night as we made our way through their hiding place, there was a long line of people waiting to get in and we were surrounded by people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and faiths. Pretty powerful to see that after all these years, a teen-ager's words continue to make such an impact on so many around the world.

So, do kids still read "Catcher in the Rye" and "Anne Frank" in school? I don't think I am up for a third reading of these two books any time soon, but that's because I'll be too busy trying to maintain this current state of denial that my two monkeys will ever be teen-agers.


May 3, 2010

Fresh from the tree (Bina and Antonio's tree). Delizioso!


May 1, 2010

Watching from afar and worrying about the coast that is permanently lodged in my heart as my homing spot. Growing up in South Louisiana, about a half hour from the marsh and beach that form the Louisiana coastline, some of my earliest memories are of times spent crabbing, spying on alligators basking in the sun, and avoiding cows on the beach. It's not a touristy spot with the oil rigs on the horizon, the gritty, brown sand, and trailers used for hunting/fishing camps. It's an area that has taken repeated beatings from hurricanes, erosion, and pollution. And yet it is also an area populated with tenacity and determination. Vegetation and creatures that have endured. Families who have re-built higher. Shrimpers, oyster farmers, and fishermen who have clung on to their tenuous livelihoods. That's the Louisiana part of the Gulf Coast that I hold dear.

And then there is Navarre Beach, a barrier island on Florida's Gulf Coast. It is the place I escape to in my head when I am seeking comfort and joy. I have shared posts on our annual family trips to this narrow piece of paradise. It's white, sandy beaches and warm waters are woven into the fabric of our family. Intense weeks of re-connection between four generations of my family...card playing, beach combing, story telling, Cajun dancing, and maintaining the threads that tie us to together. We keep track of our weeks in our "Florida Book". It is essentially a family journal filled with moments from the week, wildlife sightings (dolphins, sting rays,black skimmers nesting), and water reports (jellyfish year? seaweed soup or crystal clear?).Over thirty years in that "Florida Book" of ours and I want my kids to be able to write in it with their kids. But right now it all seems so fragile in the face of this massive storm of oil that is approaching.

Today is my mom's birthday. My birthday wish is for her, but for the rest of us, too. I am not going to jinx it by saying it out loud, but I am sure you can guess what it is.

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