Summer Laundry

June 29, 2010

Forget all of my fancy plans for learning to love my that we are fully immersed in summer, I am discovering the joys of summer laundry: swimsuits and towels. Life is so much easier when you spend every day in a swimsuit and you only have to fold and put away beach towels. Seriously, we have been living in our suits. Swim lessons each morning at the pool, lazy afternoons at the pool, Noah's first splash and dash (swim and run race), and squeezing in beach trips whenever possible. Summer living is good.

Erice With Kids

June 28, 2010

We purposely drove past the exit for Erice. It was the last day of our Scopello camping trip and we decided to head south to visit the town that so many guidebooks and friends had recommended. We by-passed the exit and headed further south for Trapani because we have a son who loves public transportation. When traveling with Noah, we have learned that he is happiest when we use as many different forms of transportation as possible during a trip (bus, metro, cable car, taxi, etc). So when we initially mentioned the idea of visiting Erice, he voted against it. He wasn't swayed by the descriptions of an atmospheric and charming Sicilian town perched on the top of a mountain. But when I happened to mention that there was a cable car (funivia) ride up to the town, he started begging to visit.

Happily, the funivia ride did not disappoint. In fact, thanks to the windy conditions our return trip turned out to be kind of like a roller coaster ride with some stunning views. I would not recommend this entrance to the city for anyone with a fear of heights, especially on a windy day...but if you are traveling with a seven year old boy, it is a guaranteed hit. At the end of the ride up, we emerged into a quaint walled city with twisty, cobbled streets and if it weren't for all of the tourists on a Sunday afternoon we really might have felt as we had been transported back to the Middle Ages.

One of the biggest perks of visiting Erice with kids is the garden and playground at the base of the castle. It was pretty amazing for the kids to watch the clouds swirl in around them as them as they were swinging and sliding. Not a fancy playground, but a small, clean one with amazing views of the castle and the valley and coastline down below.
My only regret is that I didn't read this article before our visit. Guess that means we'll have to head back to sample the local sweets. I don't think there will be any complaints about that.

Cultural Confusion

June 27, 2010

Last week as the kids and I were driving to base for swim lessons, we had an unsettling cultural experience. As we approached the base, we noticed a lot of cars parked on the side of the road. I thought that was a bit odd, but just kept driving. As we rounded the corner, the kids immediatedly noticed a gelato truck parked on the side of the road. While they were begging to stop for gelato, I noticed a huge mass of people in front of us. They were waving flags and it all seemed so festive...gelato, flags, lots of people. I told the kids it looked some kind of festival. And seconds later I announced that it actually looked like a race. The mass of people waving flags were actually in some sort of formation. But then as I started to realize they weren't in running clothes, I also realized they didn't look too happy. And before I knew it our van was surrounded by people shouting. A small wave of panic start to well up inside my gut, as it began to dawn on me: this was not a celebration. This was a protest. Luckily, the crowd parted and seemed to shrink from around the van as quickly as it had initially swelled (I think the kids and the car seats helped to facilitate this...I can't imagine Italians hurting children, especially in such a public way). We were able to get on to base without any further problems and we learned that the protest was in response to some recent job losses.

The protest incident was upsetting, especially since it truly caught me off guard and had me spinning in multiple directions as I tried to make sense of what we were seeing/ never occurred to me that a protest situation could look so festive from a distance (in my defense it really was the gelato truck that threw me off). It also reminded me of a similar moment of cultural confusion that occurred during my first month of living in rural Japan as a young teacher for the JET Program. One afternoon on my bike ride home, I pulled over to watch a series of flowers and large decorations being set up in the yard of a neighboring house. Big, vibrant, and colorful...I assumed they were preparing for some sort of celebration. With very, very limited Japanese, I attempted to ask about the occasion. It wasn't until I got home and looked it up in my dictionary did I understand the festive public display was actually part of a funeral display. Not the celebration that I had mind. Actually, cultural assumptions about death would become the source for further confusion as that year progressed. We had an Australian exchange student in our school who attended the funeral for her host family's grandfather. She came to me in tears the next day because no one had warned her about the Japanese rituals surrounding a death. She was shocked and unprepared when the family (including the student) was escorted into a room, handed chopsticks, and expected to sort through the cremains to remove the bones from the ashes. That's not quite one of those cultural exchange moments that gets highlighted in the glossy pamphlets seeking foreign exchange students, is it?

One of the things I love most about living and traveling overseas are the opportunities for learning about different cultures, but sometimes those learning experiences aren't always enjoyable. Sometimes they are confusing and unsettling. Flags, and gelato don't always mean it is a celebratory occasion and chopsticks are not always used for food.

Family Legacy

June 25, 2010

Adam's Star Wars guys. Each slot carefully labeled. Stored and kept safe at Nana's house. Sent to us a few years ago. Enjoyed and played with by Noah and Camille. Makes me wonder what toys will have special meaning for their kids years from now.

Sicilian Garden Sticks

June 24, 2010

Look at what popped up in our garden! These are larger versions of the ones we did in Louisiana a few summers ago. Festive, fun, and good for propping up plants (have I ever mentioned the issues we have with wind?). We aren't the only ones adding some color to our garden with art. Check out Jean's garden. Doesn't that look like a good spot to spend a summer afternoon? And here's another colorful summer project that we might try in a few weeks. I'll do a more thorough summer garden post soon. We are eagerly waiting to pick our first Pachino tomatoes and can't get over how cute our baby watermelons are. Anything fun happening in your garden lately?

Exploring: Lo Zingaro Reserve

June 22, 2010

We followed the rocky paths up and over hills with spectacular views until we finally reached the Lo Zingaro swimming cove, Calla della Capreria. And as we began our final descent, we could see why our guidebook labeled it one of the prettiest beaches in all of Sicily. That clear, cool water which is perfect for snorkeling and swimming is a very sweet reward and worth every step of the hike. Our weekend trip to Lo Zingaro Reserve was fantastic and we can't wait to get back and do some more exploring. In addition to its rugged coastal beauty, Lo Zingaro is also known for its caves and migratory bird population. The areas that we were saw were clean, well maintained, and truly beautiful.

3 euro admission charge for adults (children under 10 are free).
This is not a stroller friendly hike and may be too challenging for young kiddos without being carried part of the way. Be sure to bring water, food, and sunscreen.

S'Mores to the Rescue

June 21, 2010

There were some rough moments during our Father's Day camping weekend. We arrived late and had to set up just as the sun was going down. While we were doing that, Camille injured her leg pretty badly on a cement step that she didn't see it in the dark. Noah was already limping around because of a bee sting he got on his foot earlier in the day. It was hot and there wasn't a breeze (luckily that changed in the middle of the night). The pump for our air mattress wasn't fully charged (luckily we had nice, Austrian, camping neighbors who let us use theirs). We were cranky and tired and just when we were all finally able to climb into bed, the disco music started. Loud, pounding music interspersed with commentary by a very enthusiastic DJ. At first we thought it was coming from one of the other campers, but then we realized it was coming from the local beach outside of the camp grounds. It was not a good first night. On the second night, Camille peed on the sleeping bag and the air mattress she was sharing with Adam. And minutes after we had hung all of the wet bedding on a line outside of the tent, it started to rain. That wasn't fun either, but happy to report that our new tent weathered it without any problems.

And yet despite those rough moments, we had a good time. In fact, a very good time. Funny how s'mores, citronella candles, and playing in the ocean always seem to make everything better. By the time we left on Sunday, we had decided to make it a family tradition. I have a feeling our Annual Father's Day Camping Trip will be the source for lots of funny, a few not-so-funny, and some sticky family memories.

Camping Notes for Scopello, Sicily:
Baia di Guidaloca Campground: shady camp site for tents and campers, clean bathrooms, free hot showers, small restaurant on-site (we didn't try it), with an easy walk to the beach (just across the road). The beach has small rocks/pebbles, not a sand beach but there is a children's playground on the beach and small paddle boats for rent. Also, be forewarned about the Friday Night Disco (only happens on Fridays). Just a few miles outside of the quaint town of Scopello and the beautiful Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve. 21 euros a night for our family of four. We would stay here again, but not on a Friday night in the summer.

There is a second camp ground near Scopello, Lu Baruni. It is located further away from the beach and when we drove around the site, it seemed to be pretty run down and deserted. We would not recommend this site.

Weekend Plans

June 18, 2010

Heading off for another camping trip. Exploring more of this sunny island. Celebrating Father's Day. Hoping for ocean breezes and lots of laughter. Wishing you all a good weekend.

Sicilian Capers

June 17, 2010

We spotted them growing on the rock walls near our campsite in Avola a few weeks ago. Did you know capers were so beautiful in addition to being so delicious? If they were growing in my garden, I would have a hard time snipping the buds because the flowers are so gorgeous.

June List

June 15, 2010

Here's another list with a few things that I have been reading and viewing over the past month. Looking at this month's list it seems like all I have been reading is magazines. There are two reasons for that. The first one is that we go for several months without any magazines and then we'll have a huge bundle of several months arrive all at once. That's just what happens when you live overseas and try to maintain magazine subscriptions. And the second reason is that I have been in a magazine mood. Just needing short snippets of reading time. I have entered into that summer, beach reading mode these days. Gobbling up short, juicy chunks of text or if it's longer than a short story, it has to be really enticing and delicious.

Brain, Child: Why did I put off getting a subscription to this magazine for so long? Substance, wit, thought provoking essays and resulting discussions...very good reading.
Real Simple: Just received the June issue with the title cover shouting at me in bold letters: "Organize your life" and the May issue whose cover boasts speed cleaning solutions. Funny how things show up just when you need them. Actually, what I wish I could really share with you is one of the articles from the June issue, but I can't seem to get a link to it. If you have access to the magazine, turn to page 210. The article is titled "See How They Grow" and it's about a group of women who came together to form a garden group. Each week they rotate to a different garden belonging to one of the group members. They weed, they tackle big projects, share ideas, exchange seeds, and over the years they have built solid bonds of friendship. I love this idea.
The Chorus/Les Choristes: a wonderful French film
The Book of Animal Ignorance: this is one of those books that forces you to stop reading mid-sentence and shout out "Did you know....?" It's a very entertaining read. And by the way, did you know that woodpeckers have ears on the ends of their tongues?
Temple Grandin: inspiring and fascinating, add it to your Netflix/library list
Cutting for Stone: here's the exception to the magazines. I am currently in the midst of this novel and trying to slow down so it won't end too quickly.
The Atlantic's Fiction Issue: arrived in our mail box today and it has me itching to crack it open.

What's on your summer reading/viewing list?

Plugged In Again

June 14, 2010

So after my last whiny post, things got unplugged....literally and emotionally. A transformer blew out on our street and we were suddenly left without the ability to plug in any appliances. Luckily, we still have lights and air conditioning and we were given one very heavy transformer which has the capacity for two plugs at a time. Today we were given three more transformer units. That doesn't seem like a good sign, but at least it gives us a little more capacity which is how I am now able to catch up a bit on e-mail and blogging. It's amazing to stop and realize how much of modern life is connected to plugs. I took it as a sign from the universe to step back, exhale, and let go of my domestic angst from the past couple of weeks. I have been taking more walks and bike rides. Adam and I have been sitting outside late in the evenings enjoying the breeze and playing bananagrams by the light of a flickering citronella candle. I did a lot of weeding over the weekend which always makes me feel better. It really does. And then I suddenly got the energy to sort through the kids closets and box up items for friends, the thrift shop, and the rag pile for this project. Despite the current heat wave, we got out for a quick hike. And today, I realized that things do feel better around here.

Domestic Dissonance

June 9, 2010

This is how I got that shot of Camille juicing up a recent load of citrus from Bina and Antonio. I climbed up on the counter and balanced myself over the sink (see my foot in the bottom of the shot?). It was a crazy, foolish thing to do and I know I wasn't setting a very good example for my four year old. And it would have been really embarrassing if I had fallen and hurt myself...really, how would I explain that? And yet, I did it. I felt driven to get the shot. The light was nice, the composition of it all was shouting out to me, and Camille was so focused, that I just did it. I stood there straddling the sink and balancing precariously with a camera in my hands. I was both in the moment and hovering above it.

It's kind of how I have been feeling in general these days. Not quite solidly here or there. Nothing dramatically or obviously wrong. Just feeling disorganized, unsettled, and in between emotional states. I screwed up an easy crock pot meal earlier this week when I forgot to add the water. They were the saltiest Korean ribs ever made and my family was too polite to say anything, except to eat more rice than meat. My new plan of doing one load of laundry a day was working great for about four days and then I forgot to move the clothes to the dryer and my laundry was a mildewy mess. You know that smell, don't you? I finally discovered the source of the bad odor in the kitchen. A bag of rotting potatoes. That's even worse than the mildewed laundry smell. I made Tapioca pudding (one of my favorite things in the whole world) and it never set. How could I screw that up? I have made it a hundred times and never had problems before. I broke my favorite sugar bowl and threw an embarrassing tantrum about it. There is no denying it. I am in a domestic funk. Perhaps if I felt driven to cook or clean the way I feel driven to get the right shot, then I'd be better at this whole domestic thing. I am sorry to keep writing about it, but it's where I seem to be stuck right now. I am thinking I might need to just take a break from it all. Stop trying so hard, serve cereal and sandwiches for the next few days, read more, sleep more, and get outside more. Thank you for the thoughts on chores and allowances. Hoping to tackle that soon, but right now I am headed to bed.

Child Labor

June 8, 2010

As is obvious from my recent laundry posts, things are in need of a good shake-up around our house. The laundry and your helpful comments got me thinking about the distribution of chores. And then Noah, who has been furiously studying his Lego booklets, started asking for an allowance to assuage his Lego lust. And now I am back with another request for help. What do you do in your house? Do you give your kids allowances? If so, how much? Do you have set chores or a rotating list? Do your kids do the chores without constant whining and angst? If so, how do you make that magic happen? What are appropriate chores for a 7 year old boy and 4 1/2 year old girl (the half is very important these days)?

With the end of school quickly approaching, it seems like a good time to put a new system in place for the summer and once again I see my mother in myself. I now know why she would periodically come home from the library loaded down with books on parenting and organization. Our tiny library doesn't have many books on this topic of child labor, so I hoping you will once again give me some good ideas.

Italian Baby Food

June 4, 2010

I used to love wandering the baby food aisles in Japanese grocery stores. There was always an interesting assortment of fish and veggies that would never make into American baby food and there were the baby rice crackers that both of my kids loved. Since my kids are now way past the baby food stage, it hadn't even entered my mind to peruse the Italian baby food aisle until a recent food conversation at a baby shower revealed that it might be worth a peek. And what an interesting peek: ostrich, rabbit, and horse!

Miniature Perfection

June 3, 2010

Found during our recent camping trip to Avola: sandy brown beach, smooth white rocks, and lots of tiny shells. Miniature perfection repeated in one little shell after another. How does that happen? Sometimes it really is the small things that amaze me the most.

Sicilian Camping

June 2, 2010

Our first family camping trip in Sicily was a huge success. It basically consisted of playing on the beach, reading, eating pizza on the beach, reading, and playing some more on the beach. How could that be anything but a wonderful escape? And in addition to the joys of lazy beach living, we also felt like we were having a truly European experience because we were sharing the campground with families from Germany, The Netherlands, France and other parts of Europe.

We also learned a few things, too:

1) Don't forget to pack toliet paper. Luckily I have a real van and we were able to find a box of tissues and half a box of baby wipes jammed under the seats.

2) Ask about all of the fees. We didn't realize until check-out that we were being charged one fee for the camp site, one fee for having our car, and one fee for each person. Still much cheaper than a hotel or agriturismo, but wish we had known there were all of those additional fees. We are also planning to get a discount camping card for the year.

3) Arrive early in the day to get a good spot. We got a much later start than we would have liked (I remember wondering as a kid why it always took my parents so long to load the car, now I know!). Our spot was fine, but it was hard not to notice the prime spots with large trees and better beach views.

4) Bring change. The showers were coin operated. Not sure if this is the norm for most European campgrounds, but it is good to be prepared.

5) Don't promise your kids s'mores. Our campsite didn't have fire pits and we didn't have a camp stove so the kids ate their marshmallows "raw". They were a bit disappointed about not having a campfire, but once we pulled out the flashlights things got fun again. Again, not sure if this is standard or not, but if you are set on having a camp fire contact the camp site prior to arrival to inquire about this possibility.

We had such a good time that on our way we home stopped by Decathlon to check out their tents (love the pop-up ones). We didn't buy one but we are actively researching tents so if you have any family tent recommendations, please share them. The same goes for any family camping tips. I found this article and checklist to be helpful, but I always love hearing your advice. We are working on putting together a box of camping stuff that will be handy to grab for future weekend get-aways. What are your must-have camping supplies?


June 1, 2010

I had a hunch I wouldn't be alone in venting about laundry, but I was also very happy to get some concrete suggestions and here's what I am doing with them. I am working on re-organizing the kids' clothing storage so they can start putting away their own clothes on a more regular basis. I am also going to try doing one load per day and that includes putting it all away. I am hoping if I can get myself into a daily pattern that one load per day will eliminate the towering piles of clean and dirty clothes and the resentment that comes with those whopper days full of laundry. I am also going to sort through clothes and get rid of anything that has been outgrown and/or is out of season. And if anyone local wants to swap laundry for gardening or toilet cleaning, please let me know! So there. I am writing it down and making it public. Kind of like my New Year's resolution to make my bed each day (which, I am happy to report, has been happening).

So in addition to airing my laundry woes, I have recently been interviewed by Italy Magazine (my first interview!) for their new series called "Blog of the Week". Read the interview to hear my thoughts on Sicilian toilet seats and other tidbits.

Thanks for hanging in there with this odd little blog of mine...toilets, laundry, dumpster are all so good to keep reading. I promise to share some more Sicilian experiences soon.

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