Paper Flakes and Warm Wishes

December 25, 2010

 We spent today cutting out snowflakes, napping, watching The Princess Bride, and packing. Tomorrow we are traveling to Bulgaria to celebrate the New Year with some of our closest friends. There will be a little skiing, lots of laughing, and hopefully lots of real snowflakes! To all of our friends and family members spread across the globe who are celebrating Christmas today, we send you all warm wishes for a very Merry Christmas! Buon Natale! and Joyeaux Noel!

December List

December 22, 2010

Family Tree:  a festive, glowing, collaborative beauty of a tree.

Pandora Joys: right now I am loving the Diana Krall Holiday station and the Dolly Pardon station (seriously, if that station doesn't make you sing and dance while doing the dishes, then something is wrong with you or perhaps you should spend a summer working on a dude ranch). 

Food Court Magic: I am sure you have all seen this a million times already, but it really is moving and makes me wish I could have been there.

Weird and New: It's that time of year for top ten lists and this one is quite unique.

Historic: And it's about time. Makes me very glad we took the time to fill out those surveys we got earlier this year.

Awkward and Thought Provoking: the photos got me laughing and the related post had me nodding in agreement.
Thin Spaces: Eren's thoughtful post has been perched in my mind for the past few weeks.

Sentimental Souvenirs

December 20, 2010

 See that little tub of peach lip balm in the first photo? My dad gave that to me during our last Christmas together. He had a tradition of spending Christmas Eve afternoon sipping tea, eating Gateaux Nana, and shopping for all of us at one of our favorite little shops in the whole world: The Kitchen Shop in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. I always looked forward to the ecclectic little gifts that he would put under the tree for us. I keep trying to remember what else came with this tub of lip gloss that year, but I can't. And actually, I never really used the lip gloss until after he died. I loved the little Art Deco tin and kept saving it. I am like that. I save things. And somehow that little tub of balm re-emerged one day and I put it on my bedside table. It's been there for the past two years and I use it on a daily basis. It reminds me of my dad, it's pretty, it smells good, and guess what? really is good stuff. 

So when we started planning our trip to Spain, I wondered if I might be able to find the lip gloss in Madrid. That's where the tin says they are made. I am not a big souvenir person, but as soon as we landed in Madrid I began the search to find these little colorful treasures. It became an obsessive hunt of stopping in every pharmacy, every perfumeria that we passed. I found a few in one shop and bought those to send my sisters and my mom. And then on our last day in Madrid, we hit the jackpot in a small pharmacy near the train station. I didn't realize there were so many scents and designs. I bought one of each. Feelings of success and bittersweet joy flooded over me as the hunt came to an end and the connections between Spain, Louisiana, my dad, and one last Christmas suddenly merged into a small plastic bag full of sweet glosses...strawberry, violet, orange, currant, vanilla, and peach. Sometimes souvenirs can be very good things.

Painted Gifts

December 16, 2010

Amazing to see what kind of magic can happen with a few tubes of acrylic paint and two creative kids. I love all of the gifts the kids have been making this holiday season. They made the paintings for Adam using this tape technique. Painted pots for teacher gifts. And who can resist a brightly painted pine cone?

December Garden: The Taming of the Shrew?

December 15, 2010

Can you believe it's December and we still have eggplants in our front garden? Unfortunately, we also have something else going strong in our garden. It seems like we have been invaded by a tunneling fiend that likes broccoli and marigolds (yes, marigolds), but thankfully doesn't like lettuce.  My hunch is a Sicilian Shrew, but we have not had any sightings to make an official id. I am hoping that getting some cooler weather might discourage him/her/them from the rampant digging. Anyone ever dealt with something like this in their yard/garden? Any suggestions to prevent me from turning into a grouchy, garden shrew?

Big Blog Family

December 14, 2010

Sicilian eggs fresh from the local farm and this interview fresh from Ohdeedoh. I was very honored and to be honest, a bit shocked to be interviewed and included in their fabulous Big Blog Family series. So, "hello, ciao, konichiwa and welcome" to anyone who might have wandered here from that shiny, sparkly space. And to those of you who are already friends and family from the real world and the blogging world: thank you for reading, commenting, and hanging around for this crazy little ride of ours...who knows where we will end up next!

Viva Santa Lucia

Saint Lucia Festival, Belpasso, Sicily

Another amazing Sicilian festival! Elaborate moving displays which have been made by townspeople since the 1600s, music, festive lights, flags, church bells, fireworks, and eyes, lots of eyes all in honor of the patron saint of light. I was familiar with St. Lucia celebrations (especially the Swedish version), but prior to moving to Sicily I had no idea she was Sicilian. Siracusa is her birthplace and I am told their festival is worth seeing (aiming for it next year), but I was drawn to Belpasso because of the carri. They call them floats or chariots but they don't move like in a parade. They are installed the along the street and the crowd moves together to view each one as it is lit up and moved by hand.

I am so glad we went. I really love the Saints' feast days here in Sicily. I am always moved by the intense devotion and the long standing traditions. In our modern world of instant replay, evidence-based research, and Facebook, I find it comforting to stand in a crowd of Sicilians praying and honoring their town's saint. They don't watch parades on tv, demand proof of the story, or build relationships through social networking; instead, they work together all year to prepare for the festival and then they stand together on a dark, cold night and sing. It is truly a special faith experience. If you live in Sicily and you have not attended a feast day celebration, you must do it at least once before leaving.  

I also love these celebrations because I love the stories of the Saints. I always have. I have vivid memories, sometimes even nightmares, about the stories of the Saints that I studied in school (twelve years of Catholic schooling). It is hard to beat the drama, the intrigue, the heroism, and the related miracles. And of course, St. Lucia has special meaning for me since she is my name saint. We didn't get a chance to try any of the foods mentioned here (I think they are more prevalent at the Siracusa celebration), but I still found the information very interesting. So as a continuation from my last post regarding the complicated nature of December, here's one more layer:  my Jewish children have a mother with Catholic roots who is still devoted to the Saints and revels in the Sicilian feast days.

Navigating December

December 11, 2010

Tis the season for decorated trees, stockings, Christmas carols, and Santa, but in our house it is also the season for on-going discussions and the need for some type of emotional GPS system (why hasn't that been invented yet?). It's a complicated time of year for all of us. For me it comes with many layers and memories of Christmas pasts. I grew up loving Christmas and to be honest, I still do, because it carries with it some of my favorite smells, tastes, traditions, feel-good movies, and family gatherings. I can't quash the fuzzy, warm feelings mingled with a bit of homesickness that always seem to swell up inside me when I catch the glimpse of a Christmas tree through someone's window. But now that I am the proud mama to two Jewish kiddos, Christmas has become a little murkier.

Prior to getting engaged, Adam and I went to interfaith counseling. Not just a couple of sessions but two years of counseling. We had lots of issues to wade through together and individually....San Francisco Jewish boy in the military meets Cajun, Catholic, country girl. That's not exactly an easy mix, but we were best friends, we were in love, and we took our relationship seriously. There were intense conversations with our families, our friends, rabbis, nuns, and other interfaith couples. There were moments of disappointment and loss; moments of humor and humility, and moments of clarity and peace, and we eventually came to some decisions regarding our future together. One of those decisions was that we would raise our children in a Jewish home. 

That decision has turned the month of December into a bit of a quagmire for us. When the kids were younger and attending a Jewish preschool, things weren't that tricky. We didn't need to explain what Hanukkah was to the teachers or school friends. We didn't have to explain why we didn't have a Christmas tree or why the presents were wrapped in blue paper instead of red. At that time we were also living in the States and we were able to travel to Louisiana each year for my family's annual Christmas/New Year's celebrations and being there made the holidays feel like the perfect mix to me. But now that we are living overseas and the kids are older, I have to admit that the holiday season has become more challenging. 

Last year was hard for Noah. He was the only Jewish kid in his class, the only Jewish kid in the entire elementary school, and actually probably just one of a handful of Jewish kids in all of southern Italy. And guess what first graders love to talk about in December? Santa. Lots of Santa discussions and suddenly Noah realized not just that he was different, but that he was the only one who wasn't getting a visit from Santa and it pissed him off. There's just no other way to explain it. He was mad. And I can't blame him. I even have to admit to very briefly considering changing our stance on the whole Christmas issue...maybe Santa could make a quick visit? But that didn't feel right. Having been raised in a Catholic family, attending Catholic schools for twelve years, Catholic Mass twice a week...Christmas is very clearly lodged in my mind as a sacred, religious holiday. It is not something to be twisted on a whim to include a surprise visit from Santa to a lone Jewish boy in Sicily. It just didn't feel right and if you know Noah in real life, you know, that he is a skeptic and he would have seen through that ploy faster than the singing of Jingle Bells. 

I am glad we didn't add Santa to the mix, because it has opened the doors for some good family talks about being Jewish. That's the duality of being in such a minority group here: we have to work harder to solidify what it means to be Jewish.  If we want to celebrate Jewish holidays or have services, we have to travel to larger Jewish congregations or we organize our own with the other Jewish families here (now at a grand total of three), and so we do. If want special Jewish food or holiday items, we have to plan ahead and order well in advance.We are forced to be more purposeful and thoughtful in our practice as a family, as parents, as individuals and that's a good thing. But it isn't easy.

Which brings us to this December...Noah is not mad like he was last year at this time, but we are continuing to deal with December related issues. During the past week, Noah has come home with four different school related issues. None of the issues are happening in his classroom, but they are taking place in the special classes...Santa projects in art class, Christmas cards in Italian class, Christmas carols in music class, school-wide Christmas performance...and when Noah asked to do different tasks, there wasn't an alternative. Which means we have had to speak up at the school multiple times in the course of just one week. I know that this is part of the deal. We have to educate and advocate, especially while our children are young, but sometimes I wish it didn't need to be quite so much work. And I don't mean the physical work of calling or talking to school staff, I mean the emotional work of it. I have to admit it is starting to make me a tad bitter about Christmas and I don't want that to happen for me or for the kids. Because although we don't celebrate Christmas in our home, it is a part of who I am and who my family is and therefore also a part of my kids and that is the sticky part of all this December business. 

I know we aren't the only families out there navigating these December issues and I know that every family has it's own way of mapping it out. This is just where we are this December. Trying to stay the course, trying to smooth out the wrinkles, trying to stay connected to roots, while also moving ahead to uncharted territory each December.

Succulent Gifts

December 9, 2010

So easy, so green, and so succulent! I wish I could ship these across international borders because I love how quickly and easily these suckers grow. I wrapped these little pots in gold ribbons for the "photo shoot" but since Camille helped to plant these for her teachers, I'll see if she wants to personalize them even more with a bit of acrylic paint. Read more at The Magnifying Glass and be sure to check out the other fun gifts from nature. Are you growing or gifting anything green this holiday season?

Alien Brains and Monster Snot

It isn't always easy to come up with a home made gift for a big brother who is into Legos, Star Wars, and Pokemon. But I think his reaction last night indicates that Camille succeeded! Ooey-gooey alien brains and monster snot turned out to be a huge hit. Easy enough for Camille to make and disgusting enough to delight Noah. We used this great tutorial from Skip to My Lou. Once you get to the stage of near solid, just dump out the extra liquid and immerse yourself in the slimey fun. After we got to that stage, we bottled them up in empty baby food jars and Camille made some great face labels for the tops. 

My favorite part of the whole gift are her drawings that describe the monster and the alien. "The Monster (named) Horn: double headed with eyes on each head, two horns, snot coming out of his head, no nose, lots of sharp teeth, claws, and only one leg". And the "A Friendly Alien: It is a girl alien, but soon it will be mean just like the monster and then they will live happily ever after".

As Noah was opening his gooey gifts, I couldn't help remembering this cool alien gift he made for Camille when he was five. We can't seem to go wrong with aliens in this family!

The Eighth Night

December 8, 2010

 Hanukkah 2010

"I'm Freezing

December 7, 2010

and I want to go home, NOW!"

Camille was the trooper of Sunday's hike. Poor Noah fell early in the hike and tore up his knee pretty badly so Adam had to carry him back to the car. They sat in the car and waited for the rest of us to finish up the hike. Camille did great until the very end when the chilliness finally got to her. I can't blame her. If someone had taken a picture of me at the end of the hike, I am sure I would have looked like this too. The promise of hot chocolate got both of us moving again. And let me just say for the record: Italian hot chocolate is truly amazing, but it really does taste best after a chilly afternoon hike on Mt. Etna.

Exploring: Parco dell' Etna

December 6, 2010

Yesterday our friends showed us one of their favorite hiking areas on Mt. Etna. It was beautiful, but very cold compared to the sunny 70 degree weather we have been experiencing at the base of the mountain . When I loaded up the car, Adam was teasing me about bringing way too many jackets and hats, but his teasing quickly turned into appreciation when we climbed out into that brisk mountain air. We did a quick little hike in an area that was fairly flat and even had a paved trail for part of our hike. I love the interesting mix of nature that is found on this active volcano of ours:  beautiful pine trees, wispy grasses, rose hips, clumps of dried thistles and other prickly plants, some snow, and black lava rocks. In just a few more weeks that whole area will probably be covered with snow and hopefully we'll return in thicker jackets and snow boots to do a bit more exploring. 


December 4, 2010

 An intoxicating mix of cultures, super saturated colors, meandering streets, tempting tastes, secret courtyards, nuns selling cookies, and sunny days. We loved Sevilla and November seemed to be a perfect time for visiting. 

Hanukkah Greetings

December 1, 2010

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Gifts still need to be wrapped, dinner still needs to be prepped, but the menorahs and the cards are ready. Our Hanukkah cards were easy to make and reminded me of previous collage fun. Cutting up magazines seems to be the theme of our recent holiday decor and gifts. Too bad I couldn't figure out a way to construct some Bakugan creatures out of magazine scraps because that really would be impressive, wouldn't it? Leaving you with this link to a favorite Hanukkah tune and sending you all wishes for a very Happy Hanukkah!

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