The Magic of Cleveland and Miss Piggy

December 31, 2011

Once upon a time in South Louisiana two little girls eagerly pressed their faces to a big window and watched airplanes taking off and landing. They had been so excited when their parents proposed the trip to the airport to watch the planes. They had never done anything like that before and then the parents suggested that they all get on one of those departing flights. The girls couldn't believe their luck. It was one of the first flights that they remember ever taking. And then as if things couldn't get any more exciting, they arrived in Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, Cleveland, that thrilling city in the far north. It was if they had been magically transported into a glittering snow globe...the glowing Christmas lights, the bustling shoppers, and big, fluffy snowflakes. It was the first time the sisters had ever seen snow and they set right to work. In the middle of a busy square they built their first snowman. Which actually turned out to be a female snow pig, more famously known as "Miss Piggy". 

That's the true of story of why I will always love Cleveland, Ohio and my parents. I don't know how they pulled it off so smoothly, but that's how I remember it. The trip was fairly short and it included a visit to the art museum which is what initially prompted the trip (my dad wanted to see a specific exhibit, but I can't remember what it was). In addition to the snow and staying in a fancy hotel, the other highlight for me was seeing Lucy's bones. I was a bit obsessed with the famous Australopithecus and to see her bones on display was very exciting. After doing some research, it seems that I was very lucky to have seen those bones then, because they are now back in Ethiopia

I have always treasured the memories of that trip to Cleveland, but for some strange reason I hadn't shared that story with my own kids until our recent trip to Austria. I think seeing my kids reveling in all of that beautiful Austrian snow reminded me of how much I loved that Cleveland snow. After I told them the story, Camille couldn't wait to build our own Miss Piggy which was kind of timely since we have all been singing the Muppet Movie songs non-stop. So that's what we did, we built Miss Piggy in Lofer, Austria. 

New Year's Eve is always a good time for both remembering and looking ahead, isn't it? So here's my wish for 2012: make more magic. Surprise my kids, surprise myself, slow down the multi-tasking, make more time for savoring, and never forget the magic of Cleveland and Miss Piggy.

Christmas Markets: Salzburg and Munich

December 30, 2011

Winter Wonderland: Lofer, Austria

December 29, 2011

Lofer, Austria: an idyllic mountain village with a pretty creek running through the center of town, jagged  peaks towering above in all directions,friendly locals, and lots of snow! Truly a winter wonderland and one of our most relaxing trips ever.

Candles in the Kitchen

December 27, 2011

Latkes, dreidles, laughter, and my favorite moment of the evening: faces glowing in the light of the Hanukkah candles.

I love our annual Hanukkah party, but that wasn't evident earlier today when I was frantically cooking, crazily cleaning, and fussing at my kids. I even went so far as to make the ludicrous declaration that our family would NEVER host a party of any kind, EVER again. Not my finest moment and certainly not my best day. 

We returned a few days ago from our fabulously relaxing trip to Austria to discover that our heating system had died, that our car was out of gas, and that the grocery stores wouldn't be open due to the Christmas holidays. Being cold, hungry, and grumpy is not a good combination for a hostess and sadly, my kids bore the brunt of that today. Tonight I tucked them into bed with an apology and a promise that we will have more parties in the future. 

From the moment that doorbell rang and friends began to pore into our little house, the stress I had been carrying around all day began to melt. Their cheer, their helping hands, and their mere presence pulled me back from that spiraling, frantic place where I had been hovering near hysteria and made me realize how foolish it all was. Nothing needed to be perfect, nothing needed to be fancy, and we could all crowd into a kitchen with a sink full of dirty dishes and be surrounded by light and friendship. That's truly a good thing. 
Happy Hanukkah from our kitchen to yours!

Holiday Light

December 18, 2011

The darkest time of the year has me craving light...candle light, fire light, star light, and holiday light. We are venturing north to the land of Mozart and The Sound of Music: a much anticipated ski trip in Austria. I have a feeling the cold temperatures and snowy mountains will have us all appreciating the warm glow of this holiday season. Hope you are enjoying this season, too.

Scrappy Menorahs

December 16, 2011

 Yep, those turkey feathers were re-purposed to make menorahs, too! Here's how:

2 egg cartons
Old Magazines
Colored Duct Tape and or Paint
Tissue Paper

1) Cut the end off one end of the egg cartons so you have nine candle holders. We used the cut off piece to add height for the Shamos. 
2) Tape the two cartons together. 
3) Enlarge each candle holder by snipping the tip off. 
4) Paint or decorate the base. 
5) Add "candles" (colorful magazine pages tightly rolled and taped, ours used to be "turkey feathers")
6) Use duct tape to secure candles to the base
7) Add tissue paper flames

We ended up making two of these because they were so easy and fun. Camille painted one of the bases and we used colored duct tape to decorate the other one (have I ever mentioned how much we love colored duct tape?). These aren't super fancy and they probably won't last forever, but they sure are cute. In addition to re-purposing a formerly recycled craft project, this also turned out to be a safe and colorful way to add menorahs to the kids' bedroom.

The Faces of Santa Lucia

December 15, 2011

The Procession starts at 3:30 in the afternoon with the staccato bursts of fireworks. Men carrying the elaborate silver statue of Santa Lucia emerge from the Duomo (Cathedral) and the crowd pushes forward to get a first glimpse. Prayers, tears, and shouts of "Viva Santa Lucia" ripple in currents around us. Women dressed in black with green neck scarves carry the glass and silver case with a cherished relic: Saint Lucia's arm bone. They are followed by a group of men bearing green flags embroidered with the stunning image of the saint with a knife in her neck. The Knights of Malta march in two lines. Somber and intent, dressed in white with red Maltese crosses, they are walk in front of the priests in their frilly vestaments. And finally, she is in front of us: Santa Lucia being carried upon the shoulders of forty-eight proud men with green caps. Strong, dedicated, and devout followers, these men will carry her throughout the night. Fathers push forward with babies in their arms. Fervently holding their little ones up to their patron saint and encouraging them to give her a kiss just as they were probably encouraged to do when they were younger. An older woman standing next to me stumbles forth and with her husband's guidance she places her hand upon the silver base. Tears stream down her cheeks. Female devotees robed in green dresses, carry long yellow candles, and walk barefoot. As evening approaches, their candles are lit, the strings of electric lights twinkle, the full moon rises, and the procession surges forth. 

Santa Lucia Festa
Siracusa, Sicily
December 13th, 2011

Saint Lucia 2011

December 13, 2011

Siracusa, Sicily: "Sarausana je' Viva Santa Lucia!". 

The crowd and the signs proudly proclaim in the Siracusan dialect that the beloved saint is a native of Siracusa. And it is true. She was born here, she died here, and she has worked miracles here. Last year we celebrated Saint Lucia in Belpasso. This year I was fortunate to spend a beautiful, sunny day in Siracusa...buying eye cookies, wandering the narrow streets of Ortigia, admiring this striking Caravaggio, and listening to the locals offer prayers to their patron Saint.

Scrappy Snowmen

December 12, 2011

There was a flurry of activity and colorful "snow" all over our house this past weekend: scrappy, polka-dotted snowmen! Aren't they cute? It all started with the discovery of the "feathers" from last year's recycled turkey. Those feathers (rolled up magazine pages) turned out to be the inspiration for several weekend crafting projects. Re-cycled, re-purposed, and used all over again in a new ways. Who knew that turkey feathers could be shredded up to create scarves, hats, and rainbow snow?

Here's how we made our scrappy snowmen cards:

1) Draw the outline of a snowman (basically three circles and some stick arms)
2) Fill in the bodies with dots of white acrylic paint
3) Accent with magazine scraps (hats, scarves, snow, whatever inspires you!) and use glue stick to adhere to card
4) Spend a lot of time sweeping up scraps from all sorts of weird nooks and crannies, sing and dance to the soundtrack of the newest Muppet movie, and don't let the holiday mail deadlines stress you out...snowmen seem perfect for winter greetings which could arrive anytime in the winter, right?


December 9, 2011

Palazzo Biscari, Catania, Sicily

One person, one focus
Carving out time to just to sit in a quiet house

Rolling out the mat and listening.
My knees creaking and cracking as I fold them under.
My neck bones grating, shifting and settling into place.
My shoulders tensing and rotating. 
My eyes closing

breathing in and breathing out

no music, just the hum of some appliance in the other room, the computer? the heating unit?

wind whispering through the window cracks

pushing away the endless lists, the multi-tasking, the holiday frenzy

alone, but not lonely


Letterboxing in Paris

December 8, 2011

Our European letterboxing experiences have been pretty limited. Over the past three years in Europe, we have only been able to hunt for letterboxes on three of our trips: Dartmoor was the highlight, Venice was fun, and Munich turned out to be very expensive. Letterboxing just isn't as big here as it is in the States, but that doesn't stop us from hoping that we'll find more. Whenever we are planning a trip, we always do a quick search on Atlas Quest. Those searches are usually very short and/or the boxes are no longer active. 

But that wasn't the case with our recent trip to Paris! Not only was the list of Parisian letterboxes impressively long for a European destination, a majority of the boxes seemed to be quite active, and many of them are located in interesting spots(like the stamp in the first pic which is near the Louvre Pyramid).  Letterboxing in Paris also gave us the opportunity to use the Box Finder app (which I am pretty sure I learned about from Emily last year). What a handy little tool. If you are headed to Paris, be sure to add a few letterboxes to your to-do list. It is a fun way to explore a new place, plus it gives you the chance to bring home some very unique souvenirs and travel stories. I love that our letterbox book has stamps from different parts of the world.

Digging In

December 7, 2011

Thanksgiving Day, 2011, Cesaro, Sicily: A charming two year old friend of ours enjoying his version of the perfect Thanksgiving meal. 

We all had such a good day together...a morning hike followed by banagrams, soccer games, book reading, laughing, minimal kitchen time (we were doing a farm stay but had brought along some of our favorite Thanksgiving foods), a nice big, leisurely meal and best of all none of us had to do the dishes. It was one of the best Thanksgivings we have ever had. 

Piecing It Together

December 6, 2011

How did it get to be that time of year again so quickly? The season of light and goodwill. The season of wonder and joy. The season of shipping deadlines, long lists, and intense emotions. The season that always seems to entail a visit to our public school with a fervent reminder that in a public school all children and their cultures should be celebrated, not excluded or pressured to participate in community religious events that make them uncomfortable just so they can win the class party (is competition something we really want to highlight during this holiday season? perhaps I missed the memo...).I am becoming resigned to the fact that the holiday season entails these school meetings and emotional discussions with my kids. It's not easy being different.

But we are different, so instead of focusing on the challenges of this time of year, I am trying to focus on the festive side of it. We have been putting up our Hanukkah decorations, starting to read Hanukkah books, and starting to get excited about the approaching holiday that celebrates the miracle of light during the darkest time of the year. We have also been hard at work assembling mosaic menorahs. Over the past few years, we have collected some beautiful Sicilian beach souvenirs...shells, tiles, sea glass, beach rocks. It turns out that those broken bits and pieces make some pretty special menorahs. Menorahs that will remind us of our time in Sicily, the challenge of being different, and the peace that comes from creating something meaningful and unique.

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