Pinewood Derby and Summer Camp Dreams

April 30, 2012

 A young friend's prize winning, pinewood derby car and his ribbon. He was so proud. Don't you love this? 

I'd like to win a ribbon like that one day. Seriously, isn't that the best little ribbon you have ever seen? Maybe I should start some kind of wild mamas scouting group. Neither of my kids has any interest in joining the scouts groups and that's ok, but I do. It's kind of like my secret desire to climb on a bus headed for summer camp. I hated my only experience with sleep-away camp. One week of 4-H camp in a forested part of Louisiana where I literally felt sick to my stomach all week long and I couldn't wait to return home. And yet, I listen to Adam and others gleefully reminisce about their summer camp experiences and it suddenly just seems so appealing. Staying in cabins, crafting, canoeing, camp fires, camp songs, and the jolly summer time camaraderie of it all. Does anything like that exist for adults? Am I the only weird one out there who yearns to win a pinewood derby ribbon and pack my bags for summer camp?

Family Portraits

April 29, 2012

 Made by Noah, July 2011

 Our colorful, little family of four as captured by Noah at age eight.
I have been meaning to post these for a quite while. Last year for Adam's birthday, I commissioned these family portraits from Noah. He took his task very seriously. Having each of us "sit" for him while he sketched our faces in black crayon and later added the watercolor paint for some dramatic and playful additions. I love, love, love them. They currently have a proud spot in our dining room and they never fail to make me smile. 

One of the good things about moving every three years is that it forces you to pause and take inventory of everything you own. That culling process is a very necessary one for a pack rat like me, but it is also a nice way to confirm appreciation for those things you really value and treasure. These portraits will always have a special spot in our house no matter where we are.  

P.S. These would make great mother's day/father's day gifts.

Barcelona With Kids

April 27, 2012

Barcelona is truly one of the best European cities to visit with kids. The vibrant colors echo the lively pulse of the city, while the eclectic mix of old and modern, sweet and salty, natural and man-made beckon everyone to stop, savor and soak it all up with childlike wonder. It is a perfect family destination. Here are just a few of the highlights from our recent trip:

Barcelona Harbor Walk

Hop On/ Hop Off Bus
We have never done a hop on/hop off bus tour before, but it actually turned out to be the perfect introduction to the Barcelona. The kids loved the novelty of climbing to the top of the bus and riding outside, the recorded narrative was actually interesting and informative, and we got to see quite a few sites in just a few hours. Barcelona is fairly spread out so this is a good way to get oriented and I am glad we spent our first day seeing the city this way. The other benefit of doing this tour early in our visit is that we received coupon books which we used the rest of the week for discounted admission fees at major sites.

El Born District

El Born District
A great place to wander and explore all of the twisty streets, cute shops, tapas bars, and tasty bakeries. 7 Portes for paella, Pim Pam for delicious burgers, Udon for a quick and tasty meal, Hofmann and Bubo for pastries, and many, many very glad we rented an apartment in this district.

It's hard not to fall under the colorful spell of Gaudi while visiting his hometown. Parc Guell is fabulous, but we weren't thrilled to be sharing it with such a large crowd on a sunny Sunday (there's probably less of a crowd during the weekdays). La Sagrada Familia was also intriguing but the long line to get tickets wasn't quite so appealing so we opted to spend the time across the street at the little playground. Casa Batillo turned out to be a surprising success with the kids. What an enticing space with all of the nooks and crannies, mushroom shaped fireplace, snail shell ceiling, and a dragon spine's like stepping into a child's fantasy house. I also have to say that the kids enjoyed the autonomy of the audio guides (they come with the entrance fee).Building on Nature is the perfect book to read with kids when visiting Barcelona.

Casa Batillo

Big, bright, and abstract. The Joan Miro Museum appeals to kids and adults. Be sure to visit the roof top sculpture garden for a great view of the city. Also, we highly recommend wandering through the park next door for some tree climbing and a pleasant lunch in the courtyard of La Font del Gat.

Joan Miro Museum

Barca soccer game
Noah and Adam were able to score tickets for a Barca soccer game. A huge stadium packed with adoring fans, mesmerizing Messi, and four goals for Barcelona = a very memorable experience.

Barcelona Zoo
This really is a nice zoo. In addition to all of the formal displays, there are an overwhelming number of birds which have chosen to make the zoo their home/rookery...more free ranging peacocks than I have ever seen anywhere else, little wild green parrots roosting in the palm trees, and hundreds of nesting storks and egrets. Be sure to see the dolphin show and leave plenty of time for enjoying the playground.

Barcelona Zoo

Cosmo Caixo
We loved this science museum so much that we visited it twice during our time in Barcelona.  Lots of hands on experiments, cool rain forest environment, and a good outdoor space. It is one of the best science museums we have visited in Europe and by far the least expensive (only 2-3 euro!). Probably best for school age and older. Additional bonus, the displays have explanations in English.

Cosmo Caixo

Sardana Folk Dancing
I LOVED this and although I was actually the only person in our family who joined the circle and started dancing, this is a unique and fun cultural activity that is perfect for all ages. Every Sunday starting at noon in front of the Cathedral. Free and for all ages.

We were pleasantly surprised by Barcelona's beach area. A nice, big sandy beach bordered by an active bike/walking path,interesting art and architecture, great seafood,local artisans, and lots of space for running and jumping. 


 El Rei de Magia
This seriously cool little magic shop  has been serving professional and amateur magicians since 1881. The woman running the shop actually invited the kids into the back room where she instructed them on how to do specific tricks (some of which I still can't figure out)...needless to say there have been lots of magic shows since visiting Barcelona.

El Rei de Magia

Papa Bubble
Like a kid in a candy shop....a candy shop where they make the candy right in front of your eyes...what's not to love about that? Papa Bubble started in Barcelona and has now spread to other parts of the world. 

Papa Bubble

Barcelona has so many wonderful offerings, but one of the best highlights was that we were able to share the experience with my mom. Barcelona is a fabulous city for family adventures and we can't wait to return.

Noah, Duchess, and Camille

April List

April 25, 2012

For Urban Geode Hunters: A Common Name

For Levitating:  Yowayowa 

For Barns and Radiance: Some Book 

For Celebrating A Healthy and Inspiring Military Kid: Portion Size Me 

For Green Reading : Leaf 

For The Love of Words: Poem in Your Pocket Day

For Imagination, Fun, and Cardboard: Caine's Arcade

Multiple Directions

April 22, 2012

Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

When we first moved to Sicily, driving was one of the most stressful aspects of that big transition (actually, it still continues to be a bit overwhelming!). It wasn't just the narrow streets, the honking, or the fiesty and fearless was also the signs. Intersections peppered with signs pointing in all directions and the pressure to make a quick decision with the dreaded knowledge that a wrong turn could result in a very tight turn around. 

Now that we have been here for three years, all of that confusing signage isn't nearly as stressful to me as it was at first. If I have to sit there and take a few minutes to figure out which way to turn, I will. I'll ignore the honking and wave the impatient drivers around. And sometimes I actually welcome the thrill of taking an unknown turn when we have the time to just meander and explore. 

Lately, those Sicilian signs have become a symbol of my current state of mind. We are at that liminal stage in our military cycle where we are betwixt and between two places. Juggling the tasks of preparing for our big pack out that will happen in  a couple weeks (shipping all of our stuff several months in advance of our departure) while also studying up on schools and neighborhoods in a place that will be new for us and have it's own brand of culture shock. 

At the same time we have been furiously trying to make the most of our final months in Sicily. Sharing some our favorite spots with my mom and most recently with my friend, Jill and her family. Traveling to Barcelona (hope to post those pics soon). Planning a multi-author tour for multiple Navy bases ( a very big, but exciting task if all comes together as planned!). And this week our little school will be having an accreditation visit. As the Parent Representative for that process, I have had lots of responsibilities on my plate and much like the teachers, I will be very happy when this visit is complete.

Needless to say, I am stretched a bit thin right now and pulled in multiple directions. Trying to remind myself that no matter which way I go, I will eventually up in the right place. I just need to ignore the honking, overlook the distracting or unnecessary signs, and take it one turn at a time.

For Grandma

April 16, 2012

My grandmother passed away on Sunday.

Grandma had a knack for growing things. She raised a family that started with nine amazing kids and then grew to include multiple generations of creative, compassionate, and colorful individuals. But in addition to keeping our big family alive and thriving, she also nurtured her natural surroundings. Her yard was always bursting with the vibrancy of zinnias, cosmos, lillies, irises, and azaleas. Tenderly watering, weeding, harvesting, sharing, and doing it season after season. Some of my favorite moments with my grandmother were spent puttering around the yard with her. Asking her questions about different plants, gathering seeds and cuttings for my own little gardens, and picking homemade bouquets. She'd always bring bits and pieces into the house...little vases or jars with freshly cut flowers to brighten up the kitchen table or fancy up the sink. 

I got the call from my mom while checking out at the commissary. Loading milk onto the conveyor belt and trying not to cry, I started walking out of the the door until I realized the cashier was trying to tell me I had forgotten to pay. It all just felt so strange and disorienting. Driving home, I pulled over on the side of the road to pick a bouquet of flowers for her. Purple wildflowers and rice-like grasses which I put into a vase my sister made for me when she was in high school. While I was arranging them, Camille came running through the front door with her own little additions of flowering thyme and orange flowers from our own yard.

I know Grandma would have liked that.

Holy Thursday Procession

April 7, 2012

A somber procession of floats depicting the stages of the Cross, mournful music, and offerings of money, jewelry, and prayers.

 Caltanisetta, Sicily

Family Travel : Always Pack a Needle

April 4, 2012

Madrid, November 2010

That might sound like a strange item to include on a packing list, but believe me, in our family it is a necessary one. Here's what happens. Almost as soon as we arrive at our destination, the search begins for a soccer ball. It's true. A soccer ball has also become a mandatory travel item and a fairly important one for several reasons. Not only is it good for keeping active feet happy, it also happens to be an excellent way to make friends of all ages throughout Europe. Soccer balls seem to have magnetic powers that overcome any and all language, age, and cultural barriers and they are fairly easy to find in any European town. 

Paris, November 2011

Now as wonderful as these balls are, I have to admit that they have also been the source for some grumbling on my part. On our first few trips in Europe, we happily purchased soccer balls...hard to beat a souvenir that is so versatile, so fun, and so social. But when it came time to pack up that new souvenir and board a plane with fully packed carry-on luggage, there weren't quite so many smiles. It turns out that finding a needle to deflate a soccer ball in an airport is an impossible task. Which explains why we now keep several ready to go at all times in the kids' suitcase.

The Cotswolds, July 2010

Palm Sunday

April 1, 2012

Cigarette hanging from his lips, bright green pile of fronds, one plastic stapler, and stubby, but nimble fingers quickly and quietly braiding in front of a small church.

Palm Sunday in Catania, Sicily

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