Summer Smile

June 28, 2012

 Someone had their first visit from the tooth fairy last night!

Tossing Rocks

June 27, 2012

In addition to all of the lovely blues and whites of the Aeolians, we were also treated to an extreme variety of beaches. Beaches with black sand, beaches with black lava rocks, beaches with brown sand, and beaches with smoothly polished stones. The beach in front of our rental apartment was a rocky beach. The rocks glistened in the sun, threatened to twist ankles, and lured us into the crystal clear water. Each wave that hit the shore resulted in a sound that I hadn't heard since we lived on Puget Sound...a distinct tinkling, like one of those exotic rain sticks, water and stones in an intoxicating little rhythm of their own making. 

During the trip, I brought along a copy of This I Believe (Thank you, Carrie). I have always liked to listen to these NPR pieces while doing the dishes, but I hadn't actually read any of the essays before and it turned out that I couldn't get enough of them. These snippets of distilled beliefs both big and small hit just the right reading note for me as I sat in a beach chair close to the water's edge. But in between dips in the ocean and reading another essay, I felt compelled to pick up a few rocks and toss them in the water. And I wasn't the only one. 

Several times a day, all four of us would find ourselves suddenly throwing, skipping, lobbing stones into the ocean. I can not tell you how satisfying and mesmerizing that simple act of tossing rocks was. It transported me back to a dusty little bridge over the coulee near the old farm house where I grew up in South Louisiana. A place where my sister and I spent countless afternoons tossing rocks down into the coulee: waiting for that "plop" and watching the rippling circles. A place I like to retreat to sometimes in my mind.

One of the reasons I think this was such a relaxing trip for all of us was that we were truly unplugged. No internet service, no reliable phone reception, no computers, no electronic games, just water, rocks, and books. The water and the books were always part of the original plan. But the rocks were a very pleasant surprise. And as I continued to read, I realized that I have a simple, perhaps silly, belief. I believe in tossing rocks into bodies of water. It clears the mind, soothes the soul, and is just good ole-fashioned-fun.

Aeolian Entrances

June 25, 2012

 Here's another one of those little Sicilian/Italian things that I love: hand painted entrance plaques by front doors and gates. I spotted these during our recent trip to The Aeolian Islands.  I especially like the Stromboli Carabinieri one. You don't find many police stations in the States with such pretty little tiles decorating their thresholds, do you?

Blue and White: The Aeolian Islands

June 22, 2012

 Lipari, Stromboli, and Panarea. Our biggest regret is that we didn't visit these amazing islands sooner and we are now scurrying to figure out if we can squeeze in a return trip before our final departure from Sicily in the next two weeks!

Family Travel : Always Pack a Sibling

June 18, 2012

Lucca, Italy, May 2012

Yes, we like to travel for all of the typical reasons: exposure to new cultures, the food, the locals, the history, the views. But here's another reason we like to travel: it's good for our kids. I don't just mean it's beneficial for them educationally or culturally (which of course it is), but I mean it is good for them as siblings. These concentrated chunks of time when it is just the two of them together leads to lots of giggling, playing, and sometimes even joint commiseration as they endure yet another visit to a historical site. As both of them get older and spend more time with separate sets of friends, I can see the value of family trips growing even stronger.

We are packing up our favorite set of siblings and heading out on another family adventure: The Aeolian Islands. See you when we return. 

A Father's Day Poem

June 17, 2012

by Noah

Dad is funny when he tells his jokes.
Dad inspires me to do my best when I feel like giving up.
Dad is helpful when he helps me with my homework.
Dad is hard working when he is at work during a night shift supporting my family.
Dad is happy when I pass my vocabulary test.
Dad is fun when he plays in the pool with me.
But most of all, Dad  is the most, epic*, beast*, monster *dad that could not ever be replaced.

*the highest compliment one can receive from a third grader.

Summer Prep

June 16, 2012

Navarre Beach, Florida, 2011

It's that time of year again: my family's annual beach trip. Sadly, we won't be joining them this week, but it's still marked on the calendar and it still feels like the official start of summer for me. Which also means, it's that time of year when I find myself stuck in the sunscreen and bug spray aisles trying to make the safest, healthiest, and most reasonably priced decision for our family. And it just seems to get harder every year. Too many new choices, too many recent articles about the various hazards that come with using and not using certain products, too many new applications, and way too much time spent studying labels while kids beg with me to buy the one turns their skin purple. So here are a few of our favorite things to make the summer months a bit more comfortable.

Sun Protection

Hooray! the EWG has a brand new app for researching sunscreens. Instead of spending hours in front of the computer studying their ratings and detailed reports on just about every sunscreen ever made, I am now able to whip out my phone and within seconds see the information on whatever bottle I might be holding in my hand. Highly recommend using this for selecting the right sunscreen for your family

Here are some of the sunscreens we like using:
-Badger Lavender Sunscreen
-Badger Face Stick
-La Roche-Posay Anthelios (much cheaper to buy while in France and wonderful for faces since it is so light weight, doesn't cause break outs, and is odor free)
- Coppertone Sensitive

Bug Relief

We are an insect loving family, but not when it comes to mosquitoes or our recent battles with some tenacious Sicilian gnats. I am still on the hunt for the perfect product to keep the bugs from ever biting us (if you have a fabulous solution, please share it!). We have, however, come across two things that work pretty well at providing relief when bites become too itchy and annoying. 
- Lavender Oil
- Sting Kill (this miraculous stuff works on all sorts of bites and stings. Poor Noah got into a wasp nest last summer and his torso was covered with stings but within minutes of application the bites were no longer painful and the swelling disappeared. It really is amazing. If you are ever in St.Martinville, stop by Dupois Pharmacy and pick up a bottle or order directly from them on-line).

So, how do you prep for summer days to make sure they are comfortable and fun? Have any suggestions on new things we should add to our beach bag this summer? 

The Last Day of School, Italian Underwear, and Clapping on Airplanes

June 14, 2012

"The Wave": A school tradition on the last day

Today is the last day of school. Camille woke me up crying and insisting that she didn't want to go; that she NEEDED to stay home. It didn't surprise me. Camille, who has loved every minute of kindergarten, has been dreading this day for months. Of all us, she struggles the most with transitions and the last day of school is full of them. The good-byes, the arms full of finished projects, the pep talks about how fun first grade will be, the last circle time with her friends and her beloved is all confirmation that kindergarten is ending and that things will be changing. I helped her get dress and let her wear the sandals that she rarely gets to wear to school because they don't have closed toes. I brushed her hair gently and slowly and made sure to use a pretty barrette. I even let her watch Charlie and Lola while eating breakfast. And then with my heart twisting and aching, I watched her reluctantly get on the bus. Endings aren't easy.

Nope, not easy at all, but endings have a way of forcing us stop for a minute and do a bit of reflection. Stopping to look back, remembering the early days, flashing on the good and bad parts, circling back to the present, and eventually casting our gaze forward. It's just the way it is. It's how novels and fairy tales pull all of the loose ends together and foretell the future before those famous last words pronounce "The End". It's what happens when someone dies. We inhale, retreat within, emerge with bits and pieces of memories and shared moments, smells, irritations, funny stories, sadness, and sort out what we want and need to keep of that person. And that's similar to what's happening for me as we enter our final weeks here. I am sorting and sifting through bits and pieces of time here in Sicily. I am making lists of places to re-visit, foods to savor, people to see, and trying to solidify how I want to remember this place.

Perhaps because of my southern roots, places seem to take on personalities of their own and they quickly entangle themselves in my identity and my story. And in much the same way I think about friends or well-loved characters in a novel, it is often the quirky, minute details that end up being the most endearing and long lasting. When Katie was living in Luxembourg, I loved reading her posts that she grouped under the title of Little Differences. It was a record of the things that prompted her to compare her expat existence with her previous existence in the States. I kept meaning to write down a similar list, especially from those early days after our arrival when everything, even the grocery carts at the local stores felt so strange and exotic. I never got around to writing that list, but here I am three years later starting to get sentimental about our impending departure and I find myself randomly flashing back on a few of those little things. 

Here are two little differences that on the surface may seem very trite and superficial. They aren't the romanticized versions of Italian life that get highlighted in the movies or the guidebooks, they are are bit kooky and perhaps I'll regret sharing them here, but they have been a part of our life in Sicily and I want to remember them.

The first one is Italian underwear. Not long after our arrival in Sicily, we were enrolled in a class that was intended to introduce us to Italian customs and help us acclimate to daily life. As part of the class, we took a field trip into Catania. Our teacher/guide was a handsome, suave Sicilian who had spent most of his childhood in Australia. He charmed us with his accent, his perfectly tailored clothes, and his friendly, gregarious nature. During that field trip to Catania, he showed us around the fish market, the vegetable market, a local wine shop.  He urged us to sample the figs and showed us how to order coffee. It was a very pleasant morning and then as we were walking down the main shopping street in the city, his eyes caught a sign in near-by store. He excitedly darted into the shop and encouraged our group to follow him. We did. Without realizing it, we followed him inside a lingerie store where there was a large sale in progress. Stop and picture this scene: A large group of newly arrived Americans, with fanny packs, cameras, and their white  sneakers, crammed into a lingerie store watching their tour guide enthusiastically finger underwear. Without a trace of embarrassment, he proudly explained that in his opinion Italian underwear is the best in the world and then he spent the next few minutes making some selections for himself and his wife. And you know what? He was right. Italian underwear is good, especially the men's underwear. It is made of soft, high quality cotton and it is easy to find. It seems as if there is a lingerie/underwear shop on every other corner. I am sure Italians are shocked when they see/feel how rough Hanes tightie whities are. And I think that's part of the underwear lesson. Italians value quality and they value their bodies (although they really shouldn't smoke so much).

They don't have the same hang ups we, Americans, seem to have about our bodies and our undergarments. I notice that in dressing rooms. I see it when I watch Italians interact with one another. There is a physical level of comfort that we don't quite possess. Adam still laughs about his first experience in an Italian locker room after a soccer game. He was the only American in the locker room and within seconds of getting undressed the other players quickly started a discussion about body hair. They asked him if he shaved his butt because it was smooth and free of hair. They teased each other about their differences. There was a different kind of openness and ease. We see it on the beach all of the time, too. It always makes me smile to see a group of older Italian men proudly promenading down the beach with their bellies hanging over tiny speedo bikini bottoms, gold chains caught up in their greying chest hair, with their saggy arms around each other....they swagger with pride while enjoying their friends and the sun. Bodies are just bodies. People are just people. It can be quite refreshing and if you ever visit Italy, be sure to check out the underwear. 

And here's the second thing: clapping on airplanes. I am not sure if this is unique to Sicily but it never fails to amuse me and I always join in. Whenever a plane lands, there is clapping. It might sound silly, but it's true and I love that the Sicilians celebrate that moment. Hooray, we made it! We are on the ground. We are here. The trip is over or the trip is about to begin. That enthusiastic clapping is an acknowledgment of an important transition. And I think that's an important lesson right there. I want to remember that about Sicily. In addition to remembering all of the amazing food, the beautiful beaches, the friendly locals, I want to remember that they clap when an airplane successfully lands at its destination. It's a small, but good thing, isn't it? 

And I guess that's what all of my rambling is about. As hard as it was to put Camille on the bus this morning, I know she needs to go to school today. She needs to be a part of today's ending with both its celebratory side and its sad side. And it is also where I need to be in the midst of this move. In the sentimental stage of realizing "this may be the last time I eat here" or "this will be last time I see this person here", while also laughing about the things that initially seemed so odd or different, but that now seem so natural and necessary like wearing good underwear and clapping on airplanes. Endings are important.

Strawberry Shortcake

June 9, 2012

This time of year always feels a bit crazy and over-packed with activities....the flurry of end of school events, the end of baseball season, the birthday parties, and the potlucks. And it all feels a bit more intensified with our upcoming move as we work the calendar to maximize our time with friends, but I have to admit it has had me feeling a bit more stressed and irritable this past week. I don't like being pulled in so many directions at once. My introverted self finds it hard to re-charge when I am faced with one large group gathering after another. I also don't like being faced with the reality that the good-byes are starting and that we are entering that count-down stage of our move. 

Just like all of the recent social events, the strawberries at the local markets have been plentiful and over-ripe. It's hard to resist their sweet, seductive scent which saturate the local markets right now, beckoning us to desire more, buy more, eat more. Last weekend we turned a crate into strawberry ice and this weekend's crate was transformed into strawberry shortcake. It really does feel like the perfect summer dessert whether it is eaten to celebrate a memorable event (like my sister's fabulous strawberry shortcake wedding cake) or just to celebrate a quiet dinner at home. 

And that's exactly what tonight felt like: a celebration of our own. A quiet little family dinner at home. Just the four of us around the table. Grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, and fresh guacamole with tortilla chips. A simple, summer meal followed by strawberry shortcake.

Through A Truck Window

June 7, 2012

Catania, Sicily

Yes! to open truck windows and overcoming some of my fears. Living overseas has prompted me to become a bit braver. Asking strangers if I can take their portraits, poking my camera into truck windows, and becoming a groupie at local festivals. So many times it has turned into a positive experience...meeting new friends, learning something new, tasting something new. I also think the added pressure of having a time limit on my time here helps. I have quickly realized that if I don't get the shot, I may never have another a chance.

Under the Olive Tree

June 3, 2012

 Lots of silliness, lots of laughter, lots of tie dye, lots of tight white pants, lots of tasty treats, and even a full moon ...all under the olive tree. Thank you to our very good friends. 

And a big thanks to Matt and Carrie for planning the whole thing, hosting it, and suprising us with a special Sicilian souvenir: our very own circus poster (see above pic). Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

Weaving a Rainbow

June 2, 2012

 One of the best things about being a parent is that I get to remember and re-visit favorite pieces of my childhood with my own kids. Sometimes I enjoy these experiences even more now than I did as a child. The kids have been having fun with a small loom lately...lots of colorful pot holders popping up in unexpected spots. I have to admit that I am also hooked on it, too. 

We have one cheap loom set (just frame and hook), but our newest set is a Klutz kit and it really is so much better. The loops come in fun, vibrant colors and the book full of patterns is very well done. I am actually ordering some additional loops and hoping they will arrive before our long flight back to the States. I am now adding a finger loom to our carry-on bag as a good, lightweight travel activity and the kids might have to fight me for it!

Travels with Pacy: Pisa

June 1, 2012

A rainy, grey day in Pisa. Two bright pops of pink: Camille and Pacy

It actually turned out to be a good thing that we had Pacy with us. Poor Camille was heartbroken about not being able to climb the tower (no kids under 8 years old), but having a little photoshoot with Pacy was a good distraction.

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