Friday, May 29, 2009

Here we go again!


It's that time again. Packing for two for a wild adventure to southeastern Turkey. This is my work, my family, my passion. I can already picture the city of Diyarbakir, the objects I will be working on in the museum, our happy reunion with hubby/papa who left a week ahead of us, the food I will be eating, the markets I will be shopping in.  And that is just the beginning of the adventure...

But first I have to get through tomorrow, a long day of organizing, packing, preparing, double checking, and then I have to make it onto the first of three planes departing at at 7:15 am Sunday morning. Much to do, much to look forward to and no time to think about what I will miss.

I am predicting it will be almost impossible for me to post or keep up with my favorite blogs, but please know I have not forgotten about you, and if you are curious to know more about where I will be check out this web site.

Happy June and look forward to catching up in July!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Etna agriturismo

My most recent outing was as a participant in the annual gita organized by my little boy's nido/scuola materna. I was enthusiastically hesitant from the start--large group, long bus ride, equals potential nightmare, but extremely curious to get a closer look at how my son behaves in a school environment (even though it would be an atypical school day) and have a chance to meet some of the other parents.

We would be visiting the agriturismo, the Casa del Laghetto.  The only thing I knew about it was that animals would be involved, we were to meet at the school by 8, I should pack a picnic lunch, and we would be back by 1.

Being the ignorant American that I am, I followed the instructions and dutifully got myself together and out of the house with plenty of time so that I even arrived at the school 10 minutes before the designated meeting time. To my dismay, other than the teachers, we were among the first to arrive. And there we waited for close to an hour!!! While the other kids were mostly happy to play in the playground with or without the involvement of their parents, my little rebel wanted nothing to do with it and was looking for his chance to escape the compound! This was not what I had in mind as a prelude to the trip and the words 'what have I gotten myself into' flashed through my brain more than once. 

Fortunately, as soon as we had boarded the double decker bus and started on our way, my son's fascination for large vehicles of any sort quickly changed his mood. This was one fun bus ride (what a concept, fun + bus in the same sentence? ). It was a joy to see my little guy squeezed onto a seat with three other kids all screaming with excitement over the trip, the bus, looking out the window, etc.. Meanwhile, I got to sit next to my bilingual mommy friend and couldn't have been happier. 

The bus slowly wound its way to the vicinity of Mt. Etna, and finally we arrived at our destination. Just one more itty bitty shuttle bus ride (thank goodness the under 3 nido children got to go first) and we had arrived in a patch of green heaven. The trip was long, but at this point it did seem worth it.

This agriturismo is gorgeous! The old pink farmhouse is surrounded by a lovely cool lawn, also home to benches and a great playground. And as far as the eye could see was spectacular rural scenery of rolling hills, terraced vineyards and of course Mt. Etna, all exploding with life on this hot spring day. 

From there the visit was pretty informal and involved a lot of time running around on the grass, free play, chasing the baby turkeys that had also found their way onto the lawn. My son, never one to follow the crowd, couldn't help but notice the chickens and donkeys who lived down a path and beyond the lawn. This was the start of the animal visit, and for anyone with kids, this place could qualify as a farm zoo. We hung out with and even petted the chickens, we petted the donkeys, we pet and fed the goats and cows, we fed the ducks, we waved to the pigs and deer, we pretended to ride a tractor and push some kind of lawn mower device. This was pure toddler fun and the little guy was oh so very happy.

While on the bus he had been engaged and happy to be with other bimbi, at the agriturismo he was much more interested in tracking down his favorite teachers and sharing with them his discoveries. He did to them just what he does to his mom and dad at home--yell out their names whenever he wanted their attention. To their credit the teachers did seem genuinely sweet to him even though I could see how this behavior could get annoying. At home I have been a bit slack on teaching him that yelling like that is not so nice (mainly because we find it kind of sweet and funny, and since our house is kind of big, the adults resort to yelling at times as well), but now I know it is something I need to work on. 

After the animals, some more down time and a chance to sample the farm's freshly made ricotta. 

And, yes, we were late, too, leaving the place. By 12.30 group 1 was on the shuttle bus but it wasn't until close to 1 that we were on our bus heading home. So much for being home by 1! The place was great, but my guy was tired out, didn't really want to eat anything and was one of the few seated around me who didn't doze off on the ride home. Instead he hollered, needed my undivided attention to be distracted into something resembling calm, and eventually hurt himself (another bump on the head to add to the growing list of boo-boos). 

Conclusions? I'll be thinking long and hard before I decide to go on the trip next year, but, despite some nightmarish moments, it was a very special day for me and my little guy. And I will be wanting to share this wonderful place with my hubby, too, sometime in a more relaxed future outing. 

(one look at these pictures and I'll be back on that bus next year like the sucker that I am!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

getting taller

I have had it in my mind for awhile to get some kind of height measuring marker in my toddler's room sooner or later. And then I somehow got it in my mind to make one myself.


I did a lot of searching on the internet to get advice and ideas about how to make one. The main issue would be material--wooden, fabric, canvas. And decoration--painting, sewing, photos, collage. And would I be directly attaching a measuring tape to it, or would I make my own inch marks? And would the measurements be in inches or centimeters (I am living outside my inches comfort zone after all)? And could I make something possibly transportable (we are the move-around-at-the-spur-of-the-moment kind of family) cause this would be something that I would want to take with me if we were ever to move.

After some thought, I was pretty sure it would be painted. And although canvas would be more transportable, I found it easier to go to the local do-it-yourself store for a piece of wood than the not-so-convenient fine art store for a stretched canvas. 

I found inspiration in the big numbers used on this lovely fabric growth chart, which ended up becoming my starting point.

And then I sketched, and the ideas came, and I had to decide between two design schemes--purely geometric or something a little bit figurative?

I love hands and the later won out. 

Here is what I came up with.  It just flowed from me and was so much fun. Buying the wood. Picking out the acrylic paints. Making my measurments on the support. Sketching onto the wood. No primer (ooops) and slopped the paint right on. A few coats of matte varnish and in just a few days I managed to make this thing and get it on the wall. 

Toddler LOVES standing up next to it and talking about how tall he is. He also loves trying to count using his fingers. 

And I love being able to say 'mommy made it for you'!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

wild, prickly, sweet!

Wild artichokes are small, extremely prickly, have very little meat, but are oh so worth it. We prepared them the easy way--pre-cooked by someone else! They were the hot item for sale this morning at the farmer's market. The vendor had collected them himself, cleaned them, cut his hands who knows how many times as he prefers not to wear gloves (that can't be true), boiled them in huge vats, and sold them for only 4 euros a kilo.

Once home, we all got a lesson on how to eat them. So simple, even a 2 year old can learn how to do it (ours really loved learning how to eat these!). Basically, it is just as a normal artichoke, only beware of the needle sharp leaf tips. The little bump at the bottom of each leaf, scraped off against the teeth, is a small hint of what's to come. The tender heart is small, so so sweet, and can be eaten in one bite, choke and all. Pure artichoke flavor. Absolutely my kind of Sicilian delicacy!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


That time of day had finally arrived. I don't think it is quite right to say it is my favorite time of day, but I don't mind saying I gleefully look forward to it most days.

It is the moment when I find myself alone, in a still and quiet house, when I can take a deep breath, sink into the couch, put my feet up on the coffee table, breath deeply, and do absolutely nothing. Sure there is still dinner to eat. But we are pretty casual about our dinners. Usually something simple, possibly a glass of wine, a little bit of boob tube, light conversation. So very normal and so very enjoyable. But as a prelude to all that I usually have about ten minutes of pre dinner veg-out time and I have grown very attached to this evening ritual. 

So there I was, ready to plop myself down on the couch, when I glanced out the window and caught a site that took me by surprise--a patch of pure white moonlight reflecting off the sea. And there I sat, gazing at the ghostly light cast by the full moon, a shining ball in the pitch black sky. What beauty! 

Friday, May 8, 2009

If you find yourself in Santa Venerina...

There are definite advantages to being an expat in the hometown of your partner. Today was another perfectly spontaneous example of why.

We decided to take the toddler to see some horses at a ranch in Zafferana Etnea hubby had heard about through a high school friend he recently got back in touch with who has a long time passion for horses. Hubby got an address, we punched it into TomTom, and were off just like that. Soon past Acireale we were heading inland into unfamiliar territory. The road quickly got 'country' with the occassional house, lots of small vineyards, wild flowers and overgrown weeds galore, and with each turn the road got narrower until two cars could no longer safely pass eachother on this most narrow of two-way streets that eventually lead us to our destinaton (with a lot of honking along the way to warn any unseen vehicles coming in our direction of our arrival! and, surprisingly, there were quite a few!).

We got to the ranch, said hello to the ponies, made the little one happy, had a great time, but will probably never go back again as we previously found another horse ranch that we like much better (the other one is much larger, has a more relaxed friendly vibe, and has farm animals too). 

But what is so hard to explain is that the fun part was not just getting to our destination and the experience we had there, but how we got there--getting the recommendation from an old friend, managing to get to this remote place, absolutely loving the wild, overgrown landscape, and then, how the rest of the afternoon magically unfolded: instead of getting back in the car and going straight home, I found myself once again in the role of victim to my Sicilan partner's whims, who often has late afternoon granita cravings, today being no exception.

Some days these cravings can be an inconvenience (they usually don't mesh with toddler's schedule, let alone mine) but as we had set out early this day, the timing couldn't have been better. And with our light lunch and the novelty of spring heat, I found myself in the mood for a granita as well.

The plan was to head to a place we knew about in Acireale. But then, pulling out of the ranch, hubby is overtaken by a distant memory from who knows where, about 'once hearing about the best granita in the area being from Santa Venerina'?. 

I, of course have many questions to ask: 'where is Santa Venerina'?', 'but who did you hear this from?', 'have you ever been there before?', 'how will we find the place?', etc. etc. I know better than to ask any of these questions, and instead give the encouraging nod. I have learned over the years that when this amazing guy has a hunch, it is best to keep quiet and follow along. I don't know if it is a Sicilian thing, or his thing, but he really does have a nose for discovering great places. 

We follow the signs to Santa Venerina (the ranch is actually on the outskirts of this town, I just didn't know that), and soon are in the town center. The town is pretty and strange all at once. A combination of beautiful old buildings interrupted by glaringly new or half completed ones.

Hubby sees  a guy on foot, slows down and asks him if there is a place in town where you can have a good granita. Si, si and without hesitation Bar Russo is named, followed by the directions. The place is just around the corner.

An old sign greets us, Pasticceria Russo, 1880, and immediately gives us a good feeling. Hubby is happy. His intuition and memory have lead us to what appears to be a great find, yet again.  

Inside the establishment has an old feeling as well. A normal glass vetrine showing a nice range of traditional pastries, and behind that, an intriguing gilt wood paneled wall that dates to the 1880 founding we are told, but is unfortunately half covered up as it is being restored.  

Further in we find the simple yet old wooden bar serving the traditional granita and gelato flavors, with a large, sunny and comfy seating area in the rear space. Hubby was pleased to see only the limited flavors that he remembers from his childhood listed, a good sign that they are all homemade and authentic. For the gelato that would be chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, torrone and nocciola (hazelnut), and for the granita, chocolate, almond, pistachio, coffee, lemon (yes all those crazy gelato flavors you can now find are relatively recent inventions!).

We go for our usual almond granita accompanied by two brioches. The granita is very good, not creamy but icy, just the right amount of sweet, and I die for the brioche, more buttery than sugary and very airy. YUM. The toddler also had a blast and was treated by the generous proprietors to a sampling of sweets and there was just the right amount of people to keep him curious. 

Our adventures did not even end here! On the way out of town we followed the signs to the Museo del Palmento and found ourselves in a 19th century farm house that the owners have filled with their own private collection of antique implements used for making wine, oil and the like. The space housing the collection is amazing because it was originally used for producing wine and is a complex maze of small chambers with mysterious doorways, openings and drains. The owner and ceramic artist who makes the creations on sale gave us a tour. I should also mention the ceramics are reasonably priced and charmingly rustic. 

Our long winded journey ended here, as does my long winded story. All this to share with you a few more local discoveries, hopefully capturing along the way how the particular ingredients of sometimes crazy Sicilian hubby, occassionally free-spirited American expat, and our usually happy go lucky toddler combined in the perfect way this day for a great family outing.