Friday, November 30, 2012

Date Night - La Traviata

 Catania's Teatro Bellini is a real jewel.

 Look at the panorama from our nose bleed seats!

All that red velvet and glittering gold. The chandeliers and frescoed ceiling. The rising floor of the orchestra, lifting them up from below ground at the start of the show. And the acoustics. The theater's design ensures that no matter where you sit, you can hear every note that rings out from the stage.

The nose bleed seats lack leg room. But that means you get to cozy up to your partner during the show.

Between each act there is a substantial pause, about 30 minutes, guaranteeing that your never get home before midnight. Always makes me feel like a grown up.

And the show was a huge success.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

No sew knee patches

Another knee patching project. This time I was going for get it done quick, avoid needles and thread, but still look cute. Homemade iron ons.

I started by cutting out a pair of star-shaped patches from a pair of old washed out jeans.

Using an incredibly strong fabric adhesive (Peel n Stick) I was able to stick the patches directly onto the jeans without any sewing (or even ironing) whatsoever. Instant knee patches.

The directions on the fabric adhesive packet are really simple to follow. I used my cut stars as the template for cutting out the adhesive. The first liner can then be peeled off so it can be adhered to the side of the patch you want to stick down. Then, the second liner comes off and the patch is ready for sticking to the jeans with some firm pressure.

To ensure a strong bond the directions recommend tumble drying for 15 minutes. So far, so good, no signs of fraying or lifting edges even after numerous washings.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fire magic

We finally lit up the fire pit on our front terrace a few weeks ago.

I had been craving this moment since the new fire pit had been delivered this summer, waiting impatiently for an evening that was cool enough to make you want to snuggle around a fire.

We lit it together - a base of charcoal, a small mound of bark from our fallen tree, some lighter fluid, and voila.

The magical effect was instantaneous. This was no longer an ordinary dinner, we would be roasting hot dogs on sticks!

The 5 year old was entranced. The improvised bamboo roasting sticks did the job even though they tended to catch on fire if not well tended. After awhile, though, that did become the point for the 5 year old. Not unexpected, this was his first experiecne sitting around an open fire.

Then it started to rain making the atmosphere even more magical as we stayed warm and dry under the overhang of our terrace while the rain came down noisely just outside our reach.

We rekindled the fire several times, but eventually it began to dwindle, and way past the usual bedtime hour we reluctantly stepped away from the warm glow.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I never knew sewing a patch could be so much fun!

Thanks to pinterest I was inspired by this post to turn the hole in my son's jeans into a vampire monster (he's really into vampires these days).

I backed the hole with red pile fabric sewn on by hand with embroidery thread. I then set about hand stitching the eyes and teeth with embroidery thread.

Not confident in the strength of my sewing, I backed the whole thing with a square of fabric cut from an old pair of jeans attached with Peel n Stick fabric adhesive.

Several washings and so far so good.

I'm kind of hoping the other knee will rip soon so I can make monster #2.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Being thankful

Our Thanksgiving meal inspired us to make a simple window of thanks for my family and our guests, and some silly turkey centerpieces with pine cones, feathers, pipe cleaners, colored paper, googley eyes and a hot glue gun. We had fun.

Sicilian Thanksgiving

It was a Californian Thanksgiving we joked throughout the day, sunny and in the 70s.

We had decided to spread the Thanksgiving love by feasting with some friends and family.

Rather than host the event on Thanksgiving Thursday which (inconveniently) is not a holiday here, we opted for a Saturday dinner. It felt a little odd being out of sync with the actual holiday. The turkey was ordered on Thanksgiving day. The preparations began the day after Thanksgiving. And the feasting took place the day after that.

Our Sicilian version of the holiday had other oddities, too.

For starters, I am a somewhat of a vegetarian. It was quite odd to be the one buttering bird flesh, checking meat temperatures and lovingly basting the giant beast (26 lbs!) over the course of an entire day because I wanted to. My husband's disbelief echoed my own.

While I, the only American at this event, prepared the turkey, gravy and stuffing, most of the meal was actually prepared by Sicilians based on somewhat random recipe suggestions I threw together. We had artichoke/spinach dip, flatbread with butternut squash and carmelized leeks, mashed potatoes, arugala/squash/lentil/feta salad, honey glazed carrots, rolls with olives and hotdogs, pumpkin pie with homemade whip cream, chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles (for the kids) and even Sicilian donuts.

The meal lacked cranberry and yam dishes. I had sort of unconsciously eliminated them from the menu as hard (if not impossible) to find ingredients. But as we were sitting down to the meal, it was just plain odd to have Thanksgiving, even a Sicilian one, without these fundamental dishes. It dawned on me that I should have made an effort to find these ingredients or at least find some convincing alternatives.

And there was plenty that wasn't odd.
The pure fun of it all.
Making the effort to establish holiday traditions for my son.
Setting the table together and crafting funny little turkeys for the centerpieces.
Preparing games together to play with his friends.
Talking about what it means to be thankful.
Admiring (and then devouring) each other's creations.
Enjoying the meal gathered around a table with lovely people.
Laughter and love.
Planning ahead for next year's festivities (I think we have a tradition here!)

Other lessons learned:
Plan the menu a little bit earlier and get recommendations
Tell the butcher what size turkey I want before ordering (I do not want to have to battle with such a huge bird ever again)
Invest in a roasting pan
Invest in a gravy dish
Get a better stuffing recipe
Bring some cans of cranberries home with me
Do put the stuffing in the turkey while it rests, but take it out before carving the turkey
Consult with my chef brother-in-law before roasting the turkey, not after (he volunteered, hallelujah!)
And don't forget to light the fire pit after dinner (some marshmallows for the kids would be nice!)

Thanks to my Sicilian friends and family for making such a memorable holiday together.

And to my faraway family and friends I hope you all had a wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A nature inspired afternoon in Trecastagni

Memories from a relaxing afternoon at our friend's house in Trecastagni, a lovely spot at the foot of Mt. Etna. 

The garden invited lots of exploration. Each tree had a story to tell, as did the neat patches of recently planted cold season veggies found in every corner of this abundant garden. 

The dangling, edible temptations were too much for a 5 year old to resist.  Sweet and sour pomegranates were by far the favorite. Grapes were a close second.

There was so much to gather on our nature walk.

The best finds were used to make plaster of paris impressions. We had just enough plaster for each kid to take two home. It would be fun to paint them, but still haven't done that yet.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012


It still felt like the summer the weekend we were invited to a friend's house in Marzamemi. The house is positioned on top of a gently sloping hill that gives the perfect view of the sea, the farmland, the scattering of houses that follow the curve of the coast.

The sea was calling so we drove into the town for a walk, food shopping, an aperitivo. The light was just starting to change giving the impression that this sleepy fishing town was already dozing off. The water in the sandy bay glistened like a mirror.

We wandered by a row of fisherman's houses that practically touch the water they are so close to the rocky edge and seem to rise up from the sea. 

By the time we were ready to head home the sun was setting, bathing the whole town in its warm glow. 


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dripping, pouring, spraying

This is what happens when you give two 5 year olds a blank canvas (really an old white towel), spray bottles filled with paint, spoons, droppers, syringes, empty jars and access to other random art supplies.

It was all about 'look at what happens when I do this' followed by lots of admiration and then 'I want to try'. Spraying turned into dripping which lead to spooning and mixing and pouring and concocting potions.

Whatever you call it - art making, experimenting, creative play -- the entire process was a lot of wild messy fun (I didn't mind - we used water based paint and sat outside on the driveway). The intent wasn't to make a pretty painting, but I happen to like the sparkly, splattered towel which is also useful for louging on while listening to audio books in our art/work space.

A few days later this painting was created by my son on his own building on the techniques that were used with the friend on the towel.  It was just this small blank canvas and unlimited access to the art supplies. 

Rather than use normal brushes, he wanted to experiment with everything else he could think of or find - dripping from bottles, painting with forks, sticks, feathers, combs, scrapers, rollers, sponges, shells.
It is essentially layers and layers of colors manipulated in all kinds of ways and finally sprinkled with glitter. 

I loved how focused he was and how he just knew when it was done. We have done similar paintings in the past but this was definitely the most successful both for the amount of time spent on the painting and the variety of techniques used, and the end result is also pretty cool!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sicilian Honey

A trip to the Etnea area often means a drive through the lovely town of Zafferana Etnea. I have written about it before, but never specifically about its plethora of honey. This one little honey-selling shop is our favorite. The sign out front is irrestitable. The stacks of honey jars, golden hued and plentiful, require purchasing. As well as a packet of honey lollipops. In the back room we often ask to peak at the large vats that are used for storing the honey. If you bring your own jar you can fill it up directly from those vats with your honey of choice. In the shop we examine the honeycomb on display, useful for explaining to a little boy the life of bees and honeymaking. We select our jars, usually orange blossom, eucalyptus, and dark brown chesnut. The ride home is definitely sweeter.

Creative inspiration

An episode of the children's cartoon Max and Ruby inspired my son to spend an entire afternoon painting with me.  I'll avoid going into a discussion about my love/hate relationship with the TV here, but I have to say the effect of this episode on my son was astonishing. Together we painted for hours (something he usually will only engage in for a shorter period of time) in order to create his own art gallery. He brought the paintings to his cousin's house and every member of the family 'purchased' a work of art from the little artist.

Looking back I can aknowledge what made this art afternoon so successful for him. First, it was completely his own idea. Second, it was connected to his favorite activity, immaginative play. Clearly his desire to create art was sparked by an immaginative scenario that he could act out. He usually incorporates readily available props in creating his immaginative scenarios which requires finding the right things and assembling them, but not making them. So it becomes clear to me if I want to encourage my son to make more art it may require sparking his desire to play act. What a happy discovery! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A little sewing kit

I had given a sewing kit as a present before, but it did not involve any personalized decorating, just a cute box with all the necessary tools inside.

This time I had more time and inspiration, and found a blank cardboard case was just the invitation I needed to get out the paints. I blocked in background colors, stenciled the girl's name on the front, and freehanded the patterns and designs. Wow, that was fun! To seal it all and make the colors saturated I coated the painted surfaces with Modge Podge.

Inside, I realized a little organizational help was necessary. I crafted a pull out tray with compartments from a piece of medium weight cardboard, attached ribbon handles with glue and arranged all the little supplies I had purchased or gathered from my own stash to my liking.

This one might need repeating, I had so much fun making it, and hopefully it will bring this little girl lots of inspiration to stitch and create. 

Superhero T-shirts

The last few weeks have been a frenzy of t-shirt painting, inspired by birthdays of special friends, and, of course, Halloween. Something about bringing a kid's favorite superhero to life in a fun and wearable way gets my fingers itching to paint!

Spiderman was all the rage this Halloween, and the 5 year old took part in selecting the designs for his costume this year. He insisted on the webs (now that was a freezer paper stenciling challenge!). He chose the spider of his liking. And he even requested holes in the wrists for shooting out webs, which I unfortunately have neglected to paint, but may just have to add on when I have a chance since it's a great idea. The toy store we regularly drive by had the spiderman mask he is wearing hanging in the window out front and was definitely a worthy purchase. I had tried making something similar from a pair of old red tights, and they did the job in a pinch but quickly got all stretched out and the boy was complaining (between fits of shared laughter) about the tufts of hair that were always sticking out in a very un-spiderman kind of way.

Little boy birthday presents can be so fun! A little investigation reveals the child's favorite superhero. The Batman t-shirt with removable cape on back was inspired by a similar t-shirt we bought at a Gap Outlet last year in San Diego. The little birthday boy was having serious envy over my son's shirt. Since I couldn't buy the same thing here, I ended up making something similar (dare I say even better?).  While I think it is even cuter than the one I bought apparently the little boy has told my son that he wanted the store bought version! Hopefully he will get over that fact and still enjoy some dress up play at home. 

I was intrigued to discover another special little boy idolizes the Hercules character of the animated Disney film I had never previously heard of. I did a little research and discovered the costume this Hercules wears could be easily painted on a t-shirt and that a removable mantle would work here too! Painting a leather vest, belt and wrist bands was quite fun and making the removable cape from a blue t-shirt and velcro was quick and easy. I already knew that this little boy had no problem with hand made dress up gear (the year before we had given him a super hero cape) and I've already seen photos of him playing in his shirt. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Catania's Boschetto

Tucked away behind the Playa - Catania's sandy beach - is the Boschetto della Playa, one of the few truly green zones in Catania. The word boschetto, little forest, evokes images of evergreens, and indeed the main feature of this park is a wooded area filled with pine trees, just big enough to give the sense of a real forest. The tall trees create delightful shade in the hot summer months, and the winding paths that zig zag through them are perfect for biking, jogging or playful discovery.

Apparently the pines are remnants of the ancient Roman's efforts at forestation: they used the wood from such trees for ship building.  

In order to get to the trees you have to navigate past a large, man-made pond full of ducks, turtles and fish, or else a picnic area and a sandy playground.

One hot spring day we found ourselves equally dividing our time between the playground swings, pretend fishing at the pond (uh-oh, the littlest fell in!), and the tree-lined paths, which with a little 5 year old imagination was transformed into a tiger-filled jungle.

This is a very popular destination on weekends for Catanese families who often have picnics here, as as well as joggers and bikers.