Archive | June, 2014

My Biggest Regret of Our Move (So Far)

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I know. I know! We haven’t even left our house yet and I’m already having moving regrets? How many more mistakes will I make?

Well, probably a lot, knowing me. I already have several, such as packing the nutmeg and all our paper plates and plastic silverware.

But my biggest regret came in like a wrecking ball. About five days before the moving company came, I spent one morning transplanting all my flowers from my Sicilian blue ceramic pots into smaller plastic pots. I washed all the ceramic pots to get them ready for the move, already anticipating how pretty they will look full of flowers on the steps of our new deck.

Then I looked at my flowers and suddenly worried that they wouldn’t last in the smaller pots for very long. They needed larger homes with fresh soil ASAP. So I took photos of all of them with my phone, posted them on our local “Craigslist” board, and said I’d give priority to the person that would take “all of them for $45!”

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Within five minutes, they were all sold.

“Can I pick them up tonight?” the buyer asked.

My breath caught in my throat as I realized what I had done.

First of all, I had sold them for far too little, obviously. They were worth at least twice that. Dummy.

But secondly, and more importantly, I had just sold a gigantic piece of what made this house our home.

I definitely have a black thumb, but somehow I had managed to keep quite a few of these plants alive, and bit by bit — with gifts from friends and purchases from the plant man at the market — I had built up quite a garden. I filled our front entrance with forgiving succulents, brilliant bougainvillea, and a geraniums that were coming into their own in the perfect weather. On the back deck I had several plants that I had cultivated for years, slapping little hands away from their bright flowers and watering and feeding and adding fresh soil season after season.

And some had been gifts, like the beautiful houseplant my mom got for me right after Gil was born, the one she transplanted and positioned herself. And the succulents from my friend Becca, who left them in my care last year before their own move back to the States.

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I shouldn’t have sold all those. I should have given some away, putting them in the hands of friends as parting gifts to say thank you, to leave a piece of myself growing and living and basking in the sun in Sicily.

But I didn’t. I helped the buyer carry all my beloved plants up to his car that evening, and I even ran after his car with one last plant (my mom’s, incidentally) that I had forgotten.

“I kept it inside until the last minute so the leaves wouldn’t break on the ground,” I said, breathless, as I handed it to him. The plant was beautiful: a Golden Pothos with long vines, a leafy waterfall. My heart broke just a tiny bit as I waved goodbye. “Good luck! I hope you enjoy them.”

Because I surely did. And I think, in the way that plants do, they enjoyed us too, and their short, sweet season in our little yellow house.

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12 :: in home sweet home, memories, military life, thoughts

“But where’s the rocking chair?” + Reflections on a Summer of Transition

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It was 12 noon, and Gil was still napping. Lena and I had been moving from activity to activity: reading books, doing puzzles, coloring pictures, baking pumpkin bread to finish up cans of pumpkin before we move, etc. Now we were drawing hearts and polka dots in her notebook, and I could tell things were deteriorating.

“Why don’t you try some polka dots now, Lena?”

“Nooooo… I caaaaan’t. I just want to watch you do it.”

“It’s easy. Just like this.” I tapped the marker up and down on the page a few times, and then handed it to her.

She banged it angrily up and down, mashing the marker tip into the paper.

“OK,” I said, blowing out hard through my nose, “I think this is enough. Let’s put this away and take a break. Do you want to read some books?”

The last thing I wanted to do was read picture books out loud. I desperately wanted to walk away, look at my phone, read a novel, anything.

“Noooo!!!” she said, “I want to color. I want you to do the polka dots!”

This was going nowhere, so I stood up and began to walk away. “When you have a good attitude, we can do something else. We’re going to take a break for now.”

Behind me, her frustration escalated, and then the frustration gave way to tears. I heard her get down from her chair and walk through the house. She walked into her dark bedroom, and then I froze when I heard her calling out through her tears:

“But where’s the rocking chair? I want to sit in the rocking chair! Where is iiiiiitt?”

Stunned, I raced into the room and picked her up in my arms.

“The movers took the rocking chair, Lena, remember? They’re taking it to our new house in San Diego. You like to sit in that chair when you’re upset, don’t you? It’s ok, I’m sorry. Come snuggle with me.”

We climbed into my bed, with her resting on my chest as I stroked her back. As her sobs subsided, I felt close to tears myself.

In her moment of need, she had forgotten that everything in our house was gone. Automatically, she had gone to a quiet place where she could sort out her emotions and take her own self-initiated time out. That peaceful place, I realized, had meant so much to her. The disorientation and despair had been clear in her voice.

How much more is she thinking and feeling inside? Since the movers came and went, both Lena and Gil have been cheerful, seemingly unfazed by our empty house and their altered surroundings. But so many objects of comfort — like the rocking chair — have been removed forever from this home, the only home they’ve ever consciously known.

Lena’s disorientation and sadness made me realize I’m not the only one who is going through a lot of emotional transition these days. These are big days for our family. There are so many goodbyes: the obvious ones to friends and church, and the more subtle ones to the quirky front door lock and the location of our clothes and the ability to navigate our bedrooms in the dark. It’s disorienting for all of us. Lena is just the first one to shed tears.

I know we’re not the only ones facing transition this summer. How many of you, staring at your computer or phone screen around the world, are also awaiting giant changes? There are new homes to be purchased, babies to be born, marriages to be made, books to be published, jobs to be finished, jobs to be started, and babies to be made.

At summer’s end, we’ll all be different people. You might be anticipating a lot of joy, or a lot of work, or a lot of goodbyes. The months ahead might be terrifying. Or wonderful. Or gut-wrenching. Or a relief. Or a trial.

So here’s to being aware. That’s a start. We’ll miss the rocking chair, and we’ll miss the ability to just curl up and be at home, and we’ll miss the old familiarity.

Hopefully this awareness will help us take better care of our husbands, our children, and ourselves. Especially after seeing Lena’s distress, I want to be more compassionate, patient, and sensitive. May we be rocks instead of adversaries (*cough*), a steady presence that our children and husbands can rely on as everything else changes.

And may we be careful to take care of ourselves, too, by being aware of our own limits. I want to be candid about my emotions, communicate clearly with my family, and take time outs for self-preservation when needed. May we be bold to seek closure, seek solitude, and seek rest.

For example, I have identified one thing I know I need to do to find closure to our time in Sicily. In our little town, I see so many familiar faces each day as I push the kids in the stroller to the playground, fish shop, gelateria, market, and panificio. I don’t want to just disappear one day. I love all those smiles, I love hearing “buon giorno!”, I love that sense of belonging that they give me. Before we go, I want to go to the owners of those shops and to our neighbors, give them a picture of our family, explain that we are moving, and say goodbye. (And I want to subtly pay back the man in the general store for the ten million chocolate bars he gave Lena over the last three years.) I know I’ll regret it if I don’t.

Ultimately, I want to draw strength from the Source. My own reserves are so shallow! So much has already changed, but there is so much more to come! I’m holding onto these words of promise:

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4

20 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, home sweet home, life lately, military life

37 Ways to Stay Sane at Home with Your Preschooler. You’ll Love #11, an old-school favorite!

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I’ve come to the conclusion lately that I’m just not cut out to be a preschool teacher. It requires so much energy! So much engagement! So much creativity!

Somehow I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.

However, for this stage in my life, I have a preschool-aged child who loves any kind of activity I come up with, and the delight in her eyes motivates me to keep finding ideas.

I ascribe wholeheartedly to the notion that children learn in the school of life, meaning that most kids don’t need preschool to teach them anything. Learning activities do have multiple benefits, though, and I value these:

  • Keeping me away from my computer or phone (I mean, let’s be honest here…)
  • Entertaining the preschooler without screen time
  • Teaching basic life skills, like how to wash a dish, water a plant, hold a crayon, use scissors, measure a cup of flour, and so on (this is a very Montessori approach, in addition to being, like, true)
  • Instilling an appreciation for music, art, books, and nature
  • Training up a child in the way she should go (Proverbs 22:6)

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So what does “homeschool preschool” look like for us?  in my 2014 goals, I pledged to use my 17-month-old’s morning nap time as my school time with my three-year-old. So most weekdays from 9 to 11am, Lena and I do one or several small activities together.

Most activities don’t last more than 15 minutes at at time, and some last five, and some are duds. I’m developing a repertoire of ideas, though, as well as a small stash of craft supplies. That way it’s easy to rotate toys, games, books, and arts & crafts throughout the week, adding a new activity every week or so.

I’ve especially enjoyed these resources (and want to give them credit before I go any farther!):

A lot of these wonderful blogs have Facebook pages, and I “liked” them in order to get photos and inspiration for crafty activities in my newsfeed. It’s an easy way to keep the creative juices flowing.

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Here are most of the activities and games we rotate during the week:

Arts and Crafts

1.  Coloring together: we like this giant Bible story coloring book and these markers and high-quality crayons

2.  Stickers on coloring pages/construction paper

3.  Glitter glue on construction paper

4.  Painting: watercolors, finger paints, washable paints

5.  Making necklaces by painting penne pasta and stringing it onto yarn/elastic cord

6.  Paper chains: great for working with scissors, tape, and patterns

7.  Creating artwork of some kind to send to family or friends, even something as simple as painting watercolors inside store-bought “thank you” cards to personalize them

8.  Blowing homemade bubbles (lots of easy recipes here!)

9.  Scrubbing coins in a vinegar/water solution to make them shiny

10.  Pom-poms stuck onto glue that spells out her name

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In the Kitchen

11.  Play dough: we’re old-fashioned around here and don’t buy Play-Doh. Lena and I make ours from scratch with this simple recipe. You’ve got everything you need in your kitchen, it takes 10 minutes, and it’s so rewarding to see your own play dough come together!

12.  Baking together, especially these cookies “because Daddy loves them”

13.  Making pretend meals in her play kitchen

14.  Tea parties with her wonderful tea set

15.  Washing the tea party dishes in a big mixing bowl with a small piece of sponge

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Interactive Toys & Games

16.  Block towers: we love our Father Goose blocks for babies, our colorful wooden ones for general play, and KAPLA blocks for more advanced structures

17.  Playing “doctor” with her baby doll and doctor kit

18.  A wooden game to teach weight and balance

19.  Sewing on children’s sewing cards

20.  Invisible ink coloring book

21.  Jumbo puzzles, especially this one

22.  Wooden farm set (although I wish we’d gotten the circus set because it’s so unique!)

23.  Spelling and reading with wooden fridge magnets or letter stickers

24.  Yikerz, a game of magnets that’s ridiculously fun for adults too!

25.  See & Spell wooden puzzle

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Personal Care

26.  Cutting her nails and watching a YouTube video, usually one about trains or animals

27.  Using the contents of my toiletry bag (lotion, lip chap, toothbrush, etc.) on me, and then me on her

28.  Doing her hair and telling her a story

29.  For a very special treat, painting her toenails

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The Grab Bag

30.  Reading together: she usually chooses a stack of books right after I put Gil down for his nap, and then we read those before starting other activities

31.  Reading practice, mostly with these beginning reader books

32.  Cleaning: she will clean windows/dust surfaces with a vinegar-and-water spray bottle and paper towel while I do heavier cleaning

33.  Listening to music: we’ve had this folksy children’s CD on repeat lately

34.  Tossing homemade bean bags into a basket

35.  Imagination games: “Simon Says” or “Red Light/Green Light” or “Follow the Leader” or “Hotter/Colder”

36.  Playing “school” by singing our ABCs, counting to 20, jumping jacks, etc.

37.  Watering our plants with a watering can

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Of course, in all honesty, there are many days when “Mama’s got to work” and so cleaning, laundry, making phone calls, or something else comes before these learning activities. I think this alone time — ie. “getting bored” — is equally valuable for her because she learns to use her imagination, play by herself, and do many of these same activities on her own.

The photo below is one of my recent favorites of Lena amusing herself: waiting for her daddy to come home from a week long trip. As soon as I announced he had landed at the airport, she went outside and waited quietly for 45 minutes until he came up the driveway and into her arms.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list, and so I’d love to hear any ideas you have in the comments! Did you do many of these activities as a child? What are some favorite preschool learning activities in your house?

19 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series

portraits of my children {24/52} + living with less

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The 52 Project: A portrait of my children once a week + every week in 2014.

Lena: I’ve been working off and on all week on a post about all the things Lena and I do together for our morning “preschool”: crafts, games, toys, learning activities, and so on. (This makes me sound much more organized than I am! I’ll just enjoy that for a second.) The post is almost ready and will go up next week, but in the meantime you get a sneak peak of this morning’s play/school time.

In the photo: “Hello, this is Dr. Lena,” she had just reported into her toy phone, “We need some more medicine because Mama’s got a stiiiiinky headache.” I love my future nurse/doctor/ veterinarian/skyisthelimit so much.

Gil: Hello empty house!!! As my Instagram friends will already know, the movers came yesterday and cleared out our house. Our personal items (minus almost all furniture… read here to see why) are on their way to San Diego. The movers left us with only a few sticks of furniture we still hope to sell, enough dishes and toys to last us a month, and suitcases with clothing and books that will travel with us from Sicily to San Diego in July. We’ll be relying on loaner furniture from the military base until we fly out of Sicily on July 15.

So far I’m loving this cleared out, refreshingly empty house. I vacuumed and mopped the whole thing yesterday and it feels cleaner and lighter and simpler than it ever has. This will be our experiment in living with less, and I think we’re going to enjoy it. I’ll report back later!

——–

And now TGIF! I just finished this hilarious novel and dove headfirst into this NYT food critic’s tale. I’m also hoping a trip to the pool and the beach are in our weekend plans, if we’re lucky! What are you up to this weekend?

2 :: in 52 project, military life

Taormina with our last visitor

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Well, probably she was our last. I still need to send an email to one more friend in case she wants to get a last-minute flight around our crazy schedule, but… for the sake of the story (and the “savor this!” state of my own heart), Jenna was probably our last visitor.

And she was a great one. We’ve been friends since high school, so we loved reconnecting and watching the years and distance melt away. My favorite moment was when she had both my kids up on the counter and was teaching them how to stuff zucchini blossoms with fresh ricotta cheese before she beer-battered and deep fried them. Yes, it was just as ridiculously delish as it sounds!

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The kids and I took Jenna to Taormina, a pretty town which is probably my favorite place in Sicily. My friend Alyssa (pictured below) and her visitor, her cousin Scott, also joined us for the day, and we ran into more friends while we were there. The more, the merrier!

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As has been previously documented, I find Taormina’s biking postman completely charming.

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Jenna bought Lena one of the squishy balls that street vendors try to sell on every corner. She was heaven for about 10 minutes before it started leaking water everywhere! Such is our history with these things…

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I went back and bought the dress that I tried on at the mall last week! A few Instagram friends convinced me it was worth it, and I’m so glad I did. Lena’s dress is from the Tea Collection, and I think I love it even more than she does, if that’s possible. So soft, twirly, and bright.

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Arancini (Sicilian rice balls) for lunch in the Villa Communale park… and the dying squishy toy.

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And Bam Bar for fresh, fruity granita (Italian ice) and brioche buns, of course! I can’t think of a more refreshing treat on a hot day. Hope San Diego has something like it!

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At the end of the day, we went into Kerameion to pick up our tile painting from the artist, Marco. We asked him to use a picture of our town framed against Mt Etna, with some blood orange trees in the foreground. Our little yellow house is on the edge of that cliff, and we see this view every time we drive to and from base.

What a souvenir, right?! I know we’ll treasure this forever! Have you ever purchased a piece of original artwork, or had anything commissioned? I’m of the opinion that it’s worth it, but I might just be smitten!

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8 :: in Italy, pretty places, Sicily, Taormina, visitors

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