Archive | hospitality

Six Kids in San Diego + a Giveaway Winner!

Did you win the Meadow Kids Toys giveaway?

Winner is announced at the bottom of this post!

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Sometimes I have twinges of doubt about renting our house in Coronado. We could have downsized more, lived in a small apartment, decided on a two-bedroom with no guestroom. Should we have chosen something smaller? Can I keep it clean? Are we worthy of it?

And then I turn around and — once again — our home is filled to b u r s t i n g with visitors, and I remember that this is exactly what Elliott and I dreamed of, exactly why we chose this house, exactly why we are right here. It is affirming and thrilling to see our friends and family take us so seriously and show up on our doorstep. As I write this, Elliott’s sister Jess is visiting for five weeks, my parents are here for a couple of weeks, and — as soon as they go — Elliott’s brother David is coming for a long weekend.

Anyone else want to come too? ;)

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A few weeks ago our dear friends from Sicily came for a week-long visit. Put four adults, six little kids, one cat, and a lot of memories and laughter and good food together and what have you got? A lot of this, that’s what:

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It really was laughter and smiles all week, and we had so much fun making memories on new beaches and new neighborhoods. One of our favorite evenings involved lots of tidal pools, hermit crabs, and a beautiful sunset.

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Elliott was completely in his element as a marine life-loving veterinarian.

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Hermit crab!

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Another day we all went to the San Diego Zoo and spent the entire time seeing everything we could:

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Can you count six kids?!

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Sweet Baby Eden

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I spy a hippo who needs some dental work.

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On the Arthurs’ last full day in San Diego, we visited the Little Italy Farmers Market and stocked up on Sicilian favorites at a local pasticceria. Unfortunately, the arancini were nothing like the ones we came to love in Sicily, but some of the sweets made up for it! Afterwards the kids explored the splash pad and amazing playground at Waterfront Park:

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And there were more good times, but sometimes the camera stays tucked away for the best of them, like the chatter and spills of two moms making dinner, or the quiet conversations while the kids run wild around us, or the day at the beach with more tidal pools, hermit crabs, and memories.

We’re so glad you came, Josh, Becca, Elise, Caleb, Lucas, and little Eden! You’re welcome to crash here anytime, and we can wait to visit you in St. Louis. We love you guys so much!

And now who’s next? We’d love to host you too!

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Once all the entries were carefully tallied (120 total entries) and Random.org did its work, the winner of the Meadow Kids Toys giveaway was #76, Sarah. Congrats, Sarah! I’ll send you an email and your toys will be on their way shortly!

10 :: in friends, hospitality, San Diego, Sicily, visitors

We have a house in San Diego!

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We’ve been praying about a home in San Diego for months now, and it is such an amazing relief to finally have a home to go to, and address to count on, and a future within those four walls to imagine as our own! I get a little giddy whenever I think about this house and all the plans and dreams that come with it.

Here’s a little bit about how we are making this house work (budget-wise) and some of our dreams for our life there… along with a few photos from a realtor’s phone!

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Elliott actually toured this house last month when he was in San Diego for work. At that point it was way out of our budget, and he didn’t even tell me about it until he noticed that the owners had lowered the rent.

As we scrolled through the pictures, I fell in love. Compared to the dozens of small, cramped, dark places we’d looked at online, this house was flooded with natural daylight. I loved the crisp contrast of the light walls, ceiling, and kitchen with the dark wood floor. I could imagine us fitting right in there, living and working and laughing and hosting in that spacious, open main room.

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There are two unique features of this house. One is that the owners listed it as a furnished rental. This is actually not uncommon in Coronado, where owners will rent vacation homes to long-term tenants. The owners of this place might have been willing to move their furniture out, but they didn’t really want to have to do that.

In the end we decided to sell our furniture here in Sicily and rent this home with its furniture. This was really my preference. I like the way this house is decorated, and I am not sure our furniture would fit with its aesthetic.  Besides, I bought most of our current furniture on Craigslist before moving here, and I am not emotionally attached to it. I feel like my/our styles are evolving, and I would rather let everything go now, live lightly, and then put time and thought into a home we care more about in a few years.

 (What do you think? Am I crazy? Would you ever sell all your furniture and start again?)

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The other unique feature of the property was the “tea house,” a stand-alone cottage on the property with a pull-out couch, bathroom, and kitchenette.

“Maybe we could rent it out on AirBnB,” Elliott suggested. A quick search of other AirBnB properties in the neighborhood revealed that we’d probably have no problem filling the tea house for a week or so every month.

“And I’ve always wanted to run a B&B,” I said, getting excited.

But then we had the brilliant idea to ask my dad if he’d be interested in renting the tea house instead. My dad works right outside San Diego two weeks every month, and he had already planned to rent a place closer to the city so that he could see us when he was in town. The tea house would mean a longer commute for him, but he’d be close to us, and my mom (who travels with him pretty frequently) would be right with us whenever she came to visit, too.

My dad didn’t have to think about it very long.

“Will the owners take out that pull-out couch if I bring my own bed?”

YES.

“OK, let’s do it!”

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the Tea House

Now we had a hard decision to make. We loved this house, but we had two other homes offered to us at the same time. One was a town house, and the other was an apartment in a small condo building. Both of these homes were located in the heart of Coronado, and both cost a lot less each month in rent.

For a week, we negotiated, prayed, sought counsel, and talked. We talked about it so much that it became a running joke at the dinner table.

Me: “This house just seems to fit so much with our dreams and priorities as a family: hospitality, being outdoors, living near or with extended family….”

Elliott: “But I know we can do all those things in a smaller space, like we did in D.C. in our studio apartment when we first got married. We had dinner guests every week there even if they had to sit on the bed to eat.”

Gil: “Maaaaaaaama. Uh oh.”

*something crashes in the background*

 Lena: “So what are you guys talking about?”

Me, laughing: “What do you think, Lena?”

Lena: “Our house in San Diego?”

Elliott: “Yep….”

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[we won’t be keeping the flat screen!]

Spending more on rent was hard for us, because we’re really thrifty people and are careful to live within our means. Other than our mortgage on my studio in D.C., we’re debt-free, and we generally examine every angle (freebies, hand-me-downs, living without, coupons, discounts, airline miles, hotel points, etc.) before we spend money. We can afford this house, but it will mean less in savings for us for three years.

But we also don’t want to live forever waiting for “someday.” Someday we’ll have a home that we actually want to invite people over to. Someday we’ll try to live close to our extended family. Someday we’ll make the sacrifices to prioritize what we say really matters to us.

When we stepped back and looked at the broader picture, we realized that this house is exactly what we’d been hoping to find in Coronado.

  • Home large enough to host traveling family and friends (even whole families!)
  • Indoor/outdoor space that we could offer as a gathering place to our future church, Bible study, and new local friends
  • Space for siblings to live with us if they decide to move to California (as one is seriously considering)
  • Home where my dad could live with us part time (huge huge bonus!!!)
  • A peaceful place filled with natural light where we can learn, read, play, and live together as a family

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And so, with some fear and trembling, we signed the lease!

Once the actual commitment was made, I felt enormous joy and thankfulness. This home is, in so many ways, the home we’d dreamed about when we thought about living in San Diego. It’s just a mile and a half from Elliott’s new office, and he’s planning to bike or run every day. It’s a mile from two beaches, and it’s less than half a mile from the commercial heart of Coronado, the beautiful library, and Spreckels Park.

Elliott is really excited about his work, and I am really excited about continuing another chapter of creative, hospitality-focused motherhood, so we both feel like we have so much to look forward to in our everyday lives there. We’ll live simply — we have to! — but we will be in a neighborhood where we hardly ever have to get in the car, where people live outdoors most of the year, and where we already have connections that we are excited to turn into friendships.

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This season in Sicily has been filled with blessings but also hardships. I know these will continue in this next phase of life, and I know we can’t even imagine some of the gifts and the heartaches that lie around the corner.

Elliott and I were reading Pilgrim’s Progress last night, and we came to the chapter where Christian and Hopeful are trapped in Doubting Castle and can’t find a way out. Suddenly, after days of beatings and starvation, Christian remembers the key named Promise hanging around his neck. Within seconds, that key unlocks the gates to the pilgrims’ freedom.

There is the obvious lesson here that we need to remember God’s promises in order to be released from times of doubt, depression, and discouragement. But there’s also a more subtle message that if Christian had been remembering God’s faithfulness, he would have remembered that key around his neck much sooner and would have been long gone from Doubting Castle.

We’ve been given so many blessings, and I’m sure this house will be a great blessing to us in a lot of ways. But I know there will be hard times, painful relationships, and deep misunderstandings in this house, too. As we leave Sicily and prepare to move to this new house and city, I want to remind myself often of God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, God’s promises to me and to my family.

We have a history with this God. A good history. He who promised is faithful, and He will remain so!

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way
and to bring you to the place I have prepared.”
Exodus 23:20

41 :: in Coronado, home sweet home, hospitality, military life

It takes a village to raise a child, so make sure you’re a part of one.

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Last week, a friend asked me to come speak at an event she was hosting on our Navy base (Sigonella). Elizabeth called it a “Parenting Toolkit Workshop,” and there were speakers addressing nutrition, relaxation/downtime, and children’s emotions. She had been reading my blog and we’d been emailing since before she arrived, so she thought I might be able to add a “real life” aspect to the parenting talk.

As I thought about what to say, it really boiled down to two things:

  • It takes a village to raise a child, so make sure you’re a part of one, and
  • Sicily is a place to unplug and restart your parenting.

I thought I’d share a little bit from each of these points as an encouragement to other parents out there. If you’re here in Sicily or about to move here, hopefully this discussion will also be a resource and a guide for you. However, I hope you’ll feel a fire lit under you no matter where you are or what your stage of life you’re in.

So here we go with my first point: it takes a village!

One thing that many people comment on in Sicily/Sigonella is that they feel isolated. I don’t know if this is true of all military base housing, but here in Sigonella, it’s a common refrain. There are so many reasons for this, I’m sure:

  • Base housing is a fishbowl. People appreciate privacy. It’s hard to balance privacy with vulnerability.
  • They miss the community they left.
  • They don’t want to be there. (Perhaps they didn’t want to move to Sicily. Perhaps they wanted to live out in town.)
  • Closeness is uncomfortable sometimes!

But base housing isn’t really that different from living “out in town,” ie. in an Italian house or apartment in an Italian town near the base. Out in town, people feel isolated too.

  • There are a language and cultural barriers, which means… no friends to go outside and see/talk to.
  • There are very few outdoor, public community spaces to go hang out in (at least in my town).
  • It’s easier to interact with a computer, or with food in your kitchen, or with your own kids in a safe space, than to go outside.

However, becoming comfortable with an isolated, insulated life is not how we were meant to live. You may disagree with me on that, and so perhaps that’s the fodder for another blog post. But I believe strongly that we should live in community, that we should go outside frequently, that we should know our neighbors, that we should welcome them into our homes (a lot! all the time! standing invitation!), that we should cook for them, that we should accept their food, that we should be open and nonjudgmental and communicative and truthful even if we don’t like them.

Even if we can’t speak their language.

The person I’m aspiring to emulate in all of this is, of course, Jesus, who hung out with everyone (saints and sinners) everywhere (temples and wells, open fields and street corners). He came to love and live with people, and I think we are hardwired as humans to need and love and crave human interaction, support, and community.

If you feel isolated, if you want to live in community, the only person who is going to change that is YOU.

Ok, that was the tough stuff. Here are some personal examples of things I am glad we did here in Sicily to build community.

And then there are some things I wish I’d done.

  • Things I am glad we did 
      • We invited people into our home regularly for meals, Bible study, game nights, book club, play dates, birthday parties, holidays, and anything we could think of. As a general goal, we had someone in our home at least once a week for at least one of these reasons. People love to see inside other people’s homes. People don’t mind the scattered toys and dirty floors. If they do, they are probably learning — just like I am — to get over it and to enjoy the real, honest person who was brave enough to invite them in.

     

      • We attended religious services (in our case, the base chapel) regularly, even though we didn’t always like it. If we were in town, we went to chapel, even with visitors. What we didn’t like — the music, the nursery — we tried to quietly contribute to and improve, at least for a season.

     

      • I got very involved in the women’s Bible study… that became “my thing.” Maybe that’s because they offered free childcare? I’m not ashamed to admit it! Either way, those women became my best friends at Sigonella.

     

      • We vacationed with another Sigonella family. The first time, they invited us to join them on a trip to Cinque Terre. The second time we invited them to rent a house on the beach with us in Sicily. Both of these trips were messy at times, but ultimately so much more fun than going by ourselves.

     

      • For awhile, I met up at the market each week with a friend. We had a standing agreement to buy our vegetables together at 9am on Wednesdays. This kept us both accountable to go to the market in our town, a key part of Sicilian life.

     

     

      • I invited other moms to go on adventures with me, like to Taormina, or to the train in Catania. Or on a hike with their dog if they don’t have kids!

     

      • I invited myself over. A LOT.

     

  • Things I wish we’d done 
      • I wish I had gotten my kids involved in the local culture in some way (preschool, sports, even a regular Italian babysitter). That contact is more for me than for my children, because they will be too young to remember any Italian or maybe anything about Sicily. But those contacts with Italy would have helped me so much. I would have had more Italian acquaintances, and I might even have had some real Italian friends. I would also have learned more about holidays, family structure, and food.

     

      • I wish I had taken Italian lessons. I got books but barely studied them. I knew I needed to just bite the bullet, spend the money, and get a tutor for a few months to launch my understanding. But I never did.

     

      • I wish we had sought counseling when we needed it for our marriage or our parenting. There are resources through the chapel and the Fleet and Family Support Center. Sometimes you just need an outside perspective.

     

      • Lastly and most importantly, I wish I had invited people over sooner, not just after I got to know them pretty well. The best place to get to know someone is usually over a meal, even if the meal is PB&Js with both of your kids in a messy kitchen.

Think about the place where you live right now. What will you regret not doing after you leave? What were your expectations when you arrived? How can you make them happen?

Maybe can answer that question with… what did you love in your last home? Was there a mom’s group that organized activities for you and your kids that you relied on each week? Were you a part of a book club? Did you gather your friends to relax over beers on your back porch every Friday night? Were you involved in a sport or social activity?

Parenting and marriage are hard work, especially so far from home. You need people.

You need them so that someone can watch your child or pets overnight when you go to the hospital to have another baby.

You need them so that someone can pack up your house for you and sell your cars when you get terrible news (illness, death) and have to move back to the States immediately.

You need them so that you can walk up to someone’s house and say, “I drove all the way here and forgot to bring lunch for my kids… can I borrow some food?!”

You need them because exploring a new place, taking your kids to the playground, or having a picnic are always more fun with friends!

If you don’t like something where you live, don’t isolate yourself. Don’t gossip about it. And don’t just grin and bear it either. DO something about it.

If you don’t like something where you live, change it. If you don’t have something, get it. If you don’t want to be there, make it a place where you want to be!

This is a little corny, but it says it best: be the change you wish to see in your community.

18 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, hospitality, military life, motherhood, Sicily, thoughts

if you visit us in Sicily, you can do this too!

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My wonderful mom spent two weeks with us in Sicily in late February before my whole family met up in Florence (more photos coming soon!). Here are some photos of our travels around Sicily with my mom, both for posterity… and to encourage any last-minute visitors to come if they’d like!

Would you like to visit us and Sicily? We move back to the States at the end of July. Free beds, good food, and friendly tour guides are available until then!

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I’ve taken my mom to Taormina before, but I love it so much, so we decided to go back for a day trip. This is il postino, ie. Taormina’s postman.

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Early morning package delivery through the pedestrian-only streets.

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Jump!

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Sampling some goodies at our favorite cannoli shop.

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Gil — who is learning the meaning of “wait!” — pushed his way around his sister and took them both down the slide together.

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The fountain in the park and granite at Bam Bar = two of our favorite things.

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On another day, we took my mom to “the big city” (Catania) for some market shopping, lunch, and a ride on the tour train! The fish market was amazing, as usual.

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And the tour train was a huge hit for all, once again.

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We were visiting during Carnevale, so there was confetti everywhere!

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And we spent plenty of time wandering the streets of our little town of Motta, too. Thank you for coming, Mama! I don’t think I washed a dish while you were here, and the kids were in heaven with all the books, tea parties, block towers, and love from their Grammie. Our home was so much more peaceful and harmonious with you here. We’re so grateful for you!

And now it’s your turn, my friends, if you’d like to visit! I write this as my friend Sarah softly strums a guitar nearby; she’s on the last day of her weeklong visit. We’d love to practice what we preach by making room to welcome you, too! Wanna come?

4 :: in hospitality, Sicily, Taormina, visitors

Making Room on Thanksgiving

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The first time we saw our future home in Sicily, we fell completely in love with the gigantic farmhouse table and benches in the dining room.  The landlords told us that the table came with the house, and I immediately began to dream of filling the table with friends and family.  I love to put people around that table!

We’ve made some new friends recently, and I thought they might be feeling far from family for their first big holiday in Sicily.  We sent out an email, arranged a potluck, and all converged in our home on Thanksgiving.  Alyssa brought spinach and artichoke dip, an apple pie, salted caramel brownies, and hot rolls; Laura made her mom’s famous broccoli and sweet potato casseroles; and Brigitta brought cider and mulling spices, two pumpkin pies, and the Charlie Brown Christmas DVD for Lena to borrow!  I took care of the turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, and mashed potatoes, and also made a new favorite for us: pear and ginger bruschetta with goat cheese. Everyone contributed wine.  And we feasted!

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One thing I love about hosting is the chance to bring out all the dishes that otherwise only see occasional use in our house, like our beautiful glass wine decanter and the Polish pottery my mom gave us as a wedding gift.  I also lit four colorful Shabbat candles that Elliott and I bought in Israel; we visited there during Elliott’s yearlong assignment in Egypt soon after we got married.  It felt extravagant and joyful to burn four of them at once in a candelabra in the middle of our Thanksgiving feast.

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Before the meal, between dinner and dessert, and after we were too stuffed to eat one more bite, we gathered around our fireplace with glasses of wine or mugs of mulled cider.  Gil and Lena played relatively happily around us, and we carried on adult conversation over their little blond heads.  I felt relaxed as a hostess because of the many hands there that were so eager to help with everything: serving, clearing, packing up leftovers, playing with children, and even washing the dishes.  (Thank you, Laura, for spearheading that… I wanted to kiss your feet later when I realized how tired I was and how much you’d helped me!)

The highlight of the evening came when everyone was talking in the kitchen, and suddenly someone said, “Oh wow… Etna’s erupting!”  We all looked out the window and were treated to the best eruption so far this fall.  (In the photo below, you can just see the glow of the eruption above the clouds.)  She erupted for hours, and we were treated to a spectacular view out of our kitchen window.  Quite a fun dollop of whipped cream on the proverbial pumpkin pie!

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Thank you, friends, for braving the tiny Italian streets to share Thanksgiving with us.  We’re so thankful for these growing friendships with you!  Can’t wait for many games of Settlers of Catan and hikes up Etna in the future.

As we head into the holidays, I want to continue to “make room” in our home, lives, and hearts for others, to be attuned to their needs just as much as my own.  I read this quote again from one of my favorite books, and I hope that such simplicity of focus and love is evident in my heart throughout this Christmas season:

[S]implification is not just about taking things away.
It is about making room, creating space in your life, your intentions, and your heart.

***

For those of you who might be interested, here’s the recipe for the pear and ginger bruschetta.  It was a hit, and I’ll be making it again soon!

Pear-Ginger-Goat Cheese Bruschetta

adapted from Style Me Pretty’s Thanksgiving 2012 Guide

Ingredients

  • 1 long French baguette
  • 4 large pears
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped raisins
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 oz goat cheese
  • Parsley

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350* F (180* C).  Slice the baguette in 1/2″-thick slices.  Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, 5 minutes per side, or until crisp and slightly brown around the edges.  Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.
  2. Core and peel the pears and then cut them into a 1/2″ dice.
  3. Put the pears, ginger, vinegar, brown sugar, raisins, and salt into a medium non-stick pan.  Cook for 25-30 min, stirring occasionally.  Stir frequently in the last 10 minutes as the sugar caramelizes and the mixture begins to darken and thicken.
  4. Spread a tsp of goat cheese on each slice of baguette.  Spoon the pear chutney on top of each slice.  Top with a parsley garnish if desired.
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11 :: in friends, holidays, hospitality, in my kitchen, Mt Etna

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