Archive | animals

picking blood oranges in Sicily


Our friend Lorrie owns a beautiful farm about 20 minutes from us, and she’s been telling us for ages to come bring the kids, pet the horses, and pick some oranges. Last Saturday we were down to our last blood orange, and so we decided to re-stock by picking our own!

The outing started with a dazzlingly beautiful drive. We drank in the view: lush green fields of artichokes and oranges, fields of neon yellow flowers and new almond blossoms, bubble gum-pink and cerulean-blue homes set like jewels in green velvet, and snowy Mt Etna presiding over it all. I took a deep breath and relaxed.



Once on the farm, we picnicked… or rather the kids ran to the swings and so we attempted to feed them as they swung! Messy but successful. Later we picked oranges and then visited the many animals on Lorrie’s farm: horses, dogs, chickens, goats, and a gigantic pig. Such a beautiful afternoon in our rural island home!





“Soooo bloody!” says Lena.




Gil kept himself busy taking out every orange we put in and throwing each with all his strength about 6 inches away.



I love the sunkissed look of a blood orange!



Finding ladybugs for Lena to admire and Gil to… maul.




Feeding the goats! We all want our own someday so that (among other reasons) we can make our own goat cheese instead of buying it almost every week. (We all LOVE goat cheese.) However, a friend told me that goat cheese starts to smell like dirty goats when you’re around them a lot… so am I willing to give up my love of goat cheese in order to own a few goats? Well… I think so!

Would you ever like to have goats? Or chickens?

26 :: in animals, Sicily, weekend

saying goodbye, Sicilian style


Oh, sigh… bittersweet pictures.  They’re from a goodbye party for some of our very dear friends — Emily, Nathan, and their little daughter Ava — who left Sicily last week.  I still can’t believe they’re gone!  Emily and Ava came up to my house every single Wednesday to play and visit.  This Wednesday is going to be especially glum.

They did host a fabulous goodbye party for themselves, though.  The location they chose was the farm of Mariska and Emilio, an Italian and Swiss couple whose beautiful farm — Azienda Agricola Infantino — is hidden away in the rolling green hills of Sicily.  Mariska and Emilio host groups for al fresco lunches and dinners, offer Italian cooking classes, and sell their delicious olive oil online.

We spent a late April afternoon there, soaking up the sun and eating pasta with half-a-dozen different sauces.   The children jumped on the trampoline and played with the animals; the adults traded off child duty and otherwise sat in the shade and drank wine.  If there is a good way to leave Sicily, I think our friends found it!


^ The town of Mineo is perched on the hill behind Nancy and Becca.


^ Trampoline time… for hours!  The farm owners’ daughter fell in love with Lena.


^ Awesome truck, regal turkey.


^ Bethany and Emily before lunch was served outside.


^ On the right, this is how you drain a pot of pasta for 30 people!


^ Cramped photo of my lunch.  I’m learning it’s very hard to take pictures with a baby in your arms!


^ Four-week-old kittens!


^ Mama spotted us humans with her baby, gathered him up by the scruff of his neck, and carried him back to his nest.






^ Gil, just chillin’ and blowing spit bubbles (his new thing).


Happy trails, dear friend!  Can’t wait to see you soon in your new digs.

17 :: in agriturismo, animals, friends, Italy, Sicily

visiting Casa delle Farfalle {the Butterfly House}


My grandparents left on Friday morning and I strongly dislike the day after friends or relatives leave.   The house is quieter, the children are needier, the dishes are dirtier (and more plentiful).  You know what I mean?

To avoid sitting around an “empty” house all day with my two kiddos, I joined my friends Becca and Bethany on a trip to the Casa delle Farfalle.  With two minivans, three moms, seven kids, and 10 packed lunches… we were ready to discover somewhere new in Sicily!

becca-garber-butterfly-house-arriving becca-garber-butterfly-house-playground

The Casa delle Farfalle is located in the Parco Monteserra.  Right outside the butterfly house is a great play area that the kids loved.

becca-garber-butterfly-house-swings becca-garber-butterfly-house-lucas

Inside are a couple of rooms with educational displays, including two whole rooms dedicated to an explanation of the Silk Road.  The children were fascinated with the live silk worms and their beautiful cocoons.


becca-garber-butterfly-house-silk-moths becca-garber-butterfly-house-cocoons

Finally we went into the room to see the butterflies themselves.  I have to say, I was amazed.  There were sooo many butterflies and they were in such a lovely setting.  Many things helped us to feel like we were in the butterflies’ natural habitat, such as a little stream full of goldfish, birds chirping and nesting just a few feet away from visitors, and beautifully maintained flowers and plants.


^^^ A butterfly boldly landing on you is magical every time.


^^^ Lena was fascinated by the fish.  Can you spot her on the bridge?   Thankfully she never fell in!

becca-garber-butterfly-house-kids becca-garber-butterfly-house-daniel-lena

^^^ Lena and Daniel were fascinated by this little monarch butterfly drinking sugar water… right at their height!


^^^ An Italian visitor gently coaxes a butterfly step onto Elise’s fingers.


^^^ And there’s the whole loveable, motley crew.

If you’d like to visit, the park is located just outside the town of Viagrande.  That makes it an easy 30-minute drive from Catania (or, if you’re military and coming from base, about 30 minutes from NAS 1).  Directions are included on the website here; the GPS coordinates are 37.616088 and 15.090467.  Admission is 5 euro for everyone over 5 years old (which made this an inexpensive excursion for our group!).

Parco Monteserra — where the Casa delle Farfalle is located — has a lot to explore in addition to the butterfly house.  We enjoyed the playground with young kids, and for older children or families there are hiking trails leading to a lake and a volcanic crater.  Surrounding the play area are dozens of covered picnic benches; there is even a BBQ pit if you’d like to grill your lunch.  I’m going to take my whole family back soon!

9 :: in animals, friends, Sicily, travel

traveling in Italy :: staying at an agriturismo


As I mentioned before, we took a little trip down to southern Sicily while Elliott’s parents were visiting.  We spent our one night away in an agriturismo, or a “farm stay.”  Agritourism is popular in Italy, especially with families: the kids love the animals and the space to run around, the parents love the prices and the experience!  We’ve stayed in a couple of other agriturismi which you can read about here and here.

We stayed in Villa Diana, an agriturismo just a few minutes outside of Agrigento. The owner and host, Dario, was kind and accommodating (and quirky).  The rooms were spacious and each one was one vibrant color; we stayed in “Il Pistachio” which was verdantly green and my parents-in-law stayed in “Il Mandarino” which was vibrantly orange.  Although there were many things that made us raise our eyebrows (the miniscule elevator, the plaster falling off the walls on the outside of the building, the trinkets enclosed in glass display cases throughout the house), we all had a wonderful time and would definitely go back.  Here are a few photos from our stay.


There were chickens (with eggs!), donkeys, goats, sheep, and a couple of dogs on the property.  Lena loved all of them.  And who are we kidding?  So did we!


^^^ Ahh, a sleeping babe… and a sweet grandmother! The agriturismo itself is in the background.  becca-garber-agriturismo-goat-daddy

^^^ Loved this daddy goat’s horns!


^^^ My veterinarian husband.



^^^ The donkey was just a month old.


The agriturismo itself was surprisingly decorated inside with gilded, antique furniture that I assume are family heirlooms.  This is the breakfast room, where we were served fresh pastries, eggs cooked to order, hot coffee and tea, and freshly squeezed blood orange juice.



^^^ Check out that glass of blood orange juice in front of Lena!  So red.


Lena finished off our visit with a very serious game of chess.  Just kidding….  The chess set was missing two pawns, and we laughed later when we learned from our friends (who had stayed there three weeks before us) admitted their kids had broken them.  Lena almost broke or lost a couple of pieces herself.  Leaving our marks on the world everywhere with our children….

Do you know if there are places like this elsewhere in the world?  I haven’t heard of the farm/B&B combo in the States but I’m sure they must exist.  Have you ever stayed at a place like this?

14 :: in agriturismo, animals, family, Italy, Sicily, travel

welcoming our Maine Coon kitten!

Well, we did it.  We adopted a cat!  We’re probably the only veterinarian’s family who hasn’t had a whole passel of dogs, cats, and other animals since vet school.

I guess the idea of adopting a cat started this spring.  I mentioned it could be fun to get a cat, and Elliott immediately began looking for Sicilian Maine Coons.  We both already loved these cats after Elliott cared for a rescued Maine Coon in vet school.  They are known for their beautiful long-haired coats, talkative and almost dog-like personality, gentle and friendly attitude towards children, playful and personable natures, and their unique looks.

By “unique looks” I mean that they look a bit wild, perhaps because of the manes around their necks (especially pronounced on males) and tufts of fur at the tips of their ears.  See what I mean in this photo?

Perhaps needless to say, Lena loves her!

So far we’re thrilled with her personality.  She spent the first five months of her life with the family that owns her parents, and this family also has multiple children as well as two huge mastiffs.  So she’s not only used to people… she loves them!  We had a houseful of adults and kids over last night and she was happy to interact with everyone, wandering around between little legs and curiously watching the children’s games.

She’s sitting behind my head on the couch as I write this, watching me type and purring up a storm.  Already this cold winter will be warmer with her next to me as I write blog posts or knit or read.

Oh… and her name.  We finally picked a name last night.  It is Siena.  She’s named after the beautiful Italian city of Siena and also for the burnt orange color (ie. sienna) mixed into her beautiful coat.

 Welcome, Siena!  We’re so excited for many years ahead with you, our beautiful kitten.
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16 :: in animals, Sicily, Siena

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