Archive | holidays

our last Christmas in Sicily


Christmas Eve

Honestly, it gives me some joy to say “our last” here because we love and miss our family so much!  You know how wonderful it is to be with all your loved ones for the holidays. We sent heaps of emails and spent hours video chatting with our family on Christmas Day, but it still isn’t the same as sitting around the dinner table or going to the candlelight service or enjoying Christmas morning together.

Therefore, in answer to my family’s requests that they see as much of our Christmas as I can, I took photos all day long!  I know they’re going to love seeing them here. Elliott and I knew our children were getting gifts from their grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles, so we chose to keep things very simple and just gave them each a Sicilian Christmas ornament. We also spent our Christmas cooking, reading by the fire, and going on a wonderful hike into the valley below our house.

Here are a few photos from our Christmas!


Elliott has been tending fires in our fireplace almost every day that he’s home this winter. He often banks the fire at night and coaxes the still-warm coals to life in the morning. I totally love this about him.


Gil’s up and the fire’s lit, so Lena is choosing the first present to open!


Love how Gil is admiring Lena’s new-found destructive tendencies here. “Get it, sista.”


Reading the letters on the package before opening it up.


New books from Marmee and Grampa! My favorite is Extra Yarn, a beautifully illustrated picture book about a girl who knits and knits… so you know the knitter in me just loves it!


Speaking of knitting, this was my favorite present: a set of interchangeable knitting needles that I’ve been dreaming about for a year. Elliott and the kids, meanwhile, enjoy his new bath pillow. This man and his baths!


Thank you, GG and Great-Grampie!


The members of the nativity quake in their sandals once again


Lena’s new lacing cards from Auntie Eden and Uncle Charlie were an immediate hit. I love to see her being crafty…


… so we’ll work on technique later!


He melts my heart about 492 times a day.


OK, 493 times a day!


While Gil napped, Lena and I made cinnamon rolls. I used Elliott’s mom’s recipe at his request, and thankfully they turned out fairly similar to the Christmas morning breakfast he grew up loving. As of 3pm on Dec 26th, all 25 rolls have been eaten, so I guess he liked them!


Taking a break to read some of our new books by the fireplace. While they read, I was enjoying this cookbook… just as delicious as it looks.


When Gil woke up from his morning nap, we took a walk into town, where we found our town’s nativity scene. Maybe it was made by local school children? The sign says, “Christ is born for us. Come, let us adore.”


We hiked down into the valley and came across our farmer friend’s dogs. They’re all so sweet… and there are so many of them…


Picnic lunch.


Our children and our Sicilian town on Christmas Day.


We returned home to video chat with family (which was unfortunately right after the kids’ naps and they cried the whole time… sigh) and open a few more more presents. Gil eats wrapping paper as Lena plays her current favorite game while wearing my new Weekender bag like a “packpack”: “So… I’m gonna go to fool [school]. I gotta catch da bus. Oh no… da pigeon is driving da bus!!!”


She completely fell in love with this learning game from Auntie Em while I made our Christmas dinner.


And our Christmas dinner was the infamous lamb, of course. Elliott declared it “a triumph, my dear”… whew! I had a harder time eating the lamb that I’d expected. There were not very many steps in between seeing that lamb hanging in the butcher shop and eating it myself!

We burned slim beeswax candles that we bought three Christmases ago in Jerusalem; we met there for our first married Christmas when Elliott was on a yearlong solo assignment in Egypt. So much to be thankful for this Christmas, including the fact that we are together, even if our extended family is far away.

After the kids were in bed, Elliott and I spent awhile reading the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke and praying by the fire. I have been thinking a great deal this Advent season about how Jesus became poor, humbling himself to a fragile human embryo, a messy birth process, a cold and rustic world. For us these days, Christmas is all about comfort — family, gifts, food, firelight — but there was very little comfort that first Christmas. I am so grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made so that we have both immediate and eternal comfort to enjoy.

What are you most grateful for this Christmas?

14 :: in family, hiking, holidays, home sweet home, Sicily

say hello to our Christmas dinner!


There it is… half a lamb! When I walked into the local butcher this afternoon, I had only intended to pick up our favorite sausage for an egg and sausage casserole. The lamb looked too unforgettable to pass up, though… so why not?! There’s enough for two meals, so I’ll choose half of the pieces and roast them with root vegetables. Should be tasty, and I know my back-to-the-land husband will love it. Here’s a picture of the butcher hacking the lamb up for me:


He chopped the head and ear off first and laid them on the butcher paper, but I shook my head. I had no plans for those pieces, and I’d rather not look at them in my kitchen. Don’t tell Elliott; he probably would have wanted to make a lamb’s head soup or fry the brains! The butcher did give me the whole liver, so maybe Elliott will be content with that….

What are your plans for Christmas this year? Are they interwoven with family tradition, or are you far from family this year? We’re still establishing our traditions, by which I mean that we have plans for how Christmas will be one day (real tree, Christmas stockings, spending the holidays with family) and our make-do plans in the meantime. Here’s our make-do tree and its tin foil star:


My children are posing outside the butcher shop with the omnipresent Sicilian Christmas decoration: a stuffed Santa climbing walls or railings to deliver presents. A version of this Santa seems to be hanging off every balcony in town.

We’re hosting a small Christmas Eve brunch tomorrow morning for other friends who are far from family, just like we did last year. We also have high hopes of attending the Christmas cantata at church if our little ones can make it through the 6:30-7:30pm service without meltdowns!

Our Christmas morning will be more special this year because I feel like Lena anticipates it and is excited about it for the first time. We’ve been telling and retelling the Christmas story a lot in this house, and Elliott’s been reading the story from The Jesus Storybook Bible to her about every other night for weeks. I have thought about making a birthday cake for Jesus to really emphasize the celebration of the day, but we’ve had enough sweets in this house… so maybe I’ll just stick a candle in one of our Christmas morning cinnamon rolls instead! She would love that.

I’d love to hear about your plans for Christmas, especially if you have any special ways to commemorate the day with little ones. What are your favorite memories from your childhood?

11 :: in holidays, home sweet home, Sicily

Christmas in Caltigirone {Sicilian ceramics and nativities}


A couple of weeks ago, as Thanksgiving had just given way to the Christmas season, my friend Anna organized a girls’ trip to Caltigirone, home of Sicilian ceramics.  The last time I visited was almost two years ago, and I was excited for another chance to browse through endless tiny shops filled with blue and yellow pottery, wander up and down the tiled stairs at the heart of the mountain town, and spend a morning with my friends without all of our little kids!

(On that note: a big thank you to Elliott and Greg for taking on all the children after Anna and I had spent the rest of the weekend selling at craft fairs!)


Anna had more plans than just ceramics shopping, though.  She invited us all to experience the Sicilian tradition of presepe, or nativities.  Every year many Sicilian towns set up nativities of all shapes, sizes, and designs in empty garages, cavernous back rooms, and tiny doorways off little side streets.  We bought a pass to see 5 different presepi, which we presented before stepping behind heavy velvet curtains to see each scene.


This presepe was totally life-sized and set up in a cave-like room.  The figures all moved, the cow lowed, the donkey brayed, and a soft God-like voice overhead recited the Christmas story in Italian.


A scene from a massive and incredibly detailed presepe that stretched on and on for at least 100 feet!


On the left a 5-inch-high shepherd reads Scripture surrounded by tiny sheep; on the right Cinderella, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs make their way towards a Disney-free stable off to the side.


This one was wild.  Smurfs, Tweety Bird, Mickey Mouse, and the Simpson family gathered around a miniscule little nativity scene inside one of Super Mario’s mushrooms!


My favorite presepe was made entirely of pasta.  Even the “hay” on the ground is crushed green pasta!


… and the “inn” to the side of the nativity scene is built out of crostini, tiny crisp toasts that Italians often eat for breakfast.  So clever!


There was even a miniature Caltigirone scene inside one presepe, complete with the famous tiled steps of the town and a tiny Padre Pio (well-loved Italian priest) blessing tourists and townspeople alike.


Our presepi touring finished, we wandered through rainy Caltigirone, dipping into ceramics shops as they caught our fancy.  Even in the bleak winter weather, Caltigirone is a beautiful town.


The famous tiled steps of Caltigirone.  The buildings on either side are filled with ceramics shops, a delicious restaurant, and people’s homes.


Ceramics!  I especially liked this pattern.  It looks very much like Polish pottery, which is my first love.


A Christmas tree-shaped candle-holder and a beautiful artist at work.

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Scenes in Caltigirone.


The canisters above demonstrate some of the larger brushstrokes used in a lot of Sicilian ceramics.  Not as much my style, but very typical of the region and beautifully bright in their hand-painted colors and designs.

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And finally, a pocket-sized Fiat cinquecento or scooter to take home with you!

8 :: in holidays, Sicily, travel

Making Room on Thanksgiving


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!


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.


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!


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


  • 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


  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.
11 :: in friends, holidays, hospitality, in my kitchen, Mt Etna

favorite photos from Crete

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Although being a part of the military has its downsides (like deployments and dying for your country and other things that shall not be named today), there are a lot of military-only benefits… like commissaries and USAA and free space-available plane flights and chances to live and travel all over the world.

This trip to Crete was one of those military-only benefits where Elliott had to go for work and get a hotel room anyway, and so the kids and I tagged along on his plane flight* and stayed in his hotel room rented apartment and spent 10 days on the beach.   Perks of the job…!  It was a wonderful time for us as a family and I’m so glad we did it.  We’ll be savoring these end-of-summer memories and photos for a long time.

(*Or fly 18 hours ahead of him and leave 8 hours after him… it’s all good as long as there’s a flight…)

My apologies if some of you already saw these on Instagram, but either way… here are our favorite photos from our week in Greece!

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Elliott found this loggerhead turtle carcass on a run along the beach and took us all back the next day to see it.  Lena was duly impressed and eager to examine it.  Future scientist?


One of the two beautiful beaches on either side of our apartment.




Lena on our first day at the beach (before Elliott joined us the next day)
& the first jar of baby food I have purchased in my life… and it’s all Greek to me!


We read a lot of books that week while Elliott was at work, including this wonderful one called You Can Do Anything, Daddyby Michael Rex.  Our friends (who were also vacationing as a family while the husband worked with Elliott) loaned it to us.


Morning kisses
& off-roading it as she helps me push the stroller on our daily walks to the local “super”market.

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Another morning, another walk along the beach.


She found a little pool just her size!
& a Greek orthodox chapel.

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This little guy is getting ready to crawl!  Fave position: planking while admiring his toes (and resting on his head).


“So sunny, Daddy.”


Lena trying some grilled sardines (and accidentally biting off the head)
& my babies and me.


Sunset beach walk before a dinner date… one of two that we got to take thanks to our friends watching our sleeping babes!  Thank you, David and Rachel!


I’d love to hear what you and your family did for Labor Day weekend!  Any other beach-goers here?

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9 :: in Army, family, holidays, travel

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