Archive | Sicily

in which the kiddos and I visit an Italian shopping mall


Our time is running out in Italy, and I keep telling myself to enjoy the last bit of European shopping while I can!  In Europe, everything goes on sale on January 1 and July 1, and July 1 is right around the corner, so it’s a good time to start scouting out things I might like to buy on sale. At least that’s what I tell myself; in reality I visit this mall about every nine months. Such is life with two kids!

Anyway, today I decided to make things happen, grabbed my phone, and photographed our little outing. Come along and shop with us!


Parked and ready to go. Lena is thrilled.


Up into the breezy, open corridors of the mall. This mall, Centro Sicilia, is especially pretty on a Tuesday afternoon during riposo (ie. siesta) when there is almost no one else there.


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Obligatory stop for a ride. Gil didn’t know that I didn’t pay for his. Ignorance is bliss!


New store since I was here last time (6 months ago…). Looks the same all over the world!



Always makes me laugh.


Loved these alternative carts for bored little shoppers!




You can’t tell, but she’s barefoot. Hence the maniacal giggles.


And finally: two favorite Italian-only things about the mall. On the left, a vendor with a pop-up shop in the middle of the hallway. She’s not selling face cream or hair clips, though, she’s selling espresso machines!

And on the right, a parking sign indicating that the “pink parking” is reserved for women with children or in dolce attesa (literally “sweet waiting”). Now how dolce is that?! ;)

9 :: in Italy, Sicily

Living with Kids in Italy: My Guest Post on Design Mom!


Super exciting news today: our home is featured on Design Mom!!! I worked on the photos and interview for this guest post for weeks, and it was thrilling to finally see it in print!

My friend Courtney suggested I be a part of Design Mom’s Living With Kids series several months ago. I was intimidated — we are not super artistic and our home is not “design-y” — but I knew I wanted to take good pictures of our home before we moved. I emailed Gabrielle to see if she would consider me, and she immediately emailed back and said, “Let’s do this!” I did a happy dance.

But then the real work started! I had to take amazing photos of our home… but I have two little children, basic photography skills (I still can barely use the manual settings on my camera…), and a never-super-clean house. But Elliott was as excited about this as I was, so one Saturday morning he gallantly entertained the kids for hours the while I photographed our kitchen from every. possible. angle.

And then we looked at the photos and I took more photos.

And then we looked again and I took still more!


Eventually I moved on to the rest of the house, cleaning rooms during nap times and photographing them, or cleaning rooms with antsy children around my knees and begging them to stay near me so they wouldn’t get in the shot for “just another minute, and then we can play.”

It’s all worth it in the end because I love these photos. (And the 800 other ones on my laptop that didn’t make it into the guest post!) They capture so much of our home, life, and memories right now. I’ll treasure these forever.

Gabrielle also asked me some really insightful questions about how we ended up living overseas, my favorite parts about life abroad, and what it’s like to live in Sicily with kids. If you want to know more about how we’re raising our kids overseas, I think the interview is a great summary. (I know you’ve gotten a lot of parenting and living overseas talk here and here recently, though!)



Anyway, if you’ve ever wanted to see a bit more of our little yellow house in Sicily, check it out here. I hope you enjoy it!

19 :: in guest post, home sweet home, Sicily, Uncategorized

Unplugging and Restarting Your Parenting Overseas (or Right Where You Are!)


When I told my dad we were moving to a foreign country, he said: “I think this is so good. You guys are young. You can go away and establish yourselves as a family, work out your priorities, without a lot of family nearby and outside influences. This is a great, great opportunity for you, and I am so happy for you.”

I’ve thought about that a thousand times since we moved to Sicily three years ago. My parents raised my siblings and me overseas, so he spoke from a depth of experience. He knew that anyone who lives overseas has a choice. You will be isolated, you will be lonely, you will be overwhelmed, you will be foreign.


You can use the isolation for your benefit. You can take advantage of the distance from the influences that affect your peers. You can reevaluate your priorities, establish new habits, build a foundation for your family. You can train the crew of your little ship so that when the world’s fancies sway this way and that, you can still hold steady to your goals.

For us, Sicily was where our parenting started. Lena was just three months old when our plane landed in Italy. Also, I quit my job when we left the States, and I couldn’t immediately find work here. (You can read about that difficult transition here.)

After I accepted my new status as a full-time mom instead of a full-time nurse, I sat down and thought about the kind of mom I wanted to be, especially as a stay-at-home mom. This move gave us a chance to establish ourselves as parents and as a family and to decide what our priorities would be.

These were the priorities we have established here:

We want to read.

A lot. We love to read, thanks to parents who raised us on a steady diet of great literature. My husband and I read an average of 50 books a year on our own, and we read at least four books a day to each of our kids.

One trick to reading a lot is to surround yourself (and your kids) with good books. There are [piles of] books all over our home, and I recently calculated that we have about 100 board books and 150 picture books. Plenty to keep both the readers and the listeners interested in the stories!

(Note to moms trying to build their home libraries: try library book sales. I’ve filled boxes with children’s books at library sales in the States and then shipped them back to us overseas with the super-cheap, super-slow Media Mail option.)

We want to cook our own clean, healthy food.

We live in a small town in rural Sicily, and we have to drive at least 30 minutes to get good ethnic (ie. not Italian) food. We enjoy going out to a restaurant once a month or so – usually for incredible wood-fired pizza in our town – but it’s stressful with little kids. So… in Sicily, if we want to eat, we kind of have to cook.

And cook we do! Thanks to dearth of restaurants and a cornucopia of produce, I’ve finally gotten the crash course in basic home cooking that I so desperately needed… oh, when I went to college. I do our dry-goods shopping at the U.S. grocery store on base, and then we try to purchase most of the perishable items — fruits, vegetables, cheese, seafood — at the market or in town. Sicily makes this easy.

I’ve watched my friend Rachel beautifully transform the food culture in her home since moving here. Here’s what she said about living and cooking in Sicily:

“Not having the fast food option has helped me to learn to embrace cooking.  I’ve always enjoyed it, but having such easy (and cheap) access to incredible fresh ingredients has motivated me to search out ways to cook them. On top of that, I’ve loved having my kids in the kitchen with me!  … Mussels and artichokes are their favorites these days. (Isn’t that crazy?! We can’t believe it, either!) We love knowing that we’re laying a foundation of healthy eating for them!

We don’t want TV to be a big deal in our home.

By that I mean that we want to spend more time doing other things, and we don’t want our kids sitting in front of screens. For now, our family does not own a TV. Our kids don’t expect movies or computer time; we just fill our days with other activities. We don’t think this is a permanent choice (both Elliott and I grew up with — and loved — family movie nights), but it’s right for us during this season.

I’d like to blog more about this soon, but in the meantime, Amanda wrote an amazing blog post about living without a TV during their three years in Japan. I highly recommend it!

We don’t want to spend a lot of time on our computers or phones in front of our kids.

I wrote more about my decisions to limit my iPhone usage here. (Elliott doesn’t own a smartphone right now, so it’s a lot easier for him!)

I loved my friend Sarah’s comment on that blog post because it shows how Sicily has helped her unplug and restart her parenting as well:

“Since moving to Sicily it has been very freeing to be in a different time zone where social media is not buzzing in the phone…. I have found that also I get frustrated with my kids if I’m distracted by my phone because they’re not allowing me to “focus.” I have noticed that and have now made a point to only check FB and email in the mornings, nap time, and the evenings…. It allows me to be a mother and wife who is present.”

Amen to that! I only wish it were more true of me.

We want to explore alternative employment.

I sell handmade crafts, do copy editing work for my dad’s organization, and blog… and earn a few dollars a month. ;) It’s ok; earning money is not my primary focus right now. I’m enjoying this chance to explore other fields besides nursing during these years so that I have a better idea of my skills and interests (and so I keep developing both of those!) whenever I re-enter the workforce.

Elliott has also enjoyed “building a platform” that might lead to another career down the road. He established a website and podcast while he was here called “The Uncommon Veterinarian.” He also is almost finished with his first novel, a monumental feat of dedication.

We want to stay connected to family back home.

We Skype with family on weekend afternoons, and my blog is a big way to stay connected to our family and invite them into our lives. We also love it when they visit us here!

We want to open our home to visitors.

We love having family and friends come to stay, and we’ve tried to make that a priority in our lives by always having an available guest room, a pretty open schedule, and a welcome invitation to anyone who would like to come.

This year we’ve had week-long visitors every month since October, and we try to open our home regularly for dinners, play dates, and game nights, too. It’s all a part of our life-goal of making room… hence the name of this blog!

We want to spend time outdoors.

That’s why we chose a house that had a whole green valley for a backyard. Except in the summertime, we take the kids on a hike about every week. Often Elliott will take the kids for a walk as soon as he gets home from work and while I’m cooking dinner. They meander down to the piazza and come back with fresh bread and wine to accompany our meal, or sometimes they walk farther to a farm near our house.


For those of us in Sicily – or living anywhere overseas – this is a rare opportunity. Living overseas is an adventure, and there are definitely extra challenges with the distance from family and smaller community and resources. But don’t forget that the community is (usually) ready-made and eager to welcome you; resources are often plentiful and free; and you live in a beautiful-in-its-own-way, once-in-a-lifetime location.

Of course, unplugging and restarting your parenting — or your life! — is important to do wherever you are whenever you need to do it, whether you’re in Bahrain or Boston, Iceland or Indianapolis, Venezuela or Vancouver. Certainly there are more resources and more diversity when you’re in a major Western metropolis. I want our family’s priorities and goals to be something we constantly remember, re-evaluate, and re-prioritize no matter where we live.

Now it’s your turn! Before you had a family of your own, how did you picture your family? How did you envision yourselves spending weekends, evenings, and holidays? What did you think your priorities would be?

If you’re single, how did you picture yourself at this age? Are your priorities in the right place?

And now: what baby steps could you take to help yourself get there? Here are some suggestions (most of which I could really apply to my life!):

  • Waking up 15 minutes earlier to pack a healthy lunch for yourself, or to get a shower in before the kids are up. (I didn’t do that this morning and wish I had….)
  • Going home next weekend to spend time with your parents.
  • Finally making a budget and sticking to it.
  • Reading one book this month that you’ve always wanted to read. Maybe a short classic like My Antonia, or a beautiful memoir like The Dirty Life, or a great piece of new fiction like What Alice Forgot.
  • Making a meal plan this week (just four meals, and use the leftovers for other meals) and shopping for the ingredients.
  • Setting a goal of something to do with your kids today, like reading one book to each of them, or building a blanket fort instead of letting them watch TV, or making homemade play dough in fun colors.

OK, enough talking. What do you think of all this? How can you unplug and restart your parenting right where you are? You guys inspire me! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

25 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, family, Italy, military life, motherhood, Sicily, thoughts

Our Beach Vacation in Sicily {San Vito Lo Capo}


For two years now, everyone has been telling us that the beaches on the western coast of Sicily (three hours from us on the eastern coast) were beautiful, but WOW!!! We were dazzled by the grandeur, the colors (so many shades of blue!), and the landscape.

Added bonus? Elliott’s parents were with us for their annual spring visit!


Reunited! Lena was literally squealing with glee as she ran to hug them.


I think my mother-in-law and I made “Mom and Wife of the Year” status on the morning we baked cinnamon rolls. Note to self: make ’em often!


Early morning artwork with our breakfast.


Our beautiful-but-rustic apartment was a 15-minute drive from the stunning Zingaro Nature Reserve.



Pointing out fishing boats on our hike down to that perfect, perfect little beach.

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Feeding Grampa some pebbles. By the way, I have learned to vote for pebble beaches over sandy beaches. Pebbles stay on the beach, but sand seems to follow us everywhere for days.



More early morning projects.


Grampa and his two baby birds.


Hiking to the beach on our second day in Zingaro.

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She’s got the beach babe pose all figured out.


One night we drove into the town of San Vito Lo Capo for dinner and took a walk along the huge beach there. It was breezy, chilly, and totally empty, ie. the polar opposite of summer.

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The day we left San Vito, we had a looooooong drive ahead of us and no real schedule, so we stopped a couple of times to picnic and explore. Perhaps we’ve finally figured out how to roadtrip with toddlers?!

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Stretching our legs in the town of Castellammare, where I just learned many famous American Mafia leaders were born. Western Sicily has historically had a much stronger Mafia presence than our part of eastern Sicily. (No complaints here.)


About an hour later, we dropped off Grampa and Marmee at the Palermo airport and said, “See you in Paris!” Then we drove across Sicily, unpacked, packed again, and flew to France two days later. A whirlwind, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I can’t think of two more different cities than Paris and San Vito Lo Capo, though! Photos of Paris coming soon.

5 :: in beach, family, San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily, travel, visitors

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


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.

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

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