Friday, December 28, 2012

practicing what I preach :: toy library

Old-time readers of my blog will know that I love the book Simplicity Parenting; I wrote a book review about it for the blog almost a year ago.  In one section of the book the author suggests starting a toy library.  Try putting out only a few toys at at time for your child to play with and then switching up the available toys every few weeks or so.

Well, I've been trying to incorporate this idea into my parenting for awhile now, and anyone will tell you that I've been less than faithful.  However, on Christmas Eve night, as I crawled around the floor on my hands and knees tidying up Lena's toys (as I do every evening... and after every nap... and after we leave one room for another...), my husband shook his head and said, "What about that toy library, honey?"

I looked at the present Lena had just opened and the pile of presents to be opened tomorrow over the next several days and agreed with him.  I dumped out her toy basket and removed everything except a relatively new alphabet puzzle and the gift she had just opened.  Everything else went into her toy library bin.  Many of the smaller items had to be organized into Ziploc bags.

(Do you see that white garbage bag under all these toys?  That is full of infant toys, which I'll be breaking out at the end of January for our new baby!  And so the toy multiplication continues....)

The blue bin went back up on her closet, to be taken down again in a couple weeks, when Christmas toys will be put away and old favorites will be pulled out again.

By the time I was finished (not even 15 minutes later), all that remained in her toy basket was the puzzle, a few balls, and her new baby doll and accessories.  Oh, and the box the baby came in, which I think makes a nice little cradle.  Simplicity parenting, right?!

Have you ever done something like this for your kids?  Or would you like to when you have some? :-)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas morning!

Puuuuuullll off that wrapping paper!

Oh Christmas morning in Sicily, I hope you are the start of our family Christmas tradition!  It was a quiet, peaceful morning for the three of us as we opened a few gifts at a time (still haven't opened all of them!) and ate a big Christmas breakfast together.  Although we kept our gift-giving very simple for each other, our family showered us with many thoughtful presents from afar, and their evident love for us made them seem not so far away.  While we loved our Christmas as a little family here in Sicily, we would have given it up in a heartbeat to share our Christmas morning with them!

Later that day we changed out of our pajamas for a Christmas party with friends at Emily and Patrick's... and then of course as soon as we got home the pajamas went right back on and Elliott started a fire in the hearth.  We finished the evening with Skype chats with our family.  

One thing I couldn't forget all day: last year my family was here for Christmas.  I tried to hold Christmas Past (which included my sister Julia) hand-in-hand with Christmas Present, carrying with me the blessings as well as the aches.  There is so much to be thankful for this year, truly, and even more to look forward to both in this coming year and into the future.

Did you come up with any new rituals or celebrations this year that you hope become traditions?  I'm not sure what I think of spreading out the gift opening over four days...!  Have you ever done that?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Eve brunch at our home

Buncha munchkins, aren't they?!

We have a huge farmhouse table in our kitchen, a wonderful bonus that came with our house here in Sicily.  I love to fill it up with guests as often as seems feasible; the table is just so empty (and such a good collector of odds and ends!) when there are just three of us eating at it all the time. 

For Christmas Eve, we invited our dear friends the Arthurs and a family we don't know as well to come over for brunch.  All of us contributed family traditions to the Christmas meal: Monte Cristo bake from Jaime, sausage and egg casserole from Becca, and these cinnamon rolls from me.  With fruit skewers, fresh bacon, juices, hot wassail, and big cups of coffee, we feasted! 

All the kids clearly loved being together from that first cup of juice to the last minute of The Muppet Christmas Carol (which they are waiting for in the photo above).  Meanwhile we adults spent hours around the table, nibbling on just one more delicious bite and exchanging life stories, travel wisdom, and how to acquire Polish pottery for the best price (Jaime and I are great lovers of this pottery!).

The truth is that if we were living back in the States, all of us would probably have spent Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day at our parents' homes.  This long and leisurely brunch make "home" seem not so far away, which I think is always true whenever you make someone your favorite dish, join hands with them in prayer, and linger long at their table.

Were you away from family this Christmas?  What did you do to make it memorable?  With one more Christmas ahead of us here in Sicily away from family, I'm eager to hear suggestions!

Friday, December 21, 2012

our book tree + Christmas cheer!

our book tree! 

now with presents... all we need is Christmas morning

Merry Christmas, dear readers!  I've been wanting to share our holiday decor with you for awhile, but... well, until a few days ago we didn't have a tree at all, so that would have been a bit of a bust.  The other afternoon, though, I had an extra hour and decided to surprise Elliott when he came home with another book tree.  We made our first one last year and loved it, as there is no better tree for budget-conscious nerds like us.  (It also completely eliminates the "are we fake tree people or real tree people??" debate.)  This year our tree is elevated out of the reach of little hands on my craft table, and it has made that dark corner of the living room come alive.

(By the way, I scored the cute vintage mitten wrapping paper and the retro stripe paper from IKEA earlier this week.  So pretty!)

And, of course, there are the other holiday decorations for our home, like garlands on the bannisters and bows on the door (although I loved our red ones last year even more than these glittery gold bows).  I also love displaying my grandmother's gift to us: a tiny little tree from Switzerland with its precious wooden ornaments.

I will tell you that I had another tree first.  It was quite beautiful and creative, and I was pleased today when Martha Stewart's Organizing Tip of the Day email had the same idea.  I took two medium-sized tree branches, spray-painted them gold, and put them in a glass vase.  I then carefully hung all our beautiful handmade ornaments (again, thank you, Grammie, for your gift of a handmade ornament every year of my life!) on the branches as well as two beautiful glass ball ornaments that Elliott and I had purchased soon after we got married.

Unfortunately it was a little top heavy, I guess.  It fell over.  The casualty?  One of those newlywed glass ornaments smashed into a million pieces!  I dismantled the tree and took the branches out to the trash heap.  Sorry, honey, I have a long way to go before I'm Martha!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

IKEA thru Instagram

Around here it seems like people make their IKEA shopping lists over the course of a month or two before braving the store to stock up. My friend Becca and I were in that boat, needing storage bins, holiday wrapping paper, potted ivy plants, plastic kids' dishes, etc.  Earlier this week we joined forces and took off for the endless, winding halls of IKEA, kids in tow.

You know you love IKEA when your kids start playing with amazing toys 
as soon as they walk through the door.

On the right: Lucas prepares a meal for Lena as she patiently waits.
(Of course in reality this scene lasted for about 0.4 seconds, or however long it takes my phone to snap a picture.)

Ah, the toy section, where both parents and kids can spend ever so long.

The ice cream machine in the cafeteria is a huge highlight of the trip.

Anticipation... and joy!
(And the perfect t-shirt.)

Beautiful Christmas decorations, IKEA.  You win.

There's a happy face!  
(I actually don't think she's ever had her own ice cone before... and she would not share with her mama.)
And there's a tired one.  
Time to roll out.

N.B. My husband thought I should inform you that this is not a sponsored post by IKEA or Instagram.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

pregnancy survival guide

This pregnancy has been a different ball game than my pregnancy with Lena.  Let me paint a picture for you of how my third trimester was last time:
  1. Husband is deployed
  2. My foot is broken
  3. I cannot work because of said broken foot (I am an ICU nurse)
  4. I am stuck inside in January, and February, and March
  5. I am very miserable
Honestly I don't know how those last few months of my pregnancy with Lena even happened.  They are a blur now.  Thanks to good friends and a wonderful church and living near my family, I was very well cared for, but I was very, very glad when those months were over and I had a beautiful baby in my arms!

This pregnancy has been sooo different.  I have a husband at home to take care of me and worry over me.  (He took care of me and worried over me last time, too, but from Egypt, so it was a little completely different.)  I don't have any broken bones... yet.  I work hard, but my job description has changed to include mothering a toddler, running a home in a foreign country, and managing my knitting and sewing venture.  I am not stuck inside, but I do spend a lot of my time inside, and that will explain a lot of the things on my list!

Here are a few things I've loved this pregnancy:

1. Cute jeans.  I love my jeans, which were a gift from my mom and have helped me feel stylish throughout both my pregnancies.  These jeans are a cut above Old Navy brand but not as pricey as Citizens or Sevens.  (Save that splurging for the many, many months of your life when you're not pregnant!)

2. Knitting.  You all know I love it!  This season I have been so content to sit and knit in the evenings or occasionally even while Lena is playing during the day.  The slide and click of my knitting needles is relaxing, and so is the feeling of productivity as I create beautiful things.  Image via here.

3.  Oranges!  They are in season in Sicily and they are delicious.  Lena and I eat multiple oranges a day.  She is learning to peel mandarin oranges all by herself.  I love to watch her quietly as she furrows her brow in concentration and delicately peels off the skin.  Image via here.

4.  Warm, caffeine-free drinks.  I am sipping this Mighty Leaf tea right now.  I tasted this brand for the first time in a spa before a pregnancy massage two years ago and have been hooked ever since.  During these cold days I also love my decaff coffee every morning (with plenty of cream and sugar) and often enjoy a mug of spiced cider in the evenings.  I make my own (recipe here!), store the jug in the fridge, and heat up a cupful whenever I'm ready for a warm treat.

5. IKEA stacking toy.  I bought it on a whim at IKEA a few months ago and it has amused Lena for hours.  I had no idea she would love it so much, but wow... I am so grateful!   It's teaching her important motor skills on the living room rug while I run around getting dinner ready.  Now we're giving her this toy for Christmas... partly because all the reviews say it kept their kids entertained for so long!

6.  Slippers.  Our Italian house is cold during the winter and the floors are the coldest part of all.  You literally cannot walk on them in socks because the chill seeps right through socks and into your bones.  My sister Emily and sister-in-law Jess (who are best buds... how cool is that?) bought me these slippers last year and I literally wear them for about 8 hours every. single. day.  Thank you, girls, you really nailed that Christmas present.

7.  Knee-high, flat-heeled leather boots.  I bought a pair (not these, but they sure are gorgeous) a few years ago and wear them with dresses all winter long.  Especially when you are pregnant, any dress will seem awfully short when your big belly hikes up the skirt in front!  Knee-high boots add a little coverage, look so cute with a dress, and will be a staple from the first hint of fall till the green leaves pop out on the trees again.

8. This book has its quirks, as does the whole Bradley method, but I am so grateful for this manifesto for natural childbirth.  I gave birth to Lena using this method and had a great experience, and so natural childbirth is my goal with this bambino too.  I'll be re-reading a lot of my old materials in January in order to prep for labor, delivery, and the post-partum period... which is coming up so soon!

A few things not pictured:
  • Zantac.  I have awful reflux this time around; it just feels like my stomach doesn't even have room for a snack sometimes.  Popping one of these tiny over-the-counter pills kills the reflux in 30 minutes and makes me a much happier girl.
  • Nap time.  Lena is still taking two naps a day most days and how I love them.  Time to knit, read, blog, clean, bake, prep for dinner, or just sit still for a little while and pet the cat.
  • Body pillow.  Elliott bought me this pillow during my last pregnancy and I just got it out of storage last week.  I'm so glad I did; it makes sleeping at night so much more comfy!  Thank you again, Elliott.

Any suggestions for things you or your loved ones enjoyed during pregnancy?  I'm all ears!

Monday, December 17, 2012

holding them close.

I have been moved to tears more than once over this past weekend after the events in Connecticut.  I didn't use to be this way, but then I had Lena and lost my sister, and now it only takes a few words of a news article or interview to cause my eyes to well up with tears.

There just aren't any guarantees in this life, are there?  You choose a small town in a state known for its decorum and law-abiding citizens.  You settle down, have your long-awaited children, send them to a lovely elementary school, welcome them home each day.  And then one morning you find yourself standing in the parking lot, watching children run out of the school, weeping, and you wait and you wait and you wait and your child never comes out.  

Or you fall asleep on a quiet July Saturday night in Sicily, sleep through your sister driving down the highway, sleep through your sister overcorrecting, sleep through your sister hitting a tree, wake up to a phone call from your dad, and phone calls should never come at 4am.  Never.

I read A Wrinkle in Time yesterday and my heart swelled with the family reunion at the end of the book:

Sandy suddenly yelled, "Father!"

Mr. Murry was running across the lawn, Mrs. Murry running toward him, and they were in each other's arms, and then there was a tremendous happy jumble of arms and legs and hugging, the older Murrys and Meg and Charles Wallace and the twins, and Calvin grinning by them until Meg reached out and pulled him in and Mrs. Murry gave him a special hug all of his own.  They were talking and laughing all at once, where they were strartled by a crash, and Fortinbras, who could bear being left out of the happiness not one second longer, catapulted his sleek black body right through the screened door to the kitchen.  He dashed across the lawn to join in the joy, and almost knocked them all over with the exuberance of his greeting.

Through the achings and the longings of this life, through the griefs and the sorrows, I am holding out in hope and awaiting with eagerness a reunion like this in Heaven, when Booie will come running across the Jordan and we'll all be together again, reaching for each other and falling down and laughing in the shallow water, reunited for all eternity in joy and peace, where there are no more tears and there is no more night, and all the light comes from Jesus.

Friday, December 14, 2012

life lately

 washing, sorting, and storing clothes for our little man!
& someone "helps" me with her baby brother's socks and onesies

 the new puzzle from Grammie is a huge hit 
& part of a photoshoot for my sister-in-law Jess to thank her for a great birthday present: maternity duds!  
33 weeks now :-)

 Lena discovered this photo album of me in my college days and loves to page through it
& knitting, reading, a Maine Coon kitten, and a baby bump

best buds
& opening the Advent calendar from Auntie Eden

 rockin' out in a pharmacy in town (where they provide toys for children?!  I love Italy!)
& more baby boy clothes... I couldn't resist

 mop bucket madness
& photo from a classical piano concert we attended with friends 
(and stayed out till 2am... I had forgotten I could do that!)

what happens when you ask your hubby to "just let me finish knitting this hat"
& Daddy's warm weather gear on a blue-eyed babe


Linking up with Lindsay of Hello Hue today!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent calendars

Eden and David, two of Elliott's siblings, have given us not one but two Advent calendars this season.  They are both unique and so beautiful, and they really have made this season all the more special each day.  As the chapel services on base do not discuss Advent besides lighting the Advent wreath each Sunday, this is a way to incorporate the anticipation and joy of the season into our everyday lives at home.

David sent us this Advent calendar, which he purchased from JohnsonMade on Etsy.  I hung the calendar with the help of 5 carefully spaced nails on our kitchen wall as well as red ribbon and clothespins.  I love the artwork on each card and the verses and activity suggestions on the back.

Eden knows her brother loves birds, and so her choice of Advent calendar is especially sweet for Elliott.  Every day we help Lena open one of the little windows in the calendar and pull out the tiny paper bird inside.  Then we help her choose a spot on the tree to place it.  Bit by bit, the tree is filling up with a flock of many colored birds.  I wonder what's hiding in the big window for the 25th?

Do you have an Advent calendar, either new to you or filled with family tradition?

My favorite DIY Advent calendar idea this year is from paper{whites}.  Her calendar has 25 pockets that she filled with tiny ornaments; each day her little daughter takes out an ornament and puts it on her very own miniature tree!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday morning at the market


Many times I worry that I am not living in Italy enough.  Do I appreciate the food, the language, the culture of this beautiful land?  Am I learning the food, the language, the culture?  What ways can I more fully embrace living in Italy?

Once a week I have a ritual that is entirely Italian: Lena and I walk to the Wednesday outdoor market in our town.  I have come to rely on the stalls full of vegetables and fruits to stock my pantry and refrigerator, as I cannot find better prices or fresher produce anywhere during the week. 

I love these trips: pushing Lena's stroller through the streets of our town and waving at our acquaintances (the old man in the general store, the boy who works in the bottled water store), the arrival in the hustle and bustle of the market, the ritual of tearing off a number printed on thin colored paper from the stack dangling in front of my favorite vendors' stall, the meanderings from stall to stall until my number is finally called, the routine of ordering in Italian as best I can and being helped along by the vendors (father, mother, and son, I think) who by now smile in recognition at me, love Lena, and know when my baby is due.
Today Lena and I arrived at the market during the morning rush, so while we waited for our turn to get fruits and vegetables, we wandered around the market and took some pictures.

At last it was our turn to buy fruits and vegetables! Afterwards we checked to see how our car wash was coming along.  We borrowed our friends' van this week while they were out of town and our persnickety old Honda was in the shop.  I decided to get their van cleaned while we were at the market.  The men washed it inside and out by hand... and all for the equivalent of $20.  I'm coming back with our car next week!

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