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April 15, 2014

Marianello Beach

Marianello Beach

Marianello Beach at sunset

Beach Bar

Fishing Boats



Bushes in the park

Flying over Mt. Etna

Prior to our recent trip, all of my travels in Italy had been confined to the north — Milan, Turin, Venice, and lots of little towns in between.  It’s easy to paint the north with one broad brush (particularly when comparing it to southern Italy), but there’s a real difference between all of these cities.  The mood, the culture.  It’s noticeable.  Milan is brisk and businesslike, but also a little hipster-ish (where else are you going to find a €30 hamburger and people willing to pay for it?).  Turin is romantic and intellectual, with a café culture to rival Paris.  And Venice is elusive, secretive…a city so stubborn, not only do they refuse to sink, but they’ve rebuilt the same opera house after it burnt to the ground twice!  But compared to these cities and all the little towns sprinkled in between, arriving in Sicily is like landing on another planet.

Italy isn’t very big — it’s just slightly larger than the state of Arizona — so a flight from Milan (in the north) to Catania (on the eastern coast of Sicily) only takes a couple of hours.  If you need to take a car with you, there’s a ferry from Genoa to Palermo, which takes a few days, or a road trip down the length of the country that takes you through Rome, which takes about 14 hours.  When my husband was a kid, flying was too expensive, so they’d usually drive to Sicily, sleeping in the car on the way down.  Fortunately nowadays flights are cheap, which makes a weekend getaway to Sicily totally affordable, especially if you already have a place to stay.  In August, when everything shuts down for a couple of weeks, the cities and towns empty out and everyone flees to the coasts or the mountains.  If you’ve got roots in Sicily, that’s where you go.  Flavio’s parents recently built themselves a beautiful pied-à-terre on the top floor of his grandma’s house, so after we landed in Catania we took a 2-hour bus ride to the port town of Licata.

Licata is on the southwestern coast of Sicily, near Agrigento.  The Salso River (so named because it’s salty) runs through town, and there’s also a large fishing and shipping port.  Flavio’s family are fishermen, marinari.  I can’t tell you how many generations back this goes, but it’s a safe bet that it goes all the way back.  Back in the day, in Sicily, if you were a marinaro, you married a marinara.  It would have been taboo to marry outside of the seafarer community (this daughter of a prairie grocer is pretty glad that she and her marinaro were born in an age when this rule no longer applies!).  So although my husband grew up in landlocked Piedmont, and currently lives in waterless Kansas, the sea is in his blood.  If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing how starry-eyed Flavio gets around boats, knowing the history of his family and their homeland goes a long way toward explaining his obsession!

Licata is quite small, only about 40,000 people.  It’s also very old — according to Wikipedia, some dickish tyrant razed the settlement in nearby Gela and moved all of its inhabitants to a new town named for himself, Phintias, in 282 BCE.  Since that time, the city has been passed around to just about every empire sailing within spitting distance of the faro, ending with an American occupation during WWII.  Many of the cafés around town have English names that really don’t make sense, like “Angel Bar” or “Bar Fantasy” (I mean, they’re coffee shops, not strip clubs).  That being said, I didn’t run into anybody who actually spoke a lick of English.

There isn’t much to do in Licata, and even less to do if it’s raining.  And if it’s raining during siesta?  Well, you can go to the mall.  For such a small town, Licata actually has two shopping malls.  The locals seem to be quite proud of Il Porto, the newest one.  It’s beautifully built, close to the sea and surrounded by palm trees.  Watch out for stray dogs the size of small horses, which roam the city in packs — they’re quite docile, and probably won’t approach you, but you can’t be too careful when it comes to wild dogs.  We saw several in the mall parking lot.  If you walk around the building, you’ll run into my favorite thing: the Porto Turistico.  About half of the storefronts along the porto are empty, but there’s a lovely sailing shop and a wonderful café/bookstore (with an attached gelateria, which was sadly closed for the season).  The highlight of my weekend in Licata was sipping a cappuccino on the terrace of Caffè Letterario, looking out at the sailboats docked along the port.  Many of these sailboats fly the Maltese flag; the town’s Maltese community dates back to the 16th Century.

On this trip, we bought all of our provisions at the grocery store in the mall (no really, that’s where they keep the grocery store), but next time I’d prefer to shop a little more local: produce from the sidewalk vegetable stands, fresh sesame bread from the guy who drives around the neighborhoods selling it from his truck, and the catch of the day from Flavio’s uncle’s fishing boat.  I was disappointed to discover that, although a big part of the local economy relies on fishing, you can’t just go down to the docks and buy fish directly from the fishermen.  They sell their catch directly to pescherie.  We tried to go to one of these fish shops, but naturally it was closed for siesta.  (Fish is the one thing you can’t find at the mall…the grocery store just doesn’t stock it!)  I did get to eat some fish (quite a lot of it, actually) when we went out to dinner at Hotel El Sombrero with Flavio’s aunt and her family on our last night in Licata.  I think something like ten or twelve different plates of fish antipasti were brought to our table that night.  I wish I could remember what they all were!  Half were hot, half were cold.  All were delicious.

All of this is to say that I’ve fallen in love with this funny little port city.  I’ve grown to feel like I have four different towns that I can call home: Lawrence, Wichita, Vercelli, and now Licata.  It will probably be a few years before I have a chance to go back, but I have a feeling that this 2,300-year old community will still be there when I do.  ;)


Il Bel Paese

April 11, 2014

Piazza Cavour

Potted plants

My sweet love

View of Superga from the Mole Antonelliana

Mr. Rooster & Miss Hen, out for a passeggiatta

Cherry-bon & Stracciatella


You guys, I went to Italy.  Like, two months ago.  And I took approximately 6 million pictures because I got a new camera (my first DSLR!!) right before we left.  So why haven’t I written about it yet?

To be honest, this was not the best trip for us, and I’ve needed to put some distance between myself and the experience.  The weather was not great.  We knew that was a risk with traveling in February, but the low cost of flying during late winter/early spring was just too tempting.  We’ve traveled during this season before–several times in fact–and we’ve always had pretty good luck.  Plus, our anniversary is February 28th, and we wanted to do something special.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the weather in mid- to late-February is a bit like playing Russian roulette, and this time we got the bullet. We flew out during that big snowstorm on the East Coast, so all of our flights ended up getting canceled, but we did eventually get there (even if all of our luggage didn’t).

Our first two weeks in Italy were a blur of visiting almost every person my husband has ever met in his life, but a few things stand out in my memory from that time: we had a magical evening walking around Torino with a couple of our very best friends; we spent a beautiful day in a pretty little town close to the mountains cooking ribs & pancakes (the new chicken & waffles?) for my brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and her family; and we treated my sister-in-law to a day of shopping in Milan, including a trip to Furla and lunch at a Sicilian restaurant near Piazza Duomo.  With an almost daily ritual of getting up at 6AM to catch a train and staying out past midnight having dinner with family or friends, it’s no wonder that by the end of the second week we were both getting sick.  And just in time for our anniversary getaway to Sicily!

Marianello Beach

Sail boats

Row boat

Terrace view

Strolling along the Porto Turistico

This was my first time visiting Sicily, and I really wanted to love it.  In some ways, I did love it.  I loved the people, and the boats, and the pastries.  I loved the clumps of oranges and artichokes growing along the side of the road.  I got to see the church where my husband’s parents got married.  I saw the fishing docks where his grandfathers (and probably their fathers, and their grandfathers, and so on) would set out to sea every day.  I visited a cemetery nestled into the side of a hill and saw where Flavio’s cousin, grandfather, and great-grandparents are entombed.  I watched the town’s second annual Carnival parade, with horses and kids dressed up like medieval ladies and jesters.  I flew over a volcano!  I loved all of these things.  But I did not love being sick.  I didn’t love that it rained almost the whole time we were there.  And I didn’t love that the only chunk of time we had to ourselves to explore was Sunday afternoon, when literally everything was closed for siesta.  I really hope to go back there someday, because under the right circumstances, Sicily is magical.

There are a lot of things from this trip that I’m eager to share here over the coming weeks and months, but for now I just wanted to pop in and say hi and share some photos.  I promise to write more soon!


Queen Anne’s Lace Pillowcases {FO}

February 7, 2014

Queen Anne's Lace Pillowcases

This was a really quick, easy project.  I embroidered these super soft coral pillowcases for my mom, using this free pattern from Alicia Paulson.  My crafting has been kind of all over the place lately: I’m mostly done with the leg of one Child’s French Sock, I’ve been intermittently working on the giant rippled blanket I started crocheting more than a year ago, and I’ve purchased most of the fabric for my next quilt (but have only cut 3 of the prints).  I’m just not really “feeling it” with any of those projects — I don’t really like the yarn I’m using for the sock or the colors I picked for the blanket, and I’m wary of using my sewing machine or tiny cutting mat for a big project right now.

I’m going to embroider more pillowcases for myself, I think.  Strangely, I’ve done three pairs of pillowcases, and none of them have been for my own bed.  I think this would be a good project to travel with, as we’ve got a very exciting trip coming up soon (more on that later).  What I’d really love to be working on is this sweet sweater for spring.  I’ve always wanted to try knitting with linen, and this one looks like the perfect thing to wear over pretty flowered dresses.

Can’t wait to hop across the Atlantic, leave this snow behind, and enjoy an early spring!  I hope you’re all staying warm & toasty, or–better yet–soaking up some sunshine.



January 16, 2014

Stained Glass Rose Mirror

Baby Me

Recently, a couple people on Instagram have remarked that my quilt and these embroidered pillowcases look like heirlooms, and it got me thinking a lot about that word.  About what heirlooms mean to me, and why.  Although I don’t come from a very sentimental family, I do have a few very special items that have been passed down to me.  I don’t know if the original owners of these things thought they were as special as I think they are.  Probably not, since the very thing that makes them so special to me is that they remind me of the people who gave them to me.

I just got back from a week in Wichita, taking care of my mom after a minor surgery.  While I was there, she gave me a mirror that she made in the early ’80s, before I was born.  I have always loved it…for me, it represents home and comfort and my beautiful mother.  I hope that someday, when I pass it on to my own child, it will symbolize those things for her too.

Before I was born, a friend of the family made a quilt for my parents.  It was huge…easily draped over my parents’ full-size bed, but probably could’ve even covered a king-size one.  Thousands of tiny, one-inch hexagons in hundreds of colors and patterns.  As a baby, I would spend hours staring at all of the patches.  There where ginghams and stripes, solids and flowers, polka dots big and small.  Even a black & yellow owl print that always kind of creeped me out.  When we were kids, my brother and I would throw this quilt over the dining room table to make a fort, or spread it out in the living room and have a picnic in our drippy wet swimming suits.  In middle school, it was my bedspread.  I can remember very clearly lying on it, reading To Kill a Mockingbird or The Face on the Milk Carton, listening to The Wallflowers or rain falling on the roof, nursing a broken heart (because when you’re thirteen, your heart is in a perpetual state of brokenness).  This quilt was loved.  It was a member of the family, just as much as my younger brother or our cocker spaniel.  I wish it hadn’t fallen apart (and wish even more that I’d had the skills to repair it), but it ignited this desire in me to learn how to sew, to make a quilt for myself, to create potential heirlooms that could be passed down for generations.

I love filling my home with the things I’ve made.  But, even more than that, I love dreaming about the life these things will have beyond my own use for them.  Dreaming about what they’ll symbolize to the person who owns them next.  Hoping that they become a cherished part of my own family, and then my children’s families, and so on.  (And yes, I will teach my children how to mend, so that even when things fall apart, they don’t end up lost forever!)


House Plans

January 6, 2014

Craft Room - Before

Craft Room - Before

Craft Room - Before

Today our pipes are frozen and I’m in a really bad mood because I had to let down people that I love, so I’m going to a dream space in my head. I’m dreaming about my craft room in the basement, about getting it done and spending all day in there, making and crafting and stitching and seaming.   As you can see, it’s a real big mess.  When we bought the house, it looked a lot like all of the other bedrooms: dark, dusty, and covered in old lady wallpaper.  In the process of removing that crappy old black floral wallpaper, we discovered what we thought was mold but turned out to actually be old termite damage.  The whole wall (the one with the windows) had to be torn down and rebuilt, but unfortunately the workmen never returned to finish the job.  It was heartbreaking, and I still keep the room closed up so I don’t have to deal with it.  So this year, hiring a handyman to finish this room (and the rest of the basement) is priority #1.

Left column: Ivar shelves from Ikea; Sweet Sea Roses patterned paint roller from NotWallpaper. Right column: Wire Storage Basket from Kaufmann Mercantile; Melltorp table from Ikea; Stenstorp kitchen island from Ikea.

These are some of the ideas I have for the room, once we get the walls finished and the carpet cleaned.  Clockwise, from the top left: Ivar 2-section shelves from IKEA ($128); Wire Storage Baskets from Kaufmann Mercantile ($44.90; currently out of stock, and probably out of my price range anyway, but I’ll look for something similar to store fabrics…yarns will go in these wooden baskets); Melltorp table from IKEA ($65); Stenstorp kitchen island from IKEA ($399; this is probably too expensive to get right off the bat, but eventually I’d like to have this or something similar to use as a cutting table/workspace); Sweet Sea Roses patterned paint roller by Notwallpaper ($37).

I can’t wait to see how this room comes together this year.  I’m hoping to have it done by my birthday, at the end of September.  I can’t imagine a better birthday present than having my own little space to create and dream and play with floss, fabric, & fiber!


My First Quilt {FO}

January 5, 2014

Ollalieberry Ice Cream Quilt

Ollalieberry Ice Cream Quilt

Ollalieberry Ice Cream Quilt

Pattern: Olallieberry Ice Cream Quilt, by Alicia Paulson

Materials: 1/8 yard each of 10 different prints (Architextures Crosshatch by Caroyln Friedlander, Marmalade Raspberry Stripe by Bonnie & Camille, Critter Patch Bunny Brigade by Alyssa Thomas,  Oasis Dainty by 3 Sisters, A Walk in the Woods by Aneela Hoey, Sunnyside Celestial by Kate Spain, Double Chocolat by 3 Sisters, Lola Polka Dot by Dear Stella, Minimalista Confetti by Art Gallery, and some plaid by Marcus Fabrics that apparently doesn’t exist because I can’t find it anywhere online); 3/4 yard cream-colored cotton; crib-size Warm & Natural batting; 2 yards unbleached muslin for the backing; 3/4 yard red gingham for the binding; 2 spools Gutermann thread in color #21.

Started: December 20, 2013

Finished: January 4, 2014

This quilt might just be my favorite thing I’ve ever made, and the proudest accomplishment of my crafty life.  This pattern was really ideal for a first quilt; it walked me through the process step-by-step, with lots of pictures.  As much as I love Alicia Paulson’s aesthetic, her “you can totally do this!” spirit is what really makes her books, patterns, and blog worth paying attention to.  The only thing that wasn’t well explained in this quilt pattern was how to attach the binding to the back with a blind hem stitch, but I found a good video for that on YouTube.

I’ll be honest…the quilt is a little wonky.  A lot of the squares don’t really line up.  The quilting lines aren’t straight (even though I used a walking foot), and the spacing varies from 1/8″ to 1/2″ in some places.  There are lots of little puckers and folds.  The stitches aren’t all the same length, and there are several tiny knots on the back where the thread broke or the bobbin jammed and I had to restart in the middle of the line.  There are even a few little dark gray grease spots from right after I oiled the machine for the first time.  I’m a perfectionist in my crafting, so accepting these mistakes — and actually falling in love with the charm that some of them add to the quilt — was a big deal in and of itself.

I was a little nervous that when I tossed this thing in the washing machine yesterday, it would fall apart at the seams.  But of course it didn’t!  I made a quilt.  After that, I feel like I can do pretty much anything.


Crafty Resolutions

January 1, 2014


I won’t pretend that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  Everyone does, whether they admit them out loud or not.  I’ve got the old standbys…eat healthier, save more money, be a better person.  Nobody wants to hear about those.  But I do enjoy reading about everyone’s crafty resolutions, and so I thought I’d share mine too:

  • Take better care of my sewing machine.  Last week I’d convinced myself that I needed a brand new machine because mine is cheap and keeps messing up, but maybe all my little Brother needed was a new needle and a good oiling.  I’m going to clean it out, too, after I finish the quilt (since I’ll need to remove the walking foot to put the presser foot back on, that will be a good time to clean the feed dogs).  Sad to say that I’ve had this machine for 3 years now, and this is the first time I’ve done any of these things.
  • Make a proper cover for my sewing machine, instead of this old pillowcase that my grandma was giving away.
  • Invest in beautiful materials to inspire beautiful work.  There’s such a significant difference in the quality of fabric you can get at a real quilt shop versus a big craft store, not to mention the invaluable advice (same goes for yarn, of course).  I’m hopeful that the extra money spent on materials translates to a quilt or sweater or toy that lasts for generations.  Beautiful tools also make the process more pleasurable.
  • Try a new craft or two.  Right now I’m particularly interested in weaving and candlemaking.  My local yarn store offers weaving classes, and the last two issues of Taproot have had articles about candlemaking.
  • Knit another sweater.  I’ve got loads of sweaters in my Ravelry queue right now.  I love my Reine cardigan, but I think my 2014 sweater will be a pullover.
  • Sew something to wear.  I recently found a ton of cute plus-size sewing patterns from BurdaStyle, with this, this and this being my favorite of the novice patterns.
  • Set up a space just for my crafting.  I really hope that we can get my craft room finished this year, at least to the point where I can set up a desk or table for sewing and some shelves for storage.  I’ve been collecting ideas on a pinboard, and an IKEA is opening nearby in a few months.
  • Create something new.  My own pattern.  Not sure what it will be yet, or even what medium, but I really want to put something new out there.

I hope you all have a beautiful, happy new year!



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