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A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ July 2010

July 1st – Poking around the kitchen at Eilean Donan Castle and thanking the Powers That Be that I’m not actually a scullery maid.

July 2nd – Hiking through Glen Affric hand-in-hand with Natalie who sang her superspeed version of “You Are My Sunshine” to me on repeat.

Mommy and Natalie hiking 2

July 3rd – Careening with my crazy little family down the grassy dunes at Nairn Beach.

July 4th – Catching the total glee of the girls as they spent the morning whizzing down water slides.

July 5th – Eating Indian takeout on the floor and laughing over mis-translated menus with my very favorite husband of seven years.

July 6th – Surviving the hike up to Arthur’s Seat as a family and feeling on top of the world.

July 7th – Finding, in a very Private Eye move, the Tesco Superstore whose address had been written wrong. Without GPS. In an unfamiliar city. In which one is expected to drive on the wrong side of the road.

July 8th – Chowing down on piping hot fish and chips to bid farewell to a wonderful two weeks in the UK.

July 9th – Sharing a chair lift with my wide-eyed Sophie up above the quaint streets, serene river, and fairy-tale castle of Vianden.

July 10th – Splashing away the afternoon sweat in a Munich creek with dear friends, water cannons, and plenty of giggles.

Natalie picking a fight

July 11th – Spending time with friends in two different countries and finally falling asleep in our own soft beds; it’s good to be home!

July 12th – Opening a care package from a friend who somehow knew I needed to start the week with glitter and a good book.

July 13th – Watching an episode of Wipeout with the girls and cracking up together at all the good, clean painful, mud-splattered fun.

July 14th – Seeing the thrill radiating from Sophie as we watched Toy Story 3 in the theater.

July 15th – Sorting photos of our trip, each click a newly-minted memory.

July 16th – Taking the afternoon off to read a fantastic book guilt-free.

July 17th – Cracking up as my fearless husband swatted wasps out of the air so his much-more-fearful wife could enjoy her evening outdoors.

On the hunt for wasps 2

July 18th – Hosting a pool party only hours after setting up the girls’ inflatable pool… and it being a smash hit!

July 19th – Joining in the girls’ silliness in the pool and remembering the magical combination of water and children’s imaginations.

July 20th – Driving through a gold-tinged evening with the windows down and the music up—one of my favorite simple pleasures in the world.

July 21st – Filling an even trillion bottles with bright pineapple limoncello with Dan and thrilling to think of the friends who will enjoy them at Christmas.

July 22nd – Beating the heat with popsicles and pools and realizing I don’t miss air conditioning anymore.

July 23rd – Modeling my old ballet gear for my star-struck girls and dancing the morning away with them.

July 24th – Bobbing around in the turquoise waves of the Adriatic with my little fish of a Natalie.

Mommy and Natalie in the waves 1

July 25th – Chilling in our friends’ Brazilian hammock in the beach breeze.

July 26th – Playing airplane (now with turbulence!) with the girls until my legs gave out and we were all breathless with laughter.

July 27th – Doing my first reading lesson with Natalie and catching the infectious joy on her face as she read “Zac the Rat” cover to cover on her own.

July 28th – Doing my second reading lesson with Natalie and discovering the joy hadn’t worn off.

July 29th – Picking richly brown coriander seeds one at a time from June’s cilantro patch as my thoughts shifted from salsa to pickles.

July 30th – Impulsively inviting friends over for games… and having them accept just as impulsively.

July 31st – Finally getting all the photos from our Scotland trip captioned and neatly distributed online; it’s so good to be done!


A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ June 2010

June 1st – Despite the month opening with some sad news, feeling immensely grateful for my sweet girls, my thoughtful husband, and this little adventure of a life we’re building together.

June 2nd – Salvaging a rained-out holiday with board games, friends, and—best of all—cake!

June 3rd – Slipping away from motherhood for a glorious evening of aperitivi and grown-up conversation with girlfriends.

June 4th – Wishing we had some fresh fruit in the house only to run into the downstairs neighbor who was holding a big platter of cherries, freshly picked from the backyard, all for us.

Cherries from the backyard

June 5th – Nibbling strawberries from our little balcony garden and daydreaming about next year’s crop.

June 6th – Ending a long, busy day with the first watermelon of the season—sweet, sticky, and even more delicious for being shared with a crowd of friends.

June 7th – Eating the first peaches of the season with whipped cream and reaching something close to Nirvana. (Can you tell we love fruit around here?)

June 8th – Brainstorming gift ideas, a challenge that always makes me happy.

June 9th – Daydreaming about campgrounds in far-away lands and the Loch Ness monster we plan to meet this summer.

June 10th – Starting to feel that thrilling pre-trip giddiness that makes writing packing lists the most enjoyable activity in the world.

June 11th – Melting from the cuteness overload of Natalie (wearing a pink teapot) and her friends in their end-of-the-year preschool musical.

Emma and Natalie

June 12th – Seeing the girls shimmy to the sagra music blaring over our friends’ barbecue.

June 13th – Watching Sophie run full-speed to the front of our church during the Sunday School program so she could sing next to her sister.

June 14th – Cheering with a roomful of fans when Italy scored its first goal in the 2010 World Cup.

June 15th – Playing Hullaballoo with the girls and getting my silly groove on.

June 16th – Singing “You Are My Sunshine” in four-part harmony (well, in four parts, at any rate) with the rest of my sweet and goofy family before bed.

June 17th – Glimpsing the most glorious orange and purple sunrise with a soundtrack of a thousand blissful birds—the only real upside to being awakened by a crying child at 5:10 a.m.

Late spring sunrise

June 18th – Putting together fun Father’s Day surprises for guy who makes our world go ‘round.

June 19th – Picking out a new big-girl car seat for Sophie as a family and marveling at how well these girls of ours are growing.

June 20th – Getting a giant so-glad-to-know-you hug from an hours’ old friend.

June 21st – Teaching our girls the fine art of steamrolling.

June 22nd – Finishing the world’s longest Teux Deux list in happy anticipation of our upcoming trip.

June 23rd – Conquering my fears, taking a risk, and meeting a deadline that holds a large chunk of my current hopes at stake.

June 24th – Driving through the wooded hills nearby glittering emerald and gold in the morning light.

June 25th – Packing up the tent, locking the door behind us, and setting off for our next big adventure!

June 26th – Tumbling out of the car after a looooong day of driving and introducing the girls to the hilarity that is the trampoline.

June 27th – Taking an evening stroll around Cambridge and imagining myself at one of their impressive universities.

King's Parade

June 28th – Running from an unfriendly delegation of cows along Hadrian’s Wall until our whole family was out of breath from laughing.

June 29th – Wandering through the Scottish wilderness in the evening light and having my legs swept out from under me by the incredible beauty.

June 30th – Winding up through the Highlands blasting the Fratellis—Scottish bliss.


A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ May 2010

May 1st – Spending the day at a soccer tournament then a dinner party we had forgotten about until the last minute, treasuring the friendships we’ve made since moving here.

May 2nd – Slipping out of a sermon that interested me not a bit to chat with other moms in our church’s unofficial nursery.

May 3rd – Rooting out the scary dust bunnies (and elephants) from under the girls’ bedroom furniture and discovering beloved lost toys in the process.

May 4th – Finding a quiet stretch of afternoon for yoga and jasmine green tea.

May 5th – Being ordered onto a tiny plastic chair by Sophie for an impromptu picnic of plastic pie doused in invisible milk and sixteen cups of pretend coffee, all of which were hers.

May 6th – Refilling my favorite pink vase with fresh-picked daisies from our little balcony garden.

Striped daisies 3

May 7th – Staying up two hours past bedtime for a round of Settlers with friends… then staying up another two hours for a second round because none of us was psychologically capable of stopping at one.

May 8th – Sleeping until noon and curing the subsequent daze with pancakes.

May 9th – Finding the breakfast table loaded with hand-drawn Mother’s Day cards and our new tent—a promise of camping adventures this summer with the dear little family that made me a mother.

May 10th – Being the first recipient of Natalie’s newly-invented “flower kiss” (patent pending).

May 11th – Easily revising an essay, usually my most hated job ever.

May 12th – Rocking my tired baby to sleep and forgetting for a few magical moments that she’s not actually a baby anymore.

Falling asleep on Mommy 1

May 13th – Attending a friend’s piano concert and being swept away by her thunderous interpretation of Chopin.

May 14th – Going through our photos from the last couple of years and savoring each sweet, silly moment captured.

May 15th – Helping the girls introduce their Uncle Michael to basketball… on the Wii!

May 16th – Biting into melt-in-your-mouth Snickerdoodles hot from the oven.

May 17th – Amusing myself throughout the day with the stupidity of a neighborhood bird who was overcome with the need to fly through our balcony door.

May 18th – Making a tough decision and shortly realizing it was unquestionably the right one.

May 19th – Trying out a new video game with Dan and losing track of time like we used to back in our Unreal days.

May 20th – Befriending another mom at Natalie’s English class’s open house and finding myself one step closer to belonging here.

May 21st – Honoring our viral mint with afternoon mojitos on the balcony.

Viral mint 2

May 22nd – Discovering that the Flower Show is less a floral display and more a place to watch Venus Flytraps in action, stock up on obscure spices, and chat with friends while pretending not to see our daughters eating a meal worth of piadina samples.

May 23rd – Glancing up from our gardening work to see skydivers like colorful butterflies parachuting into the stadium just below our house.

May 24th – Catching up on my correspondence, taking the time to connect with loved ones who may be out of sight but not out of mind.

May 25th – Spending a wonderful evening with friends we’ thought we’d lost.

May 26th – Launching Popsiquest 2010, a highly yummy research endeavor with the girls for the best popsicles in town.

May 27th – Sitting down to have six years’ worth of mysteries answered in the “LOST” finale. (The anticipation turned out to be more satisfying than the actual watching, unfortunately.)

May 28th – Using a wretched head cold as an excuse to spend the afternoon in bed listening to This American Life and looking through family photos.

May 29th – Beating sickness with a game night and my self-prescribed remedy of salted fudge brownies.

Salted fudge brownie 2

May 30th – Tucking a pair of apple-scented girls into their beds early, leaving a deliciously long evening to spend with their daddy.

May 31st – Flouting a [mistakenly] dire weather forecast by spending the afternoon in front of an open window, soaking up every sun-tinted breeze.


A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ April 2010

April 1st – Sneaking up on two beautiful little ballerinas in a computer game trance.

Ballerina gamers 2

April 2nd – Throwing open the windows and letting spring come bounding inside.

April 3rd – Devouring Frito Pie and day-before-Easter chocolate in our new tent and feeling quite at home.

April 4th – Hiding eggs full of sugary treasures around our campsite for the girls to run and dance and climb and twirl and stumble upon throughout the morning.

April 5th – Ordering drinks at Natalie’s 2,000-year-old thermopolium in downtown Pompeii.

April 6th – Unloading a haul of bright, zesty Sorrento lemons and imagining the many ways we’ll enjoy them this spring.

Sophie inspecting the lemons 1

April 7th – All of us feeling more relieved that we realized to swing back into our weekday routines.

April 8th – Commencing Operation Limoncello 2010 with visions of sparkling Christmas gifts dancing in our heads.

April 9th – Falling asleep after a difficult day on my beloved mattress with my beloved husband and a new day waiting in the wings.

April 10th – Picking out the brightest, friendliest flowers we could find [on sale] to color in-between the lines on our balcony.

April 11th – Spying on the girls as they channeled their engineer dad and constructing amazing, imaginative worlds out of Duplos.

April 12th – While flipping television channels just before bed, stumbling onto an incredible burping rock duo and falling in love with Italian programming all over again.

April 13th – Being quite literally floored by a kiss attack from Sophie.

April 14th – Finally finding the words that had been eluding me all week and revising my position on life being over, etc.

April 15th – Saying good morning to the new flowers blooming and thriving and throwing wild tea parties in their planters.

Purple daisy close-up

April 16th – Hand-writing a letter in a pool of pure golden sunshine on the balcony.

April 17th – After breathing in clouds of fresh pollen all day long, realizing my eyes don’t itch and my sinuses haven’t closed and I’m not tempted to gouge out my skull with a salad fork; thank you, allergy vaccinations!

April 18th – Staying after church to eat gnocchi and lemon mousse and catch up with friends we haven’t seen in too long.

April 19th – Leaving the dishes to their own devices and playing a hilarious game of kickball in the backyard with the girls.

April 20th – Riding the essay submission high, like pot-laced caffeine with extra sprinkles.

April 21st – Butchering a favorite children’s song into a potty-time ditty to the girls’ utter amusement (and their father’s utter head-shaking).

April 22nd – Being treated like the customer of the decade by a sweet saleslady at the ritzy, glitzy profumeria while I rooted through the discount bin for their cheapest lime-grapefruit lotion.

April 23rd – Resurrecting a childhood favorite and playing Giddyup Little Horsey until the girls collapsed from laughter.

April 24th – Spending some quality time in the pages of The Princess Bride after far too long apart.

April 25th – Staying up half an hour too late and being rewarded with a Liberation Day fireworks show.

April 26th – Cheering on my timid Natalie as she rode her bicycle around and around the balcony, crashing and jumping back up with a grin of accomplishment.

Learning to ride a bike 4

April 27th – Getting a delightful letter in the mail from an old friend.

April 28th – Swinging at the otherwise empty playground with Sophie after early-morning errands.

April 29th – Wishing I had some fresh asparagus to fix with lunch and then being completely surprised by a friend who stopped by mid-morning simply to bring me a beautiful bouquet… of asparagus.

April 30th – Ending up €1.39 short at the grocery store but having a new friend unexpectedly show up in line behind me and pay before I realized what she was doing; closing out the month remembering to believe in little miracles.


A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ March 2010

March 1st – Whiling away the first warm afternoon of the year at the playground, meeting new friends, and sharing a fabulous pinecone stew.

March 2nd – Catching up on This American Life while concocting a pink pudding birthday cake.

March 3rd – Introducing my brand new five-year-old to the cherished Ingalls family.

March 4th – Rocking out to “nerdy music”—They Might Be Giants—at Natalie’s request and catching her singing along to Meet the Elements, “Come on, come on, and meet the elephants!”

March 5th – Bundling up and baking cupcakes to keep warm as our heater completed union negotiations.

The caldaia is broken AGAIN

March 6th – Waking up to both girls in bed with us, discussing loudly and with giggles a-plenty which one of us was a king (Sophie), which one was a princess (Natalie), which one was a queen (Mommy), and which one was a mermaid (Sophie again). (After some debate, it was agreed Daddy could be co-king.)

March 7th – Sharing the hilariously traumatic family experience of making bracelets with Natalie’s new, über-cheap jewelry wand.

March 8th – Walking in on Sophie bouncing up and down and singing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” on the potty.

March 9th – Submitting my first short story in over a year.

March 10th – Nibbling fresh strawberries, sipping tea, and giggling as the girls from Bible study launched into an in-depth discussion of boob jobs.

March 11th –Spotting a bed of exuberant daffodils blooming in a neighbor’s garden.

March 12th – Catching the look on Dan’s face when he heard me singing TMBG’s “Violin-lin-lin” to the girls.

March 13th – Sinking into the couch with my husband and the passengers of Oceanic 815 after a long day of cleaning.

March 14th – Hosting the kind of long, social lunch that I’ve so often enjoyed in Italian homes.

March 15th – Starting my daily to-do list with “Write HGTV back” and feeling a brief celebrity glow.

March 16th – Taking a big bite of New Orleans’ style banana pudding and tasting the stars align.

March 17th – Saluting the Irish American spirit with homemade shamrock shakes.

Homemade Shamrock Shakes

March 18th – Filling our day with the fairy-tale scent of baking cookies.

March 19th – Zipping up the last suitcase with plenty of time left for drinks and an early bedtime—miraculous, this!

March 20th – Winding through breathtakingly beautiful mountain passes on our way to the ski resort.

March 21st – Watching the girls’ heads spiral into the stratosphere from the joy of snow (and, one hour later, plunge into the depths of despair over wet socks and imminent naptime).

Sledding sisters 1

March 22nd – Playing Taboo with friends once we were all so tired that cry-laughing hilarity was guaranteed.

March 23rd – Hearing the girls crack up over old Tom & Jerry cartoons like I did as a child.

March 24th – Flying down the mountainside on fresh snow glittering in the early morning sunshine.

March 25th – Braving a foggy mountainside journey on my board for the second time in a week and reveling in the superhero rush when I made it.

March 26th – Getting several hours of guilt-free reading time out of my otherwise undesirable back seat station during our drive back to Perugia.

March 27th – Watching a perfect double rainbow arch across the valley below our house.

March 28th – Fashioning a sweet Mommy-Natalie date out of a routine trip to the grocery store.

March 29th – Catching the backyard trees in the act of blooming.

March 30th – Inviting Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles to breakfast. (We should do this every day.)

March 31st – Glimpsing bedtime stories in the late-evening clouds and their vivid incantations of blue.

Bluest of blues


From Doorstops to Dishes

“The dishes!” I wail, glancing into the kitchen on my way to bed. “Why are there always and forever dishes needing to be washed?”

Dan replies kindly: “Because we use them.”

“Oh. Right.”


On Valentine’s Day, 2004, I kicked my brand new husband out of the house for four hours so I could make Chicken Parmesan as a surprise. To this day, I have no idea how a pile of chicken-topped spaghetti could possibly have taken four hours, but it’s fair to say I had no idea what I was doing. (The consistency of said chicken, which could have better served as packing material, agrees.) However, I so longed to make something beyond our standard fare of Campbell’s and Kraft. Surely, surely, with a little effort and the clucking, grandmotherly help of that red plaid cook book, culinary pleasure could be found in our dining room.

We ate Taco Bell the next day.

A lot changes when one moves to a country without fast food, though. When we first arrived in Italy, I mostly fixed packages of risotto mix and frozen chicken cordon bleu, and we picked up pizza a few times a week. However, I took mental notes each time we were invited to an Italian meal. One friend taught me how to make melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi; another gave me her recipe for amazing oven-roasted potatoes. I learned—thanks to my longsuffering husband—how to make cappuccinos, and I started auditioning new dessert recipes with his co-workers each week. I made a New Year’s resolution to learn how to cook meat so that people would rather eat it than use it as a doorstop. The next year, with a tasty repertoire of brining and braising techniques, I made a New Year’s resolution to make friends with vegetarian fare. I started jotting down menus and grocery lists for the first time in my life.

This year, my attention is drawn more toward my desk than toward the kitchen, but the process of cooking still engages my heart in a way I couldn’t have imagined six years ago. There’s something sacred in the challenge of planning meals to nourish my family’s bodies and souls while guarding our time and finances. There is mindfulness in rubbing fragrant herbs into a pot of soup, serenity in rolling pastry dough. Food preparation is no longer just a means to survival—it is a classroom, a laboratory, and an art studio. A love song. A risk, an exploit, a gathering of the usual five senses plus a few more. A thrice-daily dose of beauty to share and savor.

It is also, as reluctant as I may be to admit this, worth every single always-and-forever-dirty dish.


A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ February 2010

February 1st – Waking up just before dawn to a snow-sprinkled fairyland.

February 2nd – Watching Sophie’s baby videos with her and adoring her smallness—then and now.

Watching Sophie's baby videos

February 3rd – Taking a five-minute family walk around the neighborhood and being stopped by one, two, three cars of friends saying hi and offering a ride.

February 4th – Giving up delusions of a productive sick day and snuggling into bed with Sophie to nap the morning away.

February 5th – Discovering a wonderful e-mail from an old friend hidden away in my Junk folder.

February 6th – Listening to Natalie spin elaborate stories about the princesses she was coloring all afternoon.

February 7th – Spotting four perfect new buds on my red daisy plant.

February 8th – Braving a couple of Old Testament chapters and finding only goodness inside.

February 9th – Having a lovely, long conversation with a friend who’s taken years to open up.

February 10th – Reliving the joy of marker on my hands and glitter in my hair as I helped the girls make valentines.

Natalie ready to glitterfy her hearts

February 11th – Hearing from two different long-lost friends out of the serendipitous blue.

February 12th – Tasting snowflakes with the girls and getting caught up in their excitement. (S: “Hooray! Hooray! Sophie excited!” N: ::bubbles over with laughter:: S: “Sophie thinking about Missmas trees!” N: ::jumps up and down for joy::)

February 13th – Getting treated to a twenty minute concert about tenniiissss, we should play tennniiiissss, but be caarrefuulllll when you play tennniiissss because of the bad bugs who like to plaaaaayyyyyy TEEEENNNNNIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSS!

February 14th – Playing LIFE as a family to wind up Valentine’s Day and giggling over the girls’ name choices. (Sophie christened her husband, three sons, and four daughters each “Sophie Bassett!”; Natalie chose “Prunes” for her husband and “Creams” for their son.)

February 15th – Listening to thousands of birds chirp and giggle as they spun in circles outside, punch-drunk on sunshine.

February 16th – Having a hug for dessert.

February 17th – Starting the day with a family snuggle in bed.

February 18th – Being in our ailing car with the girls as it breathed its last… right in front of our house… the same day we were finally able to get a bank account to buy a new car… and realizing God might have had a hand in all the timing.

February 19th – Despite all our Valentine’s plans being derailed, having one of the best dates ever at the living room bar with Dan.

February 20th – Enjoying every minute our family car-shopping day. (The girls’ favorite part? Careening around the biggest car lot in a golf cart. The parents’ favorite part? Finding the perfect car for the perfect price.)

February 21st – Wondering over our future and feeling peace despite the uncertainty.

February 22nd – Getting in and out of the post office in under a minute – a miracle!

February 23rd – Beating the winter blahs with a personal concert by Natalie and super-speed Giro Giro Tondo* until we all collapsed laughing on the rug. (* Italy’s “Ring Around the Rosie”)

February 24th – Grooving to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while hanging laundry outside for the first time this year.

February 25th – Posing the girls on top of our old car for goodbye pictures just as the next-door-neighbor, who already thinks we’re crazy, walked outside.

Goodbye old car 2

February 26th – Trying to teach “Jesus Loves Me” to Sophie, who very sweetly (and wildly out-of-tune) crooned, “Yeeeessss, Jesus loves you! Yeeeessss, Jesus love you!”

February 27th – Taking our new car for a spin around Lago Trasimeno with the windows down and the stereo thumping.

February 28th – Giggling our goodnights with two small girls who still love to be tickled.

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