The Best Souvenirs

DSC06240-picsayBefore we get too far into the new year and our adventures in Croatia we wanted to share an amazing find from our trip to Venice, Italy. While exploring the streets along the canals of Venice we found ourselves surrounded by shops selling magnificently decorated masks. Venice has a long history of masks which were worn during the celebration of Carnival, but also at other times of the year to hide identity or social status.


While we usually don’t buy souvenirs (they take up too much space in our luggage) we couldn’t resist leaving Venice with masks of our own. We were overjoyed to discover that most shops sold undercoated masks for only 1 or 2 Euros. These masks are an unbelievable bargain compared to any other souvenir that we have come across, and they are amazingly well constructed. They tie with beautiful ribbons and don’t break after being dropped multiple times onto hard surfaces (the kids had fun testing that out).

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Once we returned home we saved the decorating of our masks for New Year’s Eve. It made the perfect activity leading up to the late night festivities. Once all the masks were decorated (we used markers, but paints, glitter, stickers or even fabric would work as well) we tied them on had great fun pretending that our New Year’s Eve party was actually a masked gala at the palace in Venice ūüôā

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Lucca Holiday Potpourri



While Christmas has come and gone here in Lucca, there are still plenty of reminders: holiday lights still span the streets, and our Christmas tree ornaments still hang on our lovely tree pictured above. In the spirit of prolonging that Christmas magic for a little while longer, we wanted to share both our holiday highlights of spending Christmas in Lucca as well as our annual Christmas poem.


What was your favorite part about having Christmas in Lucca?

Five of Hearts: Of course I liked Santa coming, presents, stockings, the Christmas tree, decorations, and most of all family. But I really liked getting to check out all the new Christmas things (like the lights and the decorations and watching the ice skaters in Lucca).

Five Ball: I liked when we played Labyrinth as a family.

High Five: I loved when I ate all the dates and Mom told Nana about it, that I ate my brother’s¬†dates.¬†[Parental Note: Let’s hope this doesn’t become a pattern; stealing his brother’s dates in the future will likely lead to high tempers and broken hearts.]

Five Spice: My favorite part was our Christmas tree. We all had a blast making and hanging ornaments together, and the fact that our tree was a lamp made it super easy to light up without having to fuss over finding that one burned-out bulb in the string.

Five String: I loved listening to the church bells as they chimed on Christmas Eve with a special holiday vigor.



Lucca, Midwinter

Walking backwards on the wall,

Against the flow of feet and time.

The season heeds the church bells’ call,

In tune with carols sung in rhyme.

Piles of leaves have ended fall;

Winter floats on breath that climbs.

Lights are strung across the street

Pavement sings with booted feet

As window shoppers make the beat,

Hot chocolate keeps the skaters warm

To carousels the children swarm

As Santa grins in local form.


Another lap, the lights all fade,

Candles glow in drafty rooms.

Roasted swans in pans are laid,

As silent fall the heavy looms.

Children laugh while lutes are played,

Feet on wooden platforms boom.

On Christmas Eve the twelve nights start

In trees are apples, red and tart

The Mass of Christ, a solemn heart,

Which soon gives way to revelry

As gifts are passed from old to wee

Like Magi on Epiphany.


Around again, on roads traversed,

By sandals marching out from Rome.

It’s Saturnalia, roles reversed,

With public feasts and gifts at home.

The first are last, the last are first,

Decree the gods beneath the dome.

Masters cleaning out the stable

Servants at the master’s table

Eating all that they are able,

Saffron cakes with honey sheen

Poets capturing the scene

The lares and sprigs of evergreen.


A stream of Latin flooding all,

Splashing with its rise and fall,

On wooden tablet, marble wall.

The ink descends, part glue and soot,

Tucked away, in tree roots put,

Stretching forwards, underfoot.


A Holiday Happy Birthday

Five of Hearts is a Christmas baby and super proud of it! In fact she has always harbored a secret hope that she is somehow related to Santa. Her dream come true would be to live at the North Pole decorating cookies, hanging ornaments, and singing Christmas carols all year long. We as her family are so very glad that we don’t have to share her with Santa and the elves, and instead get to be with her year-round. She is our very cherished piece of Christmas magic and we all delight in her so much. She lights up every room and makes every day brighter with her generous nature, huge heart, and love of life.

As a Christmas baby she never complains about sharing her birthday. Instead she happily enjoys Christmas and then the next day lets the celebration of her birth begin. As she turned eight this year her father and I were very excited that she wanted to spend a special birthday evening with just us. So, after celebrating with her brothers all day she spent the evening snuggled up with us on the couch watching Chocolat. Five of Hearts adores chocolate as well as Johnny Depp, so she couldn’t have picked a better movie. Being in Lucca where they sell really good vegan chocolate (we stocked up) made the entire evening perfect.


Five of Hearts has made Christmas infinitely more wonderful since she came into our lives, and we all hope that Santa understands if he ever wants her to join him at the North Pole he’ll have to take us along as well.

Fives’ Favorites for Learning About Venice


Now that our memorable two days in Venice are complete, we wanted to share some of the resources we found useful in preparing for our visit.

Nothing helps you appreciate amazing architecture like trying to build it yourself. After brushing up on the sights we would see in Venice, we took out the Legos and set to work on gondolas, cathedrals, and bridges. In the week leading up to our trip, Five of Heart’s take on the Rialto Bridge (see pictures) served as a wonderful daily reminder of our upcoming adventure.

Thief LordThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
This exciting tale of runaway children living in the city traverses famous landmarks and lesser-known places alike. It gave us both a good sense of the city’s geography as well as a novel way to see Venice through the eyes of characters who reside there.

Venice Backstage: How Does Venice Work?
This video is part of a great web site created by the Venice public works department. In addition to videos, there are high-quality PDFs that go into more detail about the behind-the-scenes infrastructure that makes Venice livable for its inhabitants. Ever wondered how Venetians built heavy granite cathedrals atop soft, gooey mud? Or how they got fresh water in the middle of a salty lagoon? Venice Backstage is the place to find these answers and more.

Magic Tree HouseMagic Tree House #33: Carnival at Candlelight by Mary Pope Osborne
Jack and Annie’s adventure at Venice’s Carnivale gave us a wonderful walk-through of what we would see in and around Saint Mark’s Square. From the Bridge of Sighs to winged lions that actually fly, this Magic Tree House story really makes the sights and sounds of Venice come alive (literally). There were dozens of things we recognized in person because we had first experienced them in this book.

Crash Course: Venice and the Ottoman Empire: Crash Course World History #19
As always, John Green gives an entertaining whirlwind account of world history, and this episode does a nice job explaining Venice‚Äôs rise to power, its abundance of marble, and why a saint‚Äôs remains were transported in a barrel of pork. If we ever follow through with our Venice t-shirt idea (the phrase ‚ÄúWorking like a Doge‚ÄĚ with an accompanying Doge-y picture), John Greene will definitely get a complementary shirt in honor of his tireless service to the realm of knowledge.