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Picture It: Sicily, 2014

Picture It: Sicily, 2014

More pictures in Google Stories.

I got an email late last year from my mother about a tour of Sicily they had booked. Sicily’s been on her bucket list for a while. Her grandparents were born and married there, and when they first moved to New York they still had land. I’m not sure if they intended to go back periodically throughout their lives, depending on work, but somebody muddled those plans. In the 1930s, Mussolini started confiscating the land of absentee owners, so the family went back to sell their only link to “home.” Once accomplished, they came to America to stay.

My great-grandparents both lived to see their early 90s, and as long as I had known them the didn’t speak English. I often wondered how they were able to get by in the US, but after they died I learned that they knew English, they just didn’t speak it. I have to admit it puts an interesting spin on my memories, watching my aunts holler at them in English and me thinking, Why don’t you just learn a few Italian phrases and meet them halfway?

I certainly wished I’d bothered to learn it myself, because I joined them after their tour for a few days. Mom intended to see the village her family left behind, and I never turn down free room in a foreign country (almost done paying for the airfare). So away I went last week.

Cathedral di Sicilia

This was only my second trip to Europe, and I’m amazed by the apparent age of the continent. In Florida and Virginia, some landmarks date back to early Colonial times, so we’re talking 1600s at best. You travel to Sicily and you find ruin that go back to Christ. We stayed mainly in Catania – there are no Starbucks, but I found three Catholic churches on the same block. We attended Mass at the one above, which holds the relics of St. Agatha. You hear that Sicily served as home to so many people – Greeks, Jews, Muslims – over the centuries, but the Catholic presence is most obvious. The food is insane, too. I didn’t go hungry.

We took a bus to the village. You know, for years I’ve knocked around the idea of a story set in Sicily. I’d always had my great-grandparents’ home in mind, though I’d never seen pictures. When we arrived, it amazed me to see how the village looked as I’d imagined. Roads are steep and homes are close together. Old men congregate in front of the bars and watch the world pass. Tiny cars weave around people and bop along bumpy roads. I may write that story yet.
Mom found what she wanted as far as genealogy. The records were so old, they had to hand write copies of the birth and marriage certificates. Looking at them, we discovered something interesting: the mothers of my great, great-grandparents had the same last name. Did cousins marry? It’s possible.
Now that I’m back, I can get to writing again. Some good news came in the email while I was away. Will share it very soon.
Top Disney Vacation Experts to Follow on Twitter

Top Disney Vacation Experts to Follow on Twitter

790646_46868782No doubt about it, a trip to any of the amazing Disney theme parks is an event to remember. One might argue, too, that the planning involved in such a vacation is an event in itself. Having spent a long weekend at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando and enjoying all the amenities of a practically inclusive Disney World trip, I can attest to the amount of preparation – the time invested could support a part-time job! Thirty or so years ago, when only the Magic Kingdom reigned over Lake Buena Vista and visitors sought out coveted E-Tickets, one could simply make Disney a spontaneous day of fun. These days, if you want to eat at one particular restaurant, you better make sure you’ve called weeks, maybe months, in advance. It’s a whole new world indeed.

You can be certain that as more people turn to social media content for tips on travel, a multitude of mouse-eared Tweeters are on hand to dispense insider info on where the lines are longest and what specials are available on food and accommodations. Having browsed Twitter search for updated information on the four Orlando parks in particular, I’ve found some helpful advice, lovely pictures, and have developed a yearning to head back to Florida. If you’re thinking of visiting the Mouse and friends this winter, or even next summer, now’s as good a time as any to check out these regular theme park Tweeters.

@DisneyParks: Of course, there is an official Twitter for the Disney destinations. Here you’ll find information on all the resorts, the cruise lines, and non-park vacation properties owned by the company. You’ll find news on in-park events and tips for good prices on packages.

@Rick_Howard: To read Rick’s Twitter feed, one might think he lives at Disney World. Seems everyday he’s tweeting from a different location within the multi-park complex. Actually, Rick maintains a video travel blog of the different sights and sounds of the Orlando attractions, and updates his Twitter feed with breaking news of interest to Disney-philes (for one, WDW no longer sells all-beef hot dogs, remember that around lunch time).

@wdwfan – This very interactive Twitter feed is maintained by Orlando area travel agents who post specials and updated park information for Disney as well as other parks in the region. Newcomers to central Florida can gain a good sense of the entire area reading the tweets on this feed.

@AllEarsDeb – The founder of popular Disney travel site tweets regular updates and ride reviews, Disney news and travel tips.

@MiceChat – Billed as a “different look” at the Disney properties, MiceChat’s Twitter is fed by the site of the same name, offering detailed updates on park events and issues. This is a great, thorough site for the Disney fan and traveler.

Honorable Mentions

@mousemisers – Primarily fed by the Mouse Misers blog, which offers news on discounts for Disney-themed attractions and vacations.

@DatelineDisney – Specifically covers the Disneyland park and Disney-related news.

When you’re ready to plan that unforgettable Disney vacation, don’t forget to check out the more popular Disney tweeters for inside tips and savings, and don’t forget to tweet from the park and let everybody know how much fun you’re having!

Letterboxing in Atlanta – Cobb County…Find a New Treasure

Letterboxing in Atlanta – Cobb County…Find a New Treasure

Parents interested in a family activity that involves mental and physical challenges should consider embarking on a letterboxing expedition with their kids. This time-honored tradition of “treasure hunting” combines use of the Internet, orienteering skills, and the desire to have fun and make memories. All you need is a notebook, a rubber stamp of your favorite design and an ink pad to get started…not to mention the clues to find the many letterboxes hidden throughout the Atlanta area.

How Letterboxing Works

The rules of letterboxing are simple. Find clues to available boxes on a related website like or AtlasQuest then follow them to the box of your choice. If you happen to be searching in a populated area, take care to ensure nobody sees – in the case of boxes hidden in parks, groundskeepers may confiscate them. Observe any precautions when hunting in the woods, and always leave the box in good condition, well hidden. Stamp your logbook with each box stamp you find, and you’ll have an impressive collection and fond memories of the thrill of the hunt!

Letterboxing in Atlanta

Whether you live in the Atlanta area or are visiting for summer vacation, it’s a good idea to keep your logbook and stamps handy. You’ll find a number of themed letterboxes, in urban and rural parts of this metropolitan city. Here are just a few treasures waiting to be discovered:

Cobb County Parks, North – Shy: This stamp is hidden in Sweat Mountain Park, near where the dogs play.

D is for Dog, W is for Walk: Near the ruins of an old youth camp, you’ll find two stamps off the beaten paths.

Lord Baden Powell: Named for the founder of the Boy Scouts, so it’s appropriate this stamp is hidden near a council center.

Hey Joe: Kennesaw Mountain National Park is host to a number of letterboxes, including these two which require a bit of hiking and orienteering to get to.

Mother Goose’s Dainty Dish: This box requires deciphering a puzzling poem to find. Can you find the clue on the proper website and solve it?