Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sometimes it's nice to be published

Columbia County News-Times, November 23, 2015
(delivered with Sunday's Augusta Chronicle)

You can read the entire article below.

It's All About Giving Thanks
            It doesn’t take much more than a holiday and a meal for our Italian-American family to gather in celebration, and Thanksgiving is no exception. People often ask if our Thanksgiving meal in any way reflects our Italian background, and while the immediate answer is yes (for with an Italian mother anything involving food reflects our Italian heritage), the answer is also no because Thanksgiving is the one holiday my mother uses to celebrate all things American, an opportunity to pay homage to a land which welcomed her with open arms.
            My mother came to this country as a young bride on the arm of my father, a soldier in the U.S. military; she was only 20 years old and determined to embrace this new life. She took language classes, became fluent in English, learned to drive, and volunteered for the American Red Cross. When my parents lived in Washington D.C. during the racial unrest of the sixties, my mother studied American history to understand what was happening.
            When she was 32 years old she stood before a judge in Savannah, GA and was sworn in as an American citizen. She had her picture taken under the American flag, and her nationality would henceforth be hyphenated, a bridge between the words Italian and American, between the country she was from and the country in which she now lived.
            Those two words also meant my sister, brother, and I got the best of both worlds. We spoke Italian with our Nonna and English at home; we ate gelato in Venice and an ice cream cone in Disney World; we explored the hills of Tuscany and the streets of Manhattan; and while holidays in our family were a beautiful blend of both cultures, there were some things quintessentially American that my mother embraced – and the traditional Thanksgiving meal was one of them.
            She had a lot to learn, however, and it took years of trial and effort to get it right. In one of her earliest letters to her mother, she described this strange, white cooking stuff that came in a blue can (Crisco shortening); she had never eaten turkey, much less cooked one; she had never heard of sweet potatoes (why, in America even the potatoes are sweet!); and she definitely didn’t know what to think about cranberry sauce or Jell-O (all that jiggling red stuff didn't look like food at all).
            It took years of trial and effort, of studying Betty Crocker and cutting out recipes from Good Housekeeping, but today my mother has perfected the art of the Thanksgiving meal. The moist turkey, the perfect balance of brown sugar and marshmallows in the sweet potato casserole and, yes, the dish of jiggling cranberry sauce are all displayed with a sense of pride on how far she has come. Two ceramic pilgrims decorate the dining room table, and in the afternoon everyone heads outside for a family game of backyard football or softball.
            Of course, there are small concessions to our Italian heritage: we sip espressos with our pumpkin pie and have a small glass of limoncello as an after dinner digestivo. But it is an American meal celebrating an American holiday, and with a rousing Buon Appetito! three generations of our family gather at Thanksgiving to honor the American half of our Italian-American heritage.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Serving Detention at Dairy Queen (kinda, sorta)

Dairy Queen. In our family, that's the place we go to wait while someone is serving after school detention.

And it's become a family tradition (of sorts) because now when one brother has detention, the others (who have visions of Oreo Blizzards swirling in their heads) rejoice and give each other high fives because ...  their brother has detention!

Brotherly love. There is nothing quite like it.

The only problem is that, according to the boys, there haven't been enough detentions. While all our boys seem to get their very first detention in either the 4th or 5th grade, after that there are definitely some lean periods in which everyone is behaving.

Oh, the horrors.

But then came yesterday's all school Mass and ... well, let me put it this way. As you know, our little guy is in the fifth grade, and today Jonathan and I are going to Dairy Queen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dear Sons, You're Welcome.

Dear Nicholas and Jonathan,

Dad and I have always taken your education very seriously, but in choosing to live in the south, (where you can be lulled into thinking that the weather is your best friend), you have not learned a fundamental truth on how to handle inclement weather. And since you both speak the language of mathematics, allow me to enlighten you with the following formula:

temperature in the teens + gale force wind = winter coat

Now, this is a subject I've brought up in the past, and each time you have vehemently declared that you do not need a coat. And so I've watched you get by on sweatshirts or hoodies, occasionally coupled with a windbreaker if a snowflake or two happens to fall.

As your mother, I realize that part of your coat denial stems from the fact that you do not like to shop. At all. I understand completely, so today I have taken matters into my own hands which I will now present in the form of a word problem:

If you can't take the boy to the store, take the store to the boy.

That's right. After a busy morning driving here and there, I have now brought the store to you. Right now there are SIX winter coats in varying styles and sizes spread out in the family room. Try them on. I know you will not need to use it very often, but it's nice to have just in case ... you know, for the occasional snowstorm, camping in January, hiking the Himalayas, or THANKSGIVING IN CHICAGO.

So, do your mom a favor, and just pick the one you hate the least.

You're welcome.


Monday, November 17, 2014

"Siri-ously" Confused PERIOD

You know how it goes with sisters. The more tired you are and the later it gets, the more things -- anything, really -- seems funny.

This past Saturday I accompanied my sister to Charleston, and after playing in a tennis tournament (her, not me), watching a tennis tournament (me, not her), driving downtown (and getting lost), walking around downtown (and getting lost), eating dinner at 82 Queen, standing outside in the cold for 30 minutes just to get inside Kominsky's for dessert (yes, we were that determined), and driving back to our hotel (and getting lost) ... we were exhausted.

Which meant anything could set us off at any moment.

Case in point: Siri. You know how you can dictate a text to Siri, and she will record your text and send it along? And you know how, in dictating the text, you also need to dictate the punctuation? Well, late at night my sister whips out her iPhone and has me listen to a voicemail that I had left her earlier in the week. Only ... when I left the voicemail I somehow thought I was dictating a text.

Here was my voicemail, preserved on her iPhone so she can laugh and bribe me into posterity:

Hi, Laura PERIOD Can you call me when you get a chance QUESTION MARK I need to run something by you about our trip to Italy PERIOD Love you EXCLAMATION POINT Talk to you soon EXCLAMATION POINT Bia

Of course, there was something hysterically funny about listening to that voicemail, dictated like a text, punctuation marks and all. And the fact that my voice sounded like Minnie Mouse ... well, the more we laughed the funnier it got.

But this morning reality came crashing down. Now that my sister isn't with me I am thinking more clearly, and I'm not laughing anymore. Laura still has that voicemail, and she'll probably keep it forever.

Yikes DOT DOT DOT not good COMMA not good at all PERIOD

Texting a voicemail QUESTION MARK
Been there COMMA done that PERIOD

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pizza in Paradise

We have homemade pizza once a week. I usually make my own dough, but if I am short on time I will purchase the raw pizza dough at Publix, roll it out, and then use homemade sauce and fresh ingredients. (On a side note, my Mom makes the best pizza ever. And her dough is ALWAYS homemade.)

Last week I planned a pizza night and decided to try the recipe for Two-Ingredient Pizza Dough that has been popping up here and there on the internet. That's right, two ingredients. All you need is Greek yogurt and self-rising flour.

To be honest, I was skeptical, but I was also willing to give it a try. I combined the two ingredients. I kneaded the dough and rolled it out on a flour surface. And you know what? Don't ask my how or why, but it actually worked.

I am sure you're wondering, though, how it tasted. Well, compared to my regular pizza dough, this one was more dense; also, when I was rolling it there was a tangy smell from the yogurt that I didn't like. But the boys enjoyed the end result,  and with just two ingredients it was definitely very easy.

Would make it again? Probably not. I'll stick to my original recipe.  But here's the thing ... if I am ever stranded on a desert island and I only had Greek yogurt and self-rising flour, it's nice to know I would have everything on hand to whip up a pizza.

Two-ingredient pizza dough: Greek yogurt and self-rising flour.
That's it.

Strangely, it worked.
But I will stick with my regular pizza dough recipe.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Making a (Catholic) Connection

Last night we treated my parents to a dinner at Arby's, specifically because Jonathan was working. We like to do that -- bug Jonathan when he's working --  and last night we had double the fun because his friend, Taylor, was working, too.

When we sat down to eat we noticed we were missing a sandwich, so I went back to the counter to give Taylor a hard time. (Really, Taylor, the fault was all ours. We kept changing our order, asking you what was in this sandwich and that one, and in trying to get everyone to make a decision even WE were confused!) Anyway, there were two black gentlemen in front of me (one retired, one a little younger) who told me to go in front of them because they saw that the rest of my family was waiting. When I tried to protest, they insisted, saying they had time to kill before heading to the movie theater down the street.

A little later the younger of the two walked past our table with their order, and I asked him what movie they were going to see. He told us, we chatted for a minute, and then he asked, "Are you guys Christians? I can tell that you are a Christian."

"Yes," I replied. "We are."

"What are you?" He wanted to know. "Are you Evangelical? Apostolic?"

"Actually," I said. "We are Catholic."

"Oh," he said, nodding.

I could tell he didn't quite know what to make of that, but he smiled and we chatted a little longer before he continued to his table.

After we finished eating I walked over to them and told them to have a nice time at the movies. The younger gentleman stood up, shook my hand, and said it was a pleasure meeting us.

And because making a connection (a laugh, a story, a compliment, a conversation) with a complete stranger  reaffirms for me the wonderful interconnectedness of humanity, and because it's one of my absolute favorite things about this world, on the way out I ordered two apple turnovers and told Taylor to deliver them to the two gentleman ... compliments of the family who had been sitting at the table next to them.

Hopefully it left them with a sweet memory of having met a Catholic family.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
-Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I am an artist at heart, but my execution stinks

Last night a friend organized a Van Gogh and Vino session. It's a wonderful concept: gather a group of friends, and with a glass of wine in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, you are given step-by-step instructions on how to create your very own masterpiece.

Now, I truly believe that I have the soul of an artist. I feel colors with my heart. I dream of shading and brushstrokes. In my mind I see blank canvases of daisies sprinkled with raindrops, a covered bridge on a foggy morning, or an old man napping under the shade of an olive tree.  It's all there ... I can feel it ... but I cannot bring it forth.

Case in point was last night's Van Gogh and Vino session. Maybe there was too much vino and not enough Van Gogh because even though I felt the artist within me stir, by the end of the evening what appeared on canvas did not match what I saw in my heart and soul.

And if I needed any confirmation of the fact that I am not an artist, Joe calls me from work.

"Hey, I saw that painting on the kitchen table this morning," he says. "Did Timothy do that in art class?"


And with that, I rest my case.

I peacock ... or a bowling pin with feathers?