An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

Friday, November 17, 2017

I'm not being paid for this endorsement ...

but since it's for my sister maybe I'll get a freebie.

All kidding aside, Laura's Etsy site (Alleluia Rocks) has some wonderful gift ideas for the upcoming holidays -- place settings, nativities, ornaments, and her best-selling story stones. She also paints wedding favors, inspirational quotes, and teachers' gifts. Check out her site; once you place an order it ships quickly (within a couple of days) and arrives beautifully packaged. Gift wrapping is also available.

My recent purchases include ...

1- These place settings for our Thanksgiving table,

2- and Christmas gifts for my Bunco group. These just arrived today; I won't tell you what they are because some of my Bunco gals may read this and we wouldn't want to ruin the surprise, but I wanted you to see how beautifully they are wrapped (I had requested that my purchases be individually wrapped, and Laura delivered!)

So, check out her site, Alleluia Rocks. And if you mention me, then maybe I'll get that freebie after all ;-)

I have my eye on this one ...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

chocolate and puddles and spoons

I was walking outside with our youngest son, who was four years old at the time. It had rained the night before and as I stepped over and around the puddles, he was jumping right in.

"How do you make mud?" I asked him as he made a truly spectacular splash.

He stopped to think for a minute. Then he smiled.

"First you dig a hole, then you put water and chocolate in it," he answered as he hopped over to the next puddle. "Next time let's bring a spoon."

I had forgotten this conversation until yesterday when I came across it in my journal. That cute little boy, who used to lick the foam off the top of my cappuccino, is now thirteen years old. He's playing basketball, finishing up a Future City science project, insisting (like boys everywhere) that he  does NOT need to wear a coat, and likes talking about engines and gears.

He's also taller than I am and yesterday when I needed to open a jar which was tightly sealed, I handed it to him and he popped it right open.

Sometimes it takes my breath away to stop and savor those moments when you realize your little boy is shedding his childhood and approaching life -- hesitantly, messily, but most assuredly -- as a young man. It is very humbling, more than a little scary, and all kinds of marvelous.

But I do miss those days of chocolate and puddles and spoons.

Monday, November 13, 2017

My Kind of Touchdown

This past Saturday I decided to leave the guys with their Penn State victory while I went to Ulta. I had my obligatory $3.50 coupon and an ad for a free flat iron with a purchase of a Hot Tools hair dryer. Then, I opened a credit card and received an extra 20% off AND a free Urban Decay eye liner. THEN, the sales associate gave me five really fantastic free samples. Ulta trip = my touchdown victory!

When there is too much testosterone in the house ...
I head to Ulta.

Free samples (and decent size, too) make my day!

Sunday, November 12, 2017



sometimes i have a thought
plucked out of the air
thin and wispy
which poof! disappears
where does it go,
this thought that was but no longer is?
sometimes i have a thought
a cloud-like puff which drifts
to my hands, my legs, my heart,
the words I speak 
propelling me to
create, help, console, dream
sometimes a cloud thought
is dark, thunder-like
raining seeds of paralysis –
self-doubt, insecurity,
unworthiness, fear
today i had a thought
i need a thought-weatherman
to herald clouds –  
the wispy, puffy, or thunderous
because sometimes
I can’t tell them apart.
*from the files of very bad poetry by bia

Friday, November 10, 2017

How to Host Thanksgiving Outdoors

Last year we hosted Thanksgiving for family on both sides. It was a large gathering, so to accommodate everyone I had decided to move Thanksgiving to our back yard. We set up a long tables under the trees, we had a drink station on the deck and a buffet table on the grass, the adults had room to mingle and the children space to play, and in the early afternoon we broke bread together under a canopy of leaves resplendent in brilliant oranges, yellows and reds.

It was one of my favorite Thanksgiving days ever. Because we were eating and reciting our Thanksgiving prayer outside, I truly felt as if we were sharing in the harvest while surrounded by Nature's Bounty. It worked out so well that this year we're doing it again.

I learned a lot about taking things outside, what worked and what I could have done differently, and I'll share these. And please feel free to share any suggestions or traditions that you do in your family! This is what's beautiful about the blogging world -- we all learn from one another.

We are at the mercy of Mother Nature

I spend a great deal of time complaining about the interminable summers here in the Deep South where, unless it's a picnic on a beach, I like to eat indoors with the gentle hum of the air conditioner providing background music. But spring and fall are absolutely gorgeous here so having our Thanksgiving meal outside is an option for us. I realize this may not be possible for those living in colder areas of the country, but you get a snowy Christmas and we don't (one day I would like to experience a Christmas Eve snowfall and wake up Christmas morning to a winter wonderland). I guess the bottom line is this: as much as we love to be out in Mother Nature, we are at mercy of the seasons and completely dependent on her whims. And believe it or not, it gets cold down here, too.

A basket of blankets by the back door for chilly nights
(because even in the Deep South it gets cold).

Know your entertaining style

Elegant, casual, or somewhere in between? Lennox china or mismatched stoneware from Pottery Barn? Linen tablecloths or burlap table runners? Theme or no theme? We all host Thanksgiving in different ways,  but if you stay true to your style then it will come across more naturally. If I had to pick my style, I suppose it would be more Tuscan farmhouse than Italian villa; in other words, welcoming and cozy with a tiny whisper of elegance in a rustic setting. Truthfully, though, I tend to think more in terms of mood rather than style. How do I want my guests to feel? How do I want them to interact? What do I want them to experience when they walk in our front door? What can I do to ensure they have a lovely time?

Moving it outdoors

Whatever your style, it's easy to move your Thanksgiving meal outdoors by recreating your inside setting ... outside. Picture your dinner table under the trees, or on your brick patio, or next to the fire pit. Set the table with your Lennox china or your Pottery Barn stoneware. Use the crystal stemware. String lights from the trees, provide background music, and keep a basket of blankets nearby for when the sun goes down. Don't think picnic just because you're eating outdoors; rather, think dining al fresco on the Amalfi Coast.

Logistics are important

When you move the meal outdoors, it's important to map things out in advance. Know where to place the table, how guests will handle drinks, and how food will be served. For last year's Thanksgiving meal I made sure to place the table where there would be afternoon shade. I also knew that, due to our large numbers, passing around the sweet potato casserole or a platter of sliced turkey would be cumbersome, so I set up a buffet table nearby. As for drinks ... I placed bottled water and wine on the table, but all other beverages (soda, beer, iced tea) could be found at a "beverage station" on the deck.

Planners, planners everywhere! This from Pinterest.

Dressing the table (in addition to the turkey)

To me, holidays are a time to dress things up, and just because you're dining al fresco doesn't mean you can't use table linens. To keep things simple, whenever I entertain (inside or outside) I do any of the following:

1/ Go bare. I really, really like the look of stoneware on dark, bare wood, so if you have a nice table don't use a tablecloth. Use linen napkins to soften the look and introduce a color scheme.

photo via pinterest

Preparing a tablescape for a talk. No tablecloth needed.

2/ Use drop cloths from Home Depot or Lowe's. Seriously, this is my favorite thing to do. The canvas almost looks like linen, and the neutral color provides an excellent backdrop for centerpieces and trays of food. And the best part? They are indestructible, can be cut to size, and drape nicely.

Using drop cloths from Lowe's for a luncheon

Drop cloths are durable and drape nicely.

3/ Use blankets or throws. This is another of my favorite tips, especially during the fall and winter months. Whether I set a table in front of the fireplace or out on the back deck, I will use flannel blankets as tablecloths. Last week I found some perfect blankets/throws at Hobby Lobby which be used for this year's Thanksgiving table, and the pretty autumnal colors will contrast nicely with neutral stone plates and fall décor; additionally, the throws help create a mood of welcome and hominess. The best part? They were 50% off (I purchased six blankets for less than $30, which will cover two 8-ft long tables.)

Fireside dinner using flannel throws as tablecloths

The Hobby Lobby throws I will use this year

Divide and Conquer

We all know that the Thanksgiving meal takes a lot of preparation and cooking, but the very heart of that first Thanksgiving was about celebrating Nature's Bounty and God's Blessings by bringing something to the table. So allow others to participate by bringing a bottle of wine, a side dish, a pumpkin pie.  Here's one thing that works for our large family gatherings: we host and provide drinks, appetizers, and a side dish or two, my siblings bring side dishes and desserts, and my mother cooks the turkey (this is KEY! for me because it saves my kitchen from a huge mess -- think turkey carcass and dripping juices -- and it frees precious countertop space for all the side dishes).

My sister's fancy shmancy homemade pumpkin pie

Something for everyone

Finally, when hosting it is nice to be able to offer something to all age groups, and being outside made this easier. So Joe set up corn hole, the boys made sure basketballs and footballs were pumped full of air, and I set out a basket of blankets in case anyone got chilly. Last year, I realized how having all that extra space allowed us to offer more things to do -- after eating the adults lingered at the table but could still see (and cheer!) the kids playing corn hole; the teens played basketball but came running when we pulled out the dessert; people wandered to the buffet table, drink station, and back again.

What about the football games? Our family is 90% male, so yes, there is football -- both in the backyard and on television. Last year the guys periodically wandered inside to check the score or watch a touchdown, but then they always wandered back again outside. We were at, or nearby, the table all afternoon. Then, later that night some friends dropped by and we had S'mores around the fire pit.

1. Too far  2. Closer, but still too far  3. Perfect!

Treasured Traditions

Finally, our family has celebrated Thanksgiving in many ways -- inside, outside, at grandparent's homes, at the beach, and even in Italy. But no matter where we are, we always read our family's Thanksgiving prayer. It's a special prayer, written by Lino Villacha, and my mother became pen pals with Lino through her best friend who was a missionary in Brazil. Lino's poem, Obrigado Senhor, is a prayer thanking God for everything he had -- and when you read his words in light of the fact he suffered from leprosy and lived in poverty, it puts things in perspective.

In his poem, Lino thanks God for healthy limbs when so many are crippled; for a voice that sings when so many are mute; for hands that work when so many have to beg; and for a home to return to when so many don't know where they are going. And as we read the poem reminding us to celebrate what we have instead of focusing on what we don't, it's always the last two lines which capture the essence of Thanksgiving: It is wonderful, Lord, to have so little to ask and so much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Taking the inside ... outside

Like many of you, I am already thinking ahead to the holiday season. There is so much to do! Lately I've read countless articles on how to not only celebrate the holidays, but how to deal with the stress. To be sure, we all have ways to deal with holiday stress and busyness -- planning, shopping early, making lists (lots of lists!) -- but over the years I've come to realize that for my family there are two areas which make all the difference in helping us celebrate the holidays with purpose and mindfulness: keeping things simple and dining al fresco.

Simplicity is a topic all on its own, and it's one in which I am most passionate about. I am all about the simple life and striving for simplicity of mind, hearth and home. But in order to do this topic justice I will address in a future post. Stay tuned. 

Today, however, I want to share how dining al fresco can offer a respite from the hectic pace set by the holiday season.

Let me set the stage: as I'm typing this, I'm sitting on our back deck under a rain of falling leaves. Colors of red, orange, yellow, and brown spiral downward to land ever so softly on the grass, the brick patio, my head. I hear them land, I hear them crunch as the squirrels scamper about. I have a steaming mug of tea and a yogurt next to me, and every few sentences I pause, take a sip of tea, and look at the raining leaves.

Of course, I could write this post and sip my tea while sitting at my kitchen table, but then I would get up to throw another load in the washing machine, look at my calendar, and put the breakfast dishes away. I wouldn't be as wholly present as I am now, out here on the deck.

I've said it before, and I've even given a talk on this, but there is something magical about taking a meal outside. Whether you're sitting on the back deck, at an outdoor café or under a park gazebo, dining al fresco is a gift of allowing ourselves to be removed from time; it allows us to savor our food instead of gulping it down, it encourages us to converse instead of talk, and most importantly, it reminds us to linger instead of rushing off to the next activity.

And for me, nothing is better for relieving stress during a busy holiday season than dining al fresco where, somehow, you discover time you didn't think you had.

I've seen the magic time and again, how something ordinary like a bowl of chili, a dish of lasagna, or a simple glass of wine is elevated into something extraordinary just by taking it outside. It's magical, this gentle reminder to sit.

To bide a while.

So now, my tea is finished, this post is published, and I will go rake because while falling leaves are pretty in the back yard, they are quite messy in the front. I'll be back tomorrow for tips and tricks on how to take your Thanksgiving table outside. In the meantime, take that cup of coffee and go sit on the front porch. ;-)

Preparing to dine al fresco for our Girls' Trip to Italy one year reunion.

We lingered over the table for more than three hours.

Dining al fresco with the Bunco gals.

Enjoying a glass of wine outside. Breckenridge, Co.

Why eat inside when there is all that magic outside?
Rome, Girls' Trip to Italy, June 2015

Tuesday, November 7, 2017