Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Road Trip, Day Three: The Best Laid Plans



There is nothing like a rude awakening.


This morning at precisely 6:53 an alarm went off, and my first thought was that my watch had resurrected! As I was fumbling to find it I realized that, no, it was the alarm on the clock radio. Fumbling to turn that off, I actually turned it on and music blared.

Not an alarm clock, then, but a fire alarm.

We threw on clothes, grabbed wallets, and evacuated. As we were walking down the hallway Jonathan reminded everyone not to take the elevator; Timothy, who thought he said take the elevator, started arguing with him that YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE AN ELEVATOR WHEN THERE IS A FIRE. A little shoving ensued.

Sheesh. All this BEFORE coffee. At least they knew their fire safety rules.

So, we found ourselves standing in the parking lot with other dazed, sleep deprived guests as a fire truck pulled up and three firemen hopped out. A little later they announced the all-clear, and as we were filing back in through the lobby the desk clerk yelled to someone in the back, “You better make sure we have coffee!”

Huh. No kidding. We had breakfast and showered (as opposed to the other way around since we were already in the lobby) and a little later we set out. For some inexplicable reason all the boys (big and small) wore varying shades of green. What color was I wearing? If you said black ... Ha! Wrong! I was actually wearing denim. So there.
My Green Team: Kermit 1, 2, and 3.


Alas, the alarm fiasco set the tone for the rest of the day because nothing went exactly according to planned. When we arrived at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center – a little before it opened – there was already a line. And not a short one, either. We stood there a few minutes, but then noticed that surprise, surprise the merchandise store was opened with no waiting. So we got out of line, entered the store, and when Joe reached for his wallet to purchase Timothy a Technic Lego set ... POOF! ... just like that he declared he wasn’t interested anymore in doing the rest of the Discovery Center. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

No one likes to stand in a line that doesn't move.
Cost of one Technic Lego: $40
Cost of not having to stand in line: Priceless
So off to Plan B, which meant postponing the Jesse James house until tomorrow and instead doing the College Basketball Experience (CBE) at the Sprint Center. This includes The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and an interactive facility where you can practice 3-point shots, free throws, dunks, lay-ups, and rebounds; you can also compare your shoe size, height, wingspan and jumping ability with college players to see how you measure up. We knew the boys would love it.

Except … when we walked to the entrance there was a sign stating that due to a private event the facility was closed until after lunch. Sigh.

So Plan C included a tour of the Hallmark Visitor’s Center and lunch at Pierpont’s Steakhouse located in Union Station.
Having a conversation with Maxine at
the Hallmark Visitor's Center.

Later, reinforced by a delicious 8 oz. Kansas City Strip, we commenced to Plan D (which was really a postponed Plan B).

And we were right, the boys (big and small) loved the College Basketball Experience, jumping, dribbling, and three-pointing to their heart’s content. (I’m sure you’re wondering what I did. Well, I took some shots, too … mainly of the photographic kind.)
Step Up to the Line:
How many free throws can you make before the buzzer sounds?
The Green Team playing a little one-on-one.
For the rest of the afternoon we basically walked around downtown. Kansas City is known as “The City of Fountains” because it’s supposed to have the most fountains of any city in the world except Rome, but I’m a little skeptical. Actually, I'm a lot skeptical. We walked around all day and only counted a handful.



A fountain at the Country Club Plaza










Tonight Joe is taking us on a driving tour through some of KC’s exclusive neighborhoods, but before I sign off I should probably explain why we are missing a family member. Well, Boy #3 has a summer internship, so while we are exploring and having fun, the poor thing stayed home to work. But don't feel sorry for him because he has a good thing going: every day after work he drives straight to my parents' house where Nonna feeds him, coddles him, and sends him home with leftovers. Believe me, he has it made.



And so I come to the end of the day in which nothing went according to plans, but in which everything turned out great anyway.


Our contribution to the "graffiti wall" at Union Station









Monday, July 28, 2014

Road Trip, Day Two: Check it Out

I have a nephew who is a pint-size bundle of energy who calls me Dan Marino (that’s what it sounds like when he says Aunt Maria). During our recent beach vacation we would sit together on the porch and he would say, “Look Dan Marino. A boat! Check it out!” Then he would ball up his fists and hold them in front of his eyes like binoculars.
 
Check it out … that’s what today was like.
Checking out the Frontier Museum,
Independence, MO
First up on Joe’s itinerary was Independence, MO where we saw the home of President Truman, visited the Frontier Museum (Independence was one of the last stop for provisions before embarking on either the Santa Fe Trail or the Oregon Trail), and got a private tour of the original train depot of Independence.


Also on Joe’s list was this cryptic entry: Lunch at Café` V. As it turned out, Café` V was shorthand for Café Verona, and he had been saving this place as a surprise for me. Thoughtful, yes? We had a lovely lunch sitting outside in a beautiful, brick courtyard … a little Veronese dining experience in the heart of Independence, MO.



Joe's surprise: Café Verona!
Dining al fresco in the courtyard.
Later in the afternoon we drove to Kansas City and checked into the Residence Inn where we will be staying the rest of the week. And now it’s almost bedtime … I think. It’s hard to know the exact time because one of the watches I brought (and I only brought two!) doesn’t work anymore. It was a digital sports watch, not particularly stylish, but perfect for swimming, working out, or sightseeing. The only problem was at 2:30 in the morning the alarm would beep. The last vacation we went on I would roll it up in a towel every night so we wouldn’t hear it, but this time Joe wasn’t having any of that. So last night Mr. Engineer pushed this, pushed that, and somehow managed to shut the whole thing down. No alarm, but no time, either. Blank screen, and I haven’t been able to undo what he did.
Two watches down to one … I definitely under packed.
Check out the time.
That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow we’re taking pity on Timothy; after a day immersed in history we’re taking a break with the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in the morning and Jesse James’ farmhouse in the afternoon. Legos and outlaws … it should work.


Buonanotte from Dan Marino!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Road Trip Day One: Five States, 11 Hours


You know how you can approach something from two entirely different directions, but still get the same results? Well that’s how Joe and I are about road trips; Joe is all about the destination and I am all about the journey, but we balance each other nicely. He makes sure we get somewhere, and I make sure we gather some roses along the way (you know, for smelling).

But this road trip to Kansas City, MO is my husband’s gig, so I have willingly handed him the reins. He frequently travels there for work and has been looking forward to showing us the sights. I must say that it’s nice not to have to think about anything; all I have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. And if I need to know what we’re doing next, I’ll just check Joe’s itinerary because he has A List.

So today was Road Trip Part I, which involved an 11-hour trip to St. Louis, MO where we are spending the night before continuing our journey tomorrow.

Eleven hours of listening to music – TOMMY (the who) and The Moody Blues – talking, discovering new apps on my iPhone (more on this later), and driving through five states: Georgia (really, is I-20 the most boring interstate?), Tennessee (gorgeous drive through the mountains), Kentucky (rural and flat), Illinois (corn fields and traffic snarls), and Missouri (There's the Gateway Arch!).

Anyway, about those apps. Toward noon we started thinking about lunch and wondering about Rest Areas.  Surely, I thought, there must be an app for this. And what do you know, there was! I downloaded the app, and just like that a list of Rest Areas popped right up. The only problem was we were here, and the next rest stop was 87 miles away. No can do. The guys were hungry right now, this instant, so we pulled into a shady parking lot (and that’s shady as  in under the trees and not shady as in dubious) to eat our picnic lunch: grilled panini, egg salad, tomatoes, Cape Cod chips, and fresh peaches.
Roadside picnic.
(FYI, you can grill panini the day before, wrap them in parchment paper,
and put them in the refrigerator. They are just as delicious the next day,
which makes them perfect for picnics!)

It's now 9:30 ... but not really because we're on Central Time so we've gained an hour and so we keep playing the add-an-hour-and-subtract-an-hour-game. We are in our hotel (yeah Marriott rewards!) and Timothy is in heaven because our 11th floor room offers a commanding view of the airport. Here his running commentary: Look! There’s a plane taking off! Look a plane just landed! Wow! Did you know that when a plan lands there is a puff of smoke from the wheels? Is that the control tower? That is so cool!

Free entertainment, folks.

Also, the Concierge Lounge is just down the hall (again, yeah Marriott points!) and so the boys have free access to drinks and snacks. They went there, Joe and I hit the gym, and now we are settling down for the evening.

I’ll end Day One with this serendipitous observation: we traveled 11 hours and booked a room on the 11th floor. Whoa. Not sure what that means, but still.
Buonanotte!



Free entertainment from our 11th floor window.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Lost Necklace



This is a story of a lost necklace. But understand, this is not the story of the loss, but the story of the necklace …

When I was a little girl, the question of who pays the bill in our family was one of the fastest ways to get into an argument with my Nonna. She was very serious about wanting to pay for everyone. Whenever we ate in a restaurant she cornered the cameriera (waiter) and, even before ordering, told him to deal with her and only her.  If my father or one of my uncles attempted to pay, Nonna would vehemently object and the poor waiter would stand there smiling and listening to the ensuing argument. In the end, the waiter always ignored my father and my uncles because, after all, he had an Italian Nonna and understood how things were meant to be. 

Over time Nonna became affectionately known as la Nonna dei denari (Nonna of the Coins), and nothing pleased her more than to be able to provide for her family.  She loved to give; it was as simple as that.

Nonna’s generosity also extended to gift giving. There were the big gifts -- for birthdays, first communions, confirmations, graduations and weddings – but the small ones were just as special. As a little girl accompanying her around the streets of Verona, there was always a treat waiting around the corner: cento lire for the gumball machine, a hair clip to go along with my new haircut, a cute t-shirt purchased at the market, a new box of colored pencils, a Topolino magazine. These things would be accompanied with a huge hug and two or three loud kisses given in quick succession – even her kisses were generous as she couldn’t give just one.

And out of her generosity grew a tradition, for at the baptism of each child born into the family, Nonna presented him/her with a beautiful box emblazoned with the logo of a Veronese jeweler. Inside the box was an 18-karat gold necklace with either a cross, or a medallion of Mary, Jesus, or a Guardian Angel. It was an adult necklace given to an infant, a tradition to be part of and a legacy to grow into. In 1967 I received my gold necklace; I was Nonna’s first grandchild, and twenty-eight years later when our son was born  – Nonna’s first great grandchild –  he received one, too.

The tradition of the necklace was Nonna’s way of celebrating our family and our faith – which is why my father, when he was baptized a Catholic one month before marrying my mother, received one, too. He was 23 years old. His necklace had a medallion of Christ, and engraved on the back was the date of his baptism, March 19 (the feast of St. Joseph). My father put it on that day, and never took it off again.

Then, last week during our family beach vacation, my father came into the room and announced (in a somewhat stunned voice) that he had lost his necklace. And just like that, everyone stopped what they were doing. Nonno lost his necklace. The words were almost whispered as we thought about what this meant, because not only was the necklace a part of his identity, but most importantly, it was a reminder on how Nonna affectionately and with pride welcomed her new son-in-law (un americano!) into her Italian family. She adored my father, and my father loved her immensely.

Nonno lost his necklace.

How? When? Where? We retraced his steps. We called restaurants and shops. We looked under couch cushions and beds. We picked through the garbage and crawled through the car. We even went down to our spot on the beach and sifted through the sand.

Nonno lost his necklace.

For the rest of that week the words were repeated until slowly, and without even realizing it, they settled into a truth: while it was sad to lose it, Nonna’s gift was never about a gold necklace; rather, it was about tradition, family, and love; it was about Nonna’s generous spirit which keeps on giving ... even at the beach as we were searching for the lost necklace. Even today after we returned home and opened that box with the logo of a Veronese jeweler to see our individual necklaces.

In the end, this isn’t a story of a necklace that was lost, but of all the things which can never be lost.

Ever.

And those are the greatest gifts of all.

My Nonna and me.
(I had received my gold necklace a few months earlier.)
Verona, 1967

Monday, July 21, 2014

Family Fanatics: It's all in the Family



We are a family of boys.

When our three sons gather with their cousins on my husband's side of the family, there are eight boys and one girl; on my side of the family, there are nine boys and one girl. And all these boys, ranging from ages 14 months to 25 years, means that everything – and I do mean everything – turns into a friendly competition: flashlight tag, Go Fish, backyard football, board games, video games, bocce, basketball, and even (no joke) Easter egg hunts. In our family, poker faces and bluffing are an art form, as are challenges, dares, and double dog dares.

With so many males in the family, almost every sport known to mankind is represented: my husband loves golf, a brother-in-law follows NASCAR, one son is all about basketball, one nephew runs cross country, and another nephew turns everything (wooden spoons, 12-inch rulers) into a light saber in his ongoing quest to become a Jedi Knight. We're a family full of fanatics, which is why I wanted to share this story as part of the Family Fanatics campaign. If you don't know Fanatics, head over to their site where you can find baseball hats from every major league team and more! I even found some Team Italy tube socks, which Santa may use as stocking stuffers this year.

Then, every fall the football shenanigans begin. College football is especially exciting with a Georgia Bulldog, a Clemson Tiger, a South Carolina Gamecock, a UVA Cavalier, a Michigan State Spartan, and a Nittany Lion all claiming their team is the best, but pro football is equally represented when the boys decorate the fireplace mantel in the family room with miniature NFL helmets during the playoffs. Even our Thanksgiving family football games are memorable – you know, the kind of football which includes children, adults, in-laws, and a sister who just announced her pregnancy (another boy); the kind of football in which everyone is just plain goofy; the kind of football that earned me the nickname Fumble-ina; and the kind of football where a four-year-old gets the ball, and an uncle on the opposing team carries him (the boy AND the ball) to the end zone for a touchdown (he called it an interception, the rest of us called it a kidnapping).

Truthfully, though, the assortment of sports balls, Tonka trucks, and size-14 sneakers are beautiful reminders that our friendly, fanatical competition is really all about family. There is something special about watching Nonno playing Bocce with five grandchildren under the age of seven, or cousins laughing during a marathon Monopoly game, or an uncle landing the biggest belly flop, or my husband taking our sons to a bowl game, or everyone yelling at the FIFA World Cup match on television.

This is our family at its best … boys and all.
My husband, his father, and our oldest son.


Our middle son lives and breathes basketball.

Introducing our youngest son to Penn State's Nittany Lion.
Supporting our local Class A baseball team.
With just some the older cousins, getting ready for a game of flashlight tag.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Dinner with i Nonni (il menu`)


primo

pasta alla puttanesca

secondo

pollo al forno con rosmarino (baked chicken with rosemary)
panzanella (panzanella salad)
pure` di patate (mashed potatoes)

dolce

sorbetto al lampano fatto in casa (homemade raspberry sorbet)
espresso

digestivo

limoncello fatto in casa (homemade limoncello)



Thursday, July 3, 2014

Do you know a funny story about Nonna? Do tell, it's her birthday!



1. Apparently, Nonna never sins. Ever. (As opposed to Nonno, who was once overheard saying the "d word" when he dropped something.) Nonna's sainthood is the common opinion of the grandchildren, but I am going to insert a little reality here. Note #'s 2, 3, and 4 below.


2. Once upon a time when Nonna was a young girl, her father (my Nonno) asked her to go to the corner store to buy some cigarette papers. Nonna went, and on the way home she rolled one up and tried to smoke it. But here's the thing ... no tobacco. So she basically smoked a rolled up paper tube. See? Even the mightiest ones fall.


3. Nonna has been known to take off her shirt in public. It's true ... just ask our Italian relatives who were visiting. We were all in the kitchen, and when a giant hairy spider crawled down the front of Nonna's shirt she yelled, she jumped, and ... just like that ... poof! off came her shirt!


4. Nonna has broken a number of international laws. Once upon a time my mom, my sister and I were driving from Germany to Italy (a time when there were border controls). As we were approaching the Austrian border she realized that all our passports/documentation papers were sitting on the kitchen table back at home.


What to do??


Well, Nonna turned into International-Law-Breaker-Woman because there was no way she was turning around. As she approached the border control, she very nicely held her wallet out the window pretending it was our packet of documents ... and the border guards waved us through. The same thing happened when we approached the Italian border. It's hard to imagine Nonna knee-deep in international subterfuge, but there you have it.


5. Nonna was once interviewed by WJBF's Mary Morrison. After the interview she complained to us that Mary Morrison didn't let her finish any of her answers. Later, as we were watching the interview, my husband says, "What are you talking about? You haven't stopped talking! Poor Mary asked ONE question, and you've been answering it ever since!" That tape is always good for a laugh.


6. Speaking of talking, Nonna once tried to have THE TALK -- you know, the one about the birds and the bees -- with one of our sons.

Nonna: So, where are you going?
Son: I'm going to Family Honor at the school.
Nonna: You're such a good student. What award are you getting?
Son: Uh, Nonna, I don't think you understand. Family Honor is not about honors ... it's about sexuality.

If you think Nonna was shocked, you'd be mistaken. Nonna was laughing. Then she started asking a million questions . . . and my son was the one who was speechless.

There are just some things you don't/can't/shouldn't talk to Nonna about. Ever.
 
7. Which brings me to this: Nonna doesn't embarrass easily. She'll sing in public, dance in public, ask questions, voice her opinion, and doesn't think twice about walking through the airport as Viking Woman.




8. Nonna is technology-challenged. She recently took a class at the Verizon store to learn how to take and text photos on her phone. Mind you, all of us at some point have given her a tutorial, but (truthfully) we breathed a sigh of relief when she turned to the experts. So after her lessons at the Verizon store she and Nonno went on vacation, and when they returned she asked me, "Why didn't you answer any of my texts? I sent photos to you, Laura and David, and only Laura answered them."


At this point, Laura was clearly the favorite child and David and I were in the dog house.


Long story short, she had sent the photos to our home phone number (the land line) which, as you know, just doesn't work. Apparently, the Verizon guys left out that little detail in their class. Then for two days, to make up for lost time, I kept getting vacation photos texted to me. I think she was practicing.


9. Finally, and this really should be #1, we love our Nonna. 


BUON COMPLEANNO, TANTI AUGURI, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!


Nonna and Nonno with their nine grandchildren.
Except, now there are ten.