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 my father 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.


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`)


pasta alla puttanesca


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


sorbetto al lampano fatto in casa (homemade raspberry sorbet)


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. 


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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad discovery

I went to spend a couple of days with my sister while her husband took the two older boys to the beach, and while I was checking out their pantry (I can be nosy that way) I made a horrible, no good, very bad discovery. There, on the center shelf, were TWO JARS of a chocolate spread ... the FAKE brand ... the knock-off ... the Nutella-wannabe.

But wait. It gets even worse. It seems that my nephew was responsible; he saw them on sale and convinced his mom (my SISTER!) to buy them.

Well. I'm his auntie. I just had to set him straight.

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Soul

Looking out
from within.
Looking within

to look out.

~from the files of very bad poetry by Bia

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Traveling with Kids: Two Ways to Keep them Engaged

Are you taking your family on a road trip? Traipsing through Europe? Exploring the Grand Canyon? Walking the streets of Manhattan? Here are two ways ours family makes those trips fun, educational, and memorable.

The Scavenger Hunt

When my husband and I took our boys on their first trip to Italy, I prepared a scavenger hunt highlighting some of the things I knew we would be seeing. The night before we left I gave them each a disposable camera and a list of 25 items to look for during our trip. Some of the items on the list were obvious: someone eating a gelato; a tower that leans; a sign written in Italian; a Vespa. Some weren't so obvious: a lion carved in stone (the lion is the symbol of Venice and is found everywhere in that city); a love letter to Juliet (the wall near Juliet's balcony is plastered with love letters asking for advice). Each time they found an item on their list, they took a picture of it.

They loved the scavenger hunt and took it very seriously. Once we returned home they put the list and their photos in a small album thereby creating a wonderful keepsake of their travels.

Postcard Journals

For that same trip I also wanted to find a way for the boys to record what they were seeing and learning. I knew, however, that a traditional travel journal was not going to work; instead, every day the boys would send postcards to themselves!

Here's how it worked: After a day spent sightseeing, the boys would select a postcard and write some highlights of the day. A postcard was perfect because they had a picture of what they saw, and the limited space on the back kept their journaling down to a few sentences. I kept stamps in my wallet, and whenever there was an opportunity we would drop them in the mail.

The best part was that a few days after returning home the postcards started arriving -- postcards from Rome, Naples, Capri, Sorrento and Verona. Getting the mail every afternoon was never so fun. These postcards, addressed to themselves, contain some of the best (and funniest) memories from our family vacation.

Once we returned home from our travels, the postcards kept
coming and coming!

In almost every postcard Timothy mentions how much he loves gelato.

Dear Me,
I went to Cortona today. It was so high on the mountain my ears had trouble getting used to the altitude. We sat on the steps pictured on the postcard and ate a panino. The pigeons practically attacked us when I threw a chip on the step. ~Jonathan

Dear Me,
Today we went to La Verna, a Franciscan monastery. We saw the real cloak that St. Francis wore. My favorite was, of course, the gift shop!! ~Jonathan

Dear Me,
I love Verona. I went frog hunting with Martha and we made a cake. ~Timothy

Dear Me,
Today we visited the Royal Palace in Caserta. It was beautiful, and it was where they filmed Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Walking the halls, I get shivers every time I think that Jar-Jar Binks was there. ~Nicholas

Dear Cool Kid (aka me): In Verona I saw a Colosseum and the Piazza Bra - a bra that looks like a pizza. Not really. Anyway I saw Juliet's balcony with all the love letters attached to the wall. By the way, the Piazza Bra is a square named Bra. ~Nicholas

Dear Me,
St. Peter's is a beautiful church. There is a spot outside that if you stand on it, all the columns behind the front one disappear so you only see the front one. We saw where most of the popes were buried. ~Jonathan