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

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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Felice Anno Nuovo

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
-C. S. Lewis

The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time.
-Abraham Lincoln

I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.
-author unknown

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Rainy Afternoon

  • tickets for three to see The Water Horse: $19
  • two packs of sour patch kids: $6
  • total price before even finding a seat: $25
  • two hours in the theater with my oldest boys on a cold, rainy afternoon watching a magical movie: PRICELESS!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday Highlights

McDonalds, ugh: my toddler got a Mcdonalds cash register and play food for Christmas, and ever since he's been going around saying, "Welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order?" Everyone has placed at least 10,000 orders since Christmas morning. And he's very bossy. If we order, let's say, Chicken McNuggets, he says no, you can have a sundae and fries. Well, then.

One of my favorite gifts: the Paul Potts cd, One Chance. Paul was working in a car phone warehouse when he auditioned for, and ultimately won, Britain's Got Talent contest by singing opera. You can check out his auditon here. . . it will move you to tears.

Speaking of tears: I was touched when my twelve year old had tears in his eyes and gave me a fierce hug after we finished watching The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. It always moves me when my rough and tumble boys show their sensitive side.

A late surprise: the day after Christmas my sister noticed an envelope tucked in the branches of our tree. Huh? Inside was a gift card for a local restaurant which our good friends placed in the tree when they were visiting the week before. What a lovely surprise, especially considering that it was not discovered earlier.

A family accomplishment: we ate all 500 tortellini. . . there were no leftovers. None.

One of my favorite Christmas moments: watching It's a Wonderful Life with my husband on Christmas Eve when the boys were all in bed and we were playing Santa.

Too tender for words: watching my eldest son humor his Nonna by dancing the fox trot with her.

And I spoke too soon: Late Christmas morning, as we were getting ready to head over to Nonna and Nonno's house, I remarked to my husband that it was nothing short of miraculous that we actually made it to Christmas day without any of the boys getting even a sniffle. That afternoon my toddler throws up. Go figure.

Buon Natale: I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. Thanks to all my blogging friends for their holiday well wishes...I'll be visiting soon! God bless.

Buon Natale from our family to yours!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Advent Season: The Fourth Sunday

And the word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father's only Son,
full of grace and truth.
-John 1:14

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Bling: The Photo

Well, some of you have been asking to see a photo of the ring, so here it is . . . my early Christmas present!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Un tradizione italiano

What does our family do when the boys are out of school and my husband takes off the week before Christmas? We assemble in Nonna and Nonno's kitchen in the early morning to make 500 handmade tortellini! On Christmas Eve at our house we serve the tortellini with a bechamel sauce, and on Christmas day at Nonna and Nonno's house we serve them in a broth. Believe it or not, with my sister and brother and their families coming in town for the holidays, ALL 500 tortellini will be eaten; in fact, every year we assign an official "counter" to make sure everyone gets the same amount on their plates . . . we're THAT serious about our tortellini. (One year Nonna felt sorry for my brother the "starving" med student and tried to give him extra . . . well, let's just say that the rest of us put a stop to that! And when my husband and I tried to claim more because we were the ones that actually helped make them . . . well, that didn't work either!)

Our toddler helping Nonno with the pasta machine

500 handmade tortellini. . .

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Bling

Cleaning house this morning, I had just turned on our local radio station when I heard the words, "... be the tenth caller!" Since I was near the phone I grabbed it, dialed, got a busy signal and hung up. I tried again.

This time the call went through. It rang 7-8 times, and I was just beginning to think I had the wrong number when I heard, "Congratulations! You're on the air and you're our 10th caller!"

Yikes!! I went into a full-blown panic attack. What was the contest? Would I have to answer any questions? Would I have to do something stupid like sing Jingle Bells backwards? What if the prize was something weird like dinner for two at Hooters, or something?

And truthfully, I didn’t even know what radio station I was listening to. What if they asked me what my favorite radio station was and I said the other one?

The host explained. It's really very easy, he told me. The contest is The Twelve Diamonds of Christmas, sponsored by Windsor Jewelers. All I had to do was pick Box # 1, Box #2, or Box #3.

That's it? Pick a box? Wow! I thought. I can do this! I can!

So I told the host with the pleasant voice that I had three sons, the youngest was three years old, so I would please like box #3. I heard him open the box, and then he asked "Uh, how would you like diamond ring?"

What? Did he say diamond ring?

The panting over the airwaves was me hyperventilating.

Apparently, it was true . . . I had just WON A DIAMOND RING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I picked it up that afternoon at Windsor Jewelers, and they presented it to me nestled in their signature green box. It's pretty, it fits perfectly, it's bigger that I thought it would be, and it's sparkling very nicely right now by the light of this computer terminal!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Advent Season: The Third Sunday

Start by doing what is necessary,
then do what is possible,
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
--St. Francis of Assisi

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Advent Season: The Second Sunday

"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you."
--from The Confessions of St. Augustine

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

We've got mail

This time of year the postman is one of my very favorite people. In this internet age, it is wonderful to get actual mail . . . in our mailbox . . . with cursive handwriting . . . with a real stamp on the envelope. Call me old fashioned, but I love getting Christmas cards.

A Christmas card is like a mini present. Inside there may be blessings, or good wishes, or photos, or shared memories, or even funny jokes. One time we received a card that someone forgot to sign, and we had ever so much fun trying to guess who sent the card with the red cardinal on the holly branch. Was it Uncle David? Aunt Ann? Our realtor? We never did find out for sure.

What I find beautiful is that, behind every card, someone out there was thinking of us at any given moment when they wrote our name on the envelope and signed the card.

It's wonderful, this exchanging of Christmas cards, and to ensure that my rough and tumble boys fully appreciate this tradition . . . to really show them how to take the time to go beyond the picture on the front of the card and value the well wishes and blessings that are being sent . . . we've started a new Advent tradition.

Now, when we sit around the dinner table, we take a few moments to pass around any Christmas cards that came in the mail that day. We read each card out loud. We comment on which ones are beautiful. We share stories about the people who sent them ("This is from Aunt Clare, the one who made that beautiful quilt when you were born"). Then, when we say grace, we offer up a special prayer for them.

This way, at some time at any given moment, our family is thinking/praying for someone out there.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Matter of Time

This past Sunday I was watching my son's basketball practice. After a while, the coach split up the team and had one side remove their shirts for a "skins" vs. "shirts" scrimmage.

The sight of all those scrawny fifth graders, with their long, skinny arms and legs was very endearing to me. They looked so vulnerable, so innocent.

A fifth grade girl sitting next to me had an entirely different reaction.

"Ewwww," she remarked, with a heavy southern drawl, "That's just gross."

Just. you. wait!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Advent Season: The First Sunday

This year I wanted to make a new advent wreath, something a little rustic and a little non-traditional. So I took a piece of weathered wood from a corncrib, some rusted mattress coils, and some burlap garland.

I added some holly berries, some handmade candles, and some purple and pink ribbons. Our new advent wreath:

Wishing you heartfelt blessings on this first Sunday of Advent.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmas Tag

Karen over at The Rocking Pony was kind enough to include me in a fun Christmas tag. It's an easy one . . . list a favorite gift you received as a child, one you received as an adult, and one you would like to receive in the future. So, here goes:
  • Hands down, my favorite childhood gift was an acoustic guitar. My Italian Uncle (Zio Luciano) played in a band, so he helped my parents pick one out. I'll never, ever forget that feeling when he carried it into the room and handed it to me. I hadn't even told anyone that I wanted one, but somehow everyone knew. I've played that guitar at campfires when I worked as a camp counselor in college, in a folk choir at our Catholic church, and now I like to pull it out this time of year for singing Christmas carols.

  • As an adult, my favorite gift was, and still is . . . soap. Yup. Soap. About five years ago we let our two oldest boys buy their own Christmas presents for the family, and that year they gave me some beautiful bar soap. The following year it was fancy shampoo. Then, a bath set. It took me a while to figure it out, but now I know that they are boys, buying their Mom a gift, and they are trying to buy something feminine; in other words, they are buying for a girl and for them soap is a very "girly" thing. So, I treasure their soap gifts, and I love it when they give me a hug and then mention that I smell good.

  • Now, for a future gift . . . can I think big? I would like to be able to spend an ENTIRE summer in Italy with my family. Rent a villa, explore towns, absorb the culture. Part of my childhood was spent living in Vicenza (an hour by train from Venice) and I would love for my husband and my boys to experience actually living there. Two years ago we did take the boys to Tuscany for the first time for a couple of weeks, but I want three months. There, how's that for thinking big?!

Thanks again, Karen, for tagging me. In turn, I think I'll tag mg at blue suede shoes, Karen at The More, The Messier, and onthegomom.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Are We There Yet?

This week we are headed to Virginia Beach to spend Thanksgiving with family. It's an eight hour car drive, but one we are used to. One year, however, we almost didn't survive ...

What our toddler does on a 8-hour car trip to visit Nana and Papa for Thanksgiving:

--Fifteen minutes after leaving home, gets bored, takes off his shoes.

--Listens to his favorite song 12 times in a row. Everybody is beginning to hate that song.

--Eats a pack of fruit snacks.

--Bored again, takes off his socks, throws them over his shoulder and hits big brother in the head. Big brother throws them back and a sock war rages. Daddy gets mad.

--Seven hours to go.

--Begins undressing again. Even tries to take of his sweatpants, but he's buckled in. Works on his shirt.

--Doesn't take a nap.

--DOESN'T. TAKE. A. NAP. (I have to emphasize that point.)

--Eats a pack of fruit snacks.


--Yells that he wants to get down RIGHT NOW! and imitating his parents says, I'M SERIOUS!

--Eats chex mix.

--Throws his cup, hits other brother in the mouth. Nobody is happy, especially the brother.

--Starts laughing at EVERYTHING. Won't stop. Everyone is most annoyed.

--Falls alseep twenty minutes (twenty minutes!) from Nana and Papa's house. Looks very peaceful. Looks like he'll sleep for a while.

Twenty minutes goes by very quickly.
Really, how could someone so cute
possibly be  responsible for all the above?

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Thanksgiving Blessing

This is our family Thanksgiving blessing. Every year we gather around the table to say this prayer, the beautiful words written by Lino Villacha, a poet our missionary friend, Sandro, met while working in Brazil. Lino Villacha's prayer is incredibly moving when you consider that he suffered from leprosy and eventually died from complications of the disease.

Obrigado SenhorThank you, Lord, for my healthy limbs, when so many are crippled,
For my perfect eyes, when so many are without light,
For this voice that sings, when so many are mute,
For these hands that work, when so many have to beg.
It is wonderful, Lord, to have a home to return to,
When there are so many who don't know where to go.
It is wonderful, Lord, to laugh, love, dream,
When so many cry, hate, and die before being born.
It is wonderful, Lord, to have so little to ask,
And so much to be thankful for.

Lino Villacha

Sandro Nottegar with Lino Villacha

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A confession, or two

Three years ago we converted our two-car garage into a rec/entertaining room. We do most of our entertaining in that room, and so every year at this time I start thinking how nice it would be to have a small, simple Christmas tree next to our 10-ft. farm table. I harbor visions of a Christmas dinner in which the only lights are those coming from candles of the table setting and the white lights of a Christmas tree. The problem? Here's confession number one, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit this: we already have three Christmas trees.

Yup. Three. I never, ever planned on three trees; it just happened. We have a huge tree for our family room, a small tree ($11 at a Target post season sale) in the boys' room which they decorate with football cards, and another tree that I use for my old glass ornaments. So, with three trees I absolutely refused to absolutely even think about buying another tree.

Then, this past weekend my husband and I went to chat with a neighbor who was having a moving sale. And I saw it: an Alpine Christmas tree (a tall, slim tree, sometimes called a pencil tree) that was $15, pre-lit! What's a girl to do when the tree of her dreams lands in her lap? So here's confession number two: I bought it. And the miracle of the whole thing is that my husband voiced no complaints whatsoever about yet another tree; I mean, he didn't even roll his eyes! I love that man!

So, one tree up, three to go . . .

Friday, November 9, 2007

Have you ever done this?

1. Run to the grocery store for ONE item, come back with ten, and then discover that you forgot to buy that ONE item?

2. Realize that you forgot to wash your sons' school uniform pants the night before, so you dig out some dirty ones, throw them in the dryer with 500 dryer sheets for five minutes, and consider them "dry cleaned"?

3. Spend five minutes looking for the remote when it would take 1 second to just turn it on manually?

4. Set the clock on the microwave and instead of pushing "set" you push "start" and then don't realize that the microwave is running until the wicker bread basket you had hidden inside (to keep the counter tops clutter free, you see) catches fire?

5. Cook a frozen pizza and when you couldn't slice it realize that you had forgotten to remove the cardboard circle from the bottom?

6. Forget to pick up your kids when they have early dismissal?

7. Cook a whole turkey without taking out the bag of giblets and not realize it until the 250 people you have invited over are seated at your table?

8. Run into an old Italian boyfriend (one you haven't seen in 10+ years) when you have just been caught in a rain shower and your hair is plastered to your face and your mascara is running?

Just wondering . . .

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Unexpected Results

My son's science project involving taste tests comparing generic and name brand products yielded this interesting result: in a blind taste test involving Nabisco oreo cookies and Publix oreo cookies, the testers (several members of the family, including Nonna and Nonno) unanimously picked the Publix brand over the Nabisco one. Huh? What's up with that? We were all shocked. Shocked.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Music to my ears

Last night the downstairs baby monitor was on while my husband was getting our three year old ready for bed. I stopped cleaning the kitchen to listen. It wasn't so much what they were saying as it was the sound of their voices: the deep voice of my husband's intermingled with the sweet voice of my toddler's. I wanted to bottle that moment.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Random Facts

Well, I've been tagged to share seven random facts about myself; I just hope that I don't bore you to tears. I am especially embarrassed to write this on the heels of my previous post about Sandro, who is much more deserving of the attention. So, forgive me in advance . . .

1. I love the serenity of the moon, or in Italian, la bella luna. Don't get me wrong, the splendor of a sunrise or a sunset can take my breath away, but to go outside when there is a full moon, well, there is nothing quite like it. I guess it's the solitude, or the way the light lands gently on the trees, or . . . okay, I'll stop. As you can see, I wasn't kidding about the moon.

2. I once went on a two week mission trip to Haiti and studied in Spain for a summer during college. But it is Italy--the food, the culture, the art, the language,the land--that holds a special place in my heart.

3. Before I had children I taught high school English and Spanish . . . an Italian, teaching Spanish and English, with a British maiden name that was changed to a Slovak last name after I got married in the middle of the school year. Don't worry, I'm confused too!

4. I turned 40 this year and accomplished the following: went to Rome, Italy with my best friend (a surprise from my wonderful husband), let my hair grow long for the first time in my life, and started to get serious about my writing again.

5. I turned 40 this year and noticed the following: my knees are creaky, I'm having to exercise furiously to get rid of my "Hi, Marys!" (don't ask), I don't need as much sleep, and I like who I am.

6. I won a $2,000 college scholarship from Coor's Beer! I'm not kidding. (It was set up for children of veterans and my Dad was retired military.) This scholarship generated more than a few laughs while in college, but strangely most people thought I was just joking. (FYI: I did get a few other scholarships that were more scholarly in nature.)

7. My family calls me Martha Stewart because I love to decorate, cook and entertain. I make a great chicken and polenta dish and nothing makes me happier than to have people seated around my farm table sharing a meal. Dinner anyone?

8. I met my husband while serving the garlic bread at a spaghetti dinner at our church. This December will be our 17th anniversary and, despite the fact that he has this quirky character trait of not liking coffee (Java Joe . . . or not), I love my husband dearly. We have three wonderful sons, and I couldn't be happier.

Okay, I know that was 8 random facts. Did I also mention that I was never good in Math? Now go read something really interesting!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Saints Living Among Us

Growing up in Verona, Italy my mother had a friend named Luisa who married Alessandro Nottegar, and together the two of them dedicated their lives to Christ. When Sandro (as he was called) finished medical school, he and Luisa decided to take their family to Brazil to work as missionaries among the poor. They ran clinics, began a small school, worked in a leper colony, and opened their home in the evenings for music and prayer.

When the illness of their youngest daughter forced them to return to Verona, Sandro was called to continue his work there. With much prayer and faith, la Comunita` Regina Pacis was founded in 1986, a religious community dedicated to prayer, fellowship, and evangelization. It was there, just one month after the community officially opened, that Sandro suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was only 42 years old.

But his death wasn't an ending . . . it was the beginning of an incredible journey for those he left behind. His wife, Luisa, their three daughters, and the members of the Community continued Sandro's work in his name so that today they are doing mission work in Italy, Brazil, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. God's work, carried out in four countries, began with this one man, and in 2007 the Bishop of Verona began diocesan proceedings to formally nominate Alessandro Nottegar as a candidate for sainthood.

Just an ordinary man . . . and yet that's what makes Sandro's life story so powerful. It shows that there are Saints walking among us today, here, on this earth. Ordinary people, accomplishing extraordinary things, all for the glory of God.

Update: The documentation papers for the canonization of Sandro were ceremoniously sealed by the Bishop of Verona and are now officially at the Vatican. The formal investigation has begun.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Backyard Football . . . Injury Free

I love the fall season: tumbling leaves, cool weather (finally!), hot chocolate by the fireplace, the excitement of the holidays . . . and then there is football. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind it as a sport, and my middle son even plays in a league (Taking a Knee). On Saturday afternoons I love curling up with a book with my husband and sons sprawled around me watching a game. But those backyard football games . . .

We have a great backyard, but we also have trees, and the ten boys who have gathered here aren't wearing helmets and they think they are going to tackle each other. Uh uh, no way. No tackling. Period.

You should hear the wailing protests. We'll be careful! Nobody will get hurt! You'll spoil our fun. How can I be like Paul Posluzny if I can't tackle?! Mmmm. I feel like an ogre, but I don't budge.

But I do have a solution (I've tried the touch football idea but then they shove each other out of bounds straight into our brick house). Look here. I show them a flag football kit. It's really neat, I say. Everyone has a belt with two flags velcroed to it; instead of tackling each other into the trees or shoving each other into the brick house, you grab a flag.

The kids sigh. Okay, they say, in a tone that is very begrudging. But as they secure their belts, I can tell they are more than a little intrigued. In fact, they are having a great time. They play all afternoon and I don't feel like I need to stand by the phone ready to call 911.

And they aren't even annoyed with me. Later my oldest son comes in and asks if I would come out and be all-time quarterback. Wow! I am stunned speechless, but I go outside because, really, how hard can it be to throw a football? At least I know I won't be tackled.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Raising souls

"I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life." (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865)

There is no doubt that raising our sons is the hardest thing that my husband and I will ever, ever have to do. At night in bed I often review the events of the day: did I lose my patience too much? was I too lenient? should I have done this instead of that? My husband and I have endless discussions on discipline, on character building, on instilling spiritual growth. Often it seems as if there is never a clear answer; each situation, and yes, even each child, needs to be handled just a little differently.

I remember nursing my first son in the dark and quiet hours of the night when the enormity of the years ahead struck me. Changing diapers, bathing, feeding, rocking . . . taking care of our son's physical needs was the easy part. What about all the things we would have to teach him: to walk; hit a golf ball; spell his name; make his bed; research a paper; fill out an application; drive; get a job?

As important as these things are, what about character and spiritual growth? Imperfect as humans (and thus as parents), how would we teach our son to believe in God; pray with faith; help a stranger; give of oneself; be a good citizen; be strong, and confident, and secure; stand up for what is right? As I sat and rocked my son to sleep that night, I felt overwhelmed . . . we weren't just raising a child, we were raising a soul.

In the midst of those swirling emotions, I soon found a deep comfort in the Blessed Mother and realized that she, more than anyone, understood what it is like to be a mother.

Scripture tells us that Mary was afraid and "deeply disturbed" (Luke 1:29) when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. At the nativity, when the wise men came to pay homage to her son, Mary quietly "kept in mind all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19). Later, when she presented her first born son to the Lord, Simeon warns her of the pain that would come when he says, "a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:35). And when Mary found Jesus in the temple after he had been lost for three days, she tells him, "See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you" (Luke 2:48). Joy, worry, pain, uncertainty . . . Mary lived through it all with a deep and abiding faith.

Now that we have three sons ages three, eleven, and twelve, Mary is still here to comfort, guide, and mediate for us. Help is only a prayer away, and that's a good thing, because here is what I am reminded of on a daily basis: raising our sons is, and always will be, the hardest thing my husband and I will ever, ever have to do. It's not supposed to be easy, but with prayer and faith it can be done. It's as simple as that.

Monday, October 22, 2007

In Celebration of Life

Yesterday was my nephew's birthday . . . literally. He was born in the early morning after only an hour and a half of labor (they barely made it to the hospital, which sent my doctor brother into a panic).

Yesterday was also my middle son's birthday, and when my brother called to share the news, he asked for my son Jonathan and told him to announce Ethan's arrival to the family since they now share a birthday. Of course Jonathan's announcement, given in a matter-of-fact-nothing-out-of-the-ordinary kind of way, sent everyone scurrying, scrambling, and racing to grab the phone from him. I mean, really, what was my brother thinking, entrusting such important news to an eleven year old?

After a whirlwind of phone calls, after the laughter and the celebration, after everything quieted down and I had a moment to take it all in, the beauty of this event hit me . . .

A new baby. Here. On earth.
What could be more joyous?

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Good Day

This past Thursday I received a phone call from someone I hadn't heard from in a long, long time: the school nurse. Evidently my eldest son was having stomach problems, was very pale, and the nurse felt I should probably come and pick him up. I was more than happy to do so because, you see, I got to be his Mommy again.

Now that my son is twelve years old, he likes to do things by himself. No more quizzing him on spelling words, picking out his clothes, helping him with his reports. I am now "Mom" spoken in a voice that seems to lower by the minute, and I notice that, while he speaks nonstop with his friends, having a conversation with his parents is akin to torture.

But, on Thursday he was all mine! I got to tuck him into bed, plump his pillows, make him tea, and even kiss him on the forehead . . . all without protest. We watched television together, talked about school, and laughed at his three year old brother who was getting more than a little jealous. And later in the afternoon, as I was handing him yet another cup of tea, he thanked me and told me he loved me.

Despite the pesky little stomach problem, it was a good day for both of us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An Evening Stream of Consciousness

Sitting in a lawn chair, looking at the evening sky . . . these were my thoughts while waiting for my son's football practice to end:

A friend of mine (who is now a Franciscan priest) once told me that clouds are every color except white. Studying the puffy, billowy clouds overhead I saw purple, pink, blue, grey, yellow . . . but no white. Amazing!

I recalled this conversation from Winnie the Pooh: "Why is the sky blue?" asked Piglet. "To give us something to talk about," said Pooh.

"Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will." This quote popped into my head, probably because I was contemplating the heavens.

Practicing my faith, I thought: "I don't believe that this marathon practice session will end. I know that it will end."

And it did.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Happy Birthday, Damiano!

Today is my cousin Damiano's birthday. Although he is all grown up now and married to wonderful Irene, I do have one particular memory of him that always makes me smile.

One summer he came to spend a month with us. Since I was away at college, I decided to come home one weekend to take Damiano and my brother to Six Flags for the day. We had a wonderful time, and toward the end of the day they both decided to go on every single water ride in the park one more time. The goal: to get thoroughly soaking wet. And they succeeded.

When we walked (or rather, squished) back to our car, they climbed into the back seat to remove their soaking shoes and socks while I packed things away into the trunk. I heard a lot of giggling, and when I closed the trunk those two buffoons had plastered the bottoms of their size 12 water-logged, wrinkled feet to the back of the car window. Not a pretty sight . . . but it was a funny one!

Buon Compleanno Damiano!! And for you, I took this photo in Rome this past May that made me think of you!
"Give me coffee" or Dami's cafe`

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The West Wind . . . in Italy

My Zia Paola shared with me that the West Wind (see previous post) blows just as strongly in Italy; however, I seem to remember my cousins using the following word along with that exaggerated sigh:

"Uffa!" (pronounced ooo-fa) is a word that sounds like a sigh and a sigh that sounds like a word. I hear it a lot when I am with my cousins, and it conveys exactly the same meaning as our west wind.

Now, I am admittedly a little biased with all things Italian, but the breathless "Uffa" sounds, well, actually very nice.

So I think I'll teach my boys how to do the west wind in Italian because, after all, if they're going to indulge in preteen grumpiness, they may as well sound nice in the process!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The West Wind

The west wind has been blowing through our home. You know, the west wind, as in:

Me: "Sweetie, please roll the trash can down the driveway."
Son: "SIGH!"

And that sigh, so exaggerated, so full of preteen angst, so weighed down with the burdens of the world, is what we call in our home . . . THE WEST WIND.

The other day it was blowing more than usual, and in exasperation I finally asked, "Excuse me, is that the west wind I hear?"

After a moment of panicked silence, I hear, "Uh, no, it's just a little breeze blowing in from the southeast."

Hmmmm. Too smart for his own good.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Leonardo da Vinci and his Mona Lisa

Could a weekend be more perfect? Thursday night I played Bunco with my girls' night out gang, Friday morning was my Familia prayer group, that night we went to a GREAT costume party dressed as Leonardo da Vinci and Mona Lisa, Saturday I spent the entire day in Columbia, SC scrapbooking with my sister, and Sunday we went to church and then had lunch at my parents' house. Really, I feel as if these past few days all I had to do was show up wherever it was that I was supposed to be!! Isn't life grand?
Leonardo da Vinci and Mona Lisa

Thursday, September 27, 2007

La Bella Luna

I admit that I have a quirky trait: I love looking at the moon. On a clear night, with no clouds, there have been many times I have dragged my family to a window (and, yes, even outside in their pj's) to look at the beautiful moon. "La bella luna" , in Italian.

Last night, when the full moon was hanging low and heavy right over our house, I found myself again calling to my family to come and see. I enthusiastically pointed out how serene it made everything look. I challenged everyone to think of as many songs as they could that mention the moon. I even made up this corny poem: "The man in the moon smiled as he looked down on the mother and child." Then, when I noticed everyone looking at me as if I were, well, looney (from the root word "luna"; lunatic also comes from "luna"), I realized that I was turning into my mom . . . and my Nonna.

In the early nineties, when we were vacationing in Florida with my parents and my Nonna, we were told that the space shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral could be viewed from our second story balcony. The fact that it would take place at 3 a.m. didn't stop us because we knew that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially for my Nonna who was visiting from Italy.

At 3 a.m. we gathered on the balcony, listening to the shuttle countdown on the radio and watching the horizon. When the shuttle launched, and we could follow the shuttle's ascent, my Mom and Nonna couldn't contain their enthusiasm:

Mom: "OH! Lord bless them. Bless them. Keep them safe!!" At 3 a.m. she shouted this 550 times from our balcony.
Nonna: "Maria Santissima! Cielo santo! Che bello! Dio mio!" Again, it was 3 a.m., and this was also shouted repeatedly.

With the mixture of English and Italian being hurled towards the heavens, the rest of us cringed (did I mention that it was 3 a.m.?).

So, last night as I was extolling the virtues of "la bella luna", the reality that I was becoming just like my Mom and Nonna hit me. Yikes!

"Cielo Santo! Maria Santissma!"
I'm not sure if I should be terrified or not. (wink! wink!)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Taking a knee

In a moment of weakness my husband and I decided to let our middle son play football. There are many things about football that I could complain about: the long practice sessions; the grass stains; the sickening sound of helmets clashing (it is, after all, my son's head under that helmet); the reality that it always rains when it is my turn to take him to practice; the fact that it disrupts our family dinner.

But I am surrounded by boys, and in order to relate to them I am learning to enter their world. I now know that "sacking" has to do with tackling and not a large bag; that when someone calls "hit it", pushups are required; and I know the difference between a lineman, a linebacker, and a wide receiver.

One evening after practice the coach gathered the kids around and told them to "take a knee". It was a beautiful thing to see, all these sweaty boys, bulked up with shoulder pads, kneeling on one knee as they respectfully listened to the coach. At a scrimmage the following evening, the whole team "took a knee" in silent prayer when there was an injured player on the field.

While praying is something we do often as a family, I now realize that my son is getting a new lesson on this theme from football. By "taking a knee" with his coaches and his teammates, he is learning that prayer can be incorporated into many areas of our lives. Prayer isn't just limited to church, or the dinner table, or our school, or family rosary night.

I love that my son is learning this. Kneeling is a very humble act. We kneel in adoration, in respect, in prayer, in times of need. It is an acknowledgement that we as human beings are indeed frail, and when we kneel, we surrender this weakness and yield to a higher authority, our God. I want my sons to learn to "take a knee" in life.

So now, instead of complaining about all the disruptions this football season has caused, I am thankful for lessons he's learning . . . lessons that reinforce what we try to teach him at home. And sometimes I get a glimpse, however brief, of the man he will one day grow up to be.

Taking a knee in football practice . . . and in life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Java Joe . . . or not

My husband and I have been married for sixteen years and I love him dearly. He does have one character flaw, though. He doesn't drink coffee. He doesn't like coffee. He has never even tried coffee. Now, that's just wrong.

I, on the other hand, love my morning cappuccino. Between my Bialetti stovetop coffee maker and my Barista espresso machine (a gift from a wonderful sister-in-law!) I wake up every morning with Starbucks at my fingertips. For me it's a comforting ritual, one that is carried out in the early dawn when everything is still quiet and peaceful.

My husband just doesn't get it. I was making my morning cappuccino recently when I offered to make him one as well. He didn't even answer; he just made a face.

"How can you not like coffee? You've never tried it." I remarked, determined to ignore the fact that he was shuddering.

"Why do I want to start drinking something that I can get addicted to?" he asked, sounding too much like the engineer that he is.

"I am not addicted." But I was getting perturbed. And defensive. "I only have one cappuccino in the morning and sometimes one in the afternoon."

"I have seen you when you haven't had your coffee," he observed. "You're addicted."

Okay then.
Until he wakes up and smells the coffee, I'll just enjoy drinking mine!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Things that go ouch in the night

I still check on my boys at least once during the night . . . a loving gesture, to be sure, since every time I do so I risk life and limb.

Last week, I stepped barefoot on a matchbox fire truck complete with a sharp ladder and a small siren. ("Ow!")

Many times I have stepped on a lego . . . or a lego structure. (Crash!!! "Ouch! . . . Ouch!")

Once it was a marble on the arch of my foot. ("Gee Whiz! How can something so tiny and smooth hurt so much???!!!")

But last night I felt safe because the boys had picked up before bedtime. Unfortunately, I had been so used to walking around things on the floor that I became disoriented and stubbed my toe on the bedpost. (I will not post those comments.)

Tonight I'll get my husband to check on the boys.

La Bella Figura and my Sons

In Italy, there is an expression "la bella figura", which means "a good image". My Nonna used this expression a lot. It's a saying that not only deals with being well dressed when going out, but also with demeanor and correct behavior. "La bella figura", in a sense, is presenting one's best self to the world.

Taking this expression to a deeper level, it is a basic human truth that, like it or not, our appearance, demeanor, and actions reflect who we are, where we practice our faith, where we go to school, our national origin, and even how we are raised.

Getting my sons to understand this can sometimes be a challenge. One day in Target my two oldest boys got into a shoving match in the check-out lane. I was mortified for two reasons: one, they were fighting and two, they were fighting while wearing their school uniform. Later, when everyone calmed down, we discussed how, when wearing a school uniform, they were more than two brothers scuffling . . . people looked at them and saw their Catholic school, their church, and even their parents.

Now, did they get it? For the most part. I think. Maybe. My Nonna explained it better. But the very next time I took them to Target while they were wearing their school uniform, a woman commented on how well mannered they were and inquired where they went to school.

Hmmm. Maybe the idea of "la bella figura" is catching on after all.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Real Men

This afternoon we were stopped at a traffic light when my son pointed out a bumper sticker on the car in front of us: "Real men love Jesus."

I looked at my him and said, "That's right. Are you a real man?"

My ten-year-old thought a couple of seconds, and with all seriousness replied, "Yes, I am."

I smiled. That's my baby!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Swinging through life's lessons

Yesterday I spent an hour at the park, most of it teaching my three year old how to pump his legs when swinging. It was not going well; he spent most of the time laughing and wanting me to push him higher. In total exasperation I thought: "Who doesn't know how to swing?". My next immediate thought was: "Who doesn't know how to e-mail photos?", which is what my twelve year old had to show me how to do earlier that day. Enough said.

See you at the park tomorrow . . . I'll e-mail the photos!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

My Nonna and Michelangelo

Today I just happened to hear on the radio that it was Grandparent's Day. Who knew? But it did get me started thinking about my Nonna, my Italian grandmother. The memories I have of her fill my heart, but one in particular stands out with me this day.

The first time I went to Rome it was with my Mom, my sister, and my Nonna. I was twelve, on the brink of puberty, and I was grumpy . . . a lot. In the Sistine Chapel I remember sitting next to my Nonna who had tears in her eyes as she tried to explain Michelangelo's majestic ceiling to me, but all I could think about was that it was too crowded, too hot, and too boring. Really, I just didn't get it.

Twenty-eight years later my husband, for my 40th birthday, sent me to Rome with my best friend for four nights and five days. While I had been back to Italy many, many times, this was the first time I would be returning to Rome since that first trip. And since my Nonna had passed away two years earlier, this time, in her honor, I was going to do it right.

I prepared a lot. I read history books, studied tour books, taped shows featuring Rome, and surfed the internet for tips. As I read Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King, I felt something in me stirring, some understanding that was hovering just beyond my reach.

When we entered the Vatican Museums my best friend and I bypassed room after room as we followed signs to The Sistine Chapel, and so we were one of the first to enter. It was incredibly quiet. I found a seat on the bench running alongside one wall and finally looked up. It was too much. The notes and binoculars lay forgotten in my lap as I let the colors, the power, and the immense beauty wash over me. I didn't think, I just felt.

And I felt tears in my eyes. And I knew that in heaven my Nonna was nodding and smiling . . . because I finally got it.

Friday, September 7, 2007


I turned 40 this past February and I was determined to make some changes in my life, exercise being one of them. I've always been active, but I had been noticing some definite changes in my body (gravity DOES exist!!) and so I decided to be more aggressive in my exercise routine.

I began walking/jogging most days of the week. And here was the problem . . . where, Oh where! , were those endorphins, that natural high, that feeling of euphoria that you were supposed to feel when exercising? All I felt was sweaty and tired. Was I not working out hard enough?

Seven months later I have it all figured out: I do have endorphins after all! I do get that natural high, that feeling of euphoria , that sense of well-being. . . when the exercise session is OVER!! You go, girl!!