Musings of an Italian-American Catholic wife, mother, and writer

Musings of an Italian-American Catholic wife, mother, and writer

Friday, February 25, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Danskos, Eating Clean, and a Rattling Chandelier

This is my first time participating in 7 Quick Takes Friday hosted by Conversion Diary, so please be gentle ...

1. Top news, for me, would have to be this: after five years of daily use (including vacations in Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, Hilton Head, and three trips to Italy), the time has finally come to retire my trusty pair of black Dansko clogs. (Remember my post Dancing through Life in my Dansko Clogs? Dansko featured it on their Web site.) Of course, I still have my tan, brown, purple, and leopard ones ... but I'm really going to miss my black Danskos.

2. One of my favorite things to do is read recipe books. When I go to a bookstore I immediately head to the cookbook section, and I will read and read. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when my copy of The Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook came in the mail today and (oh joy!) it has a colored photo for every single recipe. My weekend reading is set.

3. Speaking of eating, here is my favorite hummus recipe: blend 1 can of cannellini beans; 1/4 c. chopped roasted red peppers; 2 cloves of chopped garlic; 1/4c. olive oil; juice of one lemon; salt & pepper to taste. That's it.

4. I have noticed a new habit that, when faced with a chore such cleaning the boys' bathroom (hello? three boys sharing a bathroom?) or mopping the kitchen floor, I suddenly feel the need to call my sister and chat. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or some form of subconscious procrastination, but I've been calling her a lot lately.

5. I am always amazed when God answers a prayer about something I never even knew I needed until I received it. Wow.

6. The two older boys share a bedroom that is directly over the dining room. Whenever they get into a wrestling match upstairs, the chandelier downstairs rattles. It's rattling now, and I'm debating whether I should go upstairs and see what's going on, or wait until ...

7. For something to ponder over the weekend, read Fr. Charlie's post over at his blog, Catholic Insights. He describes the human experience in five words: formed, informed, deformed, reformed, transformed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Driving with Nonna

...dirai che sono sempre la solita brontolona, ma non mi stanco mai di raccomondarti de essere prudente con la macchina...
~excerpt of Nonna's letter to my parents, March 3, 1967

(... you will probably say that I'm nagging, but I will never get tired of cautioning you to be careful when driving ...)

Nonna knew how to do many things excellently, but driving was not one of them. Not at all. I remember having desperate, sotto voce arguments with my sister as to whose turn it was to sit in the back seat since it felt much, much safer back there.

Italians are notorious for ignoring traffic laws, and it was the same for Nonna. She straddled the middle lane, took wide right turns, rode the brakes, and she was not shy about using the horn.

There were many summer afternoons that my sister and I accompanied her as she visited her cousin in the country. After driving through the tiny streets of San Martino, it was a huge relief to get on a country road away from the traffic . . . unless, of course, we should happen to meet an oncoming tractor.

Then, Nonna played chicken.

As the behemouth tractor approached out miniscule Fiat 127, Nonna gripped the steering wheel tightly in both hands and maintained her position on her side of the road (which was just slightly off center). She wouldn’t budge . . . but the tractor did. When the farmer pulled over to let us pass, Nonna would smile and nod politely and the farmer would tip his hat to her.

In all fairness, I think that if Nonna had lived in the States and drove a Buick with an automatic transmission, she would have been just fine. But her FIAT 127 was a tiny white box with four wheels, a stick shift, and all of four gears. We knew about those gears because with every gear shift the car would lurch violently forward and backward, causing our heads to snap back and forth.

And God forbid Nonna had to come to a complete stop on a hill. She invariably stalled, and when this happened she would pull up on the emergency brake, restart the engine, and step on the gas while releasing the brake at the same time, thus shooting us forward fifty feet. In time, my sister and I came to appreciate those stalls because it enabled the cars in front of us to be far, far away when she released that brake and stepped on the gas.

As a backseat driver she wasn’t much better.

When my mother or my aunts drove she was quick to voice her opinion if they were going too fast. She was very good at carrying on a conversation while interjecting warnings about stop signs and traffic lights and other cars who, she was quite sure, were trying to kill us.

She wasn’t as vocal when my father or one of my uncles drove, but she still got her point across. If there was one thing a Nonna knew how to do, it was making her sentiments known without uttering a word. Pressing her foot to the floor, bracing her hand on the dashboard, or loudly inhaling or exhaling spoke volumes.

Driver or passenger . . . mamma mia! she made everyone nervous.

Luckily for her (and for us) she had the protection of St. Christopher. There was a medal of this patron saint for drivers prominently displayed on the dashboard of her FIAT, and Nonna began every car trip by kissing the medal and making the sign of the cross.

And if Nonna was driving, so did we.

Un Abbraccio: week 3

Monday, February 21, 2011

Standing Tall

The phone rings.

"Hello," answers Nicholas. "Joe? No sir, this is Nicholas. Here is my Dad, though."

As he passes the phone to Joe, he is grinning from ear to ear.

And I know why. You see ... just last year, every time Nicholas answered the phone the caller thought it was me.

Every single time.

But now, things have changed and they think Nicholas is the man of the house.

Which makes him feel pretty darn good.

father & son moment

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Good Day

Opening my kitchen cabinet this morning in order to grab an espresso cup, I stand back to admire the new shelf liners I replaced this past weekend.

And the sight of my lined shelves makes me happy.

Shallow, I know, but spring cleaning does this to me.


There's something exciting about emerging from the confines of winter and opening windows, cleaning out drawers and, yes, replacing shelf liners.

I grab my cup and make my espresso.

And that makes me happy, too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bathroom Humor in the Kitchen

I am cooking when I hear Timothy giggling.

I look up, and notice he is staring at these cute salt and pepper shakers I purchased in Sorrento, Italy two summers ago.

I know he's up to something, but darn if I can figure out what it is.

Then, one at a time, Timothy drags his brothers into the kitchen, points at the shakers and whispers something that has them laughing.

Now I know he's up to something.

And he is. It seems he is looking at the pepper shaker and, instead of pronouncing it pepe with two short e sounds, he was pronouncing it with two long e sounds.

Which he thought was terribly funny . . . as did his brothers.



That's all I have to say.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oh What a Stupid I am

So, a few years ago I made a beautiful pillow. It was a rich golden color, with a red envelope flap and five buttons along the border.

Two weeks ago I decided that I was tired of the thing and donated it -- along with some other stuff -- to our local Goodwill store.

Then today, as I was exploring one of my favorite antique consignment stores, I spotted my pillow on a beautiful antique bench.

My pillow. Which I made. With a price tag of $25.

Sigh ... I was tempted, but I did not buy it back.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Il Postino

Il postino mi chiama tutto sorridente quando sa de avere qualche cosa. Allora mi metto seduta con da un lato Paola e dall’altro Tizi, ed ogni 2 o 3 rigle facciamo o,o,i,i – sembriamo 3 sceme.
~Nonna’s letter to my parents, February 27, 1967

(The postman calls me with a big grin on his face when he has something for me [from America]. Then I sit with Paola on one side and Tizi on the other, and every 2 or 3 sentences we say oooohhh, aaahhhhh – we are like three fools.)

When I was a little girl, every Friday my mother would sit at the kitchen table and write a letter to Nonna, while across the ocean Nonna would be sitting at her kitchen table doing the very same thing. They wrote to each other every single week, a transatlantic exchange of letters that was, really, an ongoing conversation.

Nonna used the same distinctive stationery all her life. The envelopes were plain white, edged with a tiny red and blue border, with air mail stickers affixed everywhere. Inside there was always one or two sheets of plain white paper so thin you could see through to the writing on the other side.

Carissimi she began each letter, and as my mother read the letter aloud that night at dinner, we would all listen attentively, occasionally bursting out in laughter from something Nonna wrote or from the sheer delight of hearing her words.

She wrote about her week, describing her trip to the mountains, or her chance meeting with an old friend, or any news about our aunts and uncles. She offered advice . . . lots and lots of advice on everything from spring cleaning to making sure each of us is wearing a canottiera (undershirt) as a protection from the cold weather. She always offered personal remarks, commenting on a good report card or a school project. And she could be incredibly funny and self-deprecating: Sei capace di fare i tuffi nella piscina con l’acqua alta? Ma che brava! La tua nonna non e’ capace nemmeno de farli in vasca da bagno! (You know how to swim in the deep water at the pool? How wonderful! Your Nonna can’t even do that in the bathtub!).

In addition to the letters, for many years we were able to use the military’s postal service to exchange Christmas packages that were the cause of much excitement on both sides of the Atlantic.

By mid-November my sister and I would begin looking for the Christmas package from Italy, racing home every afternoon from the bus stop hoping that it had come. Then, one day we would come home and find it sitting in the middle of the kitchen, placed there by our mother so that it was the first thing we saw when we walked in the door.

It was a huge box, every corner and side reinforced with layers of tape, and it was filled with never ending surprises. There were boxes of pasta, nutella jars encased in bubble wrap, packages of arborio rice, chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano, and hard candies thrown in by the handful so that they settled into every nook and cranny. Verona’s newspaper - L’Arena - was used for padding, and each page was straightened out to be read later.

And then, or course, there were the wrapped Christmas presents which we would carefully pull out, one by one, eagerly looking for our own name written on the beautiful, homemade nametags. These we placed under the tree, to be poked and prodded until Christmas morning.

Nonna’s letters always ended with the assurance that we were always in her prayers: Ti ho ricordata con le mie preghiere ed ho acceso un cero in chiesa davanti alla Madonna perche’ ti aiuti e ti protegga oggi e sempre. (I remember you in my prayers and light a candle for you in front of the Madonna so she will help and protect you today and always). It was her final blessing, sent to us from across the ocean.

Today, as I unfold the thin pages of the letters that began in 1966, I am amazed the pages still carry a scent that almost does more to carry me back in time than the actual written words. I am amazed that despite being an ocean apart, Nonna’s words week after week demonstrated a love that spanned geography and time.

My name is Maria, and I am named after my Nonna.

week 1

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Happy World Nutella Day (and a birthday)

Yes, believe it or not, today is WORLD NUTELLA DAY!!!!!!!!

And it's also my birthday, and the only reason I mention this is because my seven year old fixed me a nutella sandwich for my birthday breakfast.

See? Nutella is important around here.

This celebration is sponsored by Bleeding Espresso and Ms. Adventures in Italy.

For more information on all things nutella, including over 500 recipes, go here.

And on thoughts how to survive motherhood ... check this out.

Finally, my Zia Tiziana wrote this ode to Nutella that says it all.

Piange a urla il tuo bambino?
Puoi mangiarne un cucchiaino!
Stai passando qualche guaio?
Prendine subito un bel cucchiaio!
Torna a casa il marito nervoso?
Un cucchiaione e un po' di riposo.
Se sei triste o ti fanno arrabbiare
la NUTELLA ti può consolare!


Is your child crying?
You can give him a spoonful!
Are you going through some troubles?
Immediately grab a spoon!
Does your husband come home all grumpy?
A spoonful and a little rest.
If you are sad or someone makes you mad
NUTELLA can comfort you.

And as far as our family is concerned, the bigger the jar ... the better!

photo taken in Sorrento, Italy

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Coming soon ...

As a way to delve into my Italian heritage, I will be introducing a weekly feature to my blog entitled Un Abbraccio ... Embracing an Italian Heritage.

Abbraccio -- Italian for embrace (pronounced ah-brah-cho) -- will be a celebration of art, culture, recipes, book reviews, interviews, links and, of course, stories about my Nonna; in other words, all things molto Italiano.

Stay tuned ... la dolce vita, indeed.