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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Full


Church, dinner, a warning from Dad:
Not too early,
sleep late!
 
Footsteps, giggles, very loud whispers ...
three boys in our room.
Early, Christmas morning.
 
Boxes, ribbons, papers, bags,
tags, tabs, bows, cards.
Everywhere.
 
Building, sorting, playing, listening.
Happy boys,
busy boys.
 
Family, friends, lots of food.
Rainy outside,
sunny within.
 
Quiet evening talking, sharing,
grateful, thankful.
Christmas full.
 
*from the files of very bad poetry by Bia


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Radio

We always referred to it as Grandpa Walton's radio because it looked just like the one in the television series: dark brown and bulky, with two creaking knobs as big as a child's fist. My father kept it in the garage to listen to when doing carpentry work. Every once in a while I would try to convince him to allow me to move the radio into my room, but the radio was his special possession, and the garage his special territory, so the radio remained where it was.

Every Christmas Eve my father would bring the radio into the house. Sitting by the glow of the Christmas tree lights, we would all take turns turning the knobs, trying to pick up international stations playing carols in different languages. The sound was scratchy, but that just added to the magic. One year we even picked up Vatican Radio and listened to the Pope's Christmas message.

Then, early one December, my father had a heart attack.

What was normally a joyous season for us, now became frightening and unsure. As we sat in the waiting room and watched bustling nurses in Santa hats, we struggled to find hope. There was no infant Jesus lying in a manger, only my father in a hospital bed; there was no bright Christmas star, only the blinking, beeping monitors hooked up to my father; there were no Christmas parties or celebrations, only quiet prayers whispered again and again.

But hope's flower began to blossom, one petal at a time. My father came through surgery, woke up, grew stronger, and was finally released to come home one week before Christmas.

When we gathered together that Christmas Eve we ignored the presents piled under the tree in light of the beautful gift of my father sitting in his recliner. That year, we didn't just listen to Christmas carols, we sang them, every word coming straight from the heart.

And that night my father gave me, newly polished, dusted, repaired, and wrapped with a bright red ribbon . . . Grandpa Walton's radio.



*re-post from 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Coming up with a perfect answer (and it's not what you think!)


"Mom," asks our little guy. "How do you know if an elf is a boy or a girl?"

I stop what I'm doing. How do I answer this? There are a lot of different directions I can go, but which one? I'm thinking fast, but apparently not fast enough.

"I know!" he says. "You have to look under his ..."

Allow me to interrupt for a moment. Can I just tell you I was a tad apprehensive about what he was going to say? But here, let's resume the conversation.

"You have to look under his HAT!" he says triumphantly. "A lot of girls hide their ponytails under their hat, so if you see a ponytail then it's a girl elf!"

As far as I'm concerned, that is the most perfect answer.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Making a Big Difference in Small Ways


I have a beautiful nephew named Peter. He's a happy, smiling, intelligent three year old who just happens to have autism. Yesterday my sister sent me an email describing a simple kindness ... the kind that can make all the difference in the world.
 
Dear Bia
 
Every morning when I walk down the long hallway of Peter’s school, headed for his classroom with him holding my hand, he makes his loud “happy noises.” He loves school and skips and hops in his own clumsy way in his excitement to get to his classroom. Sometimes I wish he would be a little quieter, because we get puzzled looks from the older school children who pass by us in the hallway. They don’t understand why he makes those noises. And every morning, Peter looks into every classroom we pass and smiles. One particular teacher always steps into the hallway and says, “I hear Peter coming. Good morning, Peter! How are you today? I’ll see you at lunchtime!” This morning she called out to me after we passed by:

“Ms. Kane?” 
 
I turned around. “Yes?”

“I just want you to know that Peter always makes my morning.”

Wow. That really made MY morning, and I don’t even know her name!
 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Words of Wisdom

In response to yesterday's post, here are words from my very wise Zia Tiziana (translated from Italian) ...

I think about all the wars that are going on right now in which men, women and children are being killed in the name of religious extremism and of a God who, instead, wants love, peace and brotherhood.
 

The biggest mistake we make is to believe we are better than others and to close a door to those who don't think as we do.

John Paul II always said "Open your hearts", and with our hearts we need to open all those closed doors that distance us from others. No, the Grinch can't steal Christmas because Christmas is love and love can't be taken ... it can only be given.
 





Monday, December 17, 2012

Finding Christmas When it Hasn't Gone Anywhere


Evidently, Christmas is on its way out.
Evidently, everyone is celebrating it wrong. People are celebrating too early, or not enough, or not in the right way; people aren’t giving enough, or not giving for the right reasons; society is replacing Christmas carols with secular music and Merry Christmas has now become Happy Holidays.
Do you hear what I hear?
The bah-humbugs and grumblings are reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch who stands on a mountaintop overlooking Whoville and laments, “All the noise, noise, NOISE!”
It’s a noise accompanied with a lot of finger pointing.
Now, I would be the first to say that we should defend our faith; that we need to speak up and be heard when some of our basic beliefs are under attack. But there is a fine line between defending our tenets and becoming judgmental when others don’t see or do things our way. It’s an easy trap to fall into and, more importantly, it exacerbates the problem rather than offers it a solution. It creates a mentality of us vs. them which, let’s face it, is drawing the proverbial line in the sand which, in turn, makes it all too easy to seek out others who are like-minded and who fuel each other’s indignation.
But is this living Christ’s message, to hole up in our communities, our churches, and our homes?  Do we surround ourselves with others who are just like us, barricade ourselves in and, from the safety of our communities, churches and homes, write nasty letters to the editor, post rants on Facebook, and righteously high five everyone around us that we are right and everyone else is so wrong?
During this time of year we are especially mindful of Christ’s entrance into the world. Rather than sending an army and forcing change, God sent an infant who was innocent and non-threatening, welcoming and not judging. People came to see the infant who simply was. Later, when Christ began his ministry, again people came; they didn’t come to be accused, but to be enlightened. The rod of discipline of the Old Testament became the Good Shepherd’s staff of the New Testament, a staff which is not used as a means of discipline, but as a way to corral and guide.
As children of faith we are all sent forth into the world to witness ... not to accuse or judge, but to witness. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially if we don’t get to know others or give them an opportunity to know us. When was the last time we had someone of a different faith (or no faith at all) over for dinner? Socialized with someone outside our clique, or welcomed someone of a different race or ethnicity into our home?
So, instead of fretting how Christmas is or isn’t being celebrated, be the shining star. And maybe, just maybe we’ll discover how all that noise simply gets in the way of the fact that we are more alike than we are different; that Christmas isn’t going anywhere. Not at all.
In the end, how did the Grinch steal Christmas?
He didn’t. He couldn’t.
It came just the same.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Orange You Glad it's Christmas?... in 7 quick takes

 
1. Orange reminds me of clemenines, and clementines remind me of wintertime and Christmas.



2. Subconsciously, I must like orange because here is what my daily breakfast looks like: cappuccino, served in an orange, Guzzini mug; ciabatta toast with apricot jam; Fage yougurt, peach flavored; and everything assembled on an orange tray (better for carrying everything over to the computer).



 
3. I'm making this dessert when we celebrate Christmas with my family this weekend ...


Pinned Image


4. And hosting a Hot Chocolate Bar, complete with these cute marshmallows (via Pinterest). Our neighborhood is decorating with luminaries Saturday evening, so my parents and my sister and her family are coming over for a cold, nighttime walk to be followed by hot chocolate and  sitting around a roaring fireplace.


Pinned Image


5. Tonight: movie night.

 
 
6. Have you ever come across something in a store so inherently dumb, so ridiculous that you buy the thing? Case in point, meet Alredo. We purchased Alfredo a couple of years ago. Alfredo spins around on top of a plate of spaghetti; the idea of the game is to use the fork catapaults and launch spaghetti and meatballs onto his hat, mustache, tray or apron which are all made of velcro.
 
The thing is, whenever we pull out this game (as we did Thanksgiving week) it doesn't take long for everyone to ignore Alfredo and the fork catapaults and just start launching spaghetti and meatballs willy nilly ... at one another. 
 
 
 
 
 
7. Orange you in need of a good Christmas joke?
 
 
 
*now go visit Conversion Diary for some more quick takes!
 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The things Nonna says ... ai, ai, ai

 
 


So, we're sitting around the dinner table on a Sunday talking about this and that. We're at my parents' house, which means Nonna is running back and forth to the kitchen, bringing in plates of food and telling everyone to mangia, mangia! The topic shifts to Nicholas, who is in the middle of college applications.

Nonna bustles in.

"Who are you going to sleep with in college?" Nonna asks Nicholas, as she grabs a plate and heads back to the kitchen.

We all freeze. No one says anything. At all. Then someone giggles, and before you know it we're all giggling because, really, what else can you do with such a question?

And Nonno -- who has been married to Nonna for a long, long time -- clarifies things.

"Uh, Nonna? You might want to watch your word choice," he calls. Then he looks at Nicholas. "She really wants to know who is going to be your roommate in college."

Oh! Roommate. Right.

Whew.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The many faces of the flu

 
1. Tissue box ... one in every room.
 

 
2. The Arsenal (not pictured, Mr. Bubbles).


 
 
3. About a month ago I happened to see the Dr. Oz show and he highly recommended this (less than $20 at Walgreens). It definitely works. Last night, I added a tsp. of Vicks VapoRub to the water (instructions didn't say I could, but I did it anyway). Let me just say it can clear air passages all the way to your toes.
 
 
 
4. Star Wars Monopoly ... again and again.
 
 
 
5. Make up school work.
Timothy took one look at all this ...

 
 
and ended up here.
 
 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Who says you need to use ALL your Christmas decorations?


No one, that's who. Just because you have a gazillion boxes in the attic filled with Christmas decorations doesn't mean you need to use everything in those gazillion boxes. Be selective. Rotate decorations. Don't overdo it.

This year, keeping it simple meant using what's already there.

Case in point, our kitchen credenza.  In the past I have decorated it with lights, a nativity, international Santas and, once, even a Christmas clock. This year, however, I didn't pull out any of those items and left the credenza as is and simply added some Christmas flowers and greenery.

That's it. Nothing to unpack or put away.

But festive, nonetheless.


Monday, December 10, 2012

The Christmas Flu and Mr. Bubbles


So, I take our little guy to the doctor, and he tests positive for the flu.

"I have the flu," he announces to his brothers when we come home. He almost sounds proud.

His brothers aren't impressed; in fact, they are horrified.

"Look, don't come within five feet of me," orders Nicholas. "I have exams coming up. I just can't get the flu."

I think Timothy looks a little insulted, but it's hard to tell because he looks so pitiful. Anyway, I medicate him, bundle him up in blankets, and within five minutes he's sound asleep on the couch.

I then prepare to do battle which, for me, means a trip to the grocery store to stock our pantry. Everything I don't usually buy, I do. With a sick child who doesn't have an appetite, I don't care what he eats as long as he eats. So things like popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, and Kraft macaroni and cheese (not the regular kind, mind you, but the Sponge Bob kind) make it into my shopping cart along with jello, applesauce, and ingredients for a variety of soups. For good measure, I also pick up a big jug of Mr. Bubbles because nothing is more soothing and relaxing than a good bubble bath (my ultimate secret weapon with all illnesses).

Later that night we're all sitting in the family room watching the season finale of The Amazing Race, and during a commercial Nicholas and Jonathan give Timothy some orders.

"Five feet. That's how far you need to stay away from me," reminds Nicholas.

"Don't get your flu germs all over the Wii," says Jonathan. "Don't use the purple controller. Don't use the black controller."

Well, we only have a purple and black controller, and Timothy opens his mouth to say something. I have a feeling it's not something good, so I intervene.

"Timothy, don't listen to your brothers. You'll be home without them, and you can do whatever you want. You can even go roll around in their beds and breathe on their pillows."

"Mom!" yell the older boys.

But Timothy can hold his own because a few commercials later he stands in front of Nicholas and asks him if this is five feet. When Nicholas says yes, Timothy takes a giant step forward.

"Four feet," he says with a grin. He takes another step. "And now it's three feet."

This time Dad intervenes.

For someone who is supposed to be sick, and who looks like death warmed over, Timothy is not going to let some silly flu bug stop him from having fun. He sets up Star Wars Monopoly on the kitchen table so we can play all day (guess who is included in that we?), he places Scrabble Junior and Guess Who? next to the couch, and the Lego bins are ready and waiting.

Something tells me this is going to be a long week ...

and I am thinking that I just may have to keep Mr. Bubbles for myself.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Confession


Uhm, I have a confession to make. It's not terribly earth shattering, but ... well, here it is: my Christmas shopping is done ... finished ... complete.

Finito.

Now before you get annoyed with me, allow me give you two things I do which help me stay on top of things:

1. Every year my best friend and I plan an all day Christmas shopping trip, usually during the early part of December. This year, because Thanksgiving was so early, we did it the end of November. Sometimes we go to Atlanta or Columbia, and sometimes (like this year) we stay in town. And when I say all day, I mean all day. As soon as the kids leave for school, off we go. The key to our trips is organization: we have lists, coupons, and we map out our day (which, by the way, always includes a lovely lunch). Not only am I able to finish the bulk of my shopping in one fell swoop, but it is so much fun.

And then there's this:

2. Our family has simplified the gift giving. For example, on my side of the family we draw names, with a drawing for the adults and and one for the kids. This way, everyone gets one gift. After several years of complete bedlam, you can't imagine how nice it has been doing it this way; not only does it keep the excess at bay, but it makes shopping for gifts that much easier.

That's it. An all day shopping trip and fewer gifts ... two things that have worked for me to ensure that Christmas doesn't get so crazy.

And as long as I'm confessing, I might a well tell you that everying is already wrapped and hidden away, which means I can now take the time to watch The Polar Express, sit by the fire and write Christmas cards, bake, pull out my guitar and play Christmas carols, go for nighttime car rides to look at Christmas lights, and read Christmas stories out loud.

In other words, I can now enjoy the season instead of running around trying to get ready for it.




Thursday, December 6, 2012

You Got Mail ... An Advent Tradition

This time of year the postman is one of my very favorite people. Call me old fashioned, but receiving real mail delivered to our mailbox – mail in actual envelopes adorned with cursive handwriting and a Christmas stamp --  is nothing short of exciting; in fact, every day around 2 p.m. I am already smiling in anticipation.

A Christmas card is, afer all, a mini present. Inside may be blessings, good wishes, photos, news, 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 Patty out in Missouri? Aunt Ann? Our realtor? It was a Christmas mystery.

What I find beautiful is that, behind every card, someone out there was thinking of us at a 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 my rough and tumble boys learn to go beyond the picture on the front of the card and appreciate the well wishes and blessings that are being sent, we have an Advent tradition that, 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, or Bill is Dad’s old roommate from college). Then, when we say grace, we offer up a special prayer for those who sent the card.  

And this way, at some time at any given moment, our family is thinking and praying for someone out there.

Christmas blessings, airmail style.
 
 
 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Idea


Old Christmas cards? Cut out vignettes and frame them. These framed Advent scenes are leftover from last year's Advent wreath, and this year they adorn a shelf in my kitchen.

 

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Kind of Math

Over Thanksgiving our oldest was playing football with my brother on the beach and somehow -- details are sketchy -- Nicholas caught a pass, tripped, and landed in the ocean. Guess who had his cell phone in his pocket?

Rice! everyone said. Sure, I know, but our beach house pantry was packed with everything except rice. So I did the next best thing: I disassembled the phone and used my hair dryer.

Yeah! the phone still worked! Then it didn't. The next day it resurrected! Then it died.

One dead phone, for sure.

So, last Friday Joe took Nicholas' phone, went to to the Verizon store, spent an hour wheeling and dealing, and once the dust settled ... I had a new iPhone.

Huh?

Evidently, Nicholas was due for a free upgrade next month, so until then Joe transferred Nicholas' number to my very basic cell phone and (unbeknownst to me) used the opportunity to get me an iPhone 5 for Christmas.

Friday night during dinner my Christmas stocking (hung by the chimney with care) started ringing. And kept ringing until I figured out what was going on.

Merry Christmas to me!

Funny how things work out sometimes. Beach football + Nicholas and his cell phone landing in the Atlantic Ocean = new iPhone 5 for me.

Funny math, to be sure, but I like it.



P.S. And just so you don't think poor, poor Nicholas was cheated out of a new cell phone, he will get his free upgrade next month.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday of Advent (and introducing our Advent wreath 2012)


The Advent wreath is an important part of our family's celebration of Advent, and every Sunday we gather for prayers and the lighting of a candle.

It's a beautiful tradition which brings together the family in an act of faith, and for me it's also a chance to create a new wreath every year. In the past I have used bedspring coils, a section of a corncrib, a piece of driftwood, baskets, platters, and framed art to create Advent wreaths which are unique in appearance, but true to the meaning behind the tradition.

This year my inspiration was a vintage tray, so I started with that. While I usually incoporate the pink and purple colors with ribbons instead of candles, this year I decided not to include those colors at all. Instead, I focused on some of the other symbolic elements of the Advent wreath, which I underlined in the list below:

THE SYMBOLISM BEHIND THE ADVENT WREATH:

evergreens
= everlasting life
holly = crown of thorns
pine cones/nuts/pods = life and resurrection
four candles = four weeks of Advent
color purple = prayer, penance, preparatory sacrifices, royalty
color pink = rejoicing
circle = eternity of God; God's never ending love
wood = the manger; the cross
Progressive lighting of candles = expection and hope surrounding Christ's birth
 
Advent Wreath 2012 (w/ vintage tray)
 
 
 
Some past Advent wreaths ...
 
Advent Wreath 2011 (beach driftwood and framed scenes of Advent)
 
 



Advent wreath 2010 (w/ wooden candlebra found in an antique store)



Advent wreath 2007 (corncrib and bedspring coils)


 
One of the wreaths I made for a talk I gave on Advent and the tradition of the Advent wreath 
(Part of the talk included how to make an Advent wreath from things around the house. For a demonstration, I constructed five different wreaths during my talk.)
 

 
So, tonight we'll light our first candle and begin the Advent season with this blessing.

There is beauty and solemnity in the lighting of a candle, and when we gather as a family around our Advent wreath to pray, we become part of a ritual as old as time itself.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Kindness Challenge in 7 Quick Takes


1- The inspiration for this post.

Thanksgiving week I came across a book called One Good Deed a Day. Basically, it's a journal with daily ideas for doing something kind. As I stood there flipping the pages and reading the different entries, I was reminded that being good, or kind, or thoughtful sometimes requires purposeful intention. I bought the book, and ...


 
2- ... came across this story. Tissues, anyone?

A tourist took this photo of NYC policeman, Larry DePrimo, presenting thermal socks and all-weather boots to a homeless man in Times Square. Then he knelt and helped the man put them on. You can read the entire story here.



3- Which reminded me of an airline ticket agent.

Once, after spending a couple of weeks with us, we drove Sr. Gaudiosa to the airport and, as we were helping her check in, the agent said that both suitcases were overweight and she would have to pay extra. It was a pretty hefty fine.

I looked at the agent and said, "Everything she owns in this world is in these two suitcases."

And I knew what I was talking about because I had helped her pack them: her habits made from thick, blue material, her black shoes, and some toiletries. That's about it.

The agent didn't say anything, and my husband got out his wallet to pay the fine.

Except there wasn't one.

When the agent took the suitcases he said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it. Have a safe flight, Sister."

And he smiled.

Sr. Gaudiosa

4- And let's talk about the kindness of strangers.

Once upon a time a stranger stopped to help me after I had a car accident. He called 911 for me, and stayed with me until the police arrived. Later, he returned with some cold Diet Cokes for me and some Oreo cookies and juice boxes for my son. His name was Chaz, and a couple of years later I heard he had passed away. Here's the letter I wrote his family.

5- An anonymous gift.

During my second year teaching high school in a rough neighborhood I had to be present at a parent conference held in the principal's office. It wasn't one of my students, but I had witnessed an incident and had to be there. It was ugly, the parents were hateful, and I left in tears. I was both frustrated and disillusioned.

The next morning I got to school and on my desk was a beautiful flower arrangement in a ceramic vase designed to look like stacked books. There was a lovely, encouraging note ... unsigned. I never found out who sent them.

6- Little things make a huge difference.

The sales clerk who gave me the sale price when I didn't have a coupon; our neighbor who picked up our newspapers when we were out of town; the thank you note with the Starbucks gift card I received for a small favor; a new friend in my Body Pump class who set up my step and weights for me in my usual spot; the stranger who complimented my outfit; the young man at a carnival who won a prize and gave it to our son who didn't win.

 It goes on and on.

 
7- Now it's your turn ...

~Forgive someone.
~Strike up a conversation.
~Be happy for someone.
~Compliment a complete stranger.
~Listen.
~Be the first to apologize.
~Make art.
~Stop obsessing.
~Withhold judgement.
~Let it go.
~Befriend someone new.

 
 
 
*Now, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary. She's kind enough to host this event every Friday.
 
 
 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When words are inadequate ...

 
 
 
The above photo says it all.

Several times now I have started to write about our Thanksgiving week; over the holidays I even opened my laptop to blog about our family adventures, but as soon as the screen loaded I shut it down again.

Sometimes words get in the way, and it was lovely to just to be in the moment and not try to capture or hold it down in any way.

Besides, how can I take a week of memories and whittle them down into a simple blog post? How can I possibly fit all the words I need onto this computer screen to adequately describe our beautiful beach house, dolphins in the ocean, loud poker games, and beach football?

How can words -- neatly lined up in military precision -- convey the confusion (and sometimes bedlam) of 17 people under one roof? Of the laughter, the time-outs, the endless dishes, the slamming doors, and even of that nasty cold virus making the rounds?

And what tender words do I use to describe the Hallmark moments -- Bear's hugs, Nonna and Nonno square dancing, the grandchildren huddled around Nonno as he opened his birthday gifts, or everyone hula hooping, singing, juggling, or playing an instrument during the Family Talent Show?

I am a poor writer, because I have no words for it all.

Except thankful. Maybe that will do.

The Gathering Place




A Surprise for Nonna and Nonno
A Family Art show featuring art from every family member ...


 
 






Nonno's birthday gift: Art Supplies
(See? There was a theme to the evening)
Because he is always borrowing crayons, markers, and pencils from the grandchildren, and because he does have some hidden artistic talent, we gave Nonno his own art supplies.
 
We also gave him an iPad, but that's another story because 
who knew the words Nonno and iPad would ever be in the same sentence??


 
Family Talent Show:
Everyone participated, including 
Nonno and Nonna who showed us their square dancing moves!
 

 
 
 



Sunrise from our back deck

 
Again, thankful.