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

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer School?

Evidently I am a mean, mean Mommy.

Why? Because this past Monday Mommy started teaching one hour of summer school every day. That's every day, Monday through Friday, that school is in session for poor Timothy.

Summer school -- in some form or another -- is something we have always done. While I love summer, and all the freedom it entails, I also acknowledge that a complete break from academics for a 2-3 month period is not the greatest idea. Kids forget concepts, they forget study skills, and it's a shame that a great deal of time is wasted in the fall reviewing concepts from the previous year.

Of course, "school" means different things depending on our summer plans. When we went to Italy two years ago, that entire trip was a learning experience. Not only did we study about Rome, Naples, Pompeii and Verona before we left, but we also lived it. We immersed ourselves in a different culture and experienced a new language. The same thing happened when we visit Washington D.C. or Gettysburg. Really, school doesn't get any better than that.

This year, however, things will be a bit more traditional. Last weekend I purchased a few workbooks, downloaded some worksheets (there are so many sites with free stuff), checked out some books, and tried to think of creative ways to make reading fun (Timothy does not like to read which is something I cannot even begin to understand). Math, reading, art, vocabulary, social studies, science ... we'll even do some cooking.

He is keeping a journal. To motivate him I bought a cute Angry Birds spiral notebook, and every day he reaches into a basket and pulls out a slip of paper with that day's journal topic. The first day his topic was Describe Your Brothers ... I couldn't get him to stop writing. This morning Timothy did a fun exercise involving compass directions and floor plans for a castle. He really liked that one.

Amazingly, once we get past the intial grumpies, Timothy gets into it and an hour passes quickly. And, truth be told, I enjoy teaching.

So, it's summer school, and yet it's not.

Maybe I'm not such a mean Mommy, after all.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Situation

Yesterday Joe left for a three day trip to Albuquerque, and that afternoon the van wouldn't start.

Husband out of town, dead car battery. Go figure.

This isn't the first time a car situation has happened when Joe was out of town. Just last year I discovered the hard way how many Italians it takes to change a flat tire (the answer: Maria, Massimilla, Italia, and Stella).

In fact, a lot of things happen when Joe goes out of town. Where was he when we rented our house two days before Spring Break and I had to clean, pack, and get the entire house/yard ready all by myself? Kansas City. Where was he when we had an ice storm and lost power for three days? Los Alamos. When we were battling snakes? Oakland.  When I backed into a parked trailer and broke a tail light? I don't know, somewhere.

Anyway, so this time it was a dead car battery. I should also mention that it was raining, that I was blocking our piano teacher's driveway, and that while I was checking under the hood Timothy was standing on an anthill.

I called Nicholas, and with a little help we hooked up jumper cables. The car still wouldn't start.

The battery was dead, dead, dead.

So, what does a gal do when her husband is out of town? I called my Dad. This is twice in two weeks that my Dad has been my hero (remember the snake?).

I purchased a new battery at AutoZone, and my Dad and Nicholas installed the new one. Oh, did I mention it was raining? While they were loosening bolts and bruising knuckles I was the umbrella holder.

Anyway, a half hour piano lesson turned into a three hour situation ...
and my husband was out of town.

Bia the umbrella holder

Monday, May 28, 2012


The month of May, for us, is the busiest month of the year. For the past four weeks we have been moving at such breakneck speeds that we literally kicked up clouds of dust and cyclones of wind. We were in such a whirlwind of motion we couldn't see ahead, but could only deal with the matters at hand.

This past Friday we rushed around with end of school activities: we attended Mass, retrieved report cards, passed out gifts, gathered our backpacks, and said our goodbyes. By noon we were home, and everything came to a screeching halt.

The dust settled.

The air cleared.

We took the boys out to lunch (no fast food, but a nice sit down restaurant), talked about summer plans,  and then went to Target where we let them pick out a small end of the year reward (a tradition).

Saturday morning I woke up and didn't even open my laptop; instead, I went outside and transplanted tomatoes, moving them from black, industrial containers into two beautiful planters that have transformed our deck into Tuscany. I planted geraniums in terra cotta pots for our front porch, petunias into the birdbath, begonias and English ivy in our flower boxes, and gerber daisies in pots which I placed here and there.

I soaked up the sun, sank my hands into dark, rich soil, smelled the earthiness of springtime, and drank glass after glass of ice cold water.

Everything was so clear and uncluttered. I could see ahead to the afternoon, that evening, even the next day ... gifts of time with no demands.

Time for summer.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Life Lately: Bad Nonno Jokes, Hobbity Greetings, a New BFF

~1~ So Nonno isn't the most talkative one in the family. But sometimes when we're sitting around the dinner table, and if there is a momentary lull in the conversation (rare, but it happens), he'll come up with a story, tall tale, or a really bad joke (all of which are very popular with the boys). This was last Sunday's joke:

Tommy was sitting in his first grade class when all of a sudden he raised his hand.

"Ms. Lewis, may I please go to the bathroom?" he asked.

"Why certainly," said Ms. Lewis. "But first recite the alphabet for me."

"A-B-C-D-E-F-G," he says. "H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-Q-R-S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z!"

"Why that's very good!" said Ms. Lewis. "But what happened to the 'P'?"

Tommy looks embarrassed.

"It's running down my leg."

~2~ Did you know that die-hard Tolkien fans often greet each other with a hobbity kind of greeting? Evidently they do. For example: May the hair on your toes grow ever longer.

Consider yourself enlightened.

~3~ Sharpened pencils -- colored or otherwise -- make me happy.

~4~ See this bottle of McDonald's ketchup? It was purchased in Italy. Go figure.

~5~ I have a new BFF. Tim is one of the trainers at the Kroc Center, and he did my personal fitness assessment when we joined. He has taken my fitness (or lack thereof) to heart, and pushes me encourages me to push myself hard. It's like having Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder whispering, Are you sure you're running at a fast enough pace? Isn't that weight too light? When Joe went to work out one Sunday, Tim wanted to know why I wasn't there. It was Mother's Day, and I felt bad that I didn't go. But it's all good; I like having someone to answer to, and earlier this week when I went twice in one day ... Tim was proud of me.

~6~ During the summer I am going to have one computer free day every week. Totally computer free. This means no checking email or facebook. No YouTube or Google. Nothing. I just have to decide which day to do it.

~7~ Saturday. I decided.

*now, go visit jen and conversion diary ... she has a British tea house story to tell.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Life Lately: Lizards, Giraffes, and Finding True Love

 ~1~ At the zoo earlier this week my son and his friends were feeding the giraffes. When a beautiful giraffe lowered his head toward my son, he held up a lettuce leaf and said, "The Body of Christ." Can you tell he had his First Communion just last week?

~2~ Exactly one day after my snake encounter, there was a lizard in our laundry room. It didn't move when I nudged it, so I slipped a dustpan underneath it and was walking to the back door when the thing resurrected. I just about had a heart attack. My boys came running when they heard me scream, and Nicholas gallantly stepped in, scooped it up, and took it outside.

~3~ The lizard incident took place five minutes before I was supposed to leave for the airport to pick up my husband. Then, as I am trying to make up time, I got caught by a train. But that's okay because when I got to the airport the plane had just landed. Waiting by the arrival gate was a young mom with her two year old son holding a big sign that said, WELCOME HOME, DADDY. A few minutes later his father walked out, wearing army fatigues, and everyone clapped and cheered. Airports really should have tissue boxes around the arrival gate area.

~4~ For an article I was doing on Adoration, I interviewed a Florida police officer who has been spending time before the Blessed Sacrament once a week for the past 17 years. He told me he has been blessed with the gift of a grateful heart, which is all the more amazing when you consider he's on a task force investigating Internet crimes against children. He also said the time spent in adoration returns throughout the week with comfort and insight when you need it most. He really inspired me to go to adoration more often.

~5~ For another article, I interviewed an 89 year old woman who had some wonderful stories on what it was like to be a Catholic growing up in the Deep South during the 30's and 40's. She often tells her granddaughters the secret to finding true love is to see how their "fellow" treats his mother. Case in point, the first time she met her husband's family he put his arms around his mother and danced her across the kitchen floor. That was the exact moment when she fell in love. They were married for 51 years.

~6~ Ordinary, every day people are just wonderful (see #4 and #5 above).

~7~ This weekend we're getting a new dishwasher. In a two week period we've purchased a laptop, a diswasher, and a vacuum cleaner. Honestly, I don't know which of the three excites me the most.

Now, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary. She sometimes feels the need to speak Czech in Texas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No Snakes, Please, for this City Girl

Today there was a snake in our garage.

Now, we had just returned from a field trip to the zoo in which we spent a lot of time in the reptile room where the snakes were unusually active. Cobras, anacondas, and rattlesnakes slithered, climbed, and basically looked at all of us as their next meal.

Stuff of nightmares, really.

And then we come home to a snake.

It lay coiled up in a corner, and there was no way I was going to just leave it there. I mean, have you seen Indiana Jones and those snakes slithering out of the wall? Don't you think a snake would find a warm car engine the perfect place for a nap? Don't you think it could slither out of an air vent while I'm driving?

I once posed those very questions on a previous post, and a majority of the comments agreed that, yes, such a thing was possible.

The boys, of course, were fascinated. They wanted to poke, prod, and force it out. But I had just come from the zoo and was more than a little creeped out.

So I did what any gal would do when her husband is out of town ... I called my Dad.

A few minutes later he came roaring down the driveway in his pickup, my hero.

He took one look, identified it as a king snake, and reassured me that it was harmless.

Okay. Harmless.

But hello? They don't call it a king snake for nothing. King means big, and this was the biggest snake we've ever seen in our yard and/or garage.

My father reached into the back of his truck for a bullwhip long black stick, and poked that thing until it slithered out of the garage, across the driveway, and into the woods. My Dad and Nicholas followed it to make sure it went far enough away.

But I'm not sure. I mean, is far enough away still too close?

I'm a city girl ... this was way too much wildlife in one day.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Tradition of the Italian Bomboniere

Bomboniere are "favors" or keepsakes given to guests at weddings, baptisms, first communions, or confirmations as a memento of the special occasion. It's a huge tradition in Italy, and there are entire stores dedicated to the specialty of making handmade bomboniere.

Years ago when I was in Italy and announced that I would be getting married, my Nonna said two things: a) I am coming to your wedding and b) While you're in Italy I'm going to buy your bomboniere so you can carry them back with you to the States.

Oh, the excitement visiting the stores and seeing the variety of bomboniere. We eventually ordered 150 bomboniere for the guests, as well as several upscale ones for immediate family. My relatives carefully packaged all 150, and I carried them by hand when I traveled back home.

The bomboniere from our wedding featured a bronze replica of one of the panels from the magnificent bronze doors at the Church of San Zeno Maggiore in Verona, Italy

This past weekend our youngest celebrated his First Holy Eucharist, and to prepare I wanted to make bomboniere with religious artwork representing this very special sacrament. I also wanted the artwork to have been created by a member of a religious community -- either a priest, sister, or brother.

I found exactly what I was looking for at Trinity Stores, an online store based in Colorado which features religious artwork and icons by eight world renowned artists. After browsing through the artwork, I was drawn to the works by Br. Arturo Olivas who paints Catholic images in the style of New Mexican religious folk artists of the 18th and 19th centuries.

There were many images to choose from, but in the end I selected an image featuring San Pascual Bailon, a 16th century Spanish shepherd who became a Franciscan lay brother. He served his fellow Franciscans by working as a shepherd, gardener, porter, and cook. He was particularly devoted to the Eucharist, and in religious art he is often shown in the brown robes of a Franciscan, working in a kitchen and contemplating the Eucharistic host suspended in mid-air in a monstrance.

Because of San Pascual's devotion to the Eucharist, and because his feast day is in May, I thought he would be perfect in the bomboniere for Timothy's First Communion. I ordered the artwork and some small frames.

St. Pascal Baylon
~by Br. Arturo Olivas, SFO
When I received the package from Trinity I couldn't have been more pleased, and went to work assembling the bomboniere. I place the framed print in a cellophane bag, inserted sheaves of wheat to represent the Eucharist, and tied everything with a green ribbon. Inside the bag was also a detailed explanation of both the saint and the artist.

Timothy's First Communion Bomboniere
The bomboniere were then incorporated into the centerpiece of our table, which was decorated in neutrals and greens.

Featuring the bomboniere in a centerpiece

Timothy's First Communion Luncheon
All this fuss, for this little guy, who shared these thoughts about his First Communion: the wine burned my mouth, the bread tastes like cardboard, I wasn't nervous at all, I got tired of everyone taking my picture, and I liked opening the presents.

With Dad

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Maybe is Good Enough for Me

"Please, Miss, can we have some money for food?"

I had just come out of Hobby Lobby when I was approached by a twelve year old girl pushing a battered umbrella stroller, and with her was an overweight woman carrying an eight month old and another younger woman. They all looked poor and unkempt.

"Where do you want to eat?" I asked.

"Anywhere," said the girl.

I was hungry, too. It was almost 1:30 and I was in a hurry to get home. I even knew exactly what I was going to have for lunch: toasted ciabatta, tomatoes, cheese, and a cold glass of water with a slice of lemon. No worries on my part ... it was all there waiting for me.

But this little girl was worried enough to ask a stranger for help.

Food. Water. Shelter. Safety. Such basics in life, and yet many people don't have them. As we walk around our nice city, living our lives and relaxing in our homes, it is tempting to ignore the man on the side of I-20 with a Will Work for Food sign, or a bag lady pushing a shopping cart, or a hungry girl in a parking lot because, after all, we aren't in Africa, or Indonesia, or Haiti, or Calcutta.

And because we aren't faced with situations like these on a daily basis, it is easy to become suspicious, fearful, and even judgmental. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone is so much more than what we see ... that everyone has a story.

I didn't know that little girl's story; all I knew was that she was hungry, so I gave them what they needed.

Was I conned? Maybe I was ... but then again, maybe I wasn't.

The fact is I don't know.

The fact is ... does it really matter? I had something that maybe they needed, and maybe was good enough for me.

“One would give generous alms if one had the eyes to see the beauty of a cupped receiving hand.”

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Harmony with Nature?

Every spring I hang three ferns on our front porch.

Every morning I walk out our front door to water those ferns.

Our front door
Every year the same thing happens: As I approach a fern to water it, a bird blasts out of the plant with an explosion of wings and feathers.

And every time it happens it just about gives me a heart attack.

This year, though, not only is there an occupant in fern #2, but we also have her.

Perched under our front porch
The first morning I walked out she flew from her nest and perched on a Crepe Myrtle nearby, chirping and squawking and hopping mad.

I felt bad, but gosh darn it I needed to water those ferns.

So the next morning I took a deep breath, invoked the help of St. Francis of Assisi, and opened the front door.

Good morning Mommy Bird. I'm going to walk very slowly and water my ferns. I won't hurt you, or your babies; in fact, I am a good friend of St. Francis. You know him, don't you?

I spoke softly, I walked slowly, and although she eyed me suspiciously, I watered and she stayed in her nest.

And so it has become our routine. Harmony with nature, right?

No. There is still that occupant in fern #2 who, even though I know it's coming, still gives me a heart attack.

Every single time.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Life Lately: A Vacuum Cleaner for Mother's Day, Chitlins, and a Fitness Assessment

~1~ My husband and I bought a vacuum cleaner today. As we were walking out of Best Buy he wondered if our new Hoover could be considered my Mother's Day present.

No comment.

~2~ See this little guy? He is the very same little guy who just last Sunday, during a beautiful homily about vocations, whispered in my ear Paul Blart, Mall Cop and then giggled. Today he read during the May Crowning Mass. He cleans up nicely on occasion.

~3~ At this same Mass we sang Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above, and the refrain of O, Maria brought back such wonderful memories of my Nonna. When I was a little girl my Nonna would nudge me and wink whenever we sang a hymn with "Maria" in the verses. It was a special thing, Nonna (Maria) and I (also a Maria), sharing a name with the Holy Mother.

~4~ Our family joined the Kroc Center for the summer, and this morning Joe and I went for a fitness assessment. I'm not sure how I felt about being measured, weighed, and tested next to my husband who LOVES numbers and analyzes everything. And it's most annoying being measured and weighed next to my husband who is naturally lean. At least I beat him on the number of abdominal crunches ... I can take comfort in that.

~5~ Most of America has the Kentucky Derby, across the river in Aiken, SC we have an annual Lobster Race. Really. It's always held the day before the Kentucky Derby (so there's no competition, see?) and my son is going with a friend. But in case you miss it, there is a Chitlin' Strut festival in November ... and that would be chitlins', as in hog intestines.

~6~ Borrowed Season 1 of Downton Abbey from a friend, and I'm hooked.

~7~ Why is May so always so insane? May Crowning, First Communion, Mother's Day, the birthday of every single person in my sister's family, zoo field trip, field day, end of school activities ... the list goes on. Oh, and let's not forget about the Lobster Race.

Have a great weekend, and be sure to check out Jen at Conversion Diary. She has a creepy video of a scorpion that wouldn't die.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Not to Whisper During Mass

The last couple of Sundays our little guy has been misbehaving in church. He fidgets, he looks around, he plays with his shoelaces. It's especially disconcerting because in two weeks he will be receiving his First Communion. Then, this past Sunday he leaned over during Mass and whispered in my ear: Paul Blart, Mall Cop. And he grins at me.

I mean, really.

We lectured him on the way home. His brothers, in the mistaken notion that they were being helpful, declared that at the rate he was going he was going to fail First Communion.

Well. Timothy was terribly insulted.

I DO, TOO, KNOW WHAT TO DO! (he bellowed): You walk to the stairs, bow, walk up the stairs, receive the body of Christ, step aside, bless yourself, walk to the Blood of Christ, let it touch your lips, return to your pew, and kneel until everyone has received communion. SO THERE!

Except, in demonstrating his knowledge which (evidently) had been drilled into him very well, he delivered it in such a manner that it was one long, continuous sentence without any pauses between words.

I-DO-TOO-KNOW-WHAT-TO-DO!-Walk-to-the-stairs-bow-walk-up-the-stairs-receive-the-body-of-Christ-step-aside-bless-yourself-walk-to the-Blood-of-Christ-let it touch your lips-return-to-your-pew-and-kneel-until-everyone-has-received communion. SO THERE!

Which was terribly funny (and more than a little cute).

Then he got mad because we were laughing.

Poor little guy. It's hard being the youngest. When we got home I took pity on him and offered to play Star Wars Monopoly with him.

And even I let him win.