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

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Secrets


This afternoon I dropped off our little guy at a friend's house for a sleepover, and as I was talking to the mom she asked me if I had lost weight. When I hesitated, she wanted to know how much and how I did it.

I quickly made a mental list:
  1. I was one of 18 people who accomplished the monumental feat of eating 500+ tortellini in two days.
  2. I ate tiramisu ... three times.
  3. Santa brought the boys Kinder chocolate. I love Kinder chocolate, and all three boys were feeling the Christmas spirit and shared their loot with me.
  4. And just this morning ... I had a cappuccino with 1% milk instead of skim.

So, how to answer her question? In the end, I simply smiled.

After all, who am I to ruin a good thing?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 2013*


‘Tis one day before Christmas, and all through our house,

We’re ready for Christmas, of that there is no doubt.

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care,

All that’s left are the homemade tortellini to prepare.


At Clemson University Nicholas is filling his head,

But likes to come home and be properly fed.

Classes with numbers, equations and math …

He’s following Joe’s footsteps down the engineering path.


A junior in high school Jonathan’s not shirking

And this past summer, he also started working.

Great student, hard worker, a high basketball scorer,

“Welcome to Arby’s can I take your order?”


Timothy is Timothy, and to our dismay …

The baby of the family, the things he does say!

 “I’ll go to confession exactly on Christmas Eve,

Which should cover me with Santa, I do believe.”


Joe has been traveling … 18 trips this year!

Airports and Marriotts welcome him with cheer.

But lest you think that it’s all about work,

On a golf course his energy he still exerts.
 

As usual Maria has been busy writing,

Published articles, stories – it’s been so exciting!

But sometimes she comes up with a questionable idea …

This poem, filed as “Very Bad Poetry by Bia”.

 
All kidding aside, we’re ever mindful of the reason,

We gather and celebrate during this Christmas season.

Remember to keep your many blessings in sight,

Merry Christmas to you, and to all a goodnight!
 

And yes, Virginia, it does occasionally snow in Georgia.
December 2008

*from the files of very bad poetry by Bia

Friday, December 20, 2013

Follow the Leader (just don't follow me)


Two nights ago my mom, sister and I spent a lovely two hours taking a candlelight tour of the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. We had one of the last tour times, so by the time we finished it was almost 10 p.m. when we pulled out of the parking lot and started driving down the winding, two lane road that would lead us off the estate grounds.

During the day, that two lane road is so incredibly beautiful with lush woods, stone bridges, and breathtaking views. But at night, that same drive is very, very dark. There are no street lights, and  our only illumination came from the almost full moon directly overhead. Still a beautiful drive, but one that required my full attention.

At one point I glanced in the rearview mirror and realized that since I had been the first to pull out of the parking lot, I was driving the lead car. I hate when that happens. There were 12 cars behind me, all of them depending on me to follow the exit signs and be on the lookout for deer.

And there were deer. At one point I came to a complete stop, my headlights illuminating the four deer standing in the middle of the road. A family, with two babies. The 12 cars behind me also came to a complete stop, and we all resumed driving only after the deer ran off into the forest.

I was doing a good job of being the leader. Really.

But then I missed a turn. Well, then. No problem. I drove a little further until the road ended in a little cul-de-sac,  and as I was turning around we started laughing -- howling!-- because all 12 cars were circling right behind me.

Was it my fault? Who knows. But you would have thought that ONE of the cars would have seen that sign instead of blindly relying on little ol' me.

Sheep, all of them.

But, I got us -- ALL of us -- out of there.

Good shepherd that I am.

Antler Village, Biltmore Estate
(This was before the wine tasting ... there is no after photo,
and of that you should be grateful.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Kaopectate for Santa?


I'm in the middle of an article, and Timothy wants to discuss what snack we should leave for Santa. Every year he is worried that Santa is tired of cookies, so he likes to come up with something different.

"What should I leave Santa this year?" he asks. "I know, how about a bowl of cereal!"

"Well," I say. "The only problem is that we don't know exactly when Santa will come, and the cereal might get soggy."

Timothy nods in agreement.

"I know!" Timothy says. "How about a grapefruit? He might like that!"

"That's a good idea," I agree. "A nice, healthy option. Mrs. Claus would approve."

"Actually, maybe that wouldn't work," Timothy says. "It might give him diarrhea, and that wouldn't be good at all."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

To My Math Man


A Mathematical Equation by Bia
 

31: our first official date, December 31

6: the number of months we dated,
the number of months we were engaged

15: our wedding day, December 15

136: the street number of our very first house

10: the number of months we lived in Santa Fe, NM

506: the street number for our adobe home in Santa Fe

1995: Nicholas is born

1996: Jonathan is born

3479: the street number for the house we built

2004: Timothy is born

5: the number of stockings hung by the chimney with care

3: God’s gifts to us: Nicholas, Jonathan, Timothy

23: the number of years we’ve been married

Add them all together,
and you have 10, 209 reasons why I married Joey.

Bacioni,
Bia
 
 
 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

And to all good night . . .


Tonight I will sleep.

I won't be listening for odd noises, or getting up to make sure windows and doors are locked, or have a sleepless night like I do when Joe is out of town.

I won't wait up listening for Jonathan's car to come down the driveway after his shift at Arby's.

I won't stay awake thinking about Nicholas who is away at Clemson.

No, I won't do any of those things because tonight ... we are all home.

Together.

And tonight I will sleep.

 
 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Story of a Sweater


In early November I was at the mall when I came across a cobalt blue sweater at New York & Co. that I really liked. As someone whose wardrobe color palette is in the brown/black/neutral category, the fact that I was even looking at a bright blue sweater was big. HUGE.

But, it was $49.99 and I knew I could get it on sale. Eventually. If I were lucky ... and patient.

I checked back a week later, no sale. The week before Thanksgiving it was on sale at Buy One Get One 50% off, but let me just say I hate those kind of sales. I just wanted one.

We were out of town on Thanksgiving, so I pretty much gave up the idea of ever getting that sweater. I mean, what were the chances my sweater would survive Black Friday and all the post Thanksgiving sales?

Yesterday I had an errand at Barnes & Noble, and because New York & Co. is just across the way, I popped in to ... you know ... just in case. I didn't see the sweater hanging anywhere. Darn. But then ... THEN ... I walked by the clearance rack and I saw ONE blue sweater left.

 In my size.

It's as if everything fell into place. I mean, I was destined to have that sweater. And the best thing of all? Well, just look ... and score one for me!

 
 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Sound of Music (kinda, sorta)


Tonight I will be watching Carrie Underwood's live stage version of The Sound of Music and, needless to say, I've been humming the songs all day long. I've also been thinking about this little incident ...

In college I had two friends (both guys) who were annoying, funny, quirky and irreverent, but I put up with them mostly because they played on my sympathies. They were not church goers, and they teased me about going to church and being so involved with the Catholic Center, but for some reason they liked to come visit me and talk. (On a side note, I did once get one of them -- a fallen away Catholic -- to come with me to confessions during Lent.)

Anyway, one Saturday night, long after I had gone to sleep, I awoke to the most awful racket. Standing outside my dorm window (I was on the first floor) these two slightly inebriated knuckleheads (just being honest here), were loudly singing, How do you solve a problem like Maria? They sang every verse. At the top of the lungs. At two in the morning. And if they couldn't remember a line, they just made one up.

Did I mention they were annoying?

But it did make me smile. And it still does.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Asante Sana, Sister


I knew the day was coming, but it came too quickly.

Sister Gaudiosa -- my sister in Christ, my Tanzanian friend, my inspiration for all that is good -- is returning to her native country. I cannot express how she has touched our lives, and I still marvel at the miracle which brought together two women from different countries, who grew up in two very different cultures, both of them living very different vocations.

After I heard the news, I knew I wanted to give her something, but what? She can only take back with her what she can carry; in fact, in the past two weeks she has been giving away all her possessions. In the end, I gave her the only thing I could: I went through my blog and printed out all my "sister stories", I made copies of articles I had written for Canticle Magazine and the Marianite which were about her, and I put all these in a packet and mailed them to her. There were a lot of stories.

She leaves this week, and in a recent email she said she has nothing to give me but her prayers.

Only her prayers, she says. To me, that is everything, and I am richly blessed.

Asante sana, dear Sister.
~~~~~~~~~

Hello Maria,
 
Happy Thanksgiving. My goodness you suprised me  when I found all the stories about me. I spent a lot of time reading and laughing.  You are a good writer. It was a long journey where I came from. I do remember the first time I came to visit you. Timonthy was like two years old. He crawled and hid himself back to the coach for few minutes, and then he came to me with a big smile and he started playing with me and we became friends.
 
You will be in my memories and prayers. I hope I will  see you again. Nothing is impossible to God. I appreciate for your gift. I have nothing to give you expect my prayers and just the words, Asante sana. Karibu Tanzania.
 
Lala salama or usiku mwame.
Sr.Gaudi
 

 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The first fire of the season


The first fire of the season is always detrimental to our health because the first fire of the season means opening the chimney flue and having a wasp nest fall KERPLOP! right into our roaring fire.

Some of the wasps kindly expire on the spot, but some heartier ones survive to fly around in a smoky stupor.

After several years of this we all know the routine: the first fire of the season means that when the fire starter (Joe) reaches for the chimney flue handle, the rest of us vacate until it's safe to return.

So, as I am typing this I hear the fire roaring in the family room. I also hear a lot of THWAKS! as Joe does battle with yet another flying intruder. This year the battle seems particularly fierce.

And as long as those THWAKS! continue, you know where NOT to find me.


 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Contingency Plans


Timothy: If I go to confession on Christmas Eve, will that clear me with Santa, too?

And I'm not sure what to think of this question. Is he ...

a. Planning to misbehave?
b. Clever?
c. Confused?

And then there's this ... why wait until Christmas Eve to confess? Is he worried about confessing too early and then having to account for his behavior during the period up until Christmas Eve? And why is he thinking about this now, in November?

Questions, questions ...

Monday, November 25, 2013

In Any Language, It's All About Giving Thanks


It doesn’t take much more than a holiday and food for our Italian-American family to gather in celebration, and Thanksgiving is no exception. People often ask if our Thanksgiving meal in any way reflects our Italian background, and while the immediate answer is yes (for with an Italian mother anything involving food reflects our Italian heritage), the answer is also no because Thanksgiving is the one holiday my mother uses to celebrate all things American, an opportunity to pay homage to a land which welcomed her with open arms.

My mother came to this country as a young bride on the arm of my father, a soldier in the U.S. military; she was only 20 years old and determined to embrace this new life. She took language classes, became fluent in English, learned to drive, and volunteered for the American Red Cross. When my parents lived in Washington D.C. during the racial unrest of the sixties, my mother studied American history to understand what was happening.

When she was 32 years old she stood before a judge in Savannah, GA and was sworn in as an American citizen. She had her picture taken under the American flag, and her nationality would henceforth be hyphenated, a bridge between the words Italian and American, between the country she was from and the country in which she now lived.

Those two words also meant my sister, brother, and I got the best of both worlds. We spoke Italian with our Nonna and English at home; we ate gelato in Piazza Navona and an ice cream cone in Disney World; we explored the hills of Tuscany and the streets of Manhattan; and while holidays in our family were a beautiful blend of both cultures, there were some things quintessentially American that my mother embraced – and the traditional Thanksgiving meal was one of them.

She had a lot to learn, however, and it took years of trial and effort to get it right. In one of her earliest letters to her mother, she described this strange, white cooking stuff that came in a blue can (Crisco shortening); she had never eaten turkey, much less cooked one; she had never heard of sweet potatoes (why, in America even the potatoes are sweet!); and she definitely didn’t know what to think about cranberry sauce or Jell-O (all that jiggling red stuff didn't look like food at all).

It took years of trial and effort, of studying Betty Crocker and cutting out recipes from Good Housekeeping, but today my mother has perfected the art of the Thanksgiving meal. The moist turkey, the perfect balance of brown sugar and marshmallows in the sweet potato casserole and, yes, the dish of jiggling cranberry sauce are all displayed with a sense of pride on how far she has come. Two ceramic pilgrims decorate the dining room table, and in the afternoon everyone heads outside for a family game of backyard football.

Of course, there are small concessions to our Italian heritage: we sip espressos with our pumpkin pie and have a small glass of limoncello as an after dinner digestivo. But it is an American meal celebrating an American holiday, and with a rousing Buon Appetito! three generations of our family gather in thanksgiving to honor the American half of our Italian-American heritage.

 

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Pregnant Pause


Lately I have been fascinated by the use of the caesura, a pause in a line of poetry or music which is used for a dramatic effect. A caesura is often used to introduce, or highlight, something that is to follow.

Recently someone in my Bible Study pointed out the caesura dividing the two stanzas of the Hail Mary. The first stanza ends with the words "blessed is the fruit of your womb"; hence, Mary is with child. In the silence of the caesura separating the first stanza from the second stanza (which begins with the words "Holy Mary, Mother of God") Mary has given birth and is now a mother.

A lot happens in the silence of that pause.

Last week I gave a presentation in which I pointed out one of my favorite illustrations of a caesura in art in Andrea della Robbia's masterpiece, "The Annunciation". This familiar scene has been reduced to the essentials in which everyone is waiting for Mary's reply. The angel, God, the cherubs, and even the wings of the dove are waiting in suspense for the free will decision of Mary. Her face is thoughtful; one hand rests on the passage from Isaiah (Behold, a virgin shall conceive ...) while her other hand rests on her heart, searching for God's will.

This example of a caesura demonstrates the moment - the silent moment - just before Mary gives her fiat. And her words, not yet uttered, are inscribed on the base: You see before you the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you say.

The Annunciation, Andrea della Robbia
La Verna, Italy

There is so much about the caesura, that deliberate pause, which I can apply to my life. How about inserting a caesura before I am tempted to speak my mind? Or using it before I make an important decision? Or using one in prayer so I can hear what God has to say? I can even use the caesura as a way to begin, or end, my day.

Yes, there are lessons to be learned in a pause ... a silence which speaks volumes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You Got Mail (Just Not the Kind You Want)


Yesterday afternoon Jonathan gets the mail, and as he's walking back down the driveway yells, "Hey Timothy, you got some mail!"

Timothy is beside himself with excitement. A letter? An early Christmas card? A package?

"I got mail!" he yells.

He runs up the driveway to meet Jonathan, who hands him this ...



BLECK! ICK! PATOOEY! GAG!

Don't ask me why we get the Barbie Holiday Gift Guide, because I couldn't tell you. Weird, I know.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Modern Fairy Tale


Once upon a time (last week) a family had a working television and a broken DVD player.

This was a problem because the lady of the house (me) needed a DVD player for all her exercise videos. So the man of the house (Joe) ran to Best Buy, purchased a new DVD player, and returned home to install it.

Things were going smoothly until there was a little crash.

Actually, it was a HUGE crash because a television falling upside down onto the floor makes a lot of noise.

The situation had flip-flopped -- gone topsy-turvy! The family now had a working DVD player ... and a broken television.

Huh. Go figure. The lady of the house (me, again) still couldn't access her videos, and the boys (big and little) couldn't use the Wii (which, according to them, was a monumental problem). As for the man of the house, he was secretly happy because he had been wanting a flat screen television for the longest time.

So the man of the house (who may or may not have accidentally on purpose bumped the television) ran out again, this time to Costco, and purchased a new one.

Now the family had a working television and a working DVD player at the same time.

And everyone lived happily ever after.

The End.


Uh-oh.

"Mom! Look what Dad did!"

Timothy was given free reign to study, pull apart, and dismantle.

The Wii is up and running.
Also the DVD player.
No photos of me working out, though.

 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cappuccino lipstick, day trips, and overnight ones, too (in 7 quick takes)


~1~ I am wired that way

I am not making this up. Last week I was rummaging through my makeup samples and came across a full tube of lipstick. Now, I am not a lipstick kind of gal, preferring instead tinted lip balm. But this Ulta lipstick had a pretty neutral color and I so decided to give it a try.

After a week of using (and liking) it, this morning for the first time I turned it over to see what it was called.

And would you believe ... really, this is so true ... that it was called cappuccino???

There you have it. If I'm not drinking a cappuccino, then I am wearing it.

~2~ I was wearing lipstick because ...

I had a date with my husband. And how do I know he loves me? This morning he volunteered (really, no coercion on my part) to accompany me to Christmas Made in the South. For those of you non-locals, this once-a-year event takes place in our Civic Center and features arts and craft vendors from all over the southeast. Picture, if you will, my husband wandering around here:


Make no mistake about it, people, that's true love. I think Joe was one of only TWO members of the male species I saw wandering among the booths featuring wreaths, Christmas ornaments, pottery, wooden signs, jewelry, and clothes.

He was a good sport. Of course, all the free sample of cinnamon pecans, hot chocolate, apple cider, and fudge kept him happy.

~3~ And who doesn't like wandering through Costco?

After exploring all the vendors at the Civic Center, we walked around downtown, had lunch at Giuseppe's, and wandered up and down the aisles of Costco where they were even giving out free samples of coffee (not in itty bitty cups, mind you, but full sized ones). Whoa. We bought some apples and some muffins.

~4~ The reason I purchased the giant Costco muffins ...

Wait. I should clarify. These are giant muffins, but GARGANTUAN muffins. Anyway, I selected a package containing half a dozen apple crumb muffins, but upon checking out the cashier said the price included TWO packages, and so I went back and got another half dozen chocolate muffins.

The muffins are a breakfast treat for our day trip to Charleston tomorrow.


 
~5~ I [heart] day trips.

Really, one of my favorite things to do is pick a place and make a day of it. Nothing complicated. Just a day out of town, driving, exploring, and returning in the evening tired but very content. Tomorrow we're exploring Charleston.

~6~ But overnight trips are fun, too.

Especially if it's an all girl one. In early December my mom, my sister and I are going on an overnight trip to Asheville, NC to take a candlelight tour of the Biltmore House. If you want to get in the Christmas spirit, visit the Biltmore House during the holidays.

Chrstmscndlght 564-christmasentrance 850x563


Chrstmscndlght 564-christmasentrance 850x563
 
Chrstmscndlght 564-christmasentrance 850x563


~7~ And finally,
a friendly reminder
because it will be here before you know it ...

Advent, that is. The first Sunday of Advent is December 1, which this year means you will still be eating turkey leftovers when it's time to light that first candle. So, be prepared. Pull out that wreath. Plan ahead, because the Advent wreath is a beautiful faith tradition. 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.

Advent wreath 2012
 
Advent wreath 2010

My all-time favorite Advent "wreath" made with a piece of wood from
a corncrib and some rusty mattress coils.

*Now, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary where she talks about a six word novel. Really? Evidently it's true.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sorting through Emotions


At the end of Mass this past Saturday our pastor announced that a priest recently assigned to our parish was placed on administrative leave due to theft of tuition payments in our parish. And just like I do whenever I need to sort out something, I write ...
A few months ago a new priest was assigned to our parish, and the first time our family met him was during confession one Saturday evening before Mass. As a family, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation is something we do periodically; it is said that confession is good for the soul, but it also does wonders for the family. When we are out of sorts with each other, or going through a period in which the hectic pace of our schedules interferes with basic kindnesses in the home, a good confession puts us right with God, and with each other.
That evening, as we sat in line waiting our turn, I was in a bad place. Our oldest was about to leave for college, and I was having conflicting emotions about him going away. In recent weeks he had been moody and taciturn; the same son who would come up behind me and give me a hug, now spoke to us only when necessary. What was going on? Why was he being so difficult? Would he take away to college all the lessons on faith my husband and I tried to instill in him, or would he forget it all? I was also angry with him -- and by him I lumped together my son, God, and even (for no reason whatsoever) my husband. In short, I felt flawed! I made so many mistakes! I could have been so much better!

I entered that confessional a complete and total mess.
And I presented all this to our new priest. Because I was mindful of others waiting in line, I didn’t go into great detail, but he amazingly sorted through my emotions and went straight to the heart of the matter. His words swept away all the clutter until I could see clearly again. He gave me a suggestion, he said a prayer.
 
When I finished, I knelt in prayer in the church and, after a few minutes, my husband came out of the confessional and knelt beside me, followed by son #1, then son #2, and finally son #3. We all were filled with grace that evening.

My point in telling this story is this: As I was sitting in the stunned silence of the church this past Saturday night, I again found myself sorting through emotions. Betrayal? Yes. Disappointment? Most certainly. Sorrow? Definitely. There were some tears. But I also knew that I could not and would not judge him. Nor would I summarily dismiss him as a bad person.  There are so many levels of guilt and culpability, and add to that the fact that life is complicated  -- that humans are complicated – there is just no way we will ever be able to understand it all while we are on this earth.
Sometimes good people do bad things. I’m not talking about the kind of evil that festers and burrows deep into the soul, or the kind that smiles to the world during the day and then does terrible harm in the darkness of the night. No, what I am I’m talking about is when good people stray.

Am I condoning what this priest did? Absolutely not.  Am I defending him? No. What he did was wrong. But I am choosing not to be judgmental. I don’t know his story and I don’t know why he did what he did. The only thing I do know is one Saturday evening he was the instrument of grace for my entire family and, for now, I’ll hold on to that goodness.
Because it was there.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A word from the sidelines ...

 
Jonathan, Joe, and Joe's golfing buddy are sitting
in the family room watching Penn State football.
Look how I created an ambience ...

Blue and white clashes a little with autumn colors,
but I think I made it work!

THEN, the second I walked into the room ...
Penn State scored a touchdown.
Yeah, me!
 
Timothy, Beaver Stadium.
 
AND THEN,
I made some flatbread pizza and put out this spread.

Flatbread pizza ... three different ways.
 
I may not like to sit and watch football ...
but I'm a good cheerleader. Yes?

 

Friday, November 8, 2013

To Behold


And God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good.
~Genesis 1:31

Once upon a time, not too long ago, my sister and I were having a serious discussion on the following: losing weight, gaining weight, the benefits of this exercise program over that one, and the never-ending quest to be skinnier, fitter, and wrinkle free. Truthfully, it's a discussion we've had millions of times over the years.

"When does this ever end?" I eventually asked.  "I mean, are we going to be worried about this stuff when we're ninety-nine years old? What is the magical age when we can be comfortable with who we are and sit in our bathing suits at the beach and not obsess about our thighs?"

My sister didn't have an answer and, quite frankly, neither did I.

Later that day I took stock. I spend an inordinate amount of time being dissatisfied with what I weigh, how I look, what outfit I'm wearing, and whether or not I am having a good hair day. As part of my quest to be a better me, I exercise (a lot) and eat healthy meals (almost all the time).

But it's one thing to try and be a better me,  and it's another thing to try and be a better me and still be dissatisfied with the image staring back at me in the mirror.

With my sister's conversation still in my mind, I pulled out a few photo albums and purposely flipped to photos of vacations in which I remembered feeling frumpy or fat. I turned to our recent trip to New Orleans this past March. My husband and I had a great time -- a fantastic time! -- but I remembered not feeling at peace with my body. Prior to the trip I had some vascular surgery done and I was still wearing compression hose from my ankles to my thighs (which limited my wardrobe), I still had swelling in my left leg, and because of the surgeries I hadn't been to the gym in almost three weeks. But as I was looking at a photo of that trip, I realized what an idiot I was. I mean, I looked fine. Really, what in the heck had I been fretting about? And, more importantly, why couldn't I see that then?

Me, looking in the mirror in New Orleans and not seeing what I see now.

The truth is, when we look in the mirror we are not kind to ourselves. We perceive ourselves much, much differently than other people perceive us and, quite frankly, other people are often much, much kinder.

Last fall my husband and I attended a marriage retreat and, during one of the sessions, they illustrated this very point. Scattered around the room were chairs arranged into groups of three. We were told to go sit in a chair, but the caveat was we couldn't sit in the same grouping as our spouse. As it turned out, I ended up in a group with two men ... both of them strangers. We were then given instructions to take 15 minutes and jot down complimentary things you notice about the two people in your group. Since we couldn't speak, it had to be physical characteristics. Then, at the end of the time period we were to share our compliments with each other.

Compliment two men? Strangers? And have them compliment me? I wanted to die on the spot. This was so out of my comfort zone, but the fifteen minutes started and I was under pressure because those two gentlemen began writing and writing.

In the end, here's is some of what those two gentlemen said about me (and I am sharing this simply to make a point):
 
-You have warm eyes that sparkle when you smile.
-You have an engaging presence which invites conversation.
-You have pretty brown hair with a feminine cut.
-You exude a calm, collected exterior.
-You have a genuine smile with a nice, authentic laugh.
-You have a feminine stature with a cute petite frame.

Boy did I feel all warm and tingly, but to hide my embarrassment I jokingly asked them to read that last one again. Seriously, talk about a morale booster! Of course, within the framework of the marriage retreat the purpose of this assignment was to teach us to not only accept compliments, but to step back and see what others see in us.  The more I thought about it I realized this exercise paralleled the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video which was floating around the Internet. The video shows how women perceive themselves versus how others perceive them and, amazingly, sitting there with those two gentlemen I felt as if I had just participated in the very same experiment.

Did they really see all that in me? The sparkly eyes? The authentic laugh and genuine smile? The calm, collected exterior? The (eh-hem) feminine stature? Did they really? Because if I were to look in the mirror this would have been my list:

-My eyes look tired.
-I tend to be reserved, which sometimes comes off as snobby.
-My brown hair has a mind of its own.
-I need to chill and just quit worrying.
-I laugh too much to cover up my insecurities.
-You are curvy, and you will never, ever be petite.

But just like in the Dove experiment, I can see how my opinion of myself can be so skewered. And so, so wrong. Hasn't my husband been telling me for years that he loves my curves (Who wants to hug a broom handle? he once asked). Hasn't my sister told me again and again that my curves give me a proportional shape? Doesn't Timothy like to sit next to me on the couch and twirl his finger in my hair as he tells me it's pretty and soft?

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are several layers to this saying, but let's focus on the word behold. To behold something is to see or observe a thing or a person which is especially remarkable or impressive; in other words, to BEHOLD something or someone is not the same thing as LOOKING or SEEING. To behold is to appreciate all that is good, beautiful, meaningful and pure. To behold is to find the perfect in the imperfect.

Back to the conversation with my sister. I know we'll probably have that same conversation again, but I am finally able to acknowledge the fact that I am hardest on myself ... and maybe that's a good place to start. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that I am going to stop comparing myself to others (there will always be someone cuter, smarter, skinnier, more talented, etc.), I'm going to start listening to my family and close friends (in the end, it is their opinion that matters most), and I'm going to BEHOLD those around me.

And this includes the person I see in the mirror.




Wednesday, November 6, 2013

To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God

Sharing a moment -- a laugh, a story, a compliment -- with a complete stranger reaffirms for me the wonderful interconnectedness of humanity.

Recently I was a woman on a mission. I had exactly five minutes to run into Publix, figure out what to fix for dinner, pray for a short check-out lane, jump back in the car and head to carpool line, pray that the traffic cooperates, pick up the boys, run home . . . the list went on and on. It was one of those days.

Chicken fingers, I decided. Rushing to the deli counter I got there at the same time as another man. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, but I was so busy mentally going over my to-do list that I didn't even acknowledge him.

"Who's next?" asked the Publix attendant.

I looked at the older gentleman standing next to me.

"Oh, you're prettier than I am," he said graciously. "Please, you go."

A laugh just bubbled out of me. I thanked him and placed my order of 15 chicken fingers, remembered that I was picking up my son from practice, and changed the order to 20 chicken fingers.

The man laughed.

"How do you suppose she keeps her trim figure eating all that?" he asked the Publix attendant.

Later, when I was telling this story to the family during dinner, I had to convince them that a) the man wasn't senile, and b) that he could see just fine thank-you-very-much. Oh, the teasing was all in good fun but, really, there is a visceral beauty in reaching out to others in kindness, warmth, and good-will.

Mark Twain once said that he could live for two months on a good compliment and, while I don't know about two months, I do know that my stranger's kind words certainly put a spring in my step and changed the course of the rest of my day. I slowed down, I remembered to breathe, I wasn't late for anyone or anything.

And dinner was great.

A moment with a stranger was all it took for time to stand still . . . allowing me to marvel at the interconnectedness of it all.



*Post title from the lyrics in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Cozy up to Fall ...


1. HOST A SOUP KITCHEN
(Invite some friends and have everyone bring a crockpot of their favorite soup ... everyone shares.)



2. GO FOR A HIKE IN THE WOODS

 

3. READ A BOOK IN FRONT OF A FIRE


 
4. DRINK APPLE CIDER



5. USE CANDLES



6. DECORATE YOUR FRONT DOOR


7. EAT OUTDOORS

 
 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Scary Bia


Halloween brings out the scary in me.
And, no, I’m not talking about a scary costume. What’s scary is that I morph into someone I don’t even recognize.

Allow me to explain. For the rest of the year I (mostly) avoid sugar. I don’t put sugar in my cappuccino or my tea. I don’t eat sugary cereals. I am careful with desserts.
But on Halloween … I go all out.

I have to try one of everything. And sometimes two, or three. I am not joking. I once wrote a Halloween blog post entitled “What not to eat on Halloween”, which basically listed every piece of candy I ate that night. The title of the post was a joke (ha, ha) … What not to eat on Halloween? The candy wrappers. That was my lesson.
Then there was the one year we bought two huge bags of candy (for a total of 10 pounds) and hid them high on a shelf in the laundry room until Halloween night. Except that on Halloween night ... Where's the Candy? Only 5 pounds left, and this was before trick-or-treating. Now, in my defense I didn’t eat all that candy, and there were other guilty parties involved, but still.

And last year was the tootsie roll year. I don't know what-in-the-heck was wrong with me, but I think I ate ... well, I won't tell you how many tootsie rolls I ate, and I wasn't picky: the big fat ones, the long skinny ones, and the small bite-sized ones all called my name. According to Google it takes a 1/4 mile run or 550 steps to burn off one small Tootsie Roll, and I’m still trying to burn off that tootsie roll binge.
This year, however, I did something smart. Well, brilliant, if you ask me. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I have a dental appointment. Yes, you heard that right. I scheduled my six month cleaning and checkup on Halloween morning. Why? Let me tell you. After cleaning, scraping, buffing, and flossing I’m not letting anything near these pearly whites.

Scary, huh? We’ll see what happens …

Monday, October 28, 2013

And he picked me


When I first entered the blogging world in 2007, there were a handful of people with whom I felt an instant connection, and over the years we've visited each other's blogs, left comments, and exchanged emails. One of those blogging friends is Laura, whose father recently passed away. And as a blogging friend I want to share this: In 2008 when I wrote a very personal post on how a Shakespearean actor once helped transform a terribly shy teenager, Laura left the following comment: As the daughter of a drama teacher (my dad taught classical acting for 40 plus years) this post thrills me. Thank you for sharing it. ~Laura
So, Laura, this one's for you, re-posted and revised. I know the Shakespearean actor in my story wasn't your Dad, but somehow it seems like he could have been ...

**********
I was just a freshman in high school when my father retired from the military and decided to move our family to the Deep South. It was a difficult transition for me because in an environment where best friends are formed in kindergarten and social connections are woven through generations, I felt as if I didn't belong. We had just spent two wonderful years living in Italy, within the loving embrace of my Nonna, and I was now faced with trying to figure out how my Italian-ness fit into our new life on this side of the Atlantic. 

So. There I was. A new student, transferring to a new school one week before the Christmas holidays, and because classes were overfilled the guidance counselor stuck me in a drama class.

Me, painfully shy, in drama class. With 28 loud, enthusiastic students who had known each other since kindergarten. With a teacher who, when I entered his class with the note informing him that I was now student #29, complained that there wasn't room for me, but-what-can-you-do-go-find-a-seat-I-don't-care-where. Every single day I dreaded that class.

One Friday afternoon the drama teacher announced that a professional Shakespearean actor would be speaking to our class. I remembered feeling relieved because a guest speaker meant I could sit there, unnoticed and blissfully at peace. When the actor walked into the classroom all the girls sighed. He was tall, blond, and incredibly handsome. And he quoted Shakespeare.
It was enthralling listening to him. He had a deep voice which just pulled you in, but just when I was feeling that this was turning out to be a good day ... he asked for a volunteer. And just like that my heart stopped beating. Twenty-eight enthusiastic hands shot up into the air while I mentally pleaded, Please-please-please don't pick me. Please, not me. Don't pick me. Please.
The actor smiled as he looked around, then walked all the way to the back of the classroom and looked down at me. With a kind smile as if he knew how I was feeling, he took my hand and escorted me to a small stage in front of the classroom.

As part of his lesson, he wanted to demonstrate the importance of body language and asked the class to help stage/direct us. He had me sit with my back to him and then asked the class for suggestions on how he could get my attention without using words. Following directions from the students he walked around and knelt in front of me; he took me by the shoulders until I was forced to look up at him; he gently put his hand on my chin and turned my head to face him. Because I didn't have to speak, I slowly started to relax until, after a while, the class faded away and I was only aware of him.

 

At the end of the lesson he took my hand as I stepped down from the stage. He escorted me all the way back to my seat and kissed my hand as he thanked me. Everyone clapped.
To this day I still remember that moment. A handsome actor, teaching Shakespeare for one hour to some high school students, did a miraculous thing for a quiet, lonely, terribly shy teenager. He helped transform her from someone who was pleading, Please, please don't pick me, to someone who later walked out of that classroom thinking, He picked ME!

 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Who Wore it Better?


What they wore:
Spotted, the same brown, felt hat resulting in two very different looks.

How they styled it:
Nonno was recently photographed while attending a Mad Hatter Party in Myrtle Beach, SC. Wearing the hat with the rim flipped up (a-la-hillbilly style), he paired it with a t-shirt and shorts. His accessorized with a beard and a piercing look.

Bia wore the same hat when she recently hosted a Halloween Bunco at her home. All the guests were required to select a hat from a pile, and Bia grabbed this one. She re-shaped the hat for a more Indiana Jones look and, indeed, earned the name "Indy" for the rest of the night.

Judge's scorecard:
While both scored points for using a fashion item and making it their own, Nonno has the slight edge for being in character.

So, what do you think? Who wore it better?


Nonno, a flipped rim gives the hat a specific look.


Bia liked the hat, but claimed it did not bring her luck.
She did not win Bunco.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jonathan in the Middle

Dear Jonathan,

Stuck in the middle, you often don't get the attention you deserve.

Your older brother has all the firsts, leading the way in being the first to graduate, first to drive, first to get a job.

Your younger brother is the baby and gets everyone's attention for having the lasts: last to go through kindergarten, last to lose a front tooth, the last to still leave cookies for Santa Claus.

And there you are, bookended by your brothers.

But today is your birthday and we celebrate your passion for sports, your independence, and your cute dimples. Although sometimes quiet, you are charming and witty. Most importantly, you have a good sense of who you are, Jonathan, which is a real blessing.

We love you and we celebrate you.

Bacioni,
Mom, Dad, Nicholas and Timothy



Remember to always proclaim your rarity and celebrate your uniqueness; to use wisely your freedom of choice; and to go the extra mile by doing more than just what is expected.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

G-rated, R-rated, and other Quick Takes.


~1~ Let me tell you what I want, what I really, really want.

Me: Dad, what do you want  for your birthday?

Dad: I don't know. I really don't need anything.

Mom: I know what he wants. He wants a wind chime.

Dad: I want I wind chime?

Mom: Yes, don't you remember when we went to our friends' house and they had a wind chime. It sounded so beautiful.

Dad turns and looks at me.

Dad: I guess I want a wind chime.

I look at him. I look at my Mom. And I keep my mouth shut.

Later that evening I get a phone call.

Dad: I've been thinking. I really would like a wind chime.

I guess Nonno is getting a wind chime. For his birthday. For Nonna. Or something.

With Nonna's help.

~2~ Welcome to Arby's, may I take your order?

When Jonathan got a summer job at Arby's this summer, we thought he'd stop once school started. But no. Evidently Jonathan really likes getting a paycheck. Since he only works 3 evenings a week, and since his grades are all good and he seems to like it, we agreed to let him continue. He's a great worker. He's courteous, takes his job seriously, and knows how to stay busy. And I think he's pretty cute behind that counter.

 Love that kid.

And this weekend it's his birthday, too, but he's not getting a wind chime. I promise.



"Will you be dining in?"

~3~ Home is where you can do laundry for free

Tomorrow I'm going to pick Nicholas up from Clemson. With Nonno's birthday, Jonathan's birthday, and his cousin Ethan's birthday I don't think he wanted to miss out. It's the first time he's been home since leaving for college, so can you say spaghetti with clams? It's one of his favorite meals, and how can I do anything but oblige?

Can you also say dirty laundry? Let me clarify ... college student's dirty laundry. But wait, let me be even more specific ... male college student's dirty laundry.

I think you get the idea ...

One care package headed to Clemson.
 
~4~ Nonna, in her own words. 
(The following could be G-rated, or R-rated.
It all depends on how you look at it.)

Nicholas coming home reminds me of this interesting conversation ...

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.




 
~5~ The Nutella Legacy

When Timothy was in Kindergarten he was star student for one week, and as star student he/we had to do a food activity with the class. Since I had already taught the class how to dance La Tarantella the day before, I decided to keep with the Italian theme and introduce them to Nutella. So I brought two loaves of bread and a jar of Nutella to class.

Sixteen students went through two loaves of bread and the entire jar of Nutella. I mean, I was scraping the sides of the jar.

That night the phone calls started.

Can you tell me what you fixed the class today?
My son can't stop talking about it whatever it is you made in class today.
What's the chocolate sandwich you made?
Can you give me the recipe?
Where can I buy this Nutella?

Later that year I drove on a field trip, and when I introduced myself to one of the dads he said, "Oh! I know you! You're the Nutella person!" He then called his daughter over and showed me how she could recite the entire Nutella jingle of roasted hazelnuts, skim milk, and a hint of cocoa.

Then, this past Saturday at the school carnival -- which, let me remind you, is FOUR YEARS after that Superstar Week -- a mom mentioned how we were the first to introduce them to Nutella and that life has been great ever since.

Wow. At least I am good for something.

~6~ I ask for a cold pack and you put frozen vegetables on my head?!?

A call from the school nurse is never a good thing. One bambino home with a fever and a headache. Rather than using a cold washcloth, I did this ...

"I'm not going to have to eat this, am I?"


~7~  This really is a G-rated blog ...

But tell that to the pizza dough I left to rise on the counter. The older boys snickered, Joe grinned, and Timothy looked confused.

"Why is everyone laughing?" he asks, in all innocence. "It looks like a heart."

Of COURSE it's a heart, and if you thought otherwise ... SHAME ON YOU!!



*For  more quick takes, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary.