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

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

Monday, June 24, 2013

A or B? (from the files of very bad poetry by Bia)

~A~ Lego Housekeeping
Putting them away, taking them out.
Fishing pieces out of floor air vents.
Sitting on them. Stepping on them.
Vacuuming them.
~2~ Channeling Coleridge
Legos, Legos everywhere
Any where you look.
Legos, Legos everywhere
Nary a free nook.

*from the files of very bad poetry by Bia

Friday, June 21, 2013

God, Michelangelo, and Lightsabers

One summer I decided to give Timothy an art lesson that somehow turned into a lesson on love, death, forgiveness, sin, and lightsabers. It was a lesson in which the teacher became the student and the student became the teacher ... 

This week, to emphasize the fact that learning doesn't end on the last day of school, I decided to give my youngest son an art lesson on Michelangelo and planned to cover these areas: a short biography on his life, the Pieta`, and the Sistine Chapel (specifically the ceiling and the Last Judgment).

Michelangelo Buonarroti

When we sat down at the kitchen table, I could see a bad case of the reluctant student developing. So I had an idea on how to capture not only his attention, but his imagination. I opened up one of my coffee table books to a photo of John Paul II riding through St. Peter's Square, showed it to Timothy, and asked if he saw anything interesting.


Then I pointed out a man in the crowd holding a gun. That man was Mehmet Ali Agca and he was about to shoot the pope.

Shameless, I know, but I now had Timothy's complete and undivided attention in the palm of my hand. We talked about that day, and I reminded him that a few years ago when we were in Rome we had actually stood on the exact spot where the shooting occurred.

I then turned the page and showed him the photo of John Paul II visiting Agca in prison, the two of them sitting in a corner leaning toward each other.


And just like that, before Timothy even realized what was happening, I had turned to a photo of Michelangelo's Pieta`. Art lesson in progress. We discussed Michelangelo (he was only 23 when he carved this!) and I showed him how the pieta` as a subject matter is used often in religious art.

Love. Death. Sorrow.

We then looked at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I kept it simple; I showed him the creation panel and pointed out how God is reaching out his finger to bring life to Adam; I pointed out that the woman behind God is Eve, not yet created.

Then we looked at The Last Judgment, which is both beautiful and horrifying. My mother teaches a lesson on this in her Italian class, so I know a lot about this fresco (for example, in the lower right corner Michelangelo painted his nemesis, deep in the bowels of Hell with a serpent devouring his, eh-em, private parts), but again I kept it simple.

When Timothy wondered why the people going to hell all looked ugly and deformed, we talked how sin changes people inside and that Michelangelo showed this by the way he painted physical characteristics.

And this is when a wonderful, very good thing happened ... the student became the teacher. Timothy looked at Michelangelo's Last Judgment with all the poor souls being dragged into hell, and said, "Like Anakin, in Star Wars."

I gave him giant kiss on the spot. How true! We talked how, in the movie, as Anakin slowly gets pulled to the Dark Side his appearance changes: his eyes become hard, his hair is disheveled, his features are harsh until, in the end, he becomes something totally unrecognizable.

John Paul II and Michelangelo, the Pieta` and the Sistine Chapel, the Creation and the Last Judgment, faith and Star Wars ... as far as art lessons go it wasn't terribly elegant, but somehow it worked.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The way to begin your day ...

an early morning cappuccino with a great friend.
Grazie, amica mia!

Observation from my sister-in-law (via facebook):

The interesting juxtapositioning of the wonderful table and the feel of calm and conversation
against the outside world of your 4 boys - golf ball washer, playset, volleyball/badminton net.
Perfect photo of one woman in a world of men.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Baseball & French Fries

One evening not so long ago my husband unexpectedly made the following announcement: "One day, if someone asks what you remember most about your father, I want you to say that your father ate french fries with a fork and that he was a member of SABR." Our sons groaned. Both of those character traits are the cause of good-natured teasing from the rest of the family.

My husband does eat french fries with a fork. He always has. When we pointedly use our fingers to dunk our french fries in gobs of ketchup, he stubbornly reaches for a fork.

We just don't get it.

Then, as an active member of SABR (Society of American Baseball Research), my husband studies the history of baseball. SABR sends publications on a monthly basis: biographies, baseball stories, stats . . . lots and lots of stats. Many times he'll receive books that are nothing but charts (batting averages, etc.), and he will sit and read those books as if they were novels.

None of us get this, either. While our sons share the love of golf with their father, and while they will cheer together for Penn State, they absolutely draw the line at baseball. And since I am a literary person without a Math gene to speak of, it always astonishes me that he can read a book containing numbers instead of words.

And yet . . . my husband is very wise. I have no doubt that our sons will always be confident of their father's love, and the young men they are growing to be is due in a very big way to their father. They will have scores of memories with him: trips to the Outback Bowl, learning to change oil in the car, wiffle ball in the street, homemade rootbeer floats. But by pointing out to them these two specific character traits, they can hold on to (and remember) the uniqueness that makes their father . . . their Dad.

French fries with a fork? Yup. An active member of SABR? You bet.

"That's our Dad. He's the best."

Happy Father's Day!
Bia & the boys

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father's Day, some assembly required

Father’s Day weekend, and Joe wanted to celebrate yesterday and save Sunday for coverage of the U.S. Open in the afternoon and NBA in the evening.
So this is what he planned for yesterday: family workout at the Kroc Center, a visit to Bonaventure Golf where he picked out some golf balls, and lunch out. Although he basically planned everything about his Father’s Day, the boys and I surprised him with a volleyball/badminton set for our back yard. It was a nice set, and he was pleased when we presented it to him after lunch.

Later, after running a few errands, I found Joe and Timothy in the back yard.

Getting started

“Oh! You’re putting together the badminton/volleyball set,” I said. “That’s great!”
My husband didn’t say anything, but he gave me the look (and all you married couples out there know exactly what I’m talking about).  At that moment I noticed this scattered over the grass …

Oops. Yikes.

Apparently, a "little" assembly was required.
Of course, il bambino was loving all the assembly!
The sight of all those parts reminded me of this past Christmas when Joe wanted a two-drawer filing cabinet for our study. While I had in mind something made of wood to coordinate with our beautiful desk and bookshelves, Joe was picturing a grey metal filing cabinet. A metal filing cabinet?!? Please, our study is not a doctor’s office. So this is what I gave him …

Beautiful, right? And it had two drawers, just like he requested! Well, it wasn’t so beautiful when Joe sat down to assemble the thing. Thousands of pieces and horrible-terrible-very bad instructions made for a bad case of the grumpies.
So, watching my husband and son assemble the badminton set in our back yard, I realized that I have a bad track record of giving gifts that require assembly.

Yes, I see that now.

And I apologize.
Next Father’s Day … I'm sticking with a tie.

P.S. An hour and a half later ...
The hard part is over, let the games begin!

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Senior in High School? What we learned in 7 quick takes ...

A friend of mine, Lisa, sent me a message on Facebook asking for advice/insights on navigating (and surviving) her daughter’s senior year in high school (she has five daughters, and this will be her first one to graduate).  Where to even begin? My husband and I have learned so much these past few months while navigating (and surviving) our son’s senior year, but we also acknowledge that many times (most of the time) we didn’t know what we were doing; in other words, it was uncharted territory for us and, as a result, there were plenty of tears and moments of self-doubt. But with patience, faith and perseverance we made it. Amazingly. Miraculously. And if we can help the next family going through this, then we are more than happy to share a little of what worked for us …

~1~ The Black Box

Know that you will be inundated with information, so have an organizational system in place. Now. Get it ready. What worked for us was a black file box that we kept in the study by the family computer. We used a labeled folder for each college Nicholas was considering; additionally, we had files for test scores (SAT and ACT), transcripts, letters of recommendation, financial aid forms, student i.d. numbers, and scholarship applications. Also, in the front of the box we kept a list of every single deadline on one easy-to-reference sheet. Everything was in that box.

~2~ The Running Resume

At some point (and this can be done right now) sit down and brainstorm everything your son/daughter has participated in during high school: clubs, organizations, mission trips, community service projects, summer jobs, and volunteer opportunities. Keep a running list of awards, honors, and recognitions. With everything, include dates. Every application will ask for these things, and you will save so much time if you already have everything listed.

~3~ College Visitations

We found that college visitations helped ease us into the application process. Go. See. Explore. Ask questions. With each college visitation you become more and more familiar (even comfortable) with the ins and outs of applying. But don’t waste your time visiting colleges you are not interested in. Keep it real, including whether or not a certain college is financially feasible. Finally, if you plan the visitations the summer before senior year, by the fall you will have narrowed the list of colleges to the few that you are truly interested in.
~4~ The Nitty Gritty of Finances

Our son has a good life. He lives in a nice house, he goes to a private school, he has traveled to Europe, and he has a loving, supportive family. But part of being a good steward of God’s gifts is not taking anything for granted, and my husband and I are not going to just hand him four years wrapped up with a nice, neat bow; rather, he is very involved in the financial aspects of his college education. He knows we will help (a lot), but he also knows that there is the entire family to consider and that he has another brother who is just two years behind. So, he knows he needs to contribute however he can (with a summer job, by being frugal, doing a co-op/work study etc.) and, hopefully, learns how to be a good steward in life.  

~5~ Resist Temptation

Many colleges are very, very good at making your son/daughter feel wanted and appreciated. Let’s face it, applying for colleges is a scary process, and when a college calls your son/daughter and makes them feel special they start thinking: They know me! They like me! They want me! But is that really the case, or does that college simply have an excellent recruiting department?

For example, one college bombarded our son with information on a daily basis. They called him. They emailed him. They wooed him. They awarded him a great scholarship before he had even officially filled out an application or visited their campus. Despite the fact that the college didn’t have the program of study my son wanted to pursue, he was very, very tempted to take their offer and adjust his choice of major. But he didn’t. In the end we never even visited the campus; we closed the door on that avenue without any second thoughts or regrets.

~6~ Senior Year = Stress

This falls into the category of something we wish we had known ahead of time. Senior year is an exciting time, but it is like a runaway freight train. This is what our son went through his senior year: college applications almost every weekend, senior photo session, ongoing senior project, SAT, ACT, scholarship applications, 18th birthday celebration, senior trip to Orlando, prom, a new girlfriend, honor’s day, senior prank day, graduation practice, senior breakfast, baccalaureate Mass and graduation, family graduation party.
On top of all that were the endless discussions on everything from test scores to engineering programs to summer employment.

There was never a break, ever.

In looking back, it was a ridiculously busy time. Today, a month after graduation, our son is happier and more relaxed; Joe and I now realize how stressed (and sleep deprived!) he had been, and we wish we had been more understanding during those times when he was irritable or moody and didn’t seem himself. 

~7~ The Decision

Hold on to the fact that not every decision needs to be made at once. Know what, then see where. Decide where, then work on the how. Embrace the process, and you'll discover that after months of planning, researching, visiting, discussing and praying, the information filters down until one miraculous day you realize that a decision has been made. Just like that. For us it came on a family vacation during spring break, and it was if a burden had been lifted.

The peace we experienced told us we were doing the right thing, and here’s what you should know: when you experience that peace ... go with it.

*Now, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary.
This fall she will be rubbing shoulders with Cardinal Dolan and Scott Hahn.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Summertime Menu Planning

Summertime is here, and while this means relaxed schedules for everyone, we still have to eat ... which means I still have to plan meals.

As many of you already know, I am a big believer in planning meals; in fact, I've written on this very subject here, here, and here.

But what I've never shared is how I do menu planning during the summer months. In some ways summertime menu planning is easier because without school, sports, or carpooling I'm not limited to pockets of time. I can pick when I want to go to the grocery store and cook meals at leisure. During the summer days are longer, meals are spaced out, and the availability of fresh produce means lighter meals which can be prepared much more quickly (see Beating the Heat in an Italian Kitchen).

But menu planning also becomes more complicated because of all that free time; in other words, the boys are home. All day. And they like to eat. A lot.

So I need to be organized.

While the basic idea of my summertime menu planning stays the same ( i.e. PLAN THE MEALS), the how, when, and what changes slightly. For example, when planning during the school year I start with the family calendar and plan meals according to what is on our schedule for a particular day. During the summer, however, I make a list of meals I plan to cook that week, grocery shop to make sure I have everything on hand, but keep it as an informal list. Each morning I look at the list and, depending on my mood, pick a meal.

What also changes is that I include lunch ideas on my weekly list. This is not to say I plan meals for lunches, too, (what? you think I'm crazy?), but I do list some ideas that differ from the standard packed lunches the boys get the rest of the year. For example, on this week's list I have grilled cheese sandwiches, English muffin pizzas, and cauliflower soup (always a favorite).

Listing lunch ideas also helps me clear the freezer and pantry. Go look in both; I just bet you have half packages of this and partial boxes of that. Using them for lunches is a perfect solution! This week I found three fish fillets in the freezer which were left over from a larger box, and while three fillets are not enough for a family dinner, they are perfect for three quick and delicious fish fillet sandwiches for three hungry guys.

Bottom line is this: menu planning (any time of the year!)  makes life easier, helps you work with a budget, and encourages healthier eating.

All benefits, to be sure.

Summertime menu planning:
Chinese chicken & rice (Eat Clean Cookbook, p. 162)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dear Lego ...

Dear Lego,
My son is 9 years old and is known as Raptorspike271 on your Lego Creator site. Today he purchased the Lego model, Super Soarer (#6912), and had a suggestion he wanted me to help send you ....
He thought it would be a good idea if some Lego models (specifically airplanes) came with a stand so the model could be displayed. Here's an example of one he built for his new Lego.
Maria, Raptorspike's Mom
P.S. The second photo shows a transporter he made for the same airplane.

Lego Display Stand

Sunday, June 9, 2013

La Pioggia

Today I was sitting by an open window, and the tapping of my computer keys sounded like the pitter-patter of the rain outside.

Something about a rainy day seems to hit the bullseye of my soul.

There is music in the rain--the drumming on a rooftop, the soft crackling as it falls on a pile of autumn leaves, the swish of car tires on wet streets, the plip-plop of raindrops on an umbrella;

it provides a backdrop for color--the grey skies and dark clouds make red raincoats, yellow pansies, a candle in a window, or a blue gazebo appear vibrant and alive;

it softens the hard edges of city life--street lights and shop windows glow and beckon;

and it offers a soothing juxtaposition between the raging storm outside, and the calmness and warmth inside.

La pioggia makes me want to curl up with a book, and so I do. Something from my childhood, something in Italian ... Piccole donne (Little Women).

Il fuoco del caminetto illuminava i visetti
della fanciulle intente al loro lavoro a maglia:
nella stanza vi era una confortante intimita`,
mentre fuori la neve cadeva fitta.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

An R-rated Incident

Yesterday the boys and I were visiting with my mom who is recovering from surgery. While Nonna and I were talking with the older boys, Timothy was sitting quietly in Nonno’s recliner looking through a National Geographic Magazine.

All of a sudden he slams the magazine shut.

“That is just inappropriate,” he declares.

We all stop talking and look at him. He is grinning, but looks embarrassed. He walks over to me, whispers in my ear, and shows me a picture of two Aborigine women, very well-endowed and topless.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Then the boys wanted to see, and they laughed. Then Nonna, who just had hernia surgery and who was trying not to laugh, laughed.

And because Timothy was worried about Nonno, he left him a note telling him that pgs. 66-67 were “inaproprate” and that he shouldn’t look at those two pages.

You know, to protect Nonno’s sensibilities, and all.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Motherhood is Not Always a Hallmark Moment

Motherhood is sometimes a crappy job.
There. I’ve said it.
Sometimes you reach a point in which you have no choice but to acknowledge this because no amount of avoiding, ignoring, or denying this fact can sugarcoat the reality that motherhood is sometimes a crappy job.

I look at mothers with infants and toddlers and think: that part of motherhood is easy. Sleepless nights, nursing around the clock, arranging play dates, deciding on a preschool, watching Dora or Diego again and again, dealing with the terrible two’s … that’s the easy part. That’s not hard. It’s tiring, but it’s not hard.
I look at mothers with young children and I want to warn them: beware, it’s not always going to be this good. I want to tell them that no matter how loving, caring, and attentive a mother you are, there will come a day when you will question whether you did enough; that no matter how hard you worked to do the right thing, you can’t help thinking that everything you did was wrong.

You’re probably wondering what happened that I’m not my usual dolce vita self, but it’s not one thing. It’s a little of everything – non communication, surliness, ungratefulness. Really, take your pick. And how do you fix these things? Tell a teen to talk, and they grow more sullen. Tell a teen to be polite, and they roll their eyes. Tell a teen to be grateful, and he mutters something that you think is a thank you.
I need an instruction manual. Where’s my instruction manual?

So I try this, I try that. I dance around trying to make everyone happy, but sometimes the dancing just makes me tired. I maintain an open line of communication, but sometimes I am just talking to myself. I pray, but sometimes the words won’t come.
And during these times it helps a little just to be able to admit that motherhood is sometimes a crappy job.