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

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

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