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

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Post with the Most (A Year in Review)



~1~ Finish the Sentence: A heated and emotional discussion on Facebook prompted this post. The topic? School and sports. Yikes.


http://ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/search?q=finish+the+sentence






~2~ The Big Reveal: Extreme makeover in just seven days. Really.


http://ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/search?q=The+Big+Reveal






~3~ A Presentation at the Sacred Heart Garden Festival: In which I give a presentation at the Sacred Heart Garden Festival entitled: The Peasant Kitchen and Slow Food: The Italian Approach to Food, Dining and Healthy Living.


http://ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-presentation-at-sacred-heart-garden.html






~4~ Bad, Bad Nonna: How Nonna totally and completely disrupts Summer School.


http://ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/search?q=bad%2C+bad+nonna


According to Nonna ...


~5~ Sometimes it's nice to be published: Oh my stars ... Guest Columnist.


http://ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/search?q=sometimes+it%27s+nice+to+be+published






~6~ The Lost Necklace: A story of all things that cannot be lost. Ever.


http://ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/search?q=the+lost+necklace






~7~ Glory Days: In which I ask some hard questions about why we complain about how busy we are and yet we do nothing about it.


http://ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/2014/10/glory-days.html





~8~ The Perfect Time: Last September I launched a dream. This June we'll live it.


http://ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-perfect-time.html





Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's All About Giving Thanks


It's All About Giving Thanks
by Maria Novajosky, Guest Columnist


*published in the Columbia County News-Times, November 23, 2015
(delivered with Sunday's Augusta Chronicle)

            It doesn’t take much more than a holiday and a meal 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 Venice 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 or softball.

            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 at Thanksgiving to honor the American half of our Italian-American heritage.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Serving Detention at Dairy Queen (kinda, sorta)



Dairy Queen. In our family, that's the place we go to wait while someone is serving after school detention.


And it's become a family tradition (of sorts) because now when one brother has detention, the others (who have visions of Oreo Blizzards swirling in their heads) rejoice and give each other high fives because ...  their brother has detention!


Brotherly love. There is nothing quite like it.


The only problem is that, according to the boys, there haven't been enough detentions. While all our boys seem to get their very first detention in either the 4th or 5th grade, after that there are definitely some lean periods in which everyone is behaving.


Oh, the horrors.


But then came yesterday's all school Mass and ... well, let me put it this way. As you know, our little guy is in the fifth grade, and today Jonathan and I are going to Dairy Queen.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dear Sons, You're Welcome.



Dear Nicholas and Jonathan,


Dad and I have always taken your education very seriously, but in choosing to live in the south, (where you can be lulled into thinking that the weather is your best friend), you have not learned a fundamental truth on how to handle inclement weather. And since you both speak the language of mathematics, allow me to enlighten you with the following formula:


temperature in the teens + gale force wind = winter coat


Now, this is a subject I've brought up in the past, and each time you have vehemently declared that you do not need a coat. And so I've watched you get by on sweatshirts or hoodies, occasionally coupled with a windbreaker if a snowflake or two happens to fall.


As your mother, I realize that part of your coat denial stems from the fact that you do not like to shop. At all. I understand completely, so today I have taken matters into my own hands which I will now present in the form of a word problem:

If you can't take the boy to the store, take the store to the boy.


That's right. After a busy morning driving here and there, I have now brought the store to you. Right now there are SIX winter coats in varying styles and sizes spread out in the family room. Try them on. I know you will not need to use it very often, but it's nice to have just in case ... you know, for the occasional snowstorm, camping in January, hiking the Himalayas, or THANKSGIVING IN CHICAGO.


So, do your mom a favor, and just pick the one you hate the least.


You're welcome.


Love,
Mom


Monday, November 17, 2014

"Siri-ously" Confused PERIOD



You know how it goes with sisters. The more tired you are and the later it gets, the more things -- anything, really -- seems funny.


This past Saturday I accompanied my sister to Charleston, and after playing in a tennis tournament (her, not me), watching a tennis tournament (me, not her), driving downtown (and getting lost), walking around downtown (and getting lost), eating dinner at 82 Queen, standing outside in the cold for 30 minutes just to get inside Kominsky's for dessert (yes, we were that determined), and driving back to our hotel (and getting lost) ... we were exhausted.


Which meant anything could set us off at any moment.


Case in point: Siri. You know how you can dictate a text to Siri, and she will record your text and send it along? And you know how, in dictating the text, you also need to dictate the punctuation? Well, late at night my sister whips out her iPhone and has me listen to a voicemail that I had left her earlier in the week. Only ... when I left the voicemail I somehow thought I was dictating a text.


Here was my voicemail, preserved on her iPhone so she can laugh and bribe me into posterity:


Hi, Laura PERIOD Can you call me when you get a chance QUESTION MARK I need to run something by you about our trip to Italy PERIOD Love you EXCLAMATION POINT Talk to you soon EXCLAMATION POINT Bia


Of course, there was something hysterically funny about listening to that voicemail, dictated like a text, punctuation marks and all. And the fact that my voice sounded like Minnie Mouse ... well, the more we laughed the funnier it got.


But this morning reality came crashing down. Now that my sister isn't with me I am thinking more clearly, and I'm not laughing anymore. Laura still has that voicemail, and she'll probably keep it forever.


Yikes DOT DOT DOT not good COMMA not good at all PERIOD


Texting a voicemail QUESTION MARK
Been there COMMA done that PERIOD

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pizza in Paradise



We have homemade pizza once a week. I usually make my own dough, but if I am short on time I will purchase the raw pizza dough at Publix, roll it out, and then use homemade sauce and fresh ingredients. (On a side note, my Mom makes the best pizza ever. And her dough is ALWAYS homemade.)


Last week I planned a pizza night and decided to try the recipe for Two-Ingredient Pizza Dough that has been popping up here and there on the internet. That's right, two ingredients. All you need is Greek yogurt and self-rising flour.


To be honest, I was skeptical, but I was also willing to give it a try. I combined the two ingredients. I kneaded the dough and rolled it out on a flour surface. And you know what? Don't ask my how or why, but it actually worked.


I am sure you're wondering, though, how it tasted. Well, compared to my regular pizza dough, this one was more dense; also, when I was rolling it there was a tangy smell from the yogurt that I didn't like. But the boys enjoyed the end result,  and with just two ingredients it was definitely very easy.


Would make it again? Probably not. I'll stick to my original recipe.  But here's the thing ... if I am ever stranded on a desert island and I only had Greek yogurt and self-rising flour, it's nice to know I would have everything on hand to whip up a pizza.


Two-ingredient pizza dough: Greek yogurt and self-rising flour.
That's it.


Strangely, it worked.
But I will stick with my regular pizza dough recipe.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Making a (Catholic) Connection



Last night we treated my parents to a dinner at Arby's, specifically because Jonathan was working. We like to do that -- bug Jonathan when he's working --  and last night we had double the fun because his friend, Taylor, was working, too.


When we sat down to eat we noticed we were missing a sandwich, so I went back to the counter to give Taylor a hard time. (Really, Taylor, the fault was all ours. We kept changing our order, asking you what was in this sandwich and that one, and in trying to get everyone to make a decision even WE were confused!) Anyway, there were two black gentlemen in front of me (one retired, one a little younger) who told me to go in front of them because they saw that the rest of my family was waiting. When I tried to protest, they insisted, saying they had time to kill before heading to the movie theater down the street.


A little later the younger of the two walked past our table with their order, and I asked him what movie they were going to see. He told us, we chatted for a minute, and then he asked, "Are you guys Christians? I can tell that you are a Christian."


"Yes," I replied. "We are."


"What are you?" He wanted to know. "Are you Evangelical? Apostolic?"


"Actually," I said. "We are Catholic."


"Oh," he said, nodding.


I could tell he didn't quite know what to make of that, but he smiled and we chatted a little longer before he continued to his table.


After we finished eating I walked over to them and told them to have a nice time at the movies. The younger gentleman stood up, shook my hand, and said it was a pleasure meeting us.


And because making a connection (a laugh, a story, a compliment, a conversation) with a complete stranger  reaffirms for me the wonderful interconnectedness of humanity, and because it's one of my absolute favorite things about this world, on the way out I ordered two apple turnovers and told Taylor to deliver them to the two gentleman ... compliments of the family who had been sitting at the table next to them.


Hopefully it left them with a sweet memory of having met a Catholic family.




You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
-Mahatma Gandhi



Thursday, November 6, 2014

I am an artist at heart, but my execution stinks



Last night a friend organized a Van Gogh and Vino session. It's a wonderful concept: gather a group of friends, and with a glass of wine in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, you are given step-by-step instructions on how to create your very own masterpiece.


Now, I truly believe that I have the soul of an artist. I feel colors with my heart. I dream of shading and brushstrokes. In my mind I see blank canvases of daisies sprinkled with raindrops, a covered bridge on a foggy morning, or an old man napping under the shade of an olive tree.  It's all there ... I can feel it ... but I cannot bring it forth.


Case in point was last night's Van Gogh and Vino session. Maybe there was too much vino and not enough Van Gogh because even though I felt the artist within me stir, by the end of the evening what appeared on canvas did not match what I saw in my heart and soul.


And if I needed any confirmation of the fact that I am not an artist, Joe calls me from work.


"Hey, I saw that painting on the kitchen table this morning," he says. "Did Timothy do that in art class?"


Sigh.


And with that, I rest my case.


I peacock ... or a bowling pin with feathers?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Timothy in Training



It's basketball season, and Timothy is in training. He even comes up with his own training schedule, and yesterday he spends a good 30 minutes sprinting up and down our driveway, doing pushups, and huffing and puffing up and down stairs.


"Done," he tells me, looking very sweaty but triumphant. "I think I can already feel a pack."


A pack ... as in a six-pack abs. This was Day One of training, and he already feels a pack coming on. But he wants to show me, so he lifts his shirt and stands up tall.


The only pack I see in my skinny boy? Twelve ribs, which I can see very distinctly.


However ... if I squint my eyes ... and let the light fall a certain way ... perhaps ... just maybe I see something?


"Whoa," I tell him. "You need extra dinner tonight."



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Go. Vote.



Nicholas' fall break is over, but before heading back to Clemson we went to vote (his first time!) and then I took him out to lunch to celebrate.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's All Greek to Me




As an English major studying at The University of Georgia, all I wanted to do was take literature classes, write short stories, study Shakespeare, and go to poetry readings. But college doesn’t quite work that way because I also had to fulfill math requirements. It was a necessary evil, so I plowed ahead: algebra was easy, I actually liked geometry, but then there was Trigonometry . . . a class taught by a foreign exchange grad student who had such a thick accent that I couldn’t even determine his nationality.

I didn’t understand Trigonometry. I didn’t understand my professor. Combine the two and there you have it … a disaster of epic proportions. I stayed after class, I went to tutoring in the Math Lab, and I asked questions, but by exam time I was headed for a big, fat F . . . my first, ever. So I threw myself at the mercy of my professor:  “I am an English major! This is my LAST math requirement!” And just for good measure . . . “If I have to take this class again I will die.” (English majors have a flair for the dramatic.) The professor barely spoke English so I know he didn’t understand half of what I was saying, but desperation has a language all on its own. In the end, he gave me a D in the class (and I have no doubt he was being very, very generous).

As someone who was always an A student, I REJOICED in that D. I called my parents with the news. “I got a D in Trig!” They were (understandably) confused. “But a D is bad, isn’t it?”

I paused. “Well, yes. I mean no.”

Whatever. I got a D, and I would gladly take it thank-you-very-much.

So, taking into account that I don’t have a math gene in my body, I am awed at those who do . . . not because I think they are smarter, but because they are smarter in something different. And every day I am awed that this English major, Italian speaking, bad poet, and sometimes writer has sons – three of them – who are good in everything that I am not.

When I listen to my husband discuss a physics problem with our son, a problem with so many steps that it takes an entire sheet of paper to solve, it takes my breath away. When I walk past my son doing his homework and all I see are numbers and scientific notations, I marvel that writing something can include equations. I have one son studying computer engineering, another who will be studying math and accounting, and a third who is all about engines, architecture, and creating. Sometimes I think, “Who are these guys?”

And then I’ll think, “These are my math guys . . . and I’ll write a story about them.”


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bia and Joe Go Off-Roadin'



Just when we thought we knew all the biking paths in and around the Augusta Canal, we discover another one: a mountain bike trail maintained by SORBA (Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association of Augusta). You have to know it's there because it's off the beaten path (to get to it you have to leave the canal and follow the railroad tracks about 25 yards until you come to a sign marking the trail).


You'd never know it, but it's there!


And there are rules ... who knew? Odd days you go to the left (clockwise); on even days you head right (counter-clockwise).


See the blue pathway marked on the map?
That is 2.8 miles of pure mountain bike trail.


This is the real stuff, folks. The path is about a foot wide, and it follows a winding route through dense woods, up and down hills and gullies, and alongside the Savannah River. The path was muddy, sandy, bumpy, and a veritable mine field of tree roots. Joe had one wipeout, and I had to walk my bike down all the steep hills because my front brakes weren't working (bad timing), but 2.8 arduous miles later we emerged victorious.


Then we biked home.


We discovered a secret swimming hole ... complete with swinging rope.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Battle that Mom Won



Remember Jonathan's senior photo session? The one to which we had to drag him? The one of which he complained and complained about? The very one in which his outfit of choice was a Celtics t-shirt?


Well, I won every battle on that front.  (You go, Mom!)


And I must say ... he cleans up very nicely.





Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bia's Pasta e Fagioli



I have lots of recipes for minestrone, but this classic recipe for pasta e fagioli is one of our favorites. It is perfect for a blustery winter day, and served with a tossed salad, freshly baked artisan bread, and a glass of vino rosso ... it is the ultimate comfort food. (In all honesty, sometimes we go without the salad and just have pasta e fagioli and bread.) (Oh, and wine. Don't forget the wine.)


This recipe makes enough for our family of five, with plenty for leftovers. If you have a small family, the recipe can be halved.


Bia's Pasta e Fagioli


Olive Oil
3 carrots, diced
2 onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped


2 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes (I use the Cento brand)
4 potatoes, cubed
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. oregano
2-3 chicken bouillon cubes
salt & pepper, to taste


32 oz. carton low sodium chicken broth


1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, partially thawed and cut into small squares


1 small pkg. ditalini pasta
Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated (for garnish)


1. Cook carrots, onions, and garlic in olive oil for 20 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients except beans and spinach. Add one half of the chicken broth (or enough until everything is submerged in liquid). Cook until potatoes are tender.
3. Shortly before serving, add beans and spinach. Bring to boil. Add the pasta and more broth (if needed). Cook until pasta is al dente.
4. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve.




Some additional notes:


-Even though I buy frozen chopped spinach, it is still too stringy for my crew. But when I partially thaw it and cube it ... no more spinach strings!


-Pasta e fagioli tastes even better the second day (it's true!), but because the liquid will have been absorbed overnight, simply add more chicken broth before heating it up. I keep the leftover carton of chicken broth in the refrigerator just for this purpose.


-The amount of chicken broth you add during cooking is a personal preference: if you want a thicker pasta e fagioli, add less broth; if you like it soupier, add more. We like it somewhere in the middle (see photo below).





Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Cereal Bowl Birthday Tradition



It's funny how traditions are born. When the boys were younger and celebrating a birthday, I would leave a surprise in their cereal bowl for them to find when they came down for breakfast. A pack of Pokémon cards, some gum, a funny note ... just something small as a way to kick start their birthday.


One year, the night before Jonathan's birthday, he announced that he couldn't wait to see what would be in his cereal bowl the next morning.


I had completely forgotten. That is to say, I didn't so much forget as think that he had outgrown this ritual, but evidently I was wrong. So after he had gone to bed I made a quick run to Target.


That was the year I realized that our simple ritual had grown into a family tradition, one which has included years of cereal bowls and Matchbox cars and Kit Kat candy bars, and one which continues today, even for an 18-year-old.


Today is Jonathan's birthday, and this morning as I was setting up Jonathan's treats I recognized what a bittersweet moment this was. That little boy excitedly opening a pack of Pokémon cards has grown into a fine young man. Next year Jonathan will be away at college on his birthday, and while other traditions will most certainly evolve, the fact is he won't be here ...


And I will miss our cereal bowl birthday tradition.




The Cereal Bowl Birthday Tradition:
various candies (wrapped because it's fun to UNWRAP), chocolate donuts, $5 gift card
for Chick-fil-A and McDonald's (it's all about the food), and a 2-liter bottle of
Blue Voltage Mountain Dew because he has been begging me for weeks to buy some.
Today I did.


Enough said.


Jonathan

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Your Guess is as Good as Mine



This morning we packed our van and headed to Clemson to visit Nicholas. And when I say packed our van, I mean it: two new pillows, a foam mattress pad, a case of Propel water, his electric guitar and amplifier, groceries, and some pots and pans because (surprise, surprise) he wants to do more cooking. I also brought a crock-pot of chili and all the fixings for chili dogs so we could all have lunch together, as well as a birthday cake so we could have a pre-birthday celebration for Jonathan.


Great day. This year Nicholas and his roommate are living in a duplex, so it was fun poking around to see how they are with the housekeeping. All good, except ... well ... I leave you with the following photo:




Why are the toilet paper rolls lined up on the toilet tank?


A. Nicholas and his roommate are keeping track of how much toilet paper they use.
B. They are planning an arts & crafts project involving toilet paper rolls.
C. There isn't a trash can in the bathroom.
D. No reason, except they're guys.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday's Tip of the Week: Now You See It, Now You Don't



Laundry ... sorting, pre-treating, washing, ironing, folding, putting away. It never ends (N.E.V.E.R.) but it's either laundry today or naked tomorrow, so the laundry we must do.


Over the years the laundry room has become the place where I sort out life one load at a time, including how to handle this never-ending chore. Here's what works for us ...


Everyone in the family has a laundry hamper in their room into which they place their dirty clothes. When a hamper is full, it is carried downstairs and, once the clothes are sorted, they are loaded in the washing machine and the empty hamper goes immediately back upstairs.


But what about the clean, folded clothes? How do they get back upstairs?


Allow me to present Tuesday's Tip of the Week: The Collapsible Laundry Basket.


After the clothes have been removed from the dryer and (hopefully) folded, I place them into one of these baskets. One collapsible basket goes a long way because TWO full loads of folded, clean clothes can fit inside, and because it is collapsible and has handles, the basket is very light and easy to carry upstairs. Then, once the clothes have (hopefully) been put away, the basket is collapsed and stored in the laundry room. No bulky laundry basket taking up space, getting knocked over, or used as a depository for all things not even remotely related to laundry.


Of course, with laundry anything can happen, but the clutter associated with laundry and the more traditional laundry basket is manageable with the collapsible laundry basket. And honestly, anything that helps reduce clutter works for me.


What about you? Do you have a laundry tip to share?


The Collapsible laundry basket.
Now you see it ...


now you don't.


Friday, October 10, 2014

The Good and the Bad of a Mouse in the House (in 7 + 1 quick takes)



1- Good news: Mike from Advanced Services poked, prodded and inspected. He asked questions. Ultimately he told me that, even though we did see and capture a mouse, there was no evidence of mice in our house. No droppings, no chewed things, nothing.


2- Bad News: We do, however,  have mice in the attic. But we knew that. More bait, more traps, and we should be fine.


3- Good News: So why was there a mouse in the family room? Mike-from-Advanced-Services believed that it came in through the front door while I was decorating the porch (my theory), or that I had inadvertently carried it down from the attic when I went up there for decorating supplies.


4- Bad News: The above made me stop-dead-in-my-tracks. I could have been carrying something with a mouse in it? What if it had jumped out, ran up my arm, and got tangled in my hair? The stuff of nightmares, for sure.


5- Good News: As a result of one, teeny tiny field mouse, our family room received a complimentary spring cleaning in October: sectional disassembled, vacuumed, and reassembled; carpets removed, beaten, and replaced; baseboards dusted and wiped; windows washed (don't ask).


6- More Good News: Because the teeny, tiny field mouse was scurrying toward MY PANTRY before Joe and his broom intercepted him (Joe is my hero), the pantry received a complete and total overhaul. It was a pantry makeover of epic proportions.


7- Even More Good News: I couldn't stop! A clean family room and pantry also resulted in me emptying and going through our kitchen credenza, sorting all my vases and candle holders, and purging the laundry room. I now have three huge bags of donations for Catholic Social Services.


8 -Bad News: All this cleaning ... and it's not even Masters Week.


Bummer.




My purple cleaning gloves.
I think the cocktail ring add a certain flair, yes?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Mouse in the House



I just wanted to make a new wreath for our front door and decorate our porch for fall. That's all. But seven hours later that spark of creativity led to hysterics (on my part) of epic proportions.

Now, before I go any further let me mention that we have dense woods behind our house. I love the forest, but all that vegetation provides a calling card for every species known in the Animal Kingdom to come pay us a visit ... and the fact we have a backyard fence means nothing whatsoever. Deer are cute. Snakes are not. Spiders I've learned to deal with (that's what brooms are for), occasionally there is a rabbit, and we once had a problem with squirrels until we reinforced gables and roof corners with chicken wire and plaster.

Now hold that thought as we go back to my wreath ...

This afternoon the creative juices are flowing, and as I work I am constantly going in and out of our front door. There are times I even leave it wide open while I run to get something, which is a bad thing to do because every time we've left the front door open in the past, things gets in: lizards, wasps, our neighbor's dog, and once even a bird. But this afternoon I am at peace with the world (including the Animal Kingdom) and blissfully ignorant of any creature possibly slipping inside our house.

Fast forward to this evening. The little guy and I are downstairs watching Duck Dynasty which, in hindsight, is terribly ironic. Anyway, Jonathan was working, Joe had just gone upstairs, and out of the corner of my eye I see a shadow running along the floor in front of our fire place.

At first I am stunned.

"Oh," I think. "That's a mouse."

And then, as the mouse runs right under the very couch upon which I am sitting, it registers.

"OH MY GOD ... A MOUSE!" I am yelling like a maniac. "A MOUSE! GO GET DAD! JOE!!! JOE!!! GET DOWN HERE THERE'S A MOUSE!"

A few minutes later the three of us are armed with buckets, flashlights, a broom, and a Swiffer pole. Timothy even runs to get a slice of American cheese and plops it down right in the middle of the room. We poke, we prod, we can't find the stupid mouse.

"I AM NOT GOING TO BED UNTIL WE FIND THE MOUSE!" I am not lying. I am in tears.

We move the coffee table, take apart the sectional, and turn all three pieces over. We poke and we prod some more.

"WHERE DID IT GO? DID IT CLIMB UP INSIDE THE COUCH? WE HAVE TO FIND IT!" Now I have moved beyond tears to near hysterics.

And then ... THEN the mouse runs across Timothy's foot.

Utter and total chaos ensues. Timothy is jumping and yelling that a MOUSE RAN ACROSS HIS FOOT, Joe is bellowing at us to get out of the way as he comes barreling down with his broom, and I am falling to pieces. (I admit it ... I am a wimp. Have you read my camping stories?)


I'll spare you the details, but in the end Joe gets the mouse. Good news, right? Yeah, except ... the mouse we catch doesn't look like the mouse I saw.



Oh dear, God.

It's now past midnight. Our family room looks like a war zone, Timothy is sleeping in Jonathan's room because A MOUSE RAN ACROSS HIS FOOT, and I am getting up at the crack of dawn to call Advanced Services and insist that they come RIGHT AWAY to deal with this situation. And if I have to go into hysterics to get them out here, so be it.

A mouse in the house ... and all I wanted was to make a wreath for our front door and decorate our porch for fall. Was that too much to ask?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Glory Days



The Glorification of Busy … this past summer that was the topic du jour, making the rounds on both the internet and Facebook. On two separate occasions I was in a discussion group in which this topic was raised, and both times arguments ensued with a few people agreeing with the statement, and the rest feeling insulted and more than a little defensive.

 

So, having been down this road before, and having heard arguments from all sides, let’s start with these irrefutable facts: we live busy lives and there is a lot of complaining about the busyness of our lives. But to go any further gets dicey because it’s one thing for someone to lament how busy they are, it’s quite another thing entirely to have someone else point out how busy they are; furthermore, you can listen to someone complain about their insane schedule, but you'll be on thin ice if you try and suggest ways they could cut back. So if we’re complaining but not willing to address the complaints, it begs the question as to why anyone is complaining in the first place. Is it for sympathy? For show? Or is all that busyness a way in which to measure our worthiness?

 

When the boys were toddlers I had a neighbor who was involved in everything. Every time we spoke she gave a veritable litany of her daily schedule and went into great detail on who, what, where, and when. She personified the glorification of busy. One day she called me stressed to the point of tears because after a day filled with soccer practice, a dental appointment, volunteering at the school and shopping for a Halloween costume, she was now going to be late in getting her five year old daughter to – are you ready for this?  – a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.

 

A giant mouse had reduced her to tears and the only thing I could think was please-God-don’t-let-me-turn-into-her.

 

Of course, everyone makes choices and not everyone has the same idea of busy, but there comes a point in which we have to ask ourselves, How busy is too busy? It’s a question that requires honesty because no one can ask it of you, no one can answer it for you, and no one can do anything about it except for you.  Consider the following …

 

-Is it a struggle to get in a couple of meals a week in which you sit down together as a family?


-Is homework predominantly done in the car, the bleachers at the ball park, or late at night when tears flow all too easily?

 

-Do I constantly refer to the calendar to see where I am supposed to be, and when?


-Do I always arrive late, feel stressed when driving, or neglect to return phone calls, answer emails, or RSVP to an invitation?

 

-Do we return home at the end of the day to breakfast dishes on the counter, unmade beds, piles of laundry waiting to be folded, and no dinner plans?

 

-Are most of my tasks completed halfway, and no task completed all the way?

 

If I am being honest and admit that the answer to most of those questions is yes, then I know I am too busy and that, as a family, we are over-scheduled.  It’s as simple as that. And with that acknowledgement comes the reality that some changes need to be made – changes that will require sacrifice to let go of some things, wisdom to know when to say no, and the courage to go against conventional societal dictates.

 

When school started this past fall our little guy had several friends call to see if he would be on their soccer or football team. Well, right away we knew football was out. We’ve tried that, and it was a total disaster. But soccer … well, our little guy likes soccer and we knew he would be happy to play on a team. On the other hand – and this is crucial – we also knew he would be equally as happy NOT playing. To sign up for soccer, or not to sign up for soccer … that was the question. There wasn’t a wrong answer, but there was one that was more right for us and, in the end, we opted for no soccer.

 

Was it a hard decision? Not really. The only reason we would have signed him up was to give him “something to do”, but good golly do we always have to be “doing something”?

 

And since making that decision, here's what our afternoons have been life:  we come home straight from school, our little guy sits at the kitchen table with his older brother and does his homework while eating a healthy snack, we go over his spelling bee words, and when he goes out to play I leisurely prepare dinner. Later, when my husband comes home after a long commute, dinner is ready, the house is in order, and we all sit down to dinner together. Stress-free, peaceful afternoons lead to stress-free, peaceful evenings. And boy does that feel good. In making the decision to cut back on activities, our days are just as full (but with different things) and incrementally more satisfying.

 

Of course, busy is around the corner. Both boys love basketball (really, this is their sport of choice), and they will both be on a team starting in November. But because we decided not to do soccer, we are not faced with back-to-back sports seasons which, between homework, practices, games and all the driving back and forth, would have left us feeling drained from fall until early spring.

 

In Italy there is a saying e` dolce far niente, which translated loosely, means how sweet it is to do nothing. The saying is a reminder to pause, to experience life to the fullest, and to appreciate the important things such as having a meal with your family, talking with you teenager while sitting on the back deck, running outside to splash in the puddles after a rainstorm, or reading a book.  In the hurricane of our busy lives, e` dolce far niente is the complete opposite of glorifying busy; it's about making the conscious decision to find the eye of the storm and letting the world go on without us.  Ironically (and this is beautiful), in doing “nothing” we're really doing “something”  ...  just not the “something” dictated by our schedules and our busy lives.

 

And in the end, that’s the kind of glorification I want.




Thursday, September 25, 2014

The First Step



There is a Dutch proverb that goes like this: He is who outside his door, already has the hard part of his journey behind him. It's a proverb about taking that first step which, without a doubt, is the hardest step of all.


Recently, I was given the opportunity to travel with Joe to California and take a tour of Vandenberg Air Force Base and witness a test launch of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile). It would be an adventure, to be sure, but every time we travel and leave the boys behind, I start getting apprehensive. Anxious, even. To the point that, at the last minute, I almost backed out.


For days I had a mental conversation with myself: Should I go? Yes. Should I stay home? Again, yes. Joe really wants me to go, but what if something happens to us? What if something happens to one of the boys? So no, I'm not going. Besides, what if ... what if ... what if ...


A few days before the trip that I was going on (or not), I was talking to a friend at Bible study about these worries. She politely listened, then pointedly and matter-of-factly said, "Oh no, you need to go."


And she was so right. Life is too short to spend time worrying about all the what ifs. I once heard a speaker who said that when we worry, we become our own false prophet; that worrying is expecting the worse ... which is stealing from the joy that is present now. And for someone who loves to travel, who loves to head into the unknown armed only with a map, some guidebooks, and a spirit of adventure, I was letting fear take over the very essence of who I was.


So this past Sunday, I stood outside our back door at 5 a.m. with my carry on ... and took the first step on what turned out to be a three-day adventure with a capital A.


A picture is worth a thousand words, so I will let the following speak for themselves. Like I said, an adventure with a capital A.





Here is the raw video of the actual test launch we were fortunate to witness. Earlier, we were escorted on a behind-the-scenes 7-hour tour which, among other things, included the actual LCC (launch control center) of that night's missile test launch.


Stopping along the Pacific Ocean during our drive from
Los Angeles to Vandeberg Air Force Base.


Touring Vandenberg Air Force Base. One of the control centers.


Vandenberg Air Force Base


Just up the road from our hotel was the quaint town of Solvang,
established in 1911 by Danish settlers.


Solvang is Danish for "sunny field", and it is a little Copenhagen
in the middle of sunny California.


While in Solvang we had a Danish hamburger
 (with lingonberry sauce) and a Danish pastry. Both were delicious.


Santa Ines Mission, one of the oldest missions in California.



The Way of the Cross at Santa Ines Mission.


Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego
at Santa Ines Mission.


Marine layer is a dense, heavy, and wet fog that is common in the area.
It appears at any time, and the mass of rolling, boiling, churning clouds is
very Stephen King-ish. A little creepy.


The Chinese Theater,
Los Angeles.


Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Boulevard, CA


Um ... guess who I ran into?


The Santa Monica Pier.


Route 66 officially ends at this precise point
in Santa Monica.


Sunset on the Santa Monica Pier.
After this photo we headed to the airport to catch the red-eye back to the East Coast.
The red-eye ... very LA of us, yes?


AFTERWORD: If I had given in to my anxieties, I would have missed out on all the above and what a sad thing that would have been. Instead, I came home with a sense of wonder and awe. There is a great big world out there ... a beautiful world to behold and explore. All you have to do is take that first step.