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

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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

7: Week Two, Clothing

In her book 7: An experimental Mutiny against Excess, Jen Hatmaker selected 7 items of clothing and wore only those seven items for a period of one month. In our Lenten experiment, we've given ourselves a week to confront this area.

I struggled a little bit with this chapter for two reasons: a) I work from home and when I write I always wear the same thing anyway -- an old, soft grey sweatshirt I've had for 17 years; and b) this is not an area in my life which is excessive. I am not a clothes horse, I don't spend exorbitant prices on clothing, and I periodically go through my closet and donate what I don't wear; in fact, my closet just went through a purge, so if I participated in this experiment like the author did, I would have nothing left.

Ultimately, I decided to approach this a little differently. Instead of thinking of clothing in the physical sense, I was going to think about clothing in the spiritual sense. Or, more specifically, the Christian armor mentioned in Ephesians 6:14-17. So, while the next 7 days won't be a traditional fast of giving something up, it will instead be a spiritual discipline on ways to exemplify integrity, purity, peace, faith, and mindfulness.

Here are some of my thoughts ...

1. The Girdle (Belt) of Truth: In Paul's day, the leather girdle was tightened around the waist. It was there for protection, as a means to carry weapons, and to hold the tunic together. Fastening the belt is an indication that one is ready for action.

In Christian armor the belt is integrity, which holds everything together.

Am I a person of integrity?
Am I being honest in my thoughts? Words? Deeds?

2. The Breastplate of Righteousness: Often made of woven chain, the purpose of the breastplate is to cover the vital organs.

For the Christian, the breastplate is righteousness.

Is my heart pure before God?
Is my mind?
Do I strive to do the right thing?

3. The Shoes of Peace: A soldier needs good shoes to provide solid footing.

For a Christian, the shoes are tranquility and worn to proclaim God's peace.

Am I an instrument of peace?
Am I at peace with my brothers and sisters, my neighbors, strangers?
Am I at peace with God?

4. The Shield of Faith: A Roman soldier's shield was often made of wood covered with leather to protect against flaming arrows.

For the Christian, the shield of faith is certainty.

Are there any seeds of doubt in my heart and mind?
Have a walked in faith?
Am I confident of God's love? Forgiveness? Salvation?

5. The Helmet of Salvation: For the soldier, the helmet is used as a protection for the head which is needed to think, act, decide.

For the Christian, the helmet is salvation and mindfulness of God's presence and grace.

Am I mindful of God presence?
Do I adore him? Glorify him? Offer him praises of thanksgiving?

6. The Sword of the Spirit of the Word: For the soldier, a sword was used as a weapon for both safety and protection.

For the Christian, the Sword of the Spirit of the Word is security; it is God revealing himself to us through Sacred Scripture and prayer.

Do I study God's word? Proclaim his message?
Am I prepared to defend his teachings?
Do I stand firm in my faith?
Do I acknowledge God's protection?

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_The_Dedication 1908

Finally, the post took me to a spiritual level which I am still struggling to grasp. But I am learning, so if you have anything to offer ... please do. And in case you missed it, go here for 7: Week One, Food.

Bring it On

Need to clean up the local government? Purge Washington politics? Organize our new health care system?

Well, just hire any woman from Augusta who, in preparing her home to rent during Masters Week, has turned spring cleaning into an art form. We purge closets, drawers, and cabinets and sort clothes and toys; we wipe and dust baseboards, ceiling fans, walls, stair risers, and door frames; we turn Swiffer into a verb (here, go swiffer the blinds), wash the washing machine, become best friends with Mr. Clean and his Magic Erasers, and as each room is finished we lock the door so husband and children won’t un-do what we have just done.
Having strangers come stay in your home is a huge incentive for making a good impression. Do we honestly think that someone who has come to Augusta to attend the golf tournament is going to judge us if there is dust on the baseboards or if the flatware drawer is in shambles?

You bet we do.

So we put flowers on nightstands and amenity baskets in the bathrooms. We place neatly stacked towels in the linen closet and a luggage rack in each bedroom. We hang a wreath on the front door and put out a new welcome mat.

Arrange, assemble, group, classify, categorize, purge, systematize, methodize, orchestrate, manage, conduct, administrate, mobilize ... the women of Augusta do it all. Think we can't run a country?

Global politics? World peace? Vladimir Putin?
Bring them on.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Murder and Mayhem at a Yard Sale

This past weekend we had a Neighborhood Yard Sale. Initially we weren't going to participate, but the boys said they had some things they wanted to sell,  and when Nonna and Nonno heard about it they said they had LOTS of things they wanted to sell and could they bring some things over. So, even though I hadn't planned to, at 6 a.m. Saturday morning I got up to shower, put the coffee pot on before Nonna and Nonno arrived, and gather some things from the attic that we could sell.

And where were my boys who instigated this whole thing?


Okay, then. I helped my Mom and Dad set up in our driveway. My Mom is a keeper, and she had decided to use this opportunity to get rid of some things, many of which were very nice: ceramics, lamps, cappuccino sets, a German crystal punch bowl, a tall ficus tree in a beautiful ceramic pot, and an entire bedroom set (queen headboard, two nightstands, and a dresser). Of course, I scooped up a few items for me to keep (after all, I did have coffee waiting for them).

As you know, if you set up for a yard sale, they will come ... and they did. But after the first five arrivals browsed and didn't buy anything, my mother's feelings were hurt.

"They don't like my things," she said, and she was truly insulted.

Oh dear, Lord. I thought. Please let someone buy something soon.

And someone did. Only it was one of my things ... a wire basket. Not good, at all.

A few minutes later, FINALLY an interested buyer for the ficus tree, but Nonna refused the woman's counter offer and so the woman walked away.

Mom! Millie! Nonna! we all yelled.

Time for an intervention, I could see that.

"Mom," I said, very seriously. "Is your goal to make money, or is your goal to get rid of stuff? If your goal is to make money you won't, AND you'll have to lug everything back home; however, if your goal is to get rid of some things, then you will make some money AND clear out your closets."

She got it, but just to make sure we became quite adept with the diversionary tactics.

Nonno, on the other hand, had the opposite problem in that he practically gave things away. I went inside for TWO minutes, and while I was gone he sold my Lenox Christmas serving platter for $1. Lesson learned: that's what I get for taking a bathroom break, for not putting prices on my stuff, and for leaving Nonno outside alone.

My Dad also likes to joke.

"You might as well go ahead and buy it," he said to a woman who was looking at a boxed carving set. "If you don't use it to carve the turkey, you could always use it on your husband."

"Don't worry," said the woman, whose husband happened to be standing right next to her. "I have a gun, which is much quicker. I also have a septic tank in the back yard."

I hiccuped a laugh. I mean, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

By noon, the crystal bowl, the ficus tree, the ceramics, the lamps, the boxed carving set, and the bedroom set ... all SOLD. Of the boys, Timothy made the most, and Joe managed to sell his broken lawn mower (something he tried to do at the last TWO neighborhood yard sales).

"This was fun!" my Mom declared. "Next year we're going to do it again."

All in all it was a good day. The weather was beautiful, we made a little money, we got rid of stuff ... and nobody (thankfully!) was murdered.

Yard Sale

Friday, March 21, 2014

Priceless Memories (well, there was some cost involved, but still)

You would think that when a college student comes home for spring break there would be no cost involved.

Yeah, right.

Our son came home, announced that he's been invited to a formal in Milwaukee (yes, the Milwaukee in Wisconsin), and can-we-please-have-pity-on-him-because-he's-somewhat-broke-but-this-summer-he-has-an-internship-and-doesn't-that-count-for-something. Huh. He was pretty charming, though, as he made his case.

-one airplane ticket (No cost here ... Dad's frequent flyer miles!)
-a suit (A good suit is an investment! I'll use it for job interviews!)
-a fitted dress shirt (My arms are freakishly long; I need one that fits.)
-a bow tie (I don't know how to tie one, but I'll google it!)
-a black belt (The one I have is pretty crappy.)
-various toiletries in travel sizes (What's the rule? 15 ounces?)

And then, because he has impeccable timing, this happened ...

This is his actual cell phone.

I'm sure you're curious. Well, our smart college student (engineering major) was in the laundry room waiting for me to get my purse because we were going shopping for items 2-6 (see above), and for some inexplicable reason decided to jump to see if he could reach the ceiling (mind you, we have 10-foot ceilings). He leaped, his cell phone flew out of his pocket, and it landed face down on the ceramic tile.

There. are. no. words.

Fortunately, Peter at 10,000 Cell Phones had pity on Nicholas and took $15 off the standard $75 fee for a new iPhone screen. Why?  Because Nicholas liked them on Facebook, wrote a Google review, and endorsed their business on Yelp.

Good man, that Peter.

Later, my husband made the comment that it was a good thing for his wallet that Nicholas was leaving on Sunday; that it was actually cheaper to have him away at college. He was smiling when he said it, but somehow I don't think he was joking.

All kidding aside, we had a lovely, lovely week with our eldest son. Long conversations, laughter, stories. We created some wonderful memories, and that's something you can't put a price tag on. Ever.

Nicholas and Megan (she who is in Milwaukee)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Never Knew

The following was published in the March 2013 issue of Shalom Tidings. In celebration of the Feast Day of St. Joseph, here it is ...
I Never Knew
A Reflection of Saint Joseph
by Maria A. Novajosky
            Having spent part of my childhood in Italy, I grew up surrounded by saints. I saw them painted in the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, nestled in grottos scattered in the mountains, and sculpted in tiny alcoves and chapels of churches found in every piazza in every town. With every saint came a story, one which was meant to help us on our own spiritual journey. And yet, as a little girl kneeling in church next to her Nonna and surrounded by centuries of saints, it was Saint Joseph who had a special place in my heart. I never knew why, but there it was.
            Perhaps one reason for my devotion was that I was intrigued with the fact that of all the saints, it seems we know the least about Saint Joseph. The last time he is mentioned in Sacred Scripture is when he and Mary returned to the Temple in Jerusalem looking for Jesus. After that, nothing. When did he die? Why was he no longer mentioned? Why don’t we know more? Too many unanswered questions, but dwelling on what is unknown can distract us from what is fundamentally true … that the silence of Saint Joseph is there for a reason, and it speaks volumes.
            When my husband and I had our three sons, I turned to Saint Joseph more and more often. Parenthood is not easy; while I prayed to Mary when I needed guidance in my roles as wife and mother, during the moments in which I felt the most inadequate I looked to Saint Joseph. I took comfort in the fact that he was a man – fully human – and yet he lived in the presence of the Son of God. Doesn’t God ask the same of all of us? That we work, live our lives, raise our children, and do the best we can all while living in His presence? Time and time again Saint Joseph showed me how to find blessings in the ordinariness of daily life.
            Obedience, forgiveness, trust, faith … there are so many lessons to be learned from the saints. They, who have already walked this earth before us, want to help us on our own journey. Saints are a gift from our Heavenly Father so that we don’t have to make that journey alone, and it’s a gift I encourage our sons to appreciate. We pray the rosary as a family, we talk about the saints, and every March we combine our Catholic faith and my Italian heritage to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Joseph, much like it’s celebrated in southern Italy. It’s a wonderful tradition of combining faith, food and family, and it affirms the role the saints have in our lives.
            And Saint Joseph has definitely had a role in our family. Perhaps the biggest lesson he has taught me was that not only should we turn to the saints for their intercession and guidance, but that they want us to come to them. One year I decided not to host our annual Saint Joseph celebration; a few days later a woman in my Bible Study encouraged each of us to pull a saint's name out of a basket and allow that saint to work in our life for a period of twelve months. The underlying concept was this: although you physically drew the saint's name, the saint actually chose you. There were fifty women in that Bible study that day who took turns drawing a saint. St. Catherine, St. Anne, St. Paul, St. Benedict, St. Mark – there were hundredsof saints in that basket – and Saint Joseph chose me. That year we had our biggest Saint Joseph celebration ever.

            Pope Benedict XVI once wrote about the silence of Saint Joseph and how that silence is steeped in the contemplation of the mystery of God. In a world which is noisy and distracts us all too easily from God’s word, it is the steadfastness and quiet strength of Saint Joseph who exemplifies prayer, devotion, and adoration of God’s will. We may not know everything about Saint Joseph, but we know everything that is important. And just when I am getting comfortable with his silence, he offers more.
            A few months ago I was going through my Nonna's letters –a transatlantic exchange of news spanning over 30 years – and came across something she wrote shortly after I was born: Ho sentito che avete battezzato Maria proprio il giorno 19, il giorno di S. Giuseppe (I heard that you baptized Maria on March 19,the Feast Day of St. Joseph). Amazingly, I never knew this. These words from my Nonna were a heavenly gift, a revelation from Saint Joseph assuring he is always there (even when I didn’t realize it) wanting to show me how to live a holy life, one that is lived in God’s presence. In his silence he speaks, and I am learning to listen.
Maria A. Novajosky is a writer for Catholic Stewardship Consultants and blogs about her Catholic faith, her Italian heritage, and the joys of being a wife and mother to three sons at

Saturday, March 15, 2014

7: Week One, Food

Jen Hatmaker's book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess, has an interesting concept: seven months to tackle seven areas of excess (clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, stress). The whole idea is to fast in these areas, thereby removing clutter and thus making room for God to fill you with meaning, purpose, and grace. It's a perfect idea for Lent, and some of us are reading the book and participating on a smaller scale by tackling each category for seven days.

Week One is food. In the book, the author made a list of seven foods and only ate those seven foods for a month, but the whole idea is to make this your own. So, for example, instead of only eating seven foods you could: eat the same breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven days, give up eating out for seven days, or fast entirely from one meal a day for seven days.

In order to make this experience meaningful, I knew I would have to do it with a spirit of intention; in other words, I couldn't make this about losing weight. I had to really think how I wanted to approach this category.

The first thing I decided to do was fast from my morning cappuccino for seven days.


Crazy, I know, but I recognized that the time I used to make my oh! so perfect cappuccino could be used another way. There is a ritual involved with firing up the espresso machine (turning on the machine, priming the steam, filling the basket, frothing the milk, wiping the wand, priming again, brewing the espresso) and honestly, it can take a good 10 minutes from beginning to end. So I thought, it's a small thing to be sure, but instead of making a cappuccino I could use those ten  minutes to start off my day in a spiritual and mindful manner. A prayer, a Bible passage, a meditation. A lot can happen in ten minutes.

Now, about the food. For me, I decided to keep this simple and select seven foods and eat items from that list for seven days. Maybe by whittling down my options, by eating with intention (as opposed to just eating just to be eating), by not snacking, and by eating simply I can fast from excess ... less eating, less ingredients, less spending, less of everything that has to do with food. My list is as follows:

chicken     Greek yogurt
sweet potatoes     whole wheat bread     spinach/lettuce
   apples     carrots & hummus
Only those seven foods for seven days. I stocked my refrigerator and pantry, and I was off to a good start.

That is, until the evening of Day Two when I made a conscious decision to deviate. (I know, I know ... already?)

Here's the thing. Friday night our son came home from college for his spring break and I prepared a lovely meal of fish (Friday during Lent), cannellini beans and tomato salad, freshly baked bread, rice, and a homemade apple tart with caramel sauce for dessert. For me, it was much, much more important to have a family meal, sitting out on our back deck at twilight, talking and exchanging news. I didn't want to eat something different, I didn't want to have to offer explanations, I didn't want the attention on me. There's a danger in becoming so focused on the letter of the law that you lose sight of the spirit of the fast, and I knew our homecoming meal was a gift for our entire family; that the meal together was an opportunity to set aside my fast and to allow for graces and blessings to flow from another direction.

Other than that, though, I've stuck to those seven foods. And it hasn't been very difficult except ...  well, except maybe next time I'll include a cappuccino in that list of seven.

my poor, silent espresso machine ...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Life Lately: A Sunday Visit (and 7 quick takes)

I. The silence of Lent

It's been nice not worrying about Facebook. Or blogging.

I know it's just been since this past Ash Wednesday, but it's amazing how much more time I now have when I am not doing either.

I'm just going to check Facebook, I say.

I'm just going to pop in on my favorite blogs, I think.

But one link leads to another (there's a reason they call it surfing) and then by the time I remember the chicken thawing on the counter it's too late to cook it for dinner so I call Papa Johns.

The internet ... it's a time vampire.

II. The Whistler

Tying shoes. Blowing bubbles with pink, sticky bubble gum. Learning to push yourself on the swing.

All are important skills to master.

So is whistling, which our little guy just recently learned.

And now he whistles all the time: as he's playing with his Legos; while he's in the shower; we even heard him whistling in bed last night, practicing before he fell asleep. It's kind of cute. I mean, he's excited! He can whistle! What a big boy thing to do!

But it's also slightly annoying.

Mom, can you make him stop whistling? asks Jonathan, not very nicely.

I would say something, but the little guy is in the middle of a learning curve due to the fact that right now, in this very moment, he can only whistle when he inhales.

That's right, he whistles backwards.

And so he practices. A big exhale. Nothing. Big inhale. A whistle!

So that's where we are.

Stay tuned.

III. Picture phobia

So. I'm speaking at this year's Sacred Heart Garden Festival, and they need a photo of me. Ugh.

Okay, then. I tackle this little problemo and it only takes me three hours to find one that I (marginally) like. There. Done.

Or not.

The Web site for the event is still being finalized, but I show the family my photo and bio. And both Joe and my mom (in separate conversations) wondered why I picked that particular photo.

Now I am paranoid.

IV. Plant Killer

Bought a basil plant.

Killed a basil plant.

It took two days ... and here I am speaking at a garden festival.

They should go ahead and fire me.

V. Lenten Chain Reaction

1. My parents watch the movie, The Way, about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
2. They loan it to me. I watch it, and it profoundly moves me.
3. I write a blog post to my son to wish him a Happy Birthday Buen Camino.
4. My sister reads my post and watches the movie over two days on her lunch break. She is moved.
5. Coincidentally, her priest makes a Santiago de Compostela "passport" so the students at St. John Neumann can participate in a Lenten pilgrimage.
6. She emails me the passport the priest made.
7. I talk to my son's teacher, and this Tuesday I am going to speak to the entire fourth grade about Santiago de Compostela. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation, and I have a passport and a scalloped shell for everyone.
8. Today my sister sends me this bracelet she made in honor of our pact ... she and I will walk to Santiago de Compostela within the next two years. We will take the shortest route that will enable us to qualify for the certificate, but it will still take us 10-12 days.

The Scalloped shell is the traditional symbol of a pilgim
on el camino to Santiago de Compostela. The shell's grooves,
which meet at a single point, represent the various routes
the pilgrims traveled to Santiago de Compostela.
Best sister.

VI. Excuse me, I  need a moment ...

To wipe my tears after re-reading my sister's note for the umpteenth time.

VII. Seven

I am reading the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.

Honestly, at first I was skeptical because I do not consider myself excessive. I am not a clutter bug. I clean out purge our closets several times a year. Presently my closet consists of some staple outfits, some hang-around-the-house items, and that's it. I don't own a lot of shoes (although, admittedly, I do have a watch thing). I don't even keep our toaster on the kitchen counter because I like a clean, streamlined look.

But I have to say, once I began reading the book I couldn't put it down. I read 7 in two days. It's funny, it's thought-provoking, and it is a wonderful way to incorporate different kinds of fasting into our Lenten journey.

For the first time, I feel like I have a tangible focus this Lenten season.

And that's a good thing.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fat Tuesday on a Monday

So. My mom made her famous homemade cannoli for the Italian Pasta Festival this weekend, and today she comes by and brings me four.

And right away I ate two, and saved two for tomorrow.

Except ... I kept thinking about them.

I mean, I was going to eat them anyway, so would it make a difference if it's today or tomorrow? Isn't it kind of a good idea to just eat them ... get it over it ... and be done with it?

Decisions, decisions.

And I'll leave it at that.

A cliffhanger ...





Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Freedom in Lent

We all know the story of the Prodigal Son. Traditionally, the father in the parable represents our heavenly father, the older son represents the Pharisees who live the letter of the law but not the love of the law, the wayward son represents all sinners.

However, the beauty of a parable is that it can have many layers -layers that speak to us at different times in our lives and even during different liturgical seasons of the Church.

Which is why this parable is also a story about Lent and what happens when we misuse one of God’s most beautiful gifts ... the gift of free will.

You’re probably wondering, “What does free will have to do with Lent?” I know that many times Lent seems as if we are in chains ... that Lent is all about what not to eat, or what not to watch, or when to go to church. There seems to be nothing free about it at all.

But the wonderful thing about these next 40 days is that each and every day serves to remind us to appreciate the free will that is God’s gift to us; that we have the power and self-discipline to live as free people.

The key is to devote that freedom to God.

And in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, both sons show what happens when we misuse our God-given free will.

In the case of the younger son, he desired independence from his father -- both his earthly and his heavenly father -- and wanted to be in charge of his own life. He mistakenly thought that freedom could be found in the opportunity to do what he wanted; he didn't realize that freedom comes not from the opportunity to choose, but from choosing the right thing. Instead of finding freedom, he became enslaved to his own selfish desires.

On the other hand, the older son shows us a different kind of misuse of free will.

Lent isn’t meant to be oppressive, or weigh us down, or enslave us; if we let it do that, then we are like the older son who merely goes through the motions of doing the right thing. His misuse of free will is that he does it out of obligation ... it wears him down ... and there is no freedom in that. He doesn’t freely choose to do the right thing, he does it because he has to.

God created us in His image, and He loved us so much that he let us go ... and just like the father in the parable who lets his youngest son go only to eventually have him return home, God releases us because he wants us to freely choose him instead of being forced to choose him.

Wisdom teaches us that unless we are free to say no to something, we are not free to say yes to it. During Lent we are reminded that our free will of saying “yes” and “no” is a gift from a loving parent.

And that is what Lent is: a time to say “no” for a while so that we can fully appreciate it when we say “yes”.

Saint John Paul II said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right (or the free will) to do what we ought.”

And that’s what I want my Lenten journey to be about . . . to choose God in everything and experience that freedom he so desires us to have.