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

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

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.


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

Life Lately: 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.


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.