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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What we made yesterday ...


Over 600 of them.

And it was a family affair.

When the older boys arrived home from college on Friday, we made the announcement.

Us: "Tomorrow we're having lunch at Nonna and Nonno's house. Nonna is making homemade minestrone and bread."

The boys: "Yeah!"  "Sounds great!"

(They really, really like Nonna's minestrone.)

Us: "Then, as soon as we're done eating we're going to make tortellini!"

The boys: Silence.

(I'm positive they would have preferred to do ... anything else.)

But they were good sports because on Saturday, after enjoying Nonna's delicious homemade minestrone and bread, we got to work.

And three and a half hours later, we had a little over 600 tortellini lined up on the counter.

Nonno: official tortellini dough roller

How old is this pasta machine?
Next April my parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
This pasta machine was a wedding gift.

Home from college and put to work.
(But they were good sports.)

Joe, Nicholas, Jonathan: official rollers of tortellini filling

Bia & Nonna: official folders of tortellini
(the two of us folded all 600+ tortellini)

Giving Nonno a break at the pasta machine.

Timothy: official tortellini transporter (from kitchen table to counter),
and official tortellini counter

Tortellini lined up on the kitchen counter.

A family Christmas tradition.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Welcome Home

This time of year, perhaps more than any other, I strive to create a home that reflects peace, well-being, and comfort. After the bounty of Thanksgiving and with the arrival of Advent – both of which herald shorter days and longer nights – I just want to hole up, batten down the hatches, and retreat into a space that is warm, cozy, loving, and yes, spiritual. I want our home to offer a respite from the hectic pace that the world tries to set during this time of year.

When my boys come home from college or when my husband comes home from work at the end of the day, I want them to walk in the door and experience that sense of "coming home".  So, I fluff pillows and turn on lamps. I pick up clutter, put away the laundry basket, and turn on some music. I set the table and have dinner ready. I don’t do any of these things because they are expected; rather, I do them because it’s something I can give.

In the grand scheme of things it may seem insignificant – a flickering candle, a fuzzy blanket, a basket of books – but sometimes little things have the greatest impact when it comes to nourishing us physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Of course, I realize that I am able to do all this because, as a writer, I work from home. But I used to work outside the home, and even now there are times when I am gone all day, but since this is something I really, really want to be able to do, I find a way despite the fact that it's not always easy.

One of the nicest compliments I ever received was when someone told me that coming into our home was like getting a giant hug. And that’s all I want. To lovingly welcome my husband, my sons, friends and family; to give them what I can to help make this brief stop in their otherwise hectic day be a moment of peace.  

To be able to say, “Welcome home.”


Sharing Ideas: How to Create a Welcoming Home during Advent and Christmas

Physically: things that appeal to the senses
Smell:  There is nothing like walking into a home with the aroma of cookies baking in the oven, bread rising on the counter, or soup bubbling on the stove. Burn an apple/cinnamon candle in the family room, place sweet smelling soaps in the bathrooms, light a fire in the fireplace.
Taste:  Nourishment for the body means a home-cooked meal after a long commute, muffins on a rainy afternoon, or hot chocolate by a roaring fire; it means eating out less, and eating in more; it means having those Christmas cookies, but also serving a hearty stew.
Touch: Bring out the pillows, throws, and afghans … nothing fancy, because you want them to be used; make the beds with freshly laundered sheets for the college student (after sleeping in sheets that haven't been changed since forever, they REALLY appreciate this) and hang fluffy towels in the bathroom.
sight: As soon as the sun goes down, be the lamplighter. But don’t turn on overhead lights; rather, turn on a corner lamp in every room. Have dinner by candlelight (this time of year candlelight isn’t an occasion in our home, but a nightly event); make sure the porch light is on and the porch/walkway is swept and welcoming.
sound: Replace the background noise of the television with soothing music (hymns, classical music, spiritual Christmas carols).

Mentally: things that quiet us
-Encourage those pockets of quiet time to read, play a board game, or watch a movie together.
-Be organized in an effort to counterbalance life's hectic pace.
-Regularly pick up clutter (a restful environment goes a long way in resting the mind).
-Take it outside. Set up the telescope in the back yard and look at the moon. Sit around the fire pit and tell ghost stories. Go for a midnight walk.
-Keep things simple. Host one party instead of two; bake two batches of cookies instead of three; serve soup and sandwiches instead of ordering takeout.

Spiritually: things that give meaning

-Extend grace with additional prayers.
-Practice faith traditions with the Advent wreath, the Joshua Tree, or a Christmas Nativity.
-Each night, pass around any Christmas card that arrived that day and pray for that person.
-Pray the rosary by the light of the Christmas tree.
-Attend an Advent penance service. Go out for ice-cream afterwards.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Five chairs around a table,
A kitchen table set for five.
Five fingers counting blessings … ...
One, two, three. Then four and five.
Five gathered at the table
A kitchen table set for five.

~from the files of very bad poetry by Bia

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Looking for Christmas when it hasn't gone anywhere

Evidently, Christmas is on its way out.

Evidently, everyone is celebrating it wrong. People are celebrating too early, or not at all, or not long enough. People aren’t giving enough, or if they’re giving it’s not for the right reasons. Society has replaced O Come All Ye Faithful with Jingle Bells, Merry Christmas has now become Happy Holidays, and – wait for it – this year’s holiday cup at Starbucks isn’t Christmassy enough.

Do you hear what I hear?

The bah-humbugs and grumblings are reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch who stands on a mountaintop overlooking Whoville and laments, “All the noise, noise, NOISE!”

It’s a noise accompanied with a lot of finger pointing on how Christmas is or isn’t being celebrated.

During this time of year we are especially mindful of Christ’s entrance into the world. Rather than sending an army and forcing change, God sent an infant who was innocent and non-threatening, welcoming and not judging. People came to see the infant who simply was. Later, when Christ began his ministry, again people came; they didn’t come to be accused, but to be enlightened. The rod of discipline of the Old Testament became the Good Shepherd’s staff of the New Testament, a staff which is not used as a means of discipline, but as a way to corral and guide.

And as Disciples of Christ, we are also called to go out into the world to witness – not to accuse or judge – but to be the shining star that casts light into shadows.

So instead of fretting on how Christmas is or isn’t being celebrated, consider the following:

  1. Jesus said he was the light of the world, but he also said we are the light of the world. Be the Christmas light that points people to Christ. Amazingly, a lot of the time you won’t even have to say anything.
  2. Instead of getting annoyed with those “season’s greetings” or “happy holidays”, remember that the season refers to that broad expanse of time in which there are multiple holidays (holy days) which are being celebrated,  including Christmas, Hanukah, and even Kwanza. Don’t think of those “season’s greetings” as an insult; rather, see it as an acknowledgement that some of our neighbors (even our brothers and sisters) may be living and practicing a faith which is different from our own.
  3. Don’t be offended by that X in Christmas. The “X” is actually indicating the Greek letter “Chi”, which is short for the Greek word meaning “Christ”. So “Xmas” and “Christmas” are equivalent in every way except their lettering. Most people who use Xmas don’t have evil intentions; even so, for that person who maliciously tries to “take Christ out of Christmas” the joke is on him because in the very act of replacing Christ with an X, he’s actually putting Him in!
  4. Embrace all that holiday music – it’s refreshing to shop at the mall when, for this one time of year, Jingle Bell Rock is playing instead of BeyoncĂ© or Miley Cyrus. 
  5. The best way to “keep Christ in Christmas” is to model Christ-like behavior. A mean word or a judgmental look does harm to the very faith we are trying to share. As Francis de Sales clearly stated: “You can save more souls with a teaspoon of honey than a barrel of vinegar.”
  6. It may seem as if the secularization of Christmas has been deprived of all meaning; however, Christmas is the one time of year when many – even non-believers! – feel a stirring of the spirit. If we are truly Disciples of Christ, we should celebrate any aspect of the season that nudges them toward the holy. For some it might start with a trip to the mall or watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel, but who knows? One day it might lead them to the doors of a church.
  7. Finally, remember this: commercialism has absolutely nothing to do with our personal relationship with Christ. Commercialism does not influence how we set up our homes to reflect Advent and Christmas. Commercialism has absolutely nothing to do with how we come to Church, worship, and celebrate our faith.
    So, instead of fretting how Christmas is or isn’t being celebrated, Be the Shining Star! And maybe we’ll discover how we are all more alike than we are different; maybe we'll begin to realize that all that noise – the complaints about Santa, the Christmas wrappings, tags, and bows, and even those red Starbucks cups – despite all those things, Christmas isn’t going anywhere. It’s here to stay.
    After all, in the end how did the Grinch steal Christmas?
    He didn’t. He couldn’t.
    It came just the same.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What time is it, really?

This conversation from yesterday is enough to make your head spin.

Joe: Tonight we move the clocks back one hour.

Timothy: That always confuses me because when does it happen? I mean, how do the earth and the sun know?

Clearly he's thinking too hard.

Joe: Look, tomorrow morning when you wake up and it's seven 'o clock, it will feel like eight.

Timothy: But what time will it be?

Joe: It will be whatever the clock says, but it will feel like it's an hour later.

Timothy: Does this mean I get to sleep late Monday morning?

Joe and Maria: NO!

Joe: It will be easier to wake up in the morning, but you will probably feel more tired in the evening because it will be dark earlier. So tomorrow night when it's 8:00 and it feels like 9:00 ... you'll be ready to go to bed.

Timothy: I'M NOT GOING TO BED AT 8:00!


This morning, he wakes up and the nightmare conversation continues.

Timothy: What time is it?

Joe: It's 7:15.

Timothy: Then why is it so light outside?

I mean, really. We want to educate our children, but sometimes (for sanity's sake) it's best just to move on. He'll figure it out someday ... maybe ... when he has kids of his own.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Oh, Yes I Did!

A week in southern Italy this past summer and look what happens. The drivers on the Amalfi Coast taught me or thing or two about the art of precise parking and the finesse of parking illegally.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding the Words

This morning I spent an hour and a half interviewing a woman whose husband was murdered.
Grace, forgiveness, mercy, redemption ...
I don't know how I'm going to find the words to tell her story.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Top 10 Jonathan Stories

Today is Jonathan's 19 birthday. And in these 19 years, despite that sweet smile and those cute dimples, there have been a LOT of Jonathan stories. In no particular order, here they are:

1- He once made me this birthday card.

2- Jonathan in Disneyworld ... morphing into Captain Jack Sparrow, drawing his sword, and getting into a scuffle with his brother right there on Main Street. A scuffle that Dad had to forcibly break up. Nothing like brotherly love in the Happiest Place on Earth.

3- In which Jonathan (and Mom) almost caused an INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT at the airport in Milan, Italy.

4- Jonathan leaving his footprint on holy ground St. Francis' sleeping cave in La Verna, Italy.

5- The time Jonathan's finger was stuck in a Wiffle Ball and Nonno had to cut it off (the wiffle ball, not the finger).

6- Because of Jonathan, we know how to talk in Caveman ... grunting, mumbling, speaking in monosyllables. Jonathan has taught us well. He also taught us the you-know-what-face.

7- How Jonathan gives me his birthday wish list in September (when his birthday is in October) and his Christmas wish list in November.

8- Jonathan makes his bed every. single. day. Even in college.

9- The time Jonathan's foot got caught in the train door in Pompeii, Italy and Dad turned into THE HULK and pried the doors open to free Jonathan's foot.

10-  Finally, Jonathan is responsible for a certain story that will be talked about at every family gathering from now until forever. It is THE family story of our generation. Something about Jonathan landing Nonno's truck in the Savannah River. But that's all I'm saying. I was sworn to secrecy ...

Buon Compleanno, Jonathan!