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

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Life Lately: A Trench Coat at the Beach (and other Hilton Head quick takes)

~1~ Too hot for the beach?

Just about. It was 100 degrees every day and the sun was relentless. No afternoon thunderstorms, either, to break things up. So we basically cooled off in the ocean, then at the pool, and for the rest of the day played games, read, and discussed politics while the air conditioner worked over time. We did go on a few bike rides, but it was too hot to walk around Coligny Plaza, Shelter Cove, or even -- wait for this -- the Outlet Stores.


Shade was precious.
So was the blessedly cool ocean.

~2~ Well, that's not entirely true ...

We did make a quick trip to the outlets one evening for the purpose of purchasing sneakers for all three boys. So basically we went to the Nike store ...

Nikes here
Nikes there
Nikes everywhere

~3~ and a quick visit to Wilson's Leather.

On a whim I popped into this store. And get this: despite the temperature hovering around 100 degrees (even at 7 p.m.) I bought a coat.

Yup. Second only to my love of watches, I happen to like coats and jackets which, I am all too aware, is terribly ironic considering I live in the south. But I've been wanting a classic trench coat for a while, and since this fully lined beauty was a door buster sale ... well, it was meant to be.

Now I just need some cool, crisp fall weather. And New York City. I don't know why, but I'd like to wear my classic trench coat and a vintage Hermes scarf (which I don't have ... yet) while exploring Manhattan. Or Paris, for that matter.

And now ... waiting for fall weather.

~4~ Hello? China?

The skinniest ostrich you ever did see.

Funniest looking ostrich

~5~ Hot ... outside, inside

The very night I decided to cook a low country boil our air conditioner broke. There I was in the kitchen, standing in a cloud of steam while stirring a bubbling pot of potatoes, corn, sausage and shrimp, when it dawned on all of us that it was hot.

Hot, as in, we are inside and why are we sweating?

We called maintenance and ate our low country boil (sweating profusely!) while we made plans on what to do if the AC was broken because there was NO WAY we were going to sleep in that condo without air conditioning.

Long story short: AC unit broken beyond repair, so we moved two floors down and one building over to another condo.

Moving two floors down and one building over.
Really, nothing to do but laugh.

~6~ "Let's go to the mall," he said.

We got back from the beach Saturday afternoon, and that evening Jonathan asked if I would go to the mall with him because he still needed some sneakers as the Nike Outlet didn't deliver. (He's picky, is our Jonathan).

Now, I'm not sure ... was it the company he wanted, or my wallet? Whatever. I went to the mall with Jonathan.

On a Saturday night.

With a ferocious storm brewing.

AND it was tax-free weekend.

He owes me one, does our Jonathan.

Ferocious storm + tax free weekend = mall nightmare

Does he love my company, or my wallet?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Finally ... An Exercise Program that Works

Right now Timothy is a hot, sweaty mess.

You see, he's trying to hatch an egg.

Evidently when you're playing Pokémon Go and you have an egg that needs hatching, you need to move (and riding in a car doesn't do it).

So he's either been walking or riding his bike up and down our street in order to hatch those darn eggs. All day. In and out of the house.

You need to walk or run 2, 5, or 10 kilometers to hatch an egg, depending on the Pokémon. And he's done his math.

Five times up and down our street is .6 kilometers.

So far he's ridden 6.8 kilometers.

He's gotten quite a workout.

So yeah ... maybe I need to play Pokémon Go.

so, so close!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Best Seat in the House

Some of you may know that I work from home as a writer.

I really love my job. I love being able to contribute to our family income from home and I love having the chance to write. But in order to write the articles I have to first conduct a phone interview, and I am not good at interviewing.

Oh, I am prepared with questions, I do preliminary research, and I know exactly where I want to go with the article, but the problem is that five minutes into the interview it's not an interview any more. It's a conversation.

Through these interviews, I have encountered people who are so interesting, so inspiring, and so full of faith that I forget my questions and want to just to buy them a cappuccino and sit and listen to them talk.

Recently I interviewed a man in Illinois who takes communion to the elderly and homebound every single Friday. When he told me how humbling it was to witness a cancer patient's connectedness to God through the Holy Eucharist, his voice trembled. Hearing his emotion made me teary-eyed and then, there we were, two strangers crying over the phone.

I interviewed a Catholic art teacher on a special scholarship and working on an Indian reservation. When I asked him about his very interesting last name, he explained to me that his father was full-blooded American Indian and that his mother was Italian. Well. I ask you, how could I not take that further? So we spoke for a long time about many things ... just not his scholarship.

On a recent article I did on Advent, I spoke with a priest who passionately shared why Advent was his favorite liturgical season. He quoted that it was time for spiritual renewal and preparation. He pointed out the readings from Isaiah and the prophets, the beautiful references to the lion and the lamb, and the visions of peace and social justice. I could have listened to him forever.

Truly, I may not conduct an interview very professionally, but with each one I get a tiny glimpse of how many good people there are in this world.

With the news focused on wars, murders, and greedy politicians it's comforting knowing that in Iowa there is a couple married for 53 years who still serve their parish as adult altar servers; or that in Texas there is a priest who learned Spanish so he could connect with his new parish; or that in Oklahoma there is a retired Hispanic couple who recite the rosary together while they clean their parish every Monday morning; or that a mother in South Dakota, after tragically losing her son, is still so full of the love of God that she became a CCD teacher to honor her son's memory; or that a group of doctors back from a mission trip to Guatemala are still humbled at the generosity from the very people they had gone to help.

Yes, there are bad things that happen in this world; we know this because we face it every day in the news. Bad news make headlines, but I see why God loves us so much. From His vantage point he sees it all. The bad, yes, but also all that is good.

And there is so much that is good.

Santuario Madonna della Corona
(near Verona)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Downriver (summer reading: week 9) (and a progress report)

Yesterday Timothy and I were in Target when reality came crashing down in the form of the BACK TO SCHOOL signs that were everywhere. Such a cruel reminder, especially since there are still three weeks of summer vacation left. I'm not sure -- it may have been the lighting -- but I thought I spotted a tear in Timothy's eye.

But it's still summer, vacation isn't over (we leave for the beach this Saturday), and so the summer reading continues.

I have to say, compared to past summers Timothy has been doing a great job with his summer reading. I think the biggest difference this time was that once we set the goal that he had to read a book a week, we then stepped aside and let him work out his own schedule. As a result, he's become very goal-oriented: he figures out what he needs to do to get the job done, and then he does it. He reads most days, and it's not because mom tells him to. He just knows that reading every day is the easiest way to meet his goal.

This week's book is one of the starred books on his summer reading list. Downriver by Will Hobbs is a whitewater action adventure book that has been ranked by the American Library Association as a “100 Best of the Best” for twenty-five years. To set the tone we'll visit the author's web page (here) and read an interview he did about this very book (here).

Once Timothy finishes the book I have a surprise: I am going to tell him about my own whitewater rafting adventure (before marriage, before kids) which involved a Class IV river, a raft full of Italians who didn't understand the guide's instructions, and a daring rescue.

Come to think of it, that adventure would make a good short story ...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

My thoughts on Mary and Martha (let me tell you what I REALLY think)

I would like to begin with an apology.

As I sit down to write this brief (but passionate) commentary, I have a vague idea on where my thoughts are going to take me, and I know it's not going to be good. I might even be a little irreverent. I am apologizing now, in advance.

So Mary and Martha. You know, the sisters in the bible in which Martha is the very essence of domesticity while Mary sits at Jesus' feet and lets her sister do all the work.

This story annoys me.

Believe me, I have tried to understand, and a few years ago I wrote a spiritually meaningful post on this very story in which I used my nightly ritual of turning on a lamp in every room to describe the relevance of the Martha-Mary story today. It was a nice commentary ... heartwarming and poetic. (You can read it here: Learning to be Mary in a Martha world).

So believe me when I say that I get it. Totally. I know that the story is about spiritual, rather than physical nourishment. I realize that it's a reminder of the heavenly banquet table, rather than an earthly one. I understand that we can't function like Martha if we don't try to be more like Mary. I get all that.

But still.

I would have liked to hear the story told from a woman's point of view because, believe me, I bet everyone was relieved when dinner was finally served.

And that meal didn't prepare itself.

And I think Martha gets a bad rap.

It seems as if every time this story is discussed Martha represents someone who puts her busyness in front of her faith; that she is running around trying to make everyone happy and comfortable while letting her (spiritual) self go; and that -- worse of all! -- she chooses to do so and is therefore forever known as the less spiritual sister.

Well, excuse me, but I'm with Martha on this one because in her I see someone who is an example of the practical aspects of our faith -- the hands on approach, if you will, of what it means to live stewardship.

I mean, is it better to pray for someone who needs a coat, or to give him one? Or, in Martha's case, is it better to let everyone sit around hot, dusty, hungry and thirsty, or to lovingly see to their needs?

And think about this: in the examples above, which actions are easier?

Then, during Mass last night our priest mentioned another angle of the story -- that of Martha's anger at her sister. He pointed out how we are all guilty of "flying off the handle" or "blowing things out of proportion." I never considered that angle. Let me think about that ...

Yup, guilty. Many times over.

But ...

Hello?!? You try to get dinner on the table for lots of (unexpected) guests.

Now, we don't know the rest of the story, but I just bet everyone eventually sat down to a nice meal (one that did NOT prepare itself) and that grumbling stomachs, parched throats, and heat-induced headaches disappeared all because Martha worked behind the scenes.  And because their tired bodies were now nourished, everyone lingered to hear even more of Jesus' teachings.

So what do I REALLY think? Martha is the heroine. She is, after all, the one who greets Jesus -- As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him (Luke 10:38) -- and she is the one who provides for everyone's physical needs so that Christ's work could be done.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
-Johannes Vermeer, 1655

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Pikachu on My Knee and a Rattata on My Hand

The other night we were watching America's Got Talent when Timothy asked if he could check the Pokémon Go App on the iPad to see if any Pokémon were around.

"Why?" I asked. "It's too dark to go outside."

"Sometimes they will pop up right where you are." he replied.

"Pokémon can be here? In the HOUSE?" I asked, a little horrified.

Timothy nods, and opens the app. A few minutes later he looks up.

"Uh, Mom, you have a Pikachu on your knee," he informs me, and turns the iPad so I can see.

 Sure enough, there I was wearing my striped pajama pants, with a Pikachu on my knee.


It was neat, weird, and freaky all at once.

Then later, Rattata popped in. See? They're everywhere!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Reading Gene

Either you like to read, or you don't. Either you're good in math, or you're not. It's all in the genes, and it's totally random. Take our family, for example ...

Jonathan is the only one of our sons who looks like me, but who totally takes after Joe in that he's great in math and will only read sports books.

Then there's Nicholas. He looks more like Joe, and has Joe's mathematical/engineering mind, but he definitely inherited my reading gene. Here is a photo of his summer reading.

"He's reading all these books even when he doesn't have to?" a horrified Timothy asked me.

And speaking of Timothy, we're still trying to figure him out. He may look like Joe, but otherwise he is a smorgasbord of everything else.

Nicholas' summer reading.
I call him my Renaissance Man because he reads everything --
biographies, programming books, fiction, nonfiction, music books, and sports almanacs.
That's my reading gene he's exercising.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Questions & Answers

On both sides of our family, Joe and I have lots and lots of nephews, but only two nieces. Just two. As you can imagine, they are both pretty special. Ellison is ten years old, an avid reader, and loves cats. Sara is my other niece, and she has graduated from college and works in the corporate fitness and health industry.

She also has a blog, Oats & Rows, which is full of ideas on food, recipes, fitness, and healthy living. Today I am going to link up with her and answer a fun questionnaire which she recently posted.

Feel free to join in!

What brings you the greatest joy? Traveling. There is nothing like heading out into the unknown armed only with a map and a spirit of adventure.

What are your vices? According to Joe, procrastination, but let’s not ask him. According to me, probably that I dictate all my texts – texts which Siri doesn’t understand – and it gets me into trouble all the time.

What is on your nightstand? I am a minimalist, so I don’t like clutter. So I have a lamp, a framed Italian painting on an easel, and the phone (compared to Joe, I have a much quicker reaction time when it rings in the middle of the night).

Do you have a secret talent? Secret talent … nope. I am boring like that.

What is your greatest indulgence? Cookbooks, travel books, ceramic dinner plates, and watches. I never met a watch I didn’t like. And the chunkier, the better.

What should everyone try at least once in their life? Study abroad. Or live in a foreign country for at least a month where you don’t know the language.

What makes you laugh? Late nights with my sister. Once we get started, we cannot stop.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you? As much as I like to travel, I absolutely hate flying. And as much as I love to cook, I absolutely do not like to bake.

What is on your bucket list? Finish my book. Get it published. Have a weekly column. Own a Bed & Breakfast, or a corner café. Visit every country in Europe.

How did you make your first dollar? Babysitting. I made a lot of money babysitting.

What item in your closet do you wear the most? My black tank tops. I have a lot of black tank tops. They can be layered or worn alone and, best of all, they go with absolutely everything.

What is the best gift you ever received? My white Capri watch that Joe purchased for me on the island of Capri. The wooden darning egg my Nonna gave me. Oh, and let’s not forget my espresso machine which was a combination birthday-Christmas present from my sister-in-law.

What is on your liquor shelf? Wine, but if you look in the freezer you will find three bottles of chilled homemade limoncello.

What is on your kitchen counter? Again, I don’t like clutter, so I don’t even keep the toaster on my countertop. Presently there is a corner lamp, a cookbook on a stand, and my espresso machine.

What would you never leave home without? My flat iron, because if there is one thing that EVERYONE knows about me is that when it's humid I have frizzy hair. Why am I even living in the south?

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Goodwill Find

A couple of weeks ago, on a hot, steamy Friday night heading into a long weekend, we decided to go walk around the Goodwill bookstore and café. We don't go there often, but when we do everyone usually comes home with something.

And that Friday night was no exception.

The boys bought books (including a sports almanac and a music book), Timothy purchased an iPod case, and I found an absolute treasure.

There on a shelf, still wrapped in cellophane from when it was originally purchased, was a Catholic Family Album published by Regina Press and stamped with an authentic Vatican Library Collection Seal. It was beautifully decorated with religious artwork and Sacred Scripture, with thick photo framed pages to insert pictures.

And with my mother's 70th birthday a week away, it was meant to be.

Love it when things work out like that ...

Friday, July 8, 2016

Beating the Heat in an Italian Kitchen with ... Wine?

Honestly, who wants to cook in this heat? Not me. Who wants to grill when the temperature reading is in the triple digits?  Not Joe.

As you can see, it's a problem.

So last weekend, on a large wooden platter I arranged a meal of antipasti ... a beautiful assortment of herb coated salami, thinly sliced prosciutto, chunks of parmigiano-reggiano, Italian grissini, crusty baguettes, and vine-ripened tomatoes dressed in olive oil and vinegar.


No cooking required, but molto delizioso.

"Too bad I don't drink yet," Timothy announces. "All this would go perfectly with wine."

Chilled vino bianco. Now THAT is refreshing.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Westing Game (summer reading: book 5, week 7)

So, you probably noticed that our count is off. What happened to weeks 5 and 6?

Allow me enlighten you. Week 5 was a trip to Lake Tahoe and despite the best of intentions -- nothing. Nada. No summer reading. At all. To be sure, I had downloaded TWO books for Timothy on my Kindle because I figured, you know, all that waiting in airports ...

Yeah, right.

But I'm just as guilty. I had download THREE books for me and how many did I read? None. Not one.

Instead, we read guide books and brochures. And maps. Believe it or not, there were some areas of Lake Tahoe which were dead zones with no internet reception, so with no iPhone GPS we had to practice our map reading skills. Since I was driving Timothy was my personal GPS system, and he did a pretty good job considering we arrived everywhere we set out to go.

Just don't call him Siri.

As for week 6, I'm not really sure. Jet lag? Preparations for July 4th? Long weekend with everyone home?

Evidently week 6 cannot be accounted for.

I am NOT perfect.

But here we are week 7, and we are back on track. For book 5 Timothy will be reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, a mystery novel highlighting the adventures of Sam Westing's sixteen heirs as they accept his challenge to figure out the secret of his death. (BTW, in 2012 The Westing Game was ranked #9 among all-time children's novels in a survey published by the School Library Journal. It also won the Newberry Award.)

When Timothy's Aunt Laura was 12 years old, this was her all-time favorite book, so it comes highly recommended.

In fact, Timothy is reading the EXACT book that belonged to Aunt Laura. You can tell it was much-read and much loved.

Happy summer reading!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Eating is serious business, so don't mess with me

This little guy makes the best light saber sounds, does a Star Wars force stop like nobody's business, and tells people to go take a nap. He's cute as can be ... but don't get between him and food.

Monday, July 4, 2016

In which we lie ... repeatedly

To plan a surprise 70th birthday party for my Mom whose birthday was yesterday (Sunday, July 3) we all had to tell some fibs ...

Fib #1: "Since we were all together three weeks ago for the cruise, and since last weekend we all returned from trips [Bia to Lake Tahoe, Laura to Myrtle Beach, and David to Haiti] we just need this weekend to recover." said Maria.

Fib #2: "What are we doing on Sunday? We have a church picnic," said Laura.

Fib #3: "How about you come here on Monday instead?" suggested David.

Fib #4: "We'll celebrate your birthday NEXT weekend," all of us said.

Fib #5: "It's my turn to do Sunday lunch, so come here and we'll have a small pre-birthday celebration. But come later -- more toward 1:15 -- because we are biking on the canal in the morning." said Maria, who needed time for everyone to get here before i Nonni.

I don't know how we pulled it off, but we did. Maybe it was all that fibbing ...