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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving Full

Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. It's an uncomplicated holiday -- one that is simply about sitting down with family and friends and breaking bread together. Really, it doesn’t get better than that. This year Thanksgiving was extra special.

Thanksgiving Gathering

It’s all about family

And lots of it. Although we were hosting for Joe’s side of the family, because my parents live locally and I have siblings nearby, Thanksgiving was a coming together of both sides. Joe and I are very blessed in that not only do we have wonderful parents and siblings, but our families know each other and get along.  I love, for example, that my brother-in-law went fishing with my father and that my sister-in-law was helping my sister bargain shop for a Nespresso machine.

Taking it outside

From the moment we started planning, I knew that we would be dining outside under a canopy of red, yellow, and orange leaves – the bounty of family and food nestled within the bounty of nature.
Twenty-two around the table.

Thanksgiving Day Weekend

With family arriving from Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, Thanksgiving was a weekend affair. And we kept everyone busy . . .

Wednesday night: the Novajosky Soup Kitchen (soup, salad, fruit salad) officially opened for anyone who rolled into town at any time.

Thursday: Thanksgiving dinner
Give Thanks (printed from Pinterest)

Place settings (harvest leaves also found on Pinterest)
The buffet line.
Cousins waiting for the dinner bell.

My sister made the most decorative pumpkin pie.
We could not have asked for more perfect weather.

Thursday night: S’mores, wine, conversation, and laughter around the fire pit.
There is something magical about gathering around a fire.

Friday: Picnic at Hamilton Branch State Park with fishing, boat rides from Nonno, cornhole, and golf. Golf?!?  Why yes, golf.  With an island just offshore, Joe brought clubs and a box of 150+ old golf balls and challenged everyone to hit “closest to the pin” (a marker in the middle of the island). I can’t say for sure, but a LOT of balls landed in the lake.
1. too far away  2. a little closer   3. perfect distance
Will and Matt heading out with Nonno for a boat ride.
Closest to the pin.
Hamilton Branch State Park
(for the picnic, our number grew to 27 when my brother's family joined us)
Friday night: the girls attended The Nutcracker at the Imperial Theater.
My sister-in-law saying hello to James Brown before heading to the
The Nutcracker at the Imperial Theater.
Saturday: visiting Aiken
Aiken was bursting with fall colors.

Football and Shopping

From the moment we parked in downtown Aiken, there was a problem. What to do with all the guys while the gals explored the stores along Laurens Street? THE SOLUTION: park them in the upstairs sports bar of the Aiken Brewing Company. With a gazillion televisions broadcasting every football game known to man, and fortified with a hearty lunch, the guys were perfectly content to stay right where they were and the gals were free to explore and shop.
Aiken Brewing Company for Papa and the guys.

Thanksgiving Full

By Saturday evening everyone had gone. Our driveway, which had looked like a car lot for three days, was empty. When Joe, the boys and I came home from Mass, we sat around the fireplace and shared memories from the weekend. It was all so very good.
And then there was one ...
I'm not going to lie. Sunday I was tired and stayed in my pj's all day,
but it was a good tired. A contented tired. A grateful tired.
And I would do it all again.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Thanksgiving Prayer

               If you feed them, they will come. While the statement makes me smile considering I have three sons whose happiness is in direct proportion to the contents of our pantry, this year it’s become all the more meaningful as my husband and I prepare to host Thanksgiving for his side of the family. But because my parents live locally and I have siblings that live nearby, the holiday will be a gathering of both our families which, because of the sheer numbers, means that we are taking Thanksgiving outside with long tables set with platters of food, a fire pit crackling nearby, an area designated for a cornhole tournament, and a backdrop of trees showcasing leaves of brilliant orange, red and yellow.

                On Wednesday, they will begin arriving from near and far – Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia. They will come, these brothers, sisters, wives, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, all representing a variety of professions: engineers, accountants, businessmen, a teacher, an information specialist, a personal trainer, a writer. Some are students in middle school, one is a high school senior, several are in college, and a few have recently graduated. There is a beautiful boy with autism, a Papa who is 87 years old and bringing a homemade cherry pie, a Nonno who will soon get a brand new knee, and a Nonna who brings her Italian heritage into this very American holiday by offering an espresso with your pumpkin pie.

                That’s a lot of family, and while we are a cohesive group, we are still individuals with ideas, passions, and opinions; in other words, we don’t agree on everything and, in fact, often have polar viewpoints on issues dealing with religion, politics, and world affairs. So when our family gathers, it’s hectic; we are loud, opinionated, loving, and competitive, and not unlike families everywhere, it isn’t always perfect.

                And yet, it is. Thanksgiving reminds us of this. In all the running around we do to live our lives, and despite all those things that make life messy and chaotic – work, politics, doctor’s appointments, sports practices, exams, job interviews – it’s nice to have a day in which the only thing that matters is sitting down and breaking bread together.

                And having one more slice of that pumpkin pie.

                So, this weekend my husband and I will tackle our to-do lists in preparation to host our families. We will pull out board games and wash guest towels and plan activities; we will keep fingers crossed for good weather and prepare for sons coming home from college; and we will print out our family’s Thanksgiving prayer for everyone to read aloud. It’s a special prayer, written by Lino Villacha, and my mother became pen pals with Lino through her best friend who was, for many years, a missionary in Brazil. Lino’s poem, Obrigado Senhor, is a prayer thanking God for everything he had – and when you read his words in light of the fact that he suffered with leprosy and lived in poverty, it puts things in perspective. 

                In his poem Lino thanks God for healthy limbs when so many are crippled; for a voice that sings when many are mute; for hands that work when so many have to beg; and for a home to return to when so many don’t know where they are going. And as we read the poem reminding us to celebrate what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t, it’s always the last two lines which capture the essence of Thanksgiving: It is wonderful, Lord, to have so little to ask/And so much to be thankful for.

                To which the only response for all of us holding hands around the table this Thanksgiving will be a heartfelt and very humble, Amen.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Story of a Vote

               Last Saturday my husband and I voted, which just happened to be the day after the FBI’s announcement concerning Hillary Clinton’s emails. But the headlines weren’t a factor in us going to vote; simply, for several weeks the date had been marked on our calendar with a smiley face and the words Go Vote! written in cheerful purple ink.

                But that morning as I inserted my ballot into the machine I was anything but cheerful. And I wasn’t smiling. This entire election season has weighed heavily on me not only because of its contentiousness, but because our two eldest sons would be voting in their first general election and I was viewing the entire process through their eyes.

                “Our first time voting for president and these are our choices?” asked one son.

                Yes, indeed. After a primary season of drawn battle lines and hurled insults, after more qualified candidates were ignored or forced out, and after the dust finally settled, like it or not, these were our choices for president. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any more sordid, it did, and the entire nation entered a political season the likes of which will be talked about for generations.

                As a writer, I haven’t been shy about sharing my struggle about this election. During the primaries this past March, I wrote a guest column for The Augusta Chronicle in which I listed all the reasons why I could not vote for Donald Trump (One key question canhelp us recognize our role in the political arena, Sunday, March 6, 2016). At the time, I honestly thought that out of so many qualified nominees, there was no way he could win the nomination. Boy did I get it wrong.

                So like many voters, I was in a bad place. I strongly disliked Trump, and I felt the same about Clinton. In many ways I was very bipartisan in my inherent distrust of both candidates. I suppose the pollsters would have labeled me an undecided voter, but I wasn’t so much undecided as disgusted. What to do?

                There was no end to the advice – from family, friends, talk show hosts, political pundits, and experts.  Many cautioned to think long term; that is, ignore the candidate and vote on a single issue or strictly for the party’s platform. In theory, a single issue vote made sense – and for me that would be the Pro-Life ticket – but in reality it would mean casting a vote while holding my breath, pinching my nose, and ignoring the elephant in the room (no pun intended). Figuratively, I’d still be standing next to a person I didn’t believe in.

                Voting third party, then, was another option. This was new territory for me, which was daunting only because I was starting fresh. I had to learn, read, and investigate my options.

                Then there are those who advised me to brandish my vote like a weapon to stick it to the other side. I admired these voters because they were so sure, but in their single-minded quest to keep out the other candidate they ignored any scandal, FBI investigation, sexual assault, or outrageous video that put their candidate in a bad light; furthermore, when their candidate did something wrong they’d protest how the other candidate did something even more wrong.

                It’s funny (but really it’s not) because all I could ever see were flaws – serious ones – on both sides.

                What ever happened to casting a vote for someone?

                Maybe I’ve been too idealistic, but in past elections I always thought of my vote as an expression of what I am voting for; in other words, a vote was my way of saying I believe, hope, and trust you; here is my vote because I have every confidence you will lead our country well, with honor and integrity, and that you will be a role model for our children.

                Except this time I can’t say any of that about either candidate. I cannot extol their virtues, sing their praises, or put them on a pedestal. Neither candidate is worthy of my vote, but one will get it because despite all the mess, I will vote. Too many have sacrificed so I can have that privilege, and I will always honor that gift.

                So I went to vote last Saturday, and standing next to me was our twelve year old son who, along with his older brothers, is learning that sometimes a leader is not a role model, sometimes life gives us choices in which there are no clear answers, and sometimes we need to struggle to do the right thing.

                “I insert the card here,” I whispered to my son. “Then I go through each page and check the boxes. And look, here on the last page, it says ‘CAST YOUR BALLOT.’”

                And so I did.

                In the end, what did I decide? Well, I’m going to leave it there, preferring to let that question mark represent all who struggled, like I did, with what to do.  And hopefully the openness of a question mark – an unknown future, if you will – will lead us on a pathway to something nobler because, as a nation, we can do better than being forced to make the best bad choice.