Musings of an Italian-American Catholic wife, mother, and writer

Musings of an Italian-American Catholic wife, mother, and writer

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Big Deal

On October 6, 2008 our oldest son announced:

"Guess what? Today I officially weigh 100 pounds."

I remember looking at my son. He had spaghetti sauce on his cheek, his hair was sticking up in the back, his arms were like toothpicks, and he was talking with his mouth full. He was still 100% boy, so the fact that his weight had finally reached triple digits took me by surprise.

Little boys grow up.

Darn it.

Today, his baby brother and I were leaving the Kroc Center after a workout when he said:

"Mom, come over here for a sec. I want to show you something."

He stepped on the scale and ... there it was ... 100 pounds.

He smiled hugely. It's a big deal in a boy's world.

But for a mom ... a little bittersweet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

La Dolce Vita Travels: The Art of Packing

There is no doubt that packing is a science, but over the years I have taken it as a personal challenge to turn it into an art form which, for me, means a perfect balance of need versus want. Like many areas of my life, it’s about simplifying and not allowing stuff to get in the way.

Basically, less is more, and in packing it’s all about a capsule wardrobe. For example, with five tops and three bottoms that can be mixed and matched, along with coordinating scarves, jewelry and a cardigan, you can create endless outfit options. Capsule wardrobe. Google it. Or look it up on Pinterest.  

And there are so many benefits to packing lightly: less clothes means less mess in a hotel room or a ship’s cabin; fewer choices means getting ready in less time; and not having to think about clothes allows our mind to travel outward in anticipation of the day's adventures.

Capsule Wardrobe.
Google it.
photo credit: via Pinterest

Suitcase or carry-on?

Up until a few years ago, I always thought in terms of a suitcase. But that shifted when I began reading articles by seasoned travelers who only used carry-ons. No lugging around a big suitcase and no checking bags at airports; instead, it was about packing with less to have the freedom to move about more.  

I was intrigued, so for a trip to Italy last year – a trip which involved traveling by plane, bus, train and boat – I decided to give it a try. One carry-on for 10 days. I planned, I coordinated, I packed. And you know what? It worked. Not only did having a small carry-on make it easier to maneuver through a hotel lobby or a train station, but I was free. I didn’t have to check my bags, stand in a line at Baggage Claim, or wait for a porter; the carry-on fit easily in the back of a taxi or on a train luggage rack, and unpacking (upon arrival) or packing (when moving to the next town) was quick and effortless.

I have been using a carry-on ever since: for a family Caribbean cruise, a week-long spring break in Florida, and a trip to Lake Tahoe. And traveling with a only a carry-on has been wonderful for our family vacations. Everyone is responsible for their own carry-on and backpack, and this works whether we’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile.
Carry-on only.
Clothes on the left;
shoes, hairbrush, cardigan, scarves, and my cross body bag on the right.

It’s all in the bag

When limiting myself to a carry-on, you can believe that I also have a purse. A rather large purse. So while my shoes and clothes go into the suitcase, my wallet, toiletries, make-up, kindle, and iPhone go into my purse. Sometimes I need to bring my laptop, so there needs to be room for that, too. For our recent trip to Lake Tahoe, I used a beautiful Anne Klein satchel for my travel purse which was not only a nice size, but also very stylish.

Now, I know you’re wondering if I use that same travel purse once I reach my destination. I do not. The size makes it impractical. So I will either pack a leather tote or, as in the case of our Lake Tahoe trip, a leather cross body bag … both of which are flat enough to fit in the bottom of the suitcase and are more reasonably sized for sightseeing.
This bag, more of a large satchel, was the perfect travel purse.
Inside was a compartment for my laptop, and plenty of pockets and dividers to keep things organized.
Additionally, the straps were long enough that I could carry it over my shoulder.

For sight-seeing, I switch out my travel satchel for a leather tote or,
as in this photo, a cross body leather bag.

But what about souvenirs?

It’s always interesting that people use the excuse of needing room for souvenirs to justify bringing a large suitcase. With a few exceptions, most people with a large suitcase fill it before even leaving home (believe me, they are not carrying an empty suitcase).

Of course, it all depends if you are a serious shopper or an opportunistic browser, but a long time ago I decided that I didn’t want my travels to be about the souvenirs; that I would rather explore than go from shop to shop. This is not to say I don’t purchase souvenirs, because I do. But I tend to stick to local markets and purchase items which are packable: table linens, pretty scarves, jewelry, leather wallets, or small ceramics (salt & pepper shaker, sugar and creamer, a tray).

And if, by chance, I purchase more than I can fit in my carry-on, I simply purchase an inexpensive duffel bag, fill it with my purchases, and then check my original carry-on for the return trip home.
Some of my souvenirs from my last trip to Italy. Everything was small
and fit easily into my carry-on suitcase and travel purse.

Traveling with bling

As many of you know, I am a watch girl. I love watches, and the bigger the better. But again, it’s about simplifying. Why pack a fancy jewelry organizer with too much when a small pouch of just enough would do? On our last trip, I brought two watches, each with a coordinating ring and bracelet. That’s it. Two watches, two rings, and two bracelets.

But consider this: you can always supplement by purchasing jewelry as a souvenir. Yeah, that’s right. And because you didn't bring too much jewelry to begin with, you won't feel guilty for deciding to buy that watch you spotted in a store window in Capri, or that artisan cameo ring at a market outside of Naples. 
Two watches, two rings, two bracelets.
Keeping travel jewelry to a minimum.

Great idea: jewelry as a souvenir!
One of my favorite souvenirs was this leather wrap bracelet
(with the "Our Father" in Italian) which I purchased in Rome last year.


Toiletries are an issue … especially for females. Between make-up, moisturizers, lotions, and hair products there’s a lot to consider. And if you’re flying and not checking a bag – there’s not much that will fit into that quart-sized TSA approved Ziploc bag. So what’s a girl to do?

You decant shampoos and lotions into small bottles. You consolidate with items that do double duty – body lotions that can be used as a moisturizer, a foundation which already contains sunscreen, a shampoo and conditioner in one. You also do without (leave the Dead Sea Facial Mask or the Argan Oil Hair Treatment).

And then there’s the check-out lane at Sephora … you know, with all those bins of travel sized items? Honestly, I love standing in line at Sephora, and the longer the line the more time I have to browse. Not only do I like to get travel sizes of some of my favorite products, but the smaller sizes also allow me to try new products without investing in the larger size.

And here’s a secret: if you ask (nicely) for some free samples, they will give them to you. The last time I was in Sephora I mentioned our upcoming flight to Lake Tahoe, and the clerk gave me a handful of sample moisturizers and eye creams. “Stay hydrated and moisturize,” she advised me.
Finds from the Sephora check-out lane:
Living Proof Dry Shampoo, Hourglass pressed powder, blotting papers,
and an assortment of free(!) samples.

The Shoe Conundrum

This is tricky. Us gals need more than one pair of shoes, but because shoes take up so much space you have to be smart about it (and more than a little practical) which means having the strength to set aside that cute pair of heels that you would only wear once (if at all). Generally I allow myself three pair of shoes: one pair that I wear on the trip, and two that go into my suitcase; furthermore, each pair has to coordinate with more than one outfit so I can change the look if I re-wear the same outfit.
Supergas are my go-to sneakers. They travel well, and look good with
jeans, short skirts, and maxi skirts.

The nitty gritty: To re-wear or not to re-wear?

Re-wear. Definitely. Oh, I’m not talking about socks and underwear, but jeans, skirts, tank tops, and even the occasional top can be re-worn if they are not stained. Or smelly. And if, for example, your jeans are clean but smell wind-blown from walking around all day, simply spray them with Febreze
and allow them to air overnight.
Also, I like to stick several sheets of fabric softener in my carry-on to keep everything smelling fresh.
Are your clothes clean but smell wind-blown after a day of sight-seeing?
Spray with Febreze-to-go and allow to air out overnight.

One final word

Pinterest is a wonderful source for all things travel, and I have several boards dedicated to travel, packing, and capsule wardrobes. Another web site with a wealth of information is Travel Fashion Girl where Alexandra Jimenez and her team offer everything from reviews of the best travel shoes, to packing check lists that you can print and use for your next trip.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Timothy's Corner

If I ever want to know what's going on in Timothy's world, I just have to visit this little corner in his room where a constantly changing vignette highlights his interests (airplanes and anything with an engine), memories (a spring break visit to LEGOLAND, our recent Caribbean cruise), and hobbies (Legos and Pokémon).

A boy's story is the best that is ever told.     
~Charles Dickens

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tangerine (book 4, week 4) ... and a book giveaway!!!

Yesterday, here's what Timothy said after returning late Monday night from a family cruise: It's already Tuesday, I don't have the entire week, so I don't think there's time for another book."

Yeah, yeah.

I simply kissed him on top of his head and handed him Tangerine by Edward Bloor, a book which is on his required summer reading list, has received rave reviews, and at 323 pages Timothy will be able to finish it before we leave next week for Lake Tahoe. I also reminded him that, so far, he's been faithfully reading a book a week and it would be terrible to ruin such a stellar streak. He was skeptical, but I can be pretty persuasive.

And to make things especially exciting (and because what boy doesn't like some healthy competition?) I am giving away a copy of Tangerine to one lucky winner! You have until Sunday night to leave a comment below, and when I post next week's summer reading selection I will also announce the winner and mail you the book (it will be shipped from Amazon).

My kid reads, your kid reads. That's what I call a win-win situation.

Good luck, and happy reading!

Please note: If you're leaving a comment and you don't have a Google account, simply select the anonymous button and make sure to leave your name in the comment section.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Cruising with Royal Caribbean: a review in quick takes

My parents have been on 17 cruises, all with Royal Caribbean International. When they booked their 18th cruise in celebration of both my mother's 70th birthday and my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, they brought along the entire family -- all 18 of us.

A four day cruise to the Bahamas and CocoCay.

Whoa. Yeah, I know.

Last Friday, after almost a year in the planning, all 18 of us met at Port Canaveral in Florida, boarded Majesty of the Seas, and set sail into what would be a marvelous adventure. During the day everyone scurried about -- pool, casino, arcade, basketball court, art auction -- and in the evening we met in the formal dining room and had dinner together. There was so much to do, and we made every moment count.

And now, our cruise in quick takes ...

~1~ What's for dinner?
(And lunch, and breakfast, and afternoon snack, and midnight snack ...)

For me, nothing was more relaxing than having each and every meal taken care of. And while I enjoyed the lunch buffet, I especially loved having breakfast and dinner in the formal dining room complete with the crisp, white table linens, attentive servers, and printed menus. Oh, the selections! With encouragement from my parents (who, after all, are expert cruisers) sometimes we ordered TWO appetizers, and I'm pretty sure the older boys ordered TWO entrees every single night. And if the server noticed that someone (Timothy) didn't like something (the Tiger Shrimp), she whisked it away and brought a replacement (hamburger sliders). And then there were the dinner rolls. I think our two tables developed a reputation for the amount of rolls we consumed ...

I'm not even going to tell you what a production it was to get this photo taken.
Teens complained, kids ran around, and the photographer was
overwhelmed, all while Nonna was insisting that we take this photo "or else!"
 It's not perfect, but it's family. You know?

~2~ Nassau was hot.

I'm talking hot as in ... steamy. And by steamy I mean humid. And by humid I mean we walked around for an hour, purchased a slushy, and then returned to the ship where we promptly jumped in the pool. And because most everyone else was still in town, we had both the pool AND the ice cream machine to ourselves. That's what you call a win-win situation.

This was before exploring Nassau;
afterwards, I was wilting.

Cooling off with a frozen margarita after exploring Nassau.

~3~ Cabin Steward Magic

I don't know how it works, but somehow our cabin steward ALWAYS knew when we left our cabin because every time we came back POOF! everything was neat and clean. Our beds were made in the morning, the covers were turned down in the evening, and the cutest towel animals were posed on our pillows. At one point Joe started to complain about him coming in so often, and I told him to hush. The cabin steward was doing everything I do on a daily basis (well, not the towel animals) and I liked being pampered.

There was also a bunny, a sting ray, and a
monkey hanging from the window.

~4~ Castaway on CocoCay

This was my favorite part of the cruise; I mean, a PRIVATE island with white sand, crystal water, beaches, a barbecue feast, and beach chairs you could drag down to the water to sit and watch the sting rays. What more could you ask for? It was heavenly.

The entire island was ours to explore.

The views were breathtaking.
The water was crystal clear.
Island tranquility.

Our ship as seen from CocoCay.

~5~ Up, up and away over CocoCay

There were several excursions offered on Coco Cay. Some members of our family simply wanted to swim and soak up the sun, others went jet skiing, but Timothy and I were the ONLY ones in the family who went parasailing. We were nervous, maybe even more than a little scared, but what an adventure it was! An hour later my hands were still shaking because of the adrenaline rush.

(On a side note: I did not bring my camera on the boat, but a nice man offered to take some photos which he later texted to me. He also took a video, but I'm not posting it because I am laughing maniacally and sound positively deranged.)

Timothy and me.
Four hundred feet over the Caribbean Sea.
There are no words.

~6~ A lounge by any other name ...

Every evening, if you entered the 7th floor lounge, walked past the live band and around the dance floor, then peeked into the very far corner ... you would find these guys having a Pokémon Tournament.

Pokémon Tournament

~7~ Hodgepodge thoughts

-While this was a first cruise for many in our family, it was actually our second. Joe and I took our first cruise 25 years ago (10 days with Royal Caribbean) for our honeymoon!

-This was the first time our oldest son could order alcoholic beverages. As a parent, watching your son order a beer is ... I don't know ... yikes! It was also the first time our two older sons tried their luck in a casino. Again ... yikes.

-I know the suspense is building ... did she, or did she not buy a watch? Despite being tempted at every turn, alas, I did NOT buy a watch. I did buy one for my mom, though.

-Back to Coco Cay, if only to share a corny joke as told by a comedian we heard our first night on board:

"I hear we're going to CocoCay and I don't even know what that is; to me, it sounds like a waitress from Atlanta who says, 'We don't have Pepsi. Coke okay?'"

You laughed, didn't you?

I laughed at that stupid joke the entire cruise.

~8~ And finally ... hodgepodge photos.

Beach bag: Charming Charlie
Hat: Target
I used both a lot.

Joe, taking in the sights.

Boys ... they clean up nicely.

The 80's Dance Party was so much fun!

One of the lifeboats for Majesty of the Seas.

This is what it looks like to drive home after a wonderful
Royal Caribbean cruise filled with great entertainment,
fine dining, and nonstop fun.

Thanks Nonna and Nonno (and Royal Carribean's Majesty of the Seas) for a wonderful
vacation. We created memories that will last forever!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Me Before You: Book vs. Movie

The book vs. the movie
Amazingly, the movie stayed (mostly) true to the book. Events unfold just as they do in the book and the same conversations take place. There were some things left out – Mr. Traynor’s infidelity, the estrangement of Will’s parents, the side story of Lou’s sister – and while those omission didn’t affect the flow of the story I was disappointed that they left out the entire episode of Lou getting lost in the maze. For me, that was a big moment in the book when Will, despite being confined to a wheelchair, becomes the hero when he rescues her, comforts her, and helps her to face her demons.
The characters
They could not have found a more perfect actress to play Lou. She was cute, funny, self-effacing, brave, loving – basically everything you imagined her to be. Really, all the characters were spot on. I especially loved Lou’s boyfriend (also known as Running Man) who, in his all self-centeredness, was oddly endearing.  And if you think he reminds you of Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter series, why, you would be correct. He’s all grown up, now. And funny.
Did you notice …
I’ve read the book three times. I’ve seen the movie. Here are a few interesting interpretations, insights, symbolisms, and ironies I noticed:
-Lou is caring for a man who cannot walk while dating someone who is training for a triathlon.
-It’s interesting that the author chose the name Will who, in the end, no longer has the will to live.
-The title, Me Before You, can be interpreted a variety of ways: Will before meeting Lou or, conversely, Lou before meeting Will – or more simply, who I was before I met you. But critics of the book have pointed out that the title can also be viewed as me before you (a selfish attitude) as opposed to you before me (a sacrifice).
-In the book, Lou’s mother is one of the most vocal against Will’s decision. Her viewpoint is strongly maternal, and in the movie it is not a coincidence that she is wearing a gold cross necklace.
When I first read the book I had never heard of Dignitas and so I googled it, thinking that the author, Jojo Moyes, had made it up. She didn’t. The Dignitas motto, To live with dignity – to die with dignity, highlights the association’s goal of providing counseling with regard to all end of life issues including accompaniment of dying patients and assistance with a self-determined end of life. In other words, assisted suicide.
As I browsed the website, everything that is Catholic within me was horrified. I know that over the years there have been countless stories of people choosing to end their life rather than be faced with a debilitating illness, such as Brittany Maynard who ended her life rather than succumb to brain cancer. But this … to make an appointment to die? To travel to Switzerland (where assisted suicide is legal), check in, say goodbye to loved ones, and then … check out of life? It just felt wrong on so many levels.
Dignitas in the movie
Now, I will tell you that the movie glossed over the Dignitas angle; in fact, other than a quick view of the name in a letterhead, it’s not really mentioned and never is it fully explained. Honestly, if I hadn’t read the book I don’t think I would have fully understood what Will was planning to do. Nor does the scene provide any insight as to how Will actually dies. One minute Will is in bed saying goodbye, and in the next scene he isn’t there.
There is no doubt that the movie sugar-coats Will’s decision. Maybe the producers backed off from an emotionally charged subject, or maybe they wanted to concentrate on the romance part of the story. Either way, there is much more depth in the book.
Yes, I know, they’re just characters in a book and actors in a movie …
Oh, the tears I shed (all three times I read the book). But for heaven’s sake! It’s a book. With characters. It’s a movie. With actors. And yet, that is probably one of the things that hit home for me because there I was, getting emotionally entangled in the story, but somewhere out there in this big world this is someone’s life. Somewhere out there someone isn’t reading a story … but living it.  
What would you do …
In high school I had an English teacher who expected us to spend the first ten minutes of class journaling on a topic she had written on the board. One day the topic was this: “Do you think you have the capacity to kill?” I was emphatic with my answer: No. Killing is wrong. We are made in the image of God and to take another life is a sin. Mankind should strive for all that is good, pure, and holy. We are meant to protect our fellow brothers and sisters. I wrote furiously for ten minutes.
But afterwards our teacher offered some what if scenarios: What if you were in a kill or be killed situation? What if you were in a kill or have a loved one be killed situation? She wasn’t being dramatic  (although now that I think about it she had set up a classic Hunger Games scenario); she was teaching us that we live in a world in which the lines between right and wrong are sometimes obscured by more than a little gray; that we can vehemently declare to know what we will do in a certain situation, but do we know? Really? How could we unless we are in the reality? And if we can’t truly know, how can we possible judge?
Why I loved the book (and liked the movie) …
I read the book long before I knew they were making a movie. The book does not glorify in any way the right to die issue, nor does it insinuate in any way that anyone with a physical disability is less of a person; if anything, it shows the incredible pain and devastation left behind with an individual's decision to end his/her own life. I thought the book did an excellent job of giving us a peek (and just a peek because we can never really know) of the incredible physical and emotional pain that some people face, and while I still emphatically disagreed with Will's decision (I was so ANGRY with him), for the first time I could come from a place not of understanding or acceptance, but of empathy and compassion.
Think about this: Will had the money for around-the-clock care. He could travel. He had excellent caretakers. He even got the girl. So why did he still want to die? How could he do that? We don’t know because he was in a place we can never be.
Over the past few weeks I’ve seen countless articles condemning the movie as “dangerous” because of how it ends; that it portrays assisted suicide in such a manner that it might be construed as morally acceptable; that “Louisa et al” should have helped Will sort through and address his problems and the fact they stood by and let it happen makes them murderers (although I honestly don’t know what else “Louisa et al” could have done). That’s why the book was so thought-provoking … there wasn’t a single character who knew what to do. And why should they? How can anyone be prepared for something like that?
In the end, Will's decision to die reverberated through the lives of everyone he knew, and anyone can see how most of it resulted in a lot of pain. So although the book didn't end the way I would've wanted it to end, there is a lesson in Will’s choice.  Not answers, but lessons.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The House of Wings (book 3, week 3)

As I'm typing this Timothy is taking a little test on last week's book, The Outsiders. Out of the corner of my eye I see that he is doing the last question -- What did you learn from reading The Outsiders? -- and he writes for a moment, then looks out the window deep in thought.

For a book that is just 180 pages, it packs quite a punch. The storyline is tight, and while there is a lot of action in the book, there are also periods in which the characters talk, reflect, and explore some of life's more complex themes such as class, loyalty, violence, appearance, love, and hope -- themes which are not often pretty or neat (Timothy was shocked, for example, when Johnny kills Bob in the park).

But it was a great book, one in which grabbed (and kept) his attention, and this week we'll watch the movie.

This Thursday we are headed out of town for a family cruise, so this week's book had to be short and sweet which is why, at just 142 pages, I selected The House of Wings by Betsy Byars. At first Timothy complained about having to read just before vacation (Oh! The Horrors!), but I downloaded it on my Kindle and now, for some reason, he's excited.

Whatever works, you know?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Caribbean Cruise, a Sneakers Intervention, and a Shocking Annoucement (in 7 quick takes)

~1~ After being without a passport for two whole months, my new one finally arrived in the mail. Thank goodness because I was feeling rather vulnerable without one. I mean, I have had a passport since I was a baby; in fact, here is my very first passport photo ...

The photographer actually then hung a giant version of this photo in his
office as a way to advertise passport photos.

~2~ Last weekend Joe and I decided to take the boys downtown for lunch. We didn't have a particular place in mind, but ended up at the Whiskey Bar (Kitchen). Delicious. The menu featured some different items, and I loved that it was limited because then you know that everything they cook is done well. Anyway, we had a great lunch, after which we browsed the stacks at The Book Tavern. The last time I was there I purchased Dante's Divine Comedy (in Italian!), but this was a first for all the guys.

A Saturday morning in downtown Augusta.

~3~ Superga sneakers. I have been wearing them for years  -- long before fashion magazines began featuring them as the new style "must have". They are casual, fun, and look great with a casual skirt or skinny jeans. Every year I purchase a new white pair, and occasionally I will pick out a pair in another color. A few years ago I even purchased a pair of platform ones which I loved. Anyway, Nordstrom's has been holding their half year sale, and I found two pairs of Supergas on clearance that were marked down even more for the sale. I can't wear to wear the platform ones with a cute (black) shift.

I have a white pair and a grey pair, and now I have these.
I probably need intervention, or something.

~4~ A couple of weeks ago I hosted a one year reunion picnic for our Girls' Trip to Italy. It was so good to get together to reminisce, share photos, and catch up. We sat outside for over four hours. Next trip: Tuscany and northern Italy.

Girls' Trip to Italy: One Year Reunion

~5~ Analyze this: I'm a doodler, and trees are what I doodle the most. Does it mean anything?

Do you doodle?

~6~ This Thursday our entire family -- adults, big kids, and little kids -- are going on a 4-day Royal Caribbean Cruise. We're keeping our packing simple with a duffle bag per person. And how, you're probably wondering, do I keep things from getting wrinkled in a duffel bag? Easy ... eBags.

How to pack a duffel bag so that things don't slip, slide, and bunch together?
Use packing cubes!

I used four  packing cubes to keep things organized:
1 large for tops
1 large for bottoms
1 long one for intimates, scarves, accessories
1 medium one for hair supplies (travel hair iron, shampoo, conditioner, round styling brush)

~7~ On a final note, although we've never done a family cruise before, here's what I already like about it: no Wi-Fi!! We broke the news to the boys and they were like ...

Friday, June 3, 2016