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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Looking for Christmas when it hasn't gone anywhere

*this is a post from two years ago, but it prompted so much conversation that I'm sharing it again ...

Apparently, Christmas is on its way out.

Apparently, 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 the holiday cup from Starbucks isn't Christmassy enough.

Do you hear what I hear?

The bah-humbugs and grumblings remind me of the 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 Beyoncé 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 deprived it 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.
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 the Starbucks holiday 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.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

If you give a boy an old grill ...

which was broken and headed for the dump ...
and told him to salvage any parts he wanted ...

he will.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent: Journeys (Setting Forth)

During these Sundays in Advent, I am posting a series called Journeys, personal reflections on the season of Advent presented in four parts – Readiness in Memory and Hope, Setting Forth, Verso l’Alto, and The Return. Join me in following in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary as they traveled to Bethlehem and the Wise Men as they followed the star, and let’s reflect on this journey we call life.

The suitcases were packed and standing in a line by the back door; I was in that in-between place of being ready, but not yet going.

I have often said that preparing for a trip is almost as fun as the trip itself. In the months leading up to that pile of luggage by the back door I applied for a brand new passport, purchased some new clothes, and managed to pack everything I needed for a 10-day trip to Italy into a carry-on. For months I gathered maps, read guide books, conducted Google searches, made reservations, and planned daily itineraries; in short, I did everything I could to help guide me into the unknown, and it was terribly exciting to imagine the possibilities and anticipate the adventure.
But it was also all kinds of scary.
A year earlier I had announced on Facebook that my sister and I would be hosting a Girls’ Trip to Italy, and after hosting two information sessions, and after endless phone calls and emails and personal one-on-one meetings, twenty-three women had signed up for an adventure to Rome and the Amalfi Coast. But as excited as I was that my dream of organizing and sponsoring a trip to Italy was becoming a reality, I was also worried about all the things that could go wrong: illness, lost passports, delayed flights, and missed flights. I worried about whether everyone would get along, or if I could deliver on a promise (seeing the Pope, for example), or how I would get everyone around our first free day in Rome where I had booked a tour of the catacombs and, later that evening, dinner and a nighttime tour of the city. I worried about terrorist attacks and railway strikes. There were so, so many things that could go wrong.

But I continued to pack and I continued to plan. And I was both excited and worried.

Then something happened the morning of our departure as I stood between two worlds – the one I was coming from (familiar and safe) and the one I was going to (full of the unknown). As I reached into my purse to check (yet again) if I had my passport, I remembered the Dutch proverb that goes like this: He is who outside his door, already has the hard part of his journey behind him. It's a proverb about taking that first step which, without a doubt, is the hardest step of all.
So that’s exactly what I did – I picked up my suitcase and took that first step out the door, and for the first time in months I was completely and wholly at peace. I was on my way, come what may.

During this Advent as we embark on a journey connecting memory and hope, I am reminded how any journey – spiritual, physical, redemptive, etc. – begins with that first step. It may be the biggest step you may ever have to take, seemingly impossible and impossibly difficult; it may be a hesitant step, or a bold one; it may require a leap of faith. But in the end it's just a step.
And with that one step, you're on your way.

Looking out from my hotel balcony in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast (southern Italy).

Friday, December 8, 2017

Life Lately: The Hygge Version of My Favorite Things

My kind of weather

The past few days have been cold, dark, and drizzly; in short, my kind of weather. I don't know what that says about me, but I like anything which promotes hygge (the Danish concept of rediscovering the joy of simple things) (pronounced hoo-gah). So bring on the cold, dark, drizzly weather which makes me want to batten down the hatches. Bring on the cable knit sweaters, fireplaces, hearty stews, and mugs of hot chocolate.


A glowing lamppost always reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia. I think I found one near our house which is true to the one in the movie. Now we just need some snow ...

"It will not go out of my mind that if we pass this post and lantern, either we shall find strange adventures or else some great changes of our fortunes."
~Lucy Pevensie (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Amazon Prime

One click orders, free postage, two day delivery ... need I say more? Amazon Prime also helps with Hygge because it keeps me out of the stores and at home by the fireplace wearing my fuzzy, slouchy socks and drinking a cappuccino.

Christmas cards

I love sending them, I love receiving them. What I find beautiful is that behind every card, someone out there was thinking of us at a given moment when they wrote our name on the envelope and signed the card, and by the same token we are thinking of someone out there with every card we write.

Corner Christmas trees

While I love our big, family tree straddling our kitchen and living area, it's our small corner trees that really make things hygge-like.

The lights on these Alpine trees are the only lights on when I come downstairs in the morning. I love how they illuminate this painting, purchased frame and all from an antique store going out of business. It was one of those times I was in the right place at the right time.

This little tree is a new addition in our bedroom, a nod to the simplicity of Scandinavian Christmas trees.

Building sanctuary and community, inviting closeness and open heartedness, creating well-being, connection and warmth, belonging to the moment and celebrating the every day.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


"Bonjour!" says le monsieur,
every morning as I make a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How Popeye-with-the-Harley-tattoo helped deliver an early Christmas present

Once upon a time (a few days before Thanksgiving) Joe and Maria had the brilliant idea to get Timothy his very own workbench for Christmas. So they took advantage of a Black Friday deal at Lowe's and snuck out to purchase it; in fact, the deal was so fantastic that they decided to use part of the savings and have it assembled simply for the wow factor on Christmas morning.

That was the last time anything went according to plan.

On Monday Maria went to the service department to pick it up and a few minutes later a Lowe's employee wheeled out a HUGE, fully assembled workbench on a trolley. Now before you ask if Maria had looked at the measurements before ordering, please know that, yes, she had looked at the measurements beforehand. But you know Maria and math; numbers don't translate into the real world for her which is precisely why she married an engineer. She leaves all the math stuff up to Joe.

"Gosh, will that even fit in my van?" Maria asked the Lowe's employee.

He was willing to try so they walked outside, opened the back of the van, and contemplated the space. It was obvious that ALL the seats would have to be folded down. No problem! Maria knew how to do this! She folded one, two, three seats, but couldn't get the last one down even after she crawled in the back of the van to get better leverage. After a few minutes of huffing and puffing she crawled back out to let the Lowe's employee give it a try. He huffed and puffed and couldn't do it either.

They stood in the parking lot wondering what to do when suddenly a behemoth of a man walked out of the store. He was Popeye with a beard, Harley tattoo, and leather boots. His biceps were the size of Sequoia trees (and he didn't get that way from eating spinach). Maria and the Lowe's employee looked at each other and then he timidly bravely asked Popeye-with-the-Harley-tattoo for help.

Popeye-with-the-Harley-tattoo (who seemed even bigger up close) looked at the seat, looked at the strap, and with one finger ... JUST ONE! ... pulled up on the strap and the seat folded down. Just. Like. That.

Later that night when Timothy was in the shower, Joe and Maria went into the garage with the intention of taking the workbench out of the van and carrying it upstairs to the attic until Christmas morning.

Except, when they pulled it out of the van they realized (again) how big and cumbersome it was. And then they thought about having to carry it up the front porch steps, through the front door, up the steep steps to the second floor, and then up another flight of steps to the third floor attic. Joe couldn't do it alone and Maria ... well, by then she was kind of tired of that workbench.

Where was her Popeye-with-the-Harley-tattoo when she needed him?

In the end, here's what they did: Timothy finished his shower, came downstairs, and on a Tuesday night the last week in November and exactly five weeks ahead of schedule, Joe and Maria took him to the garage and yelled, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

The End.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Christmas Decorating for $0.00

This year Christmas is all about grabbing my clippers and foraging -- in the woods behind our house, in my parents' back yard, at a secret location in town. Easy, beautiful, and free.

front door wreath

1 flat basket 
an assortment of fresh greenery 
1 large bow

antique lantern

1 antique lantern
an assortment of fresh greenery
1 large bow

bird bath

1 leaky bird bath
1 antique lantern
an assortment of greenery
a ceramic cardinal
1 large bow

I really have to thank my friend Mary Louise for introducing me to the concept of foraging. While I often walk outside to clip a flower, foraging has taught me to fully appreciate Nature's bounty and all that she offers. My favorite part of foraging is exploring -- just being outside, imagining the possibilities, and enjoying the crisp, cool temperatures.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

First Sunday of Advent: Journeys (Readiness in Memory and Hope)

For the next four Sundays I will share a series called Journeys, personal reflections on the season of Advent presented in four parts – Readiness in Memory and Hope, Setting Forth, Verso l’Alto, and The Return. Join me in following in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary as they traveled to Bethlehem and the Wise Men as they followed the star, and let’s reflect on this journey we call life.
Readiness in Memory and Hope
Yesterday my 2018 planner arrived in the mail. It’s a beautiful planner; the cover is dark brown with a scattering of robin’s egg blue flowers, and my name is written on the bottom right corner. There are pages with quotes and blank spaces to write down goals. Most importantly, 365 empty squares are lined up like stepping stones going forth into a year of tomorrows.

It dawned on me how, in big ways and in small, each of those stepping stones leads me on a journey propelled by Time which marches forward in seconds, minutes, days and years.  With every breath, with every step, with every thought or action or prayer, I am on a journey.

We are all on a journey.

Sometimes the journey is planned and carefully mapped out, but other times it yanks and pulls and drags us where we do not want to go -- through illness, incarceration or grief as we recognize what without understanding why. Sometimes the journey can be a battle with inner demons of self-doubt, alcoholism, or drugs. Sometimes it calls us to foreign lands, a new career path, marriage, or a religious vocation. Oftentimes the journey is exciting and adventurous, but just as often it’s a whirlwind of ordinary with carpool, dinner, laundry, work, and children.

I turned the pages of my brand new planner, and as I filled in the squares with birthdays and anniversaries and family trips, I saw all the empty squares more as stepping stones of hope rather than blank squares of the unknown. I then looked at my old planner, at the squares of yesterdays which were once tomorrows, and saw stepping stones of memory.

Tonight, we will light a candle to mark Advent’s passage, and I am grateful for this season with its gift of time to both recognize the journey and reflect on it -- to gather and learn and step forward in readiness. In his book, Seek that Which is Above, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) describes Advent as a connection between memory and hope; that is, the healing memory of the God who became a child, and the hope that memory brings.

Memory. Hope. A readiness to journey onward.

The Star of Bethlehem in Verona, Italy

Friday, December 1, 2017

Where, oh where, are my Advent Candles?!?

Every year as I put away the Thanksgiving/fall décor while pulling out Christmas decorations it hits me ... ADVENT! It sneaks up on you, that's for sure. So every year I leave the scarecrows, pumpkins, and half decorated Christmas tree to get our Advent wreath ready.

The tradition of the Advent wreath is such a beautiful way to bring the family together in an act of faith. There is beauty and solemnity in the lighting of a candle, and when we gather as a family around our Advent wreath to pray, we are reminded of this season's journey which will bring us to the manger on Christmas morning.

One of my personal traditions has been that of creating Advent wreaths which are unique in appearance, but true to the meaning behind the tradition. I create a new one every year. In the past I have used bedspring coils, a section of a corncrib, a piece of driftwood, baskets, platters, vintage trays, and framed art.

We always put the Advent wreath in the middle of our kitchen table because that's where we gather, and as we light the candle and say a prayer the wreath provides many layers of symbolism for the season:
evergreens = everlasting life
holly = crown of thorns
pine cones/nuts/pods = life and resurrection
four candles = four weeks of Advent
color purple = prayer, penance, preparatory sacrifices, royalty
color pink = rejoicing
circle = eternity of God; God's never ending love
wood = the manger; the cross
Progressive lighting of candles = expectation and hope surrounding Christ's birth

Over the years I've made many  different Advent wreaths, and while I'm still working on this year's wreath here are a few examples of past ones ...

1- Can't find your Advent candles? Simple use regular candles and tie a purple or pink ribbon around each one.

2. Advent wreath on an antique metal tray.

3. One year I used rusty mattress coils, a wood plank from a corncrib, and pink and purple ribbons.

4. Pillar candles on a piece of driftwood with framed scenes of Advent (note: the framed images are cutouts from old Christmas cards).

5. Silver tray, holly leaves, and votive candles wrapped in purple or pink ribbons.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas Facebook Poll: The Results

This past Monday I conducted a very informal Facebook poll. Basically, I posted the following photo and asked for help in deciding how to decorate our kitchen credenza for Christmas. The options included: A/ trees and greenery; B/ greenery only; and C/ trees only.

Here's how the voting went down:

A/ 27 votes
B/ 9 votes
C/ 4 votes
A/ or C/ 3 votes

There were also some issues ...

Issue #1: The light switch! Thanks to Mary Louise for bringing that up, and thanks for reminding me how annoying it is. That light switch, which is TWO FEET away from the edge of the doorway, limited us on what kind of artwork we could put on that wall; in other words, nothing HORIZONTAL. Boo light switch. We also have issues with floor registers -- our builder put one where any normal person would put a piece of furniture.

Issue #2: Baby Jesus! People were passionate about whether the infant Jesus should be placed in his manger, or hidden away until Christmas morning. In our family, we've always had baby Jesus in the manger, but for several years we kept the wise men in another room and every day moved them closer to the manger. But holy moly that was work trying to get the timing just right -- some days the Magi took baby steps, while other days they took giant steps. Baby Jesus in the manger or not, in the words of Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof it all boils down to one word: Tradition!

Issue #3: The snow! Several of you mentioned that you didn't like the trees because they were covered in snow and it doesn't snow in the Holy Land. Well, I had to look this up and, believe it or not, it does occasionally snow in Bethlehem. At an elevation of 2300 feet the area is dry but not necessarily hot, which means snowfalls do occur.

Issue #4 The snow! Truthfully, I have had those trees for years but never included them in any of our manger scenes. I have no problem with a snowy manger scene, but if there is snow on the trees then there should be snow on the greenery and on top of the stable. #AmIRightOrAmIRight?

Now before I reveal my decision, I will say I liked the fullness provided by the greenery, and I liked the coziness of the trees, but I didn't like them together (again, Issue #4) (also, I don't like things to be fussy). I waffled for a couple of days, but then this morning I decided on the greenery ... but more of it. I also went with the real stuff. So after I went foraging in my parents' back yard and a secret location in town (if you take me out for coffee I MIGHT reveal my secret stash) I came up with this ...

P.S. Now about that light switch ... just ignore it ;-)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Because everyone needs a turkey on their head

A few years ago our entire family celebrated Thanksgiving on Hilton Head, and to commemorate the occasion Nonna gave everyone turkey hats. Most of us wore them indoors -- under duress (no hat, no food!) -- but these two wore them everywhere. And they got lots and lots of attention.

We still have those hats. They're in our hat box. You can borrow them if you'd like. 

two turkey walking on the beach

a turkey taking in the view

two turkeys playing cards with Nonno

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Thanksgiving Centerpiece in Four Easy Steps

My friend Mary Louise is a master gardener. She hosts workshops, gives talks, and blogs at where her motto is cultivating life one garden at a time. Recently she did a Facebook Live tutorial for an easy Thanksgiving centerpiece. At first I was wary because easy for Mary Louise means totally the opposite for many people (like me). But here's the other thing about Mary Louise: she can also be very inspirational, so after I watched her tutorial I thought, "I can do this!"

And I did.

And so can you.

Here's a list of everything you need to make Mary Louise's Thanksgiving centerpiece: pumpkins, moss, adhesive spray, and succulents. It's so easy you won't need to take notes ... just follow the photo tutorial.

~1~ Assemble your supplies.

~2~ Grab a handful of moss, shape it, spray one side with adhesive spray, and plop it down on top of your pumpkin. No scooping pumpkin innards!

~3~ Remove a succulent from it's container and break up the root ball. Then, make an opening in the moss and insert the succulent. Repeat until your pumpkin top is covered.

~4~ Fill in spaces with additional moss (I used three different types).

That's it ... four easy steps to create a centerpiece which will transform your Thanksgiving table.

(P.S. Mary Louise says that in order to keep the succulents fresh, just mist lightly with water. Then, whenever you're ready to get rid of the pumpkins simply remove the succulents and transplant them into pots or containers.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Goodbye Green Bean Casserole

I know, I know. The green bean casserole -- the one made with cream of mushroom soup and generous sprinkling of fried onions -- has been a Thanksgiving staple in households across the United States.

But ... ick. Of all the Thanksgiving dishes, this is my least favorite. Sorry! For years it appeared on our Thanksgiving table, and for years everyone took a small spoonful -- a very tiny spoonful -- and moved on to more delicious dishes.

Then several years ago I thought: why do we keep making something no one really likes? So that year I served Bacon-Wrapped Green Bean Bundles instead. They were a HUGE hit, and the green bean casserole was quietly retired.

So, here is my recipe. You're welcome.

Bia's Bacon-Wrapped Green Beans

3/4 pound fresh, French-style green beans
1 pkg. pre-cooked bacon
3 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/8 tsp. soy sauce

1- Blanch green beans (do not overcook because they will continue cooking in the oven).
2- Drain beans. Place 8 beans on each bacon strip. Wrap bacon around the beans and place bundle seam down on a shallow baking dish.
3- In a small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, garlic salt, and soy sauce. Brush mixture over the green bean bundles.
4- Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until warm.

1- Use the thin, French style green beans (keep the tips on). I get mine at Costco. Thick beans don't work well and don't present as nicely.

2- You can use regular bacon, but you will have to cook the bacon before assembling the green bean bundles (heat the bacon until cooked, but not crisp). I used to do it this way, but using pre-cooked bacon simplified my life.

3- To save time, I assemble the green bean bundles ahead of time (even the day before) then brush them with the sauce and place them in the oven before serving.

4- Green beans should be crisp and NOT mushy.

5- The recipe is easily doubled (or tripled).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday's lunch ... sometimes I'm not feeling it

Every Sunday we have lunch with my parents, a long-standing tradition of sit down meals which we take turns hosting (Creating Memories with the Sunday Dinner). Of course, I like the Sundays when we all traipse over to Nonna and Nonno's house for lunch because it means I do absolutely nothing all day long. What about dinner, you ask? Well, lunch at my mom's is a big affair, so if anyone is still hungry later I hand them a bowl and a spoon and point them to the row of cereal boxes in the pantry. See? I do nothing. Those Sundays are my absolute favorite.

But every other Sunday it's my turn to host, and even though it requires some effort on my part I really enjoy the opportunity to try new recipes and set a pretty table.

Most of the time.

Sometimes, though, I'm just not feeling it. Take today, for example. Last night I started making out my grocery list and realized that with the older boys coming home Monday (which means I feel compelled to cook all their favorite meals), and with my entire family here for Thanksgiving, I was going to be in the kitchen most of the week.

So I made a decision. Normally I would serve something like this for our Sunday dinner: melon and prosciutto, bruschetta, chicken saltimbocca, roasted potatoes, and an apple crostata served with espresso for dessert.

But today, I did this and called it an indoor picnic . . .

Friday, November 17, 2017

I'm not being paid for this endorsement ...

but since it's for my sister maybe I'll get a freebie.

All kidding aside, Laura's Etsy site (Alleluia Rocks) has some wonderful gift ideas for the upcoming holidays -- place settings, nativities, ornaments, and her best-selling story stones. She also paints wedding favors, inspirational quotes, and teachers' gifts. Check out her site; once you place an order it ships quickly (within a couple of days) and arrives beautifully packaged. Gift wrapping is also available.

My recent purchases include ...

1- These place settings for our Thanksgiving table,

2- and Christmas gifts for my Bunco group. These just arrived today; I won't tell you what they are because some of my Bunco gals may read this and we wouldn't want to ruin the surprise, but I wanted you to see how beautifully they are wrapped (I had requested that my purchases be individually wrapped, and Laura delivered!)

So, check out her site, Alleluia Rocks. And if you mention me, then maybe I'll get that freebie after all ;-)

I have my eye on this one ...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

chocolate and puddles and spoons

I was walking outside with our youngest son, who was four years old at the time. It had rained the night before and as I stepped over and around the puddles, he was jumping right in.

"How do you make mud?" I asked him as he made a truly spectacular splash.

He stopped to think for a minute. Then he smiled.

"First you dig a hole, then you put water and chocolate in it," he answered as he hopped over to the next puddle. "Next time let's bring a spoon."

I had forgotten this conversation until yesterday when I came across it in my journal. That cute little boy, who used to lick the foam off the top of my cappuccino, is now thirteen years old. He's playing basketball, finishing up a Future City science project, insisting (like boys everywhere) that he  does NOT need to wear a coat, and likes talking about engines and gears.

He's also taller than I am and yesterday when I needed to open a jar which was tightly sealed, I handed it to him and he popped it right open.

Sometimes it takes my breath away to stop and savor those moments when you realize your little boy is shedding his childhood and approaching life -- hesitantly, messily, but most assuredly -- as a young man. It is very humbling, more than a little scary, and all kinds of marvelous.

But I do miss those days of chocolate and puddles and spoons.

Monday, November 13, 2017

My Kind of Touchdown

This past Saturday I decided to leave the guys with their Penn State victory while I went to Ulta. I had my obligatory $3.50 coupon and an ad for a free flat iron with a purchase of a Hot Tools hair dryer. Then, I opened a credit card and received an extra 20% off AND a free Urban Decay eye liner. THEN, the sales associate gave me five really fantastic free samples. Ulta trip = my touchdown victory!

When there is too much testosterone in the house ...
I head to Ulta.

Free samples (and decent size, too) make my day!

Sunday, November 12, 2017



sometimes i have a thought
plucked out of the air
thin and wispy
which poof! disappears
where does it go,
this thought that was but no longer is?
sometimes i have a thought
a cloud-like puff which drifts
to my hands, my legs, my heart,
the words I speak 
propelling me to
create, help, console, dream
sometimes a cloud thought
is dark, thunder-like
raining seeds of paralysis –
self-doubt, insecurity,
unworthiness, fear
today i had a thought
i need a thought-weatherman
to herald clouds –  
the wispy, puffy, or thunderous
because sometimes
I can’t tell them apart.
*from the files of very bad poetry by bia

Friday, November 10, 2017

How to Host Thanksgiving Outdoors

Last year we hosted Thanksgiving for family on both sides. It was a large gathering, so to accommodate everyone I had decided to move Thanksgiving to our back yard. We set up a long tables under the trees, we had a drink station on the deck and a buffet table on the grass, the adults had room to mingle and the children space to play, and in the early afternoon we broke bread together under a canopy of leaves resplendent in brilliant oranges, yellows and reds.

It was one of my favorite Thanksgiving days ever. Because we were eating and reciting our Thanksgiving prayer outside, I truly felt as if we were sharing in the harvest while surrounded by Nature's Bounty. It worked out so well that this year we're doing it again.

I learned a lot about taking things outside, what worked and what I could have done differently, and I'll share these. And please feel free to share any suggestions or traditions that you do in your family! This is what's beautiful about the blogging world -- we all learn from one another.

We are at the mercy of Mother Nature

I spend a great deal of time complaining about the interminable summers here in the Deep South where, unless it's a picnic on a beach, I like to eat indoors with the gentle hum of the air conditioner providing background music. But spring and fall are absolutely gorgeous here so having our Thanksgiving meal outside is an option for us. I realize this may not be possible for those living in colder areas of the country, but you get a snowy Christmas and we don't (one day I would like to experience a Christmas Eve snowfall and wake up Christmas morning to a winter wonderland). I guess the bottom line is this: as much as we love to be out in Mother Nature, we are at mercy of the seasons and completely dependent on her whims. And believe it or not, it gets cold down here, too.

A basket of blankets by the back door for chilly nights
(because even in the Deep South it gets cold).

Know your entertaining style

Elegant, casual, or somewhere in between? Lennox china or mismatched stoneware from Pottery Barn? Linen tablecloths or burlap table runners? Theme or no theme? We all host Thanksgiving in different ways,  but if you stay true to your style then it will come across more naturally. If I had to pick my style, I suppose it would be more Tuscan farmhouse than Italian villa; in other words, welcoming and cozy with a tiny whisper of elegance in a rustic setting. Truthfully, though, I tend to think more in terms of mood rather than style. How do I want my guests to feel? How do I want them to interact? What do I want them to experience when they walk in our front door? What can I do to ensure they have a lovely time?

Moving it outdoors

Whatever your style, it's easy to move your Thanksgiving meal outdoors by recreating your inside setting ... outside. Picture your dinner table under the trees, or on your brick patio, or next to the fire pit. Set the table with your Lennox china or your Pottery Barn stoneware. Use the crystal stemware. String lights from the trees, provide background music, and keep a basket of blankets nearby for when the sun goes down. Don't think picnic just because you're eating outdoors; rather, think dining al fresco on the Amalfi Coast.

Logistics are important

When you move the meal outdoors, it's important to map things out in advance. Know where to place the table, how guests will handle drinks, and how food will be served. For last year's Thanksgiving meal I made sure to place the table where there would be afternoon shade. I also knew that, due to our large numbers, passing around the sweet potato casserole or a platter of sliced turkey would be cumbersome, so I set up a buffet table nearby. As for drinks ... I placed bottled water and wine on the table, but all other beverages (soda, beer, iced tea) could be found at a "beverage station" on the deck.

Planners, planners everywhere! This from Pinterest.

Dressing the table (in addition to the turkey)

To me, holidays are a time to dress things up, and just because you're dining al fresco doesn't mean you can't use table linens. To keep things simple, whenever I entertain (inside or outside) I do any of the following:

1/ Go bare. I really, really like the look of stoneware on dark, bare wood, so if you have a nice table don't use a tablecloth. Use linen napkins to soften the look and introduce a color scheme.

photo via pinterest

Preparing a tablescape for a talk. No tablecloth needed.

2/ Use drop cloths from Home Depot or Lowe's. Seriously, this is my favorite thing to do. The canvas almost looks like linen, and the neutral color provides an excellent backdrop for centerpieces and trays of food. And the best part? They are indestructible, can be cut to size, and drape nicely.

Using drop cloths from Lowe's for a luncheon

Drop cloths are durable and drape nicely.

3/ Use blankets or throws. This is another of my favorite tips, especially during the fall and winter months. Whether I set a table in front of the fireplace or out on the back deck, I will use flannel blankets as tablecloths. Last week I found some perfect blankets/throws at Hobby Lobby which be used for this year's Thanksgiving table, and the pretty autumnal colors will contrast nicely with neutral stone plates and fall décor; additionally, the throws help create a mood of welcome and hominess. The best part? They were 50% off (I purchased six blankets for less than $30, which will cover two 8-ft long tables.)

Fireside dinner using flannel throws as tablecloths

The Hobby Lobby throws I will use this year

Divide and Conquer

We all know that the Thanksgiving meal takes a lot of preparation and cooking, but the very heart of that first Thanksgiving was about celebrating Nature's Bounty and God's Blessings by bringing something to the table. So allow others to participate by bringing a bottle of wine, a side dish, a pumpkin pie.  Here's one thing that works for our large family gatherings: we host and provide drinks, appetizers, and a side dish or two, my siblings bring side dishes and desserts, and my mother cooks the turkey (this is KEY! for me because it saves my kitchen from a huge mess -- think turkey carcass and dripping juices -- and it frees precious countertop space for all the side dishes).

My sister's fancy shmancy homemade pumpkin pie

Something for everyone

Finally, when hosting it is nice to be able to offer something to all age groups, and being outside made this easier. So Joe set up corn hole, the boys made sure basketballs and footballs were pumped full of air, and I set out a basket of blankets in case anyone got chilly. Last year, I realized how having all that extra space allowed us to offer more things to do -- after eating the adults lingered at the table but could still see (and cheer!) the kids playing corn hole; the teens played basketball but came running when we pulled out the dessert; people wandered to the buffet table, drink station, and back again.

What about the football games? Our family is 90% male, so yes, there is football -- both in the backyard and on television. Last year the guys periodically wandered inside to check the score or watch a touchdown, but then they always wandered back again outside. We were at, or nearby, the table all afternoon. Then, later that night some friends dropped by and we had S'mores around the fire pit.

1. Too far  2. Closer, but still too far  3. Perfect!

Treasured Traditions

Finally, our family has celebrated Thanksgiving in many ways -- inside, outside, at grandparent's homes, at the beach, and even in Italy. But no matter where we are, we always read our family's Thanksgiving prayer. It's a special prayer, written by Lino Villacha, and my mother became pen pals with Lino through her best friend who was 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 he suffered from 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 so 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.