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

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

What I'm Doing: Addressing Holiday Modesty

Here is a sneak peek of the dress I purchased for New Year's Eve.

Can I just say how excited I am to be able to dress up? Especially since our plans on NYE usually include gathering around a fire pit to toast in the New Year, or lounging in our pj's while we watch a movie, or doing absolutely nothing and going to bed early.

But this year we will celebrate with champagne and party hats while sailing the western Caribbean en route to Mexico.

As you can imagine, I was excited when I found this dress. It drapes beautifully, it's the perfect length, and it's very flattering (provided I don't gain so much as one single pound over Christmas). But there is one teensy, weensy problem: the dress has a Kardashian-like side slit a mile long and I am not a Kardashian. I need to be able to walk, sit, and move without worrying about flashing anyone. #modestyisalive

I mean, I want to live it up this New Year's Eve, but I don't want to live it up that much.

So, today I am dusting off the sewing basket and rummaging for needle and thread to reduce a mile-long slit to 3/4 of a mile.

Or somewhere thereabouts.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Boy Elf, Girl Elf: How to tell the difference

This year Santa has officially  morphed into Mom, Dad, and the Christmas Spirit. We kept it going for as long as we could, but little boys grow up. Darn it. I miss the innocence of those times, such as when the boys claimed, all wide eyed and breathless with excitement, that they saw a red glow out their window which must have been Rudolph (it was actually the car taillight of the guy delivering the Augusta Chronicle). And then there was this conversation, a classic in our family ...

"Mom," asks our little guy. "How do you know if an elf is a boy or a girl?"

I stop what I'm doing. How do I answer this? There are a lot of different directions I can go, but which one? I'm thinking fast, but apparently not fast enough.

"I know!" he says. "You have to look under his ..."

STOP. Allow me to interrupt for a moment. Can I just tell you I was a tad apprehensive about what he was going to say? I mean, where do YOU think the conversation was headed? How would YOU tell the difference between a boy elf and a girl elf? But here, let's resume ...

"You have to look under his HAT!" he says triumphantly. "A lot of girls hide their ponytails under their hat, so if you see a ponytail then it's a girl elf!"

And now you know, too. Call it Christmas enlightenment.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Year of No Tortellini

Many of you know that, from the beginning of time, our family has had the tradition of gathering in my parents' kitchen one week before Christmas to make homemade tortellini.

We make a lot -- 500-700 (one year we made 792!) -- and each one is filled and folded by hand.

It's a labor of love because all us who are here (the five of us and my parents) make the tortellini for all family members that live out of town who, basically, arrive Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to eat. We like to give them a hard time about it; from the moment we sit down to eat we talk about all the work, work, work we did to make those 700 tortellini, and how we had to give up an entire Saturday for the task, and how even the guys just home from college sacrificed for the greater good of the family. We shamelessly pile on the guilt.

Except, I don't think they feel guilty. They're too busy eating.

Anyway. This year, for the first time since the beginning of time, we are breaking with tradition. There will be no homemade tortellini. Not one. We will not gather in Nonna's kitchen. We will not listen to opera. Additionally, we're not even celebrating Christmas with anyone and we are not  exchanging gifts.

No tortellini! No opera! No ribbons and bags and bows!

Instead ...

all 18 of us are meeting in Tampa, FL two days after Christmas to sail away on a western Caribbean cruise.

I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but I think we'll survive a Christmas with no homemade tortellini ;-)

P.S. In case you're interested ... links to our tortellini tradition through the years:

We start tortellini training early!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent: Journeys (Verso l'Alto)

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.

This past summer I climbed a mountain.
I was in Breckenridge, Colorado with three friends. On Day One, after a full day of air travel, we arrived to our cabin late at night under an almost full moon; on Day Two, when we realized that just walking upstairs made it difficult to breathe, we leisurely explored the downtown area to allow our bodies time to acclimate to the high altitude; but on Day Three, dressed in layers and carrying backpacks, we stood at the beginning of a 3.4 mile hiking trail that went straight up a mountain to Mohawk Lake.

Over dirt trails, rocky crevices, and overgrown roots we climbed up and up. We crossed streams, walked through meadows, and climbed over logs. We passed other hikers going up and said hello to hikers going back down. We made a wrong turn, which turned our 3.2 miles of going up into 4.2 miles of going up. We were tired. Sometimes it hurt to breathe. We laughed, we encouraged each other, we stopped to take in the breathtaking views. During the last mile, the trail turned rocky, the ascent became even steeper, and we weren’t so much hiking as looking for footholds and pulling ourselves up and over large boulders.

Then, after almost four hours of hiking and climbing, after four hours of not being able to see the peak but nevertheless continuing because we knew it was there, after all that time of looking upward as we climbed, we arrived. Finally. And the feeling was indescribable.

There was exuberance, yes, and certainly a feeling of accomplishment. But mostly I felt humbled to have worked, and struggled, and climbed, and sweated in order to finally arrive exactly where we had been heading. And as I caught my breath and drank in the view, I thought of a prayer card I had with a photo of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati climbing a mountain with the words, Verso l’Alto, written in the corner.   

These Italian words were scribbled onto a photograph in 1925 by Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and they have become representative of his earthly life – that is, of constantly striving to reach the summit of eternal life. Translated literally, verso is a preposition meaning towards – not in action, but in orientation – as in, what are we heading towards? Alto, on the other hand, is a noun meaning height. So while the words Verso l’Alto mean towards the height, Pier Giorgio Frassati showed us that they don’t so much refer to the physical act of climbing as what we are doing while climbing; in other words, they refer to the Christian’s spiritual journey – and all we do while on that journey – as we strive to reach the height of heaven.

So, as I stood on the shores of Mohawk Lake on top of that mountain, as I breathed in the crisp mountain air and delighted in the indescribable beauty, I also felt restlessness – a longing for more. I remembered how Carl Frederick Buechner, in his book Listening to Your Life, said that the unease (or incompleteness) we may feel is the sound God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away. And that’s why I felt humbled because I knew there are more mountains to scale, for God is forever calling us to him and in our spiritual journey one can move forward or backward, but one cannot stand still.

We are meant to be heading somewhere; we are meant to strive, and climb, and struggle. We will have moments of rest, but when we rise we will, like the Wise Men following that star, look up and continue climbing …

Verso l’Alto.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Story of Us

Some of you know the story on how Joe and I met, but since today is our 27th wedding anniversary I thought I'd share it here for the first time. It's a good story ...

Once upon a time there was a girl named Maria who was an English major at the University of Georgia. She was an excellent student (except in math) and loved nothing more than sitting under the oak trees on campus discussing Shakespeare and poetry. She studied abroad, almost joined the Peace Corps, and once she received her degree decided to continue her studies in order to obtain a teacher certification in secondary education.

Around the time Maria was sitting under the oak tree discussing Shakespeare, there was a guy named Joe who recently graduated from Penn State University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was hired by SRS and promptly moved south ... mainly for the abundance of golf courses. He rented an apartment, bought a state-of-the-art stereo system, vacationed in England (to attend the Ryder Cup) and Ireland (to play golf), and like any good Catholic boy joined a local church.

One late November Maria came home and her mother announced that she had signed up the entire family to work at the Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church. Maria was not happy. She had better things to do than volunteer at a church dinner, but that evening she found herself serving the garlic bread in the dinner line.

As it happened, Joe had purchased a ticket for this dinner. He had just come from the golf course, and with the intention of getting his dinner to go he picked up a tray and got in line. He noticed a dark-haired girl serving the garlic bread, and wouldn't you know that just when he got to her the bread ran out! So while the kitchen staff was scrambling to bring in another tray of garlic bread, Maria and Joe chatted for a few minutes.

The bread arrived and Joe made the decision to NOT take the food home after all but to eat it right there. He took a seat at a table and kept his eye on the girl. When she moved over to work the dessert table, he pulled out his wallet and bought some cookies.

Incredibly, they did not exchange names, so the next Monday Joe called the church office and asked the priest for the name of the girl who was serving the garlic bread at the Spaghetti Dinner. Now, the priest knew the family very well, but he always got confused about the daughters -- he knew one was named Maria and the other was Laura, but he didn't know which was which. But he had an idea. He told Joe that the girl and her family always came to the 9:30 Mass on Sunday morning.

The next Sunday Maria was sitting at Mass with her sister, brother and parents. During the Sign of the Peace she turned to shake hands with the people sitting behind them and there was Joe -- who usually went to Mass Saturday night -- smiling at her. For the next couple of Sundays Joe faithfully sat behind Maria and her family at Mass, and in mid-December during the Advent Reconciliation Service they stood in line together and talked the entire time when they should have been examining their conscience. The priest (a visiting one) was probably confused when first one, then the other, entered the confessional smiling.

Their first date was a 50's themed New Year's Eve party.

Six months later they were engaged.

And six months after that (just a little over a year from when they met) they were married in that very same church. The priest who played matchmaker officiated.

 Joe and Maria
Passing out bomboniere (Italian wedding favors) at their reception.

Joe and Maria, in the beginning

Joe and Maria today ...

 and the story continues ...

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.)