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

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

La Dolce Vita Travels: The Art of Packing

Heading out of town this weekend (a hiking trip to Colorado!) and thought I'd re-post this. It was one of my more popular posts ...

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.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Twilight Zone (Mall episode)

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity ... and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge ... it is an area which we call the Twilight Zone the Mall.

So. I'm living in the Twilight Zone.

Since the beginning of summer each of the Novajosky boys has wanted to go the mall ... up to and including my husband who, just this past Friday, announced that it was too hot to do anything outdoors and suggested we go to the mall.

Now, I go to the mall maybe three times a year, and here I've been three times since the end of May. All because of my guys. Go figure.

But on Friday I should have known something was up when Joe pulled up to a Sears entrance -- not the main one, but a side entrance -- and parked the car as close as he could to the doors. Any closer and they would have called security.

We entered directly into the lawn mower section where my husband found a salesperson who told him everything about our lawn mower bag which needs replacing: Yes, we sell this type of bag; no, we don't carry it in the store; yes, you can order it online.

"Okay." Joe announced, turning to us.

"Okay, what?" I asked, although I was pretty sure I knew the answer to my own question.

"All done. That's all I needed." he replied glancing at the exit.

As my head was spinning to come up with a clever comeback, Timothy intervened.

"I want to go to GameStop."

That's my boy. Normally I try to discourage anything related to video games, but GameStop is precisely 45 feet from the entrance of Sears so we would actually have to go into the mall.

After GameStop someone suggested Barnes & Noble and all of a sudden we were MORE in! Like, we had to walk all the way down the upper level to the other end of the mall! Along the way I helpfully pointed out some of my favorite stores and offered some helpful advice:

Pandora is a great place for jewelry; and you know me, I like chunky bracelets.
Sephora is great for makeup; a gift certificate is the way to go.
Teavana has the cutest little teapots. You can also sample the teas.

In Barnes & Noble we headed for the magazine section where Joe saw this ...

and I saw this.

Then I found myself near the travel maps and, because everything was just a tad surreal, Timothy and I goofed around until Joe peeked around the aisle and asked what we were doing. Not behaving, was what we were doing, but it was fun.

(What wasn't fun was re-folding that nice map of Rome. Maps can be pesky like that.)

We then walked the length of the mall back to Sears and our getaway car. On the way we stayed on the upper lever, but since we were on the other side we had to walk past Victoria's Secret and all those pink, frilly, lacy things. I told Timothy to close his eyes.

Now, I know you're probably wondering, "What about the lower level?"

Well, there just wasn't enough time in this Twilight Zone episode. Thirty minutes, max. We'll do the lower level in the next episode . . .

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Dining Table with the Turquoise Chairs

The year Joe and I lived in Santa Fe, NM was a very special time in our lives. We were away from family, we didn't have children, and so our weekends were filled with hikes, cross country skiing, road trips, and enjoying the Hispanic and the Native American cultures which are so prevalent in that part of the world.

During our time there we lived in a beautiful adobe house which was just a five-minute walk from the main plaza. Everything about that house was charming ... the small courtyard, the brick floor in the kitchen, the three kiva fireplaces, the Spanish tile on the walls and countertops, the skylights, and the small dining table with wooden chairs painted a bright turquoise color.

There are a lot of memories associated with that little home. The midnight walks during a snowfall and a full moon, watching the rain while sitting under the skylights, lighting the kiva fireplace for the first time and setting off all the fire alarms because of the smoke, listening to Italian tapes in the evening so Joe could learn the language, and once ordering a pizza with green chili, only I must have said jalapeno because that's what they delivered, and yowza! that pizza was hot.

And it was near the end of our stay, while sitting on the blue turquoise chairs at our little dining table, that I told Joe that he was going to be a father for the first time.

New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment ... and so it was for us.

*this was a re-post from June 15, 2014.

Our dining room table in Santa Fe

Our adobe home in Santa Fe, NM

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bia-the-City-Girl Goes Fishing

Earlier this week my dad called to ask if Timothy and I would like to go fishing with him this Thursday.

Now, as many of you know I am a self-professed city girl, but I do I like to fish ... as long as someone else baits the hook; I also like to catch fish ... as long as someone else takes it off the line; and I definitely like to eat fish ... as long as someone cleans and fillets it for me. I also really, really like to ride in the boat.

In other words, I do what's called city-girl-fishing. (I also do city-girl-camping.)

So I said yes to the fishing date.

"We're going to leave early," Nonno warns me. "Like around 5:30."

Now, I'm an early riser, but 5:30? Are the fish even awake then? But I did wonder: does he mean that as the initial wake-up call? Or does he mean for us to be at his house, bright eyed and bushy tailed, fishing pole in hand, ready to go at that exact time.

Yup, that's what he meant. 

So we got up at that ungodly hour and, well, let me tell you it's hard to put on mascara that early in the morning, and then I had to run back in to get my kindle so I would have something to read if we got stuck in the middle of the lake, or something. As a result, we ended up being 15 minutes late (Nonno says it was closer to 20 minutes). Whatever. I was sure the fish would be there waiting.

We arrived to the lake at sunrise.

We fished. And we fished some more. We moved the boat here. We moved the boat there. Just when I was beginning to think there wasn't a single fish in the entire lake ... Nonno caught a fish!

A fish! They DO exist! Timothy and I were PUMPED so we doubled down, determined to catch one, too.

Nonno caught one.
Now it was our turn.

[Now, I interrupt this adventure to let you in on a little secret: every time one of us goes fishing with Nonno it ends up costing him money. Let's see . . . there was the time one son backed Nonno's truck into the Savannah River and totaled it (true story). On another fishing trip our other son got his fishing line wrapped around Nonno's trolling motor which then later had to be disassembled and untangled. Today was no exception because at one point I was demonstrating to Timothy how far I could cast. I ended up making a truly spectacular cast . . . fishing pole and all. It made a truly spectacular splash and sank spectacularly fast.]

Nonno fixing me another fishing pole
after I "cast" mine away.

At least now I know what to get Nonno for Father's Day.

Anyway, back to the story. After Nonno's catch we continued to fish. And we fished some more. We moved the boat here. We moved the boat there. Just when I was beginning to think Nonno had caught the ONLY fish in the entire lake we pulled into a small cove where . . . I hooked a fish.

Not just any fish, but a whopper of a fish!

It was like Man City Girl vs. Nature, and when the fish tried to swim around the boat with me wrestling with the line, I had visions of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea.

I finally reeled it in, laughing maniacally. Later I realized there was a cabin nearby with people out on the deck, and I just bet they were saying: Yup. That's a city girl for sure. Just caught her first fish. Whatever. Then Nonno tried to get me to hold it so we could take a photo, but I said uh-uh-no-way-was-I-holding-that-stinky-fish.

So that's why I have a photo of Nonno holding my fish.

Five hours later and I'm home sweaty, sunburned, but feeling triumphant. After all, tonight I get to put dinner on the table. Oh, I put dinner on the table every night, but this time I mean it LITERALLY.

We are having the fish I caught (which Nonno cleaned and filleted for me).

From lake to dinner table.

You go, City Girl.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

48 Hours

This past weekend my husband and I flew to Little Rock, AR with our eldest son who will be moving there in a month to begin work. We had 48 hours to explore the city, find an apartment, and get a feel for the area. We had 48 hours to stake our claim in a city in which we had never visited and where we didn't know a single person. We had 48 hours to do as much as we could to lay the foundation for a new beginning for our son.

And within the span of that 48 hours we also planned to attend Mass Saturday night. There were many Catholic churches in Little Rock, so once Nicholas signed the lease for his apartment we Googled nearby churches and arbitrarily picked one to attend.

Here's what I envisioned (hoped!) would happen: We'd walk into a church with lots of young people -- people my son's age! -- and he would feel welcomed and excited about joining a new parish. Maybe even someone would even come up and speak to him and tell him about a Bible study or a young adult group.

Instead, here's what happened: We walked into the church, and of the 40 people in attendance Joe and I were the youngest which, as you can imagine, was not a good sign for Nicholas.

It was definitely not how I would have planned things. Not. At. All.

But as I knelt in the quiet of the church before Mass started, I wrapped myself in the comforting traditions of our faith and unburdened my soul to God.

I gave Him everything -- my hope, fears, doubts, and tears. I told Him how proud I was to have a son primed and ready to go forth into this world, but at the same time confessed how letting go is so contrary to a mother's heart. I gave Him my confidence in my son's intelligence and maturity, but also my fears of him being in a city of strangers.  I asked for patience with the arrogance of youth (of which we have all been guilty) who think they can go it alone and often forget that seeking advice, asking for help, or kneeling before God is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.

And then came the homily. The priest, who was originally from Vietnam, told the story of his last few months in seminary when he was consumed with worry on how he was going to buy a chalice for his ordination. He knew his family back in Vietnam could not afford it, and as a seminarian on scholarship with no funds of his own he didn't know what to do. He told no one of his dilemma. Then one day a priest teaching in the seminary informed him that an elderly priest from another parish had died and that his family wanted his chalice to go to a seminarian. Would he like to have the chalice?

Sitting in that nearly empty church in a strange city, listening to this story of a man who followed his vocation to live among strangers, I realized that there are times in our life when God has given us that chalice -- such as the moment He provides exactly what we need at the exact moment when we need it, or when He gives us something we didn't even realize we needed, or when we don't know how to ask for something and He gives it to us anyway.

I also realized that maybe, just maybe, God brought us to that church not for Nicholas (the way I wanted it to happen), but for me.

Somewhere in Italy
(photo taken by my cousin)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Text Recipes, continued

Kitchen time with our eldest son has resulted in Text Recipes -- the easiest way to remember, store, and access recipes from Mom.

And it's easy. A photo of the ingredients and a photo of the end result. No instructions. Just a visual reminder on how to get from photo A to photo B. He's a computer engineer, he'll figure it out.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Getting Ready: How to Furnish Your Apartment

Tomorrow Joe, Nicholas and I are flying to Little Rock, Arkansas to help Nicholas find and sign a lease for an apartment. Then, in one week he leaves for training in Denver, after which the moving van will be here to pack up all his stuff for his new life (and career!) in Little Rock.

You should see our rec room.

But we won't go there; instead, let me share with you how we've helped Nicholas stock his future apartment.

1. We started with what he had.

Which, truthfully, wasn't much. As far as furniture goes, he basically he had a television and a bed (top mattress and box spring, but no headboard). The mattress was brand new, but the box spring wasn't. So we decided to keep the mattress and then purchase a platform bed (with a headboard!) so we didn't have to deal with storing and/or transporting a bulky box spring.

2. We shopped yard sales, estate sales, and consignment stores.
(with the exception of the desk, nothing was over $100)

3. We re-purposed.

Up in our attic was a white bookcase that used to be in Timothy's nursery. We brought it down, painted it black, and re-purposed it into an entertainment center. Nicholas' flat screen television will sit on top, and the canvas storage bins (not shown) will be used for storage.

4. We re-upholstered.

Also stored in our attic was a kitchen table and four chairs that Joe and I had when we first married. It's quality furniture, but the chair cushions needed to be replaced.

It's amazing what a bolt of Waverly upholstery fabric, a staple gun, and a rainy afternoon can do.

And there you have it. All this preparation has been exciting, but also bittersweet. Keep us in your prayers this weekend as Nicholas makes some big decisions!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Most Frivolous Post (about makeup)

A few weeks ago I spent all of five minutes shopping at the mall. If you remember, I was there with Jonathan who (desperately) needed some clothes. Because he absolutely hates shopping, we made this agreement: it was to be a quick trip with no added stops.

Quick for him meant selecting an assortment of tops AND  pair of shoes in under five minutes.

No added stops meant no Sephora for me.

I wrote about that little adventure in a blog post appropriately entitled: Five Minutes at the Mall.

I have since been back to the mall twice, both times with one son or the other, and both times no Sephora. Then, on Mother's Day Jonathan (who may or may not read my blog) (he just smiles when I ask him) gave me a gift certificate to ... SEPHORA!!!!

So last Friday, WITHOUT any member of the male species in accompaniment, I went to Sephora and came back with:

  • Nars The Multiple Stick in Orgasm (sorry, I don't name them): This is an all-in-one, cream-to-powder, multipurpose makeup stick. I have been wanting to try this because I have two trips coming up this month, and the stick doubles as a blush, highlighter, eye shadow, and lipstick which means that's all the makeup I need to pack. Most of my gift certificate went toward this purchase.
  • Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir Volume Mascara: This was a freebie. I like the mascara but not the wand. But it's a good travel size, it's waterproof, so I'll use it until it runs out.
  • It Cosmetics Confidence in a Cream™: I once received this as a freebie, fell in love with it, but when I went to purchase the full size I didn't feel like paying $50. But now I have another free sample and it will be perfect for traveling.
  • Make Up For Ever Aqua XL Color Paint Shadow (in matte taupe): HOLY MOLY I love this eye shadow! Made in France, this is the description on the Sephora web site: A 24-hour wear cream shadow that delivers easy blendability and ultra-pigmented color. It also states that it is waterproof, smudge-proof, and crease-resistant ... all true, true, true! Which, let me tell you, is a blessing if you live in the south. And like the Nars Multiple, it's very versatile because you can use it alone, as a liner, or as a base for your favorite shadow.

So there you have it. I apologize for the frivolity of this post; really, there are much more pressing matters in the world which no amount of makeup will ever solve, but at least I can venture forth with a little je ne sais quoi.

maybe ;-)


Monday, June 5, 2017

Text Recipes

"Mom, this summer I want to learn to cook."

The words, spoken by our eldest son, were music to my ears. In a few weeks he will be off to Denver, CO for training and then Little Rock, AR where he will be living. He will be in a new place, working in a new environment, and while he can grill a burger and cook pasta he wanted more ideas in his arsenal.

Which is where I come in. But I know my son: the fewer the ingredients, all the better; the quicker the cooking time, all the better.

So enter the text recipes.

Here's how it works: When I get ready to teach him a new recipe (today it was grilled tilapia on steamed rice, served with seasoned tomatoes), I gather all the ingredients on the counter and take a photo. Then, after we are finished cooking I take another photo of the finished product and TEXT HIM BOTH PHOTOS for him to file away.

This way, he has a photo of all the ingredients. He has a photo of the end result. And without actually writing down a recipe he can figure out how to get from photo A to photo B.

He's a computer engineer. He can figure it out.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Weird Saturday

Today is weird.

There are roofers pounding on our roof; there are shingles flying everywhere.

Timothy is not here; he is spending the weekend on Kiawah Island with a friend.

It's noisy with the roofers; it's quiet without Timothy.

I just had a smoothie with cashew milk, blueberries, and Vega One protein powder. It was a funny purple-green color.

And now I'm going on a canal hike.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker

Meet Benedetta from Fatto in Casa da Benedetta.

She has a Facebook page, a blog, an Instagram account, and a YouTube channel which I follow because she cooks delicious, authentic Italian food. She recently published her first cookbook which you can purchase on Amazon, but before you place an order please be aware that it is written in Italian.

Aside from her good food and the easy-to-follow recipes, I love to watch her because she personifies the Italian kitchen. Her door is always open, and very often children will come in during a video shoot  and she will stop what she's doing to give them something just hot out of the oven.

Then there is this photo which she recently posted on Instagram. She is standing next to bricklayers (a father and his two sons) who are working on a few small jobs around her house. She took this photo to express her thanks to them (and others like them) who work hard, and honestly, and help people's dreams become reality. And because it was lunchtime, Benedetta not only fixed them a huge pranzo, but she sat down and ate with them.

I love this. I love how she took the moment to highlight the importance of laborers and how she used food to show her appreciation. Really, I look at that photo and it makes me smile.

Then yesterday, a work crew arrived to replace our roof. It is backbreaking work pulling up old shingles, it's hot climbing on a black surface in the open sun, and it's very dangerous (we have 10-foot ceilings on both floors, and with a third floor attic our roof is high and very steep). And just like Benedetta, I wanted to feed them.

So now, as I am writing this post there is a small crew of roofers eating lunch in our backyard. We moved two tables under the trees and set out sub sandwiches, chips, fruit, iced tea and lemonade, and a few minutes ago Timothy carried out a tray of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

It takes all kinds of people to make this world go 'round. Not everyone can be a physicist, but not everyone can be a bricklayer, either. Every person is just as important as the next one and every person -- whether a doctor, Wal-Mart cashier,  teacher, sanitation worker, police officer, janitor -- deserves the same respect.

Providing subs and a shady place to eat is not much, but maybe it's enough for them to know that we care about the work they do.