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

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Warm Fuzzies

I love people.

This afternoon Timothy and a friend went to the movie theater to see the new Star Wars movie. Since this is the first time we have allowed Timothy go to the movies alone, I walked them inside to make sure there were no problems with the tickets (which we purchased a week ago) and ... well ... so I could watch them enter the theater.

We walked up to the lady who was scanning the tickets, and when she seemed puzzled that there were three of us standing there but only two tickets, I quickly explained what I was doing.

"Which one is your son?" she asked.

I pointed to Timothy.

"Do you know what a good mom you have?" she said to him.  "Your mom makes sure to know where you are, she knows your friends, she walks you in to make sure there are no problems. What do you say?"

Poor Timothy looked like a deer in headlights.

"Thank you?" he sputtered.

"That will work," said the woman. "But you really need to say thank you GOD. You are a blessed to have a mom who takes care of you."

Well. How about that? A mom affirmation ... and just like that I was grinning like an idiot.

I know I'm appreciated, but sometimes it's nice to hear the words, you know?

Little boys grow up ... darn it.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Speak to Me Sunday, vol. 12 (In Remembrance)

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies...

~Moina Michael
We shall keep the Faith, 1918

Poppy Field, Oplontis Villa
Torre Annunziata, Italy (2010)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A summer of lemonade and ice cream

Just for you. A delicious and easy summer pie recipe. It's a refreshing balance of not too sweet and not too tart, and with just four ingredients it can be whipped up in minutes. You're welcome!


Two 6-oz ready-made pie crusts, graham cracker or shortbread
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream, softened
1 can (12 oz) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 tub (16 oz) frozen whipped topping, thawed

1. Place crusts in freezer.
2. Put softened ice cream, lemonade concentrate, and 3/4 of the whipped topping into a large bowl. Stir until blended.
3. Spread mixture in each pie crust.
4. Top each with remaining whipped topping.
5. Cover and place in freezer.
*garnish with fresh blueberries and/or sliced strawberries.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Middle of Somewhere

This morning Timothy and I watched the season finale of The Middle. The show actually aired last night, but we were busy with Timothy's graduation and all that entails -- dinner, Mass, graduation, reception, class party.

So, we watched it this morning while we had breakfast, and finally all our season-long questions were answered: Will Axl take the job in Denver? Will Sue and Sean get together already? And, most pressing of all, where will that snow globe end up next? At one point in the show Frankie (who, I swear, is the Hollywood version of me) demands that Mike stop the car, and there in the middle of nowhere she has a crying fit about all the changes happening in their family. She even uses the words "end of an era" which was the title of my blog post last week.

Changes. There have been a lot of them in our family this past year. One son working as a computer engineer in Little Rock, Arkansas; one son with an accounting internship that keeps him from coming home for the summer; and one son (our baby) whose graduation last night from St. Mary's meant we all graduated from a school that has been part of our family for 18 years. Then there is a new high school to ready for, an accelerated Spanish class to teach, a trip to Italy to sponsor, and a book to publish (yes, it's happening) (more on that later).

Changes. All good. And exciting. But different ... you know?

At the end of the show my son asked why it was called The Middle. So we went through some possibilities: the Hecks are a middle class family, they live in the middle of America, they have three children and the odd number means someone is always caught in the middle.

Or maybe it's because in life we're always in the middle, living in the present but sandwiched between the past and the future. Then, the minute we step into the future we are in the middle again.

I think I need a Frankie moment. I'm not sure if this will call for a hug, a tissue, a cookie, or some alone time, but maybe I'll start with a cappuccino.

In the meantime, photos of last night's graduation ...

A phone. Finally.
(Our sons get their first phone at the end of
middle school and before high school.)

Graduating Class

Fr. Ross

He looked! He smiled!

Excited to receive this.

Shenanigans before Mass

Favorite teachers
(kindergarten and 8th grade)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Unexpected Things

I  like to hike
on the canal
in the woods
over dirt paths
and green grass
to discover outdoor things –
a waterfall swollen with rain
a turtle crossing my path
red poppies growing out of a rock
and unexpected things …
a pink balloon.
~from the files of very bad poetry by bia

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Speak to Me Sunday, vol. 11 (the power of a question)

"A question holds all the potential of the living universe within it. Questions are far more valuable than answers ... if you continue to seek questions you cannot stray far off the proper road."

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

I came across this quote last week while listening to Savit's book on audible during an early morning hike along the canal. The words stopped me in my tracks. I pondered the word question, a word with quest as its root. There is power in the asking, for a question propels and spurs and nudges and shoves you on a journey.

And there are many journeys within a quest.

Then I thought of question as a punctuation mark, and how it curves out, up, and around before leading straight to the period which isn't connected, but still part of the whole.

I've asked many questions throughout my life, and standing there on the canal I realized how often the act of seeking an answer became the answer itself; that is, the destination became absorbed into the quest. During those times the search for one, definitive answer allowed me to gather many answers along the way.

The answers may not have been what I was looking for (or even hoping for), but I see now they answered questions I had yet to ask.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The End of an Era

Dear St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School,

Eighteen years ago our son, Nicholas, started Kindergarten at St. Mary’s. Two years later, it was Jonathan’s turn, and seven years after that Timothy followed in his older brothers’ footsteps.

St. Mary’s School has been part of our lives for 18 consecutive years. In that time we have seen principals come and go, teachers shuffled around, a new cafeteria and gym built, and technology such as active boards and RenWeb introduced; we have attended countless first Friday Masses, pep rallies, sporting events, and field days; we have celebrated sacramental milestones of our faith – Reconciliation and First Holy Eucharist – with our immediate family as well as our church and school family; and we have followed the rhythm of a school year and a liturgical calendar – marking first and last days of school, feast days and holy days, Christmas vacations and Lenten traditions, and spring breaks and early dismissals. 

These past eighteen years have been full, and not always perfect, but going forth each day within a faith setting fosters understanding, forgiveness, contrition, spiritual growth, and love of neighbor. 

This month our son, Timothy, will graduate from St. Mary’s. He has been busy these past few weeks writing a country report, preparing a PowerPoint presentation, studying for exams, celebrating a soccer championship win, and looking forward to the traditional graduation trip to Carowinds. He’s experiencing everything his older brothers did, and the constancy of these traditions is a blessing.

We know the Graduation Mass on May 22 will be wonderful and moving, because it always is. But this time it will also be bittersweet. Timothy is our caboose, and his graduation marks the end of the line for our time here at St. Mary’s School. No more sitting in carpool line with the orange, laminated card (A20) displayed on the dashboard, or driving for field trips, or scrambling to find a shirt and tie for Mass uniform because we forgot it was First Friday. We will no longer look through the Lost and Found box for a lost sweatshirt, or figure out what to do between the half hour school ends and soccer practice begins, or listen to stories about epic football games lost and won on the playground.

We will miss it. All of it.

As parents, we wanted to give our sons the tools needed in life, to establish a foundation of faith and family they can always stand on, and it’s with both humbleness and gratitude we look back on these past eighteen years and realize that our parish school has helped us give this to them.

Well done, St. Mary’s, and from the bottom of our heart … thank you.


Joseph and Maria Novajosky

Today's Goals:

something creative
something kind
something decisive

  something quirky

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

When NOT to count carbs

Yesterday my mom hosted a luncheon in honor of Sister Lorraine, a Polish nun visiting from Chicago. Seated around the table were five Italian women (Silveria, Rosanna, Gemma, Carla, and my mom, Massimilla), one British woman (Shirley), and me.

I love it when I get to hang out with these women because, let me tell you, they know how to live life to the fullest. Case in point: almost every one of them showed up to my mom's house carrying a bottle of wine.

Oh, yeah.

And they are funny!

They tell funny stories and tell funny jokes and are incredibly self-deprecating. They speak English one minute, Italian the next, and sometimes they combine the two and make up words which somehow make perfect sense.

At one point I realized there were a gazillion conversations going on at the same time, and when you consider there were only eight of us seated at the table ... well, it's mind boggling. And crazy. And all kinds of wonderful.

When I took out my iPhone to take a photo, they obligingly posed; afterwards, it was funny to see all these Italian women (and one British one) whip out their phones to take photos, too. Then they texted the photos to each other. And tried to send them via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It got a tad confusing, and before I realized what was happening I was holding three phones with instructions to do this and do that.

And then there was the food, which is always phenomenal. The problem was that I am currently practicing carb cycling and Mondays are always low carb days and my mom made pizza. Homemade pizza, with dough she kneaded that morning. Pizza with prosciutto and arugula, my absolute favorite. It was going to be hard to stick to my program.

Earlier that morning I looked in the mirror and gave myself a pep talk about the importance of steely resolve and resisting temptation and how I was only allowed two small slices of pizza. I mean it, I told myself in the mirror.

But seated with these wonderful women my steely resolve slipped just a little; HOWEVER, in my defense I dare anyone to sit at that table and NOT get caught up in the moment and just enjoy life.

So I had THREE slices of pizza with prosciutto and arugula. Oh, and apricot crostata for dessert.

La dolce vita ... what can I say?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Mother's Day I Learned to Chill

I've always felt it terribly ironic that Mother's Day falls in May, one of the busiest months of the year. Graduations, First Communions, Field Days, Early Dismissals, Athletic Banquets, Academic Awards ... the list goes on. Who has time for Mother's Day? But one year, in the midst of all that busyness, I learned to dance the Hoedown Throwdown ...

Last weekend my sixth grader and some of his friends decided to go see Hannah Montana, the Movie. Why that movie? I have no earthly idea. Maybe it was because the group consisted of both boys and girls and this was one they could all agree on.

Since my son was the one who organized this outing, I told him that I was staying with the group as chaperone but that I promised to sit far, far, faaaaaaar away.

So, I went to the movies with a bunch of sixth graders who pretended not to know me.

But that was okay with me . . . after a while, I pretended not to know them because I so wanted to be Hannah Montana.

Suddenly, for two delightful hours I forgot I was a mom and a wife. I didn’t think about 8th grade graduation, school banquets, teachers’ gifts, carpooling . . .

No, instead I wanted to pull out my guitar and play a folk song. I wanted to paint something. I wanted to create, and beautify, and design. I wanted to dance the Hoedown Throwdown.

It’s not that I was nostalgic (or at least, not much anyway), but I think the movie was a subtle reminder for me to just chill.

Lately there had been too much responsibilty and seriousness. Lately there had not been enough fun and silliness.

Then, for Mother’s Day my son gave me the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack complete with links to access the lyrics and the dance video.

What’s for dinner?

I’m not really sure. But wanna dance the Hoedown Throwdown with me?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

X Marks the Spot

Once upon a time we signed Timothy up for a little league flag football team specifically for 1st and 2nd graders. Let me begin by saying it was a complete and total disaster. The kids were rough, the coach was tough, and the parents were absolutely insane (during the first game a woman had to be escorted off the field for yelling like a maniac at the kids).

I knew it was a mistake when, after the first practice, the coach passed out a sheet of paper entitled The Undertaker -- a football play the players were told to memorize.

On the ride home from practice, Timothy looked at the x's and o's and thought it was a treasure map.

It was a perfectly normal response for a young 2nd grader, and when we got home we taped the "treasure map" to his bedroom door and left it at that. I wasn't going to let some gung-ho, over-zealous, football-crazed coach steal his childhood.

Besides, I loved the fact that a map sparked Timothy's imagination, that he saw the x's and o's and thought of treasures, and pirate ships, and high seas adventure.  It was something I understood completely because maps have the same effect on me.

In this age of Google Maps and GPS, which admittedly I do use, I still like a good old fashioned map. One I can spread out on the kitchen table to scribble on and take notes in the margin; a map with cities and towns I can circle or star; a map upon which I can take a bright yellow highlighter and mark our route.

Presently we're planning a trip to New York City, and the first thing I did was order a city guidebook from Amazon (hooray for one click orders!) and some maps. The guidebook is already marked with highlighter, and it is probably 5 pounds heavier because of all the post-it notes, but the maps are what really get my heart pounding.

Avenues and Burroughs, Midtown Manhattan and Times Square, Empire State Building and the United Nations -- the x's and o's made with my Sharpie mark a real treasure map, and my fingers walk where I will soon be.


MapEasy's Guidemaps are my absolute favorite.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Speak to Me Sunday, vol. 10 (room for improvement)

{I don't look good here. Not at all. But there is room for improvement. Lots and lots of room for improvement ...}

The other day I had some errands to run so I made a list to maximize my time. Stops A and B on the way to school for carpool line, and then a quick stop C on the way home. Quick, efficient, and timely -- I could do this.

Stop A went off without a hitch, but Stop B was messing things up. Red lights, a closed lane, an accident. And if that wasn't enough, I was stuck behind an extremely slow driver who seemed to be heading in the same direction. Great, just great.

He drove 30 mph and kept tapping his brakes.

When he made a slow right turn exactly where I needed to turn, I groaned.

I was still stuck! Come on!

He went even slower as he tried to find what he was looking for, but finally he signaled and pulled into a parking space in front of the same store that was my Stop B.

In exasperation -- and to make a point -- I zoomed into the spot next to him, parked, and marched quickly into the store.

I was in there ten minutes, and when I came out the driver was just locking his car door.

I thought about this. I had parked, made my purchase, and was back in my car while the driver was just getting out of his. Sheesh. Talk about slow.

And just then I saw why, and it felt as if I had been sucker-punched.

The man had two artificial legs.

I watched him open the trunk of the car and pull out a walker. Slowly, laboriously, painfully he shuffled into that store.

Shame, humility, remorse. I can't even narrow down what I felt to just one word. Needless to say, I never made it to Stop C. It just didn't seem important anymore.

In thinking back on that day I still have those feelings, but I am also overwhelmed with gratitude for a loving Father who wanted to teach me something in a way which was clear and succinct. No parables. No proverbs. No room for misinterpretation.

Just a lesson that was gritty and very, very real. One I needed to hear.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Everyone has a story. What's yours?

When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.
~African proverb 

It's a glorious Friday.
Live your story.
Embrace it. 
Tell it.
Write it down.

graffiti along the canal

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

In which I "espresso" my views on the Nespresso

I don't consider myself a coffee snob.

And yet.

And yet I have an assortment of coffee cups in different styles. Depending on the type of coffee, I can serve it in white ceramic espresso cups, Guzzini cappuccino cups, traditional Fiestaware coffee cups, or large mugs for lattes.

traditional espresso cups

Guzzini cappuccino cups

Fiestaware coffee cup

mugs for lattes

I also have a variety of ways in which to make a cup of coffee. I have a traditional stovetop Bialetti, a French coffee press, a Barista espresso machine, and now ... a brand new Nespresso Vertuo machine.

all Italian kitchens have a Bialetti

the Barista espresso machine

a French coffee press

my brand new Nespresso Vertuo

But really, I'm not a coffee snob. I just like a good cup of coffee, and the Nespresso Vertuo delivers. Allow me to "espresso" my views ...

Easy and Elegant
The Nespresso machine is very easy to use. Much like the Keurig, simply insert a pod and push the button; however, having just gone through two Keurig machines in 15 months, the Nespresso is a sturdier machine. It's less bulky and cumbersome, and it looks sleek and elegant on the kitchen counter.

The Nespresso Espresso
At the touch of a button the Nespresso makes excellent espresso, dark and rich, covered with a perfect layer of crema. The espresso can be enjoyed as is, or used as a base for other drinks such as cappuccino, caffé latte, or caffé macchiato.

Coffee with Crema
For those who don't drink espresso, the Nespresso also makes great coffee (7.7 oz or 14 oz). Due to their centrifusion technology, even regular coffee emerges with a top layer of crema. Delicious.

Tank 1, Tank 2
There are two tanks -- one for water, and the other for used pods (when you lift the top the used pod is automatically deposited into the second tank). The second tank is important for the following point ...

Reuse and Recycle
Nespresso is environmentally friendly. When you place an order for pods, you can request (free of charge) a postage paid bag for sending back the pods to be recycled. Simply empty the second tank with the used pods into the bag, seal it, and mail it away.

Easy Ordering 
Now, about those pods. Know that unless you have a Nespresso Boutique in your area, you will have to get into the habit of ordering your Nespresso pods online or with their app. For some people who are used to seeing K-cups everywhere, this may be a game changer, but it wasn't for me. I like the ease of placing an order and having it arrive nicely packaged to my house. Also, I like going to ONE source for my coffee where I know the quality is always of the highest standard.

No Math Needed 
I know people who get all mathematical on me and try to determine the price per unit of pods or K-cups. Enough already. I always figure that it costs less for me to use a pod than it is to go to a coffee shop. I shop smart, take advantage of deals, and since I don't get manicures or have weekly salon appointments, I will get the good coffee.


~Pod storage. There are a number of storage ideas out there, but I went with simple -- a penny candy glass jar which I got at Target and keep in the cabinet right above my Cappuccino Corner.

penny candy glass jar for pod storage

~I purchased a Nespresso milk frother (the aeroccino) in order to froth milk. In less than two minutes, my almond milk has the fluffiest, most perfect froth for my cappuccino. I can't wait until winter when I can use it to froth milk for hot chocolate.

~When I have regular coffee I always like to add a little creamer. I recently discovered Califia Farms Dairy-Free Almond Milk Creamer and it is exquisite. Just a tiny splash elevates my coffee to another level.

~The Cappuccino Corner is the small area on my kitchen countertop which is all about coffee. Everything I need to make coffee is in this area, and it's where I start my mornings. And if you'd like a cappuccino or espresso, Bia's café is always open.