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

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

What ...

What I'm (simultaneously) reading ...

1- Pachinko (for book club)
2- Brunelleschi's Dome (for a presentation)
3- A Gentleman in Moscow (audio book)
4- Game of Thrones (Clash of Kings)

What I'm watching ...

1- The Durrels in Corfu (PBS) (love this series)
2- Les Miserables (PBS)

What I'm loving ...

1- daily yoga (in the morning before anyone else is up)
2- gym workouts (every other day)
3- evening walks

What I'm looking forward to ...

1- white water rafting (Memorial Day)
2- Hilton Head Island (June)
3- Virginia Beach (July)
4- biking the Virginia Creeper Trail (July)






Monday, May 20, 2019

Shopping for Glasses

I love eye appointments, mainly because it means I am getting a new pair glasses. Some years I just get new prescription glasses, other years it's prescription sunglasses, but this year I'm getting BOTH. At the SAME time. 

You see, I have this wee little trip coming up in the fall and I need to update both.

And just like that I'm in my happy place because I LOVE getting new glasses. I mean, really love. And the fact I'm getting BOTH means I love, LOVE getting new glasses. 

BUT, there's a process to making the perfect selection, and it's not a quick one. Faced with an entire wall (or store) of options, how's a poor girl supposed to make up her mind? It's not easy, I tell you, and I refuse to be rushed. So I try on pair after pair, take notes and take photos, and mull things over. I even try them on with my hair down, and then up in a ponytail. 

After my eye appointment this morning I tried on glasses at my doctor's office. Now, I was just there last week with Jonathan, who was getting prescription sunglasses. Here's how that went down: Jonathan walked over to the Oakley case, pointed to a pair, tried them on, and he was done. The first pair he tried on was the pair he purchased. It took two minutes. 

Here's what happened with me: I tried on at least a dozen pair of sunglasses, put one on hold, and then went to LensCrafters AND Costco to explore ALL my options. And I still haven't made a decision ... but I'm close. I'm going back out tomorrow.

In the meantime, I give you this photo of me trying on a pair of glasses and Jonathan waiting patiently in the background. Before you go feeling sorry for him, know that I had just finished waiting patiently for him while he tried on some dress pants at the department store.  

He tried on clothes, I tried on glasses, and then he bought me lunch.

See? I love shopping for glasses. 



Sunday, May 19, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: On a Wing and a Prayer

Exactly three years ago Nicholas and I had an appointment at the Post Office to renew our passports. I needed to renew mine because my old one had expired and I have never, in all my life, been without a passport; Nicholas needed one because he was about to graduate from Clemson and, with a college degree and a passport in hand, he was primed and ready for adventure. On that day, when I handed the clerk Nicholas' birth certificate, signed documents and turned in his old passport, I felt like I was giving my son to the world. 

He was ready; I was not.

As it turned out, that passport turned out to be a very good thing because Nicholas needed to have one for his job (a requirement for employment). Then, last summer he needed that passport for a trip to the Netherlands, and just this morning he used that passport at the Atlanta airport for a flight to Japan where he and a few friends will spend two weeks exploring Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Yokohama. 

I have always said that I wanted to give our sons the world, and these past few months when Nicholas called to share his travel itinerary or ask me questions about money exchange or the efficiency of pocket WiFi, I've realized that THIS is what I've always wanted ... for our sons to be independent, adventurous, and curious about the Big World out there.

With one son ready to fly halfway around the world, our second son, Jonathan, will be leaving soon for a 9-week internship at an accounting firm in mid-town Atlanta. Yesterday he told us that he didn't need any help moving in to his temporary dorm/suite on the Georgia Tech campus. My husband and I were a little surprised since we had already planned to help him move in, map his commute to and from work, and then take him out to lunch. But Jonathan said moving in wouldn't be a big deal and that when we came for a visit he would then show us around. 

Once upon a time I would have been offended and maybe even a little sad, but this time I was proud at this young man willing to start something brand new on his own terms. 

In my book, An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses, I write of the time our youngest son and I were invited into the cockpit of an Air France jet as it flew over the Atlantic. It was almost midnight, and as we huddled in that small place with the pilot and his crew, no one said a word while we gazed at a full moon that looked close enough to touch. It was a magical moment, and I remember thinking how I wanted my sons to always see the moon with the knowledge it shines on other lands, cultures, and peoples; that the moon reminds us of our place in the world, but also calls us to distant shores.

I've come a long way from that day in the Post Office when the reality of a passport reminded me our sons were growing up and that the very same passport promising hello, buon giorno, and konnichiwa also brings with it goodbye, arrivederci, and itte kimasu

Of course, this is not to say that letting go is easy; on the contrary, it's hard and teary and gut wrenching. 

But I've also realized that in wanting our sons to spread their wings, I also need to be ready to let them fly. 



"...to stand under a moon when across a vast ocean someone else stands under
the very same moon--that the moonlight shining down on me is also shining
down on other people in different countries who are sleeping in huts, or homes,
or in tents, or who, like me, are simply marveling at the moon. I imagine them 
eating or sleeping or fighting or loving, and I want to go there."

~An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses (Ch. 11)


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

By Any Other Name


It is said
a rose
by any other name
smells as sweet
but any other rose
by any other name
is not my rose
so I will give it one
to mark it
as one among many
that smells as sweet
but is mine.

*from the files of very bad poetry by bia


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Smiling Eyes


On this Sunday, Mother’s Day, I’m not writing about perfection.

I’m not talking about beauty, or sacrifice, or the ability to have it all. I’m not talking about the perfect body, or the perfect hairstyle, or the perfect tan.

I won’t talk about these things because while the ideals of beauty, sacrifice, size, and accomplishment are presented in the media as attainable, in reality these “standards” make us feel less than who we are; after all, it’s hard to hold ourselves up to standards that are airbrushed, botoxed, and surgically altered.

This quest for perfection, which has us running around trying the newest recipes, the latest face creams, or a popular juice cleanse just leaves us deflated in both our attempts and in ourselves.

Even the proverbial selfie creates self-doubt and taps into our insecurities. Do I really look like that? Are those neck wrinkles? Is that what I look like when I smile?

So we tilt our heads at a certain angle, pout our lips just so, and angle our bodies to show off our best side until the end result is someone almost unrecognizable.

The other night we were watching The Amazing Race, and at one point my son asked this about a female contestant, “Why do her lips look like a duck’s?” Why indeed. And when I told him about Botox and lip fillers he just about gagged. Our conversation reminded me of an article I read recently which mentioned how Kim Kardashian never fully smiles because she doesn’t want to get wrinkles around her eyes.

Well … I don’t want to live in a world where a smile doesn’t reach one’s eyes.  

Perfection, the quest for it and the holding on to it, is exhausting. So bring on the smiles and eye wrinkles because maybe the secret to perfection is imperfection.  Maybe the secret is to work at being the best version of our self, and then loving that person.

Last week I came across a photo by Carla Coulson, a photographer, author, and life coach originally from Sydney, Australia who now lives in Italy. I follow Carla both on Instagram and Facebook, and she takes stunning photographs. Recently she posted the following photo, which she says was the most liked photo she ever posted on Instagram. This photo surpassed her popular beach photos, her flower girl series, and all the personal photo shoots she has done through the years.

THIS photo, of two women standing tall and proud on a beach in Puglia, is the one which has resonated the most, and it’s easy to see why.

So on this day, Mother’s Day, I look at that photo and salute those two women who are happy, secure, and comfortable with themselves. Who embrace their wrinkles and wear a bathing suit and smile proudly at a photographer. Who are not holding on to their past selves or striving for different future selves, but who are fully present in the here and now.

And who have smiles that reach their eyes. 


photo credit: Carla Coulson

Monday, April 29, 2019

An Open Letter to G. Clooney


Lately I've had several people ask me if the 2019 Girls' Trip to Italy is still happening. The answer is YES! In fact, we are within five months of the departure date when 32 women will embark on a 2-week adventure to Italy.


And if the following is any indication, we are going to have fun ;-)



Dear Mr. Clooney,

Five years ago I organized a girls’ trip to Italy. There were 23 travelers—from Georgia, South Carolina, Illinois, Washington State, and Washington DC—who accompanied my sister and me on a 9-day trip to Rome and the Amalfi Coast. The one question I was asked (repeatedly) before we left home was this: “Will we see the Pope?”

I am happy to say that we did, in fact, see the Pope.

The reason I am telling you this story is because next September I have organized another girls’ trip. This time there are 32 of us traveling to Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Milano, Verona, and Venezia. We will spend several days in the northern lakes region of Italy including, of course, Lake Como. Like last time, there is one glaring question I am asked, but it has nothing to do with the Pope; instead, this time the question is: “Will we see George Clooney?”

Before I continue, let me assure you that we are all quite harmless. We represent all walks of life; we are teachers, nurses, librarians, fitness instructors, and writers. As for myself, I am a wife, mother (three sons), a freelance writer, an amateur tour guide and, most recently, a published author. 

Simply, we are wondering if perhaps … maybe … “Will we see George Clooney?”

Of course, I cannot give them an answer, but the one thing I’ve learned about my travels to Italy is that there is magic in this world.

Sincerely,
Maria Novajosky

scenes from the 2015 Girls' Trip to Italy
(in which we saw the Pope but NOT G. Clooney)


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Poetry

Yesterday I purchased a book of selected poems by Robert Frost.

Now close the windows and hush all the fields;
  If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
  Be it my loss.

I remember, as a little girl, I liked to find poetry in words.  I would come across a single word, or a phrase, and listen for the music and rhythm. Chattanooga Choo Choo, for example. I’d say the words over and over again, listening to the sounds which, the faster you said them, made you sound like a train.

I was fascinated how a single word would be so perfect that you couldn’t imagine any other in its place. Mr. Mistoffelees, for example. When I saw Cats at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, I thought that
T. S. Eliot was brilliant when he chose Mr. Mistoffelees as the name for the original conjuring cat: He can pick any card from a pack,/ He is equally cunning with dice;/ He is always deceiving you into believing/ that he’s only hunting for mice.  Mr. Mistoffelees … really, how perfectly perfect.

One day I tried to explain to my boys how a single word can be poetic. To illustrate, I used the Italian word for blue, azzurro. Listen how the word just rolls off your tongue. Doesn’t it just sound like the color of an ocean wave lapping along the shore? To compare, I offered them the French word for the same color, bleu, which (to me) sounds like someone is gagging. To be clear, there is poetry in both words, but azzurro would be the color of the ocean along the Amalfi Coast, whereas bleu would be the color of the bubble gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe.

In college, I took a class on poetry. I lugged the hefty volume, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, with me for an entire semester. It was a challenging class, and I loved every minute of it. I can still hear the professor as he read to us, his voice soaring and plummeting and dancing to the poetry of the words. It was musical, it was magical.

Yesterday I purchased a book of selected poems by Robert Frost.

And there has been poetry in my day.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
  It will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
  But see all wind-stirred.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Mom's thoughts on ironing her son's graduation gown

The week before Easter Jonathan was under the weather (cough, fever, sore throat), and he was so miserable he decided to come home early (the campus doctor even wrote him an excuse for any missed classes). 

So he came home to freshly laundered sheets, fluffy pillows, chicken & dumplings, homemade cookies, and a mom's tender loving care. 

He left Sunday afternoon feeling much, much better.

We will see him again in three weeks at graduation, after which he will come home for two weeks before heading to a 9-week internship at an accounting firm in downtown Atlanta. In the fall, he will continue his studies an additional year for a master's degree. And because he was awarded a scholarship/grant from the University, that additional year is paid for. 

I thought about all this as I ironed his graduation gown this past weekend. For someone who is quiet, and who doesn't like to talk about himself, his actions speak volumes.  

I think we'll keep him. 

I also thought how time passes in the blink of an eye; how my Jona-baby, because of his round glasses and dark hair was our very own Harry Potter and whose heart has always beat to the rhythm of a basketball, is now all grown up. 

But just when I was about to get all sentimental, I remembered how he came home for freshly laundered sheets, fluffy pillows, chicken & dumplings, homemade cookies, and a mom's tender loving care. 

And the thought makes me smile. 


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Talk

Whenever I give a book talk, I always start with The Story of a Fountain, for in front of this fountain in Verona have stood generations of our family.

An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses
by:
Maria A. Novajosky



Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Wanderlust

"...that's what travel is: excitement, thrill, and beauty mixed with confusion, frustration, and grit. It's about people looking at the same thing, but seeing it differently. It's about standing in the shadow of Vesuvius or watching the rain come through the oculus in the Pantheon, but also about driving through the craziness of Naples or figuring out how to validate a train ticket."

~ An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses (Chapter 11)




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

New Orleans Top 10

This year we spent spring break in New Orleans. Here is a recap ...


1- Music Everywhere

New Orleans on any given day is filled with music. During the afternoon and evenings there are street musicians on every corner—drummers, lone saxophonists, folk groups, bands. What we didn’t realize was that our trip coincided with the French Quarter Music Fest, so in addition to the street musicians, for four days there were six stages through the French Quarter featuring musical acts. Music was in the air, everywhere.



2- Preservation Hall

Three years ago Joe and I stood in line to get into Preservation Hall, and we were determined to go again, but this time with Timothy. We stood in line for over an hour (we were #’s 8, 9, and 10) and we are SO GLAD we did. We got in, we were able to sit down (once the benches fill it is standing room only), and we were this close to six phenomenal jazz players; in fact, those sitting on the first row had to lean backwards to avoid being poked by the trombone’s slide. It was jazz as it was meant to be—bare brick walks in an intimate setting, with no amplifiers or microphones, allowing us to experience the music rather than simply listen to it. We were fortunate to hear legend Charlie Gabriel, 87 years old and a fourth generation New Orleans jazz musician, as well as saxophonist Clint Maedgen.



Charlie Gabriel (l) and Clint Maedgen (r)



3- Air Boat Swamp Tour

The day was beautiful, the swamp was swampy, the creepy alligators were grinning, and our captain kept us entertained. He even showed us his scars from being attacked by an alligator, and the exact place where it happened. Then he reached into the water, grabbed an alligator, and gave it a kiss on its snout. His name (our guide that is, not the alligator) was Earl and you can look him up on YouTube.



4- Jacques-Imo’s Café

Long story short: Jonathan’s kindergarten teacher (Kathleen Wilkinson) has a cousin (Jack Leonardi) who owns a restaurant in New Orleans called Jacques-Imo’s Café. We went to the restaurant, met Jack, ate great food, and were treated to complimentary desserts.



5- Window Shopping

Antique stores. Art studios. Fashion boutiques. Bakeries. The shop windows (especially on Royal Street) were stunning. I kept annoying the guys because I stopped every two feet to take a photo.



6- Learning to say Tchoupitoulas

Pronounced: choo-puh-too-lus. We loved saying it. Very New Orleans.



7- Fitbit Celebrations

My Fitbit kept shooting off fireworks since we walked EVERYWHERE. One day we hit 8,000 steps by 10:30 a.m., but usually by the end of the day it was between 16-18,000 steps. And the day we took an evening 2-hour WALKING ghost tour (after walking around all day), my Fitbit called me an overachiever. 

All that walking and LOOK! a chair ...


8- Sculpture Garden

This turned out to be a pleasant surprise. We took Timothy to play mini golf at City Park, and afterwards we walked through the sculpture garden which, as it turned out, was right next door. I was in my element, but even the guys liked it. It was fun walking from sculpture to sculpture, reading the title of each piece, and then discussing and interpreting. And now I know the secret to my guys and art museums: take it outside.  



9- Facebook

Facebook, you say? What does that have to do with New Orleans? Well, before leaving I asked for advice on a FB post for restaurants and things-to-do in New Orleans, and boy did we get some GREAT suggestions—The National World War II Museum, Preservation Hall, St. Charles Streetcar, Central Grocery (and the world-famous muffaletta), City Park, French Market, and some great restaurants (GW Fins, Jacques-Imo’s Café, and of course, Café Du Monde).

top: GW Fins, walking at sunset, royal street
middle: touchdown Jesus, Saint Louis Cathedral, street performer
bottom: Don Quixote street statue, Timothy, funny street performer


10- Café Du Monde

cafe au lait + beignets + jazz music = heaven



Sunday, April 7, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Surrender, Forgiveness, Mercy


Once upon a time I interviewed a woman named Maria--an interview I had to conduct over two days because it was so emotional for both of us. She cried telling her story, I cried listening to it, and for two days there we were, two strangers, crying over the telephone. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of telling her story, and it's one that has stayed with me all these years ...  

Maria’s Story

                Not everyone personally knew Patrick Foster, but his story is one that is familiar to members of his parish. Some might remember it as a story of suffering and loss, but it was also one about love, heroism and, ultimately, peace. It’s a story so rooted in faith that it didn’t end with his death but continues today, five years later, with his wife, Maria.  And it’s one she feels compelled to share, for out of her pain over Patrick’s death, she experienced God’s healing grace through surrender, forgiveness, and mercy.

                When Patrick and Maria first started dating, one of the first questions they asked each other was, “Are you Catholic?” Both came from strong Catholic backgrounds, and establishing the importance of faith early in their relationship set a foundation upon which they built their marriage.  Maria says they put God in the center of their life, their marriage, and their home. When God blessed them with children – first Hillary and then Patrick – they recognized the responsibility they had as parents and turned to God for wisdom on how to be an example. And as a husband and father, Maria says Patrick was someone who trusted God with all his heart and who loved his family tremendously.

                “As a husband, he made me feel like a princess,” Maria says. “He was the kind of person who would tell me that he would die to protect me. He would leave me notes telling me I was beautiful and smart. Later, those notes helped me in my grief. He was also a loving and supportive father. Every time he came home he would immediately hug the kids. He was always checking on them to see if things were going well with their friends or with school. The kids were so important to him, and that’s something they remember to this day.”

                Then came that tragic night of March 13, 2010, the events of which later unfolded in the headlines: Patrick was working as a cab driver when he picked up a passenger, Darryel Garner; Garner shot Patrick five times in an attempted robbery; gravely wounded, Patrick subdued his attacker, called 911, and managed to pin him down until the authorities arrived; and that after calling the police, he called Maria.  

                “The night of March 13 will be stamped in my heart forever,” Maria says. “When Patrick called telling me he had been shot, I didn’t ask who, where, or even what his injuries were. I just wanted to know if he had called 911. He was very calm and told me that he could hear the sirens coming and for me to meet him at the hospital. I yelled for the kids – I was in such a panic – and Hillary hugged me and told me it was going to be okay and that I just needed to go and take care of Dad. Even the drive to the hospital was terrifying because it was raining, it was very dark, and I got lost.”

                When Maria arrived to the hospital Patrick was alert, but in a great deal of pain. The hospital staff kept asking him questions – What is your name? What is the date? – in an effort to keep him awake. At one point they asked Patrick how much he weighed, and when Maria answered 180 pounds Patrick corrected her by saying 185. Finally he looked at his wife and said, “Maria, tell them to help me.” They were the last words he would ever speak.

                Patrick was transferred to the Advocate Condell Medical Center where he underwent six hours of surgery, and despite the fact that there were no complications, Patrick never woke up again and remained in a coma for 73 days. He was transferred to Froedtert Medical Center in Wisconsin, and every day Maria would make the drive to be with him. When the doctors eventually brought up the subject of removing Patrick from life support, Maria refused, fervently believing that a miracle would bring Patrick out of his coma and that he would begin to heal.

                “God knows us before we are even born,” Maria says. “God also knows the hope and fear we keep in our hearts. So He listens, understands, and performs miracles for us. We can see those miracles when we trust in God, His love and His mercy.”

                And so she waited for her miracle. But days went by, there was no improvement, and one day when the pressure of those daily drives and the uncertainty of the future became too much to bear, Maria fell completely and totally to pieces.

                “I was in despair,” Maria remembers. “I told God that I was human and so very tired. But even in the darkness I still felt the love of God that I had known since childhood, so I surrendered to God’s will knowing that I couldn’t hold on to Patrick anymore. And I gave him back to God. At that moment I felt such a release in my heart; the only thing I asked God was not to leave me because I couldn’t do this alone. I then went to the chapel to pray and I felt God’s presence holding me.”

                Five days later, Maria was with Patrick when the nurse came in to bathe him. When Maria offered to help, the nurse left them so that they were alone. For two hours, as Maria bathed her husband, talked to him and comforted him, she went to another place – a spiritual place – in which the hospital room fell away and there was just her, Patrick, and the presence of God. And finally, Maria received her miracle.

                “I told Patrick to let God decide,” Maria says. “I told him he was the love of my life, the father of my kids, and that he shouldn’t worry. I promised him that I would stand on my faith and find my strength in God. I reassured him that we would be okay. As I bathed him his fever went down and his heartbeat returned to normal. I held him and he felt healthy. Then he opened his eyes and looked at me. He was aware, he heard me, and he was comforted. His heartbeat slowed and then stopped. Patrick went to God knowing we would be okay. And this was God’s gift to me. This was my miracle.”

                In the days, weeks, and months following Patrick’s death, whenever the pain seemed more than Maria could bear and she woke up crying in the night, the morning sun would dispel the darkness of the night and Maria would once again feel Christ’s light and His presence.

                “My faith in God, my relationship with him is stronger than ever,” Maria says. “I will never heal one hundred percent, but He comforts me, dries my tears, and gives me the courage to face the cross that I accepted when I surrendered to Him. Faith is the only way to make sense of the storms and confusion, and it is the only thing that can give us the confidence we need to move forward.”

                Amazingly, a big part of Maria being able to move forward was dealing with her feelings concerning her husband’s attacker, Darryel Garner.  In the beginning, she never even thought of him; she was too busy focusing all her attention, love, and prayers on Patrick and his well-being. Later, after Patrick died and the charges against Garner were upgraded to murder, she saw him for the first time in court and admits that she had mixed emotions seeing him there, alive, while her husband was gone. But throughout everything, she never – not once – felt any hatred toward him, and instead placed her trust both in the legal system and in God’s final judgment.

                “My heart loves God, and to have God’s love you need to show mercy and to forgive,” Maria says. “We must forgive because we need to be forgiven. Every day I pray for all those in jail, including my husband’s murderer; I pray for them to find God in their hearts.”

                Today, Maria says that she and her family are doing well. The sad memories sometimes still overwhelm, but they know that talking about the sadness opens the way to remembering the good times which, in turn, leads to healing. And with these past few years Maria says that she sees another miracle in witnessing her own children grow in their faith; that they find comfort in knowing that their father did an amazing job while on this earth and that he is now with God.

                And because nothing will ever stop Maria from loving God, she is taking one day at a time, finding the peace that can only be found with God, and telling her story.

                “I want to share my story,” Maria says. “I want those who are suffering – from the loss of a loved one, from unemployment or illness – to know that they are not alone. We can unite our suffering to Christ’s suffering on the cross, and in God’s mercy He will not abandon us. God wants us to be a light in the world, and we need to let His light shine.”



Saturday, April 6, 2019

Noted


Do you note?

I am all about the note. I take notes, write notes, leave notes, and send notes. My notes can be funny, inspirational, and instructional. Sometimes all three. Sometimes they even come from the files of very bad poetry by Bia.


Instructional. Definitely.

from the files of very bad poetry by bia


Inspirational ... school is cool! Right?!?

instructional ... mental note

supposed to be funny, but epic fail

instructional (i.e. a mom threat)
all these shelves, and the shoes are usually on the floor.

One of my masterpieces ;-)
funny + inspirational + instructional + from the files of very bad poetry by bia

inspirational

            NOW I NEED A NOTE FOR THIS PROFUSION OF LEFT-OPEN DRAWERS!


Friday, April 5, 2019

Front Porch Makeover

When we had our house built 21 years ago, there was one request: I wanted a front porch. And I got it. Every year for 21 years we've decorated our porch with hanging ferns, yellow pansies in flower boxes, and seasonal wreaths.

We love our front porch, but after 21 years the upkeep on the railings ... sigh. There were a LOT of railings, and between the pressure washing and the painting it got old; additionally, the railings were so high that the view was blocked if you sat in a rocker.

So last month we made the decision to get rid of the railings. 

Off they came.

Then we purchased two Adirondack chairs, added some outdoor cushions, hung the obligatory ferns, and updated our front door wreath. 

Fresh. Open. Welcoming.

And we don't miss those railings at all. 

BEFORE



OFF WITH THE RAILINGS!



AFTER







Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Love through the Unknown

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. April is Autism Awareness month.

My nephew has autism, and I hesitate to write this because it's not my story. It's a story only my sister can tell, and my brother-in-law, and their two older boys.

And yet, I can't hold back the admiration and love I have for them and this, at least, is a story I can share.

I am very close with my sister. We talk several times a week, text and/or email each other daily, and turn to each other, as sisters do, with problems, questions, funny stories, or ideas. And yet, as much as I know my sister, I can't begin to know -- really know -- what it's like to raise a child with needs.

I don't know what it's like to have therapists in and out of your house. I have no concept of the amount of paperwork, forms, and evaluations which must be documented, copied, forwarded, and filed. I don't know what it feels like to solve one problem, only to have another one appear. I don't know what it's like to think outside the box to accommodate Peter's needs: attaching an alarm on the front door so he doesn't wander outside, hanging a Dutch door in his room so they can keep an eye on him, or figuring out how to diagnose him when he can't tell you his sick.

What I know, I know vicariously, and it will never be enough.

So I see my sister making picture books and wading through four months of paperwork to obtain a "talker" so Peter can communicate; I see my brother-in-law playing "green chair" with Peter, his favorite game which involves running around the yard with a green lawn chair; I see Peter's older brothers hugging him and sitting on the floor to play with him; I see a family who does what it has to do to make sure Peter has everything he needs.

I see all these things, and I am touched by all the goodness and love (lots and lots of love!) in the midst of so much which is unknown.


P.S. Last year I asked my sister to come up with ways on how we (the rest of the family) can help. This was her response ... Puzzle Pieces (read and share tips fro the extended family of a child with autism)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Blessings in Empty Wine Glasses


Last night my husband and I were up late cleaning up after our St. Joseph Feast Day celebration with family and friends. It was nearing midnight and there were piles of dirty dishes to be stacked in the dishwasher, limoncello glasses and espresso cups and wine goblets to be washed by hand, tablecloths to be laundered, and tables and chairs to be carried inside. 

There was no denying the mess, but the empty wine glasses, dirty plates, and sticky limoncello glasses simply meant we had a lovely evening of family, food, faith, laughter, companionship and, yes, St. Joseph. 

So you see, all that cleaning up didn't feel like work at all. 

It felt like a blessing. 



Who was St. Joseph? The last time he is mentioned in Sacred Scripture is when he and Mary returned to the Temple in Jerusalem to look for Jesus. After that, nothing. 

But dwelling on what is unknown can distract us from this: the silence of St. Joseph is there for a reason, and it speaks volumes. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote about the silence of St. Joseph and how that silence is steeped in the contemplation of the mystery of God. In a world which is noisy and distracts us all too easily from God's word, it is the steadfastness and quiet strength of St. Joseph who exemplifies prayer, devotion, and the willingness to do God's will. 

Ultimately, we may not know everything about St. Joseph, but we know everything that is important. By his example he shows us how to live a holy life, one that is lived in God's presence. In his silence he speaks. All we have to do is listen. 


You can read more about our St. Joseph Feast celebration (and why he is so important to our family) in my book An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses




Tuesday, March 26, 2019

And My Boys THINK They Know Their Mom ;-)

On the way home from school today you-know-who begged to stop at the grocery store because, according to him, we don't have any good snacks.


Of course, my definition of a good snack includes fruit, yogurt, or nuts; his definition of a good snack includes Oreos, Pinwheels, or Nutella. Today, though, he was specifically requesting Luigi's Italian Ice. According to him, it's been FOREVER since he's had one and, according to him, a Luigi's BLUEBERRY Italian Ice would be just the thing to help him get through his homework.


We stopped at Kroger and, for some reason, we both began speaking with a British accent. (Stay with me here. This will make sense in a minute.) (Maybe.)


So we wandered the aisles pretending to be British. (Please note that I NEVER shop at Kroger, so no one there knows me.) (I could never pull this off at Publix.)


In the cereal aisle we said Cheerios and couldn't stop laughing. (Try saying Cheerios with a British accent while standing in the cereal aisle ... it's FUNNY, I tell you!) We talked about having a "spot of tea" when we got home. When I discovered Kroger doesn't carry the yogurt I like, I said "Blimey!" and Timothy laughed again.


THEN, Timothy dared me to speak in a British accent when we checked out. I said okay. He didn't believe me. So he double-dog-dared me and IT WAS ON.


When the nice check-out lady asked me for my phone number in order to look up my Kroger card, I rattled off the digits in the most proper, impeccable, British accent you can imagine. Beside me, Timothy was smiling. Then, when she handed me the receipt, I thanked her and wished her a "jolly good day."


And let me tell you, I sounded like The Queen herself. Timothy gave me a high five and was impressed that I actually went through with it.  He never, ever, EVER thought I would do it.


Those boys ... they truly have no idea.


Now we're home and Timothy is doing homework and eating his Luigi's Blueberry Italian Ice. He has bright blue lips, but he's smiling while he's doing his homework so it's all good.


Actually, it's all JOLLY good.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: To Strive

Once upon during a Lent not so long ago ... 

I was not happy with myself.

This was how I was feeling as I sat in silent prayer while waiting for Mass to begin.

I couldn't come up with one single, glaring reason for feeling this way other than noticing a pattern of lost opportunities.

Lost opportunities to be better: a better wife, mother, steward, friend, writer, example.
Lost opportunities to be more: more kind, generous, spiritual, patient, charitable.
Lost opportunities when better or more required too much effort, so it was just easier not to.

No wonder I wasn't happy with myself. God was calling me to holiness, and holiness wasn't even on my radar.

Or was it? Could these feeling of dissatisfaction and restlessness be God's way of pulling me back? I thought of John Paul II who said that the call to holiness was not only a state, but a task; that we are not so much called to attain perfection, as to strive for perfection.

Strive. I pondered that word for a few minutes.

I once read that in our walk of faith, one either goes forward or one goes backward, but one does not stand still.

This, then, was what God was telling me: I can't be better or do more unless I strive to be better or do more; that unless there is the task, nothing is accomplished. This is not to say that strive is synonymous with success, but that the attempt is better than nothing at all.


Saturday, March 23, 2019

What to Pack: A Capsule Jewelry Wardrobe (an article for Get Your Pretty On)

A few weeks ago Get Your Pretty On contacted me about writing an article on the idea of a capsule jewelry wardrobe. You can read the article below, or go here to see it on the GYPO site.*

In Italy there is a saying, e` dolce far niente, which translated loosely means how sweet it is to do nothing. The saying has absolutely nothing to do with idleness; rather, it’s about pausing to live life to the fullest and appreciating the moment you are in, without conscious thought of yesterday or tomorrow.

It’s also about simplicity, an ongoing theme in my life. Whether it’s cooking a meal for my family which includes simple, yet wholesome ingredients, purging my closet of too much or packing only a carry-on for a recent trip to Italy, it’s all about simplifying and not allowing stuff to get in the way.
Photo:
Sorrento, on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

This is why I love the ongoing trend of the capsule wardrobe as it celebrates the concept that less is more. I plan a capsule wardrobe when transitioning to a new season, and I pack a capsule wardrobe in my ongoing goal to only use a carry-on when traveling. But just when I thought I had this capsule wardrobe thing down, it took a trip to Italy last year to help me realize I needed to apply the same concept of the capsule wardrobe to my jewelry.

You see, the night before we left for our 10-day trip to southern Italy, I realized I had packed a ridiculous amount of jewelry. Because I knew I would be mixing and matching outfits, I was bringing different pieces of jewelry for each separate outfit. That was a LOT of jewelry which was not only bulky, but also heavy. So it got me thinking: Why pack a fancy jewelry organizer with too much when a small pouch of just enough would do?

In other words, if I could mix and match my outfits, why couldn’t I do the same with my jewelry?

I could, and I did. Now, for every trip I take I use my 2x2x2 formula when packing. Starting with a watch (my jewelry of choice) and after considering the type of trip (sight-seeing in NYC or hiking at Lake Tahoe) I pack the following:

Two watches, two bracelets, two rings.



Photo:
The 2x2x2 formula: two watches, two bracelets, two rings

I know you’re thinking, “Whaaaat? That’s it?” But consider this: just like a capsule wardrobe, capsule jewelry can give you plenty of options. For example, one day you can wear only the watch, the next you can wear the watch with the bracelet, or that evening you can wear all three together.

You can also bring two watches that coordinate with each other such as an all gold one and one with a brown strap. This way, their coordinating rings and bracelets can be mixed and matched; in other words, you can use the bracelet and ring (or both) which you brought for Watch #1 and pair them with Watch #2.

Now are you starting to see the possibilities?

It’s very liberating to travel with just what you need, whether it’s with clothing or jewelry.



Photo:
Sightseeing

Of course, the 2x2x2 formula can be customized to your personal style. For example, I choose not to include a necklace since I prefer to wear scarves, and I don’t bring earrings because I don’t like to wear earrings and sunglasses together, but you could choose to incorporate both in your formula.
But wait, here’s the absolute (hand’s down) best thing about using the formula: you can always supplement by purchasing jewelry as a souvenir! Oh, yes. And since you didn’t bring too much jewelry to begin with, you won’t feel guilty for buying that artisan cameo ring you found at a Naples market, or the watch from the island of Capri, or the leather wrap bracelet engraved with the “Our Father” in Italian which you found in Rome.
Photo:
Two of my favorite jewelry souvenirs: my watch from Capri,
and from Rome my leather wrap bracelet engraved with the Our Father in Italian.


Ultimately, in the hurricane of our busy lives, e` dolce far niente is about finding the eye of the storm and letting the world go on without us. It’s about lingering over a morning cappuccino, driving in the country and going wherever the road leads, and yes, even wearing a black maxi and accessorizing with a simple, elegant watch.

La dolce vita – the sweet life, the SIMPLE life is ours for the taking. You have to be willing to let go, but in the end you will discover that you have more than you’ll ever need.

Maria Novajosky is a wife to an engineering husband, a mother to three sons, a freelance writer, and a lover of all things Italian. Her life is a blend of frothy cappuccinos, Italian Renaissance art, light sabers, Sunday dinners with i Nonni, and every Christmas 700 homemade tortellini. The summer of 2014 she stood in front of a Caravaggio painting and decided to sponsor and organize a Girls’ Trip to Italy, and exactly one year later 23 women traveled with her to Rome and the Amalfi Coast. You can visit her blog here. She recently published her first book: An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses. 

*originally published 2016
Photo: