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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Guess the Number of Homemade Tortellini

It was a grey, blustering morning and as we listened to Madama Butterfly sing "Un bel di vedremo," my father rolled the dough into thin sheets, my mother and I folded the tortellini, and our youngest son lined them up with military precision on the countertop to dry.

An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses (Ch. 7, Opera in the Kitchen)

This past weekend, just like we've done every year since the boys were young, we gathered in my parents' kitchen to make homemade tortellini for our Christmas dinner. It's a long-standing tradition in our family, and one which generates many precious memories.

A few days earlier, on our family WhatsApp page, there was an ongoing bet to see how many tortellini we would make this year. Here were some of the guesses:

Paola -- 600
Tiziana -- 751
Maria -- 843
Luciano -- 958
Martha -- 300
Laura -- 654

Now, you're probably thinking ... whoa. All those numbers are high. That's an awful lot of tortellini.

And you would be correct. But we have a large family that gathers at Christmas, and we serve tortellini both in a savory broth and a cream sauce, so we make a lot (and leftovers are GREAT).

There is no denying that it takes a lot of work--buying the ingredients, cooking the filling (made with chicken, pork loin, mortadella, and prosciutto), preparing the pasta dough, rolling the dough, cutting it into squares, filling each one, and then folding each one by hand. Then, because we make the tortellini several weeks before Christmas, they are left to dry and then placed in the freezer.

This year the tortellini making involved three days (working a few hours each day). The first day I helped my mother cook and prepare the filling, on the second day we made about 500 tortellini, and since we had some leftover filling my mother rolled some more pasta dough and I returned for a third day to help make a few more.

So what's the GRAND TOTAL?

(and since I won the bet I get ALL the leftovers ;-)

folded, 812 tortellini

my mother, preparing the filling

my dad, rolling the pasta dough

my parents received these as wedding gifts
over 50 years ago

in the past, Timothy helping Nonno
(I love Timothy's Duplo tower on the counter)

in the past, folding tortellin with my mom

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Actively Waiting (Second Sunday in Advent)

This week I came across a YouTube video of Fr. Manno giving a lesson on what we should be doing during Advent. His answer? We wait. But then he explained the difference between active vs. inactive waiting, and how during Advent we should be actively waiting; that is, as we wait for the Christ Child we are not meant to sit around doing nothing. Instead, we prepare. 

His commentary reminded me of the motto verso l'alto (towards the height), words often associated with the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. While on one level the words refer to our earthly struggle as we climb toward the summit of eternal life, they are also a rallying cry for what we do while climbing. 

For we should always be doing something ...

Two summers ago I climbed a mountain.
I was in Breckenridge, Colorado with three friends, and early one morning we stood at the beginning of a 3.4 mile hiking trail that went straight up a mountain to Mohawk Lake.
Over dirt trails, rocky crevices, and overgrown roots we climbed up and up. We crossed streams, walked through meadows, and climbed over logs. We passed other hikers going up and said hello to hikers going back down. We made a wrong turn, which turned our 3.4 miles of going up into 4.2 miles of going up. We were tired. Sometimes it hurt to breathe. We laughed, we encouraged each other, we stopped to take in the breathtaking views. During the last mile, the trail turned rocky, the ascent became even steeper, and we weren’t so much hiking as looking for footholds and pulling ourselves up and over large boulders.
Then, after almost four hours of hiking and climbing, after four hours of not being able to see the peak but nevertheless continuing because we knew it was there, after all that time of looking upward as we climbed, we arrived. Finally. And the feeling was indescribable.
There was exuberance, yes, and certainly a feeling of accomplishment. But mostly I felt humbled to have worked, and struggled, and climbed, and sweated in order to finally arrive exactly where we had been heading. And as I caught my breath and drank in the view, I thought of a prayer card I had with a photo of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati climbing a mountain with the words Verso l’Alto written in the corner.   

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

So, as I stood on the shores of Mohawk Lake on top of that mountain, as I breathed in the crisp mountain air and delighted in the indescribable beauty, I also felt restlessness – a longing for more. I remembered how Carl Frederick Buechner, in his book Listening to Your Life, said that the unease (or incompleteness) we may feel is the sound God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away. 

And that’s why I felt humbled because I knew there are more mountains to scale. God is forever calling us to him and in our spiritual journey one can move forward or backward, but one cannot stand still.

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

verso l’alto.

Pier Giorgio wrote the words verso l'alto on the back of a photo 
taken by a fellow climber on June 7, 1925. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Spreading a Little Christmas Cheer

Yesterday I set out a basket of snacks outside our front door. I cannot take credit for this idea, and I can't even remember where I first saw it, but it's an idea that is meant to be shared. Have a happy day everyone!

And because we are all so busy, I've also included some decorating ideas that cost NOTHING due to a little foraging inside and outside.

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

front door wreath

1 flat basket 
an assortment of fresh greenery 
1 large bow

antique lantern

1 antique lantern
an assortment of fresh greenery
1 large bow

bird bath

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

Thursday, December 5, 2019

In Which I Lecture My Guys About Football

This past Saturday, I lectured my guys.

About too much football. (And yes, I think there is such a thing.)

On Saturday morning my guys woke up and watched pregame shows. Then they watched football all afternoon, pausing only for lunch (which I provided). Late in the afternoon we attended Saturday night Mass, but the guys huddled in the car until the last minute listening to the Penn State game, and as soon as church ended and as we were walking to our car, they whipped out their phones to check the score. A quick dinner, and then it was football the rest of the night.

Whenever I walked in to tell them something, or ask a question, they would do that football watching thing: you know, where they turn their heads in my direction (as if they were listening) but keep their eyes glued to the television.

Football. All. day. long.

And so I sat them down and gave them a lecture. I used words like balance, stressed the importance of taking breaks, and pointed out that there are others in the family (uh, that would be me) who would like to do other things (like, have a conversation) (or go for a walk) (or watch a movie).

I think they got my point because they all grinned ... you know, like guilty little boys caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Later, as we were reading in bed, Joe said that he would watch a Hallmark Christmas movie with me the next day.


Why, just that afternoon I had recorded the Hallmark movie, Christmas in Rome. And the thought of us watching a charming, but predictable, chick flick made me smile. This was going to be good. I might even make some hot chocolate. With marshmallows.


Except we woke up Sunday morning and NO CABLE. At all. No DVR. No nothing. When we called our cable company they said they'd send someone out on Monday (late afternoon).

So, I'm not really sure what the moral of this story is other than when Bia lectures ... things happen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Eating and Brushing and Brushing ... Oh My!

 Here’s the routine of my days: eat, brush, eat, brush, eat, brush, brush, floss.

That’s life with Invisalign.

Just to be clear, after every meal not only do I brush my teeth, but I also brush my tray (or retainer, or whatever it’s called).

And yes, before bedtime I have to brush TWICE...once with toothpaste, and once with Gel-Kam.

When I realized that my dental hygiene was more involved (all that brushing, brushing, brushing) I went to Target and bought a cute ceramic mug to hold two toothbrushes, two different kinds of toothpaste, floss, and my tray case. 

I’ve also decided there will be NO MORE SNACKING between meals because I’m not taking out a tray (or retainer) unless I absolutely have to. Otherwise I have to brush my teeth. Again.

But I’m not complaining. My teeth are straightening and I’m losing weight. 

That’s called a win-win situation.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

One Year

Yesterday marked one year when I tiptoed into the publishing waters with my book, An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses.

When I say tiptoed, that's exactly what I meant. If you want to feel vulnerable, just create something (a piece of artwork, a book), put your name on it, and put it out there for scrutiny. Then, as you wait to see how it will be received, you worry about getting feedback just as much as you worry about NOT getting feedback. And oh! the questions we weave when we are trying to please: Will my relatives like it? Will people (outside my family) read it? Will people buy it? Did I share too much, or not enough? Should I do this, or that, or nothing at all to promote it? 

But you know what? When I tiptoed into those waters I never imagined being carried on a current to new places and given the opportunity to meet new people. Book talks, emails from strangers, messages from friends, reviews and blurbs (Augusta Magazine "Hot off the Press", Ambassador Magazine "Italian American Reader), interviews (Voyage Atlanta, My Modern Italian Network) ... none of this would have happened if I had stayed on the shore.

And that is probably what I am most proud of--taking a chance, venturing into the unknown, being brave when I felt anything but.

So here I am a year out, and in the words of James Brown ... I feel good! And grateful. And humbled.

Christmas is around the corner, so here are several ways you can get a copy: 

1- For locals, I keep copies here at home. And I'll even sign it for you ;-)

2- Amazon

4- And if you're flying out of The Augusta Regional Airport, pick up a copy at The Landings Gift Shop

Such kind reviews, notes, and messages!

Whenever I give a book talk, I always begin with the story of a fountain, 
for generations of our family have stood in front of this fountain in Verona.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Memory and Hope (First Sunday of Advent)

From a consumerism viewpoint, the fact that Thanksgiving is late this year means doom and gloom for the Christmas shopping season. To me, though, Thanksgiving sliding effortlessly into the Advent season is just as it should be. Before Mass last night I reflected on the past few days of family gathering from near and far, playing corn hole and taking goofy photos, passing heaping plates of food--all that bounty!--and my heart was full. So how appropriate that I can now step into the Advent season and, like those Wise Men, journey toward that babe in the manger, a babe who will one day return in the Fullness of Time. 
Readiness in Memory and Hope
Yesterday I pulled out my 2020 planner, something I do every year at this time. It's a beautiful planner. There are pages with quotes and blank spaces to write down goals; most importantly, 365 empty squares are lined up like stepping stones going forth into a year of tomorrows. 

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

We are all on a journey.

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

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

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

Memory. Hope. A readiness to journey onward.

Isola San Giulio
The Way of Contemplation
"Every journey begins near you"

Isola San Giulio

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Thanksgiving Idea

This year I am hosting Thanksgiving (for twenty-two) and I had a horrible, no good, very bad idea.

It's such a horrible, no good, very bad idea that it has me smiling. A lot.

Here's that idea: a fun, family Thanksgiving photo booth. For goofy photos, family photos, and everything in between.

I can hear my guys groaning already.

But look ... the weather will be a delightful 67 degrees, the trees are in full autumnal glory, and we will be eating outside under a canopy of red, brown, yellow, and orange. So really, how perfect would a Thanksgiving photo booth be?

Am I right, or am I right? (Just don't ask my guys.)

And it was meant to be. Just when all the nurseries and garden centers have converted into Christmas tree lots, I happened to stop at Good Earth where I spotted a small bin of pumpkins and, out back, a row of corn stalks ... all of which they practically gave me.

So you see, a Thanksgiving Photo Booth was meant to be. And I even have props ...

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: A Modern Parable

This fall weather has been just gorgeous, and so in preparing for a bike ride a few days ago I decided to bring my camera. There is a certain spot along the canal that, if you didn't know better, you would think you were in the rugged wilderness of Colorado. And with the crisp, blue sky and the sun's rays dancing among the trees, I knew it would be a perfect morning for photos.

When I reached the area I wanted to photograph, I got off my bike to walk alongside the canal's edge. I took some pictures, then walked a little further and took some more. Suddenly, a cyclist whirled past me at a high speed, only to come to a screeching halt in a whirlwind of dust. He turned around, and came back toward me.

"Are you okay?" he asked me. "I saw you  pushing your bike and thought you might need some help."

Of course, I was perfectly fine, but it didn't escape me that I was experiencing the biblical parable of The Good Samaritan in a very real and modern way.

As far as parables go, it's one that offers drama: a mugging, a near-death, and ultimately the rescue by a kind and caring stranger. Perhaps one of the reasons the parable resonates so well is because all of us, at some time or another, have played all the roles in the story. There have been times we have needed help, other times we have been the source of help, and sometimes (and this may be painful to admit) we have walked on by.

To further complicate matters, life is messy, and in our ongoing quest to find the perfect job, have the perfect marriage, raise perfect children, and develop perfect bodies we do not like to be reminded that, in fact, we are living in an imperfect world. We don't want to be in the position to need help, or to complicate our lives by becoming involved, or to face moral decisions of what is the right thing to do.

Ever since his election Pope Francis has said that he prefers a Church which is bruised and dirty from having been out on the streets; that we need to come out of our comfort zones – leave our schools, churches and homes – and go out to confront illness, poverty, ignorance, injustice, prejudice, pain. All those elements of humanity which are messy. All those things which make people not experiencing them, uncomfortable. Offended, even.
Which is why the parable of The Good Samaritan reads like a modern-day how-to manual on what it means to truly love our neighbor.
In the end, I was grateful this morning that I didn't need help from my kind Samaritan, but I was also very, very touched that he didn't know that but went out of his way to stop anyway. And because he stopped, two strangers spent a few minutes talking, sharing, and marveling at the beautiful sunrise over the Savannah River.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: The Flood and the Cross


And now I will tell you about the horrible flooding in Florence. It’s a disaster. The whole world is sending help, especially for the precious works of art that have been damaged by water and mud. On television, I saw them carrying out paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Domenico Ghirlandaio. It breaks my heart.

-Nonna, in a letter to my parents, November 1966 (translated from Italian)

I wasn’t yet born when Nonna wrote my parents about the horrific events of November 4, 1966 when, due to unusually heavy rainfall, the Arno River flooded the city of Florence.  By the time the waters receded 5,000 people were left homeless, 6,000 stores were forced out of business, and 600,000 tons of mud, rubble and sewage damaged and destroyed millions of masterpieces of art, rare books, maps, historic documents, and manuscripts. The world responded quickly, and Angeli del Fango (Mud Angels) arrived from around the world to help with the rescue and eventual restoration of precious artwork and antique books.  

The event took hold in the hearts of many, so much so that as a little girl I often heard stories about the 1966 flood, mostly from my Nonna who still got emotional describing the amazing (and often heroic) efforts to rescue masterpieces that, ultimately, belong to the world. 

I was reminded of her stories this past September when I was exploring the Santa Croce Basilica in the heart of Florence. While I had entered the church with the intention of seeing the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo,  it was the crucifix by Cimabue which fascinated me the most because that masterpiece became the symbol of Florence’s post-flood period of recovery.

 In 1966, when the flood waters broke down the church doors and the basilica was filled with water, many precious works of art were damaged … including this precious crucifix painted in 1275 by Cimabue for the Franciscan order. When rescuers entered the church, the surface of the crucifix was covered in water, mud, and oil; the base was damaged; and there were deep gouges in the wood. Additionally, Cimabue had used distemper to coat the wooden crucifix, and nearly 60% of it was chipped off.  

Amazingly, when a local priest entered the church the next day in a small rowboat, he noticed flecks of paint floating in the water. Upon realizing they were from the precious crucifix, he directed volunteers to collect the floating specks. Subsequently, during the 10-year restoration project it was these rescued pieces that greatly helped with the restoration and, in 1979, Cimabue’s restored cross was returned to the Santa Croce Basilica.

This month marked the 50th anniversary of this terrible flood, and having just returned from Italy where I saw Cimabue’s cross, it is sobering that now there is yet another flood making headlines—this time in Venice. I was just there, and now St. Mark’s Basilica, where I attended Mass, is flooded; St. Mark’s Square, where we spent our evenings listening to music, is now closed to the public.

The same peaceful waters that offered us gentle passage for our gondolas on an evening just before sunset, are now turbulent and dangerous. 

I recently came across a quote from author Toni Morrison in which she says all water has perfect memory and is trying to get back to where it was.  Maybe she was referring to the fact that you can’t hold water; you can contain it, for a while, but it can’t be held because while we see it as something that is the same, it is never the same as it was a moment ago.

The waves, the tides, the endless ebb and flow along the shore will come. Again and again. Sometimes quietly, sometimes ferociously. In Florence. In Venice. Anywhere in the world. 

And so, like those paint specks floating on the water, we pick up the pieces and put them together again.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Taking the inside ... outside

Like many of you, I am already thinking ahead to the holiday season. There is so much to do! Lately I've read countless articles on how to not only celebrate the holidays, but how to deal with the stress. To be sure, we all have ways to deal with holiday stress and busyness -- planning, shopping early, making lists (lots of lists!) -- but over the years I've come to realize that for my family there are two areas which make all the difference in helping us celebrate the holidays with purpose and mindfulness: keeping things simple and dining al fresco.

Simplicity is a topic all on its own, and it's one in which I am most passionate about. I am all about the simple life and striving for simplicity of mind, hearth and home. But in order to do this topic justice I will address in a future post. Stay tuned.

Today, however, I want to share how dining al fresco can offer a respite from the hectic pace set by the holiday season.

Let me set the stage: as I'm typing this, I'm sitting on our back deck under a rain of falling leaves. Colors of red, orange, yellow, and brown spiral downward to land ever so softly on the grass, the brick patio, my head. I hear them land, I hear them crunch as the squirrels scamper about. I have a steaming mug of tea and a yogurt next to me, and every few sentences I pause, take a sip of tea, and look at the raining leaves.

Of course, I could write this post and sip my tea while sitting at my kitchen table, but then I would get up to throw another load in the washing machine, look at my calendar, and put the breakfast dishes away. I wouldn't be as wholly present as I am now, out here on the deck.

I've said it before, and I've even given a talk on this, but there is something magical about taking a meal outside. Whether you're sitting on the back deck, at an outdoor café or under a park gazebo, dining al fresco is a gift of allowing ourselves to be removed from time; it allows us to savor our food instead of gulping it down, it encourages us to converse instead of talk, and most importantly, it reminds us to linger instead of rushing off to the next activity.

And for me, nothing is better for relieving stress during a busy holiday season than dining al fresco where, somehow, you discover time you didn't think you had.

I've seen the magic time and again, how something ordinary like a bowl of chili, a dish of lasagna, or a simple glass of wine is elevated into something extraordinary just by taking it outside. It's magical, this gentle reminder to sit.

To bide a while.

So now, my tea is finished, this post is published, and I will go rake because while falling leaves are pretty in the back yard, they are quite messy in the front. I'll be back tomorrow for tips and tricks on how to take your Thanksgiving table outside. In the meantime, take that cup of coffee and go sit on the front porch. ;-)

Preparing to dine al fresco for our Girls' Trip to Italy one year reunion.

We lingered over the table for more than three hours.

Dining al fresco with the Bunco gals.

Enjoying a glass of wine outside. Breckenridge, Co.

Why eat inside when there is all that magic outside?
Rome, Girls' Trip to Italy, June 2015

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

It's All Greek to Me

Last night our son called with the news he passed the first part of his CPA exam. He sounded so happy, and is now studying for the second part which he will take Thanksgiving week. (The test is four parts: Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, Regulation.) He and some buddies have a pact to pass the entire exam before they graduate next May with a masters degree in accounting. And like always, I am awed at people who are good in things I am not ...

As an English major studying at The University of Georgia, all I wanted to do was take literature classes, write short stories, study Shakespeare, and go to poetry readings. But college doesn’t quite work that way because I also had to fulfill math requirements. It was a necessary evil, so I plowed ahead: algebra was easy, I actually liked geometry, but then there was Trigonometry . . . a class taught by a foreign exchange grad student who had such a thick accent that I couldn’t even determine his nationality.
I didn’t understand Trigonometry. I didn’t understand my professor. Combine the two and there you have it … a disaster of epic proportions. I stayed after class, I went to tutoring in the Math Lab, and I asked questions, but by exam time I was headed for a big, fat F . . . my first, ever. So I threw myself at the mercy of my professor:  “I am an English major! This is my LAST math requirement!” And just for good measure . . . “If I have to take this class again I will die.” (English majors have a flair for the dramatic.) The professor barely spoke English so I know he didn’t understand half of what I was saying, but desperation has a language all on its own. In the end, he gave me a D in the class (and I have no doubt he was being very, very generous).
As someone who was always an A student, I REJOICED in that D. I called my parents with the news. “I got a D in Trig!” They were (understandably) confused. “But a D is bad, isn’t it?”
I paused. “Well, yes. I mean no.”
Whatever. I got a D, and I would gladly take it thank-you-very-much.
So, taking into account that I don’t have a math gene in my body, I am awed at those who do . . . not because I think they are smarter, but because they are smarter in something different. And every day I am awed that this English major, Italian speaking, bad poet, and sometimes writer has sons – three of them – who are good in everything that I am not.
When I listen to my husband discuss a physics problem with our son, a problem with so many steps that it takes an entire sheet of paper to solve, it takes my breath away. When I walk past my son doing his homework and all I see are numbers and scientific notations, I marvel that writing something can include equations. I have one son studying computer engineering, another who will be studying math and accounting, and a third who is all about engines, architecture, and creating. Sometimes I think, “Who are these guys?”
And then I’ll think, “These are my math guys . . . and I’ll write a story about them.”

with my math and engineering guys
(at Nicholas' Clemson graduation two years ago)

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: The Bumbling Christian

Last year I emerged from All Saints’ Mass to the sight of my son, just outside the back door of the church, still wearing his altar server robes and emptying the ashes out of the thurible. Mass had been a beautiful reminder of how none of us is born a saint, and yet we are all called to a life of holiness. And as I watched my son fumbling with the thurible, the ash can, and his long sleeves which kept getting in the way, I smiled thinking how un-saintly he looked but that … hey!... he was working on it.

As we all are. So much of our Christian journey here on earth isn’t so much about the big mistakes, but the awkward and ungraceful ways we try to do the right thing on a daily basis. We fumble, bumble, trip, put our foot in mouth, and make immature decisions. We turn left when we need to turn right. We stay when we should go, or go when we should stay. We say things we shouldn’t, or fail to say something we should. We feel prompted to act, but then fail to do anything at all.

So like Zacchaeus, we climb a tree to get a better view, and then try again. 

Then, this past Thursday I was reminded how the destination isn't always reached from a straight pathway. Timothy and I were carving pumpkins for Halloween, an activity which can get messy. So I cleared a space on our counter top, had paper towels handy, and while I carved, scraped, and scooped with a minimum of mess, Timothy carved, scraped, and scooped with a maximum of mess. He got pumpkin guts (sorry, that’s what we call the stringy pulp) all over the place—a carved eye went shooting across the kitchen, a handful of pumpkin pulp landed with a splat on the kitchen floor, and every time he waved his hands he flung pumpkin strands here and there. At first I scolded him to be careful—neater!—but then I just let him do his thing. Timothy was dogged and determined to get his pumpkin carved just right, and while nothing about his process of carving a jack-o-lantern was graceful or even neat, in the end he had a perfect, three-eyed pumpkin with a toothy, lopsided smile.

So I think back on Timothy emptying the thurible, or carving the pumpkin, and I believe we are all children bumbling in some way or another. And that’s a good thing because it means we are still trying. I once read how, in our Christian journey, one goes forward or backward, but there is no standing still. And so we bumble and stumble, things get messy and muddled, but we awkwardly and determinedly make our way. Ultimately, God knows us as His children and sees our intentions for what they are—attempts to be holy. 

Imperfect, but holy.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

What time is it, really?

It's that time of year when time gets all weird when we move the clocks back one hour. I know it's only one hour, but boy does it mess things up. And I'm not kidding. This conversation actually happened not too long ago, and we still confuse ourselves.

Joe: Tonight we move the clocks back one hour.

Timothy: That always confuses me because when does it happen? I mean, how do the earth and the sun know?

Clearly he's thinking too hard.

Joe: Look, tomorrow morning when you wake up and it's seven 'o clock, it will feel like eight.

Timothy: But what time will it be?

Joe: It will be whatever the clock says, but it will feel like it's an hour later.

Timothy: Does this mean I get to sleep late Monday morning?

Joe and Maria: NO!

Joe: It will be easier to wake up in the morning, but you will probably feel more tired in the evening because it will be dark earlier. So tomorrow night when it's 8:00 and it feels like 9:00 ... you'll be ready to go to bed.

Timothy: I'M NOT GOING TO BED AT 8:00!


This morning, he wakes up and the nightmare conversation continues.

Timothy: What time is it?

Joe: It's 7:15.

Timothy: Then why is it so light outside?

I mean, really. We want to educate our children, but sometimes (for sanity's sake) it's best just to move on. He'll figure it out someday ... maybe ... when he has kids of his own.

Friday, November 1, 2019

St. Joseph on All Saints' Day

"...but during those moments in which I felt the most inadequate I looked to St. Joseph and found comfort in the fact he was a man--wholly human and wholly imperfect--and yet he lived in the presence of the Son of God. Wasn't I called to do the same? To work, raise our children, and do the best I can all while living my faith? So during those early years of motherhood, as I tucked a sick child into bed, bandaged a skinned knee, or struggled with a wayward toddler, St. Joseph's intercessions and Nonna's unwavering faith showed me how to see blessings in the ordinariness of daily life..."

~Maria Novajosky

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Braces for Halloween and a Formal Apology

Halloween brings out the scary in me.
And, no, I’m not talking about a scary costume. What’s scary is that I morph into someone I don’t even recognize.

Allow me to explain. For the rest of the year I (mostly) avoid sugar. I don’t put sugar in my cappuccino or my tea. I don’t eat sugary cereals. I am careful with desserts.
But on Halloween … I go all out.

I have to try one of everything. And sometimes two, or three. I am not joking. I once wrote a Halloween blog post entitled “What not to eat on Halloween”, which basically listed every piece of candy I ate that night. The title of the post was a joke (ha, ha) … What not to eat on Halloween? The candy wrappers. That was my lesson.
Then there was the one year we bought two huge bags of candy (for a total of 10 pounds) and hid them high on a shelf in the laundry room until Halloween night. Except that on Halloween night ... Where's the Candy? Only 5 pounds left, and this was before trick-or-treating. Now, in my defense I didn’t eat all that candy, and there were other guilty parties involved, but still.

Another year was the tootsie roll year. I don't know what-in-the-heck was wrong with me, but I think I ate ... well, I won't tell you how many tootsie rolls I ate, and I wasn't picky: the big fat ones, the long skinny ones, and the small bite-sized ones all called my name. According to Google it takes a 1/4 mile run or 550 steps to burn off one small Tootsie Roll, so it took quite a while to burn off that tootsie roll binge.
Last year, to help me get a grip, I did something smart. Well, brilliant, if you ask me. On Halloween morning, bright and early, I scheduled a dental appointment. Why would I do such a thing? Well, let me tell you. After cleaning, scraping, buffing, and flossing I wasn't letting anything near those pearly whites.

I was the Queen of Moderation, the Resistor of Temptation, and the Epitome of Steely Resolve.

This year I decided to do something similar except instead of scheduling an appointment with my dentist, I made one with our orthodontist. Yes, I am an adult who is getting braces (or rather,  invisalign). So after enduring all the prep work before getting my invisalign trays on Dec. 2 (a consultation, an x-ray, and in-depth photos) I am very conscious of my teeth and have no desire for any candy. Brilliant, yes?

Finally, here is a totally last minute Halloween costume formula, which works whether you're eating candy or not ...

formal attire + I'm sorry name tag = a formal apology
(ha! get it?)
(btw, those are my mother's wedding gloves)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Public Library and Community Outreach

Last week I visited the Van Gogh exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art. After a lovely afternoon wandering around the museum, we then walked across the street to the Richland County Public Library. My sister, Laura, who is the Assistant Director for Information Services at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Library, wanted to show us an example of the new age of public libraries which focuses on community outreach.

I was blown away. The Richland Library, with its dramatic and exciting architecture, is a public library in the heart of downtown Columbia. It offers 240,000 square feet of creative spaces to help patrons learn and grow while strengthening the connections that bring them together as a community. Some of their services include:

1- Business, Careers and Research Center (with access to computers, advice from a career coach, practice interviews, and resume assistance)
2- Makerspaces and Studios (offering free workshops such as woodworking,  jewelry-making, movie production)
3- weekly Farmers' Market
4- public art displays
5- cafe` 
6- auditorium and theater
7- Social Work Department (to help area residents seek reliable information on healthcare, housing and food) (they even host a flu clinic)
8- Children's Room/Teen Center

And then there was this genius idea:

9- Book Club Sets (in which you can check out multiple copies of a book to host a Book Club) 

The Richland County Public Library is beautiful, bright, clean, welcoming, and enlightening. The programs and services offered are amazing, and in an age which has seen the decline of the public library, the Richland Library is a shining example on how the public library can still be the heart and soul of a community. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Timothy Pantry

"Mom, you seriously need to go shopping," Timothy announced yesterday. "The pantry is empty."

Well, empty it was not, so he clarified his statement.

"What I'm talking about is a Jonathan-is-coming-home pantry," he explained. "Now that's a full pantry. I also like the Jonathan-is-coming-home meals that you make."

Busted. There is also a Nicholas-is-coming-home pantry, but it's a little less frequent because he lives in Arkansas. I freely admit that before the older boys come home, my tendency to stock the pantry and refrigerator is akin to the father offering the fattened calf to his prodigal son. And Timothy knows this all too well. Last month, after an especially big grocery store haul, I excitedly showed him the pantry. The shelves were packed with sodas of all kind (which we never get), chips, cookies, pasta, cereal boxes (everything from Cheerios to Fruit Loops), and Little Debbie cakes (a real treat). Timothy looked at the pantry and with a touch of irony said, "Jonathan is coming home this weekend, isn't he?"

So yesterday I listened to Timothy lament the state of our pantry, and because I felt little sorry for him, poor neglected thing that he is, I asked him what Jonathan-is-coming-home meals he would like me to make. Just like that he rattled off a list: tuna spaghetti, chicken and polenta (the one with the tomato sauce), that spicy beef with the mashed potatoes, breaded Italian chicken, and homemade pizza which, evidently, I haven't made in a while.

"That's a whole week right there," he said helpfully.

I looked at my growing boy. Earlier, when he came downstairs for breakfast, I demanded that he stop growing because there was no way my baby could be six feet tall. When he told me that I needed to add two inches, I said uh-uh no way so he pulled out the tape measure to prove he was right.

My baby is officially six feet, two inches tall.

And that baby was still standing there, grinning, and looking hungry. So fine. I made chicken and polenta for dinner.

And today, since my menu planning is complete thanks to you-know-who, I'll go grocery shopping and stock a Jonathan-is-coming-home pantry ... all for Timothy.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Fuzzy Slippers

This morning I was going through my emails when I noticed that Amazon had sent me a list of recommended reading. Number one on the list was How to Make a Living as a Writer.

Huh. I cannot even begin to tell you how serendipitous that was.

Just a few years ago, Joe was doing our taxes and made an interesting discovery. Our eldest son, who had an engineering internship during the summer and another one over the Christmas holidays, actually made more money that year than I did as a writer.

On one hand we were laughing and saying, "Yay, Nicho!" (especially my engineering husband who expects our sons to contribute financially to their college education); on the other hand, I was like ... DANG.

I love writing, but for all the heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears I pour into it, there's not a lot to show for all the work.

Sometimes this bothers me. I mean, who doesn't like to get recognized for the work they do? It's nice being told you are getting a raise, or given a bonus for finishing a project, or called up on stage to receive an award. It's nice being told you did a good job, or that you are making a difference.

But whenever my thoughts go down that road I pause and think of those who work hard, sacrifice to make ends meet, get up early in the morning or work late into the night, and who do all this without expecting anything in return except good health in order to get up the next day and do it all over again. In a society in which popularity is measured in Facebook likes and Twitter shares, and where recognition is given for throwing a football or for the latest hit song, the Real World is full of those who do what they need to do and that's it.

Hard work is not always celebrated. Or recognized. Success is not always measured in dollar signs.

So in the end, I am perfectly okay with the fact that my taxable income isn't indicative of my hard work, or that when people ask what I do and I say writer ... they still want to know what I do.

Besides, I get to do what I do while wearing my bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. So it's all good.

illustration from

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A gondolier, a baseball player, and Mrs. Clinton walked into a bar ...


They walked into my house.

Last night I hosted Halloween Bunco and Timothy, who was home and therefore pressed into taking our group photo, commented afterwards that we know how to have fun. (He also might have used the word "crazy" but he meant crazy-fun.) (At least, I'm pretty sure that's what he meant.)

But it HAS been crazy-fun with these gals. We've gathered together once a month now for almost 17 years (I know this because, as the youngest of our children, Timothy is our "Bunco Baby"). We've laughed, cried, and celebrated one another. We've watched our children graduate high school, then college. There have been weddings and births. Half of the group came with me to Italy earlier this month, and the other half cheered us on. We're all different, with unique talents, but we have the common bond of friendship.

Anyway, a gondolier, a baseball player, and Mrs. Clinton walked into my house. Along with several witches, Robin (Batman's sidekick), and a girl from dia de los muertos with the most expertly applied Halloween makeup.

And what was I dressed up as? I wore a formal dress with "I'm sorry" written on a name tag. A formal apology ... get it?

See? Crazy fun.