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

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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Up, Up, and Away (with packing cubes)

Five years ago I began using packing cubes whenever I traveled. I first heard about them on travel websites, and decided to try them for 10-day trip to Italy. They worked so well that I have been using them every since. In fact, tomorrow I'm flying to Little Rock, Arkansas to spend a few days with our son, and I've already pulled out my lime green cubes to keep me organized.

Whether you're checking a bag or simply using a carry-on, packing cubes allow you to maximize space in an organized, efficient way. By rolling and placing like items in an assigned cube (tops, bottoms, outerwear) it is easy to look for an item without displacing the entire contents of your luggage.

And the system works. I not only used the packing cubes to help me pack in my carry-on, but I also used them recently for a family road trip in which I used a duffel bag as a suitcase. You know how it is with a duffel bag -- things slip, slide, and lump together -- but the packing cubes kept everything organized and (most importantly) wrinkle free.

(fyi: the packing cubes I use are called eBags which you can purchase them here, but I yesterday I did happen to see that Target has started selling a similar version.)

I used four  packing cubes to keep things organized:
1 large for tops
1 large for bottoms
1 long one for intimates
1 medium one for hair supplies (travel hair iron, shampoo, conditioner, round styling brush)

I used the packing cubes for a 10-day trip to Italy using only a carry-on.
The eBags kept everything organized.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Life Lately: Italy news, book news, what boys eat, airport birthday, grocery lists

Where, oh where have I been? That's a really good question. It's one I've been asking myself and one for which I do not have an answer.

I've been here, just not here ... on the blog.

But allow me catch you up with what's been happening lately ...

~1~ Italy News

I haven't shared any news lately about the 2019 Girls' Trip to Italy, but that's only because we are full. We have 32 booked on the tour, we are working on plane tickets, and the trip is quickly becoming a reality. We have travelers from Georgia, South Carolina, New York City, Chicago, Arizona, and Florida.

~2~ Book News

I did a book talk at the Italian-American Club last month, and yesterday I found out that the Morris Museum of Art will sell my book in the museum gift shop. Also ... book reviews are the best and last week I received the nicest note. (The note is in Italian, but I promise you ... it is unbelievably nice.)

~3~ Where does he put all that food?

Our little guy is on the high school JV soccer team and he eats ALL. THE. TIME. Yesterday I picked him up from practice and here is a list of everything he ate from the time he walked in the door at 4:45 p.m. until bedtime:

one huge bowl of leftover pasta
one pack of peanut butter crackers
two grilled chicken breasts
two helpings of couscous
one helping of corn
two popsicles
one pack of peanut butter crackers

And here's a question: can I still call him our little guy even though he's a freshman in high school AND is taller than me?

~4~ Weekend Travel

On Friday I'm flying to Little Rock, Arkansas to spend a few days with Nicholas. I fly back Tuesday, which just happens to be my birthday. But it got me wondering: if I mention to the nice Delta gate agents that it's my birthday will they upgrade me to first class?

~5~ Grocery Lists

Who knew grocery lists could be elevated to works of art? I clearly need to work on this. Taking notes from Leonardo da Vinci ...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Jimmy Fallon Zip Lining? Been there. Done that.

The Adventure

Last summer Timothy and I accompanied Joe on one of his work trips to Kansas City, and while Joe did his engineering stuff Timothy and I went to museums (note the plural) and explored the downtown area. Then, one day we decided to go zip lining. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I think guilt was involved because of all those museums (again, note the plural).

Me, not really understanding what I signed up for.

The Equipment

Shortly after arriving to Zip KC we were given a giant harness with straps, buckles, and a gazillion things that I didn’t know the name of. It’s a little disconcerting not knowing the language WHEN YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. “Do I put this strap through this thing and loop it over this buckle clip thing?” I heard myself asking at one point. Then we labeled our helmets … you know, for identification purposes. The adventurers, Timbo and Bia.

Timbo the Adventurer

The Climb

To go down, you have to first go up. Who knew? Basically, this involves a staircase going ‘round and ‘round up a huge wooden tower in the middle of nowhere. All the way up, with our shoes pounding on the wooden steps and our harnesses jingling, we were a veritable orchestra of people heading into the unknown. 

The View

When we arrived to the top (above the tree canopy), and once we could breathe again, we took in the sights. The panoramic view was spectacular. But just when I was having a moment with the splendors of Mother Nature our guide said “Let’s go!” and I knew he didn’t mean back down those stairs.

I don't know what these are called, but they're kind of important.

The Step into Nothing

“Who wants to go first?” the guide asked. Not me. I didn’t go second or third, either. I even let Timothy go before me, watching him zip away until I couldn’t see him anymore (good mother that I am). No, I went dead last. And if you think that taking a step off that platform was crazy scary, you’d be right. BUT, that wasn’t the scariest part. That came next.

The step off the platform.

The Really Crazy Scary Part

Since I was the last to leave the first platform, by the time I arrived to the second station everyone else had secured their perch on a platform which was half the size of the one we just left. AND the platform had no railings. AND the entire thing swayed in the wind. I kid you not, my legs felt like jelly as I stood and swayed on the edge of the platform with nothing to hold on to. I wanted to sit down, but there was no room to move!

See? No railings. And the entire thing swayed with the wind.

The No Hands Dare

Before we left the second platform, our guide dared us to zip hands-free. And so he demonstrated, stepping off the platform and zipping away leaning backwards with his arms outstretched. Everyone was dutifully impressed, but I just thought he was certifiable. Apparently so was everyone else (including Timbo) because they all zipped hands-free. Crazy, all of them. I still held on for dear life.

The Zip Line Shack of Fame

Five Towers. Five zip lines. I lived to tell the tale. The second to the last zip line was the shortest, and you know what I did? I zipped hands-free. Whoa. Back at headquarters (camp? station?) (see? I don’t know zip lining language!) we peeled off our names from the helmets and placed them in the Shack Hall of Fame. And if you ever go to Zip KC, there we are … Bia and Timbo, the Adventurers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How Yoda Helped Nonno Win

It was an epic competition, the prize just an espresso machine away ...

What: Gingerbread Cookie Decorating Contest
When: Christmas Eve
Where: Bia and Joe's House
Why: Festive thing to do (plus, it's funny)
Who: Everyone 

Now, everyone approached this competition differently. Some decorated to GET IT DONE ALREADY so they could just eat the thing. Some thought the purpose of the competition was to use ALL the cookie decorations provided. Some thought it was a good idea to eat the decorations and not decorate. Someone (Nonna) kept laughing which, for some reason, resulted in a scary looking gingerbread person. And one person (Nonno) took it very seriously. 

The Winner: Nonno

He took the longest time to finish, he was very meticulous, and he took inspiration from our Christmas Yoda--which was kind of cheating because everyone loved Christmas Yoda so it definitely gave him the edge; in fact, the voting was unanimous and Nonno was declared the winner.

The prize: an espresso to go with his Gingerbread/Yoda cookie.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Chapter Sketches: All in the Family

When I was writing my book (An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses) I knew I wanted to include some artwork. I envisioned simple chapter sketches, done in black and white, that were both whimsical and nostalgic.

The problem with that little vision? I am not a very good artist.

Let me amend that: The problem is that I am not an artist. Period.

But wait … my sister is! She draws, paints, and is perfect in every way except she doesn’t know how to cough properly (inside joke) and that she not once but TWICE used the Men’s Room in Italy (true story).

AND best of all she would do the sketches for free because she is my sister and she loves me very much (both assumptions on my part).

So, using the assumptions above I called her with my idea, gave her the chapter titles, told her how many sketches I needed, and hung up before she could say no.

Just kidding. She was wholeheartedly on board, and for a month she would text me sketches for approval. One day a packet arrived in the mail with SEVENTEEN sketches. My heart was full.

She did a great job, yes?

Monday, January 14, 2019

An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses

Through her heritage Maria found a bridge between la dolce vita and life in Georgia.

I’m very excited to announce that my book, An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses, is now available for purchase (links below). I am emotional just typing those words. Taking excerpts from letters my Italian Nonna wrote through the years, the book explores how the hyphen between the words Italian and American became a bridge connecting espresso and peach cobbler, red wine and pit barbecue, the Amalfi Coast and Hilton Head Island, and La Dolce Vita with life in the Deep South.

To Order:


"This book is a complete joy for anyone with even a remote connection to an Italian heritage! It captures the heart of a "Nonna," an Italian grandmother, and how her love for family transcends distance and time. Narrated by a beloved granddaughter, the chapters revolve around excerpts from letters written by Nonna to her family in America. I laughed and cried throughout the read and was left with a renewed pride in my Italian heritage."
~Amazon Review

Truly, a lovely read. Captivating novel about the profound love shared between a family across an ocean. How intentional, encouraging, and selfless love shown by a beloved Nonna. The immense impact of tradition, integrating into a new environment, and how it all encompasses the steadfast love a Nonna has for her loved ones near and far. The author emulates this prophetic love in her novel.
~Amazon Review

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: A Good Night

I heard the voice of Jesus say, 
“Come unto me and rest; 
lay down, O weary one, lay down, 
your head upon my breast.”

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say 
traditional English folk song, Horatius Bonar (1846)

When I was in high school I went on a mission trip to Haiti where we ran a clinic in a small, remote mountain village called Jean Rebel. A few days after our arrival three of us accompanied a doctor and a nurse on an overnight trip to another isolated village perched on top of a mountain. When we arrived late at night, with only the moon as our guide, we were escorted to a small hut. It was very primitive, with a thatch roof and no windows, and it was equipped with three small beds.

Here’s what I remember about that dark night: I slept on a bed with SMURF sheets.

Not only did those SMURF sheets filled me with wonder (how did Smurf sheets arrive to this remote village?) but I was also incredibly humbled as I thought how the villagers had prepared for our arrival. They had cleaned out a shelter and did what they could to make a small, dark space hospitable and welcoming. They put sheets on our beds when I knew most did without. What they gave us may seem so basic—shelter and a bed—but they gave what they had, and it was more than we needed.

And that night, in a remote village on a mountain in Haiti, in a primitive hut under a starry sky, I lay cocooned in those Smurf sheets and slept.

This memory came to me this morning as I made a bed with princess sheets for a little girl I didn’t even know.

An hour earlier Joe and I had accompanied other members of The Italian American Club to volunteer at ReStart Augusta, a nonprofit organization that provides beds to children, families, and veterans in our area. For three hours most of the group sanded, painted, and assembled beds, while another, smaller group helped deliver bed frames, mattresses, bedding (sheets and comforters) and, for any bed meant for a child, a stuffed animal.

A bed. Clean sheets. A pillow to lay your head.

That’s what this ministry does, and what a wonderful thing.

When that little girl saw her bed (which was the only piece of furniture in her room) she climbed up and softly patted her new pillow. She couldn’t stop smiling.

And that’s when I thought of those Smurf sheets ... because I knew exactly how she was feeling.

Italian American Club
ReStart Augusta

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Look for It

Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor. 

A few days after selecting spontaneity as my One Word Resolution, I came across this quote. Spontaneity. Opportunity. They are brother and sister. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Feeling a brother's pain (or not)

"He doesn't even look miserable. How is that even possible?"

looking slightly insulted while commenting on the fact that, one day after Jonathan 
had four wisdom teeth removed, he was biting into an Arby's brisket sandwich, 
didn't need any pain medication, and had no swelling whatsoever, whereas he (Timothy) was miserable for five days, in pain, and had chipmunk cheeks the entire time.

TBT photo: 
Big Brother and Little Brother committing a Cardinal Sin: eating McDonald's in Rome, Italy. 
It was all my husband's fault.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

the color of my soul

terracotta is the color of clay, dirt, earth, soil

it is the resplendent sun behind a row of cypress trees
sunrise skipping across cobblestone streets
and farmhouse vases on a windowsill

it is the color of tile rooftops
clay pots overflowing with red geraniums
flower boxes in balconies and windows

terracotta is the color of Italy 
and it speaks to my soul.

~from the files of very bad poetry by bia

Monday, January 7, 2019

Life Lately: Smiling & Crying, Books from Boys, Amazon Reviews, a Recipe, and a Really Bad Hair Day

A little of this, a little of that. What's been happening in the Nova house lately ...

1- I couldn't stop smiling (and crying a little, too)

This past Sunday I took my mother to see Mary Poppins Returns. We absolutely loved it. The story is beautifully written, the music is just lovely, the streetlight dancing scene was phenomenal, and the tributes to the original film were magical. If you need a smile (and a happy cry, or two) go see it.

2- My boys know me all too well

Recently Nicholas gave me the book, Killers of the Flower Moon. "It's really a good book; I think you'll like it," he told me. And oh my goodness I could not put it down. This New York Times Bestseller is about the murders of members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma and the birth of the FBI. Riveting, compelling, and sobering.

Then, Jonathan-the-accountant gave me the book, The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan. I've been taking notes like crazy because, while my book was released in early December, marketing officially begins this week.

3- Here's what I learned so far about marketing

Amazon reviews help. Actually, they help a LOT. This is from Chapter 6, page 124 of the book mentioned above. And they make me happy. So if you purchased An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses ... well, would you consider leaving a review?

You can purchase AND leave a review on Lulu or Amazon (or on both). My book is also available at Barnes & Noble (and you can leave a review there, too)!

4- Keeping it real

Honestly, as wonderful as it is to have a book out, I also feel shy and uncomfortable with all the promotion I have to do. So here's something to keep things in perspective and so you don't think this is all going to my head ... Bia's Bad Hair Day (somewhere in Colorado)

5- The Recipe

Finally, last week I posted a photo on Facebook of all the food I had prepared for Nicholas to take back with him to Arkansas. So many asked for the recipe for the bean salad, so I will share it here. It's great as a side dish, but I also eat it alone for a light lunch. Enjoy!

Lemony Bean Salad

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano 

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk.
Add onion, parsley, and beans; toss to gently to coat.
Top with shaved cheese. 

NOTE: For our family of five, I double the recipe. Also, make sure the onions are very finely sliced (so they blend instead of overpower).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Spontaneity

Sometimes, life gets in the way of experiencing it, of truly being able to relish a moment in real time.

Sometimes, all the running around we do to live our lives prevents us from living life.

Sometimes schedules, programs, appointments and to-do lists, although immensely useful and wholly practical, can narrow our world.

Sometimes they cause us to miss out.

Now don’t get me wrong. I thrive on structure. Organization keeps me sane. I love my planner and putting things on the calendar. I like prepping and meal planning and getting ahead. Even nature provides structure with the rising sun, waning moon, and changing seasons.

But sometimes … sometimes I truly believe God gives us a moment, an opportunity, or a chance to step off the beaten path to experience something new, or allows plans to go awry so we can see another way, or presents a pause so we can get a peek of color in a world of grey.

Which is why my one word resolution for this year is SPONTANEITY.

Spontaneity, to look one way when everyone else looks another, to turn left instead of right, to stay instead of go (or go instead of stay), to walk in the middle of a run (or stop in the middle of a walk), to do something on a Wednesday instead of Tuesday, to put aside the newspaper and read a fairy tale, to reach out instead of holding back.

Spontaneity, to follow a road without a map. 

Spontaneity, to be ready, brave, and bold to let go, venture off, and grasp the gift of something new, different, exciting, adventurous, and unplanned.

During an early morning walk this week I noticed grey everywhere.
The canal trail, water, tree moss, sky.  It was all grey.
And then I spotted this ...

Friday, January 4, 2019

How Guys Pack (A Once Upon a Time Story)

Here's a story about Jonathan. I'm only posting it because he's received a lot of sympathy recently due to the extraction of his wisdom teeth this morning. But he's good with four less teeth because Jonathan is a MINIMALIST. Less is best. Why have extra teeth when four less will do?

Allow me to illustrate: this same cute, adorable Jonathan came home for the holidays and left half of his clothes back at school. Anyone else would have been scrambling to beg, borrow, or buy items of clothing, but not Jonathan. He had what he needed; besides, less clothes meant less packing and unpacking. So he's basically been wearing the same few outfits on repeat the entire time he's been home. Wear, wash, repeat. 

But I'm learning to look at the bright side. At least he came home with SOME clothes because ONCE UPON A TIME he didn't ...

Last weekend Jonathan came home for my birthday. He arrived Saturday before lunchtime and had plans to leave Sunday after lunch. (See what he did there? Impeccable meal timing.)

When he first walked in the door we chatted for a few minutes, after which I told him to go get his stuff out of the car.

"I don't have anything." he responded.

I stopped dead in my tracks. He was holding his phone, keys, and wallet. Nothing else.

"What are you wearing later?" I inquired.

"This," he said, gesturing to the clothes on his back.

"What are you going to wear to church tonight?" I wanted to know.

"This," he said, again with the gesture.

"Tomorrow?" I asked, knowing that the odds were not in my favor.

He didn't even respond. He just grinned.

And I was like ...

We're DONE with Wisdom Teeth in this Family

Boy 3 getting his wisdom teeth GONE. If you remember, I am SUPER MOM with most medical issues—bloody knees, sutures, vomit, splinters, high fevers, diarrhea. 

BUT, anything dealing with dentists, dental instruments, oral gag reflex gets a workout. 

So, let’s get these teeth gone because I am DONE. 

And this is the only photo I could manage.

All is well. Of the three boys, Jonathan is handling this the best. 
They wheeled him out smiling, he thanked the surgeon, and he thanked me for staying with him. 
I was good UNTIL they handed me his teeth. Let me repeat: THEY GAVE ME ALL FOUR OF HIS WISDOM TEETH!!  Bleck. They didn't do this with the other two so I was blindsided. 
Who keeps TEETH? 
The Tooth Fairy flew the coop a long time ago;-)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Easy as 1, 2, 3 (on a rainy day)

~1~ the supplies

one Harry Potter Brick Headz Lego found on the clearance shelf at Target

~2~ getting ready

open the box and give one brother the bag of Ron Weasley pieces, and to the other, the Albus Dumbledore bag

~3~ the challenge


Eight minutes and fifteen seconds later, Jonathan's Ron Weasley won. 
("Only because I had Dumbledore!" protested Timothy. "He definitely had more pieces!")