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

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Parenthood ... A Little Dose of Reality

"You have what is called the 'Arrogance of Youth' which means you sit there, perched on your pedestal, and think that everyone--including mom and dad--is a complete idiot." ~me, to Timothy during our drive to school this morning.

And then this Facebook memory pops up, and that one photo confirms everything about parenthood.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Fun Facts: Florence

Our 2019 Girls' Trip to Italy is fast approaching! My sister and I organized a tour to Tuscany and northern Italy, and this September there will be 32 of us living La Dolce Vita. We want everyone to be prepared so that we are just not visiting the country, but living, breathing, tasting, and experiencing it. So we hold information sessions ...

Fun Facts: Florence

Where in the world is Florence? Florence is the capital of the region of Tuscany in central Italy.

Historic fact. Nearly a third (let me repeat: A THIRD!!!) of the world’s art treasures reside in Florence.

Fiorentino. The people of Florence are called Florentines, or Fiorentino in Italian.

Paving the way. In 1339, Florence became the first city in Europe with paved streets.

Architectural wonder. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (or, the Duomo di Firenze) took approximately 140 years to build. It is the 3rd largest in the WORLD (behind St.Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s in London).

Four quarters. The city of Florence is traditionally divided into four quarters, named after the most important churches—Santa Maria Novella, San Giovanni, Santa Croce, and Santo Spirito.

Ponte Vecchio. Florence was severely damaged during World War II by the Germans who blew up all its bridges except the Ponte Vecchio. Allegedly Hitler declared it too beautiful to destroy.

The Marzocco. The heraldic lion—also known as the Marzocco lion—holds a protective paw over a red lily, the symbol of the city. The most famous Marzocco is in Piazza della Signoria, but you can spot them throughout the city (including on every cornerstone of the Ponte Vecchio).

Pane toscano. Tuscan bread is traditionally made without salt, and it’s been this way since the 12th century. According to popular legend, Florence and Pisa were at war and when the Pisans blocked shipments of salt, the Florentines simply did without.

Where’s the beef? A famous Florentine speciality is the bistecca alla Fiorentina, a Porterhouse steak, grilled rare over a wood fire.  The dish is so typical that if you ask for a fiorentina in a restaurant in Italy, without saying more, this is what you will be served. The recipe is exquisitely simple, but in Italy, a true bistecca alla fiorentina is made with Chianina beef, the largest and one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world.

Fun fact: How do the Italians really eat pasta?  The correct technique involves piercing some pasta near the edge of the bowl, not in the center but at the twelve o'clock position, then twirling the pasta around the fork against the rim of the bowl. (No spoon!)

Speak to Me Sunday: Self Care and Sacrifice

I have a friend who works in the business world and every few months she calls to chat. She tells me what is going on in her life, I share news from my life, and toward the end of every conversation she invariably asks, "So, Maria. What do you do for yourself?"

The first time she asked me that question, I was caught off guard. Do? For myself? Was she serious?
So I tried to make a joke out of it: I took a shower while the boys were napping! I had red wine with takeout pizza! I went for a walk after everyone was in bed! I got a hair cut!
The second time she asked me that same question I wanted to snap, "What do you think?" because, at the time, Nicholas and Jonathan were 22 months apart and we had just come through pneumonia (Nicholas) and a hospitalization with RSV (Jonathan). But I managed to hold back my snarky comment because I didn't want to sound defensive.
Why, though, did her question always put me on edge?
I think part of the problem is that I saw the question as narrow-minded; it's as if everything I mentioned in our conversation involving my dual roles as wife and mother were not as important (or interesting) as what I could be doing for me. The question frustrated me because, during many of those times in my life when I was called to dig deep (and I'm not being overly dramatic), there just simply wasn't any time for me, and I was okay with that.
Let's face it. Motherhood is not always a Rembrandt painting with soft edges and muted colors. Between those tender moments of watching a sleeping child, accepting a wilted flower that was picked especially for you, or snuggling on the couch during a thunderstorm are just as many nitty gritty moments which involve cleaning toilets, bandaging skinned knees, dealing with know-it-all teens, or getting up during the night to make sure a fever hasn't spiked.
Now, before I go any further let me clarify something: of course it's important to take care of ourselves; of course it's important to take a break; of course it's important to have a date night with your spouse. But what society seems to be saying is that only when you give to yourself can you truly give of yourself.
Which I find very, very limiting because it doesn't leave any room for sacrifice.
Swiss writer, Henri Frederic Amiel, once wrote: Sacrifice, which is the passion of great souls, has never been the law of societies. Although those words were written in the 1800's, they are just as true today. In this culture of now and instant gratification and self-fulfillment you will not find a more foreign concept than sacrifice.
But part of what I do and who I am as a wife and mother sometimes (often?) involves sacrifice, which was not quite what my friend was looking for.
What do I do for myself? To answer the question, sure, sometimes I buy a new outfit, go to the beach for a weekend with my sister, or meet a friend for lunch. But sometimes I throw in yet another load of laundry, shop for groceries between carpool runs, try not to lose my temper, or cancel my hair appointment to take someone to the doctor; paradoxically, these things, too, answer her question.
What my friend didn’t understand was that sometimes the only thing I can do for myself is to do the best I can, because otherwise I would be less than who I am; that sometimes, when I strive to do what I have been called to do with love, grace, forbearance, and even sacrifice, then that is the best thing I can do for myself.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Finding the Perfect Time

Several years ago I had an idea to sponsor a girls' trip to Italy. It was a wonderful idea, combining my love of travel with my love of Italy, but it was an idea I kept postponing because I was waiting for The Perfect Time. 

So I waited. 

Months passed. 

A year.

And another. 

Then one summer during a family road trip, I found myself in an art museum contemplating a Caravaggio masterpiece. As I explored the feelings evoked when art, history, culture, and travel collide, I felt Caravaggio lead me out of the shadows of dreams and into the light of reality with this epiphany: there will NEVER, EVER be a Perfect Time. It simply doesn't exist; as you wait for that Perfect Time to ... POOF! ... magically appear, time slips through your fingers. 

With those thoughts in mind, within two days of returning home from that road trip I announced the 2015 Girls' Trip to Italy to family, friends, and friends of friends. It took a leap of faith--so many details! so many worries! so many logistical decisions involved in getting from here to there! But with the date circled on the calendar, all of us did what we needed to do to create that Perfect Time. 

Exactly one year from when I first announced the trip, 23 women were standing in St. Peter's Square in Rome for the Pope's blessing. That was the first day of what would be a nine day adventure. 

We had the Most perfect Time.

Today, three years later, another trip is in the works--the 2019 Girls' Trip to Italy. The itinerary is set, travel information packets have been handed out, questions have been asked and answered. Our list of travelers is growing and deposit checks arrive weekly. Getting the mail has never been more fun. 

Just like last time, it's an exciting, scary, thrilling time ... and we haven't even left home yet. 

The Dutch have a saying: He who is outside his door, already has the hard part of his journey before him. So pack your bags and take that first step. 

Because sometimes the perfect time is now.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Life Lately: Sons who Travel, Poopy Birds, People who Talk LOUDLY

A little of this, a little of that. Because we're all over the place.

1- Sons who travel

Nicholas just purchased airplane tickets for a two week trip to Japan with some high school buddies. And they are ORGANIZED. They have the most awesome itinerary and Nicholas, who has been studying Japanese, can put his language skills to use. Jonathan (our college senior) and his roommates are going to Myrtle Beach for spring break thanks to the generosity of Nonna and Nonno and a Time Share they're not using. And Timothy is going to New Orleans for his spring break ... with mom and dad, of course.

We found this project of Timothy's,
and sent it to Nicholas. It was too perfect.

2- Husbands who travel

Oakland (California), Kansas City (Missouri), Albuquerque (New Mexico) ... Joe's been traveling.

3- Moms who hold down the fort

That would be me. But I'm going to Italy in September so I'm not complaining.

4- Nonni who bounce

Recently I wrote about my father who has heart disease despite the fact that he's healthy (no diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure), eats well, and exercises regularly. He had his first bypass at age 40, his second one at 50, and then six months ago chest pain led to a heart catheterization and a stent. At the time I wrote how he has the Heart of a Lion because he handles all this with courage, a sense of humor, and fierce determination.

Then this past Monday, like a groundhog day, it was all on repeat. Chest pain, heart catheterization, a stent.

And he still has the heart of a lion, but he's also like Tigger ... he bounces back like nothing happened.

My parents
Verona, Italy

5- Birds who poop

This bird loves to perch on our mailbox. He (or she) is so cute, which is why I took this photo. But he (she?) also poops. And that's not so cute.

6- Families who shop for toilet seats

This was our Wednesday evening. Good times, people. Good times.

7- People who speak LOUDLY

There is an elderly gentleman at our gym who comes to socialize more than work out. He likes loves to talk, which wouldn't be so bad except that he corners you and he's SO LOUD. One time he asked where I worked, and when I answered that I was a writer he said, "YOU'RE A WRITER?" And then he proceeded to ask a million questions and then repeat everything so loudly that EVERYONE stopped what they were doing to look (and listen). I don't like loud conversations.

Now, whenever we go to the gym as a family we tease each other as to who will be cornered that day.

This past Saturday Joe, Timothy, and I were working out when we heard the distinctive loud voice. The three of us looked at each other, stricken. Who would be cornered today? Poor Timothy, that's who. Joe and I watched from a distance, and waved to him in solidarity when he looked at us for help. But revenge is sweet. Afterwards, Timothy came over to me and whispered, "I'm going to tell him you just wrote a book."

And I was like ...

Monday, February 18, 2019


So this guy ... who once got his finger stuck in a wiffle ball which Nonno had to cut off (the wiffle ball, that is, and not the finger) ... well, we just ordered his college graduation cap and gown.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Filling the Empty

Today, simply this: Tap into that sense of unease, those feeling of incompleteness and emptiness. Tap into that longing for something more ...

"Each of us carries around inside himself, I believe, a certain emptiness – a sense that something is missing, a restlessness, the deep feeling that somehow all is not right inside his skin.

Psychologists sometimes call it anxiety, theologians sometimes call it estrangement, but whatever you call it, I doubt that there are many who do not recognize the experience itself, especially no one of our age, which has been variously termed the age of anxiety, the lost generation, the beat generation, the lonely crowd.

Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God -- that this is the sound God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away.

In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him."

-- Frederick Buechner, "Listening to Your Life"

Friday, February 15, 2019

Italian 101

Once upon a time my mother taught Beginning Italian at Augusta State University. Her classes were on Tuesday evenings, and one year Nicholas accompanied her every week in order to learn Italian. The next year, it was Jonathan's turn.

Recently I came across this little paragraph that Nicholas had to write for one of the classes. The Italian is very basic (it was just the second week of class), but what's funny is that he was also taking Spanish in school so there is some Spanish mixed in. 

And he was evidently trying to use all the vocabulary words from the list AND score brownie points with Nonna by slipping in a compliment.

Ciao! My name is Nicholas! I am twelve years old. I have a father and a mother. They are Maria and Joe. My father is an engineer. I have two brothers. They are eleven and three. They are crazy. I have a Nonna and a Nonno. My Nonna is a teacher and she is intelligent. I have big muscles. I don't have a car. I like rock music. My friend is James. He is good at playing the piano. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Table for Two

As far as date nights go, it wasn't the fanciest place we've ever been to. There were no tablecloths. The menus were laminated. We were the only diners.

But on a cold, rainy, windy night it was the only bright light on Riverwatch Parkway. A beacon of welcome and warmth.

The hostess was nice, the coffee was hot, and while the weather did its blustery thing outside, we were cocooned inside enjoying breakfast for dinner for two.

Sometimes it's the simple things that carve memories on our heart.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Love Tokens

Last week I was in Publix shopping for ingredients to make lasagna. We were visiting Jonathan the next day and I wanted to bring him a home cooked meal. As I reached for a carton of Ricotta cheese I felt someone tap me gently on the arm. I turned to face an elderly woman smiling sweetly at me.

“If you don’t mind, “she said. “I’d like to give you a love token.”

I hesitated for the briefest of seconds. What exactly did she mean? Would I have to engage? Did she want to share her faith? Was there a catch? But she looked sweet (and harmless) and so I went with it.

“Well, sure,” I said. “The world needs all the love it can get.”

And so she reached into a small, drawstring bag and handed me a tiny, wooden heart with the word “LOVE” inscribed on one side – a love token, literally.

“I just want you to have a nice day,” she said, and then gave me another one for my “sweetie” before walking away.

She made me smile. I slipped the love tokens in my pocket, finished my shopping, and continued with my day.  I went to the bank, took Timothy’s class to Adoration,  picked him up from school, drove him to soccer tryouts, took a quick walk on the canal, assembled two lasagnas (one for Jono, one for us), made phone calls, sent emails, and folded two loads of laundry. It was a typical, ordinary, not-exciting-in-the-least-kind-of-day.

And yet, it wasn’t a typical or ordinary kind of day at all. Because of two, tiny heart tokens in my pocket, the day had transformed into something more – a full day, with endless possibilities, to pass on my own love tokens.

A smile to the grumpy cashier.
Patience with the lady who cut me off in traffic.
An encouraging email.
Lasagna for my son.
Prayers for a friend.
A corny joke for someone who needed a laugh.

All of it perfectly ordinary on my part, but perhaps extraordinary for the other person.

Later that evening, I thought how that sweet woman used her wooden love tokens as stepping stones to come out of self and into mindfulness – of charity, kindness, forgiveness, courtesy. None of these things is complicated, but they do require sacrifice and an awareness of the world around us.

And when you think that the Hallmark trappings of hearts and balloons occurs just before the beginning of Lent, it all makes perfect sense.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Bucket of Daisies

I was getting dressed when I looked out our bedroom window and saw balloons—hundreds of them! thousands!—floating down from somewhere above our house. Then, the radio announced that Susan Lucci (stay with me here) had a baby girl and America was celebrating with balloons. When I looked out the window again, our neighbors were in the street playing with the balloons and walking down our driveway holding large boxes tied with bright red ribbons. THEY'RE GIVING AWAY FREE STUFF!

I hurriedly changed into a floral dress and red, high top sneakers (I can’t control what I wear in dreams), rushed down the stairs and out the back door. My friend was there holding a red yard bucket.

“Look what your bucket caught,” she said, holding it up so I could see that it was filled with white daisies—hundreds of them! Thousands!

“Are they giving away free stuff?” I asked, but before my friend could answer I heard a truck back down our driveway and then drive away.

“They were,” she said, a little sorrowfully. "But it's over."

And I woke up. I had this dream at precisely 6:38 this morning, the last dream of the night. So … analyze and interpret. Please. Because other than a bucket of daisies, I got nothing. Literally and figuratively.  

Saturday, February 9, 2019

An Ocean, an Airplane, and a View from a Cockpit

Three years ago our family vacationed in Italy, and while we have so many wonderful memories of that trip, one of the most memorable occurred before we even got there ...

The story begins when we purchased our tickets for the trip using frequent flyer miles. Since Air France was having a special promotion, all five of us were able to fly business class ... a first for us. But there was a snag. Because airlines release a limited number of free seats, the five of us could not get seats on the same flight. So, my husband and the two older boys left on an earlier flight, and Timothy and I followed on another Air France flight an hour and a half later. We planned to meet at the Baggage Claim in Rome.

When we boarded our flight Timothy, who is passionate about planes, was clutching a drawing of our Air France flight. The flight attendant saw the drawing and promised to give it to the pilot later. The two of us then settled down for a quiet evening, all the more so considering there were (maybe) seven people in business class. I was the only female, Timothy was the only child, and we were treated well: champagne upon boarding (that is, champagne for me, Fanta for the bambino), toiletry packs (mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrush, warm socks, ear plugs), plush blankets, fluffy pillows, a small pouch containing games/toys for our little guy, and seats that reclined to form makeshift beds.

Around midnight the flight attendant woke us up with an invitation from the pilot to come visit the cockpit. So, with everyone still sleeping, we were quietly escorted up the aisle. It was a surreal moment. We were flying above the clouds, somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, with a magnificent view of a full moon hanging right outside the window. It was quiet. It was magical.

And conversation wasn't necessary. Sometimes it is enough to stand in awe of beauty, and share a moment without exchanging any words at all.

A copy of Timothy's drawing.
The original is probably taped on an instrument panel
of an Air France jet somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Story Behind a Book

Once upon a time, my high school Spanish club held a fund raiser which required each member to sell boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. This was so out of my comfort zone. We had only recently moved to Georgia and I was struggling – to fit in, to be less shy, to be happy when I just wanted my old life back in Italy. So the thought of going door-to-door selling doughnuts to strangers filled me with anxiety. In the end, I sold two boxes to an elderly couple who lived behind us and a few boxes to our neighbors across the street. I used my babysitting money to buy the rest. 

Why am I telling you this story?

This week I formally announced that my book, An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Fullof Kisses, was officially released and available for purchase. Truthfully, I could have made the announcement a week earlier, but I delayed because I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t make me feel as if I were selling those boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

And yet, if there is one thing I learned from writing this book is that I’m not that same person anymore. During those first years when I was trying to figure it all out, it was the written word—in all its forms—which gave me comfort. I read voraciously (my first job as a teenager was working in a library), I kept a journal, and I wrote stories. But mostly, it was the weekly letters from Nonna, my Italian grandmother, that gave me what I needed to keep trying. Nonna’s words (and her love) grounded me in ways nothing else could.

Eventually, I did find my way. Things became good, then better, and then even great.

It wasn’t until many years later when my mother and I were going through Nonna’s letters—years and years of letters—that I realized the true power of the written word. Just seeing Nonna’s handwriting helped me remember her hands, large and strong and thick-veined. Just reading her letters made me remember her passion, her laughter, and even what her voice sounded like. Her written words evoked memories, feelings, and more than a little nostalgia, and I recognized how so much of what she wrote and who she was could be woven into the fabric of my life—of who I was, am, and always will be.

The very next day I began writing An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two CountriesFull of Kisses.

So last week, while contemplating how to announce my book in a way that was meaningful, the image of the Spanish Club fundraiser and those pesky boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts popped into my mind. But you know what? The memory made me smile. I am not selling doughnuts anymore; in fact, I am so beyond those doughnuts.

I’m telling a story.

Because that’s who I am.

It’s that simple.

To purchase 
An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses 
visit any of the links below. 
(Incidentally, books last longer than doughnuts;-)


(click on the "to purchase" button in the upper right hand corner)

Barnes & Noble