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

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

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.
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.

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.


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.
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

Friday, March 22, 2019

Taken by Surprise

Yesterday Timothy asked if I would proofread his essay on the intersection of health and technology. It was a very good essay, but I had a few suggestions. So I called him over, and as he leaned over me I showed him some ideas on how he could bring together his thesis and concluding paragraph. All of a sudden, he leaned forward and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.

And just like that I forgot what I was saying.

I have written before how the first time you hold a child in your arms--when it's just the two of you and the world is a far off place--is but a brief moment because you then spend the rest of your life letting go. In little ways (when a child begins to crawl or takes that first step) and in big ones (the first day of kindergarten or freshman year in college) you are watching them go.

As I am typing this I am all too aware that this afternoon, as soon as school is finished, Timothy will be taking the test for his learner's permit, which starts a whole new chapter in the art of letting go.

But then I think of that sweet kiss on my cheek. So nice. So unexpected.

And it's all good.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring Break and the Kindness of Strangers

Two years ago, when Nicholas was a senior at Clemson University, the Nonni let him and three buddies use their Myrtle Beach timeshare for spring break. It was their last moment of freedom before graduation.

This year, it is Jonathan's turn.

After four years of working every summer and holiday, this is Jonathan's first official spring break. He and his three roommates left Sunday morning and stopped on the way at Nonna and Nonno's house for lunch. In honor of Timothy's birthday the Nonni had prepared a veritable feast: grilled ribs, pasta salad, potato salad, bruschetta, vegetables, oven potatoes, and ice cream cake.

It was so nice to have those young men--all seniors--seated around the table. They talked about their plans for the future in the fields of accounting, business, environmental science, and marketing. They were all charming, polite, and paid attention to Timothy, the Birthday Boy.

Before they left we loaded their car with beach chairs, a basketball, a football, and a few bags of groceries.

They arrived in Myrtle Beach, checked in, and went to dinner at Myabi Japanese Steakhouse, a hibachi-style restaurant on Broadway at the Beach. It's a very nice restaurant. Seated at their table was a middle-aged couple who must have been impressed with our guys because at the end of the meal ... the couple paid for ALL FOUR OF THEM!

I think their spring break started off well.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Feast Day of St. Joseph

The very day I was welcomed into the faith through baptismal waters, 
when I was given the name Maria to honor my Nonna, 
here was her letter telling me it all happened on the Feast Day of St. Joseph.

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph (and in Italy, Father's Day). St. Joseph is a big deal in our family; in fact, I dedicated an entire chapter to him in my book. Here is some information about this feast day which I posted in our Girls' Trip to Italy Facebook Group ...

I hope everyone had a blessed St. Patrick’s Day! While March 17 is celebrated with parades and everything green, in our family we celebrate another saint—St. Joseph—whose feast day is just two days later on March 19. The history of this feast day finds its roots many centuries ago in Sicily where, according to legend, a drought led to a wide-spread famine. In desperation the people prayed to St. Joseph asking for rain and promised to honor him if he interceded for them. The rains did come, and the fava bean was the crop which saved the people from starvation. In thanksgiving, the people of Sicily named San Giuseppe (St. Joseph) their Patron Saint and began honoring his feast day with a communal meal in which everyone was invited.

Today, the Feast Day of St. Joseph is not only celebrated in southern Italy, but also in many churches, parish halls, and Italian-American clubs across the U.S. There are many symbols and traditions associated with this feast day: the food is usually displayed on a three-tiered altar which not only represents the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), but also the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary, Jesus); a bowl of breadcrumbs represents the sawdust of Joseph, the carpenter; because the feast day occurs during Lent, the meal is usually meatless and features bread, cheese, pasta, fruit, and (of course) the fava bean; a popular dessert for St. Joseph's Day are cream puffs known as sfinge or zeppole; and the traditional color of this feast day is red.

Some years our family celebrates St. Joseph Feast Day quietly, while other years we host a huge party with family, friends, neighbors, and the parish priests. Last year I hosted our March Bunco, so I shared this feast day with my Bunco gals. This year, in which I published my book with an entire chapter dedicated to St Joseph, we are having a party. And like always, there will be the traditional reading of the history of this feast day, the viva S. Giuseppe toasts, the sprinkling of the breadcrumbs, and goody bags containing a prayer card and a fava bean (because it is believed that a pantry with even one fava bean will never be bare). 

St. Joseph

St. Joseph goody bags

A bowl of breadcrumbs represent sawdust of a carpenter

parties through the years

Last year I sent the older boys St. Joseph Feast Day boxes

The contents included: a small St. Joseph statue, prayer cards,
a published article I wrote on St. Joseph, the story behind the tradition,
a package of pasta, a container of breadcrumbs, and fava beans. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Candy & Legos (a Birthday Formula)

When you complained to Nonna about the state of her candy bowl ("This just pitiful! Really, only TWO pieces of candy?") and then one week later it's your birthday, THIS is what you find at your seat during lunch at Nonna and Nonno's.

Then, when you wish for a Porsche 911 RSR Lego, and you get it, you spend all afternoon eating candy and following an instruction manual the size of a telephone book. Three hours later all 1580 pieces have been assembled.

And yes, I'm sure you noticed the Santa wrapping paper. Look. This is the same Timothy who had a confirmation cake with "Jonathan" written on top, so he's used to this kind of stuff.

Happy Merry Christmas Birthday, Timothy!

Oh, and it's my brother's birthday too. So happy birthday, David!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Connecting the Dots

This is a story about Tanzania, Georgia, Texas, North Dakota, and Kenya; it's a story about connecting the dots.

Several years ago an African priest visiting our area asked our family if we would welcome into our home a nun from Tanzania who was studying in New Jersey and needed some place to go during spring break. We wholeheartedly agreed, and soon Sr. Gaudiosa arrived wearing her blue habit, speaking broken English, but flashing a smile which drew everyone to her.

Since then she has been here four times, even spending two Christmas vacations with us. We've taken her to the movies (she loved Hairspray and The Lion King), we've gone bowling (she bowled a strike on her very first try), we've traveled (to the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta and the state museums in Columbia), and once, after a visit to the planetarium, we returned home and used flashlights and rubber balls to explain the workings of the Solar System.

We are blessed from knowing her. Just being in her presence makes us kinder and gentler.

From Tanzania to Augusta, GA ... we both still marvel at that.

After her last visit sister went to study at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic University in San Antonio, TX where she was working on a Master's Degree in Social Work. We stayed connected via email and the occasional phone call.

In the meantime, I had been writing on two fronts. Personally, I wrote some "sister stories" both here and through various presentations I did at a Women's Bible Study (one of those stories was even published in Canticle Magazine). Professionally, I was working for a Catholic Company and writing articles for parish newsletters. The articles involved interviewing people from all over the United States.

One day I received an assignment to write an article on a couple from Bismarck, ND who would be spending three months that summer serving as missionaries in Kenya. I spoke with the couple for a long time. They explained their work in Africa, and when they mentioned they had met with some African nuns to get a crash course on language and culture I mentioned our family's connection to Africa by way of a nun from Tanzania.

There was a pause on the phone. Then, "Is your nun by chance studying in Texas?" they asked.

"Uhm ... yes! In San Antonio. Her name is Sr. Gaudiosa," I replied.

"We know her!" they exclaimed. "We went to San Antonio for discernment training and met with several sisters from Africa who shared some insights with us. Sr. Gaudiosa sang and danced for us! She taught us some words in Swahili!"

I was overcome with emotion. Sister has sung and danced for us many times, too. She taught us how to say jambo (hello) and asante sana (thank you). When she visited our boys' school, she taught the class the Our Father in Swahili.

But more than anything, I was humbled how God, in creating this vast, beautiful world, can still make it seem small and connected.

Tanzania, Georgia, Texas, North Dakota, Kenya.

Connecting the dots.

For more sister stories ...

Upon Simplifying Christmas
One Good Deed a Day: A Helping Hand
One Good Deed a Day: Those in Authority
Our Very Own Christmas Miracle
Asante Sana, Sister
A Hankie for My Pocket

Visiting Timothy's Kindergarten class

Sister dancing and singing for us

Visiting the Augusta Museum of History

Sister, Joe, and the boys

Friday, March 15, 2019

Destination Unknown (Part II)

As parents who follow the rules, who raise their children to work hard and set goals, my husband and I watch the news about the college cheating scandal and can understand the outrage. You see, once upon a time our son did everything right to get into the college of his choice, and yet he was denied. Great S.A.T scores, great work ethic, great class ranking and a great GPA, he was involved in sports and held down a part time job, and yet his application was denied. We even went through a formal appeal process, and again he was denied. We always wondered why, and at the time we blamed analytics, affirmative action, out of state applicants, and quotas. Today, after this recent scandal, we still wonder why but--and here's the thing--we've moved on.  Everything worked out for the better. He's had an accounting apprenticeship every summer since his freshman year, one semester apprenticeship during which he commuted back and forth from college to work, invitations to four leadership conferences last summer, and this May he will graduate with a degree in accounting and then continue his studies for his masters degree. 

The world is unfair. There will always be people who don't play by the rules, who cheat and use money and privilege to their advantage. But here is what our family has learned: the denial from that one college was just that, one denial. It closed one door, but not all of them, and it took us on a journey for which we hadn't planned, but one which was all the more rewarding ...

This is Part II of our journey. Destination Unknown (Part I) was yesterday.

This morning, I was kneeling  in a small Catholic church in Milledgeville, Georgia. Founded in 1874, Sacred Heart is a beautiful church, and I love the simplicity of the hard wooden pews, the large windows with the old shutters thrown open, the creaky floors, and the smallness of it which makes it seem intimate and cozy. When the church bells started ringing, I looked at the altar and remembered how three and a half years ago those church bells were a beacon of hope for our family.

That day we had come to Milledgeville for a campus tour of Georgia College and State University, and we were there only because a few months earlier Jonathan did not get into the college of his choice. At the time, it was devastating for all of us, something we neither expected nor anticipated considering Jonathan's excellent grades, test scores, and work ethic. We had even appealed, to no avail. We were being called to walk by faith and not by sight, and it wasn't an easy thing to do.  In the midst of our confusion we had begun looking at other schools, which was why we were in Milledgeville. We had no expectations that day and, truthfully, none of us really wanted to be there.

When we drove into town, we stopped at a red light and noticed a small, white clapboard Catholic Church on the corner. At that moment the church bells started ringing so I rolled down my window, and when the sound drifted in with the breeze I felt, for the first time in a long time, a glimmer of clarity, the first spark of hope.

And this morning, there I was kneeling in that very same church. Joe and Timothy were kneeling to my right, and then Jonathan came in, gave me a hug, and knelt beside me. I could not have seen this moment three and a half years ago--how Jonathan would make friends, how he would be asked to be a supplemental instructor his sophomore year, how he would be offered internship after internship, how he would become a senior who is already  accepted into to a Masters Program, and how he would thrive. I couldn't have foreseen any of it.

We had been called to walk by faith and not by sight, and it was only this morning I could finally see how it was meant to be.

Sacred Heart Church

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Destination Unknown (Part I)

Yesterday I was in our dining room (which isn’t so much a dining room anymore as a place to stockpile dorm supplies) when I stopped to take it all in: piles of towels, books, and cleaning supplies were stacked between a dorm refrigerator, a nightstand, and a giant, foam mattress pad. To say that chaos reigned supreme would be an understatement, but I also knew that in the next few weeks the piles would get higher, the boxes would multiply, and the pathway through the room would get even narrower; in other words, things would get worse before they got better.

And I was okay with that because these past few months, as we helped Jonathan maneuver through the college application process, we learned firsthand that things could get worse before they got better. We also learned that sometimes a journey wasn’t as straightforward as you had planned; that detours along the way muddled things; and that your final destination was not necessarily your initial destination.
Since forever, we’ve known that Jonathan wanted to attend UGA. With his excellent SAT scores (which were comparable to his brother’s who was accepted there for early admission) and with his better than average GPA, we figured it wasn’t so much a matter of him getting in as it was whether he would be accepted for early admission, or deferred until regular admission. Well, we figured wrong and he was denied.  Outright.  We were in total shock. Had there been something wrong with his application? Did they not receive everything? Did he not mention enough clubs, activities, community service projects? Did the fact that he had a job help or hinder his application?
And on top of everything, we felt vulnerable because we hadn’t fully explored any other options. 
So . . . we were faced with a roadblock. Once we could think clearly again we realized the roadblock was really a crossroads, and we just needed to discern which road to now take: let UGA go and apply elsewhere, or appeal the decision and plead our case. But if we let it go, would that be giving up? Would we regret pursuing an appeal, or regret not having done so? Or maybe it would be wiser to switch gears and move in an entirely different direction? We had plenty of questions, but no answers. In the end, we decided to explore all options; we would appeal the decision using everything we had, and see where it took us.  
So Jonathan obtained glowing letters of recommendation from his manager at work and his high school teachers. His uncle, who is a doctor practicing in Athens and who is also a member of the faculty at UGA, wrote the most heartfelt letter describing Jonathan’s character and strong work ethic. Even the past president of the University called down to the appeals office and expressed his support of Jonathan. Of course, nothing was guaranteed. And because the committee didn’t meet until sometime in June (the exact date was a secret), when Jonathan graduated from high school he still didn’t know where he would be going.
In the meantime, we had to proceed and commit to a Plan B. Early in the fall Jonathan had been accepted to several colleges, so we started taking a closer look at each one. Just in case. We visited campuses, and during one visit Jonathan found one he liked. A lot. But once we returned home Joe and I had some serious misgivings. I won’t go into them here, and I won’t even mention the university because we know some people who go there and like it, but we knew it wasn’t a good fit for us. Again, it wasn’t an easy decision mainly because Jonathan liked it and thus made our job as parents much harder as we stood on our principles and said no. So we kept looking.
By mid-June we were still playing the waiting game when I left for a 10-day trip to Italy. Then one evening I received a phone call from Joe who read me the letter from the review board stating that they had decided to uphold their original decision.

I’m not going to lie. I was angry (how could they?), frustrated (what more could we have done?), and I felt betrayed (after all, UGA was my alma mater). I was teary, worried about Jonathan ,and upset that I wasn’t there to talk to him. But as I paced that hotel lobby in Sorrento, I took a moment to consider something:  here I was, vacationing in Italy, staying in one of the most picturesque towns on the Amalfi Coast, and wasn’t the world a big and beautiful place? It’s all right there at our fingertips – within our grasp – but we have to remember to see the bigger picture and not allow the confines of neighborhoods, cities, or even college campuses hold us back.
In other words, it was stupid – STUPID! – to place all our hopes and dreams on one little blip on a map.
So, the question: where was Jonathan going to college? Interestingly, GCSU (Georgia College and State University) was never on our radar and yet, today, here we are. And I must say that after all the uncertainty we’ve been through, touring that campus was the only moment of clarity we had during this entire process; in fact, when we arrived in Milledgeville for a campus tour, the bells from the only Catholic Church in town were ringing. A sign? I honestly don’t know, but I’ll take it. And we’re all in a good place. Jonathan has met his suite mates, he has his schedule, and while he still plans on transferring to UGA at some point, for this moment – right now – he is right where he needs to be.
I’m still not sure what these past several months have taught us (other than humility, flexibility, trust, perseverance), but we do know what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. There were so many times we had to surrender, pray, and continue on without seeing the road ahead which, for those like us (who like to put things in order, make lists, and map out plans), made the process messy and not how we would have chosen it to be.  
J. R. R. Tolkien once said that all who wander are not lost, and we have learned this to be true, for no matter how many bends, switchbacks, road blocks, detours, and U-turns we encountered on the road we were still heading somewhere.
After all, every journey has a destination, whether or not we know where it is.

The story continues in  Destination Unknown (Part II)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Calling All Travel Ambassadors

Spring is here and 'tis the season of travel. As always, there is much planning prior to a trip, including being mindful of the kind of traveler I want to be. Which is why, when I took a group to Italy in 2015, I gave everyone a copy of these travel reminders. This September I'm taking another group to Italy (this time to Tuscany and northern Italy) and, again, we will travel as ambassadors of good will. #ladolcevitatravels

Travel Ambassadors of Good Will
Travel lightly: You are not traveling for people to see you. Take only what you need so as to be free to move, experience, dance, explore.

Travel expectantly: Every place you visit is like a surprise package ready to be opened; unwrap it with a spirit of high adventure.

Travel hopefully: “To travel hopefully,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, “is better than to arrive.”

Travel humbly: Visit people and places with reverence and respect for their traditions and ways of life.

Travel courteously: It promotes a spirit of contagious well-being.

Travel gratefully: The world, and all that is in it, is a gift.

Travel with an open mind: Try not to compare; leave expectations at home and appreciate the different, the new, and the unexpected.

Travel with curiosity: It is not how far you go, but how deeply you go that mines the gold of experience.

Travel with imagination: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~Marcel Proust, French novelist

Travel fearlessly: In the words of a Dutch proverb, “He is who outside his door, already has the hard part of his journey behind him.”

Travel relaxed: Make up your mind to embrace everything and have a good time.

Travel patiently: It takes time to understand others, especially when there are barriers of language and custom. Keep flexible and be adaptable to all situations.

Travel with the spirit of a world citizen: You will discover that people are basically much the same around the world. Be an Ambassador of Good Will to all people.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Book Talk: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

Her mother was German, her father was Nigerian. At four weeks of age she was placed in an orphanage. Later, she was fostered with a family, during which time she had limited contact with her biological mother and grandmother. At age 7 her foster family adopted her. She had a normal childhood, received an excellent education, traveled, and earned a degree in Middle Eastern and African studies from Tel Aviv University in Israel. She became fluent in Hebrew.

When she was almost 40 years old, by then married with two children, she made the horrific (and accidental) discovery that her grandfather was none other than Amon Goeth, the sadistic Nazi commandant portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List. The discovery shattered her. How could she tell her adoptive family? Her sons? Her close Jewish friends? How could she reconcile the memories she had of her grandmother with the same woman who lived with Goeth, known as the "butcher of Plaszow" concentration camp? The discovery ultimately sent her into a deep depression and on a quest to unearth and fully comprehend her family's history. 

This is the amazing story of Jennifer Teege, and yesterday I met her. 

My mom and I had gone to hear her speak about her memoir, My Grandfather Would have Shot Me (A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past). She was tall, elegant, and told her story in a soft-spoken voice with a slight German accent. What she shared was riveting, and very moving. 

Later, I handed her a copy of the book to sign. During our brief chat she learned I had written a book.

"It seems we have something in common, you and I," she said in a soft spoken voice. "We are both authors."

And then she autographed the book, signing her name in Hebrew.

[excerpt: Do I look like him? My skin color is like a barrier between us. I imagine myself standing next to him. We are both tall: I am six foot, he was six foot four—a giant in those days.

He in his black uniform with its death-heads, me the black grandchild. What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, who speaks Hebrew on top of that? I would have been a disgrace, a bastard who brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me...

When I look in the mirror I see two faces, mine and his. And a third, my mother’s.
The three of us have the same determined chin, the same lines between the nose and the mouth.

Height, lines — those things are only external. But what about on the inside? How much of Amon Goeth do I have in me? How much of Amon Goeth does each of us have in us?

I think we all have a bit of him in us. To believe that I have more than others would be to think like a Nazi—to believe in the power of blood.]

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: The Baby at Mass

Dear God,

I’m sorry.

Tonight at Mass my mind wandered.

Oh, I said the prayers. I participated. But instead of focusing on the liturgy my focus was on the little three month old baby asleep on his grandfather’s shoulder. They were sitting directly in front of us, and I watched the baby’s chest rise and fall with the sweet sleep of an innocent.  And my mind wandered …

to the memory of nursing our son in the darkness before dawn, those times some of the most peaceful of my life;

to the feel of a baby’s breath on my cheek as he sleeps on my shoulder;

to a baby’s trusting look when you are changing his diaper;

and to the wonder of our three babies, now grown,  healthy and strong.

And then the little baby in front of me at Mass stirred, lifted his head, and looked directly at me. He smiled. When his grandfather gently rocked and patted his back, the baby put his head down and fell back asleep. And my mind wandered …

to babies living in poverty and squalor;

to babies who are sick and battling diseases that should not be part of a baby’s world;

to babies who are unloved and unwanted;

and to babies who are denied life.

So, God, I wasn’t as attentive during Mass as I should have been. I was distracted, and I allowed my mind to wander. But God, I can’t help feeling you know my heart and that you recognized my wayward thoughts as prayers ...

for babies yesterday, today, and tomorrow;

for babies loved and unloved;

for babies yet unborn;

and for the wonder and awe of Creation and the Gift of Life.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Women of Augusta Can Arrange it All

The Women of Augusta Can Arrange it All
by Maria Novajosky, Guest Columnist

*published in the Columbia County News-Times/Augusta Chronicle
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Are you looking for someone to clean up the local government? Purge Washington politics? Organize our new health care system?
Well, just hire any woman from Augusta who, in preparing her home to rent during Masters Week, has turned spring cleaning into an art form. But let’s clarify: there’s spring cleaning, which is the obligatory airing out of any vestiges of winter, and then there’s Masters Spring Cleaning which is a complete overhaul of everything from attic to basement, and front porch to back patio.
This is the time of year when the words I can’t, I’m cleaning for Masters are the perfectly understandable excuse for bowing out of any social obligation, and in the weeks leading up to The Great Exodus the aisles of Bed, Bath & Beyond are a meeting place for friends and neighbors who are likewise pushing shopping carts piled high with pillows, sheets, and bathroom rugs.
In January we make lists, February we gather supplies, and by March we get down to the nitty-gritty. We purge closets, drawers, and cabinets; we sort clothes and toys; and we wipe and dust baseboards, ceiling fans, walls, stair risers, and door frames.
We attack dust bunnies with a vengeance and wage a war against yellow pollen. We turn Swiffer into an action verb, wash the washing machine, vacuum the curtains, and are on a first name basis with Mr. Clean and his Magic Erasers. And just to make sure husbands and children don’t un-do what we have just done, we lock doors as we go so that by the last night the kids are camped out in the rec room and everyone is sharing one bathroom.
Even childbirth can’t stop us.
One January I informed the Texas group who always rents our home that, because our third son was due just before Masters Week, we would have to opt out that year. Our son was just seven days old when a representative from the group called and begged us to reconsider.
His soft-spoken southern accent lulled me into a semi-hypnotic state reminding me of what I am capable. I forgot about my sleep deprivation, my infant who was nursing around the clock, the baby paraphernalia scattered everywhere, a husband who was out of town on business, and the fact that I would have only one week to prepare.
I can do this! I thought. And I did.
Super Women. That’s what we are.
Sometimes an exasperated husband or a smart aleck teen will ask if all this work really matters; that if we honestly believed that anyone who comes to Augusta to attend the golf tournament will judge us if there is dust on the baseboards or if the flatware drawer is in shambles.
Well, of course we do. What a silly question.

There is something about having people come stay in our home which brings out the southern hospitality in all of us. Just because we don’t see our guests doesn’t mean we don’t treat them as guests. After all, they are staying in our home and we want them – the strangers from Texas, Michigan, and even Japan – to think well of us!
To feel welcomed!

So we put flowers on nightstands and amenity baskets in the bathrooms.
We direct husbands to pressure wash driveways and children to spread pine straw.
We place neatly stacked towels in the linen closet and a luggage rack in each bedroom. Then we hang a spring wreath on the front door and put out a new welcome mat.

Arrange, categorize, purge, orchestrate, manage, conduct, administrate, and mobilize. The women of Augusta do all this and more.
Anything else is a walk in the park.
Maria Novajosky is a freelance writer and works for Catholic Stewardship Consultants. She can be reached at


Friday, March 8, 2019

Lenten Lunch

Lenten lunch with Joe: 

grilled vegetables
boiled eggs
parmigiano reggiano
focaccia crackers
sparkling water.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Power of a Question

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

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

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

And there are many journeys within a quest.

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

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

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

Monday, March 4, 2019

Fun Facts: Carnevale in Venice

{The 2019 Girl's Trip to Italy is fast approaching! A few years ago my sister and I organized a girls' trip to Rome and the Amalfi Coast; this time, there will be 32 of us living la dolce vita as we tour Tuscany and northern Italy. And because we don't want so much to visit the country as to live, breathe, taste and experience it, we hold information sessions at my house. #LaDolceVitaTravels #KnowBeforeYouGo}

1- Farewell to meat. The term Carnival derives from the Latin words carne (meat) and vale (go away), so it literally means farewell to meat. Originally this referred to the final banquet preceding Ash Wednesday which marked the beginning of Lent. Because the 40 days of Lent required abstaining from meat and indulgent foods such as sugar and fats, people would try to get rid of all of their rich food and drink before Lent.

2- Masked freedom. To the rich and poor, illustrious and destitute, shipwrights and fishermen, Christians, Jews, men and women, donning a mask during carnevale meant freedom from the city’s strict hierarchy; in other words, the elaborate masks gave everyone the social freedom to interact. 

3- Flight of the Angel in Venice. The opening ritual of carnevale is marked by the Flight of the Angel, a young girl who descends along a rope from the top of St. Mark’s bell tower down into St. Mark’s Square where, according to tradition, she embraces the Doge.

4- Types of Masks. There are many types of Carnival masks, each with a unique history. Over the centuries, different styles of masks have come in and out of fashion, but three of the more popular include:

Traditionally plain white, this mask covers the whole face with a slightly beaked mouth to let the wearer eat, drink and speak without removing it. Today, the masks are often gilded and beautifully painted.

The Colombina is a half-mask that covers mainly the eyes, and was popular with women who didn’t want to cover their whole face. The mask gives a little more freedom and is an easier style to wear as it is usually tied in place with a ribbon.

The Plague Doctor
One of the more sinister and recognizable of the Venetian masks. The long, protruding beaks were based on masks real plague doctors wore to treat patients. The beak would have been filled with soaked sponges to stop them from breathing in the virus and to mask the smells of sickness.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: W.O.W. Moments

When we decided to send Timothy to public school, everyone wondered if he would now be riding the bus. And I understood their question. For 18 consecutive years I have driven every morning and afternoon, to school and back home again, to basketball, tennis, and soccer practices, to St. Mary's and Aquinas, back and forth, and back again. All that driving!

But it was never a question for me. I didn't want to stop driving mainly because I didn't want to give up that one-on-one time with Timothy--those times I turn up the volume when Ed Sheerhan's song, Perfect, comes on the radio, and Timothy tries to turn it down; the times he gets into the car grumpy, and I tease a smile out of him; the times we discuss possible themes for a literature test or I quiz him on Spanish; or the times I pick him up in the afternoon with the news I went grocery shopping and he hoots in excitement at the thought of our pantry filled with Little Debbie cakes and chocolate chip cookies ... all there waiting for him.

Most importantly, though, I knew I didn't want to give up our W.O.W. moments. 

W.O.W. stands for "words of wisdom" and it's a term we use to describe those golden nuggets of insight or advice, of stories, lessons, or parables that challenge us think, reflect, and change. W.O.W. moments happen randomly, and don't last very long, which is why they occur so often on that drive to school in the morning or back home in the afternoon.

For example, on Friday during our drive to school we said our prayers, after which Timothy read a short reflection from the book, Day by Day with St. Francis. The reflection described how St. Francis, despite being known throughout the region, wanted nothing more than to be God's humble servant; he didn't want the recognition, he didn't want praise. "In exalted places there is the danger of falling," St. Francis explained to his brethren. 

And then we had a W.O.W. moment about pride, popularity, and hero worship

Often those W.O.W. moments come during our morning commute when we are saying our prayers, but just as often they come in the afternoon, on the heels of something that happened in school. 

One day Timothy got into the car complaining about a test he had on To Kill a Mockingbird. "It was so hard!" he lamented. "I read and I studied and I think it's stupid a teacher can ask something that we didn't even talk about in class."

His words inspired a W.OW. moment. I explained how the words on a page aren't enough, that they are simply black letters marching across a white background; how every paragraph, sentence, and word doesn't stand alone, but is part of a whole; how what is NOT being said is just as important as what is being said, so you have to infer, imagine, and delve below the surface. 

I gave an example: "Once upon a time there was a man who always dressed in overalls. Then one day, without explanation, he emerges wearing a grey tie. The end. That's the story. On one level it's about a man who one day decided to wear a tie. But WHY was he wearing the tie? WHAT changed? WHAT happened? WHERE was he going? WHO was he going to see? There is a story beyond the words." 

Then, because my son thinks in numbers and sees the world as black and white and who, at that very moment,  didn't have the warm fuzzies for either his teacher or Harper Lee, I pointed out how it's the thinkers, teachers, writers, artists, and poets who bring imagination, depth, color, and magic to our world. 

"Just look at me," I teased. "Aren't you glad I'm not an engineer? Who would help you with all this stuff?" 

He laughed.

Having two grown sons who are off in the world, I am all too aware how change is around the corner. And so I continue to drive. Because I cherish these times. Because I know that little boys with their frogs and snails and puppy dog tails grow up. 

Because I love those W.O.W. moments. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Fun Facts: Tuscany

{The 2019 Girl's Trip to Italy is fast approaching! A few years ago my sister and I organized a girls' trip to Rome and the Amalfi Coast; this time, there will be 32 of us living la dolce vita as we tour Tuscany and northern Italy. And because we don't want so much to visit the country as to live, breathe, taste and experience it, we hold information sessions at my house. #LaDolceVitaTravels #KnowBeforeYouGo}

The Black Rooster. Chianti, the well-known Italian red wine, is produced in Tuscany. But only from within a designated region between Florence and Siena can the wine be called Chianti Classico. When in Italy, look for the logo of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, a black rooster on a white background surrounded by a burgundy seal.

Famous movies shot in Tuscany: A Room with a View (Florence), Life is Beautiful (Arezzo), The Gladiator (Val d’ Orcia), Tea with Mussolini (San Gimignano), The English Patient (Montepulciano), Hannibal (Florence) Under the Tuscan Sun (Cortona), Twilight (Montepulciano).

Pinocchio. In 1883, a Florence born man named Carlo Collodi wrote the book, The Adventures of Pinocchio.

Tuscany’s Hall of Fame: Dante (The Divine Comedy), Fibonacci (Fibonacci Sequence), Galileo, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi (the Dome of the Duomo in Florence), Botticelli (The Birth of Venus), and Giotto all hailed from Tuscany. As did Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer who gave his name to the new continent, America. And there are many, many more ...

Italiano. The Italian language which is spoken today is actually based on the Tuscan dialect, dating back to the Renaissance period.

Birthplace of western musical tradition. In Florence in the mid-16th century, the Florentine Camerata got together and started experimenting with putting ancient Greek myths to music on the stage. This was the origin of the very first operas.