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

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

Monday, April 29, 2019

An Open Letter to G. Clooney


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


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



Dear Mr. Clooney,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Maria Novajosky

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


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there has been poetry in my day.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

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

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

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

He left Sunday afternoon feeling much, much better.

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

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

I think we'll keep him. 

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

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

And the thought makes me smile. 


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Talk

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

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



Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Wanderlust

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

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




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

New Orleans Top 10

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


1- Music Everywhere

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



2- Preservation Hall

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



Charlie Gabriel (l) and Clint Maedgen (r)



3- Air Boat Swamp Tour

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



4- Jacques-Imo’s Café

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



5- Window Shopping

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



6- Learning to say Tchoupitoulas

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



7- Fitbit Celebrations

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

All that walking and LOOK! a chair ...


8- Sculpture Garden

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



9- Facebook

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

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


10- Café Du Monde

cafe au lait + beignets + jazz music = heaven



Sunday, April 7, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Surrender, Forgiveness, Mercy


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

Maria’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Saturday, April 6, 2019

Noted


Do you note?

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


Instructional. Definitely.

from the files of very bad poetry by bia


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

instructional ... mental note

supposed to be funny, but epic fail

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

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

inspirational

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


Friday, April 5, 2019

Front Porch Makeover

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

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

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

Off they came.

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

Fresh. Open. Welcoming.

And we don't miss those railings at all. 

BEFORE



OFF WITH THE RAILINGS!



AFTER







Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Love through the Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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