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

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

Friday, May 31, 2019

Life Lately (Atlanta, Italy, the last day of Billy Joel, adventures, and a speaking engagement)

1- Family gathering in Atlanta

I wish I could say this is all due to impeccable planning, but no. This is simply a case in which everything fell into place. When we realized (just two days ago) that Nicholas and Jonathan will both be in Atlanta this weekend -- Nicholas is flying in after a 2-week tour of Japan, Jonathan is checking into his living quarters at Georgia Tech -- we decided to be there, too.

So we booked a hotel Saturday night, and after we pick Nicholas up from the airport he will spend the night with us so we can hear about his adventures. Then, in the morning after breakfast he will drive back to Little Rock. It will be great to see him, and his brothers are anxious to see what goodies he brought back.

2- Italy information session

Next weekend we will have our last information session for all those going on the 2019 Girls' Trip to Italy. We hold these information sessions for several reasons: 1/ so everyone can get to know one another, 2/ so we can learn about the places we will visit, 3/ to answer any questions about trip details, and 4/ door prizes and refreshments. Limoncello, anyone?

 3- Mother's Day continues ...

There are four songs left. Today is the last day of Billy Joel, Jonathan, and me.

4- Let's have an adventure

As we were reminiscing about our recent whitewater rafting adventure (and my near death experience;-), Timothy pointed out that I've done some pretty adventurous things lately: riding in a helicopter (Timothy and me), parasailing (Timothy and me), zip lining (Timothy and me), snorkeling (entire family), whitewater rafting (family). There were others, but these are the most recent. You go, mom!

5- Speaking engagement

I was invited to speak at the Aiken Newcomers' Club, something I'm really looking forward to. If you'd like me to come speak about my book (An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses) and my Italian-American journey while living in the Deep South, contact me!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thoughtfulness is ...

when an old friend sees a cute passport holder in the store and thinks of you. 

After which he purchases it 

wraps it

writes a lovely note

puts both in a manila envelope

addresses the envelope

and takes it to the Post Office to mail.

And as much as I love my passport holder, I am even more touched that when my friend saw it he not only thought of me, but that he turned his thought into something more. 

Muchas gracias, Juan.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Now You See Me, Now You Don't (A Whitewater Rafting Adventure Story)

I would tell you the whole story of our whitewater rafting adventure on the Chattooga River ...

how once we arrived we were given equipment--helmet, paddle, and PFD (personal flotation device) and a detailed safety talk about what to do IF ... you know, IF you fall out of the raft or IF your raft flips over ...

how we enjoyed rafting Section III of the river which contains Class I, II and III rapids, as well as one Class IV rapid named Bull Sluice which drops 14 feet over a series of two drops ...

how we stopped before Bull Sluice and were given another pep talk, especially on how not to panic if you are thrown from the raft.

I would tell you all these things ... but ... well ... I'll let photos tell the story. Pictured in the raft  (bottom to top): father & son (strangers); Jonathan & Timothy, Joe & Maria, our guide.

Starting our descent down Bull Sluice

THEN ...
Where am I? 
And where's the guide?!?!

Scariest couple minutes of my life. And we're still not sure exactly how it happened. We approached the rapid and sat down on the bottom of the raft when told to do so. Two seconds later I was CATAPULTED from the raft. 

And so was our guide.

And so was Timothy, but Joe scooted over and managed to grab him.

The guide grabbed the back of the raft and was able to climb back in.

I tumbled and whirled under water (and, I think, under the raft) all the way down the rapid. I felt like I was in a washing machine. FOREVER. 

But I remembered our safety talk about not panicking and allowing our PFD (personal flotation device) to pop us back up to the surface. And that's exactly what happened. 

Then they threw me a rope and pulled me to shore.

Other than inhaling half the Chattooga River up my nose, I was okay. Shaken, but okay.

A few minutes later we stopped at a point in the river, left our rafts on shore, and climbed to a small outcrop where we were given the opportunity to jump into the rapids and allow it to carry us downstream. And because I wasn't going to let one scary episode ruin it for me ...

I jumped.

postscript: This was the third time we've booked a rafting trip with Wildwater, and even though this was the first time I was thrown from the raft while rafting Bull Sluice, everything was still amazing. The guides were knowledgeable, fun, and really went out of their way to ensure that we were not only safe, but that we had a good time. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Billy Joel, Jonathan, and Me

Jonathan is a gifted self-taught pianist who doesn’t like to showcase his talent. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when, for Mother’s Day, he gave me a Billy Joel song list with the promise to play every song on the list.

But, there were rules.

1- I could request a song only once.
2- It was for my ears only; in other words, I couldn’t make a request when we had dinner guests. (Darn it. Jono knows me all too well.)
3- No photographs. No videos. (Again, darn it.)

Well, he didn’t say I couldn’t write about it.

There are 21 songs on that list and he can play every single one from memory. If I request New York State of Mind he’ll stop whatever he’s doing to come sit down and play.

About half of the songs are checked off. I starred the song The Ballad of Billy the Kid because it is Jono’s favorite song to play. It’s a show-stopper in that it’s fast and the music calls for use of the entire keyboard. When Jonathan played it for me I was like … Whoa. Who is this kid?

He leaves for Atlanta in a little over a week, and I’m pacing my requests so I get a personal mini concert every day.

Just Billy Joel, Jonathan, and me.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

What ...

What I'm (simultaneously) reading ...

1- Pachinko (for book club)
2- Brunelleschi's Dome (for a presentation)
3- A Gentleman in Moscow (audio book)
4- Game of Thrones (Clash of Kings)

What I'm watching ...

1- The Durrels in Corfu (PBS) (love this series)
2- Les Miserables (PBS)

What I'm loving ...

1- daily yoga (in the morning before anyone else is up)
2- gym workouts (every other day)
3- evening walks

What I'm looking forward to ...

1- white water rafting (Memorial Day)
2- Hilton Head Island (June)
3- Virginia Beach (July)
4- biking the Virginia Creeper Trail (July)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Shopping for Glasses

I love eye appointments, mainly because it means I am getting a new pair glasses. Some years I just get new prescription glasses, other years it's prescription sunglasses, but this year I'm getting BOTH. At the SAME time. 

You see, I have this wee little trip coming up in the fall and I need to update both.

And just like that I'm in my happy place because I LOVE getting new glasses. I mean, really love. And the fact I'm getting BOTH means I love, LOVE getting new glasses. 

BUT, there's a process to making the perfect selection, and it's not a quick one. Faced with an entire wall (or store) of options, how's a poor girl supposed to make up her mind? It's not easy, I tell you, and I refuse to be rushed. So I try on pair after pair, take notes and take photos, and mull things over. I even try them on with my hair down, and then up in a ponytail. 

After my eye appointment this morning I tried on glasses at my doctor's office. Now, I was just there last week with Jonathan, who was getting prescription sunglasses. Here's how that went down: Jonathan walked over to the Oakley case, pointed to a pair, tried them on, and he was done. The first pair he tried on was the pair he purchased. It took two minutes. 

Here's what happened with me: I tried on at least a dozen pair of sunglasses, put one on hold, and then went to LensCrafters AND Costco to explore ALL my options. And I still haven't made a decision ... but I'm close. I'm going back out tomorrow.

In the meantime, I give you this photo of me trying on a pair of glasses and Jonathan waiting patiently in the background. Before you go feeling sorry for him, know that I had just finished waiting patiently for him while he tried on some dress pants at the department store.  

He tried on clothes, I tried on glasses, and then he bought me lunch.

See? I love shopping for glasses. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: On a Wing and a Prayer

Exactly three years ago our eldest son and I had an appointment at the Post Office to renew our passports. I needed to renew mine because my old one had expired and I have never, in all my life, been without a passport; my son needed one because he was about to graduate from Clemson and, with a college degree and a passport in hand, he was primed and ready for adventure. On that day, when I handed the clerk his birth certificate, signed documents and turned in his old passport, I felt like I was giving my son to the world. 

He was ready; I was not.

As it turned out, that passport turned out to be a very good thing because my son needed to have one for his job (a requirement for employment). Then, last summer he needed that passport for a trip to the Netherlands, and just this morning he used that passport at the Atlanta airport for a flight to Japan where he and a few friends will spend two weeks exploring Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Yokohama. 

I have always said that I wanted to give our sons the world, and these past few months when my son called to share his travel itinerary or ask me questions about money exchange or the efficiency of pocket WiFi, I've realized that THIS is what I've always wanted ... for our sons to be independent, adventurous, and curious about the Big World out there.

With one son ready to fly halfway around the world, our second son will be leaving soon for a 9-week internship at an accounting firm in mid-town Atlanta. Yesterday he told us that he didn't need any help moving in to his temporary dorm/suite on the Georgia Tech campus. My husband and I were a little surprised since we had already planned to help him move in, map his commute to and from work, and then take him out to lunch. But Jonathan said moving in wouldn't be a big deal and that when we came for a visit he would then show us around. 

Once upon a time I would have been offended and maybe even a little sad, but this time I was proud at this young man willing to start something brand new on his own terms. 

In my book, An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses, I write of the time our youngest son and I were invited into the cockpit of an Air France jet as it flew over the Atlantic. It was almost midnight, and as we huddled in that small place with the pilot and his crew, no one said a word while we gazed at a full moon that looked close enough to touch. It was a magical moment, and I remember thinking how I wanted my sons to always see the moon with the knowledge it shines on other lands, cultures, and peoples; that the moon reminds us of our place in the world, but also calls us to distant shores.

I've come a long way from that day in the Post Office when the reality of a passport reminded me our sons were growing up and that the very same passport promising hello, buon giorno, and konnichiwa also brings with it goodbye, arrivederci, and itte kimasu

Of course, this is not to say that letting go is easy; on the contrary, it's hard and teary and gut wrenching. 

But I've also realized that in wanting our sons to spread their wings, I also need to be ready to let them fly. 

" stand under a moon when across a vast ocean someone else stands under
the very same moon--that the moonlight shining down on me is also shining
down on other people in different countries who are sleeping in huts, or homes,
or in tents, or who, like me, are simply marveling at the moon. I imagine them 
eating or sleeping or fighting or loving, and I want to go there."

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

By Any Other Name

It is said
a rose
by any other name
smells as sweet
but any other rose
by any other name
is not my rose
so I will give it one
to mark it
as one among many
that smells as sweet
but is mine.

*from the files of very bad poetry by bia

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Smiling Eyes

On this Sunday, I’m not writing about perfection.

I’m not talking about beauty, or sacrifice, or the ability to have it all. I’m not talking about the perfect body, or the perfect hairstyle, or the perfect tan.

I won’t talk about these things because while the ideals of beauty, sacrifice, size, and accomplishment are presented in the media as attainable, in reality these “standards” make us feel less than who we are; after all, it’s hard to hold ourselves up to standards that are airbrushed, botoxed, and surgically altered.

This quest for perfection, which has us running around trying the newest recipes, the latest face creams, or a popular juice cleanse just leaves us deflated in both our attempts and in ourselves.

Even the proverbial selfie creates self-doubt and taps into our insecurities. Do I really look like that? Are those neck wrinkles? Is that what I look like when I smile?

So we tilt our heads at a certain angle, pout our lips just so, and angle our bodies to show off our best side until the end result is someone almost unrecognizable.

The other night we were watching The Amazing Race, and at one point my son asked this about a female contestant, “Why do her lips look like a duck’s?” Why indeed. And when I told him about Botox and lip fillers he just about gagged. Our conversation reminded me of an article I read recently which mentioned how Kim Kardashian never fully smiles because she doesn’t want to get wrinkles around her eyes.

Well … I don’t want to live in a world where a smile doesn’t reach one’s eyes.  

Perfection, the quest for it and the holding on to it, is exhausting. So bring on the smiles and eye wrinkles because maybe the secret to perfection is imperfection.  Maybe the secret is to work at being the best version of our self, and then loving that person.

Last week I came across a photo by Carla Coulson, a photographer, author, and life coach originally from Sydney, Australia who now lives in Italy. I follow Carla both on Instagram and Facebook, and she takes stunning photographs. Recently she posted the following photo, which she says was the most liked photo she ever posted on Instagram. This photo surpassed her popular beach photos, her flower girl series, and all the personal photo shoots she has done through the years.

THIS photo, of two women standing tall and proud on a beach in Puglia, is the one which has resonated the most, and it’s easy to see why.

So on this day, I look at that photo and salute those two women who are happy, secure, and comfortable with themselves. Who embrace their wrinkles and wear a bathing suit and smile proudly at a photographer. Who are not holding on to their past selves or striving for different future selves, but who are fully present in the here and now.

And who have smiles that reach their eyes. 

photo credit: Carla Coulson