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

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Thanksgiving Idea

This year I am hosting Thanksgiving (for twenty-two) and I had a horrible, no good, very bad idea.

It's such a horrible, no good, very bad idea that it has me smiling. A lot.

Here's that idea: a fun, family Thanksgiving photo booth. For goofy photos, family photos, and everything in between.

I can hear my guys groaning already.

But look ... the weather will be a delightful 67 degrees, the trees are in full autumnal glory, and we will be eating outside under a canopy of red, brown, yellow, and orange. So really, how perfect would a Thanksgiving photo booth be?

Am I right, or am I right? (Just don't ask my guys.)

And it was meant to be. Just when all the nurseries and garden centers have converted into Christmas tree lots, I happened to stop at Good Earth where I spotted a small bin of pumpkins and, out back, a row of corn stalks ... all of which they practically gave me.

So you see, a Thanksgiving Photo Booth was meant to be. And I even have props ...

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: A Modern Parable

This fall weather has been just gorgeous, and so in preparing for a bike ride a few days ago I decided to bring my camera. There is a certain spot along the canal that, if you didn't know better, you would think you were in the rugged wilderness of Colorado. And with the crisp, blue sky and the sun's rays dancing among the trees, I knew it would be a perfect morning for photos.

When I reached the area I wanted to photograph, I got off my bike to walk alongside the canal's edge. I took some pictures, then walked a little further and took some more. Suddenly, a cyclist whirled past me at a high speed, only to come to a screeching halt in a whirlwind of dust. He turned around, and came back toward me.

"Are you okay?" he asked me. "I saw you  pushing your bike and thought you might need some help."

Of course, I was perfectly fine, but it didn't escape me that I was experiencing the biblical parable of The Good Samaritan in a very real and modern way.

As far as parables go, it's one that offers drama: a mugging, a near-death, and ultimately the rescue by a kind and caring stranger. Perhaps one of the reasons the parable resonates so well is because all of us, at some time or another, have played all the roles in the story. There have been times we have needed help, other times we have been the source of help, and sometimes (and this may be painful to admit) we have walked on by.

To further complicate matters, life is messy, and in our ongoing quest to find the perfect job, have the perfect marriage, raise perfect children, and develop perfect bodies we do not like to be reminded that, in fact, we are living in an imperfect world. We don't want to be in the position to need help, or to complicate our lives by becoming involved, or to face moral decisions of what is the right thing to do.

Ever since his election Pope Francis has said that he prefers a Church which is bruised and dirty from having been out on the streets; that we need to come out of our comfort zones – leave our schools, churches and homes – and go out to confront illness, poverty, ignorance, injustice, prejudice, pain. All those elements of humanity which are messy. All those things which make people not experiencing them, uncomfortable. Offended, even.
Which is why the parable of The Good Samaritan reads like a modern-day how-to manual on what it means to truly love our neighbor.
In the end, I was grateful this morning that I didn't need help from my kind Samaritan, but I was also very, very touched that he didn't know that but went out of his way to stop anyway. And because he stopped, two strangers spent a few minutes talking, sharing, and marveling at the beautiful sunrise over the Savannah River.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: The Flood and the Cross


And now I will tell you about the horrible flooding in Florence. It’s a disaster. The whole world is sending help, especially for the precious works of art that have been damaged by water and mud. On television, I saw them carrying out paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Domenico Ghirlandaio. It breaks my heart.

-Nonna, in a letter to my parents, November 1966 (translated from Italian)

I wasn’t yet born when Nonna wrote my parents about the horrific events of November 4, 1966 when, due to unusually heavy rainfall, the Arno River flooded the city of Florence.  By the time the waters receded 5,000 people were left homeless, 6,000 stores were forced out of business, and 600,000 tons of mud, rubble and sewage damaged and destroyed millions of masterpieces of art, rare books, maps, historic documents, and manuscripts. The world responded quickly, and Angeli del Fango (Mud Angels) arrived from around the world to help with the rescue and eventual restoration of precious artwork and antique books.  

The event took hold in the hearts of many, so much so that as a little girl I often heard stories about the 1966 flood, mostly from my Nonna who still got emotional describing the amazing (and often heroic) efforts to rescue masterpieces that, ultimately, belong to the world. 

I was reminded of her stories this past September when I was exploring the Santa Croce Basilica in the heart of Florence. While I had entered the church with the intention of seeing the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo,  it was the crucifix by Cimabue which fascinated me the most because that masterpiece became the symbol of Florence’s post-flood period of recovery.

 In 1966, when the flood waters broke down the church doors and the basilica was filled with water, many precious works of art were damaged … including this precious crucifix painted in 1275 by Cimabue for the Franciscan order. When rescuers entered the church, the surface of the crucifix was covered in water, mud, and oil; the base was damaged; and there were deep gouges in the wood. Additionally, Cimabue had used distemper to coat the wooden crucifix, and nearly 60% of it was chipped off.  

Amazingly, when a local priest entered the church the next day in a small rowboat, he noticed flecks of paint floating in the water. Upon realizing they were from the precious crucifix, he directed volunteers to collect the floating specks. Subsequently, during the 10-year restoration project it was these rescued pieces that greatly helped with the restoration and, in 1979, Cimabue’s restored cross was returned to the Santa Croce Basilica.

This month marked the 50th anniversary of this terrible flood, and having just returned from Italy where I saw Cimabue’s cross, it is sobering that now there is yet another flood making headlines—this time in Venice. I was just there, and now St. Mark’s Basilica, where I attended Mass, is flooded; St. Mark’s Square, where we spent our evenings listening to music, is now closed to the public.

The same peaceful waters that offered us gentle passage for our gondolas on an evening just before sunset, are now turbulent and dangerous. 

I recently came across a quote from author Toni Morrison in which she says all water has perfect memory and is trying to get back to where it was.  Maybe she was referring to the fact that you can’t hold water; you can contain it, for a while, but it can’t be held because while we see it as something that is the same, it is never the same as it was a moment ago.

The waves, the tides, the endless ebb and flow along the shore will come. Again and again. Sometimes quietly, sometimes ferociously. In Florence. In Venice. Anywhere in the world. 

And so, like those paint specks floating on the water, we pick up the pieces and put them together again.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Taking the inside ... outside

Like many of you, I am already thinking ahead to the holiday season. There is so much to do! Lately I've read countless articles on how to not only celebrate the holidays, but how to deal with the stress. To be sure, we all have ways to deal with holiday stress and busyness -- planning, shopping early, making lists (lots of lists!) -- but over the years I've come to realize that for my family there are two areas which make all the difference in helping us celebrate the holidays with purpose and mindfulness: keeping things simple and dining al fresco.

Simplicity is a topic all on its own, and it's one in which I am most passionate about. I am all about the simple life and striving for simplicity of mind, hearth and home. But in order to do this topic justice I will address in a future post. Stay tuned.

Today, however, I want to share how dining al fresco can offer a respite from the hectic pace set by the holiday season.

Let me set the stage: as I'm typing this, I'm sitting on our back deck under a rain of falling leaves. Colors of red, orange, yellow, and brown spiral downward to land ever so softly on the grass, the brick patio, my head. I hear them land, I hear them crunch as the squirrels scamper about. I have a steaming mug of tea and a yogurt next to me, and every few sentences I pause, take a sip of tea, and look at the raining leaves.

Of course, I could write this post and sip my tea while sitting at my kitchen table, but then I would get up to throw another load in the washing machine, look at my calendar, and put the breakfast dishes away. I wouldn't be as wholly present as I am now, out here on the deck.

I've said it before, and I've even given a talk on this, but there is something magical about taking a meal outside. Whether you're sitting on the back deck, at an outdoor café or under a park gazebo, dining al fresco is a gift of allowing ourselves to be removed from time; it allows us to savor our food instead of gulping it down, it encourages us to converse instead of talk, and most importantly, it reminds us to linger instead of rushing off to the next activity.

And for me, nothing is better for relieving stress during a busy holiday season than dining al fresco where, somehow, you discover time you didn't think you had.

I've seen the magic time and again, how something ordinary like a bowl of chili, a dish of lasagna, or a simple glass of wine is elevated into something extraordinary just by taking it outside. It's magical, this gentle reminder to sit.

To bide a while.

So now, my tea is finished, this post is published, and I will go rake because while falling leaves are pretty in the back yard, they are quite messy in the front. I'll be back tomorrow for tips and tricks on how to take your Thanksgiving table outside. In the meantime, take that cup of coffee and go sit on the front porch. ;-)

Preparing to dine al fresco for our Girls' Trip to Italy one year reunion.

We lingered over the table for more than three hours.

Dining al fresco with the Bunco gals.

Enjoying a glass of wine outside. Breckenridge, Co.

Why eat inside when there is all that magic outside?
Rome, Girls' Trip to Italy, June 2015

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

It's All Greek to Me

Last night our son called with the news he passed the first part of his CPA exam. He sounded so happy, and is now studying for the second part which he will take Thanksgiving week. (The test is four parts: Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, Regulation.) He and some buddies have a pact to pass the entire exam before they graduate next May with a masters degree in accounting. And like always, I am awed at people who are good in things I am not ...

As an English major studying at The University of Georgia, all I wanted to do was take literature classes, write short stories, study Shakespeare, and go to poetry readings. But college doesn’t quite work that way because I also had to fulfill math requirements. It was a necessary evil, so I plowed ahead: algebra was easy, I actually liked geometry, but then there was Trigonometry . . . a class taught by a foreign exchange grad student who had such a thick accent that I couldn’t even determine his nationality.
I didn’t understand Trigonometry. I didn’t understand my professor. Combine the two and there you have it … a disaster of epic proportions. I stayed after class, I went to tutoring in the Math Lab, and I asked questions, but by exam time I was headed for a big, fat F . . . my first, ever. So I threw myself at the mercy of my professor:  “I am an English major! This is my LAST math requirement!” And just for good measure . . . “If I have to take this class again I will die.” (English majors have a flair for the dramatic.) The professor barely spoke English so I know he didn’t understand half of what I was saying, but desperation has a language all on its own. In the end, he gave me a D in the class (and I have no doubt he was being very, very generous).
As someone who was always an A student, I REJOICED in that D. I called my parents with the news. “I got a D in Trig!” They were (understandably) confused. “But a D is bad, isn’t it?”
I paused. “Well, yes. I mean no.”
Whatever. I got a D, and I would gladly take it thank-you-very-much.
So, taking into account that I don’t have a math gene in my body, I am awed at those who do . . . not because I think they are smarter, but because they are smarter in something different. And every day I am awed that this English major, Italian speaking, bad poet, and sometimes writer has sons – three of them – who are good in everything that I am not.
When I listen to my husband discuss a physics problem with our son, a problem with so many steps that it takes an entire sheet of paper to solve, it takes my breath away. When I walk past my son doing his homework and all I see are numbers and scientific notations, I marvel that writing something can include equations. I have one son studying computer engineering, another who will be studying math and accounting, and a third who is all about engines, architecture, and creating. Sometimes I think, “Who are these guys?”
And then I’ll think, “These are my math guys . . . and I’ll write a story about them.”

with my math and engineering guys
(at Nicholas' Clemson graduation two years ago)

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: The Bumbling Christian

Last year I emerged from All Saints’ Mass to the sight of my son, just outside the back door of the church, still wearing his altar server robes and emptying the ashes out of the thurible. Mass had been a beautiful reminder of how none of us is born a saint, and yet we are all called to a life of holiness. And as I watched my son fumbling with the thurible, the ash can, and his long sleeves which kept getting in the way, I smiled thinking how un-saintly he looked but that … hey!... he was working on it.

As we all are. So much of our Christian journey here on earth isn’t so much about the big mistakes, but the awkward and ungraceful ways we try to do the right thing on a daily basis. We fumble, bumble, trip, put our foot in mouth, and make immature decisions. We turn left when we need to turn right. We stay when we should go, or go when we should stay. We say things we shouldn’t, or fail to say something we should. We feel prompted to act, but then fail to do anything at all.

So like Zacchaeus, we climb a tree to get a better view, and then try again. 

Then, this past Thursday I was reminded how the destination isn't always reached from a straight pathway. Timothy and I were carving pumpkins for Halloween, an activity which can get messy. So I cleared a space on our counter top, had paper towels handy, and while I carved, scraped, and scooped with a minimum of mess, Timothy carved, scraped, and scooped with a maximum of mess. He got pumpkin guts (sorry, that’s what we call the stringy pulp) all over the place—a carved eye went shooting across the kitchen, a handful of pumpkin pulp landed with a splat on the kitchen floor, and every time he waved his hands he flung pumpkin strands here and there. At first I scolded him to be careful—neater!—but then I just let him do his thing. Timothy was dogged and determined to get his pumpkin carved just right, and while nothing about his process of carving a jack-o-lantern was graceful or even neat, in the end he had a perfect, three-eyed pumpkin with a toothy, lopsided smile.

So I think back on Timothy emptying the thurible, or carving the pumpkin, and I believe we are all children bumbling in some way or another. And that’s a good thing because it means we are still trying. I once read how, in our Christian journey, one goes forward or backward, but there is no standing still. And so we bumble and stumble, things get messy and muddled, but we awkwardly and determinedly make our way. Ultimately, God knows us as His children and sees our intentions for what they are—attempts to be holy. 

Imperfect, but holy.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

What time is it, really?

It's that time of year when time gets all weird when we move the clocks back one hour. I know it's only one hour, but boy does it mess things up. And I'm not kidding. This conversation actually happened not too long ago, and we still confuse ourselves.

Joe: Tonight we move the clocks back one hour.

Timothy: That always confuses me because when does it happen? I mean, how do the earth and the sun know?

Clearly he's thinking too hard.

Joe: Look, tomorrow morning when you wake up and it's seven 'o clock, it will feel like eight.

Timothy: But what time will it be?

Joe: It will be whatever the clock says, but it will feel like it's an hour later.

Timothy: Does this mean I get to sleep late Monday morning?

Joe and Maria: NO!

Joe: It will be easier to wake up in the morning, but you will probably feel more tired in the evening because it will be dark earlier. So tomorrow night when it's 8:00 and it feels like 9:00 ... you'll be ready to go to bed.

Timothy: I'M NOT GOING TO BED AT 8:00!


This morning, he wakes up and the nightmare conversation continues.

Timothy: What time is it?

Joe: It's 7:15.

Timothy: Then why is it so light outside?

I mean, really. We want to educate our children, but sometimes (for sanity's sake) it's best just to move on. He'll figure it out someday ... maybe ... when he has kids of his own.

Friday, November 1, 2019

St. Joseph on All Saints' Day

"...but during those moments in which I felt the most inadequate I looked to St. Joseph and found comfort in the fact he was a man--wholly human and wholly imperfect--and yet he lived in the presence of the Son of God. Wasn't I called to do the same? To work, raise our children, and do the best I can all while living my faith? So during those early years of motherhood, as I tucked a sick child into bed, bandaged a skinned knee, or struggled with a wayward toddler, St. Joseph's intercessions and Nonna's unwavering faith showed me how to see blessings in the ordinariness of daily life..."

~Maria Novajosky