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

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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Communion in Space

As a family, we once had lunch with Jack Lousma, an astronaut who flew two missions into space and was part of the astronaut support crew for the Apollo 13 mission.

Here, then, is something fascinating and inspirational for your Sunday. Hope you have a blessed day.

*Words of NASA Astronaut Dr. Thomas D. Jones, St. Anthony’s Messenger, June 2004
Conradeship and Communion With Christ
Just over a week into the mission, one of us realized it was Sunday again, two weeks after Easter. Our shifts overlapped for a few hours, so during one orbital night Sid, Kevin and I gathered on the flight deck for a short Communion service.
Kevin, a eucharistic minister, carried the Blessed Sacrament with him, contained within a simple golden pyx. The three of us shared our amazement at experiencing the beauty of creation, and thanked God for good companions and the success achieved so far. Then Kevin shared the Body of Christ with Sid and me, and we floated weightless on the flight deck, grateful for this moment of comradeship and communion with Christ.
Our silent reflection was interrupted by a sudden burst of dazzling white light. The sun had risen (as it did 16 times each day) just as we finished Communion, and now its pure radiance streamed through Endeavour’s cockpit windows and bathed us in its warmth. To me, this was a beautiful sign, God’s gentle touch confirming our union with him.
I rolled away from my crewmates, unable to stem the tears evoked by that singular sunrise. My gaze turned to the overhead windows and the Pacific Ocean, the dawn lighting its surface in a rich, limitless blue.
I called out to Kevin and Sid, “Look at that ocean—what an incredible color!” They both turned and drank in hues unmatched by the palette of any human artist. After a moment, Kevin said simply, “It’s the blue of the Virgin’s veil, Tom.” He was right. There were no other words for that vision out the window.

The True Beauty of Space Exploration
You might think that, to an astronaut, reaching for the heavens is all about the excitement of a blastoff or the exhilaration of a space walk. To any human, yes, spaceflight is an incomparable experience.
But for humanity as a whole, our exploration of space can bring us a deeper understanding of God’s love for us. Anticipating our efforts at discovery, God has given us a special ability to appreciate the wonders of the vast and beautiful universe, a “sweet spot” in our minds receptive to the Creator’s skill and power.
We are designed to be awed in space. If our imperfect species has found such glimmers of delight in our first tentative encounter with the cosmos, then we truly have found a most caring and generous God.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fishing for Compliments

I took the plunge and got a haircut. Bye-bye ponytail. Actually, I can still make a small one for when I work out, but still. So, feeling a little vulnerable I shamelessly solicited compliments from the boys when they came home from school.

It didn't go well.

Boy #1
Me: Do you notice anything different about me?
Him: I don't know ... your hair I guess.
Me: Well?
Him: Well, what?

I give him a look.

Him: Oh yeah, well, nice I guess.

Boy #2
Me: Did you notice I got a haircut? Do you like it?
Him: Kind of.

Boy #3
Me: Do you notice anything different?
Him: Yeah.
Me: What?
Him: Your hair.
I wait ... wait ... wait ...

Him: It looks creepy.

Excuse me?

I would post a photo but that would be, like, really asking for compliments. And then if you gave me one,  I would think you were just being nice, or (worse) feeling sorry for me.

But here ... I'll give you a visual. It's the same length as Joe Perry's and by tomorrow it will probably be as frizzy.

i miei capelli: ricci e increspati

Monday, September 24, 2012

What's Cooking?

Since the start of school I have been very, very diligent about planning our menus. Although everyone organizes and plans differently, this is what works for me ...

I usually plan our meals on Saturday for the coming week. Saturday afternoons are perfect because chores are done, and while the boys (big and small) are watching college football I sit at the kitchen table (with a cappuccino) and surround myself with cookbooks, magazines, my laptop, and the family calendar. The calendar is important because if, for example, there is an afternoon practice then I know to keep dinner simple (and quick) that night.

When planning I use two sheets of paper: one is for listing menu ideas for every day of the week, and the other is my grocery list which I make out as I go. I like to do my grocery shopping at some point over the weekend, if not I do it first thing Monday morning.

Although I assign a meal to a specific night, when things come up (and believe me, they do!) it is no problem switching meals since I already have everything on hand.

That being said, here's this week's menu list:

Garden Salad (inspired by the Olive Garden)
Macedonia (fruit salad)

Chicken Caesar Panini
Cauliflower soup

Wednesday (breakfast for dinner)
French toast with cinnamon apple compote (Cooking Light Magazine)

Chinese Chicken and Rice (Eat Clean Diet Cookbook, p. 162)
Wonton Dessert Snacks (substitute lemon yogurt w. lemon sorbet)

homemade pizza
carrots w. Ranch dressing 
Root Beer Floats

lunch: turkey-hummus pitas (Cooking Light Magazine)

Sunday (w. Nonna and Nonno ... our turn)
Chicken Cacciatore
garlic mashed potatoes
roasted "carrot fries"
apple crostata (inspiration from Mrs. Paproth and Ina Garten)

Nonno and Timothy
Enjoying fresh picked cherries
Tuscany, Italy
June 2006

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Mornings

at the breakfast table
lingering over a cappuccino
and piles of newspaper.

windows open
flowing breeze and quiet conversation
boys still asleep.

sunday morning.

time stands still
until ... one, two, three they're up

breakfast, showers,
where are my dress shoes?
time to go. now.

sunday morning.

in the pew
a little breathless, but peaceful.
no place i'd rather be

on Sunday morning.

*from the files of very bad poetry by bia

verona, italy
june 2010

Friday, September 21, 2012

Life Lately: What Not to Say to Nonna, a Papal Letter, and Sitemeter Shenanigans ... in 7 quick takes

 ~1~ True Story: Once upon a time the following conversation was heard between Nonna and one of our sons (I won't say who):

Nonna: So, where are you going?
Son: We're going to Family Honor at the school.
Nonna: You're such a good student. What award are you getting?
Son: Uh, Nonna, I don't think you understand . . .

pause, pause, pause, gulp

Son: You see, Family Honor is not about honors ... it's about sexuality.

Nonna was speechless . . . only because she was laughing so hard.

Then she started asking a million questions . . . and my son was the one who was speechless.

There are just some things you don't/can't/shouldn't talk to Nonna about.

~2~ Eating In: How often does your family eat out during the week? We try to keep it to once a week. I know this shocks a lot of people, but here are our reasons: it's healthier to eat at home, it's more economical, and it makes eating out a special occasion.

~3~ Sitemeter Shenanigans:  I have a post that gets several google hits every single day. It's one I wrote about a white water rafting trip we took one summer with our Italian relatives who were visiting. Although we had a guide in our raft, with four Italians in the boat the guide's instructions got lost in the translation and we ended up stuck in a whirlpool and had to be rescued with ropes and pulleys. In the post I included several "vintage" photos of that trip. The next day Wildwater, Ltd. contacted me via email and asked to use my photos to promote a contest they were having to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Here are the links ... make my sitemeter go haywire.

White Water Rafting on the Chattooga River


~4~ Laundry Inspiration: Who says a laundry room has to be drab?

~5~ Some More Craftiness: One rusty garden gate purchased for $5 + postcards from my collection = inspiration wall for our rec room. Postcards can be switched to Christmas cards in December.

~6~ Mr. Potato Head Goes to High School: I made this Mr. Potato Head costume for our oldest son when he was in preschool. It hung down to his ankles so that only his sneakers showed, and with a baseball hat perched on the top of his head he was a very cute Mr. Potato Head.

Because I purposely made it huge, it has been worn many times over the years by both children AND adults. Even my Dad wore it to a Halloween party, and that year I made a matching Mrs. Potato Head for my Mom.

Just this week our son (a senior) had to provide a character costume for the freshman he had been assigned for Freshman Week. So yes, Mr. Potato Head roamed the halls at Aquinas High.

~7~ Papal Letters: As part of my son's Senior Project, he is writing a letter to the Pope. We're not holding our breath, but the Holy See once visited my blog (true story) so anything is possible. I'll let you know if my son receives an answer ...

Now, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary for some more Quick Takes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Never Knew

St. Joseph has always had a special place in my heart. I never knew why, or when it started, but it's always been there.

As a little girl I would look at the statue of St. Joseph in church and worry that, next to Mary and Jesus, he was overlooked. As a result, whenever I said a prayer to Mary, I would say one to St. Joseph, too, because I didn't want him to feel left out.

Years later, when I wanted to establish a family tradition which combined our faith and our Italian heritage, we began celebrating the Feast Day of St. Joseph: lots of people, all the parish priests, piles and piles of food, the traditional story of the fava bean, Italian music, bocce in the backyard, and kids running around everywhere. St. Joseph became an important part of our family.

Then, two years ago a woman in my Bible Study encouraged each of us to pull a saint's name out of a basket and allow that saint to work in our life for a period of 12 months. The underlying concept was this: although you physically drew the saint's name, the saint actually chose you.

There were fifty of us there that day who took turns drawing a saint -- St. Catherine, St. Anne, St. Paul, St. Benedict, St. Mark. There were hundreds of saints in that basket, and St. Joseph chose me.

That was a pretty good feeling.

And then something extraordinary happened a few weeks ago, something which goes a long way in explaining why St. Joseph has always been so important to me. In my ongoing project of going through my Nonna's letters, I came across something she wrote shortly after I was born:

Ho sentito che avete battezzato Maria proprio il giorno 19 --
il giorno di S. Giuseppe.

Somehow I never knew, but I was baptized March 19, the Feast Day of St. Joseph.

*Black & White photo shows my Nonna and my mother ca. 1946

Monday, September 17, 2012

Split Personality

So, our little guy announces that when he grows up
he is either going to get:

a Ferrari Testarossa

or this, a mustang muscle car.

Really, talk about two different personalities.
His older brother, however, had something else in mind:
 "I'd just like a car, period." he said. "I don't care what kind ... as long as it goes."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Life Lately: Confessions, Costco, and Crying

1- I was shopping in Costco yesterday when I came across the cutest pumpkins/gourds made out of mercury glass. I picked up three of them, thinking that they would look great on the fireplace mantel next to my mercury glass candlesticks.

When I got to the register I remembered: my mantel has been taken over by football helmets.

Probably forever.

I told the cashier I changed my mind.

The to-do list of a family with boys ...

2- Speaking of Costco, here's a confession: sometimes after Mass on Sunday we'll stop at Costco for some appetizers (read: free samples) before hurrying home to have lunch.

3- Which reminds me: when my sister and I were little we'd hurry home every afternoon after school so that we could watch Little House on the Prairie. We saw every single episode, and today I'll come across an episode and know exactly which one it is. Yesterday I happened to flip to the episode about the blind school catching fire (because Albert was smoking a pipe in the basement) and, as a result, Mary's baby and Mrs. Garvey died.

I was bawling.

And boy could Michael Landon cry. He cries, I cry.

Good grief.

4- Speaking of Little House on the Prairie, a confession: my sister and I loved Mrs. Oleson and Nellie ... they were so deliciously bad.

5- Another confession: I had to google Mrs. Oleson. I didn't realize it was spelled that way.

6- And another: we also used to play Little House on the Prairie. My sister was Laura (because her name was Laura ... well, duh!) and I played Mary (because I was older and my name is Maria ... again, duh! ). The living room couch would be our wagon, and we'd be soooo dramatic. Fevers and no doctor, snowstorms and no firewood, bad guys and no sheriff. A veritable soap opera.

7- Finally, in last Friday's Quick Takes I showed some photos of our old house in Santa Fe. As it turns out, my husband has to go to Albuquerque next month and guess - just guess! - who is going with him?


Yes, Joe and I are headed to the Land of Enchantment (official state motto) for four nights and five days. Will I miss the boys? Yes! No! I mean, of course I'll miss them.


This week's Quick Takes are being sponsored by Grace over at Camp Patton.
Go visit and say hello!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Question

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

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday's Letter: The PG-13 Version (in which I kinda sorta say a bad word)

Hey you two,

This will be a quick one, and yes, I can hear your sigh of relief all the way down here.
1- Did you read Mom and Dad’s email about their trip? On how Mom was taking notes all day long and then dictating to Dad on what to write in the email? I don’t know, I can’t picture it.
2- The above was dripping in sarcasm.
3- Football season is here. Pre-game shows, games all weekend, post-game reports … ay, ay, ay. BUT, my revenge is just around the corner: DANCING WITH THE STARS!!!!!
4- Did I hear that Peter went horseback riding?
5- The two times I went horseback riding were a disaster. At Ft. Gordon I had a horse named Daisy, or Buttercup, or some similarly sweet name … it was anything but. That meany was responsible for my trick riding.
THEN, Luciano once took me horseback riding in Italy, and when the cute Italian cowboys heard that I was born in Texas they ASSUMED I knew what I was doing. They assumed wrong.
6- Joe’s sister also had a bad horse experience. As a clue, her horse was named Tucker, but she started calling it something that rhymed with Tucker, except it wasn’t Tucker.
7- This letter has officially entered into the PG-13 level.
8- I’m including this photo because it reminded me of Peter and Bear. I don’t know why, neither of them has skinny legs like that cute froggy, but maybe the operative word is cute.
Hugs, kisses, and all that jazz,
Me: Inside looking out.
Froggy: Outside looking in.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Something tells me it's football season ...

Believe it or not, the helmets are arranged by matchups, game time, and networks.
They get rearranged every weekend.
And just to be clear, this is Jonathan's doing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Life Lately: Being Stupid, Good Deeds, and Before Kids

~1~ Weird, I know.

When I take notes, I like to use a pencil.
A stubby pencil.
A sharpened, stubby pencil.
A sharpened, stubby pencil with a cap eraser.

~2~ Standing there like two stupids.
One evening during our recent stay at the Marriott Resort, we accompanied the boys to the Game Room. Whoa. Four flat screen televisions, four different gaming systems, swivel seats … our boys were in heaven.
My husband and me? Meh, not so much. But since we were there, and since one station was free, we decided to give it a try. Car racing. How hard could that be?
Well, thirty seconds later we had both crashed headlong into a wall.
Ten minutes later we were still crashed. In the same place. Our engines were revving, our wheels were turning, but we didn’t know how to a) back up and b) turn around. Ten minutes we just stood there, looking at our cars not going anywhere.
Finally, someone ran over, looked over our shoulder, and told us to push the triangle button.
The triangle button. Makes perfect sense.
~3~ Sometimes a good deed hurts.
So, one of my son’s classmates is a Cutco representative and, since he really, really needed to practice his sales pitch, I caved and let him practice on me.
Then I caved and bought one knife which, by the way, cost as much as one semester's tuition for college.
Yesterday I used that knife and just about cut off my finger.
~4~ Senior Portraits.
Yesterday I took Nicholas to have his senior portraits taken. They dressed him in a nice tuxedo, told a funny joke, and got him to smile so that his dimples showed.
All that soft lighting and flash photography made my eyes water.
At least, that’s what I told my son.
~5~ His name is Marve.
At the gym where I work out there is a gentleman named Marve.
Marve is over 80 and is completely bald. He comes dressed for a workout:  sweatband, shorts, white undershirt, and athletic socks pulled up to his knees. A towel is looped around his neck.
Everyone likes Marve. He nods, waves, and says hello to everyone.
He makes me smile.
~6~ Speaking of bald.
Okay, if you’re tired about hearing me complain about my hair, just imagine being me.
I want to put myself in the hands of some talented and imaginative hairdresser who speaks with a French accent and who will study me and my hair and offer a miraculous solution.
Know anyone?
~7~ B.K. (Before Kids)
Yesterday Joe and I were talking about the glorious year Joe participated in an engineer swap with the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
Although Joe worked in Los Alamos, we lived in Santa Fe in a beautiful adobe home with turquoise window frames and doors, kiva fireplaces, and a small, brick courtyard.
We were within walking distance to the Plaza.
I loved that house.

Our old home in Santa Fe, NM

The dining room.
The table used to be turquoise, but everything else is the same.
The Living Room.
There used to be Native American decor (blankets, rug, etc.), but the built-in couch,
the kiva fireplace, and the exposed beams are the same. On a side note, Joe used
to bump his head on that doorway all the time.

*Now, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary for some more Quick Takes!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday's Letter: The Best S'Mores Bar ... Ever

Dear Ua and David,

Did you have a nice Labor Day weekend? Every year when this holiday rolls around I somehow always think labor as in, you know, giving birth. I think anyone who has given birth should be celebrated.

So, Happy Labor Day! (Ua, that is, and NOT you, David.)

This past Friday Joe and I went to lunch, and after we ordered I announced that I had a thought. Uh-oh. Just on cue, Joe gets this deer-in-the-headlights look (I'm not sure why this happens).

Anyway, I thought that with the long weekend ahead, we should go on a last-minute family adventure ... like a 24-hour trip to Hilton Head Island.

Again, why the pained look?

But Joe rallied, he gathered his thoughts, and right there at the TGIF table he pulled out his iPhone to check his Marriott points. As he dialed he uttered all sorts of dire warnings: Don't hold your breath, it's a holiday weekend and they might not have anything available; Hilton Head always requires a lot of points, and I may not have enough; Hurricane Isaac is coming and it will probably rain.

I simply nodded and smiled. Oh, ye of little faith.

By the time our food arrived here's what happened: Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa had an availability. We had enough points. And with two out of three of Joe's predictions thrown out, I wasn't even worried about the weather. Just like that, everything was settled.

Off we went (well, not Nicholas, but more on that tomorrow). Pool - beach - table tennis - pool - beach - indoor pool - free popcorn - the coolest game room ever - and a S'mores Bar the likes of which we have never seen: two poolside fire pits (set up under a nearly full moon), marshmallows, graham crackers, and an unlimited supply of chocolate (Hershey Bars, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, Milky Ways, and Kit Kat bars).

Confession time: I opted out on the marshmallows/graham crackers and concentrated on the chocolate.

It was a perfect 24-hours, with perfect accommodations, and (drum roll, please) PERFECT WEATHER.

So now I will end with the moral of this letter: when Bia has a thought ...

just go with it.

Hugs, kisses, and all that jazz,

Hilton Head, Labor Day 2012

(the story behind Monday's Letters)