Apologies to My Blog Friends – Treasure Chest Thursday

January 7, 2010 at 04:15 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, Carnival of Genealogy, Spiritual Walk, Treasure Chest Thursday | 2 Comments
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What does this have to do with a Treasure Chest? My most treasured moments have to do with my marriage and family. As I am sure many of you have noticed by now, new posts stopped in December. Please accept my apologies for that but Valentino was hospitalized as an emergency and our holidays took a back seat to his health! 2009 has not been the happiest of years for so many of us – we have argued religion, racism, politics, and so much more. I have preferred to not argue most of that here on this famiy oriented blog but rather to concentrate on the happier thoughts of family.

For those of you who have strong faith or spiritual viewpoints, I feel we  as a family were blessed to not face some of the more serious issues that could have been possible during this latest hospitalization. I am grateful for the caring wonderful staff at Wuesthoff Hospital where I also work. Although I tried to keep up with the holidays at home for family’s sake, it was my work family who surrounded us in love and friendship. I am blessed to not only have a job in these difficult times but to have one with a great team of people at my side!

I will be back to a much more regular blogging schedule now that life is settling back to our usual routine! God bless all – I pray for a blessed and joyous New Year for all of you!

UPDATE: Thanks for the wonderful emails and comments – I appreciate all of you!

Advent Calendar – Other Traditions

December 11, 2009 at 09:08 | Posted in Advent Calendar, Carnival of Genealogy, Italy, Spiritual Walk | Leave a comment
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Nativity

 This posting is supposed to be about other traditions such as those brought from overseas by ancestors. In our family’s instance, the tradition was brought to us by Valentino. He came from Italy where his family did not have Christmas trees until he was a teenager. Rather they used like most Italians a presepe display. Presepi are nativity sets but so much more than those we are used to here in the United States. Their displays are huge panoramas of Bethlehem! Interestingly these are often figures dressed in the garb native to the area where the owners live. For example, in Northern Italy it is not uncommon to see a more Bavarian look to figures. Napoli, where many famous and skilled artisans live and work often make the nativity figures to include famous persons. This year there are many versions of our President Obama being sold! But that is not the style Valentino grew up with!

His displays were something he and his brother would save their coins for all year long. During the Christmas season they would buy new figures to add to their growing display. He even remembers figures of Roman soldiers with swords holding a baby aloft! The first few years we set up our display, it was modest to his standards but my family loved it! By 1981 we had moved to Florida and purchased our first home. It was exciting to begin to build on our Christmas display. Valentino would set up a big sheet of plywood outside on our front porch area and he made a Bethlehem scene for our presepe. He covered the wood in sand and made ‘roads’ out of flour. He even had mountains he shaped out of chicken wire bases covered with brown burlap and stiffened with resin. We chose Fontanini figures for our nativity because of their classical Italian look and the fact they were virtually unbreakable. That was an important feature for our children’s sake! We began to fashion our own buildings too. Every evening we would take our own children outside and talk abo9ut the display with them, allowing them to touch and move figures. Soon we found neighbors and their children would come to look at our display too. Valentino would then each evening tell another part of the nativity story and share its meaning with the children. He would every day move the 3 kings closer to the stable where there was Mary and Joseph and animals – but no Babe. He would not be there be there until December 24th! That, too, is an Italian tradition. Valentino never caught his mother but she would somehow mysteriously manage to have the Babe appear in the manger each Christmas Eve without anyone seeing her!

Our display began to attract quite a bit of interest from friends and others over the years so we also made smaller version displays for our church. This too was something Valentino had experience with. His brother and several friends made a permanent display in Itri, Italy at the Sanctuario Madonna della Civita! That display is still there!

Once we moved to our current home, our display had grown too large and too valuable to leave outside. We began to make much more elaborate displays as finances allowed and we added more figures. We were most fortunate to travel to Bagna di Lucca to the Fontanini factory and we met several of the Fontanini family members. That wetted our appetites to grow our display! It became such a labor of love that we delight in sharing with neighbors, friends, coworkers each holiday season! We encouraged the tradition with our sons and each was gifted with their favorite style of Fontanini nativity sets also for when they are ready to begin their own family traditions!




Advent Calendar Grab Bag December 9th

December 9, 2009 at 10:13 | Posted in Advent Calendar, Carnival of Genealogy, memories, Spiritual Walk | 3 Comments
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We had one Christmas that for our family will always be a special one for our family. It was 1984 and I was ill that year. I was thrilled when we found I was expecting our third child. We wanted a big family. I loved being pregnant and loved having children. I knew from the time I was a young child that I wanted to be a wife and a mother. Every decision in my life revolved around being a mother. But then only a month pregnant, we were handed devastating news. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I fit none of the criteria for someone at risk but there it was – cancer. The doctors immediately wanted me to start medical treatment which would include an abortion. The emotions rollercoaster I was facing was amplified of course by hormones. One thing I was sure of though was that I could not have an abortion. For me this was not an option. I knew that God would not honor a covenant of life with me if I did not honor one with Him. I offer no political discourse or condemnation of others who choose differently, only that this was true for me. The doctors here in Florida were not happy with my decision.

That summer we drove back to my hometown in Connecticut and I visited the ob-gyn group who has delivered our first son and talked. As they listened, they offered support and love. If I were still living there, they would have had no problem with seeing me through this decision. They actually agreed with my decision. They felt much of the treatment could wait until after delivery. They did want me to have a procedure done while pregnant to remove as much of the cancer as possible but it did carry a risk of miscarriage so it was important to be at a place where I could stay and maintain bed rest, not travel. We returned to Florida and I began the hunt for a doctor. A girlfriend found one in Jacksonville where she lived who would accept me for treatment. We met and my husband and I knew he was a great fit for us. He felt the risk was great but he was willing to do everything he could medically to help me! And so I moved myself to Jacksonville with my girlfriend’s family. The plan was for my mother and my husband to care of my two young sons back at home. The surgery went better than expected, buying me time to not need further chemo treatment during pregnancy. There were many special incidents while I was in the hospital that proved to me that God was in control but those will be saved for another post another day. This post is about Christmas.

I returned home after thirty days and spent the next few months in prayer and on bed rest. I trusted the Lord that no matter what was to happen; it was all part of His Plan. The evening of December 23rd, I suddenly began to experience back pains that I was sure were labor even though Daniel was not quite due for another couple weeks. By the time I arrived at the hospital, I knew he was not waiting! We brought along a cassette player and had soft hymns of praise playing softly in the birthing room. A short one hour and twelve minutes later Daniel arrived! We were blessed with our third son, healthy and perfect in spite of all I had been through. The next morning was December 24th, Christmas Eve. When we left the hospital, Daniel was slipped inside a huge Christmas stocking, a gift from the hospital Pink Ladies!

I would less than 2 years later have another son even though doctors told me it would not be possible to get pregnant again. And I would again face another bout of cancer within that year after Vinny being born more serious than this occurrence. I would also experience God’s blessings through my cancer and I would be healed in spite of doctors’ predictions of impending death. But it was this Christmas that we realized God’s gift to us as our son was born. He was indeed the most precious gift my husband and I could ever wish for — and that was a very special Christmas indeed!

Monday Madness – La Befana

November 23, 2009 at 15:18 | Posted in Carnival of Genealogy, Fun Reminders of Italy, Italy, Madness Monday, memories, Spiritual Walk | 4 Comments
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It may seem a bit early to many but for me it is typical. It is the week of Thanksgiving – and while I am thinking of all the blessings in my life in anticipation of Thursday, I am also thinking about Christmas. Like most Christians, I realize I am blessed most because of God’s gift of His Son – the Babe who was born Christmas morn!

So now you ask what this possibly has to do with Monday Madness or La Befana. Well, to be honest, I am feeling a lot like La Befana this year, more than ever as a matter of fact! La Befana is the Italian version of Santa Claus – although children also know Babo Natale. The Italian children all anxiously await the visit of La Befana. La Befana was an older woman who spent her life cleaning and cooking with her broom not far away from her grasp. Finally came the evening that 3 Wise Men stopped at her door. Greeting them with her broom in hand, she refused to go with them on their search for the Babe. After all she had cleaning and sweeping to do! Suddenly a few moments after they left, she realized what she had been asked. They were searching for the Baby Jesus! How could sweeping possibly be more important than that?! She ran after them, fast as she was able. Suddenly her broom took her aloft and she flew over rooftops searching to no avail. So now year after year she flies out again in search leaving small gifts in children’s stockings in hopes she finds the Babe!

Monday Madness? Yes indeed. See, it is holiday time and I am in full meltdown mode already. I am the world’s best list maker. I think I’ve mentioned before how writing lists helps me to calm through organization. Seeing it in writing means I can manage in smaller bites, crossing off as I go along. So here I am. List Time. The Thanksgiving menu has been rewritten at least three times and I have no idea why. It never varies from year to year. I suspect that is the problem. I really REALLY want to add something new. This year we decided to eliminate one item. I KNOW that will be a mistake that we will hear about for years to come – 2009 was the Thanksgiving WITHOUT lasagna. There ARE two turkeys and a ham though! Course there’s also half the friend’s list to feed! Why should I feel so frazzled, already worrying about decorating for Christmas? It is family tradition here in the Di Crocco household: the Saturday after Thanksgiving is DECORATE DAY! Out come boxes and boxes of decorations. Everything is unwrapped from the tissue paper and Bubblewrap™, lovingly placed out to think about Christmases past and people associated with each decoration. So many were from my grandmother and mother or from special friends. Every year meant a new ornament for each child, dated and signed with their name.

But back to Monday Madness. This year I am thinking more in terms of how blessed we are as a family. We have had our share of tragedies and sorrows along with the joy. We have family members out of work and struggling. Bills go up while paychecks remain static. Yet, I do have a job. It is one that gives me pride. It’s not one that pays enough to cover what I want covered but I am so much more blessed than others. In the midst of all the holiday frenzy and complaining about how much I have to do without enough time or money, I suddenly am forced to stop. Have I become lost like La Befana? Has sweeping the cobwebs become more important than remembering what the upcoming season is really about and what is really important? This year I want Monday Madness to settle to Calm, Peace, and Tranquility. Not just for me but for everyone. If I must rush from place to place, task to task. Let it be to share the Gift I have been blessed with. Not just to witness of my personal spiritual walk by testifying verbally. Rather, let me share my faith and my values by my deeds, my actions, my sense of peace, by love. Let me show love instead of, in spite of, and in the very face of hatred. Let me now unlike La Befana be willing and able to drop my broom.

Lessons from the Brick Ovens of Italy

June 10, 2009 at 18:13 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, Italian Cooking, Spiritual Walk | 2 Comments
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Brick Ovens of Tollo
Brick Ovens of Tollo

Many homes in Italy boast brick ovens out back. Or they may have been community ovens shared by several homes within the town. For instance my mother in law always baked her bread midweek on her day for the neighborhood oven. The oven is no longer standing, long ago fallen and then demolished. Valentino remembers well with his siblings how there was one person who guarded the locks and the wood, and another who held the yeast for everyone to use!

The flavor and shape of the bread varies from region to region. My sister in law describes the bread from Tollo as being dry and lifeless. She and I offer that perhaps it is lacking the addition of love when baked! The bread in Abruzzi is made without salt. Talk about hard to get used to! Most of my other sister in law’s life, she baked her own bread because she could not get used to bread without salt. Now that she is older, she buys her bread but often apologizes for the lack of flavor. Most Italians baked the bread in wood ovens for a couple of basic reasons we Americans have never given much thought to. Europeans in general are much more cautious with the earth’s limited resources and therefore take greater care not to abuse them. The brick ovens are heated with wood, the fires banked and stoked to conserve the heat in the bricks while the bread bakes slowly. The bread bakes slower and longer resulting in a thicker harder crust with a softer and moister inside. Yet this softer inside is not the mushy consistency of most American white bread. None of the bread is wasted even as it goes stale. Stale bread is another excuse for bread soup – if anyone is so fortunate to have bread left over long enough to go stale! Most folks will sop up the sauce after eating their pastas and also dip in the oil and balsamic vinegar dressings from the salads. Occasionally though some bread will remain and be made into bread soup on the last day. Bread soup is made by simmering a vegetable broth with onions and pouring it over the stale bread pieces, and then topped with lots of parmesan cheese. Talk about leftovers tasting like an extravagant meal! Nothing fancy but nothing wasted! It is the waste not, want not philosophy that Italians live by. Bread is now also sold in bakeries but never in the plastic one use bags we Americans seem to favor too much. Shoppers use large canvas bags, cotton breathable bags, or even large baskets carries on their arms.

San Croce Old Oven

San Croce Brick Oven

San Croce Brick Oven

 

Cavesso New Oven

Cavesso New Oven

All of this brings to mind our walk as Christians and as citizens of this world. We Christians should be taking our time to be slow baked in the fires of the Holy Spirit, slowly developing that thick skin to avoid the slings and the temptations of the world. But we also need the softer inside – not mushy – but soft enough to maintain the heart of the Lord for others without phony sentimental mushiness. We should also be concerned about the earth’s resources. Isn’t that also part of caring for widows and orphans and others less fortunate than ourselves? If we spend less on wastefulness and more on charity, maybe we would also be witnessing more to others? I guess those differing bread recipes are so much like us. It takes many denominations and many ways of looking at the needs of others to really share the Word. We all love Him but we often go about worshipping in different ways. Not wrong. Just different. Going back to the idea of community ovens: aren’t they remindful of churches? What better way to reach people than to be there at the community hearth to mingle, to share, to be instead of hiding at home alone? There are the keepers of the flame and the leavening to help each of us! Hmmm. Sounds familiar too? Gee. I thought we Americans were supposed to be the leaders? Maybe we still have some learning by example too?

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