Frugal Friday – Soup to Warm the Soul!

January 7, 2011 at 02:20 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Carnival of Genealogy, Italian Cooking, memories | 2 Comments
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Cold winter nights often bring along flu and other respiratory symptoms. Nothing feels more like “Mama’s love” than a pot of warm soup. Val’s mother knew how to stretch her meager coins to feed her large family. Her tricks included never letting anything go to waste, growing her own vegetables as much as possible, and baking lots of bread. Even the stale bread was used in a meal of soup – a few pieces of stale bread could be broken into the bottom of a bowl and hot soup would be poured over it and then topped with homemade goats cheese. Needless to say, Mama always made her own broth from scratch but we now use one such as Swanson’s Roasted Garlic as a time saver without sacrificing flavor! No one ever felt they were not being fed!

Here’s one of the family favorites for a cold night:

Escarole and Bean Soup

6 cloves garlic minced 1 sweet onion chopped

2 – 15 oz. cans cannellini beans         1 qrt. Veg. or chicken broth

2 large bunches chopped escarole

Cook and stir onion and garlic in very large pot with a bit of olive oil. Do not brown. Add stock, salt and pepper to taste (remember broth is usually salty already).Add chopped escarole and beans – cook until escarole is tender – best when still slightly crispy. Serve with lots of grated cheese and Italian hot bread!

L’Epifania January 6th Treasure Chest Thursday

January 6, 2011 at 03:46 | Posted in Advent Calendar, Amore di Italia, Carnival of Genealogy, Fun Reminders of Italy, Spiritual Walk, Treasure Chest Thursday | Leave a comment
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Happy L’Epifania!

I brought these treasures home from Italy and Germany – I hate to even take them down, preferring to leave them to grace my kitchen year round. No – they are NOT kitchen witches, although often mistakenly called so. These are replicas of La Befana also called Nona Befana.


She was according to legend an old woman who was constantly cleaning her home, something typically Italian I might add! When the three Magi came by searching the Christ Child she was too busy. Then her heart spoke to her and she began to search too.


Now she roams the earth each January 6th searching as did the Magi for Him! Let her help keep Christmas alive a bit longer for all of us each season!


Christmas Memories

December 22, 2010 at 18:27 | Posted in Amore di Italia, family history, memories | Leave a comment
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Christmas is always my personal favorite – and fortunately I married a man who also loves the holidays. Growing up in Italy Valentino approached the Holiday Season a bit differently than most Americans. The emphasis was never on extravagant gifts but rather on family and sharing love, hospitality, and spiritual values with those around him. He doesn’t remember a tree being the central theme but rather the presepe – nativity – was the center of the family holiday. Later there would also be a tree that family would pose near. But it was the large nativity display that he most eagerly awaited setting up every year. Coins would be saved to buy a figure or two whenever they could afford. These were the old composition figures, many wax-coated to make the colors shine. The display would consist of all of Bethlehem as they thought of it. There would be many shepherds and their sheep scattered all over the mountain on the way to the crèche.

When Valentino and I first married, he was reminiscing about his childhood presepe and my parents were soon interested. We lived with them in Connecticut the first few years. Dad asked if Valentino would build a display for everyone to enjoy. We shopped until we found the perfect set – naturally it was from Italy, a Fontanini! Made of a safe polymer in old fashioned wood tones, it was the perfect choice for an outdoor display. Valentino built a small display right near the front entrance and covered it over with pine boughs and set small twinkly clear lights like stars all throughout them. The ground cover was sand with white flour roads to move the Three Wise Men along their journey day by day closer and closer to the crèche. Scattered about were small wood huts and shepherds with sheep. What a sweet memory – but sadly Florida hurricanes years later would ruin our few photos!

When we made the move to Florida we knew it would be even nicer to build this tradition for our children. The temperate weather here and a big covered entrance meant we could enlarge the display year by year. The boys anxiously awaited their trip to our favorite Christmas store to each choose a new figure to add to the display. It became a family affair to set up the display – usually taking a long weekend to get everything in place. Valentino would take the time to share the wonderful bible stories of Jesus’ birth in simple enough terms for the boys to understand. Soon many of the neighborhood children would want to listen too. Year by year the display grew larger and more elaborate as more shepherds and then angels and townspeople were added. Then we began to find that some smaller children were dropping by when we weren’t home to play with the figures. The Fontanini figures are unbreakable but the money we had invested in them had grown considerably. Fontanini had started a collector’s club and offered special limited edition figures that we had begun to enjoy. Sadly it became obvious we would no longer be able to make the display an outside one. About that time we moved to a newer home and gained a huge family room with plenty of space to set up the display. I discovered a group of collectors online and our involvement with Fontanini and all things Italian nativity related grew into an almost obsessive compulsion! Then we were able to visit the actual Italian factory on a trip to Italy! What a joy! The Fontanini folks are some of the warmest and most enjoyable people. They treated us to a tour of the facilities and gifted us with a few special figures that were never sold in America! Now our display is still huge but inside so we can enjoy it all hours!




May You all have a very Blessed Christmas Season and Happy New Year!

Three Signs of Fall

November 6, 2010 at 02:43 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, family history, memories, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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There are three signs for me that say Fall is upon us! Nothing says fall like beautiful the beautiful changing colors of leaves and flowers and of course pumpkin patches. When younger I delighted in the crisp piles of leaves we played in – frustrating my dear father who was attempting to rake them! What fun it was to jump and bury ourselves in those leaves. They always had a wonderful unique scent to them. I knew it meant soon we would be having bonfires to roast marshmallows.  We would often go to the local farm where we could choose a wonderful chrysanthemum plant in glorious fall colors. They had rows and rows planted and would dig them up and put in a clay pot, any size you wanted. We would bring home several huge pots to put out near our front door on display until after Thanksgiving. Hanging on the front door would be big bunches of multicolored Indian corn tied with a big straw bow.

But the most fun was to climb over all the pumpkins in every size imaginable until the perfect one was found. It had to be huge of course and just right to carve a face! I am too old to climb over the pumpkins as I did when young but instead I can enjoy my grandchildren as they hunt for their perfect pumpkins!

We always opted for the traditional jack-o-lantern smile with teeth and triangular shaped eyes. Now my own sons are so much more creative than me.

No silly faces for them – now we have wonderful spiders and scary faces as well as BOO!


This is my entry to Three Signs o’ Fall contest by She Who Blogs

October 2010 Italian History Month

October 1, 2010 at 22:39 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Carnival of Genealogy, family research, Italian Pride | 3 Comments

October has historically been recognized as the Italian History Month here in the United States. Over the years several web sites have dedicated themselves to encouraging Italian Americans to bring information to organizations and primarily public schools to raise awareness that Italian are known for more than just overworked Mafia references and pizza. I prefer the wonderful list compiled by the Italian Historical Society of America (http://home.earthlink.net/~31italians/id65.html). I would encourage all of you to read through the great list but I am going to include some of the thoughts and names generated there.

October 1st is the day to remember and honor the Italian immigrant. Immigration is a hot button topic right now – and I am right there with all who are frustrated that we cannot find a solution here – or many places in the world today. Italy like the US faces her own threat of illegal immigrants sweeping into their land. France is in the news for dealing with the Roma right now. Here in the US we deal with many nationalities – mostly at our southern-most border. But there was a time not so long ago that Italians were the group America dealt with as immigrants. The Irish had gone through their tough times as immigrants and then the tables turned to the Italians hoping to find a better way here. One little known fact is that along with Japanese, Italians were also rounded up into internment camps during WWII. It was an offence to speak Italian as you were suspected of not being a true American. Indeed even after WWII ended many family members refused to teach their children Italian for fear of retribution. American Italians often speak a mish-mosh of slang and dialect – a mere smattering of words and phrases.

Our family was among those eager to come to the US. We have copies of letters accepting the VISA requests of some while denying others. The post WWII era saw many of the immigrants hoping to gain a VISA to escape the harsh realities of a war ravaged Italy. Itri itself was bombed with more than 65 % of the town destroyed. Valentino was not allowed to emigrate with his parents – he was too old to come with them as a child but too young to remain alone in Italy. He settled living in Germany with his brother for a year until the US would allow him entrance! Within weeks of his arrival he was expected to report for the draft! Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) he was not fluent enough in English yet so they passed him over. He came to the US an unsure young teen and learned the language and embraced its freedom and culture.

October 2nd is a great day to think about Amadeo Pietro Gianni. Born in 1870, he was raised in California. His parents had immigrated from Italy. After his father died when Amadeo was seven, his mother remarried and he went to work to help his parents in the produce business. Later he would join a group of businessmen serving on the board of a small bank that catered to the Italian American community. He then began his own bank that suffered severe damages in the San Franciscan earthquake. He set up a small bank out of his home to again help folks rebuild the city. When he realized folks traveled to him, he opened branches to accommodate them Eventually he bought out Bank of America and continued with his theory of helping the average individual instead of just the wealthy.

October 3rd is for Guglielmo Marconi. Most will recognize his name as he was the father of wireless transmissions. Born in Bologna, Italy, he traveled around both Europe and America to prove his inventions. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his accomplishments and discoveries.

Hopefull next week I will bring more short biographical notes

Treasure Chest Thursday September 11

September 9, 2010 at 01:04 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, Carnival of Genealogy, Current Events, family history, memories, Political Opinions, Treasure Chest Thursday | Leave a comment
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This date is a horrid one for most Americans. Where September used to stand for end of summer, back to school, first whiffs of Autumn leaves and bonfires, it has now become a remembrance of the shock for baby boomers to taste a war-like scenario on US soil. Our sense of security, of world power via being loved and ‘right’ has been shaken. For many it has meant a long drawn out process of rethinking who we as a nation and as individuals are. This time has also seen a change in the country’s economic status affecting al of us. It has also meant reassessing what is important to each of us going forward. For me, it has meant a reassessment of our countries politics and policies as well as a reassessment of our place in global issues. It has brought about a deeper commitment to spiritual values and what they should mean on an everyday basis in addition to my own personal internalizing. More importantly it has brought about a deeper appreciation for what family means to me personally as well as a deeper appreciation for what our ancestors went through in their lives.

As a child I grew up hearing stories about my parents growing up during the depression years. My mother talked of her father traveling out of town for work returning home on the weekends. She also told of their wonderful gardens where they grew much of their vegetable and herb needs. My dad told about not being in school yet but following the bigger kids as they collected lumps of coal dropped by trains to take home for family furnaces. He also told how at the same age he followed the bigger kids to bread lines and to get potatoes. His parents hadn’t sent him, but he caught on quickly from other kids and knew it meant more heat or more food if he participated too! Valentino grew up in post war Italy. His family had struggled before, during, and after the war. His mom’s family were farmers so they grew plenty of food whenever and wherever possible. They would work the bits of soil between rocks to plant one plant per spot if necessary. They owned several small pieces of land meaning they would work one area for one crop and go to another for another crop. It meant a several mile walk daily to tend their food supply. Recently the Publics grocery store near our home was torn apart to undergo remodeling. All of us in the neighborhood have complained that it means a drive of an extra two or three miles to the next store. Only one other neighbor and I attempt to grow any vegetables at all – and we are struggling at it! Our herbs are wonderful but we seem not to be too successful at vegetables other than tomatoes or peppers. I suspect my tomatoes grew at some sort of bargain price under ten dollars each but I might be wrong! On the other hand my rosemary is a bumper crop and I have enough to supply most third world nations with rosemary and basil! I think my ancestors would all be mortified – especially my in-law ancestors!

So as I reflect back on the 9/11 tragedies and the lives of my ancestors, I am grateful for what our family passed on to us. I am blessed we lost no one in 9/11 or the subsequent war. I am blessed that our family passed on a spiritual foundation for Valentino and I to pass on to our sons and now to our grandchildren. And as I contemplate the US and her place in the global view, I am grateful that I was raised in a nation that in spite of her faults is still a wonderful place to raise a family without fear of a knock on the door at night or worse.

Terrific Tuesday

August 10, 2010 at 22:52 | Posted in memories, Spiritual Walk | 1 Comment
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When life seems the bleakest or we are at our lowest points, we have only to be quiet long enough to hear God gently speaking to us. I have not been a regular at posting the last couple of months as we have gone through some family issues that needed our full attention. The Lord was there as I felt this pain and feared at times I was alone. He always let me know in small ways that I was not alone. Each time a small prayer was answered, I counted it as a tiny step forward closer to Him.

Indeed He quickened my heart to a simple lesson. We had traveled to Venezia and toured the glass factories. The artisans took a lump of sand onto a long pipe and then put it into the ovens. They would turn the pipes as they blew the wonderful glass sculptures into amazing creations of fragile glass. Every so often they would take the molten glass out of the fire to twist a piece here or there with special tongs and pliers. Finally the beautiful piece would be finished but then surprisingly they would return what seemed a perfect piece back to the fire one last time. And there was the secret of the firey furnace – the glory hole. For it is in this last fire that the glass is perfected, purified so to speak – strengthened so it would not shatter on its own.

So it is with us. We too go through a fire of tribulation at times in our life. How many times do we cry out, “Enough!” At times it seems as if we should not have to bear one more trial, one more bit of pain. It feels as though this fire will never end when once again we feel thrust back into the furnace. But it is there that we are cleansed, purified, yes, even strengthened. If we listen, if we hear, if we learn… there God is sustaining us, prodding and tweaking this lump of sand and clay to a perfect form, a wondrous creation to behold. It is there we find that we have an inner strength to face anything knowing that we know God is there with us and we are not alone.

For our family it has been a long time going through this trial but we have held to each other. Rather than being torn apart and shattered by this experience, we have been strengthened as a family. We have been purified and cleansed in the sense that no matter what the world has thrown at us, no matter how bad things appeared to be, we drew closer together. We found that all the little issues, the dumb things we disagree over, were unimportant in the bigger things. We found a strength as a family that astonished us at times as we found we are better together against the world if need be! Our trials are not over but we have had enough small victories to know that we will survive and be better for all of this. That is the true meaning of family for me. And that is why I share this on a genealogy blog. As I researched back in our family and marveled at this family that made it through wars and worse, I often considered if we could manage to stay together as they did. Now I know that the same courageous genes flow through all of us and that we are truly bound by our love for one another and for family. Tomorrow as we all sit together at the dining room table to share a meal, I will be able to gaze on all the faces of family and know – we will always be bound by this love of family – and I will give thanks to Our Father for gathering us together and holding us there. I pray this for each of you!

Back to School Already?! Or Better Known as School Bells are Tolling!

August 6, 2010 at 00:39 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, family history, memories | Leave a comment
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Here in this part of Florida our little ones (and some not so little ones) start school next week! It used to be those many years ago when I was young (no I am NOT going to count them out loud for you) that we dreaded Labor Day Weekend. That bittersweet holiday was one parents enjoyed and children dreaded as it meant the end to summer fun and time to get ready for school. How I loved though the school shopping with Mom! We would go to the Five and Dime to pick out new notebooks, pencils, a pencil case, crayons, and lots of paper! Best of all I enjoyed agonizing over which lunchbox I wanted. My all time favorite was a shiny red plaid metal one – it made me feel a connection with my Scottish family. Although my mom was born here, most of my aunts and uncles were born in Scotland and obviously my name of Bonnie Jean (I know! I know! A real name because I’m not just Valentinoswife!) was a reminder of my wonderful heritage! Then began the quest for new clothes and of course new shoes.

My aunt told me of how she was ashamed when she did not have enough dresses for school so would turn a collar inside to hide it if soiled. She admitted later that she had more than enough clothes but in her mind she wanted more special things! I suspect she was trying to gently teach me not to be too prideful! My husband and most of the family in Italy recall wearing smocks in school. Their purpose was to protect children from taunts and embarrassment over clothes also. It was post-war Italy and money was tight for most villagers so parents were struggling to feed families. They had little money to send their children to school so extra clothes were a luxury!

How different from the lives of most of our children now. Today we face children like my grandchildren having so many clothes to choose from each morning that they want to change outfits again and again until they achieve “The Look”! One big change for us in all this was new clothes. All of the grand daughters are attending a charter school. This is a public school that is geared to helping the children excel in all areas. They are required to wear uniforms so although we shopped for clothes, we had very specific items to purchase. One positive note – although uniforms are intended to put all children on equal footing instead of competition over name brands, it is also a real help to parents. No more squabbles over what to wear in the mornings when dressing for school. The biggest choice will be skirts or pants but the shirt is standard as are the colors of skirts and pants. This will be plenty of individuality for her as she can choose between scooter skirt, shorts, capris, or long pants! Even the little jackets and cardigans are uniform issue with school logo embroidered on them.

Now as I help a little granddaughter get ready for her first day of kindergarten I am astonished at how things have changed and yet remained the same. My daughter in love and I have share shopping tips helping one another in the search for supplies. The list has expanded since my sons went to school. Now it included the usual notebooks, crayons, pencils, glue sticks, and pencil cases but also a lot more. School budgets have changed and so have teacher needs. Now the list includes plastic sandwich bags and in two sizes, Band-Aids (where did school nurses disappear to?), a change of clothes safely labeled, hand sanitizer, a roll of paper towels, dry erase markers, a box of tissues, and disinfectant wipes! Some of this pleased my granddaughter no end. She loves to clean???? Wonder whose genes those are??? So she is absolutely positive this means she gets to help clean the classroom every day! We did have fun over her choice of backpack and lunchbox. She and her cousins chose Hello Kitty themes so Auntie bought a backpack for each of the girls and we found the insulated lunchbag! Somehow I suspect we will not have escaped all squabbles though. There’s still homework to face!

Treasure Chest Thursday July 22, 2010

July 22, 2010 at 02:48 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Carnival of Genealogy, family history, family research, genealogy, Hints and Tips, memories, Treasure Chest Thursday | Leave a comment
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I took off a bit of time from writing to concentrate on family and some changes we are experiencing along with some test of family loyalties through some trying times. Thankfully love for each other has triumphed in every situation we faced. During this time we have each in our own way found what matters most to us. We have each come to the realization that even as we face anger and or disappointment in one another, we can still know overwhelming love and loyalty and even respect for each other. My treasure chest is full of love for all my family and memories of all the special moments we have shared, the tears, laughter, hurts, and joys. This time has made us grow closer and more committed than ever to each other. As a parent I have been touched by the depth of feeling my sons have shown one another as they have grown. Valentino and I are proud parents as we watch each son make the decisions for where their place is to be in life. We can rest assured our sons will never lose their bonds to one another whether we are here to guide them or not. Rather now we can see that even as they may or may not agree with all decisions the others make, they support one another through good and bad ready to offer a lending hand when needed or just an ear to listen.

In the midst of this we also have been enjoying the visit of a family member from overseas. I personally had not seen this person since he was a young boy of about four or five years old. My sons had never met him. When we first met, there was instant love. I was enthralled with his precious smile and his sparkling dark eyes. I just knew our own children (not yet born) would share those same wonderful handsome good looks! Sure enough – they did! And still do! We met our nephew at the airport and immediately we recognized him in the crowd at the same instant he connected with us. The years melted away and once again the smile and dark sparkling eyes dazzled us. Now however that sweet boy is a handsome charming 6 foot plus professor. His personality fit right in to our family mix easily. His quiet strength has been a plus to us as well as his humor. He is an outsider willing to listen and not judge but he is also a beloved family member who is respected and treasured! We are his chance to practice and polish his English as my sons and I practice our broken Italian. For our granddaughters he is the charming gentleman who has captured all of their hearts. I have warned his mother I am going to find it very difficult to return him back home to her! I suspect his uncle is going to find it even more difficult than I will!

One enticing fact is that he shares a deep love of family history. His long term plans include writing about a particular part of the family history. He began to talk about the trials and dead-ends of attempting to find information on the distant relatives. He knew I had already written of more recent family and he also knew I had worked on the family genealogy. What he didn’t know was how much more information I had accumulated in the last few years. As I began bringing out workbook after workbook and file after file, he was in amazement over all the information laid out. It covered the entire pool table – and filled many folders on my laptop! But the best part was that suddenly I was being forced to do what should have been done already. And if he wasn’t enough encouragement a phone call from another relative in Rhode Island was the final prodding I needed. It was time to actually name and label and date as many of the digital images as possible and fit them to their “proper owners” on the family tree. Every trip to far flung relatives meant I gained more scanned copies of old photos or digital images I made of them with my camera. Needless to say there is not a photo for all of the twelve hundred plus people but it felt like double that number as I have been working on them diligently for over a month using every spare moment. For some family members it meant cropping their face out of a group photo. For still others it meant dating them through many photos showing them as they changed over the years of their lives. It also meant labeling all the digital images of the villages and towns and churches and schools and even the old family homes when possible. There are even photos of the streets where family members lived over 200 years ago. I may not be able to prove which house belonged to them but thanks to information on birth certificates I was able to ascertain streets!

So this brings me to today’s treasure chest moment. My treasure chest has become my laptop. Everywhere I go it comes along for the trip. Blessed with a 6 hour battery life, I can steal many moments no matter where I am to work on the photo project. My laptop wallpaper is a replica of an antique print of the family village in Italy. Somehow I find that relaxing as I flip through files and folders saved across my desktop. As I have worked I also made certain to save frequent updates to my portable hard drive. At this point although I am not finished I have also burned CDs to send home to Italy with our nephew and to mail to Rhode Island to another cousin! Let me use this opportunity to once again admonish you all to make backups of all your work. If my laptop crashes, I would be one unhappy woman to have lost all of my hard work! It is not enough to save work only for myself. If a hurricane or other natural disaster were to destroy our home, I would risk losing all of my research. Knowing that copies have been sent to reside with other family members is double insurance against such a loss!

Treasure Chest Thursday – Cooking for the Heart, Not Just for Health

May 13, 2010 at 02:08 | Posted in Carnival of Genealogy, memories, Treasure Chest Thursday | 2 Comments

Sometimes one has to consider cooking for the heart – for health purposes — but then again, sometimes it’s all about for the heart emotionally. Today’s treasure chest memory is the old yellow plaid cookbook my mother was given as a child in elementary school. She still had that cookbook when she married and it was a staple in our kitchen. I used to love to read the recipes over and over. Most were accompanied by black and white photos and of course there were plenty of hints and tips for successful baking and cooking. Years later my mother would buy big fancy cookbooks such as Time Life and they would showcase beautiful full-page color photographs. Yet something drew my interest back to the old yellow plaid book. In it my mother would make notations in pencil about changes or adaptations she preferred. And the front and back cover pages boasted a few of her own recipes. One was for her amazing Yum Yum Cake – a flavorful fruitcake that I still love.

Now as a married woman myself, I often clip recipes from magazines or handwrite copies from friends and family. When I find a cookbook at a garage sale, it is hard to resist buying it. I love to sit in Barnes and Noble and spend a rainy afternoon reading through the newest cookbook offerings. I love the glossy photographs of favorite Italian recipes and have indulged myself with extravagant purchases every now and then. A few Christmases ago I made cookbooks for each of our sons printing out old favorite family recipes of the family from Italy. This past year I drove my mother to distraction as I made another cookbook for everyone with her family recipes. But it is the old yellow plaid cookbook that evokes the fondest memories of my childhood at my mother’s side learning to cook as she taught me to read the recipes and follow the directions.

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