Friday, February 28, 2014

#MakesMeSmileMondays Our Little Family Town in Reggio Emilia (Northern Italy) and a Surprise Countess in the Family Line

In the past few weeks I have been reconnecting with our extended family in Italy. 

First, the backstory: My great-grandfather, Domenico Bizzarri, left Italy in the 1920's. He traveled to Chicago, hoping to make some money, and planned on returning to his home town as soon as possible. He refused to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, never planning to live in the U.S. permanently. After he secured a home and a job in Chicago, he sent for his wife, my great-grandmother, Clotilde. 

Clotilde and Domenico already had two kids: Matlilde and Maria. Clotilde gave birth to her third child, Antonietta, ON THE SHIP to America. 

Every time I feel I'm in a difficult situation I remind myself my Great Grandma gave birth on a ship with two kids under the age of five by her side - it could always be worse and I've got strong-woman genes in me!  

To make matters worse, soon after she arrived in Chicago, Domenico died, leaving Clotilde pregnant (with my Grandpa) and alone in city where she knew no one. At this time, Chicago was mainly settled by a southern Italian population, so Clotilde likely didn't even have a community to support her - Sicilians and Calabresi are worlds apart from Northern Italians like my family - they likely all spoke in dialect and really didn't even share a common language. I have several very sad letters that Clotilde received from her family in Italy - she was never able to make it back to her hometown, never saw her family again. Clotilde raised her four children in Chicago as a single mom, at a time when being a working, single mom was even more difficult and challenging than it is today. Clotilde and Domenico were the only ones in their family to make the risky journey to the U.S. - the other 3 brothers and sisters remained (and had lots and lots of children - so Castelnuovo ne'Monti is populated with Bizzarri relatives). 

I lived in Rome for a few years as a college student and 20-something, but I never had the chance to make it up to Castelnuovo ne'Monti, the small mountain town in Reggio Emilia, where our Bizzarri family has resided for generations. 
Castelnuovo ne'Monti
This past week, I was in touch with the great-grandson of Maria, Domenico's sister. He was kind enough to go to our family church and take a picture of Domenico's birth registry, which was recorded, in Latin, in a bound book, still kept in the church today. He also sent me pictures of the family church. I can't even explain how special this was to me: about two years ago, I returned to the Catholic church that I grew up with. The picture of the little church in Campolungo, Castelnuovo ne'Monti, and knowing that generations of my family are recorded in the baptismal book there, remind me of the importance of carrying on our family's religious traditions. 

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The church at Campolungo, Castelnuovo ne'Monti
But perhaps the biggest surprise was when my Italian cousin casually mentioned that other cousins who are doing genealogical research sustain that we are related to Matilde of Canossa. 
I love Matilde's "What now?!" expression here. 

Matilde of Canossa, are you kidding me??!?!? 

For someone who is passionate about medieval history, this was akin to winning the lottery! Just to be able to say that I am even just perhaps related to one of the most intriguing women of medieval history amazes me!

(There are also a ton of Matilde's in our family reaching back into the centuries, so I am now kicking myself for not naming my daughter Matilde.) 

Matilde inherited the vast empire of her father, Bonfiace III, at the tender age of 8. She was a smart girl, educated in the military arts, and is known for being one of the first female military strategists. She knew several languages and wrote in Latin. She was forced into marriage with a man she didn't care for (his name says it all: Geoffrey the Hunchback). She is the likely origin of the mysterious "Matilda" who appears to Dante gathering flowers in the earthly paradise in Dante's Purgatorio. She was the principal Italian supporter of Pope Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy, and championed Gregory VII's against Henry IV, at whose castle the Pope retreated when the Emperor tried to take the Pope hostage. There is a monument to her at St. Peter's, as well as her sarcophagus, carved by Bernini. 

Matilde by Bernini

Canossa is located near Campolungo, Castelnuovo ne'Monti. 

Here's another cool thing about Castelnuovo ne'Monti: the Pietra di Bismantova, the town's quasi-cylindrical rock formation, is mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy (Purgatory, IV, 25-30).

I look forward to visiting Castelnuovo ne'Monti soon. And one day soon I'll tell my daughter the story of how she comes from a long line of strong, strong women - women who held their own, even in the worst of times. 

File:Romanelli - The Meeting of the Countess Matilda and Anselm of Canterbury in the Presence of Pope Urban II.jpg

 Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (1610-1662), The Meeting of the Countess Matilda and Anselm of Canterbury 

in the Presence of Pope Urban II (1637-1642), oil on canvas, Galleria dei Romanelli, the Vatican.

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Disclosure: Special thanks to PartnersHub for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own. 


Friday, February 21, 2014

Plants of Steel: Durable and Low Maintenance Houseplants for People without Green Thumbs

Disclosure: I received some Plants of Steel to facilitate this review. I was not asked to write about them and as always, all opinions are my own. 

I love indoor plants. 

Especially during our long Chicago winters, when my outdoor garden is covered with snow, indoor plants make homes brighter...and healthier. 

Did you know that studies from the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) have found that levels of indoor air pollution can be 2 to 5 times higher - and in some cases 10 times more polluted than outdoor air! - due to toxins released from household items such as paint, fabrics and cleaning products? The easiest solution:  Indoor houseplants. 

But if you were born without a green thumb like me, you've had a difficult time keeping your indoor plants...alive. 

Enter Plants of Steel! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Introducing Toopy and Binoo - a new online cartoon series for preschoolers! #ToopyandBinoo

Disclosure: We received promotional items in exchange for this post. As always, all opinions are my own. 

Here's a cute new series for the preschooler in your life! 

Toopy and Binoo™ is an animated series that follows the adventures of Toopy, a mouse, and his buddy Binoo, a cat. Toopy is the talker, while thoughtful Binoo communicates with playful gestures and actions.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review and #Giveaway - Build-A-Bear's Disney Princess Palace Pets Collection

Disclosure: Thanks to Build-A-Bear for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions are our own.

My daughter adores Build-A-Bear! Once or twice a year we head over to the fantastic Build-A-Bear Workshop on Chicago's Navy Pier to create a new, special stuffed pal.

So we were thrilled to hear the Build-A-Bear just recently unveiled the Disney Princess Palace Pets collection!  

Celebrating All Things Disney at Our #DisneySide Home Party!

Disclosure: I received products free of charge to host a #DisneySide Celebration. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Our Family's #DisneySide

For our family, Disney World really is the happiest place on Earth.

As a little girl, Disney World was just plain magical to me: I really thought that the characters walking around were actual characters (and not costumed people)! I really thought Cinderalla lived in her castle! I truly believed that the Haunted Mansion was haunted!

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These days, while visiting Disney World as a parent, I see the magic though my children's eyes - and it's just as delightful. On our last trip to Disney World, my kids literally had smiles plastered on their faces throughout the trip!

Monday, February 17, 2014

#makesmesmilemondays 65 Red Roses

65 Red Roses, a documentary about Eva Markhoot and her extraordinary battle against Cystic Fibrosis, didn't make me smile so much but rather inspired me. The film follows Eva on her journey to a double lung transplant at the tender age of 23. Eva truly reminded me how wonderful it is just to wake up each morning to a beautiful new day, no matter the circumstances. 

I'm registered as a tissue/organ donor, are you? Visit today and learn how to register in your state.

65 Red Roses is available now on Netflix. 
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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day - Who is your Cartoon Crush?

Are you ready for Valentine's Day?

We spent yesterday crafting valentines and enjoying a sweet pre-valentines lunch. Tomorrow, we'll celebrate Valentine's Day family style with a heart-shaped pizza and our favorite chocolate cake

Monday, February 10, 2014

Recipe: Lemon Yogurt Dutch Babies

Disclosure: This post was created in partnership with Stonyfield. All opinions are my own.

In honor of National Pancake Week, February 19-25, I'm happy to share one of our family's Sunday breakfast favorites: Lemon Yogurt Dutch Babies. Dutch babies are a puffy, rich custard pancake, a cousin to Yorkshire puddings and popovers. Light as air, they are easy to make and quite simply delightful. The best thing about these babies is that you don't have to sit watch over a griddle: you just pop them in the oven, where they puff up on their own. I use Stonyfield Smooth & Creamy Fat Free Plain Yogurt to make my Dutch babies even more custard-like at the center.  

#makesmesmilemondays I am officially turning into my Grandmas / Pizza Ripiena di Verdura e Olive

When I was a little girl, I used to love sleeping over at my (maternal) Grandma's home.With so much nostalgia, I now see that we have so much in common, and so many of the same habits. On our sleepover nights, we always went to an evening mass, always lit candles before the statue of Mary (I still do this with my kids), and usually stopped at a bakery afterwards, so we'd have some treats with our tea in the morning. (Grandma always drank tea throughout the day, black, with milk, just like me.) When I would sleep over at my Grandma's, she would draw me a bath before bed (To this day I always take a nice, long bubble bath before bed like Grandma; I'm not much of a shower person) and give me a fresh nightgown to wear (having several granddaughters she always had extra nightgowns on hand!) and then she would let me sleep in her bed if I was too scared to sleep alone in the guest room bed (always). Grandma would fall asleep listening to a Catholic station on the radio. Last night, as I feel asleep to my latest podcast obsession -  Catholic Stuff You Should Know - and I thought to myself: I am officially turning into both of my Grandmas.
Date Night with Grandma = Novena at St. Domitilla Church. I always thought it looked like a UFO.

My paternal Grandma was an exceptional cook. And yet if you asked her for a recipe, she was always at a loss. "Well, take a cup or so of flour, and a pinch of salt, and well, let's see, about a cup or so of milk...) - Grandma cooked and baked by instinct, with recipes that were taught to her while she cooked alongside her mother and grandmother. I regret that I didn't spend more time cooking alongside Grandma, but I have officially turning into my Grandma because like her, I don't cook or bake using recipes. Someone asked me to share a recipe recently, and I had to bake the dish again and actually attempt to write down the measurements. This is why I love to cook and bake but really would not make a good food blogger - it's hard for me to think of the exact measurements for the recipes that our family loves. Also, I am a terrible food photographer.

My Pizza Ripiena di Verdura is one of the most delicious things I make at home. Here's the recipe, which is written exactly like a recipe my Grandma would have shared with me:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: My Yoga Online - Yoga Class Direct from Your Laptop!

Disclosure: I was offered a year's subscription to My Yoga Online to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own. 

The Polar Vortex has left me with little desire to walk to my neighborhood yoga studio (and it's right around the corner, so that's how terrible it is to walk around outdoors in Chicago these days). Thankfully, I had the opportunity to check out MyYogaOnline, an online yoga studio.

Book Review: Angry Birds and Killer Bees - Talking to Your Kids about Sex

Have you had *the* talk yet?

If you're like me, the word that comes to mind when you think of *the talk* is: Ugh.

Here's a book that can help you out: Angry Birds and Killer Bees: Talking to Your Kids about Sex.
Angry Birds & Killer Bees: Talking to Your Kids About Sex  -     By: Todd Bowman

This quick read (135 pages) will offer you ideas for turning *the talk* into an ongoing conversation that will help your kids better understand sex and the one thing that is often left out of the conversation, intimacy

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fun Valentine's Day Craft from GoGo squeeZ

Disclosure: GoGo squeeZ sent me product samples but it was my decision to share this cute craft with my readers. As always, all opinions are my own. 

I love Valentine's Day, which always stands as a bright, sweet day for me in the dead of winter. I especially love creating fun Valentine's Day cards with my kids. 
Here's a fun and healthy (and easy!) Valentine's Day treat idea, perfect for preschool and elementary school-aged kids. 

GoGo squeeZ, one of our family's fave lunchbox treats, created printable pouch covers that can easily transform your GoGo squeeZ pouch into a cute Valentine. You can use the GoGo squeeZ designs, or as a fun craft idea, you can color your own! 
1.    Print out the designs here
2.    Cut around the border
3.    Wrap design around your GoGo squeeZ pouch
4.    Tape the ends together
5.    Sign your name on the back and give your main squeeZ their treat!

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Monday, February 3, 2014

#makesmesmilemondays This American Life - an episode to help you escape the polar vortex

I've officially had enough of winter. I'm done, winter! Go away!

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I'm ignoring what this guy predicted yesterday.

Thankfully, This American Life, one of my favorite podcasts, transported me to sunnier places last evening. The latest podcast, A Day at the Beach, shares stories that all take place in warmer climes. I won't give too much away, but I will tell you that the first episode had me considering becoming a parking meter maid in Venice Beach, too.