Around the world at home

Two weeks ago, I could tell my family was feeling the strain of being sheltered in place. My husband had checked all the items off his honey-do list and started finding new projects to keep busy (this never ends well). My daughters, unimpressed with their new at-home teacher and missing their friends, were begging me to make slime (this never ends well). Not to be upstaged, my two-year-old son decided he was going to potty train himself (this may end well; I'll keep you posted). Seeing that everyone was starting to unravel, I knew that something had to be done.

One evening, while everyone was staring at the television like zombies, I walked into the living room and announced that we had received an exclusive invitation to a very local Italian restaurant for dinner and that they had exactly 30 minutes to get ready. My daughters stared at me like I had lost my mind and started peppering me with questions, but I just shooed them upstairs and told them they could wear whatever they wanted, including lipstick! My husband hung back and raised one eyebrow at me quizzically, but we've been together long enough for him to know that once I get an idea in my head, there's no use questioning it. Slowly, he scooped our son into his arms and headed upstairs to join the girls.

As quickly as I could, I ran into the kitchen and began to work my mama magic. First, I filled my giant stock pot with water, salted it until it smelled like the sea and placed it on the back burner of the stove to boil. Second, I popped open a jar of marinara sauce and poured the tomatoey goodness into a large saucepan to simmer. From the freezer, I grabbed a bag of frozen meatballs and tossed them into the sauce.

Next, I opened a bag of salad out of the fridge and tossed it in a bowl with our favorite dressing. Lastly, I tossed a giant handful of spaghetti noodles into the pot of boiling water and gave them a slight stir with my wooden spoon to keep them from sticking together as they cooked.

While dinner was cooking, I pulled our red and white checkered picnic blanket out of the linen closet and tossed it over our kitchen table. Next, I placed two candlesticks in the center of the table, lit them and dimmed the lights. Uncorking a bottle of my favorite red wine, I poured myself a glass, took a sip and asked Alexa to play me her greatest compilation of Italian cooking music. To the smooth, casual voice of Dean Martin, I leaned back to survey my work: With a sleight of hand and some pantry staples, I had transformed our dining room into a bonafide Italian restaurant.

I could write a novel about how much my family enjoyed our Italian evening, but what I really want to talk about is how this silly meal became the catalyst for at least five other theme meals, all of which have been bright spots in some otherwise pretty mundane days. Since that night, we've "visited" Mexico by eating tacos, dancing to mariachi and watching Coco. We sat around a backyard fire pit, sang camp songs and roasted hotdogs on an open flame. One night, we even made giant pastrami sandwiches on rye and listened to songs about New York.

These dinners have been a great reminder to my family that life is what you make of it and that even though the world might feel incredibly small right now, it's still so very big. Don't let being stuck at home hold you back from some of life's greatest adventures.