Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Girl Talk, Life Lessons

About My Blog: Dolce Zitella

typewriterWelcome to my blog Dolce Zitella.  Doesn’t it sound like a decadent dessert?  It’s not.  For those of you whose roots do not trace back to that lovely boot-shaped country, let me translate.  Dolce Zitella means “sweet spinster.”  That’s right, I’m a woman of a certain age who’s never been married.  It’s okay with me, but the word spinster seems to press a lot of women’s buttons.  I mean, really, it’s only a word.  But if shrouding the word in a layer of mystery and romance makes some people feel better, so be it.

While I have something to say about being a single woman, that’s not all I have to say.  So it doesn’t really matter if you’re single or married, younger or older.  After all, my younger sisters – I used to be you.  Whether you’re dip dying your hair, adding highlights and lowlights, or covering your gray, whether your hot body is the reward of working out or the result of menopause induced hot flashes – we’re all part of the same sisterhood.

Like you, I’m just trying to balance career with the rest of my life, whether it’s spending time with family and friends; meeting a new man; being proactive about my health; trying out a new recipe; embarking on my latest home improvement project; taking a night class; engrossed in a book; binge watching a television series; or searching for that perfect shade of red nail polish…

Dolce Zitella will be updated every other Thursday.  Visit and bring your friends.

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Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Life Lessons

The Sweatshop

My grandmother, like many Italian-American women, was a seamstress.  As a young woman, she worked in a sweatshop in Lower Manhattan.  After she married and had a family, she worked in a sweatshop closer to home, in Queens.  She was a working woman – a working mother – long before it was commonplace.  And my mother was a latch-key kid before there was such a term.

Over the years, my grandmother sewed men’s shirts, women’s blouses and skirts, and even crisp white nurses’ uniforms.  As a “piece worker,” her job might be to sew on the collars, or attach the sleeves, whatever was needed.  She didn’t work as a means to fulfillment.  She worked to maintain the basic necessities of life.

The stories I heard about the sweatshop left a profound impression on me.  The piece workers’ pay was based on the number of pieces they completed.  And the pay per piece was barely pocket change.  The seamstresses were forced to work at warp speed, with inspectors scrutinizing the finished garments to ensure high quality.  A bell signaled the beginning and ending of the lunch break, during which the women sat at their sewing machines eating their brown bag lunches.  They didn’t even stop to go to the ladies’ room until it was an emergency.  And there were no employee benefits of any kind.  Sweatshops were so named because in summertime, large noisy fans kept the air circulating, but did not cool the sweltering rooms, crowded with women who were literally drenched in sweat.  Now airborne from the whirling fans, the abundant fabric fibers and lint easily stuck to the women’s skin.

Today’s workplace feeds the 24/7 culture and the 9-to-5 workday is fast becoming obsolete.  Workers are expected to check email at night and on weekends.  Meetings are routinely scheduled between 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm so lunch breaks are sacrificed, and it’s not uncommon for workers to skip eating a meal all together.  When staff leave and are not replaced, the remaining workers’ workloads increase, sometimes twofold.  Earned vacation cannot be taken, and is lost.  Working mothers are in conflict – work late or go to your child’s soccer game?  And the single woman is expected to work late – because she doesn’t have a family.

A woman I know made a conservative calculation of the extra hours she worked, for no additional compensation, over a three-year-period, and was horrified when she realized the five-digit sum could’ve bought her a new, mid-sized car for cash, or better yet, secured the down payment for a condo.

Years ago, a brand of cigarettes that was specifically created for, and marketed to, women ran an ad campaign with the tag line, “you’ve come a long way, baby.”  Is the modern workplace the new sweatshop and, have we really come a long way?

 

 

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Best of Boston, Girl Talk, Pop Culture

The Basement

It’s Thanksgiving night and the holiday is winding down.  At least for me, that is.  But in a few hours, some of you, armed with a travel mug full of coffee, will be headed out to the malls for Black Friday.  This shopping frenzy makes me nostalgic for “The Basement” so here is a re-post from February 2016.

Let’s meet at The Basement on Saturday.

Wanna go down to The Basement after work?

These phrases were on the lips of Bostonian women of all ages.  That’s what we called it.  The Basement.

I am, of course, referring to Filene’s Basement, located on two floors beneath the art deco flagship Filene’s department store and cornerstone of Boston’s Downtown Crossing.

The Basement folklore was plentiful.  The Running of the Brides, so named for its resemblance to Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, turned ordinarily polite young women into fierce competitors the moment The Basement doors opened, as they fought over designer bridal gowns offered at a fraction of their original prices.  And men would actually stand in line waiting for The Basement to open on the mornings of the semi-annual men’s suit sale.  But the outrageous bargains were only part of it.    A trip to The Basement could cheer you up on a rainy day.  It was as loud, as crowded, and as chaotic as Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  The Basement was pure joy.

The three-dollar Christian Dior bras I pulled from the depths of the lingerie bins were mine for the taking.  And the shoes!  I thought nothing of squeezing into incredibly cheap Ferragamos and Via Spigas that were only a-half size too small.  There were no dressing rooms in The Basement so I’d angle for a spot near a mirror then strip down to the Danskin leotard I’d worn under my clothes.  Some women were so intent on getting a bargain that they tried on their finds right over their clothes.  Others, caring nothing about modesty, were on full display in their bras and slips as they tried on a pile of potential purchases.  It was divine pandemonium.

In 2007, Filene’s Basement closed its doors for good and shopping has never been quite the same.  I’ll always miss the tradition and the spectacle that was The Basement.red poppy

 

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Life Lessons

What’s Cooking?

My office recently held its annual “pot luck lunch” which should’ve been called the “no luck lunch.”  The Tupperware and CorningWare were sorely outnumbered by the bakery boxes and other pre-packaged, store-bought items.  In fact, there were so few homemade dishes that the office manager, fearing there was not enough food to go around, ordered in several trays of salad, sides, and main dishes from a nearby restaurant.  Having said that, my officemate’s Tupperware and my CorningWare were present and accounted for on that big conference table.

While I understand that not everyone has the cooking gene, still, it was disappointing to see that there were so few cooks in the group.  After all, the plethora of cooking shows on cable television would have you believe that everyone is in the kitchen whipping up either a weekend feast or a quick “Tuesday through Thursday night” one-pot meal.

A common complaint I hear is that there’s no time to cook.  Yet my officemate – a mother of two, who doesn’t have a dishwasher – found the time to cook.   And despite my daily three-hours of commuting, so did I.

Have you ever heard a woman say, “Oh, I don’t cook,” with a nuanced tone, or a subtle hand gesture that implies she thinks that cooking is trivial or demeaning?  While it’s her prerogative to feel that way, and her choice whether or not to cook, it troubles me that the remark makes those of us who do cook feel as if our culinary endeavors lack value.  After all, isn’t cooking the most gracious form of hospitality?

As for me, after a stressful day, nothing relaxes me more than going into my kitchen.   Mia cucina.  That time is sacred to me.  The moment I start chopping some vegetables, or sink my hands into a bowl full of flour and butter…well, I become transformed.  Besides, cooking is not only a great stress-buster – you end up with something to show for your efforts.  Something tangible.  Something nourishing.  Something delicious.

Two days after the office pot luck, my officemate’s son informed her that he’d signed her up to help with a school bake sale.  She had two days in which to bake four dozen cupcakes.   I loaned her one of my muffin tins so she could do two batches at a time.

So, here’s a message to all my fellow cooks:  Cooking is both a skill and an art.  It doesn’t make you seem old-fashioned, or any less a feminist.  What you do matters – and it is appreciated.

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Best of Boston, Pop Culture, Writers and Writing

Honoring Jack

The following is a re-post from October 2017.

Pumpkins, large and small, adorn nearly every window box and doorstep in my neighborhood.  Along with the usual ghosts and witches, we here in the Bay State have easy access to the ultimate Halloween spectacle.  Salem may be a quaint New England town steeped in history, mythology, and magic – but Salem in October is way too touristy for me.

Instead, I take a day trip to Lowell to visit the grave of one of my literary heroes – Jack Kerouac.

The first time I visited Kerouac’s grave, it was just before Halloween, and the anniversary of his death.  I arrived at Edson Cemetery with a crudely drawn map that a kindly gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce had given me and, as I made my way along the neat little rows of tombstones and markers, I marveled at the extraordinary shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves underfoot and overhead.  Kerouac’s grave was an unassuming flat slab that was flush to the ground.  This is what it said:

“TI JEAN”

JOHN L. KEROUAC

MAR. 12, 1922 – OCT. 21, 1969

– HE HONORED LIFE –

STELLA HIS WIFE

NOV. 11, 1918 – FEB. 10, 1990

There had been many recent visitors to the grave, fans, and writers perhaps, because they’d left unopened bottles of imported beer, packs of Camel cigarettes, flowers, and sheets of poetry, some handwritten and some typed, in several different languages.

I sat on the ground and took out a bottle of champagne and my worn paperback copy of On the Road.  I purposely shook the bottle so that when I popped the cork, the bubbly came gushing out just like it does in the winning team’s locker room.  I took a small drink before pouring the entire bottle onto the grass, letting it soak right into the ground so he could enjoy it.

Then I opened my book to a random page and started reading.  There in that graveyard was all the history, mythology, and magic I needed.

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Inked

The following is a re-post from October 2016.

When I was a kid, it seemed like the only people with tattoos were guys who’d been in the military or who rode motorcycles.  Getting tattooed is painful and it proved these guys were strong, tough, cool.  In other words – badass.

Once in a great while, I’d see a woman with a tattoo but it was usually a dainty little red rose on her ankle or shoulder.  Still, I never considered doing it myself.  For one thing, I didn’t feel strongly enough about anything to have it branded into my skin.  Then there was the pain factor.   And a badass?  Definitely not me.

But getting tattooed has become so commonplace that it hardly seems the act of courage or rebellion it once was.  These days, it’s more about artistic expression and individualism. That being said, getting tattooed remains a painful endeavor and, you have to be gutsy to let that needle go at your skin.

Full disclosure here: I got inked.

Like far too many women, first I was cut.  Next, pumped full of poison.  Then came the tatts, and finally they nuked me.  I guess that makes me a badass after all.

You see, my tatts are radiation markers.  I am a breast cancer survivor with four small permanent black dots on my chest.  But I’m also a hockey enthusiast, a devoted Boston Bruins fan, so I choose to think of my tatts as small hockey pucks.  Four little pucks in honor of the greatest hockey player that ever was: Number Four – Bobby Orr!

It’s October.  Hockey season started last week and my Bruins are back on the ice.  It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Have you scheduled your mammogram?

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

A Recipe for the Happy Couple

When I opened the bridal shower invitation, a blue 4 by 6 index card fell out.  What is this? I thought, as I picked it up off the floor.  Then I skimmed the invitation for the who, where, and when.  At the bottom, right under the bridal registry info, was a simple request:

Please use this card to share one of your favorite recipes with the bride.

Although I have not yet met the bride, the groom is my cousin.  His mom is a very special cousin to me, and his grandmother was a lovely great-aunt.  I thought about holidays I’d spent with them when I was a child, and tried to remember some specific recipes my great-aunt had made.  But the bride would be getting those recipes from her new-mother-in-law.

While I have dozens of favorite recipes, I wanted to give the bride a recipe that the happy couple would surely enjoy.  And I had no idea what they’d like.  So I checked out the bridal registry for clues.

They’d registered for fun stuff: party platters, small plate dishes, a margarita pitcher and glasses, and cappuccino cups.  They were planning on doing a lot of entertaining.

An easy but elegant crowd-pleaser came to mind.  It looks like way more work to prepare than it actually is.  In fact, if you can separate an egg, you’ve got this.  So besides sharing it with the happy couple, I thought I’d share it with you.

Chocolate Mousse Recipe

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Life Lessons

The Party’s Over

Every store I enter is jam-packed with back-to-school supplies.  Although the temperature remains toasty, we are losing daylight at an alarming rate, and the leisurely weeknight barbeques of July have become a race against time to finish before it’s too dark to see what you’re eating.  Labor Day weekend has passed – the party’s officially over.

For children everywhere, September brings the promise of starting over – the new school year literally offers a blank page in a brand-new notebook.  Yet, despite being a good student, I never felt that excitement about going back to school.  Instead, I experienced a mix of equal parts melancholy and anxiety.  The night before the first day of school, my clothing and supplies all laid out, I would go to bed early but have trouble falling asleep. “The party’s over…it’s time to go back to school.”

I never minded the actual school work – it was the getting up so early and the restrictive structure of the Monday-through-Friday routine that was the problem.  See the irony here?  What I didn’t like about school is exactly what most of the workforce, myself included, complain about on a daily basis.

A friend of mine talks about having the “Sunday night blues.”  She says it coincides with the television show “60 Minutes.”  The moment she sees the stopwatch and hears the ticking sound of the passage of time, she becomes angst-ridden.  I don’t watch “60 Minutes,” but the emotions I experienced the night before the first day of school remain so vivid, and continue to rise up in me every Sunday night.

Nothing can compare to the carefree feeling of the childhood summer vacation.  As working adults, we take off for a week or two in summer to recharge our batteries.  But the bottom line: whether you’re a kid going back to school or a working adult, vacation is fleeting.

As my friends and co-workers talk about getting their children ready to go back to school, I can’t shake the image of school supplies, and I remember the black and white composition books of my own school days.  It suddenly seems that it’s not so much about the first day of school, or about mourning the end of summer, or even about the daily grind, as it is about the chance to start over, fresh.  It’s about that blank page in a brand-new notebook.

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