Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Girl Talk, Mothers and Daughers, Life Lessons

When Mother and Daughter Become Friends

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 8th.  In honor of my mom, who’s also my best friend, I’d like to share a post a wrote about her a few years ago.

When I was a child, the constant dialogue I had with my mother took the form of instruction: wash your hands, eat your carrots, look both ways before you step off the school bus.  All else was in some way a teaching moment, like when I learned how to tell time, or asked what makes the leaves turn color in the fall.

The nature of our conversations shifted when I had something to offer in return.  And by the time I was a ‘tween I could tell she enjoyed my company because she’d pick me up from school and take me with her on errands she could’ve done earlier in the day without me.  I remember going shopping with her when she needed a new dress for a cousin’s wedding.  And it was fun.

Once I was in high school, I’d come to know her not only as my mother, but also as a person.  When we sat at the kitchen table sharing a pot of tea, she would tell me stories about her childhood or her courtship with my father.  We’d often discuss a movie we’d seen or a current event.  She’d want to know my opinion.  And I could make her laugh.

I knew I was an adult when she began asking me for advice. At first it was about the menu for one of her dinner parties.  Then she wanted my input on choosing new wallpaper.  But it mattered most when she, as an only child, was the sole caregiver to her aging mother.

Despite living 200 miles apart, not a day goes by that we don’t speak on the phone.  And we Skype every Sunday.  Maybe my mother and I are unusually close, but I don’t think we’re such an oddity.  Because when I look at the women I know – from every race and ethnic group, scattered across different regions of the country, spanning several generations – there’s often a common thread: the profoundly intimate relationship between mothers and daughters.  And it’s not just because they are mother and daughter – it’s because they are friends.

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Pop Culture

The Candy Holidays

During the past few weeks, I kept seeing the same message: Follow the bunny – he has the chocolate!  And I was reminded of a post I wrote a while back that still rings true.

It’s over.  I can breathe a sigh of relief.  You know what I mean.  The candy holidays.  No normal human being can resist the constant barrage of sugary treats that appear in September and last until April.

It starts with that damn candy corn and the “fun size” candy bars.  You can have a few because they’re so small, harmless really.  Yeah, right.  It’s only fun until you suddenly can’t zip up your favorite jeans unless you lie down on your bed and hold your breath.  Let’s say that by some small miracle you make it through Harvest without gaining any weight.  Now it’s the hap-happiest season and you’re surrounded by candy canes and chocolate Santas.  Be careful here or you might get sucked into the sugar vortex that leads to an obscenely gigantic heart-shaped box of caramel and nut-covered chocolates, and a bag of tiny red cinnamon candies that, if you eat one too many, will burn your tongue and leave the roof of your mouth numb.  Next you’re hopping down the bunny trail trying to dodge those pastel-shelled chocolate mini-eggs, (I refer to as “devil eggs”) and neon-yellow marshmallow chicks.

As alluring as all that candy is every time you go shopping at the supermarket, drugstore, or large retail chain, the real challenge, at least for me, is the day after Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter when holiday candy gets marked down to half-price.  Forget the allure of the candy itself.  Who can resist such a bargain?  Clearly, not me.

Easter Sunday has come and gone and here’s my dilemma:

What to do about those Peeps?   A friend of mine once told me of a long-standing tradition that took place at her ivy-league university.  After eating one or two of the gritty, sticky little things, the rest of the brood got put into the microwave.  To get nuked.  Until they exploded.  I swear I’m not making this up.

Summer’s coming and fortunately, there are no Fourth of July sweets to tempt me.

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

A Red Swing Coat

On a recent spring shopping spree with my mom, I was reminded of another one of our shopping expeditions.  Following is a re-post about that earlier outing.

She stepped out of the taxi, so vibrant, so cute, in her hot pink woolen swing coat.  Her lipstick was a perfect match.  She opened her vintage black patent leather kiss lock purse to pay the driver.  Then she was on the move.  She clearly had places to go.   It was many years ago, but I still remember that older lady in the bubblegum pink swing coat, and how I thought: I want to be her someday.

Now let me preface this by saying that my mom has not yet reached the age of that older lady in the pink swing coat.  She has a way to go yet.  But during one of our recent shopping expeditions, the topic of dressing one’s age came up.

Me, I’m of the belief that looking fashionable has no age limit.  My mother, however, was concerned that the pair of dress pants she was trying on were not exactly age appropriate for her.  “Are they too trendy?” she wanted to know.

Forget that we were shopping in a store that caters to women of a certain age.

“No,” I asserted.  “They fit you like a glove – and you look great.”

She shrugged, “I don’t know…”

vintage-red-swing-coatJust then, the older lady in the pink swing coat came to mind.

“Do you like these pants?”  I asked, “Will you enjoy wearing them?” and before she could answer, I added, “Then who cares what anybody else thinks.”

I shouldn’t have had to convince her to buy the pants.  It’s a shame that we, as women, are always questioning ourselves, especially about our appearance.

As for me, I’m still planning to wear a lively swing coat someday.  But I’m not a pink girl.  So mine will be red.  And with it, I’ll wear lipstick that’s a perfect match.

red poppy

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Dolce Zitella's Latest Post

Dedicated to New York’s Bravest

When I heard chirping coming from the hot-wired fire/carbon monoxide alarm in the basement, I didn’t panic.  I figured it was an anomaly caused by the brutally cold temperature and fifty-mile-an-hour winds outside, and I reset the alarm.  However, when it happened again, I grabbed my coat, went outside, and called the fire department.  Within moments, four firefighters were on the scene.  Despite being masked up for Covid-19, I could tell these were fine looking men.  They bounded down to the basement, checked things out with a carbon monoxide meter, and assured me there was no leak.  Then they did a sweep of my whole house.  The conclusion: it was time to replace the basement alarm.  I thanked them profusely and they were on their way.

What can I say about firefighters that hasn’t already been said?  That the hunky firemen stereotype is founded in reality.  That they are superheroes who wear over fifty pounds of gear instead of tights and a cape.  That they risk their lives by running into burning buildings to save total strangers.

I do have something else that needs to be said.

Recently, the term “long haulers” has been given to those who contracted Covid-19 and, months later, suffer lingering health problems.  They are getting much media attention and my sympathy and good wishes go out to them.  But there’s another group of long haulers out there – the firefighters who struggle with lung and cardiovascular disease and battle cancer as a result of their exposure at Ground Zero in the weeks and months following September 11, 2001.  Why no mention of them?  In less than six months, our nation will mark the twentieth anniversary of that horrible day and, along with it, two decades of suffering.

Most New Yorkers could tell you that 343 firefighters perished on September 11th.  But they may not be aware that at least 241 firefighters have since died from illnesses linked to exposure at Ground Zero.  Sadly, dear friends of mine have lost two brothers this way.  One passed away four years ago, the other four weeks ago.  These men were New York’s Bravest, even in the long haul.  They will remain in the hearts of their family, their friends, and their community forever.  And the best way we can honor them is to never forget.

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Life Lessons, Writers and Writing

A Writer’s Writer – Carson McCullers

The following is a re-post from January 2018. It remains timely today.

She was a rock star.  Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, brought her critical acclaim at the age of twenty-three and she made her mark on the literary scene of the 1940’s and ‘50’s at a time when the field was still overwhelmingly dominated by men.  Her body of work hauntingly echoed the themes of loneliness, unrequited love, and being different.  A southern gothic writer, she railed against racism and homophobia – and her message still resonates today.  Her name was Carson McCullers.

While living in a Brooklyn brownstone called “February House” with a menagerie of other writers and artists, she wrote The Member of the Wedding.  When she was in residence at Yaddo Artists’ Colony, she penned The Ballad of the Sad Café.  Later, as her health was failing, her home was a Victorian with a wrap-around porch and a view of the Hudson River, not far from where I grew up.  Each time I passed by that house, I imagined Carson, decades earlier, sitting on her porch, peering from her window as she sat at her typewriter, perhaps walking down South Broadway in the mornings.

When I came upon a grainy, 1958 recording of her reading from her work, I was awestruck.  There was a fragility in her voice, which quivered, as though she were about to cry.  That shakiness, along with her thick Georgia accent, conjured in my mind an elderly southern lady rather than a woman who, at the time, was only forty-one-years-old.

Carson McCullers left us a beautiful literary legacy.  Whether you’re looking for a thought-provoking book for yourself, or a good-read for your book group, her prose is lovely and her message will surely ignite great discussion.

 

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Life Lessons

Through Children’s Eyes

My cousin recently described what it’s been like to take her children, an adorable set of four-year-old twins, to the neighborhood playground.  Social distancing playtime means patient children await a turn to be gently pushed on a swing, as long as the swing to their left and to their right remain vacant.  But many times, there’s no need to wait because most of the neighborhood regulars are staying away.  This absence is not lost on the twins, as one of them recently observed, “There are no people.  Where are the people?” 

A friend of mine has two elementary school-aged daughters.  Their zoom school and homework completed, they watch television in the family room, adjacent to the kitchen where my friend is busy preparing dinner.  When a popular news magazine program featured a story about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday,  one of the girls remarked, “Where are their masks?”  My friend had to explain that the episode was a repeat from last year, from before the pandemic.

Another friend, along with her husband and two older boys, like to end their busy work week by ordering take out from their favorite neighborhood pizza joint.  But as restaurants shuttered, in order to continue their Friday night pizza ritual, my friend began making her own pizza dough.  Even though she is by far the best baker I know, the dough has not always risen as it should, and sometimes the results were, as she put it, “flatbread.”  The boys, eager for any sort of pizza crust that could support chunks of fresh tomato and gobs of stringy, gooey mozzarella cheese, named this homemade pizza “quarantine pizza.” 

While some children are still too young to fully understand, that doesn’t mean they aren’t attuned to the ways, both big and small, that life has changed during 2020.  But clearly, children of all ages have been remarkably adaptable.  The holiday season has begun and I, more than even, will try to see things through their eyes.

 

 

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Eight

October is nearly over.  But it’s not too late. 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  If you haven’t scheduled your mammogram – or if you’re overdue for your mammogram because of the ongoing pandemic – this is your chance to take care of yourself and to take control of your health. 

Fact: one-in-eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime.  Covid-19 or no Covid-19 – this staggering statistic has not changed.  I ought to know – I am one of the one-in-eight.  And so are some of my family members and friends.  That’s why I’ve written on this topic before,  https://dolcezitella.com/2016/01/14/how-i-got-to-red/ and https://dolcezitella.com/2016/10/20/inked/ and why I will continue to do so.

The number eight has another meaning for me.  August is the eighth month of the year, and this past August marked my eighth anniversary of being cancer-free.  Even though the five-year anniversary is an important milestone for breast cancer survivors, eight years is the big benchmark for women who’ve had my specific type of breast cancer.  Having reached this milestone, I feel immensely grateful and blessed.  But I take nothing for granted.  I remain diligent and timely about my check-ups and testing, knowing that if I hadn’t been so diligent and timely a little over eight years ago, I might not have benefitted from early detection nor experienced such a successful outcome.

Stay on track.  Schedule your mammogram.  No excuses.

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Life Lessons, Pop Culture, Writers and Writing

The Typewriter

Yard sales are common in my town but I seldom, if ever, take part.  For one thing, to have a crack at the really good stuff, you must arrive early and I’m not a morning person, especially on Saturdays.  Add to that my inability to shake off the old city-dweller mentality that no matter how tempting a curio might be, “there’s just no room for it.”  So, it was very out of character for me to check out the yard sale taking place in my neighborhood this past weekend.

As I approached the house, I saw the usual folding tables filled with knickknacks and gently used kitchenware.  There were books, of course, and a seemingly brand-new tennis racket.  I paused in front of the historic banker’s chair that was in need of a little TLC, and considered the antique wooden ironing board that yearned to be a piece of art displayed on a kitchen wall.

Call it serendipity, or fate, that I should spot a manual typewriter.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune that, as late as 11:00 in the morning, a vintage Royal had not yet been scooped up.  My first thought: it’s still available because it’s expensive.  My second thought: didn’t Kerouac use a Royal?  I knew about his famous Underwood – the typewriter he used to write On the Road – but I remembered reading somewhere that although he favored the Underwood, at one point, he also used a Royal.  Another literary giant had used a Royal, but I couldn’t place who it was.

On closer inspection, the putty colored typewriter was dirty, perhaps nicotine stained, and laden with the kind of dust that accumulates from years spent in an attic or basement.  The keys had long ago yellowed and the roller was splattered with white-out.  Its carrying case was even more soiled, and I couldn’t tell if it was leather or some sort of fabric that had petrified.  Still, this was a vintage Royal that, given its body’s metal construction and iconic red logo lettering, I guessed to be from the mid-1950’s.  I doubted it actually worked.  In fact, I didn’t even care.  I just knew I wanted it.  And for ten bucks, it was mine.

As soon as I got it home, I went online:

How to clean a vintage typewriter
When did Royal introduce the portable Quiet De Luxe model
Famous authors who used a Royal

Turns out a small paint brush, a soft cotton rag, a gentle hand, and the sparing use of water and rubbing alcohol have gotten me off to a good start.  I think my typewriter is a 1956 model.  And Hemingway was the other writer who used a Royal.  In fact, he had three of them.

Why have I been so fixated with this typewriter all week?  It’s the sheer romance of the whole thing.

Think about it…  In this digital age where first our PC’s, and now our laptops, become obsolete every couple of years, we don’t keep them long enough to create a history.  We don’t get attached to them.  We just discard them.  Years from now, will I even remember what version of Windows I used to write this blog post?  But I do remember the typewriter I learned on, and used to write my college papers and my first short stories – a blue Smith Corona.  It didn’t possess the mystique of an old Royal.  I don’t imagine anything could.

This Royal is going to sit on a shelf in the room where I write.  It will be more – much more – than a conversation piece.  It will be my reminder of what’s important.  My talisman.  The compass that guides me to whatever comes next.

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Home Improvements, Life Lessons

Homegrown

A few years ago, when I left the city for a house with a backyard, my brother and I started dabbling with the usual potted herbs and tomato plants.  For two summers we enjoyed tasty tomatoes and enough basil and mint to last all summer.  However, this year has been different.

My brother is a plant whisperer.  He had the vision to create a raised bed garden in our backyard.  And although we share the watering duties, I take little credit for our growing harvest.

The tomatoes have been plentiful, and we’ve grown some healthy zucchini.  Our basil, mint, rosemary, and parsley plants remain hearty. The romaine lettuce, spaghetti squash, baby carrots, and peppers red, yellow, and green are all thriving.  And just this week, our raspberries have started to bud!

Every afternoon, I delight in going out back to check on the plants, then gather a few tomatoes, maybe a zuke, and some fresh herbs for the evening’s dinner.  Now don’t go picturing a Martha Stewart-like scene where, in the late afternoon heat, I venture outside in a canvas gardening apron and straw hat, holding a big rattan basket.  The reality is far less quaint.  Clad in a paint-stained cropped T-shirt, and a Strand Bookstore baseball cap, I’ve got a gallon-size Ziplock bag in my hand.

Our abundance of tomatoes has made Caprese salads a frequent side dish.  We’ve enjoyed chicken Caesar salad using our romaine lettuce, topped pizza with our zukes, and sprinkled chopped peppers into omelets.  Beyond the fresh taste of these homegrown veggies, the satisfaction factor has been enormous.

Who knew the city folk could grow food?

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Life Lessons, Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Potatoes, Onions, and Eggs

Lately, I find myself thinking about my grandmother.  She and my grandfather married in September 1929, less than a month before the devastating stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression.  As newlyweds, and during the early years of their marriage, they made sacrifices and weathered hardships they could not have anticipated on their wedding day.

During the Depression, my grandmother spent her time in the kitchen “stretching” and “making do.”  Fifty years later, when she was living with us, during the most prosperous times she could have ever imagined, my grandmother held steadfast to her belief in “waste not, want not.”  I watched as she smoothed out the wrinkles in a sheet of aluminum foil, so it could be used again and again, until it was tattered beyond repair.  She wrote grocery lists on the back of used envelopes.  And she placed her morning teabag in a whiskey glass, and reused it for her weaker and less flavorful afternoon cup of tea.  Even though we assured her that these measures of conservation were no longer necessary, she couldn’t seem to relax her life-long habits.  Intellectually, I knew why she did these things.  Now I finally understand it.

These days, I keep a small cup next to the bathroom sink, which holds a sliver of soap that, three months ago, I would have thrown away, thinking it was too small to use in the shower.  I freeze any and everything – from blanched spinach to buttermilk – and flour has become as precious as gold.  Each morning, I open the refrigerator and plan my meals according to the shelf-life of the coveted fresh produce I feel lucky to have.  A potato gets cut in half, and the half that isn’t eaten tonight is stored in the refrigerator, preserved in water, for a future meal.

Once considered “Italian peasant food,” Potatoes, Onions, and Eggs is now a popular frittata that appears on the brunch menus of trendy neighborhood eateries.  For me, it’s comfort food – and one of my go-to recipes during this pandemic.  Here’s the recipe for Potatoes, Onions, and Eggs.

Mangia! 

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