Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Girl Talk

A Big Ol’ Bag of Epsom Salt

Everybody’s talking about self-care.  It’s the new buzz word.  But it means something different to every woman I know.  It might be daily yoga practice for one haggard working mom, while it’s all about reclining on the couch binge-watching Hallmark movies for another working gal.  My mother is very clear about self-care:  she just wants some quiet time to read a good book.  My office mate’s self-care takes place in the kitchen, with flour, sugar, butter, and a rolling pin.  Me, all I need is a bathtub full of hot water and a big ol’ bag of Epsom salt.

Epsom salt, really?

Yup.

Since Epsom salt is having a moment, I’ve noticed a few new fancy label options that may be infused with lavender or eucalyptus.  And you may prefer that.  But for me, the whole point of Epsom salt is its purity – no dyes, chemicals, or added fragrance.  Just a tried-and-true medicinal that works.  This stuff is chock-full of magnesium and when I dissolve two cups of it in my bath water and soak for 15 minutes, I get the same benefit as a pricey massage.  In fact, a large bag of Epsom salt costs about five dollars whether you buy it in the drug store or super market.  But please don’t let that hefty bag detract you.  You could store your Epsom salt in a pretty footed glass apothecary jar or a kitschy vintage tin to add a decorative touch in your bathroom.

Trust me on this.  An Epsom salt bath will relax you, relieve your aches and pains, and help you get a good night’s sleep.  Now that’s self-care!

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

September in Boston

Emerson UnionThe following is a re-post from September 2016.

“They’re baaaack…”   At summer’s end, nearly a quarter-of-a-million college students descend upon Boston.  They arrive in SUV’s and with U-Hauls that get double and triple parked along the city streets.  It’s a chaotic and familiar scene that jars my memory, transports me back to a September when I was a student.

My classes took place in a cluster of century-old brownstones that was Emerson College.  The Back Bay streets I walked were lined with gas street lamps, and every statue and church marked a piece of history.  There was no quad, no field house, no bookstore, nothing even remotely resembling a traditional campus – this was an urban campus.

The city was filled with a new kind of student – their oxford shirts and Shetland sweaters were packed away in their parents’ attics.  These young men and women were costumed in vivid colors, leather jackets, tight black trousers, walking boots, male and female alike wearing haircuts as short as their fathers had worn thirty years before.  They liked to gather in front of the Mass Communications Building and smoke clove cigarettes.  Their energy was palpable and it made me feel as if I were in the midst of a bizarre 1980’s new-wave cartoon with loud, clashing colors.

The Emerson Library windows overlooked the Charles River.  The water was calm but I could imagine the prep school trained crew teams from the Cambridge side of the river out in the early morning, their movements synchronized, their breath coming in steamy huffs.  I never got up early enough to actually go down to the Esplanade to watch them.  I would’ve felt out of place there.

It was an odd mix of scenery, of philosophy, of fashion.  At first I didn’t know exactly where I fit into the picture.  But this was where I belonged.  I found my niche.  My peeps.  My voice.  And although I knew it was not possible, that September, I wished that for once, time could stand still.

red poppy

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Summer Brunch

In February 2016, in a blog post titled Let’s Do Brunch!” I suggested that the cure for the frigid temperatures, along with a case of the winter blues, was to host a weekend brunch.  What could be better than a delicious array of warm comfort foods, all displayed on a brightly decorated table?  Besides, you don’t have to get up early; you get to eat bacon; and you have permission to pour some prosecco in your OJ or vodka in your tomato juice even though it’s not quite noon-time.  Brunch remains, in my opinion, a highly underrated meal.

Now it’s August, and the heat is on, so the fare is light and fresh, and the table set in cool, tranquil hues.

Here’s my idea of an easy-peasy summer menu:  a pitcher of iced coffee, a fresh fruit salad of juicy melons and red and blue berries, Greek yogurt, a simple egg frittata made with fresh herbs and garden tomatoes, and one of my all-time faves, lemon-poppy seed muffins.

Decorate your table in rich shades of cobalt and turquoise.  And, if you can, dine al fresco.  Invite a few friends, sit back and relax on your deck or terrace, or around the picnic table in your yard.  A simple meal, lively conversation, and good company is my recipe for a great summer brunch.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

 

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Life Lessons

Walking on the Moon

Although it happened fifty years ago, I vividly remember the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I was eight and my brother was five and my father woke us in the middle of the night and hurried us downstairs to the family room and our large black and white television set.  The screen’s blue glow was harsh on my sleepy eyes, and although it was summertime, the air conditioning gave me a chill as I stood there in my pajamas.  Mom ran and got my bathrobe.

This was not the first time my father had summoned us to the television to watch the astronauts.  I knew their names: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  I knew this mission was Apollo 11, and I knew that they had landed on the moon in a place called the Sea of Tranquility.  My father loved this stuff.  He read nothing but science fiction paperbacks by writers like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury and he talked to my brother endlessly about UFO’s and what supposedly happened in Roswell.  Me?  I found the whole idea of space a little bit scary, but as I watched the contrasting images on the television screen – David Brinkley; the men in the control room, who all looked alike with their short haircuts, black-rimmed geek frame eyeglasses, white shirts and skinny ties; and finally the spacecraft itself, which was partially shrouded in darkness – I felt the same anticipation that comes on Christmas Eve.  In a few minutes we were actually going to see a man walking on the moon.

Even in the best of circumstances, our television reception was only so good.  Now add to that the quality of the moon-to-earth image, and it was no surprise the picture was snowy and no amount of adjusting the rabbit ears would make it clear.

“There he is!  There he is!” my brother exclaimed when Neil Armstrong emerged from the lunar module.  We couldn’t see his face through the shiny black face shield of his huge bubble helmet.  Instead, we saw a reflection of what he saw – the spacecraft and the spotlights.  When Neil Armstrong finally walked down the steps of the spacecraft and stepped onto the moon, we all cheered and clapped our hands.

As the coverage continued the next day, the clip of Neil Armstrong stepping from the ladder onto the surface of the moon was replayed again and again.  And we all watched it as if we hadn’t seen it before.  When I finally asked my father, “Why did you make us get up in the middle of the night to see this when we could’ve just seen it today?” he answered with a crack in his voice, “Because last night it was history.”

My father has always been a pragmatic man, but with his because last night it was history remark, he’d managed to be poetic.  I took his words to heart, realizing that big things were happening in the world, many of which I was still too young to fully understand or take part in.  Just like Roswell, the names of places had taken on new and deeper meanings.  No longer simply locations, Vietnam, Chappaquiddick, and Woodstock referred to a war, an accident, and a concert.  Even more than history, that summer I became acutely aware of pop culture, and began to understand how art, music, and literature reflected all that was happening.

I was twelve years old when knew I wanted to be a writer – something my practical yet perceptive father already surmised.  He once admitted to me, “Ever since you were a little girl, I knew you marched to a different drummer.”  I don’t know if this path is what he would have chosen for me; I’ve never asked him that.  But he’d accepted it without question and, realizing why it was so important for me to witness the moment in history when a man walked on the moon, had encouraged it.

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Life Lessons

July 4, 1959

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  Their 60th!  I’m both proud and amazed.  Proud of them for sharing such a loving and enduring marriage, and amazed at how quickly time has passed.  It hardly seems like it was 10 years ago that we were celebrating their 50th golden anniversary.  We had a big party, with all of our extended family, and their many friends.  My brother gave the customary champagne toast and I told the story of how my parents got together.  Today seems like the appropriate time to tell it once again:

Have you ever heard the story of how Babe and Freddie got together?  Sure, they were both living on 91st Street in Jackson Heights. But Babe was a freshman at Bryant High and Freddie a senior at Newtown.  Besides, he was dating this girl Barbara, his mom, Filomena, didn’t like much.  Barbara wasn’t Italian, and she had something of a reputation.  Anyway, Filomena supposedly suggested to Freddie, “Why don’t you date a nice girl like Louise?” although this claim has never been substantiated.

One night in May 1953, Freddie and his crowd were busy at work under the hood of one of their jalopies.  Babe still recalls how cool Freddie was.  He wore his hair in a D.A. and rolled up his pack of cigarettes in the sleeve of his white t-shirt.  His crowd – his brother Joe and cousin Bill, George the Greek, Bobby Fitz, Gesner, Benz, and Desmoni – they were all cool too.  And in a scene reminiscent of the movie Grease, this group of teen-aged buddies had just made a wager with Freddie.  They bet him that he couldn’t get a date with the next girl who walked down the street.  If she said yes, they each had to pay him fifty-cents.  If she said no, he had to pay them.

Meanwhile, Babe’s father, Mike, asked her to go down the street to buy him a pack of smokes at the corner candy store.  Despite being only fourteen, Babe was pretty cool herself.  She wore cat’s eye frame glasses which only accentuated her penciled in high arching eyebrows, and her bright red lipstick.  And when she wasn’t wearing a poodle skirt, she wore peddle pushers!

Freddie took Babe completely by surprise when he approached her because she figured he thought of her as a kid.  When he asked her to go out with him that Friday night she said no.  What else could she do – she was young and her father was strict.  But Freddie persisted, “What about Saturday night?”  Again she refused.  “What’s the matter?” he asked, “Don’t you like me?”  And Babe was forced to admit that although she did like him, her father wouldn’t let her go out on a date.  Without missing a beat, Freddie suggested, “Okay then what about Sunday afternoon?”  And Babe, realizing how easy it would be to sneak out of the house on a Sunday afternoon, finally accepted.

On their first date, Freddie took Babe into the city to Radio City Music Hall to see the floor show and the western, Shane.  After the movie they went for a bite.  Babe was so nervous that she couldn’t quite enjoy herself.  The older girls on the block had coached her, advising her not to order the most expensive thing on the menu or the cheapest.

Apparently, Freddie never technically asked her out for their second date – it was just understood.  And every week it went on, the guys continued to pay Freddie another fifty-cents.  His buddies thought it was all a joke, and didn’t think the relationship would last.  All the while, Babe had no idea about the bet.

Then, Memorial Day Weekend, Freddie took Babe on Newtown’s Senior Boat Ride on the Hudson Day Liner.  When Barbara saw Babe, she got a little crazy and threatened to throw Babe overboard.  Later that day, Freddie asked Babe to go steady.

In June, they were still dating on the sly and Babe couldn’t figure out how she was going to sneak out of the house in a Prom dress, so Freddie finally had to ask her father for permission to date his daughter.  It so happened that Mike was painting the house – a job he didn’t relish – so Freddie offered to help him paint, and we all know how Freddie loves to paint.  And that seemed to do the trick.

The following year, Babe transferred to Newtown and Freddie was going to L.I.U.  Most days, he picked her up after school in his old green Studebaker, which Freddie’s buddies nicknamed The Babe Mobile.  You see, they realized that Babe and Freddie’s relationship was getting serious, so serious in fact, that by the time Babe found out about the bet, it didn’t seem to matter very much.

So how long did the guys keep paying Freddie the fifty-cents?  Well, nobody really remembers.  But they do remember Babe and Freddie’s wedding on July 4, 1959 and how all the guys were flipping Freddie quarters at the reception.

Congratulations, Mom and Dad!

 

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Best of Boston

Grit and Grace

What’s with the radio silence?  Why no blog posts since mid-April?  Blame it on my team – the Boston Bruins.  It’s no secret that I love hockey – the sheer speed and perfectly choreographed chaos of it – the rattling of the boards – how watching a game clears your head and gets your blood pumping.  Since the B’s were in the playoffs, and eventually the Stanley Cup finals which, I explained to my mother in her language, is the World Series for hockey, I spent many nights, over the past two months, staring at the television screen instead of my laptop’s screen.

What began on April 11th as the Bruins’ quest for the Cup ended late last night.  Even though my team did not get to hoist the 37-pound Stanley Cup trophy to celebrate a victory I believe they deserved – I maintain that my team won.

I don’t say this because, in recent years, Boston’s four professional sports teams have won so many championships our city has earned the nickname “Title Town.”  I say it despite the numerous, egregious penalties that were not called on our opponent, leading to shifts in momentum, that tipped the scoreboard.

My team won because they played with grit and grace.  They didn’t whine or retaliate when their opponent resorted to dirty hits.  They owned up to their individual and collective errors on the ice.  And they didn’t publicize or attempt to embellish their injuries, but rather silently played through them.

Which brings me to our captain, six-foot-nine Zdeno Chara, who took a puck to the face in Game 5 of the finals.  There was a lot of speculation as to whether he could continue playing the remaining games of the series with a broken jaw.  But I had no doubt.

Would it have been great if the Bruins had won last night?  You betcha.  I’d wear my #37 Bergeron jersey to the victory parade.  But I’m no fair-weather fan.  I love these guys win or lose.  I love these guys because they showed – in a word – class.

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Home Improvements, Mothers and Daughers

Cleaning House

When you hear the phrase “cleaning house,” do you immediately think it means a company, attempting to trim the bottom line, has laid off a number of workers?

For me, “cleaning house” conjures up something completely different.  It may seem old-fashioned but, at the first hint of spring, I can picture my mother, and my grandmother before her, standing on a step-stool, with a wad of paper towel in one hand, and a spray bottle of Windex in the other, merrily cleaning the windows.  And given that I was born with the same cleaning gene, I carry on the twice-a-year, deep-cleaning ritual known as either “Spring Cleaning,” or “Fall Cleaning.”

It’s been unusually cold here in New England, so I have not yet begun what I call “the Big Clean.”  This activity usually takes a week or so and goes way beyond vacuuming, dusting, or keeping on top of the weekly laundry.  For the Big Clean, I take out the spin brushes that give the bathroom tile a dazzling sheen.  I wash the baseboards and the chair railings with just the right mixture of lukewarm water, white vinegar, and a gentle wood cleanser.  I rotate the mattress, launder the quilts and blankets, and change over the closet with the appropriate clothes of the season.  And yes, I wash all the windows.

Perhaps you don’t feel the same way I do.  Which is fine.  Maybe you’re content if there are no dirty dishes in the sink, and there’s a fresh roll of toilet paper in your powder room.  But I like when my ordinarily clean and orderly house is positively sparkling, and every room smells like fresh laundry, with a hint of citrus.  I’m satisfied when all my ducks are in a row.

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