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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Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Life Lessons

S.O.S.

It was supposed to be a quiet night with no plans, no obligations, and no work the next day. Because of my bathroom reno, I was staying at my brother’s place, and he was away for the weekend.  It was the ideal time for a relaxing, indulgent night-o-beauty.  The stage was set: charcoal mask treatment for my face, lavender scented Epsom salt for a soak in the tub, and all the implements needed for a professional-style mani-pedi were neatly arranged on the bathroom countertop.  Draw the bath and cue up Enya’s “Paint the Sky with Stars,” for I had created the perfect home spa!

Then something went terribly wrong…

I cut my foot using the type of callus remover that looks like a miniature cheese slicer.  At first I didn’t realize how deep the blade went, all I felt was a stinging sensation.  But a moment later, my foot was bloody.  I grabbed a wad of tissues and reached for the Band-Aids.  When that didn’t work, I stuck my foot back in the tub, under running water, and soon enough the bathtub looked like the shower scene in the movie “Psycho.”  I tried to save my brother’s gleaming white bathroom: watch out for the shower curtain, protect the grout, don’t ruin any of the good towels…  I didn’t comprehend the severity of my injury until 45 minutes had passed, the bathroom was in shambles, and I still couldn’t control the bleeding.  It was after midnight on a Saturday night, and I was home alone, stranded with no mode of transportation to get to a medical facility.   I can’t do this by myself – I need help.  I picked up the phone and called 911.

Within moments, my doorbell rang and two Emergency Service providers were lifting me onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.  I’d never been in an ambulance before, nor called upon a first responder for help of any kind.  The young man and woman who came to my aid wrapped my foot more securely, checked my vitals, and kept me calm during the long ride to the hospital.

I thought all I needed was a hand – for my foot – but they treated my injury with the same level of care afforded a life-and-death situation.  First responders are real-life super heroes who work in the most difficult circumstances, at warp speed, on a daily basis.  When they dropped me off at the hospital, I thanked them, but it hardly seemed enough.  It’s been two months since that night, and my foot has completely healed.  I wish I could remember the names of my super heroes so I could thank them again.

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Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Home Improvements, Life Lessons

Gut Reaction

As news of my reno (which is HGTV lingo for renovation) spreads through my circle of friends and co-workers, everyone who’s ever undertaken a home improvement project has a tale to tell.  There are stories of busted water pipes and runaway contractors, damaged cabinets and monumental delays.  Considering I’m doing a total gut job on my kitchen and bathroom, this is not the kind of stuff I want to hear.

I’ve learned that “if all goes well” is code for “expect something unexpected to go wrong.”  And when dealing with vendors, apply this simple mathematical calculation: double all the numbers.  This means if you’re told your supplies will be delivered in 4 to 6 weeks, they will actually arrive in 8 to 12 weeks.  Unfortunately, the same mathematical equation applies whenever costs are being calculated.  Then, in an attempt to calm my ever-growing anxiety, these same well-intentioned friends smile as they finish their litanies with “…but in the end, it was all worth it.”

Seriously?

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll be spending a month of Sundays (or Saturdays) at the cavernous brick and mortar store where everything smells like wood shavings and plaster.  Don’t show me twenty faucets, I beg.  Just show me three, and I will pick one!  As I wander, dazed and confused, like Alice in Wonderland, down aisles 9 and 10 in search of the perfect ceiling light fixture, my friends’ advice echoes in my head…

Get the towel warmer for your bathroom – it’s worth it.

Install ceiling fans in the kitchen, living room – and the bedrooms.

If you don’t get under-the-cabinet lighting in your kitchen, you’ll be sorry.

Choose what you like, not what you think some imaginary, future home buyer might want.

The paint color of the year is blush.

The paint color of the year is gray.

Gray is passé, the paint color of the year is green.

Luckily, I have a prince of a contractor who arrives every morning with a jumbo iced coffee and a cheery smile.  It only took him a couple of days to gut my kitchen and, each night when I return home, I’m delighted to see the day’s accomplishments as he rebuilds my dream kitchen from the rubble.  He – and I – can’t wait for him to get started on the bathroom…

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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.

red poppy

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