Life Lessons

How’m I Doing?

One of the last things I do every night is take inventory.  It only takes a minute or two to ask myself, “How’m I doing?” I don’t actually use those words.  Rather, I think about my family and friends, and my place in their lives.  I consider my responsibilities.  My goals and my dreams.  Is this self-awareness?  If it is, then it’s both a blessing and a curse as I ask myself the important questions:

Was I a good daughter today?  A good sister?  A good friend?

Was I a good worker today?  A good neighbor?

Was I a good Catholic today?

Was I a good writer?

Was I good to myself?

On any given day, I fall short on more than one of these.  But it’s not for lack of trying.

Yesterday I helped a blind man in the subway – did that make me a good Catholic or a good neighbor?  I also worked late which made me a good worker.  But I missed dinner with my brother so I can’t say I was a good sister.

Over the weekend, I carved out some time for writing.  But a friend needed to talk and a lengthy long-distance phone call ensued. That made me a good friend.  But you can’t be a good writer if you don’t actually write.  Still, I think about other friends who’ve sent emails I have not answered, or kindly written comments to my blog posts that I’ve yet to acknowledge and post.  So am I a good friend, really?

The one that troubles me most is “was I a good daughter?”  For years, I took an April vacation and went home for a week.  My mother’s birthday falls in April, and my visit is the only present she wants.  But these past two Aprils I didn’t give her that gift, despite having ample vacation time.  Work conditions just did not permit it.  So I was a good worker, but I cannot say I was a good daughter.

Someone close to me who knows about my nightly reflection tells me I’m being too hard on myself.  Am I?  Or am I just being honest?

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Life Lessons

Daddy’s Little Girl…And Boy

Last month, I told a story about the robin’s nest on my front porch.  An expectant robin redbreast was waiting for her babies to hatch, and I, watching from my living room window, waited right along with her.  Initially, she was skittish and flew away whenever I approached.  Later, she barely budged from the nest.  I knew the baby birds would be coming soon.

What I hadn’t expected, but was delighted to see, was the arrival of a male robin in that crowded little nest.  He was tall and slim, his breast a more vivid shade of red than that of the female robin.  As she sat with the eggs, he flew back and forth, always returning with worms – yes worms.

I frequently checked on the birds and soon found the female robin still as can be, alone in the nest.  Or so I thought.  Much to my delight, I spotted two tiny hairless heads peering out of the nest.  The babies had hatched!  I imagined that perhaps one might be a girl, the other a boy.

The next day, the female robin was gone.  Poor thing, she must have been exhausted.  Was she at the bird spa, getting a massage and gorging herself on worms?  Now the male robin had taken her place, carefully tending to his offsprings.  I remained transfixed watching as the dad robin carefully placed a worm into the outstretched beak of one of the babies.  He was a good provider.  As he continued to feed the babies, I tried in vain to take a good picture of this amazing paternal display but it was not such an easy thing to capture.  It seemed no coincidence to me that the dad had arrived, had stepped in as caregiver to the fragile baby birds, just in time for Father’s Day.

A friend who knows a great deal about birds described what would happen when the baby birds were ready to fly.  They would step out of the nest and on to the solid wooden ledge and flap their wings.  Flap, flap, flap, but they would hesitate to take the plunge.  They would continue to do this, in the same way that a beginner swimmer stands by the edge of the pool. Then, when the birds felt ready, they would flap, flap, flap and take off into flight.  I couldn’t wait to witness this.

The nest has been empty for several days now.  No mother, no father, no babies.  It would appear they’ve gotten out of Dodge.

Even though I didn’t get to see the babies fly for the first time, I know they did.  Because when a father provides for his daughter and son, like my dad did for our family, the kids grow up and go out on their own.  The healthy ones fly out of the nest.

To all the great dads – and especially to my dad – Happy Father’s Day.

XOXOXO

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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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Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

NESTING

At first, I thought the debris strewn all over my front porch came from the gutters, after a soaking spring rain, so I gathered it up and threw it in the trash.  But when more debris mysteriously reappeared the next day, it dawned on me that the mess was the building materials for a bird’s nest.  This time, I left it alone.

My own building project – total kitchen and bathroom reno – was finally completed and, over the weekend, as I was busily putting my own nest back in order, I kept watch from my living room windows as a robin redbreast built her home on one of my porch pillars.

She’s not a very good housekeeper, I thought, as the unruly nest began to take shape.  There was a bit of masking tape and paper weaved into the structure.  They use whatever they can find…  And the nest wasn’t the perfect little basket I imagined, as much of the dried twigs and loose grasses spilled down the pillar.

Once she took up residence, I felt compelled to keep tabs on the expectant mother.  I felt guilty that I’d thrown away her initial attempt at building the nest.  Each time I entered or exited my front door, she grew skittish and quickly flew away, only to return minutes later.  Now my movements are tentative, and I’m careful with the door.  I feel protective of her and of the tiny blue eggs I imagine beneath her.

That robin might not be the impeccable housekeeper that my mom has always been – that she has taught me to be – but she’s guarding those fragile eggs with the fiercest maternal instinct.  With Mother’s Day coming, that little bird has me thinking about what it means to be a good mother.  It doesn’t matter how neat the house is, or if a mom – especially a harried, working mom – gives her kids PBJ’s for dinner.  A good mother gives of her time, she nurtures, and she puts her children’s needs before her own.  Her love is boundless.

To all the moms – and especially to my mom – Happy Mother’s Day.

You are truly amazing!  XOXOXO

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Buona Pasqua!


The following is a re-post from 2016.

Easter Tulips

Buona Pasqua means Happy Easter in Italian.  Saying it evokes vivid childhood memories of Easters spent at my grandparents’ house.  I remember each and every Easter dress, coat, and hat I wore.  But mostly, I remember the food.

An Italian-American immigrant, my father’s mother was old-school when it came to holiday cooking.  For Easter, she made lamb.  A whole baby lamb.  Maybe it’s a texture thing, but I’ve never cared for it.  Despite the accompanying caramelized roasted vegetables that decorated the large oval meat platter, the lamb looked like a small dog sprawled out on the good bone china.  It was enough to make my little brother cry.  “It’s a puppy!  Don’t make me eat it…”

My reward for suffering through the lamb was the Easter bread, called “cuzzupe.”  My grandmother and her sister each made it differently.  A serrated knife was needed to saw through my grandmother’s cuzzupe, which was intentionally dry and hard, to symbolize unleavened bread, while my Aunt Theresa’s cuzzupe was moist with a subtle vanilla aroma.  Regardless of which sister you asked, getting the recipe for cuzzupe was not an easy thing.  My mother eventually pieced together this much from them:

7 ½ eggs
1 stick butter
1 ¼ tbs vanilla extract
2 ½ tbs sugar
3 ¾ tsp baking powder
Salt
Add flour, a little at a time – enough flour to knead
confectioner’s sugar and egg white for the icing

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Why were they so specific about the SEVEN AND A HALF eggs, yet so vague about the quantity of flour?  Did they know just how much flour was needed simply by how the dough felt in their hands?

When I began hosting Easter at my house, I tried making the cuzzupe.  It was a disaster.  Luckily my mother has the patience, and she continues to make it every year, adjusting the recipe here and there.

Me?  I like a sure thing.  So I make the “cassata” or Easter cheesecake.  And I’m happy to share the recipe with you.

Easter Cheesecake recipe

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Best of Boston

Park It

My old roommate texted me four snowflake emojis, and my friend called from Florida when they heard about the latest Nor’easter that dumped 20 inches of snow on Boston.   A snow emergency was declared and a street parking ban went into effect.  When the parking ban gets lifted, what happens next may sound crazy to anyone who’s not from Boston.  Or Chicago, Philly, or Pittsburgh.  This phenomenon, depending where you live, is known as “space saving,”  “dibbs,” or “chair parking.”

Most everyone does it in Beantown because we believe that when you spend several back-breaking hours shoveling out not only the snow that fell, but the surplus snow the plows have dumped in front of your house, you’ve earned this spot – that you can pahk ya cah – and Gawd help the person who tries to pahk there the moment you drive away.

The unofficial rule to this decades-old practice is that once you shovel out your spot, you have exclusivity to the spot until all the snow has melted.  Which could take a while.  This practice is so sacred that some people have been known to leave threatening notes warning that whoever takes their hard-won, shoveled-out parking spot risks bodily harm, and mysterious damage to their vehicle.  However, New Englanders are generally polite so the more accepted way of laying claim to the parking space is by putting a chair in the empty spot.  Any chair will do – a folding chair, a beach chair, a bar stool.   Over the years, I’ve seen some pretty funny stuff: an old toilet bowl, an anchored down Barbie Dream Car, and a plaster bust of Elvis.

I now live on a street that vehemently adheres to space saving and my brother and I are facing a dilemma.  We don’t have a chair we’re willing to sacrifice to the elements and place in front of our house.  Do we go to the nearest discount department store to buy a cheap, dispensable chair?  Or do we put something more unorthodox in front of our house as a space saver?  We have plenty of rubble from my on-going house renovation.  A discarded kitchen cabinet?  The old stove?  Or perhaps a slab of counter top with the sink still attached?  My brother believes in the “go big or go home” approach, figuring the heavier the item, the greater the chance no one will move it and park in front of our house.

In the end, we’ve decided to follow the “when in Rome” adage and  we’re going with the chair.

 

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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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