Best of Boston, Life Lessons, Pop Culture

Wishing Every Day was the Fourth of July

It’s no secret that here in Boston we like to do it up big on the Fourth of July.  For decades, the Boston Pops has performed at the Hatch Shell along the Esplanade and, after the concert, a spectacular fireworks display rains down over the Charles River.  My neighbors and I may curse our lack of closet space 364 days of the year, but on the Fourth of July, we have the best place on earth to watch the fireworks: our roof deck.

Last week, as neighbors and friends gathered with beach chairs and blankets, food and drink, I was struck by what a diverse group had assembled on our roof deck for the day’s festivities.  One young mother was nursing her nine-week old baby, while the oldest, a vivacious lady in her seventies, sported an American flag motif scarf.  There were straight couples and gay couples.  And folks whose ancestry represented each of the seven continents.  There were Boston Brahmins, first-generation Americans, and at least one New Yorker.  All afternoon and into the evening, the sense of community prevailed as we waited in anticipation for the fireworks to start.

On the day we celebrated the red, white, and blue, there was no red state/blue state divide.  No political talk at all.  Do we all agree on everything?  No way.  But for one glorious, sparkling day we had come together with respect, pride, and patriotism.  All of us different, yet all the same – Americans.

 

Standard
Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Italian Sisters

Ya know, I’ve known you for more than half my life,” my friend mused as we were enjoying a long-overdue girls’ night out recently.

I get a kick out of how she eats with such gusto.  She marvels at my talent for knowing exactly what shoes to wear with any given outfit.  When we shop there’s no dilly-dallying.  We see something we like, there’s no waffling, we just buy it.  The compliments are abundant and genuine.  I comment on her new eye shadow and she notices my new earrings.

We share the same story:  The only daughter in an Italian-American family.  Exceptionally close to our mothers.  New Yorkers who came to Boston for college – and stayed.  We are modern women yet we celebrate, even revere, tradition.  We’re scratch cooks who constantly swap recipes.  We know how to set a nice table.  We send hand-written thank you notes.

When we talk, our conversations are peppered with Italian words and phrases:  mia cucina (my kitchen); la familia (the family); and ciao bella (so long beautiful).  And the slang, of course: scoochi (pest); jaboney (jerk); and capisce (understand).

Our lives have taken us in different directions.  She’s married with two little girls while I’m the single one.  She’s the teacher and I’m a writer.  We’ve grown but we have not grown apart.  We remain each other’s confidant and sounding board.  One year for my birthday she gave me a Willow Tree figurine of two young girls sitting on a bench, seemingly deep in conversation.  It was the perfect gift.

“We’ve been friends for a long time,” I agreed.  “We’re like sisters.  Italian sisters.”

Standard
Life Lessons

My Dad – the Ad Man

The following is a re-post from June 2016.

Back in the day, my father was a G-rated version of Don Draper – one of the original “ad men” of the 1960’s.  For most of his career, he worked in the advertising department at NBC.  As a child, I didn’t understand what he did, but I surmised it was important because he worked in Rockefeller Center and had a view of the skating rink from his office windows.

Years later, I understood just what his job entailed.  His department was responsible for all the print advertising for the network.  The graphic artists and copywriters created ads and he produced them, by working closely with engravers and typesetters.  He then bought space in the various newspapers and magazines that would run the ads.  Faced with the pressure of constant deadlines, he often schmoozed and negotiated with the printers, all the while cajoling the artists to get them to turn their work in on time.  My father worked long hours.  And he suffered from migraines.

My father’s immigrant father owned a small, independent, neighborhood fruit and vegetable store in Queens, New York.  My grandfather spent his life lifting and carrying crates.  Despite how tired my father must have been from his long work week at NBC, he sometimes helped out at the family store on Saturdays, and I doubt he and my grandfather ever talked to each other about work.  I’m not sure if my grandfather understood the power of the media or saw the work my father did as meaningful.

When my father retired, he traded in his suit and briefcase for a set of golf clubs.  These days, he goes out to breakfast with the ROMEOS (Retired Old Men Eating Out), wearing the Life is Good baseball cap I gave him a few years ago.  He thought the slogan was a reference to his retirement.  But it was also meant to acknowledge how hard he worked to give our family a good life.

Dad

 

Thank you, Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 

red poppy

Standard
Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

How Do You See Yourself?

A collective groan came from the women in my office – myself included – when we recently found out we had to write a self-evaluation for our annual performance review.  Meanwhile, the guys seemed unfazed.  Why were the men so comfortable when it came to tooting their own horns, while we women struggled to recognize our talents and quantify our skills – let alone engage in anything resembling self-promotion?

So, as the guys retreated to their respective offices to write their evaluations, the women did what women do – we came together – to talk and share, and basically buoy each other up.

We put aside basic competencies and all the long hours we logged in at our desks.  Instead, we thought about who the three of us are when we’re not at the office: a mother to a ‘tween and a teen; a preacher; and a writer.  We looked at all the “life stuff” each of us brings to the table.

Hearing my co-workers’ observations reminded me of the way my mother would often compliment me when I was a girl.  When I dismissed her praise, insisting that she couldn’t possibly be objective, she would reinforce it saying, “I wish you could see yourself the way other people see you.”

In the end, I wrote about my challenges and accomplishments.  We all did.  Because when we saw ourselves as our peers see us, we looked pretty damn good.

Standard
Girl Talk

Glam on the Go

If you’re like me, you automatically reach into your purse for your lipstick at the end of the meal.  Applying lipstick in a restaurant is commonplace enough that it often goes unnoticed.  Besides, it doesn’t take any special skill to swipe some color over your lips, even if you don’t have a mirror.

A friend of mine applies her full make-up regalia during her morning commute.  Using her rearview mirror, she performs this act in perfect synchronization with the stop lights along the way.  She can dab on concealer, bronzer, and lip gloss, not to mention perk up her eyes with mascara and eyeliner, all with a steady hand.  By the time she’s reached her office, her face is painted to flawless perfection.  It’s a talent for sure, and one that I couldn’t hope to imitate.  Besides, I don’t drive to work.

I commute using public transportation and the jostling that takes place on the subway or bus, not to mention the other passengers pressed up against you like sardines, and the students who whip around and whack you with their backpacks, all render the application of make-up impossible – or so I thought until the other day.

A woman sitting across from me reached into her tote bag and took out a false eyelash.  It looked like a big bushy caterpillar.  Using the tips of her fingernails as a substitute tweezer, she methodically picked off every bit of caked-on glue from the base of the eyelash.  Next, she took out a tiny tube of glue and strategically applied three dots.  When the glue was dry – remember, this was a moving train – she pressed the eyelash onto her lid.  She then repeated the process for the other eye.  I could not believe MY EYES!  Wish I could’ve stuck around to see what she’d do next, but we had reached my stop.

Standard
Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Breakfast for Dinner

 

We didn’t have a plan when my brother and I decided to meet up for dinner last Friday night.  But after a tough work week, we were ready to ease into the weekend.  So instead of going to a noisy, crowded urban hot-spot, we agreed to just hang out at my place.  Besides, I had chicken parm in the freezer I could pop right into the oven.

My Italian-American sisters can back me up on this: we generally have chicken parm in our freezers.  Or a tray of lasagna at the ready.  And red sauce.  Or Bolognese.  It’s just what we do.  We cook and cook and then put it all in the freezer.

But my brother had chicken for lunch so he wasn’t too enthusiastic when I mentioned the chicken parm.

“Well…I have a carton of buttermilk, a pound of bacon, and a dozen eggs in the fridge.  Wanna have breakfast for dinner?” I suggested.

“Yeah!” he eagerly agreed.

For us, pancakes are comfort food and we both needed a dose the other night.

Within minutes, bacon was sizzling, flour was being sifted, and eggs were getting whisked.

My buttermilk pancake recipe comes from some long-forgotten, old-school cookbook.  I re-named the recipe the “best ever buttermilk pancakes” and if you make a batch, I think you’ll agree.

Best Ever Buttermilk Pancakes

 

Standard
Pop Culture

The Candy Holidays

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.

Standard