Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dance, love, work, live

Another year sprints to a close and once more I’m reeling in ambivalence. Do we reflect on the past, mourn our losses, revel in accomplishments, ponder regrets, wonder what if, curse the speed of time?

Or do we look forward to a story yet written, marvel at the possibilities, make plans that will be forgotten, hope for a better tomorrow?

In my quest to live in the moment, I try to avoid looking back, looking ahead. One can’t be changed, the other can’t be predicted. Remembering that should set us free.

Because I can’t say it any better, I’m sharing a thought that has floated through the ages. I would name a source, but my Internet search found that several folks over the years have taken credit for it in one form or another.

Dance like no one is watching,
Love like you’ve never been hurt,
Work like you don’t need the money,
Live like it’s heaven on earth.

Happy New Year. Buon anno. Molte benedizioni per tutti noi.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stolen quote of the week

"God bless us every one." No exceptions.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Old Man Winter

With the winter season officially beginning this weekend, many people are caught up in a bad case of the doldrums. The short days and cold winds certainly offer a bleakness that can trigger the urge to hunker down. It's the human version of hibernation, and it has a definite appeal.

I think, though, there are many aspects of this season that offer up stuff to get all warm and fuzzy about. If nothing else, the change alone provides a shift to shake up our routine and the newness adds a fresh perspective to our life. Without a blasting winter, would spring be so joyous?

I lived in San Diego for six years, and the sameness of the climate was monotonously predictable. I fiercely missed the change of seasons, and even elements of winter, like drawing faces in the frost on a window. I missed burly sweaters, the sound of footsteps on fresh snow, the smell of the first logs burning in the fireplace, and the warm sensation of rich, creamy oatmeal sitting in my stomach contrasting the blistering northern winds.

I like being able to look out the windows in my office and watch the changes unfold. While the winter landscape in my yard is not such an enthralling view, it does offer a graying canvas perfect for planning out a spring transformation.

With the apple tree baring branches, I can see the birds more clearly as they jockey for the bird feed. I have a Cardinal family that returns to my feeder every winter and their homecoming is a welcomed ritual. If I'm too late putting out the food, the bossy male squawks at me from his perch high in the tree. He's become my winter companion.

Today as I sat at my computer, a hawk swooped past the window and sat on the fence, maybe ten feet from me. I was startled, then thrilled as I sat quietly and watched his head swivel to survey the yard. He eyes eventually locked on me and after a moment's hesitation, he lifted off, leaving me with a rapidly beating heart and a lovely winter memory.

While I admit to being effected by lack of sun on dreary days, I could counter by asking is there anything more delicious than when waking to a gloomy day, simply pulling the covers up tighter and staying in a warm bed? If you don't have the luxury of doing this on a weekday, then savor the anticipation and plan for it on a weekend. Have some buttery croissants on hand to devour when you finally decide to re-enter the world. Warm bed, warm croissants - high on the guilty winter pleasure scale.

Winter gives us a chance to slow down a bit. Spring is a bustle of renewal, summer we go, go, go while the sun shines, in autumn we fill up the days because we know before too long harsh weather will drive us indoors. Now is the time to lay back, to take stock, to recharge our body, our mind, our spirit.

Like a hibernating bear, I embrace the feeling of solitude. Once the holidays pass, the opportunity to just "be" is a welcome state. No garden to tend, no family events, limited social responsibilities, just a blissfully quiet state offering time to reflect. To learn. To discover.

Grab a good book, or maybe start your journal, bundle up under grandmother's quilt, pull on the fuzzy slippers, make some hot chocolate, create a new soup, sign up for Netflix, bake bread, learn to knit, master the latest technology, design your "Treasure Map" for the new year, take an online class, practice meditation, or yoga, build a bird house, sketch out drawings of your surroundings, write a song, read poetry out loud.

And thank Old Man Winter for the offerings of the season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The eye of the beholder

Just prior to the release of People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive choice, my girlfriends and I were talking about the dearth of sexy men. I haven't seen that issue to critique the full scope of their choices, so I only know of Numero Uno. But as my friends and I talked, I realized attractive men hadn't necessarily gone underground, it was just my standards that had changed.

In earlier decades, I always had on hand, if not written down at least in my head, the five men I felt were at the top of the sexy list. These days I'm hard pressed to come up with three.

I haven't been able to identify a steady pattern in my choices, cause honestly I'm all over the board. Maybe the only consistent trait was dark hair - no blonde surfer types for me. But I've gone from sulking brainy types, to the boy next door quicker than a Texas tornado.

There are also two non-physical characteristics that have always remained: smart and funny. So someone with an intelligent sense of humor scored high in a formula similar to a "squared" factor.

I've been trying to remember some of my past choices. In the pre-puberty years, I was very fixated on Paul Peterson from the Donna Reed Show. That showed my early penchant for a mischievous personality. As I entered my teens, I shared with millions of young women a wholesome affection for The Monkees, rotating at random through the four depending on where my hormones took me.

I took a bit of a hiatus as my love life blossomed making less time for fantasy heart throbs, but picked up the habit again probably in my thirties. Those choices are harder to remember, maybe because I was less impressionable. Some of the diverse names I can recall are Sam Shepherd (my literary phase), Frank Langella (the dark brooding choice), and Judd Hirsch (the Taxi years).

Though they may not have been on my list, as I look back now I can name a few iconic choices for the Hall of Fame: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery. Their appeal went beyond good looks into a smoldering, keen sexuality that I'm just not seeing these days. Though George Clooney could be a contender. The devilish rascal factor balanced with his humanitarian work might gel into legend material.

My inner child almost always has a soft spot for the vulnerable type that I call my "Love Puppy". For years that title was held by John Cusack. If you didn't fall in love with him as Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything" during that romantic scene where he stands outside his girlfriend's house holding up the boom box, than you have no heart. Even now I can hear Peter Gabriel singing "In Your Eyes".

These days I have a current "LP" that I normally keep under wraps because it's such an odd choice for me, but I do get a girlish flush when I see Jason Bateman. Yes, he starred in Teen Wolf Too, was put out to pasture for a decade or so, and then was resurrected in Arrested Development. I dunno, maybe it's the dimples, or the full lips, or that flippant sense of humor, the soft brown eyes, the resilience.

But I suppose that's the point. We often don't know why we're attracted to someone. We can't put into words a visceral, emotional, or sexual response we have to another person. That's the beauty of way the whole primal attraction process works. If everyone got hot and bothered by the same thing, we'd all mutate into looking like Pamela Anderson and Brad Pitt.

We're drawn to one another for a variety of reasons, many unexpected and unplanned, some unthinkable and unexplainable. Other times we're lured by very pragmatic, highly conceived notions - he'd be a great father, he makes a nice living. And never - heads up guys - never underestimate the appeal of good hygiene.

Here I am back to the originating thought: who is worthy of my sexy list? After careful consideration - remember I said funny and smart remained consistent - I must admit I swoon when Stephen Colbert looks straight into the camera and dares you not to believe that he believes what he's saying. It's convoluted, but the heat is there.

So my loyal reader(s), who do you find sexy?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mi ricordo di nonna

Recently I found on a shelf in my office a book my nephew had given me a couple years ago. Written by a woman from "The Hill" in St. Louis, it is called, I Remember Nonna (Mi ricordo di nonna).

It may happen with other families as well, but I know from first-hand experience that Italians revere their grandmothers. In my case, it was a well-deserved respect and admiration. In many ways, our lives revolved around my Nonna, who was my father's mother. She certainly was a great influence for la mia famiglia.

Like many immigrants at the turn of the century, my Nonna left behind all of her family to come with her husband to the new world. Born Anna Lovato, she had three sisters and a brother who remained in northern Italy. Two sisters eventually came to visit, but she never saw her mother or other siblings again.

Nonna would tell us stories about her journey to America, including a sea voyage huddled in the belly of a boat with hundreds of fellow countrymen. With not much more than the clothes they wore and a few possessions in a small bag, they slept on top of their belongings to prevent them from being stolen.

I asked my Nonna why they had chosen to come to the Midwest and she said my grandfather had written on a piece of scrap paper the address of a factory in Alton, Illinois where he heard there were jobs available. Following that lead, they made their way from Ellis Island inland to a new life. I can't imagine how terrifying that must have been for a young woman who spoke no English and had only recently wed.

I never met my Nonno, Marcello, who died when my father was quite young. In his pictures he looks quite formidable. (That's him above, with Nonna, my dad, Armando, my aunt, Gloria. Later Tony and Guido came along.) For a poor immigrant family, I think they look amazingly dapper.

When my grandfather died, he left Nonna with four young kids and about three dollars in cash. Fortunately they had settled in a neighborhood filled with other Italians, and this community rallied to support my grandmother. They cared for the kids while Nonna did laundry and other housekeeping to put food on the table. The kids all went to work as soon as they were old enough. While they didn't prosper, they made a solid life for themselves. Thanks to Nonna's discipline, determination, and firm hand.

When I was growing up, Sunday's were always spent at my grandmother's home. Even if it was just a quick visit after church, it was a ritual not to be neglected. But it wasn't a hardship. Nonna's small house was a haven of warmth, and heritage, and great food.

Being from northern Italy, our meals were not the lasagna, meatballs and sausage everyone expects. Rather we devoured stewed chicken, risotto, polenta. She made delicate gnocchi that was practically airborne and could quickly slice the most fragile of noodles for homemade soup. Her roasted potatoes were slices of golden perfection.

From those meals I developed an Italian palette of exceedingly high standards. My admiration for a great meal was appropriately depicted in a scene from Seinfeld. George and his date are in a restaurant and they are both moaning over the rapture of a great risotto. Later you see George and date post coitus where she says, "Oh George, that was wonderful." When neurotic George asks, "Was it as good as the risotto?" her response is an awkward silence.

Nonna's strength guided our family for over 80 years. Then a series of small strokes left her partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. As she regained her speech, the English language had clogged up somewhere in her brain and she could only remember Italian. In many ways, I think that was preparation for her to return "home."

When Nonna passed away, my aunt gave me two pairs of her earrings. They were both from Italy, and one pair I'm pretty sure came with her from the old country because I've seen her wearing them in very early pictures. I guarded that jewelry fiercely, but the earrings from her picture disappeared. Poof. One day they were gone. I never wore them when I traveled. I always kept them in the same place. They didn't have a lot of dollar value to prompt a theft.

My theory is Nonna came back and retrieved them. They were a connection to her homeland. Her husband and family. Her heritage. They were a lifelong possession and she missed them in the afterworld. Wear them in peace, Nonna. I appreciate the loan.

I think of her a lot at the holidays. For the New Year she always made our favorite sweets - a thin fried pastry that was sprinkled in sugar and a thick sweet dumpling filled with raisins. Both of those recipes are too long to share, so I'm borrowing one from the book. It's a recipe for Baci - or Kisses. For this holiday season, I hope you will be thinking of your grandmother, and sharing Kisses with everyone dear to you.

Baci (by Eleanore Berra Marfisi)

2 egg whites
1 tsp. Vinegar
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Beat egg whites and add vanilla, vinegar, and salt. Beat until peaks rise. Add sugar until peaks are stiff. Drop teaspoonful 3 inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300 for 15 minutes until cream colored.