In the life of the middle aged Italian American, there may be no more important Sundays than those on the calendar now. Palm Sunday, which was last week, is a major league event as Mass includes the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a reading that details the crucifixion of Jesus, and is a prelude to the Mother of all Sundays, coming up this week – Easter Sunday.

While the religious connections remain important to those of us with “traditional” mindsets, the connection that may be accepted universally is the significance of the food at these important weekend holidays.

If you paid attention to the last post, you read details on how to build the perfect Sunday dinner – Italian style, with a traditional bent or modern flair. If one detail may have stood out, it was this – these meals are high in volume, calories, and activity.

Don’t kid yourself. Eating in this manner, notably at holiday time, is not unlike participating in your own athletic event.

The Sunday staple - stove top sauce pot

The Sunday staple – stove top sauce pot

I can use myself as an example. There were Sundays in my past where I could put away a plate of spaghetti, a riceball, a couple of meatballs, salad, and perhaps a chicken cutlet or two. Satisfied with the notion that I had done my best in the eating category, I could still get a puzzled look on my Grandmother’s face that said one thing:

“That’s it?? You can’t be finished already!”

Taking It To A Different Level

Eating at this stage isn’t just about providing sustenance. It’s also about impressing your family and making the people that prepared the meal as happy as possible. The biggest compliment I could ever give my Gram was to eat as much as I could without passing out. To do that, you need to approach the meal with a different mindset. You need to prepare yourself mentally as well as physically. You may even need to play an inspirational song or two.

You are an athlete. To take down more than your share of an Easter lasagna (as an opening course, no less!) is an extreme physical event. It could compare to what Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt do to win the gold.

The difference between you and them, however, is they do little else on event day. Just concentrate on the monumental task at hand. And that’s something we could all learn to do.

Luckily for you, I already have helpful tips on spending your Sundays thinking about eating, preparing to eat, and finally, the actual act of eating – and cutting out the rest. I hope they help you enjoy a relaxing and calorie filled meal with family and/or friends, holiday or not.

Focus And Concentration – Pathway To Success

Ironically enough, to prepare for holiday eating, no other athletic events are allowed. No flag football games. No tennis. The 5K should be shelved. No rounds of golf with the boys. These are physical in nature, and will strip vital energy that needs to be conserved for the eating process. Participation in any of these should be limited.

However, it is a Sunday tradition to watch athletic events. In fact, it may be mandatory to watch the football game before catching a well earned nap. Always feel free to indulge in this activity.

In the same category, you should probably consider limiting physical exercise. No going to the gym, heavy lifting, running, pick up basketball, or chasing your dog. There’s time enough for this stuff during the week. As has been said, Sunday should be a day of rest.

I will, on occasion, break this rule to play catch with my son. But that’s it.

There should be no recreational shopping on Sunday. For men or women. Walking through the malls and flipping through the racks at Macy’s saps strength and stamina necessary to repeatedly lift your fork and knife. Refrain from this activity. You’ll save money, to boot.

Lastly, there should be no working around the house on Sunday. No pounding nails, no driving screws, no cleaning your car. Put the paint brush down. No brooms, hoses, power washers, power saws – nothing. And no mowing the lawn.

Going into your backyard is OK – if you want to walk around a little, look at the trees, pick up a couple of branches off the ground. Even picking some basil or parsley out of your garden. Very acceptable. Just no breaking a massive sweat pushing a mower around ahead of Sunday dinner. Your will to put away “maximum macaroni” will be compromised.

As you can see from the above, sweating and exertion is not recommended. If you can avoid this, you’ll be fresh as a daisy when you sit at the dining room or kitchen table, ready to tackle a big meal with people you love on the most relaxing day of the week.

As far as traditions go, it’s right on top of my list. How about yours?

Now, pass me the grated cheese. Please.

 

 

Take an informal poll of people that you know, and ask them what their favorite day of the week is, the answer would almost always be Friday. The start of the weekend, you get to abandon your unfulfilling job for at least two days, and the opportunity is there to hang with your friends.

In an Italian American household, however, you may be surprised to hear a different answer. Our favorite day of the week is rarely Friday. The chosen day for many families around the country is Sunday.

These days, my Sunday routine revolves around going to an early Mass at St. Anthony’s Church with my Dad, and then making a quick trip to my cousin’s apartment to attend what we commonly refer to as “The Breakfast Bunch”.

Weekly attendance includes mainly cousins from my Grandmother’s side of the family, and it’s an informal gathering where we’ll have toast, coffee, baked goods, and shoot the breeze. Sometimes there will be an egg casserole or two.

It’s one of the best parts of my week not only because of the social aspect, but also for the memories it triggers of days gone by – of the fantastic Sundays of my youth.

The Flames of Tradition

My Godmother passed away a couple of years ago, and my Nonna has been gone for four years this January. As they were both in deteriorating health the last few years of their lives, it’s been a struggle to keep the flames of Sunday dinner traditions burning.

Centerpiece of the day - Sunday Sauce

Centerpiece of the day – Sunday Sauce

I still make a pot of Sunday Sauce at least every couple of weeks, and I’ll have a dinner with my wife and kids featuring the same food I had as a child. It’s just minus the massive crowds, and the jostling around the 14th Street dining room table that we used to gather around.

When I was young, I was at my Grandparent’s house for the entire weekend. Sunday was the fantastic finish. I would be there long before the aunts, uncles, and cousins showed up. Not only would I get a sneak peek at what was going to be served, I might also get a freshly pan fried meatball, or a piece of Italian bread dunked into the tomato sauce that was simmering all day.

More or less, it was the same menu every Sunday with a twist here and there. If it was Easter Sunday – well, that was the day the gigantic pan of homemade lasagna was broken out. If manicotti was made at my family’s restaurant that week (and didn’t sell out), that may have spilled into Sunday as well.

Regardless of what was featured on the table, it was always delicious, and there was always plenty to go around. My little Sicilians were expert cooks, and their Sunday Sauce was second to none.

The preparation of dinner was a process as well. Timing needed to be considered, as we usually sat at table in the early afternoon. Prepping was done as early as the day before, and Nonna would be in the kitchen for hours on Sunday.

Sunday’s Menu of Decadence

There’s a right way to do Sunday, and each menu item has the proper order in which it’s served. My grandparents’ end of the week dinners were always old-school, but just for kicks we like to take things to a modern level on certain Sundays.

Both ways are eminently enjoyable, and you can be as formal or informal as you like. But as far as the old-school way is concerned, there was nothing better. In my house, we’re pretty good cooks – but those Sundays from twenty or even thirty years ago provide a boatload of cherished memories.

Want to try it yourself? Here’s the balanced approach, whether you like it modern or old-school style:

Appetizers

Old School: Appetizers? Really? With the tonnage of food that hit the table for dinner when I was a kid, appetizers were not required. We would have more than enough, believe me. But I was always an expert at sneaking the aforementioned meatball before dinner, so that could count as an app. Score.

Modern Take: We can get really fancy here – we’ve done calamari, stuffed mushrooms, clams casino, mussels in broth. I’ll stop right there. Getting hungry just typing it. No pun intended, but the world is your oyster when it comes to appetizers.

Pasta

Old School: In my world, the pasta course is ubiquitous. My Grandmother’s choice was almost always a spaghetti or ziti, dressed with a tomato sauce that had been cooking for hours. Special occasions brought out the 10,000 calorie baked pasta dishes. Unbelievable.

Modern Take: We’ll still take it old school style here, but we often change the shape – ravioli, rigatoni, tagliatelle, among others. The sauces can change, too, although the Sunday variety is still my favorite. Oil and garlic, bolognese, and a variety of light cream sauces are new traditions that have hit our table.

Meat

Meatballs on my stove - like Nonna used to make

Meatballs on my stove – like Nonna used to make

Old School: In those days, the meat was meatballs front and center, and sausage or braciole. That’s it. And in the end, that’s all we needed.

Modern Take: We’re not doing quail or Cornish game hen here (that’s really fancy), but in my house we like chicken cutlets, braised short ribs, and my wife loves to roast a whole chicken on any given Sunday. Osso Bucco is something on my radar to try soon, as well.

Salad

Old School: The salad was always eaten last at the table on 14th Street, used as a palate cleanser. It was iceberg lettuce, dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Very simple, and although it may not sound good to you, I thought it was excellent.

Modern Take: Like the apps, you can go many different ways here, and we have – Caesar salad, salads with walnuts and cranberries, avocado, with chick peas and beans, with balsamic glaze and other fancy dressings. And we rarely use iceberg for anything – it’s romaine, spinach, or mixed greens. Again, unnecessarily fancy. But so very good.

Desserts and Beverages

Old School: With the calorie meter obliterated already, dessert was still on the way, but here’s where the Sicilians threw their twist in and decided now we should eat healthy – by giving us nuts and fruit. My Grandmother would roast chestnuts or crack walnuts, and my Grandfather would peel and eat multiple pears, his favorite. I also remember Italian cookies, and the ladies were fond of sponge cake. Drinks included water, soda, and a simple red table wine. Espresso at the end.

Modern Take: I’m already thinking about grabbing tiramisu from the local bakery for the next Sunday dinner. My wife will bake cakes and make other desserts (we call one of our favorites “chocolate crack” for its addictive qualities), and her mother is a great pie maker. Drinks have run the gamut- mixed cocktails, sparkling water, red wine, white, craft beers. Very fancy.

Find Your Way Back

As my Grandmother’s age crept into her 90′s, she couldn’t host the big dinners anymore, on Sunday or any other night. I took over the meatball making chores for her on Saturdays, and on the following Sundays a smaller group of our family would show up for a little brunch.

Nothing too over the top. Scrambled eggs, some meatballs with sauce, Italian bread. Strong, stove brewed coffee. Sponge cake. Seated in the kitchen instead of the vast dining room table.

Those Sundays were special, too. My kids grew up around that kitchen table, having their first servings of spaghetti in their high chairs, in the house on the street that I grew up on.

Those days are sorely missed. And with our “Breakfast Bunch” gatherings now, we try to recreate that special feeling of family ties that were their strongest, so many years ago.

When Sunday was, without question, the favorite day of the week.

What’s your story? Have a favorite day? Or tradition that you’d like to share? Leave your comment below.

The view from my New York City hotel room - taken with my new iPhone

The view from my New York City hotel room – taken with my new iPhone

It’s finally happened. I have been dragged kicking and screaming into a new era. I have done what I once said I would never do.

I have joined the majority of the world, and upgraded to a smart phone for the first time.

And although I love the technology, the old schooler in me has taken a hit.

I have brought something into my life that has the potential to complicate it, provide unnecessary convenience, and make things a little too easy. Definitely not the old school way. But I love great tools that I know I’ll use. And right now I’m excited about this one.

Why? Benefit number one recently: I’m traveling, alone in a New York City hotel room. Despite the insanely comfortable bed, I can’t sleep. It’s 4AM. And I’m writing this post – on my iPhone. Talk about a game changer.

I can write from anywhere, at anytime. If there’s a post idea floating around in my head, I can put it down right then and there. I now have the technology. And it, to me, is crazy.

I also need it for business. In the past, I missed important emails from prospects and customers because I couldn’t get them on the fly. A smartphone changes all that.

I have softened from all of my bluster from before. I do appreciate the fact that I can now listen to any music, watch any video, and search any site of my choosing. With this, I have to be careful not to be one of the many mobile phone addicts and abusers that I see around me.

The number of times that a preoccupied screen watcher (or scroller) has almost walked right into me are starting to add up. The number of drivers on the opposite side of the road, all looking down at their phones? It’s scary to me. These days, defensive driving is a requirement.

As you might guess, buying this phone was stepping way out of my comfort zone. Regular readers will know that I’m firmly stuck in the old school, trying to keep things simple and inexpensive. Treading the path that my grandparents paved.

I will give you my word. I promise not to be “obnoxious cell phone guy”. You know that guy.

I will give you my undivided attention when I am with you. I will always keep the ability to put the phone down, and stay in the real world. The smart phone will not become a substitute for the relationship.

The old school has taken a hit. I have joined yet another club where the comfortable and overly convenient reside. I get more “modern” with each passing day.

Old school has a new tool. And I can use it to spread the message even further.

How about it? Are you a smart phone addict? Or is it just another useful part of your life? Let us know in the comment section below.

Reason To Believe

February 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

In the land of 24/7 media coverage and real time responses from faceless Internet critics, no one would blame you if you questioned every belief you’ve ever had. Prowl on-line long enough, and you can unearth a shadow of a doubt on any subject.

Be it video, text, or photo, there’s always a source for you to question your beliefs.

I have a strong faith that there is a God, an eternal being who created us and watches over us now. This belief was instilled within at a young age, by a family full of immigrants whose Roman Catholic faith was unshakeable.

If I wanted to, I can read articles every day that could make me ponder the question, “What if there is no God?” It may have to do with getting older, being in the second half of your life. Wanting to be sure that there is, in fact, something more that we can look forward to.

I have a strong belief in family. That blood is thicker than water, and that the ties that bind the family are the most powerful you’ll have anywhere. That family comes first.

You can have your doubts here, as well. Friends can become enemies, family become strangers. How well do you really know your loved ones, anyway?

I have a strong belief in country, and I know many will share that view. Whether Democrat or Republican, your main wish should be that our country succeed, no matter what. For the most top of the line belief in country, watch Lone Survivor. Discover the individuals that will go to any lengths for love of country.

There is nothing wrong with questions about God, other people, the environment, conservatism, your country, your government. Questions about truth, lies, sex, videotape, and whether 80s music was as good as it seemed (looking back, I’m having my doubts here).

It’s fair to question your beliefs about any aspect of life happening around you.  Except one.

Your belief in yourself.

Now, I’m not here to tell you that my self belief, or confidence, is unwavering. Just the opposite, in fact. I’ve been the recipient of mega self-doubt, not knowing what to do, where to go or how to think, depending on the situation.

Nowadays, the self doubt usually creeps in the subjects of career, financial, home improvement (you’d understand why if you’ve ever seen me use a power drill). But, there’s a difference between “the now” and even just a few years ago.

If the self doubt does make an appearance, it’s short lived. Lasting hours, or even minutes, rather than days or weeks.

And there’s a reason for that. I know who I am. I know what I stand for. Things can change, my opinions can vary, but the core “me” remains what it always has been. That attitude is the very essence of old-school.

People experience self doubt because they compare themselves to others and, more importantly, they don’t do anything that they really enjoy for work or play.

It’s tragic. So many of us sarcastically say “Just another day in paradise” when asked “How are you?” Life is joyless, devoid of thinking with the curiosity of a kid, intent instead on collecting “things” that add nothing to your identity.

Think about it. About what you liked to do before age eighteen, before life was ruled by higher education, relationships, unsatisfying jobs, mortgages, kids, responsibilities, and the subsequent questions that may create…doubt.

Are you doing them now? Anything? Why not?

When I was younger, it was easier to be plagued by doubting myself. But I had people that believed in me. Like my grandmother. My godmother. I’ll throw my grandfather in there, although it was hard to tell back then. He was an Italian immigrant who was very selective in using his words. His actions did the talking.

Now, I have distinct reasons to believe. There are two kids who will look to what I do, rather than what I say, for examples of how to live. That’s part of being a parent. At ages of 18 and 14, it’s a critical time, and for me, there is no room for prolonged self doubt. They need to know that when doubt is removed, the world can be your oyster.

My immigrant grandparents and their family could have been the champions of self inflicted doubt. Instead, they brought a fire to their duties, putting together their American story and creating future generations of entrepreneurs, doctors, musicians, recording artists, writers, and keepers of the traditions they developed through their years.

The concept of tradition is sinking into a wasteland of trends and media obliteration and saturation. It’s hard to see what’s real anymore, if you don’t look closely. But what’s real is this spring, my son will play baseball again, launching rockets into sun drenched skies. This summer, my daughter will walk across a stage to shake with one hand and receive a high school diploma with the other.

When she’s done, we’ll carry on our tradition of wandering Cape Cod beaches, exploring, collecting rocks and shells, watching the waves crash and swell. Modern world, and its incarnations of belief killing, be damned.

No room for self doubt. There are reasons to believe.

In the last post, I said that resolutions were a non-factor for me – that I only had a recurring one concerning traditions that need to be kept, and that was it. Frankly, I had no desire to join an army of “resolutionists” whose numbers would dwindle by each passing week.

But that wasn’t true. I lied. I’d actually like to add one resolution, if you will, that would boost all other resolutions if I decided to make them.

acquavivaStop wasting time.

All around us, you can hear the cry of the chronically overwhelmed.

“I have no time.”

“I’m just sooooo busy.”

“Ain’t nobody got time for that.” (A personal favorite)

But when you tell the truth, a high percentage of people who declare they are too busy for the important spend a good chunk of their days on activities that add zero to their lives. And I’m as guilty as anyone else.

As a newly proclaimed resolutionist, I intend to step up my game where I’ve begun, and to start in the areas that I need to. That means burying time wasters. And there’s plenty of them that we can shovel some dirt on.

Let’s get crackin’. Here are examples of time I am no longer willing to waste. Starting….now.

The Evening News – Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings are long gone. There is no longer a reason to immerse yourself in the time wasting activity of the news. Most of it is sensationalized to bring in more advertising revenue, and it seems the only purpose is to increase the American public’s “worry factor”. About things most of us don’t have to worry about.

Stop watching stories about derailing trains or tornadoes touching down. Unless it’s happening in your house or neighborhood, the long term effects on you are minimal.

The Local News – Indulging in this is worse than watching national news. Want to hear about stabbings, shootings, and car accidents in your surrounding towns and cities? This is the place to be! Ugh. Serious waste of precious time. The only saving grace for our local news is the personality of a couple of very good meteorologists in the area, one in particular that helps animals in shelters.

Now that the Polar Vortex is upon us, they are even more excitable.

Other Television – This one may prove a little difficult. My wife and I are big Seinfeld fans, notably fans of the syndicated re-runs that are on every night. So easy to lose an hour to this one.

And sports programming can wind up being a giant time suck as well. Between football and baseball, I know I spend hours in front of the TV, soaking up all the athletic entertainment that I can.

My television habits will be a work in progress. Stay tuned…

Email - let’s face it, there are emails, meetings, and more emails – the majority being a complete waste of everyone’s time, but that never stops it from happening. In my line of work, the only activities that matter are helping clients and pitching prospects. End of story. Everything else will add little value to what my customers do, or my bottom line. These two activities must take up the majority of my day. I will no longer allow this line to be crossed. The email black hole must be stopped.

Social Media – Facebook, with its unlimited potential for negativity, political bickering, and general pointlessness, is actually useful for me keeping up with friends and family that don’t live in the area. What was once the ultimate time suck for me is now a medium that I’m logged in and logging off for 10 minutes every couple of days.

To stop wasting time I want my usage to drop even further, with the exception of sharing posts like this one. It’s a beautiful thing.

While I still plan to get notifications from people that a) live far away, or b) actually say something worth caring about, I really don’t have that many Facebook “friends” to begin with so it should only take me a few minutes, tops.

Other Minutiae Of Life – Small talk. Chit chat. Idle gossip. Feeding the rumor mill. We’ve all done this, right?

Time waster. Time waster. Time waster.

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and just wanted to walk away?

But you didn’t, because you were taught to be polite?

I’m going to start walking away. And not perpetuating negativity. Not letting anybody waste my time.

Because time is finite. There’s only so much left.

I’m going to turn my TV off. Brian Williams will become a stranger to me. Jerry Seinfeld may, as well. It will be so hard to say goodbye.

The time to just “watch” has passed me by. I’ve said it beforelife is short. The game has nearly been decided. The clock is burning down. It’s hard to take action on the truly important because of the little things. And if that’s the case, don’t let those little things include the evening news and mindless internet surfing.

The quality of your life depends on it.

Another Auld Lang Syne

January 1, 2014

Tucked away amid waves of string arrangements and woodwind solos, Frank Sinatra’s vocal in “It Was A Very Good Year” is both melancholy and hopeful. He runs through the lyric chronologically, first at age 17, then age 35, finally seguing into a time when life is “like vintage wine, from fine old kegs”.

As you might expect, this favorite song from my youth has taken on a different meaning a few decades later.

Hitting the age of 50 here in 2013, I can echo the Sinatra sentiment. Yes, it was a very good year.

The non-conformist in me dismissed the thought of writing an article about the subject of gratitude during the Thanksgiving season. As one year passes on and the new one begins, I feel gratitude especially now for what God has blessed me and my family with in the previous twelve months.

Foremost, my wife and I have two kids that are strong and healthy. If there is a greater gift than your own health, it is the health of family.

My wife and I recently celebrated being married twenty years. Staying married in modern times is not an easy task, and it takes more work and effort than most people think. It’s been easier for us because we have similar tastes and interests, and hold important the goal of always stoking the fire of romance that we started with.

2013 reflected good times for my wife’s side of the family, as well. Relatives with medical complications have been given clean bills of health, and there has been a massive baby boom this year. One cousin born recently, another (a little girl) more recently, and my wife’s nephew will be on the way shortly here in 2014.

This year brought challenges, no doubt. But most of what happened could be called “good stuff”.

If you spied the title of this post expecting a declaration of New Year’s Resolutions, I sincerely hope you’re not too disappointed. I have but one, and it’s recurring: upholding the ritual and traditions of the Italian American lifestyle that I experienced growing up. You can read about it here.

Although the ritual of the ‘making of the meatball’ has fallen off recently, I finally (with some prodding from the family) served up a traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, right here in my home. I cheated a little bit, cooking five of them at once in a slowly simmered tomato based stew, but my wife said it still counted.

This is also the opportunity most bloggers take to show you their “best of” lists, where they showcase their finest work published in the previous year. While you can see all of what was “epic” here in 2013 just by scrolling down, I’d actually like to share with you two articles that I wish I’d written.

Although the focus of these particular sites is along the lines of social media and content marketing, the articles here focus on the authors’ grandfathers, and the wonderful lessons that were revealed while just living their lives.

Demian Farnworth – 10 Productivity Tips from a Blue Collar Genius

Mark Schaefer – A Rant: In Praise of The Unremarkable

Read both of these posts, because I think they’re awesome. Then read them again. If you take away some or the majority of the points in both, and apply them to your own lives, you will be in pretty good shape. It is useful Old School thinking at its finest, presented with class by a couple of fine writers.

If you do this, I dare say New Year’s Resolutions will be the last thing you need.

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