My “Resolution?” Keep Tradition Alive and Kicking

The “New Year’s Resolution” is more popular than ever. I tend to not put a lot of faith into them, however. Always begun with the best of intentions, they soon crash, burn, and flame out quickly.14th Street - Tree

You see the same type of resolution, year in and year out. Many people pledge to lose weight, get back in shape, repair relationships, organize their lives, etc.

A couple of months later, that Christmas gift treadmill that was supposed to be your running partner serves as the prettiest and priciest clothes hanger you’ve ever owned.

My resolution would be to strengthen a habit I already have: keep traditions,  the ones I was fortunate enough to experience growing up, alive and kicking.

Ideally, I would be doing this just for my children, so they could get a taste of the very good life, but if I’m honest with myself… I’m doing it for my own benefit, as well. I never want to forget where I came from.

My old Italian ladies aren’t around anymore. The rituals and methods they practiced survive only if we keep them breathing by our active participation. That guardian of the old school traditions that I want to be? Playing at full strength here and now.

Everyone has cultural traditions that bring them closer to their roots, and to that warm, fuzzy feeling you had when you were a kid. I recommend they be part of your list of “resolutions.” Here’s just several ways I’m going to carry them out in the coming year:

In The Kitchen  My wife and I are no slouches in this area, but for Christmas we received some beautiful cookbooks from some very thoughtful people that are going to allow us to ratchet up our knowledge of traditional Italian peasant dishes. Many of these recipes are what I ate growing up, and are still a staple of our diet now.

At Table  Eating together as a family has always been a high priority after the kids came along, just like I did when I was young. The table is also where I shared great coffee with my immigrant grandparents in past years, and my wife and I still make espresso in a stainless steel pot every morning to continue the ritual. It’s the best.

14th Street GrapesIn The Vineyard  The house where my grandparents used to live has two ample grape arbors that yield the best grape jelly you will ever taste. Making the jelly from those grapes is hard work, but we love to do it to this day. We still have access to the grape vines, so we’re hoping 2012 brings another sweet batch.

At The Holidays  On Christmas Eve years ago, my family would always serve very traditional fish and seafood dishes to celebrate the holiday. It’s a tradition we’ve let slip recently. I felt insane jealousy (and hunger) when Vince posted pictures of a seafood feast at his house this past Christmas Eve. My wife Suzanne and I have pledged to bring this back home in 2012, and host a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner with our relatives.

In My Mind  With today’s need for instant updates and instant gratification and instant everything, it’s little wonder your mind races through the day. My girls (meaning my grandmother and my godmother) had a simple way to quiet their minds—they said prayers. And I think they were on to something, so I’m doing this more lately. Whether it’s prayers, meditation, or just five minutes in the day to sit and be quiet without interruption, the result is clear: it’s definitely good for body, mind, and soul.

Yes, I’m going to exercise more (Had a great workout before writing this) and eat my vegetables, but if I can keep a candle of tradition flickering within my family, 2012 will be a prosperous and very happy New Year.

Photographs of 14th Street courtesy of Gabrielle DeGiorgio

What are your resolutions this year? Is tradition a part of it? Start a discussion in the comment section, and feel free to tweet and/or share. You know someone that needs a little kick in the “traditions”!

So This Is Christmas…

So this is Christmas,  and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun. And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear ones, the old and the young.

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon/ Yoko Ono 1971

Christmas music starts on the radio in November, and pretty much continues to the end of the year. It can be enough to drive you insane.

But, along with any Christmas tune by Frank and Dino, the Lennon/Ono collaboration that became Happy Xmas is one of those Christmas songs that I could listen to repeatedly without getting sick of it.

It’s just a shame that its message is as relevant today as it was in 1971. A world without war to celebrate Christmas during our lifetimes? Not likely.

Photo by Gabrielle DeGiorgio

Post-Christmas, some other thoughts running around in my head:

I’m torn about gifts – While I think that my kids (and my wife and I) got far too many gifts again this year, fighting it may not be fair, and is probably a lost cause anyway. It’s a perfect right of their grandparents to spoil them as they see fit. So they get multitudes of gifts.

I’ll probably do the same thing when I’m a grandfather. I can’t bitch about the gift giving methods of anyone else when I know future Joe could be just as guilty.

As much as I like to complain about the lack of spirituality around the Christmas holiday, there wasn’t a seat to be had at the church where I attended Mass. In fact, there wasn’t much standing room, either. Elbow to elbow.

The fact that the church was packed reminded me of Christmas celebrations in past years, when I attended Mass with my grandparents and other family members. In the days when going to church was an essential activity in late December. That’s old school stuff that has a place here in 2011.

Next week, there will be plenty of available space. Next week, I’ll be able to sit if I want to.

Avoiding advertising is nearly impossible – The ramping up of ads proclaiming the latest and greatest discounts for Christmas sales is more intense than ever. To avoid it altogether is a tall order that’s hard to achieve. Materialism is front and center and it all reeks of receive, receive, receive. If you can get through the entire season without being tempted to spend more money than you actually have, congratulations.

And on that note…

The American economy is far too dependent on holiday shopping – A large part of our economy is based on consumer spending. What a house of cards. I can understand the fortunes of a retail chain bouncing up and down with the sales numbers, but…

Consumer confidence?

The stock market?

Crazy stuff. Thankfully, the average consumer was more than willing to put themselves into hock this holiday season to help out the economy. It was said that Americans were suffering from “frugal fatigue”, and their inclination was to spend their way out of it, to make themselves feel better.

Ho ho ho…

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Running Out Of Time? Try This Brilliant Christmas Shopping Idea

It’s getting close to crunch time. If you haven’t gotten your remaining holiday gifts for the people you buy for, you’re running out of days and minutes.

For many, panic mode is soon to set in.

My wife was feeling the pressure. With the nephews and other relatives still on the list, I saw her mind starting to race, and her actions becoming harried. I’ve already had to tell her to go slower.

Women especially feel obligated to purchase gifts for everyone, as an expression of love. Even though most of us have everything we need, the ladies (and a lot of men) have hit the malls in record numbers.

I am of the opinion that if you’re becoming short on time, maybe gift cards are your solution. But my wife won’t have it. “What seven year old wants to open a gift card?”

She’s right about that.

But, what seven year old (or person of any age) would not like to open an envelope with some cold, hard cash in it?

If you’ve read this far, some of you may be thinking, “What an unthoughtful gift!” And to that I say, keep an open mind. When I was younger, I was privy to the Christmas shopping genius that was my Grandmother.

Her shopping method? Order her grandson to get in his car, and take a trip downtown to the bank. When there, grab a couple dozen fancy bank Christmas envelopes, go to the teller, and make a withdrawal of varied denominations of dead presidents.

Boom. Christmas shopping completed.

Now, while it may not seem thoughtful to you to give cash gifts I, like Jimmy Fallon, can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like money. Aside from the fact that practically no one will say “You gave me money??” with a disdainful look on their face, there are other advantages to the glorious gift of cash:

There is no stress involved – The process for cash gifts is one stop shopping. The bank is your store, and the teller your retail clerk. “Can I help you?” “Why, yes, I’d like a pound of twenties, please.” And you’re done. No running from store to store. No jostling with others to be first in line.

And no pepper spray. Easy breezy.

You take away the possibility of overspending – At the bank, you can’t buy another toy other than what was on your list, and there’s no sneaking a little something for yourself there, while you’re buying for others. Even if you really deserve it.

If you’re gift giving budget is $300 or $500, there’s no overspending. That’s what you get.

You can focus on family and fun – Gram had no time to go to stores, unless it was to the import store for cheese and mortadella (I drove there, also). She had people to make happy, and mountains of food to prep and cook. And she had to go to church, too. Because that’s what the holiday is about anyway.

You help the economy! – Yes, you do help the economy when you shop at Macy’s or J.C. Penney’s. I’m aware of that. But why not help the economy and your mental state? Instead of going on expeditions through shopping mall jungles looking for hidden treasure, admit to yourself that cash is the perfect gift! It’s a win win! The economy gets a little boost, and you don’t feel like strangling your fellow shoppers!

My Grandmother handed out envelopes like she was the Queen handing out royal appointments. She gave gifts to her favorite people, and every single one of them appreciated the gesture. She would be met every once in a while by an “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”, but every gift was accepted.

I even tried to tell her on a couple of occasions, “Gram, I don’t want your money. You do enough for me.” Remember, I ate meals at her house 300 days out of the year. Or more.

“Oh, come on!!” was the response I would hear. And my hand would extend to take the envelope.

This week, don’t wrack your brain trying to buy yet another gift. Use a gift from an old Sicilian lady instead. Stick a greenback in an envelope, relax, and enjoy the sights, sounds, food, and events of the holiday with those people closest to you. That’s the true spirit of Christmas…

Buon Natale!

Best Job Title Ever – Father

IMG_3678Fathers’ Day will come and go, celebrated in a whirlwind of sunshine, breakfast on the deck, poolside cocktails, and a game of pitch and catch. As the years go by, and they go by rather quickly, I become more entrenched in the title of “father” or “Dad.” It has become my favorite line of work.

I’m grateful for many things in this life. When my wife had a little scare with her health, I was grateful that it wound up, in the end,  being nothing to worry about.

I feel gratitude for having so much time with my grandparents in their time on this Earth, especially my grandmother. We shared many cups of coffee over the years.

My life is what it is because of what they taught me as well. You know, enjoy the simple things in life, don’t stress too much, and forget about keeping up with the Joneses of the world. Good advice.

I’m grateful for the music too. Sounds that are constantly in my head, ringing in my ears, providing the soundtrack to life. Whether it was an old Sinatra standard blasting from an transistor radio in the house on 14th Street, or a song by Muse playing on my daughter’s iPod, it has been forty plus years of enjoying some really amazing sounds.

More than anything, I’m happy to be Dad. As I said, it’s my favorite job.  And my most important.

I took on this line of work on a ferociously hot day in late June 1995, when my daughter was born. Since that morning in the hospital, I’ve never looked back. I knew when I held her close to me, she would be the most important thing I would ever be a part of.

IMG_2681When my son was born five years later, he became part two of “my most important work to date.”

Now, they’re getting older, growing up way too quickly, and the work is becoming complicated. When you think you have a handle on what you’re doing as a parent, monkey wrenches appear from everywhere, and you realize you don’t know much. But you keep doing the work, and gain knowledge as you go forward. There are always new things to learn.

I was a guy who, at one time, felt there was no problem to be consumed by his job. The work. Whatever “nine to five” I was doing. But I smartened up, looking at the work as a means to an end, that glorious paycheck, and try to get really good at the important jobs. Job titles that include husband and…father.

When Gabrielle was born, at the time I wasn’t doing just a job. I was working in the family business, a restaurant where I managed the bar and spent the majority of my days tending it, serving the customers who would become, over the years, my friends. It was what I loved to do, and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

But the days and nights at work were long, and they took me away from my little girl. To have more time at home, I gave up what I loved to do, and got a “real job” (Real? The concept of corporate jobs as being “real” is strictly a myth).

I gave up the restaurant business, a way of life that was important to me. But I gave it up for much more important work, a partnership with my wife with the job title of parent. Father. The fringe benefits are more than excellent.

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Reflections on Memorial Day And A Salute To A Soldier Long Gone

Here we go. The summer season has started,  greatly anticipated around these parts of upstate New York after withstanding the brutal cold and large snow totals from this past winter. We all like to celebrate the coming of summer just so we can say “sayonara” to the memories of winter.

Our family went a familiar Memorial Day route, spending it in the scenic Adirondacks. The weather became uncooperative with noisy thunder and downpours of rain, but we still managed to play, eat, drink, and do our chores. And just calling it eating may be a understatement. Steamed and clams casino were in such great abundance, I think we had an event I’d like to call “Clam-a-palooza” (hope to do it next year, too!)…

Everyone has their fun, but they call it “Memorial Day” for a reason. Most people that I know look forward to the first long weekend of the warmer months for good times and days off, but the meaning of this holiday runs much deeper. A Facebook friend of mine who has a way with words himself put it best:

“Happy Memorial Day”. That statement doesn’t make sense to me at all. Today is a day of reflection for selfless sacrifice both past and present. I am not celebrating. I am remembering.

I never met my grandfather‘s brother, PFC and former member of the 105th Infantry, Dominick DeGiorgio. Although he survived fighting in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, he was later killed in action in Germany in World War II, still a young man. As far as I know, he is my family’s only recipient of the Purple Heart.

Another brother, my great uncle Mariano, fought for the Italian Army during European campaigns. It seems incomprehensible now, but there was true potential in that war for brother v. brother, each fighting for their country.

Even though Dominick was killed decades before I was born, I felt like I knew him somewhat as my grandmother loved to tell stories about him. While my grandfather Sebastian was a man of few words, his brother had a huge personality despite his small stature. A good looking guy who was always laughing and in good humor, he was, as my Nonna would state, very popular with the ladies. So much so that he would draw big crowds of them at the ice cream shop where he worked before going off to war.

I always wondered what it would have been like to have him here. His bright and cheerful persona as counterpoint to my Pop, the “strong, silent” type. What fun we could have had with that.

Unfortunately, that’s the drawback of war. It takes away and erases what could have been.

He gave it all, fighting for the freedom of generations of Americans with, as my friend said, “selfless sacrifice”. I’m sure there were plenty of disappointed girls at the ice cream window at Manory’s store.  I’m happy I can sit on a porch on a humid May afternoon and reflect  and wonder about a man whose great life was over far too soon.

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