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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Not So Smart About Smart Phones

Presently, I don’t have a cell phone. That’s right, no cell phone. When I look around at my little world when I’m out and about, I feel like the only person without one. When people find out I don’t have a cell phone, they stare at me with that quizzical look as if to say “How do you get along without one?” Or the less likely “No cell phone? What…are you homeless?”

I get along just fine without a mobile phone. I work in an office, and there’s a phone right next to me on my desk. There’s a landline in my house when I get home from work. My wife has a cell phone, and my daughter does as well. I will, at times, use my wife’s phone to communicate. You can text on it very easily, and you can also make a call and actually talk to someone.

I’m currently convinced there is a wealth of phone power always within my general vicinity. Why be redundant and add one more?

I was sitting with a friend recently who was showing me the wide range of things his phone could do for him. He has a new breed of SmartPhone that could instantly grab some NCAA basketball scores, look at the weather report, update his Facebook status, and play some on-line games. I was thoroughly confused.

As I’ve stated before, I love some forms of technology and how much easier they can make our lives. My wife and I just joined the flat screen TV revolution, and we’re very happy we’ve been finally able to join this exclusive club. Of course, we had to join because our current television had finally kicked the bucket. It was a wedding gift from my sister and my brother in law, meaning it was just about 18 years old. I think that’s much older in “TV years”, however.

As I enjoy baseball and basketball games in all their high definition brilliance with our new television, and my appreciation of all things new increases, I have to ask myself: Well, what do you think? How about getting a cell phone?

I just can’t pull that trigger. I do love talking to people, and I love new toys as well. But for me, a cell phone is akin to a colossal waste of my dollars. I know I could probably use such a phone in an emergency situation…but everybody else has a cell phone. And I’m a sociable and brazen individual at times.

If my car ever breaks down, the conversation could go like this:

“Hey buddy…can I borrow your phone?”

That’s not all there is to it. Phones aren’t just phones now, they are status symbols. If you’re caught outside of your residence without the right phone…well, what’s a neighbor to say? What, no IPhone? No Android? You just make calls from your phone? Really? That question would come up again. How do you get along without one?

You know the answer. Just fine, thank you.

Kids, just remember: The “Old School” principles aren’t just about paying homage to the previous generations. No, it’s also about realizing what’s necessary in your life, focusing on that, and doing away with (or not even bothering with) the rest of the crap that everybody else is doing.

Saying “No” To Holiday Stress

Here it is. That time of year again.

The time where it seems everyone is stressed out about the big holiday. Christmas. Many of us are still searching for an appropriate gift for someone, or making last minute Christmas dinner or holiday party plans. A lot of people say they are stressed. My wife has said it. My co-workers have said it. I overhear strangers in the stores say it.

The pressure is on. They feel the stress of so much to do, coming down to the wire.

Why bother with all this stress? Stop. It’s not that hard, really. Your kids will not be disappointed if you stop. The adult who you absolutely have to buy that gift for will not be disappointed. If you stop the stress and remember the real reasons for this holiday, you will feel better about it.

This holiday is not about Target, WalMart, or Toys R Us, no matter how much you are persuaded to believe. It is not about the commercials and advertising bombarding you with the idea that this upcoming day will be perfect if you buy that one last present, or go overboard and put yourself into extreme levels of debt for the next year.

It is not about the gift of a Lexus with a big red bow on it (who does this anyway?).

It is about watching Rudolph again. It is about the excitement of your kids finding that one special present under the tree. It is about creating memories with your family and friends, and dropping some money into the Salvation Army kettle when you see one, to help those who might not have much of a Christmas at all.

Remember the birth of Jesus Christ? If memory serves me right, this is the original reason we celebrate this holiday.

It’s not necessary to get all religious on you here. But if we can reflect on why we hold this holiday in such reverence in the first place, it just might lower that stress level. You may be able to breathe a little easier. You might just think…”there’s no reason to be stressed at all, and plenty to celebrate.”

Especially in a year like this one. If you’re lucky enough where your only concern is what to buy your friends and family (and not how you’re going to pay for it) and if you’ll have enough time to do it, you’re doing just fine. No stress necessary.

So, relax, have some egg nog, and have a good time. That’s what the season is all about.

Buon Natale! (Otherwise known as “Merry Christmas”!)

Absolute Requirements of the Italian Kitchen

Fellow blogger Vince Scordo published this great article about what food ingredients are really required to have a complete kitchen, and to keep those of us of Italian American descent happy and content.

Although I loved Vince’s post, I wanted to add my two cents on some of  these required ingredients and what they mean in my kitchen. My kitchen, and what it holds, was strongly influenced by what my grandmother taught me, as you will see in the following…

Garlic – One of two main ingredients in my gram’s kitchen, it was mandatory that there was an abundant supply ready for peeling and chopping. She used it to cook just about everything, and I have carried on that tradition. As far as rituals go, the preparation of the garlic may have been second only to the cleaning of the green beans.

Olive Oil – The other main ingredient. The kitchen was never without a shiny gold and black can of Filippo Berio, and Gram used it liberally for cooking, as well as dressing salads, bread dip, and general illness prevention. Although my wife and I will occasionally enjoy a nice extra virgin oil drizzled on a tomato & mozzarella salad, I always fall back on the Berio product for its flavor and friendly price point.

Tomatoes – I use 28 oz. cans of store bought crushed tomatoes as a rule, flipping back and forth between some different brands. Gram, however, canned her own, using hundreds of roma tomatoes from a local farmer. The sauce that she made with them is something I could not duplicate if I tried.

It took an amazing amount of back breaking work for her (and anyone that helped) to prepare the tomatoes for storage, and she would make a year’s supply. If you’re not into that kind of manual labor I recommend a nice canned product off the store shelf such as Red Pack or Tuttorosso, which is frequently on sale in my area.

Imported Tuna – All you lovers of the Bumblebee and Starkist brands, fair warning: one try at a high quality, Italian tuna packed in olive oil in a salad or on a sandwich, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll go back to the other brands. Yes, they are a little more pricey, but it is well worth the extra change that you’ll spend!

Cheese – My gram’s favorite road trip was to go to our local import store to buy some olives, mortadella, and a couple of pounds of asiago or imported parmigiano cheese. Sometimes it was more than a couple pounds. When we got back from the store, we’d sit at the kitchen table and have lunch (sandwich and coffee), and then I’d grate some cheese for that night’s dinner or for future use.

Fruit – A terrific memory that I have is the fruit bowl that was always present on the counter at my Gram’s house. It was always filled with apples, grapes, and especially pears, which we loved to peel and eat at the kitchen table.

In addition to the bowl, the yard around the house was filled with fruit trees that yielded pears, cherries, and peaches. And the grapes. Not one, but two arbors dense with the sweetest concord grapes that my wife and I, to this day, make grape jelly with.

If you’ve never had Italian bread toasted with peanut butter (or plain butter) and homemade jelly, you have not lived.

Wine – My grandmother, as well as the rest of her family, was no wine snob. The wine that was at table was usually a full bodied red that came in a very large bottle. Read: gallon jug, usually something like Carlo Rossi. It tasted great along side a dish of macaroni with my gram’s sauce, salad, and Italian bread.

Although I tend to enjoy a variety of white and red wines from Italy, France, and California, more often than not my wife or I will go to the store and pick up a gallon size bottle of red to enjoy with a favorite Italian meal…and we love it!

And in the end, isn’t that what food is about?…love!