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Happy Birthday, Nonno!

nonno baby victor

My grandfather, seen laughing with my grandmother at the top of this page and then again with me and one of my babies, would have been 90 today, not that I remembered. I never remember people’s birthdays until someone reminds me that it’s, like, toDAY.  It’s fine though, since I do everything at the last minute anyway.

I feel like I should do something, but I can’t go to the graveyard because I don’t want my little daughter there.  I tried to take her once, but there were just sooOOOoooo many questions.  And then after what I thought was a preeetty good summation/explanation of life and death and ceremony and graveyards, she said, “Mommy?  Okay, we should go. I think we should go to that berry garden and then we can help Nonno Mimmo get up if he is stuck in there.”

So, instead I’m staying home today and playing with my kid, which is what he would want (and most importantly what I want), but I feel like I should do SOME thing.  My gut instinct is to writewritewrite some mondo-huge, epic thing that would somehow miraculously capture everything he did for me and all he lived through and how much I just adored him and how he was my friend and not just some brilliant old man. But that’s not going to happen for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I’m already bawling and there isn’t enough Tylenol on earth.

I think instead that a nice top ten list of quotes will have to do.

(Just a note… if you can, just to make it authentic, try and over complicate the pronunciation of each word and roll the R’s, but not in a big way…like as if you have a HUGE accent, but you are desperately trying NOT to have one. That’s how he spoke;)

10. (after a long day out, driving around winding roads, he “lightly” crashed the car into the side of the garage and turned to me) “Well, we have arrived.”

9. “No good deed goes unpunished.”

8. (after a sort of a…well…TOTAL FOOL finally left the kitchen after talking for an hour about NOTHING at all and I was tapping my foot and rolling my eyes) “Don’t be that way, honey. You have to be kind to him. I don’t think it’s a medical condition, though.  He’s maybe what you can call a jackass.”

7. On the highway when one of those signs flashed about reporting suspicious activity he was quiet for a while and then shouted, “I think I thaw a tewwwowithst!”

6. (after my telling him about something one of my students had said) “Look, I know you love these children, but don’t forget to have you own.” I glared at him. He said, ” I know you have your ideas (gesturing into the air as if brushing away my dreams of being something “more”), but when you were small and I asked you what you wanted to do, you told me you wanted to be a mother. YOU said that.”

5. (on the beach in Torre Faro after we walked past an old, wrinkled tourist who was completely naked except for a TINY pile of clothing mostly covering her most unattractive bit…note the singular on that) “Come on, let’s go.  Probably your Nonna will hear about this even before we get home and the story will be that I looked.”

4. (holding my son) “Maybe if I can live just five more years, he will remember me.”

3. “I know they told you that when you were born that I wanted you to be a boy.  I know I was stupid.”

2. (Once when we were walking home from the beach.) “You see that old man sitting over there by the church?  The one with no shoes? He had eyes once for you nonna.  You can remind her next time she get mad.”

1. (On Christmas Eve one year in the midst of the 7 fishes feast) “Look around you, girl. Even if we had nothing in the bank, we are rich.”

———————————————————————————————

In the end, we were REALLY lucky with him.  He lived and loved a lot and wrote two books: one for me when I was born (written in the voice of a man who thought he’d never get to know me and had a lot of explaining to do) and another for everyone else….which was too much for me to take.

In the very end though, we knew it was the end and he knew, too, but he wasn’t scared. The last time I saw him, as I was headed out the door and  crying, I said, “I just don’t have ANY words here.”

He smiled up at me from his chair and he said, “I’m going to find out everything…I’m finally going to know.”

That sentence was JUST like him.  This was all some fact-finding mission to my nonno. Ever the student, child-like with wonder.

I miss him so much and I really hope God is being nice to him on his birthday. I hope She at least bakes him a cake;)

 

 

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Stuffed Artichokes

So! Let’s make some nice artichokes!!  Although these aren’t my favorite kind   (I won’t pretend to know their names), this is the kind with the thorn on the end of each leaf.  Sometimes I get the kind that look like beautiful green roses.  They are much friendlier for obvious reasons, but these tasted REALLY much better than ever, so maybe you should try for thorns, I don’t know.

Anyway, my grandmother used to make these for us and sometimes I took one to school wrapped in foil.  They were so delicious and soul warming (even cold) that it was worth the eye -rolls that flanked me there on the group W bench.

Directions:

1. Cut off the stem as close to the base as you can and set aside.

2. Slice off the tips with a good knife.

3. Pull off any sad. tough looking leaves from the bottom.

4. With kitchen scissors, cut the tips off each artichoke leaf and the rub a lemon over all of the cut leaves.

5. Peel each of the stems and then dice them.

6. Saute them in olive oil until they are soft and brown.

7. Then crush 2 cloves of garlic under your knife and peel them. Add the garlic to the saute for 2-3 minutes (whole crushed cloves for less flavor, diced for more…more is better).

8. Now in a bowl, mix seasoned breadcrumbs and some freshly grated cheese. Also add some fresh parsley if you’ve got it.

9. Then add the saute and all the oil.  Mix in a few splashes of additional olive oil until the mixture is moist. Then stuff the artichokes.

10. Before placing the artichokes in a covered pot to steam, place a little water in first.  Otherwise they will stick to the bottom and it will be gross and terrible and awful.

Cooking:  Pour enough water in so that it comes about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the artichokes. Cover with a lid (clear is best) and steam these guys, checking every 10 minutes or so to see if you need to add water.

They are done when you can easily remove a leaf from the bottom of any of the artichokes.  To eat, bite on the leaf and pull it through your teeth. It will get messy, but I find it so very worth it.

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Every once in a while, you get those “check-in” days, as my father calls them. Those days that go so amazingly NOT according to plan that it’s like someone getting a hold of  the back of your neck, shoving your face against a wall, and saying, “You know you’re not in control here, right?”

I’m still a little flustered by my recent encounter with Fate the tough guy.

It started out of thin air halfway to my mom’s house. By the time I arrived, instead of quickly dropping off my kids so I could rush home and accomplish 4 billion things before our long-awaited anniversary celebration, I  opened the car door and sort of crumbled onto the garage floor.  I was barely able to really talk. It felt like I was being stabbed in the back with an  icicle every time I drew breath and I kept thinking about the grandfather I’d never met and genes he might have passed on…the ones that make your heart stop too soon.

My kids didn’t get it.  They kept pulling on me and asking about their swim goggles.

Eventually, thanks to my parents,  a bunch of people in blue uniforms showed up and said it wasn’t my heart, but this bizarre  muscle spasm that was pushing against the ribs in my back, making me cry when I inhaled. They really didn’t need to plug me into their equipment though, since I figured it wasn’t my heart when I didn’t drop dead immediately when one of them referred to my FATHER as my HUSBAND.   I’m not buying that she thought I was a trophy wife, so that means she thought I was eligible for an AARP membership.

Not cool.

Anyway, when I briefly pulled my hands away from the painful spot on my back and considered wrapping them around the woman’s throat, I figured I (for one) would live. (Deep breath.)

So, as most things involving a 911 call tend to be, yesterday’s incident was unexpected, inconvenient, and terrifying. The worst, most horrible part was the look on my son’s face and the fact that he went from worrying about the location of his swim goggles to asking my mother if I was going to die.  Sweet Jesus.

Now I’m sore, but it’s all good again, although dis(harhar)heartening because I’d hoped to avoid any and all emergencies in this life. Why? Because I thought I was wearing my  funeral goggles and didn’t need “check-in” days to know what’s what.

Funeral goggles? Well, what they are not are those worn by the sexy mourners draping themselves all over Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers. (Nobody in real life is ever attracted to a man who dry humps the air.)

What I mean are those lenses that zoom in on everything that really matters. They help you see everyday what others can only see after attending a funeral, and what they stop seeing as soon as the effect wears off. They (these goggles)  focus in on little children and family and good food. Best yet, on a day when they are really working, they sweep away trivial things into your peripheral vision, like handbags that cost two grand (who buys those?) and Fox News reports and bizarre comments made by idiots who think you are eligible for social security when you are most certainly still youngish.

So here I am.  I have cancelled everything fun we had planned, the house is still a huge mess, and I don’t feel quite up to doing much of anything. But maybe that’s all part of the check-in, the just figuring out how to have fun without so much preparation. Maybe I’ll stop worrying so much about little things and, say, start ordering pizza sometimes instead of making the dough…and the sauce…and the cheese… from scratch. (Eyes wide in the realization that I’m insane.)

I think I can see clearly now that my goggles were broken.

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At some point, this ideal woman (who never actually existed) was considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. The fact that  the local Florentine women typically did not look anything like this says a lot about every culture’s  list of  “who’s purdy and who ain’t.”  The media or maybe the public or those girls leaning against their lockers, I don’t exactly know who else might be on the list,  but “they” are very hard on EVERYONE.

It actually seems like the characteristics that are least likely to crop up in a given genetic pool are always the most admired by “those” folks. So, let me ask you, if you were a stand-up comic, say, and you were told that a particular audience at a particular club had never in its history laughed at a joke, would you bother walking on stage?  Would that make you want to try harder to impress them or would that be a clue to you they they just don’t get it?

Luckily, I have found that there are people who get it. And finally after a bit of a journey, I have found my audience. And they are so appreciative. It turns out, the people who are actually the most physically beautiful people in the world, they get me and see my beauty, which doesn’t compare to theirs in the least. I’ll give you a hint: They exist in every country, in every little town, and they are as gorgeous as they are different from one another. Additional hint: Almost from the first moment they meet you, they go crazy for your boobs (regardless of their size) and they are so happy to see you everyday after that, they actually poop in their pants. A lot. And this goes on for quite some time! Here’s the book that clued me in:

So in light of this realization, here are some beauty tips I learned by watching my mother:

1. When someone screams in your face, at various times in their life, that they no longer need you, gracefully exhale and simply wait for that inevitable call for help, be it from the bathroom when they realize there is no more toilet paper or from their college dorm when they are rejected by a boy who stopped seeing their beauty.

2. If you know in your gut what is right for your kid, block out any static, even if it comes from voices you love.  You know what’s best. Trust yourself.

3. If you are going on a long journey with your kids, instead of setting them up for failure, plan ahead and give them a roasting pan with a Tupperware lid filled with tiny new toys and portable art supplies.

4. Smile a lot and find joy in nature and small things.

5. Put off home repairs that you can live with for a while longer if it means you can afford to take your kids to a place that will change the way they see the world forever.

6.  Read for answers in many different kinds of books.

7. Be a tourist in your own life. (When your kids make fun of you for taking pictures of everyone you know doing seemingly mundane things, smile and ignore them.  You know time passes quickly, even if they are too young to understand.)

8. Never forget your own childhood and how it felt to feel small.

9. Do not blame other people when you feel taken advantage of. You teach people how to treat you.

10.Let the kids play with rice and get it all over floor. Rice is fun. You can sweep it up later.

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Peach Granita

There are only two hard parts to this recipe: restraining yourself from just eating the peaches as you peel them and not gulping down everything as a smoothie before it even makes it to the freezer.  But you mustn’t do either because this is such a perfect way to cleanse your palette and to cool off on a wretchedly hot day like today. Today, like yesterday and the day before that, when you walk outside you feel as though you are swimming in soup. YUCK.  But this granita is honestly the best answer to all this sweltering, muggy, summer-ness.

You need:

a fork

a roasting pan

a blender or food processor

6 or 7 pretty ripe (or even overly ripe) peaches, peeled and sliced

sugar

a bit of water

Directions:

1. Put the peeled, sliced peaches into the food processor and puree until smooth, adding QUITE a bit of sugar until it tastes sweet enough for you. (I won’t tell you how much I put, but I started with 1/2 cup and went up from there. Pretty far up actually.  Remember, life is short, but hot days last FOREVER.)

2. Pour the contents of the processor into the roasting pan and add about a cup of water.  Stir it in until it’s all mixed. (My reasoning is that I HATE it when the food processor spills over and/or leaks out the bottom due to excess liquid, so I add the water in the pan.)

3. Put the pan in the freezer and wait 15-20 minutes. The sides will be firm and the center will be slushy. With a fork, mix the sides in until it is a uniform consistency. Then, repeat in another 20 minutes.

4. After that (see picture below), you can leave the tray in the freezer for a few hours and then when you are ready to serve, you scrape the surface with a fork and scoop the crystal-ice into bowls.

5.  You can put panna on this (slightly sweet fresh whipped cream) as you can with strawberry or coffee granita. Traditionally this is eaten with brioche, but not the French kind.  The kind I mean is Sicilian and tastes like challah, but is sweeter and a bit softer and is shaped like, well, a breast with a huge nipple in the middle. (I think they must have been invented by a baker whose wife had a really flat chest…or maybe they were the implants even before tissues were invented!!) As soon as I figure out a dough recipe that is even remotely close, I will post it. I have been trying for 6 years, so don’t hold your breath. Nothing online that looks close, tastes right:/ Meanwhile, challah in boob shapes is what I’ve got,  and  for now it has to be good enough.

Stay cool.

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So, hey.

I know.  I said I’d never do this.  Granted, chances are you never heard me say that, since for all I know you could be a non-English speaking goat herder with a gambling habit looking for online poker and you’ve accidentally found my blog thinking it was something else entirely.  Not that people who fit that profile wouldn’t become instantly enthralled with a blog about creativity, mind you. Why? Because this is gonna be HUGE and EARTH-CHANGING.  I mean I’m SURE it won’t blend in completely with the 6.5 billion other blogs on the subject.

ANYWAY, the point is to get myself to do the projects I want to do. And as with most things, like when you clean your house only because your mother-in-law is coming to town (cross myself  twice and spit on the floor),  it’s easier to get something done when there is a deadline and when there’s a chance someone, however far away or unknown to you, might care or notice.

The other point: I do not like throwing dead people’s things away and dead people (by way of the living) are pretty much always giving me things.  Things like vintage leather handbags or bits of lace or bolts of fabric.  They say (again, the living), “Here, I saw this and thought you’d know what to do with it.”  Now, given the PILES of stuff that fill my studio, I sometimes immediately think of what I COULD do with such items, but then real ideas come to mind (not involving physical violence) and I start sketching.  Actually, my being creative is not the only reason I don’t want to throw those things away.

The truth is, I have yet to wrap my head around the concept that objects (both the silly and the useful)  can outlast people.   I hold my Nonna’s (my grandmother’s) things in my hands and I can’t throw them out. It’s like I’m hanging on, however ironically, for dear life….or to some connection to hers. But it gets brighter and lighter when I see a new use for an old thing, and that gives me purpose, too.

So, let’s just see. Maybe this sounds okay with you and you’ll come back next Thursday (provided that the goats don’t chew through your power cord) to see the most recent thing I’ve made. (In the meantime, check out http://www.ChiddaDa.etsy.com to see some of my stuff.)

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