November is Mental Hibernation Month

hiberatingNovember may be best known as Movember, the month in which the menfolk decide to piss off their ladies by growing spiny patches of facial hair “for a cause” (that cause being laziness and the ability to squirrel away crumbs of food to be discovered and eaten at a later date). However, I’m declaring November Mental Hibernation Month. Why? Because December is too crazy to be reflective, October is too far away from the end of the year, but November is a time when you have a minute to go…so wait, what did I do all year? And when you realize you’ve accomplished nothing, you just want to hibernate for a while.

For the last few Novembers, I’ve found myself entering a deeply reflective period when I think and explore and ruminate on who I am and where I want to go. Plus I begin fattening up for the winter. Usually this introspective phase is followed by a pseudo epiphany, which is then followed by a burst of I-can-do-ism. Unfortunately, it all goes to shit when I realize my can-do spunk has morphed into a can-do-later funk.

This time, my November hibernation may just be to rest easy knowing something big is around the corner. Something clicked during my deliberation this month, and I’ve finally stopped waffling and making empty promises to myself. Action is being taken, important decisions have been made (that cannot be divulged at the moment I’m afraid…I know, big tease), and I can nestle into my November sleep with far less angst knowing that this will be a period of meditation on how to get where I want to go instead of questioning what I want in the first place.

This time, my mental hibernation will be less navel gazing and more list-making—what positive steps can I take to reach my goals? How can I mentally prepare for disappointment if first and second and third tries fail? How can I encourage myself to keep going? I think the reason why I’ve been so gloomy these last few Novembers is because I’ve become a bit of a coward. I’m so afraid of No that I won’t put myself out there for a possible Yes.

I should let my 20 years of dancing remind me of who I am when I set my mind to something. I went on hundreds of auditions, and only some of them resulted in jobs. I didn’t let flat-out Nos or close-but-no-cigars get me down. (I mean, it sucked, but it was on to the next audition the next day.) I’ve been going back and forth for some time now on many personal goals—family, career, where to live, how to treat my chronic back pain—but after nearly a year of blogging therapy with you all, it’s becoming very clear what I need to do.

This time, when I wake up from my hibernation…I’ll be very hungry.

My Cousin’s Big Fat Italian Wedding

This past weekend, my entire Italian family (including a few cousins from the motherland) gathered together to watch my beautiful cousin Christina say “I do.” Nothing makes Italians more Italian than a wedding.

I mean, really. So gorgeous.

I mean, really. So gorgeous.

We stood for the bride’s entrance and the minute she walked through the door, the waterworks started. I thought I was the only one being ultra-sensitive, but then I noticed that more than half the room was sniffling. Guess which half of the room had to retouch their makeup after the ceremony? The Italian side.

As we filed into the reception area, a clot of black suits and little black dresses in the corner told me there must be a bar. There was—an open bar at that—though it was for a short period of time. So naturally, being the classy people that we are, we stepped up to the bar and ordered double drinks.

Back at our table, it was all the Garofoli cousins sitting together. Me, Alex, Alyssa, Corey, Corey’s boyfriend Jon, Jonelle, Matt, and Danny. Jonelle’s finance Joe was supposed to join us, but at the last minute had to cancel because of work. So as we sat down, we stared at the empty seat. Without a word, the tears started again, this time because all we could think about was Sam, and how he should have been there making us all laugh until we peed.

“Shutup, don’t you start!” said Matt to Corey, who hadn’t said a single word, but was already holding her eyes open so her mascara wouldn’t run.

“That’s Joe’s seat!” said Jonelle, who was trying to diffuse the situation, but it was too late. There we all were, mourning our funny cousin who was lost too soon. It’s going to happen at every happy or sad or momentous occasion moving forward. So we may as well let the tears flow.

Because we can’t go anywhere without causing trouble, Matt broke out a few nips and we all did a shot to Sam, but not before the waitstaff came over and yelled at us for having nips, which were not allowed at the reception.

“Sure, we’ll get rid of them!” we said, and proceeded to get rid of them by pouring them down our throats. Again, pure class.

Speaking of class, there was a photo booth at the reception, which needs to happen at all weddings I attend from now on. Note to any of my friends or family who plan to wed in the future: photo booth or I’m not coming.

Just in case you weren’t aware, Italians are attention whores. So a photo booth with accessories was like crack to us. As soon as we found out about it, we mad dashed to the corner and threw on the most ridiculous hats we could find and joined one another in pictures that got progressively crazier by the minute. We started off kinda nice, a few couples being slightly goofy, smiling and smooching. By the end, it was 80 Italians crammed into one photo throwing up middle fingers and giving crazy goat face.

lesscrazy

mediumcrazyfullcrazy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You think the madness ends there? I didn’t call this my cousin’s big fat Italian wedding for nothing. Certainly the cousins know how to party, but guess where we got it from? The parents.

As the DJ transitioned from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin into Lil’ Jon, the parents were befuddled. “Turn Down for What” blasted from the speakers and the cousins formed a circle to shake it down, but the aunts and uncles were like…uhhhhh…what is this music? So my mom and aunt, sufficiently plastered, decided to roll with it. They ended up busting better moves than all of us combined. And I have video evidence. Let’s just say, this is the tame, edited version of the events:

Ladies and gentlemen, my family, thank you very much. A room full of Italians celebrating the union of a loving couple by yelling out “skeet skeet” with all their might. If that doesn’t sum us up, I’m not sure what else will.

Our Ant Problem Is Turning Me and Alex Into Crazy People

grossed outAbout a week and a half ago, Alex discovered a few ants convened on the floor by our garbage can and promptly flipped out. Being born and raised in rural back-country, a few ants never bothered me. We cleaned em up, sprayed the area, and I forgot about them.

Alex, however, did not.

Every day, he checked for ants. He’d find one or two and kill them and then explore every effing corner of our house like he was Indiana Jones looking for the Holy Grail. He’d tell me how freaked out he was, and I’d feel sorry for him—mostly because I was like, wow, this dude’s got some neuroses that I was unaware of. I knew he hated spiders, but ants? What’s the big deal?

A couple days later, we found another gathering, this time in our bathroom. I was less pleased with this discovery (not that I was pleased with the first one, but more nonplussed). My bathroom is where I go to get clean and purdy. There shouldn’t be bugs in there. We once again killed the little suckers and sprayed (and now Alex went all around the outside of the house spraying and cleaning up ever-y-thang) and while I was bothered, within a couple ant-free hours, I forgot about the whole thing.

A few more errant ants and my husband was losing his shit. He couldn’t stop talking about it. He kept wondering where they were coming from. He took spackle and started just smearing it over any tiny hole he found in the walls. He left a note on our neighbor’s car to call us to see if he could go over to their side of the house and also spray (since the ants were primarily coming in from the side of our house that faces their house). I think at one point he started talking to himself and rocking back and forth in the corner.

This entire time, I’m keeping it cool. Then this morning I woke up at 4am and couldn’t fall back asleep so I made my way to the couch. I knocked out again only to be woken up by a soft tickling on my face. I brushed it off, thinking it was some phantom hair or something but then I realized…it was moving around. It was…walking. It was a fucking ant crawling on my fucking face.

ON MY FACE.

No longer keeping it cool, my friends. I keep scratching my hair and shaking it around expecting an army of ants to fall out of it. I keep swatting at my face and there are definitely ants inside my dress and my tights and my shoes and they are everywhere, I just know it. If people walk by my desk today and see me doing this, just know it’s because I’m covered in ants:

So maybe my rural upbringing made me cool with ants in my house, but it definitely did not make me cool with ants on my face. Alex and I are now both on the bus to Crazytown, and we’re taking our poor son with us. Lucas points out ants on the ground, or black lint, or any small spot he sees, which of course sends me and my husband into full-blown Stage 5 red alert lockdown. If Lucas spills his food, we literally dive to catch it before it hits the ground and ants swarm all over it.

We are about to go on vacation in a couple days, and Alex is ready to nuke the house. We have our friend coming to check on our place while we’re gone, and our explicit instructions to him are to look out for ants and kill each and every one of them dead. We’ll also probably set out about a hundred ant traps before we go.

Bugs don’t normally bug me (YES THAT PUN IS INTENDED), but bugs in my house I’m not too comfortable with and bugs on my face turn my insides out and set my brain on fire. Now I understand how Alex has been feeling for the past week and a half, and I’m sorry I made light of it. This shit is not cool, guys. Not….cool.

I’m Embracing the Sexy Halloween Costume This Year

When I went trick-or-treating as a little girl, I didn’t see streets lined with sexy Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties and Snow Whites. Sure, there were the old standards—witches and ghosts and pumpkins—but I don’t remember the costumes of my era being as princessy and whorish as they are now. As a child of the 80s, my costumes included:

Mary Poppins
A scarecrow (stuffed with actual straw)
A smurf (not Smurfette)
A punk rocker
Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz)
A monarch butterfly

Now I feel sad for little girls at Halloween because the literal only costumes available are Elsa and Anna from Frozen.

In high school I was too cool to dress up for Halloween (though I did run through a few neighborhoods and smash a couple pumpkins because ANARCHY), and in college I went as a pirate one year and some kind of twisted half-angel/half-devil another. The other two years I was likely holed up studying for midterms or whatever. (Nerd problems.)

In the late 90s/early 2000s, there were a few girls who dressed provocatively for attention, but it didn’t seem like the norm. And if they did, they chose traditionally sexy costumes, like the sexy nurse, or sexy devil, or sexy kitten.

It wasn’t until the mid aughts that the whole slutty Halloween costume thing became a phenomenon in which ALL COSTUMES MUST BE SEXY. The sexy corn husk! The sexy carton of Chinese food! The sexy mustache! Sadly, this also seemed to coincide with when the princess costume became the only option for the young ones. So one year, sick of the rampant sexism ruining Halloween, I decided to fight the power and dress up as a symbol of feminism: Rosie the Riveter.

Rosie the RiveterFor those of you unfamiliar, Rosie the Riveter was a symbol of female empowerment during World War II, when women were taking over the jobs of the men who had enlisted to serve. I found myself a denim shirt and dark jeans and rolled up my sleeves and wore a red bandana on my head. I put a fake tattoo on my arm and dolled up my face in 1940s classic makeup.

I went out to the bars with my friends and was harassed for most of the evening. I was called a lumberjack, a d*ke, and Aunt Jemima (REALLY?!), and for those that didn’t call me outright names, there were actual snickers and pointing and laughing. Meanwhile, a girl walked by wearing only a thong and pasties, and all the “positive” attention was lathered on her.

Now I don’t mean to be naive here and expect people to fawn over a girl in a Mexican tuxedo while a practically naked chick walks by. But at least leave me alone. Why the snide remarks? Why the heckling? Because I dared to NOT dress slutty on Slutty-ween?

I haven’t dressed up for Halloween since, and I vowed that if I ever did, it would NEVER be in a sexy, degrading costume. Because fuck those assholes! Rosie the Riveter is awesome!

So this year, when my sister-in-law proposed a “Malice in Wonderland” Halloween party, what did I decide to dress up as? Slutty Tweedle Dee.

If you can’t beat em, join em, right? Well, that’s not exactly why. I’m a 34-year-old mother with chronic back pain—I haven’t had too many chances to look and feel sexy lately. Pulling off heels is tough, I can’t really work out, and in the last year my optometrist pretty much banned me from contact lenses, which means I wear coke-bottle horn-rimmed glasses day in and day out. I kind of figure this is my last call for sexy.

Even still, it’s hard not to feel self-conscious as I put together my sexy Halloween costume. It’s sexy-ish, but I don’t have the confidence to go full whore. Here’s a dry run of the basics, minus the blue bow tie accessory and red top hat I plan on wearing (plus slutty red lipstick and false eyelashes).

sexy Halloween costume

Please ignore the unmade bed with ill-fitting sheets in the background.

It kind of just looks like an outfit someone might wear hitting up a pub in Williamsburg. But for me, it’s a big step up from my daily grannie sweaters and boots. And it’s giving me serious anxiety as I count down the days until I’m exposing my mommy midriff to a party full of people. So in a way, this is me ripping off the band-aid. Here’s the tummy. Look at it. Just look at it. Because after this, I’m likely going to put it away for the rest of my life.

This Old Scruffy Shelter Dog Stole My Heart

On Monday, I lay on the floor of my office rolling over a tennis ball, trying to break up the tightness still present in my back nearly a week after my second epidural shot. With no warning, searing white pain shot down my right leg, exploding like a lightning bolt through the nerves of my calf and rendering my right foot completely useless.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a great day.

Tuesday, after much icing and ibuprofen, my leg was feeling a bit better, but my hope for finding lasting relief was all but gone. I sat listless at my desk, comfort eating six wheels of turkey wrap sandwiches that were brought in as a treat for a departing coworker. I needed to get moving, to get some air, even if it meant just hobbling around my building a couple times. So that’s what I did.

As I rounded the corner to return to my office, there he was: a sweet gremlin of a dog with tan shaggy fur and ears that made up 40% of his body weight and stuck out at 75 degree angles. He was being walked by a young woman through the brush-lined walkway in front of my office.

“Can I pet your dog?” I asked, ignoring the shooting pain as I bent down and reached out to his adorable fluffy face.

“Oh, he’s not my dog,” she replied. “I’m volunteering for the shelter and taking him out for a little exercise.”

Hearing this news, my reach became a little more longing, a little more sympathetic, and as I touched his downy fur, he flopped his little head into my hand. Perhaps the weight of his ears was too much and he needed to rest. Me and Shelter Dog, though—we had an immediate connection.

shelter dog

At that moment I forgot the pain in my back. I forgot that I should have been due to give birth to my second child this week. I just felt warmth and sweetness flowing through my fingertips to him and back to me.

Sir Didymus

immediately thought of Sir Didymus when I saw him

This little Sir Didymus look-alike. This little awkward, strangely-shaped guy. This bundle that just wanted to be loved. This sweet puppy that would get so many hugs from a toddler boy (and possibly a few kicks), that would curl up at the end of our bed, that would ruin more of our furniture, that would create kinks in our plans when we want to go out or travel, that would drive up costs with vet bills and pet food and insurance…

As I scratched behind his ears and rubbed the slightly more coarse fur along his back, he leaned into me, content. He wasn’t slobbery excited to see me. He wasn’t skittish or defensive, either. He was just there for me, like an angel dog showing up exactly when I needed him.

“Do you need a mommy?” I asked, fighting back tears. “Anyone would be lucky to be your mom.”

I stood up gingerly and said goodbye to Shelter Dog as I dragged myself up the stairs with the grace and agility of Quasimodo. There was another hour left of my day, but I had Shelter Dog on the brain.

I repeatedly messaged my two coworkers who were on the walk with me.

Me: He looks like Sir Didymus from the Labyrinth, doesn’t he?

Me: He was so sweet. He wasn’t really hyper, just kind of hanging out, you know?

Me: That girl said the shelter is right here, right? Like around the corner? It has to be close because she’s walking him around here.

Me: Okay, I think…I think I’m going to go try to find him.

Me: NO! I can’t. I know why we can’t get a dog right now. It wouldn’t be right. We are never home!

Me: I’m going to go get another turkey sandwich.

Me: Okay, it’s time to go home now. I’m going to the shelter first.

I walked over to the vet’s office to find out where the shelter was, and lo and behold, Shelter Dog was actually there! The staff led me to the back and told me he was getting some dental work done but that he was perfectly healthy otherwise, although a little more advanced in age (he’s likely at least six years old if not more). Normally this news would send me packing, as I’ve always wanted a puppy or at least a young dog so that our family could have as much time with him as possible. But I was in too deep. Didn’t matter. I learned that Shelter Dog’s name was Cody.

shelter dog pet

Still didn’t matter.

I have gone over and over in my head why I can’t have a dog for the last several years, but this guy finally did it. He just undid all the logic in my brain and made me fall in love with him in about three seconds flat, and now I can’t think of anything else.

Sadly, Alex doesn’t agree. Always the voice of reason in our family, he said that we really don’t have the resources to provide a good life for any dog right now. We are both away from the house for long hours. We don’t have proper living and outdoor space for him. We are just starting to come out from under a financial cloud for the last couple years. If we brought home a dog for purely emotional reasons, all the practical stuff would eventually hit us, and it could make poor Shelter Dog even more at risk if we had to give him back—something unthinkable, but something that could come to pass if we can’t pull together the support he needs.

I love this dog, of this I’m sure. But as Don Henley and Patty Smyth once crooned, “Sometimes, love just ain’t enough.”

Oh, Shelter Dog. I would come visit you again, but I don’t think I could walk away this time. And I know I’d have to. For your own good, not for mine.

shelter dog

My Mom Told Me I’m a Good Mother, So the Apacolypse Is Nigh

Italian mothers have two jobs: feeding you, and making you feel bad about yourself. They don’t do the latter out of spite. Their intentions are good, and in the end, they motivate you to become a better person (while also hating yourself just a tiny bit).

My own mother has always been tough on me. When I brought home an A- from school, she wondered why it wasn’t an A. When I didn’t put away a TV tray after she had asked me to (admittedly several times), she grounded me for a month. She taught me to sit up straight, make myself presentable, part my hair on the side (so it didn’t accentuate my large nose), and when in doubt, always do what “they say” (the elusive “they”).

mother and daughter

But Mom had never been more scrutinizing than when I became a mother. She had the experience, of course, and I didn’t know what in God’s name I was doing. I’m sure it must be just about impossible for an Italian mother to hold her tongue and let her daughter make her own decisions/mistakes about her child. Because if there’s anything an Italian woman loves more than her kids, it’s her grandkids. Trust me, I had a Nonna.

Mom had something to say about everything: putting Lucas on his back to sleep (I put you on your stomach and you survived), pumping at work and in the middle of the night so I could breastfeed for nine months (You’re crazy), not putting up a DVD player in the backseat of the car so Lucas could watch Elmo for our 45-minute commute (He’s bored!). A lot of her advice was sound, common sense mothering. Some of it was inspired! But many things have changed in parenting in the 30-something years since I was a child.

For every recommendation of my mother’s that I’d follow, I would shoot down three others in the name of research and modern family practices. We bumped heads a lot on the best way to raise my son, but ultimately, I made the calls I felt were best for him (while also quietly absorbing her wisdom like a sponge, and refusing to admit that I was, in fact, listening to her commentary).

I would often explain to my mom that certain tactics of hers wouldn’t work because of my child’s particular temperament. He’s as stubborn as a bull that mated with a donkey and gave birth to a mutant terrier-mule hybrid. This quality will serve him well for some things, but when it comes to parenting, some of the techniques that worked on lil’ miss eager-to-please (me) just don’t apply to him. Still, I think Mom saw this as either 1. me being a lazy parent or 2. me being stubborn myself and unwilling to try something she suggests.

Recently, my parents visited for a week, mostly spending time with their grandson while Alex and I went to work. Watching my parents with Lucas, I cackled to myself as they initially told me the sun shone out of his ass, only to eventually become weary of his obstinate and extremely energetic three-year-old ways. My dad remarked on how very bull-headed Lucas is, and I tried, I really tried not to say, “You see?! I TOLD YOU.” But I said it anyway. It was too tempting.

Smugness aside, something unfathomable happened to me a few days after my parents returned home. My mom called me up and told me something that I never in a million years ever expected to come out of her mouth.

Mom: You know, I really think you’re doing a great job with Lucas.

Me: I’m sorry, what?

Mom: You’re doing a great job. You really explain things to him, and you’re patient and gentle.

Me: ……

Mom: You’re a good mother.

Me: ………….

Mom: Did you hear me?

Me: Are you dying?

In all seriousness, I can’t tell you what it means to have your own mother, your mother whom you’ve always known to be tough as nails, stronger than any person you’ve met, and the very best mother in the whole world, tell you that you are a great mom.

But let me take a stab at it anyway. What it means is that after three-and-a-half years of questioning whether I was ruining my child’s life, of worrying whether I was too tough or too soft, of fretting if I was giving my son the right amount of attention, discipline, and support that he needs—if my mom thinks I’m doing a good job, then I must be doing something right.

I Just Might Be a Real Californian Now

In a few months I will have lived in California for eight years. That’s only one year less than I lived in New York. Even though I’ve been here a while, I’ve always considered myself an East Coast person at heart. A transplant. A Masshole/New Yorker just kind of living among the free-spirited, easy-going Californians—something of an outsider.

But something happened this week that triggered a realization: over the last eight years, a slow, subtle transformation has been taking place. I’m becoming a real Californian—and I’m not sure I don’t like it.

After my pseudo-failed epidural injection, a kind of desperation took over where I was willing to try anything—even alternative methods I previously dismissed as hippie hocus pocus. So I reached out to some of my West Coast friends who’ve been talking up essential oils and was immediately bombarded by positive testimonials and a kind of “welcome to the club” orientation. A coworker friend brought me a couple samples and I applied them immediately. I was dazzled. They aren’t a cure, and the pain is still there, but I could see the benefits. My headaches are gone. My sinus pressure is relieved. I’m more alert. My desire to snack (out of boredom or just plain sadness) is suppressed. And the pain is muted, dulled.

Suddenly I found myself talking up essential oils to my other friends and family and I stopped in my tracks. Good God, when did it happen? When did I become THAT GIRL FROM CALIFORNIA? The one who does yoga and eats organic kale chips and quinoa and goes on hikes and says that things are rad?

salad

This arugula, quinoa, and almond salad was not just healthy, but delicious.

I think it started the minute I got here and realized how beautiful this part of the world is. I wanted to explore, to hike the trails that lead to the beaches, to taste the wine that’s practically grown in my backyard. I found myself researching “clean eating” and drastically changed my eating habits within the first couple years of living here. But I just saw that as making healthier choices as I got older, not adopting the California lifestyle.

Next, I found that my drinking habits were changing. My California friends did not drink as heavily and as socially as my East Coast friends and family. When we get together, we’re more likely to drink tea and coffee than beer and cocktails. We play board games, run 5k races (well, not me, but I would if I could), visit Star Wars exhibits at the Tech Museum, or just chill at each other’s houses and watch our kids play. I think I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve been to the bars together. Again, I thought this was just a product of growing up—and part of it is—but another part has a distinctly West Coast flavor. I can’t picture my New York friends hanging out and drinking tea on a Saturday night. Just not gonna happen.

beach

My idea of a perfect day.

When my insomnia started rearing its head during grad school, I bought lavender-scented spray and meditation CDs. I took melatonin (more natural) instead of hardcore sleeping pills. I settled in for a bath and a good book.

And now that I’ve exhausted all that Western medicine has to offer, I’m sitting here with my essential oils and looking up Feldenkrais classes and acupuncture specialists in the area.

Guys…I think the transformation is nearly complete. I’m a real Californian now. I’m….gulp…almost…actually….happy.

Hey La Hey La, My Back Pain’s Back

On September 17, I received an epidural steroid injection. I didn’t have high hopes for the procedure, but it was my last-ditch effort for Western medicine before I started turning to essential oils and rain dances to Pagan goddesses. On September 18, I had some kind of reaction to the shot, breaking out in a rash and tossing my cookies for a few days. My back pain had not lessened.

heels and dress

I thought about wearing heels for the first time in ages.

But by September 24, something miraculous had happened. I bent down to pick up some of Lucas’ toys and it didn’t hurt. I stood back up and it didn’t hurt. I got up off the couch and it didn’t take a tremendous effort. I went for a walk with my friends and I wasn’t suffering afterwards. I went for a hike with my folks, who were in town visiting for the week, and I didn’t even feel a twinge (just noticed how ridiculously out of shape I am). The pain was virtually gone.

It’s incredible the amount of energy you expend just fighting off chronic pain. I had always attributed my near-constant state of exhaustion to insomnia and to working full-time and caring for an over-the-top energetic three-year-old. But it turns out, I have all the energy in the world when I’m not dealing with back pain. I was more productive in the last week than I’ve been in months—not that I haven’t always worked to the best of my ability—but I found myself churning it out, both at the office and at home.

I liked this new/old me. I had forgotten what it felt like to move about my life and not have to always consider how much it’s going to hurt to do X, Y, and Z. But soon, all too soon, the familiar ache began to creep back in.

October 4, after spending what felt like the entire week in the car driving here, there, and everywhere with my parents, I found myself shifting in my seat uncomfortably. I hadn’t touched my painkillers in days and days, but my mind absentmindedly wondered where I had left them. No. Don’t do it. You are just a little achy. You don’t need them.

October 5, in the wee hours of the morning: I woke up, tossing and turning. It was 4:00am, my usual insomnia-fueled wake-up hour. Only this time I was awake because I was hurting. No position was comfortable. I thought about the pain meds again. No. You are just annoyed because you’re awake. You’re uncomfortable because it’s really hot out. It’s not your back.

October 5, after a morning of cleaning the house and doing the laundry and going grocery shopping, I laid down and felt the spasms of pain as my back finally relaxed against the couch cushions. I felt the numb tingling down my leg and the tightness in my hip. I felt the muscles tense in my backside. I stood up from the couch, gingerly, and made my way to the medicine cabinet. I twisted off the cap, popped a pill, and shuffled back to the couch, staring aimlessly out the slider door.

It was a lovely week and a half.

An Ode to Fall in New England

This morning when I stepped outside, there was a brisk quality to the air that was not there yesterday. I wore flats with no socks, and as a cool breeze wafted over the tops of my feet, I realized…oh yeah, it’s fall.

Fall in California is fairly unremarkable. The shift from summer is practically imperceptible. It’s a few degrees cooler and you can order pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks. In late fall we may see some rain. That’s about it.

fall in California

Fall in California looks like…every other day in California.

But fall in New England…Oh! Fall in New England. It’s pure magic. You can actually smell the change of seasons—one day it’s warm honeysuckle, the next, a faint wisp of chestnut and hickory. It begins with one tree timidly showing its colors in early September. By the end of the month, the rest have followed, bursting with brilliant fiery reds, tangerine oranges, and mustard yellows.

fall in new england

The apples in the orchards are ripe and ready for picking. Hay rides, bales of golden delicious, warm apple cider with a dash of cinnamon. A good thick scarf to wrap around your nose, which is just starting to become slightly tender with the cold. Apple pies. Pumpkins. Your mom breaks out the seasonal decor, filling the mantle with gourds and corn varietals and folksy-looking scarecrows.

By mid-October, the yard is littered with fallen leaves that crunch under your feet. As a child, I would rake up a huge pile next to a tree, climb up, and leap into the leaves with total abandon. As I emerged from the pile, now flattened and scattered, I’d giggle as I pulled twigs out of my hair,  racing to rake the leaves into a heap once more.

But soon, all too soon, the coolness turns cold. Cozy light sweaters and pea coats must be traded for multiple layers of bulk; mittens and hats to be worn at all times. The trees become barren, their lonely branches reaching up helplessly into the dimly-lit skies. The ground hardens and becomes unyielding. And then…the endless winter.

I miss fall in New England down to my very own apple core. But I do not miss what follows. So enjoy your bright leaves and hot cocoa with marshmallows now, New Englanders! Because pretty soon, you’ll be looking at this:

winter in new england

While it’ll still be this for me:

fall in California

Hanging Onto My Italian Heritage

Once a week I make pasta for my family. It’s a tradition that goes back to my childhood. Every Sunday, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and I would all gather at Nonna’s house for macaroni. I’ve been eating pasta once a week for pretty much…ever since.

pasta

Every good Italian has a handful of these wooden spoons.

I don’t have time these days for the full authentic sauce and homemade meatballs every week, but I try to mix it up. Sometimes it’s simply penne with frozen turkey meatballs, other times it’s bowtie pasta with leeks and pancetta, other (rare) times it’s the real-deal pasta carbonara.  Whether it’s ghetto bottled sauce with packaged chicken sausage or the more gourmet preparation, I always look forward to pasta nights.

Problem is, my family seems to be losing interest.

First it started when Alex decided he wasn’t really into the turkey meatballs (even though Lucas and I enjoyed them both for their taste and their simplicity). Then all of a sudden Lucas started pushing his macaroni around his plate, picking out only the meat bits. One day I packed pasta for lunch for Lucas, as I typically do when we have leftovers. Pre-school sent him home with the thermos—full. They said he wouldn’t touch it.

Lately, when I tell Alex I’m making pasta for dinner, I can hear him sigh in resignation. In a last-ditch effort to peak his interest, I went all out this week and cooked rigatoni with a bolognese sauce made from ground grass-fed angus beef and lamb. As Alex and Lucas tucked in, I looked on anxiously, hopefully…

The apathy was palpable. They just don’t care about pasta anymore.

Guys…I need to have pasta in my life. I can’t NOT have it. I finally worked up the courage to ask my husband, “Do you just not…like it?” And with great trepidation (because he knows how I feel about Italian food), he answered that he liked it, but just felt I made it too much.

Not going to lie. This hurts in my green, white, and red-striped bleeding heart. I’ve tried hard to hang onto my Italian heritage, but when you live 3,000 miles away from your Italian relatives, and the best slice of pizza in your community comes from a Round Table chain, well, it’s easy to find it slipping away.

Italian pantryThere are little things in my kitchen that are definitively Italian. I’ve only got the best olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. I have a pepper mill. My pantry is full of peperoncinis and olives. I have a wine rack that needs weekly refilling. But if you open up my fridge, you’d hardly know an Italian gal is in charge of its contents. Tortillas, lentils, beans, albondigas (all thanks to my mother-in-law sending home tons of leftovers). Maybe sometimes there’s a handful of fresh parsley and basil. More often it’s cilantro.

My boys have Mexican taste buds. And my poor Italian tummy, while appreciative of the deliciousness of Mexican cuisine, just craves those macaroni Sundays the way a crack addict craves the rock.

How do I reconcile this? How do I keep my little family happy at dinnertime without sacrificing my weekly pasta? Do I change up the recipes? Do I (gulp) just make it every other week? Or do I tell them to suck it up and eat the damn pasta?

You know what my Italian heritage tells me to do? It tells me to Mangia! Mangia! and just fuggetaboutit.