Category Archives: family

New Latitude, Episode 3: Mouse in a Boat

If you follow “New Latitude,” my ongoing saga about moving, you were left with a cliffhanger last week. Would my mortgage application be approved? Well, the short answer is: Yes! It was!

But the long answer is: Yes … but I want to wait until I can get the COVID-19 vaccine before driving cross-country (or flying, if that’s what I decide to do) … which might be March or even later … so I don’t know yet when I can move … and I can’t even start packing yet!

I feel a little like a very small mouse in a fragile paper boat, about to set out on a wild journey without a compass, a paddle, or a companion (other than a slice of cheese). Actually, I don’t feel that way entirely, but the picture was so cute I decided to build my entire blog post around it! And in case you missed it the first time, here it is again!

Artist: Victoria Borodinova via Pixabay

In order to deal with the stormy seas of moving, I’ve discovered a few ways to stay afloat:

– music

– cooking

– TV-watching

– daily walks, and

– writing.

If you happen to be moving, remember to take a step back from all the planning and immerse yourself in something relaxing instead.

As far as writing goes, I’ve recently discovered a new Facebook group, “The Isolation Journals.” If you’re interested in writing prompts, or just want some interesting topics to ponder, you may want to join the group. It’s described as “an artist-led journaling community founded by Suleika Jaouad.” (Ms. Jaouad is a writer associated with musician Jon Batiste. I only know of her because I Googled Jon Batiste one night after watching him on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. That’s another way I maintain my sanity. Watching The Late Show, that is. Not Googling. Although that helps, too.)

I dipped my toe in The Isolation Journals a bit late (not until prompt #123, actually). Here’s that prompt:

How can your presence enhance the growth of your community?

I hastily scribbled a response and posted it to the group. I’ve already received two likes. Hey, maybe Jon Batiste will read my post!

Do you keep a journal? Have you moved or are you moving? I’d love to hear about your journey.

Happy winter solstice, everyone! And be sure to follow my blog so you won’t miss the next exciting episode of “New Latitude”!

New Latitude, Episode 2: Do’s and Don’ts

Previously, on New Latitude:

After having moved from upstate New York to Tucson, Arizona seventeen years ago in search of a decent climate and better job, I’d come to a realization. I’d had my fill of blue skies. I was sick of sunsets that bathed the mountains in rosy hues each night. I hated wearing sandals in January. Authentic tacos were the worst. And all those darned hummingbirds! I longed for upstate New York, where the winters are brutal, the summers are humid and mosquito-filled, and there’s only one hummingbird – the ruby-throated – to identify, if it ever shows up at all.

Ruby-throated hummingbird. Image by Susan Killian @ Pixabay

No wait … none of that’s true, except for the first sentence. Rewind!

What I really meant to say was this: I’ve loved living in Tucson, but the pandemic had called a sudden halt to my regular flights back home to New York State to see my family. Who knew when I could travel there again? Call me loco, but I decided to relocate – to Rochester, where I’d be within a day’s drive of my entire immediate family. Sure, winters would be less than wonderful, but I could at least gaze upon my family’s frozen faces in person, instead of on a computer screen. Besides, the lease on my apartment was coming up for renewal. It was time for a new direction, so I took my first baby step: “Zillow-surfing.” 

And now for Episode 2: Do’s and Don’ts (of buying a house)

Zillow-surfing brought me up close and personal with hundreds of houses, without ever having to set foot in them. I got to see the good, the bad, the ugly, and in some cases, the dirty laundry. Through Zillow-surfing, I made some major decisions, like:

rent vs. buy

1 bath vs. 2

¼ acre vs. 10 acres and a barn

fenced yard backing up to private woods vs. unrestricted view of the auto body shop next door.

Image by Harald Dona @ Pixabay.

Once I’d narrowed my choices down, I started to get excited. But the more excited I became, the more impulsively I acted. I guess I got carried away and ignored common sense.

If you, too, are considering buying a home, here’s some unsolicited advice:

  1. DON’T rule out renting an apartment before buying a house you’ve seen only on the internet. Photoshop can give houses an instant makeover that’s even more amazing than the ones you’ve seen on Fixer Upper.
  2. DON’T cancel your Disney Channel and Hulu Plus subscriptions in the hopes these sacrifices will enable you to afford a house above your means. You’ll soon come to regret your decision, especially if you haven’t seen enough of “Cuomo Prime Time” or “Hamilton” yet.
  3. DON’T fool yourself into believing you’re a skilled negotiator. You’ll just be disappointed in yourself.
  4. DON’T buy a house in a “hot market” city, especially if it happens to be during a “seller’s market.”
  5. DON’T waive an engineering inspection.
  6. DON’T commit to making up the difference between the purchase price and the bank appraisal.
  7. DON’T mail a sizable deposit to the seller without confirming you’ve written the check on the correct bank account — the one with sufficient funds — and not the other one, the one with only $33 in it.
  8. DON’T buy a house in the winter and plan on leaving the house vacant until spring. Pipes in vacant homes have been known to freeze and burst.
  9. DON’T buy a house during a pandemic without knowing when a vaccine will be available. You’ll want protection while driving cross-country, and I’m not talking about a bodyguard (although that would be nice).
  10. DON’T buy an 8-foot couch and two recliners immediately before deciding to move.

By the way, I’m guilty of all of the above.

Image by Gerd Altmann @ Pixabay.

Oh, and DON’T hire a moving van without shopping around. Luckily, I HAVE been shopping around, and the estimates differ wildly — as in a low of $2,800, and a high of — don’t laugh — $14,000. That’s not a typo! “Two Men and a Truck” wanted to charge $12,000 to $14,000 to move a two-bedroom apartment. That must be some classy moving truck they have. And speaking of trucks, did they think I just fell off a turnip truck?

Yeah, those are pumpkins, not turnips. Good eye!
Image by Sweethearts82 @ Pixabay.

On the plus side, interest rates are low right now, so I took the plunge. I bid on a house, and my offer was accepted. And don’t worry, I think I got a sweet deal, an engineer looked at the house before I bid on it, the bank waived their appraisal, the check eventually cleared, and I’m hoping the vaccine will become available soon … for everyone’s sake.

Yes, moving is going to be a pain, and yet I feel good about my decision. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and DO some of the DON’Ts.

Tune in again next time for the next exciting episode of New Latitude, in which I’ll reveal the outcome of my mortgage application! (It’s still a mystery to me.)

Zooming and Blooming

Today’s post is about Zooming (video conferencing with my kids) and Blooming (photos I took about a month ago).

I haven’t been outside with my camera for several weeks, for fear of encountering someone on the trail who might sneeze on me. That actually happened to a friend of mine. Maybe my next batch of photos will be of the still life variety, taken indoors.

Let’s see … I could artfully arrange that pile of work folders that’s sitting on a stool in my living room. I might create a colorful collage from the pile of fabric rectangles stacked up next to my sewing machine. Or perhaps the world is ready for a sculpture I’ve created out of my pile of dirty laundry — the laundry I’m hesitant to do in the community laundry room. Then there’s my dwindling pile of toilet paper rolls … I really had better photograph it before it’s gone.

I’m doing okay, though. I just had a fun three-way video chat with my daughters. Tomorrow is the older one’s 40th birthday, so we celebrated by using Zoom. After the initially unsuccessful attempt at connecting, there we all finally were on the screen, looking like a pared-down version of the Brady Bunch (without the makeup, weird hairdos, or fake smiles). Well, in my case, I had put on a touch of makeup. They may have, too, but I couldn’t tell because they always look beautiful to me.

It wasn’t exactly the birthday party my daughter would have wanted, but it definitely made my day. I got to see with my own eyes how they’ve been coping during the pandemic, and it was reassuring. They even hilariously modeled their new masks, which they’ve made by cutting up the many pairs of leggings that they own, and making holes in them to place over their ears. It’s genius!

As always, they made me laugh, demonstrating how the stretchiness of the masks enables the wearer to quickly change them into long earrings, headbands, or a clever way to hide a double chin.

It was also a chance for me to visit with my grandsons. The 4-year-old (who tells his parents every day that he’s “so sick of the coronavirus”) said “I love you” (unprompted) and the almost 1-year-old smiled and waved and blew me an almost-kiss, touching his open palm to his mouth and holding it there for about 20 seconds. I have to say, it might have been one of the longest kisses I’ve ever received. It was definitely one of the best, anyway.

I hope you enjoy these photos of budding life and the promise of spring.

Bud 1Bud 2Bud 3Bud 5Bud 6

 

 

 

A Jumble of Emotions

Dear friends,

HUGS.

cartoon-1296501_1280

I hope you are well.

To say I’m going through some weird feelings at the moment because of the pandemic is an understatement. It feels dystopian. Unreal.  It’s a little like the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some days, I experience all five. This post is going to be a jumble of emotions. So be it.

Two days ago, I think depression was winning. But I’ve been trying to cope by reading, writing, watching TV, going for walks, and taking photos. Here’s a cute black-tailed gnatcatcher I saw the other day :

Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher-2

I admire his optimism. I hope some of it rubs off on me.

I’m worried, especially when I think about those of you in parts of the world, and in my own country, who are struggling the most. Italy, New York City, nursing homes, hospitals. The unemployed, parents who need childcare, people in prisons, the homeless, the sick, the elders … it’s mind-boggling and I know we’re in for a long ride. I never imagined being here. None of us did.

And I’m sad because my family lives 2,000 miles away. I’ve even fantasized about driving there, sleeping in my car along the way so as to avoid hotel germs, and arriving on their doorsteps with sanitizer in hand (which I don’t actually have because the stores were out of it) … but I’d just be a possible carrier, adding to their problems, so it’s best if I stay away. (Which reminds me: Have you seen Mel Brooks’ video where he tells his son to “go home”?)

I guess I’ll have to rely on texting, calling, and even dreaming to stay in touch with family. I literally dreamed about my two young grandsons last night. They will each have a birthday that I will miss this year.

My city, Tucson, just closed all restaurants and bars today. I think take-out is still an option, but sadly, I’m sure that doesn’t apply to bars. Glad I stocked up on wine, but three bottles doesn’t seem like nearly enough now.

On the bright side, scientists, medical professionals, some political leaders, small businesses, ordinary people are actually pulling together and making sacrifices for the sake of the greater good.

And I’m actually pretty impressed with how many of us humans are acting humanely, and are even finding and spreading humor on the internet. Is there a reason that the words “human” and “humor” are so similar?

By the way, here’s what made me laugh today:

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In the days to come, I hope to continue with my emotional outpourings. In the meantime, please let me know how you’re doing. Are you coping? Do you need a virtual shoulder to cry on? If so, I’m your person. Comment away.

 

 

 

 

Oh My Gluten (Free)

My sister is flying across the country tomorrow to visit me. She’ll be staying with me for five whole days. YAY! I love family visits. I don’t get them very often, so I hope to make the most of it, with the usual food, fun, and frivolity.

She’s gluten-free (and I’m not), so that just adds to the fun of preparing for her stay. I’m not being sarcastic. I actually enjoyed my gluten-free scavenger hunt at Trader Joe’s tonight. I googled “Trader Joe’s gluten free” and found a list that included these yummy items. (I can’t wait to try that almond cashew macadamia drink.)

d2

For dessert, we can snack on Lara Bars. I love the cashew/date ones. I hope she leaves those for me. Actually, they’re the only ones I’ve tried. That lemon bar looks good right now. Hope I can wait till she gets here.

d6

I also bought some fruits and veggies, and made a centerpiece to welcome her into my home. Luckily, my sister gets my sense of humor.

d1

Is wine gluten-free? Oops. I just might have to consume these all by myself.

d4

I KNOW these aren’t gluten free. Impulse purchase!

d3

Tucson is an International City of Gastronomy, which means we’ll definitely be going out to sample some gluten-free tacos, tamales, burritos, salads, baked goods, and Margaritas while she’s in town. I’ve got my Best of Tucson issue on the coffee table so we can find all the best places.

d5

Needless to say, I might not be posting anything for the next five days. But after that, I just might have some food photos to share!

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This is post #5 (but who’s counting?) of NanoPoblano2019. Don’t know what NanoPoblano2019 is? Just click the link! It’s gluten-free, too!

 

Grandma’s Friendly Village

My grandmother Angeline was born in central Sicily, in a small village with the beautiful name “Villarosa.”

In 1910, at age 8, she emigrated from Sicily to America with her own grandmother, got married at age 16, quickly had five bambinos, and was widowed at 30. She later remarried and had a good life, but she never got to see Villarosa again.

Here she is at about age 30 (I’m guessing).

Grandma Armenia

I liked going to Grandma’s house. She always seemed cheerful, and she served us plenty of macaroni, ice cream, and raspberries, saying the word “mangia” practically as soon as we’d walked through her door. Her house was decorated with colorful starched doilies that she’d crocheted herself. I wonder if she crocheted the collar in the above photo. I have a special memory of the two of us sitting in a summer garden next to some pansies while she taught me to crochet.

Although Grandma never talked about her childhood (probably because I never asked), I’d always wondered what Villarosa was like. About a month ago, I finally got to see it for myself.

I’d signed up for a 5-day Italian language immersion program in Taormina, Sicily, mainly so I could learn about my Sicilian roots and visit Villarosa. Luckily, our group leader and two other students also were interested in seeing more of Sicily, so we rented a car on day 6 and headed for my grandmother’s home town.

Villarosa (pop. 4,824) is on the outskirts of Enna. The two cities couldn’t appear more different. Enna (left), seen from a distance, was a glittering city on a hill, while Villarosa (right) was its poor, dusty cousin. But Villarosa, as it turned out, was AMAZING.

I’d Googled “Villarosa” the day before we set out and learned a surprising fact: It’s kind of well known for its man-made lake, a popular fishing destination. And the man-made lake was the result of the building of Ferrara Dam. OMG, I thought. Grandma’s maiden name is Ferrara!

Here’s the dam, the lake, and me:

After parking in town, we looked around, hoping to find a place for lunch. Directly across from our car there was a restaurant, complete with group of Italian men deep in conversation. It looked like something out of a movie. Then I noticed the sign above the doors: F.lli Ferrara (Ferrara Bros.). And on the doors, the initials “LB.” Grandma’s maiden name, and my initials!

Men

We didn’t want to interrupt the men (OK, maybe we did feel a little intimidated) so we walked on down the block. Seeing a small, elderly man nearby, one of our group asked (in her newly-learned basic Italian) where we could eat. The man pointed down the street and rattled off directions in Italian. Then, probably realizing we didn’t capice, he escorted us all the way to tiny “Casa Mia.” It wasn’t open yet, but they welcomed us in. No one who worked in the restaurant spoke English. I ordered bruschetta and risotto (in Italian).

Suddenly, a family of about 20 people entered. It was an 80th birthday party! We smiled and nodded at them. A woman (angel?) from their group approached our table and asked (in English!) what had brought us to Villarosa.

“My grandma’s from Villarosa,” I said. “I was hoping I might find some family here.”

I’m an interpreter!” she said, handing me her business card. “I can help you.”

After I provided my Grandma’s name, and what I was pretty sure were Grandma’s parents’ names, she made a few phone calls, and within an hour I was sitting across the table from Gaetano Ferrara, owner of the Ferrara Bros. restaurant that we’d seen before lunch. His grandfather and my great-grandfather shared the same first and last names. It’s possible we’re cousins.

Gaetano spoke no English, but, with the help of the interpreter, I was able to ascertain that his brother, Pietro, owned a gelato/cannoli shop in town, and would be there at his shop to meet us! Mamma mia! It doesn’t get much better than that. But then it did. On our way out of the restaurant, the owner treated us all to shots of grappa and limoncello, on the house.

When I learned that the limoncello was homemade, I asked if they’d be willing to share the recipe … and they did. And yes, that alcohol is 90-proof.

The hospitality didn’t end there. When we got to Pietro’s store, we were all treated to free gelato and cannoli. Here I am with Pietro Ferrara, another possible member of my family tree.

Connolo Cousin

After returning home, I discovered that Ferrara is a common name in that part of the world, so I’m not sure if Gaetano and Pietro are my cousins, but it doesn’t matter. It was an amazing trip, one I’ll never forget. I’m so happy to know that my roots include such a warm and welcoming town. And I’m still in touch with that lovely interpreter, who has offered to translate a letter for me so I can get in touch with the folks at the Villarosa town hall to learn more about my relatives.

For now, ciao until next time!

P.S. This is my first post for the 30-day November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano2019. Our challenge is to write for 10 days, read others’ posts for 10 days, and share our posts on other blog sites for 10 days.

Please click this NanoPoblano2019 link and read some of the wonderful posts from other members of our little writing group.

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