Turn 2016 into a year of gratitude

Posted on January 14, 2016
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The New Year can be a time for renewal, strengthening relationships and attaining a goal. However, a sad fact about the New Year and the holidays is the escalation of breakups. If you are someone facing 2016 unexpectedly without a love, you are not alone. But even if you are with the love of your life, are you treasuring the relationship? For both singles and couples, this is a perfect time to start a Gratitude Journal.

Starting the year with a broken heart can be devastating for couples who had been in a long-term relationship. Researchers at Macquarie University, in Australia, led by Celia Harris and colleagues, pointed out that a long-term couple may develop interconnected or collaborative memories, such as the names of musicals and vivid descriptions.

However, even the end of a short-term relationship can trigger profound sadness. What is key is that you prepare your heart to love again.

• Start your days with gratitude. Make a list of as many happy moments as you can find tucked away inside that broken heart. Be grateful that you have been freed to find a person who values you, a love you will value. Research from Gary Lewandowski Jr., psychology chair at Monmouth University, in New Jersey, says that writing about positive aspects of a breakup increases feelings of comfort, confidence, optimism, relief and wisdom.

• Resist the temptation to talk unkindly about your former love. Angry thoughts and words trap you in negativity.

• Practice image replacement: If you find yourself feeling alone and falling into a dark hole, find a photo of yourself when you were happy and in love. Focus on the inner you, whom you know to be lovable and deserving of new love.

What if you are in a relationship, but have some unfulfilled wishes and dreams?
• Set aside time to share together what it is that you love about each other.

• Make a relationship checklist. Start the list by saying, “I think you are the most perfect partner in the world. Our life might be better if …” Be honest. Be open. Think of out-of-character fantasies that you wish to express.

• Take out your calendars and set aside “Date Night” at least once a month. It should be a time for embracing laughter, taking a trip, visiting a museum or art gallery, or attending a game together.

The New Year is a time to look back on the past with gratitude — even if it was a difficult year — and look forward with anticipation and hope. Then make a resolution to embrace love and forgiveness to all those in your life, and peace of mind will be your gift.

Rita Watson, MPH, is a relationship columnist for the Journal who writes “With Love and Gratitude” for PsychologyToday.com.

My Army dad and the perfect tree

Posted on December 30, 2015
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By Rita Esposito Watson / 

  • Although my father missed my first Christmas, when he was able to come home the next year it was apparent from photos that the celebration was lavish. A tall Christmas tree standing on a window bench was the living room highlight that our mother remembered decorating. “Grandma was so happy for us that she watched over my sisters and me as we placed one strand of tinsel at a time on each branch so the tree would be perfect,” she said.

    At the opposite end of the window bench there was a manger, crafted in Italy, which Grandma kept up until Epiphany on Jan. 6, a feast commemorating the arrival of “Three Wise Men.”

    As the first grandchild, I was born when my mother and her two sisters lived at The Water House. Overlooking Long Island Sound, it had a wraparound porch where they could sit, listen to buoys clanging, and talk about their husbands and brother who were either overseas or stationed in Florida during World War II.

    The Sunshine State had become a military training ground. After enemy U-boats sank at least 24 ships off the Florida coast near Miami and Jacksonville, a special group was formed to prevent further attacks. As a pilot, our father often talked of flight operations dispatched from Florida bases.

    Grandma once said to me, “When your father arrived home, it really felt like Christmas. There were so many toys in our living room that it looked like a department store. You wanted to play with everything at once. The stuffed giraffe was your favorite, even though we all thought you would want to hug the teddy bear, just like your father kept hugging you.”

    She added, “But you were so excited to show him that you knew how to walk that you just wiggled out of his arms and raced along the living room, staying close to the window seat for support.”

    However, I later learned that in my enthusiasm, I lost balance, reached for a branch and the tree with all its decorations tumbled down. Grandma was so concerned that I could have been hurt, to protect me — and future bambinos — she decided there would no longer be tall trees, just a small one on a sturdy table.

    Finally one year Grandpa and his brothers cut down what Grandma called “the tallest tree in the forest,” their first floor-to-ceiling tree. Before she could protest after seeing it, Grandpa surprised her saying, “Look. I bought you a beautiful white tree with bubbling candle lights to put on your parlor table under the chandelier.” Each time Grandma told us that story, she would smile and marvel thinking about Grandpa’s love.

    Rita Esposito Watson, a Journal columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses.” She is one of three named by the National Organization of Italian American Women to receive the 2016 “Three Wise Women” award on Jan. 10 in Providence.

  • Rita Watson: Grandma talks of our Mother’s first love
  •  Rita Watson’s Italian Kisses: Grandpa takes Grandma from a fig tree to palm trees
  •  Rita Watson: Creating ‘a time’ for Grandma was well-planned  
  • Rita Watson: Grandma talks of our Mother’s first love
  •  Rita Watson: ‘Italian Kisses’ — Grandma’s blessing was lost, but then found

Master Thieves, a relationship reminder

Posted on December 28, 2015
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By Rita Watson
Special to The Journal Posted Dec. 13, 2015 @ 12:01 am

With all of the halls being decked with holly, couples and families are frantically searching for the perfect gift. In these days of Internet shopping and mania at the malls, we sometimes forget about gifts that can strengthen relationships. It took a new development — a video of a potential suspect — in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist to remind me of gifts that create serenity. When someone in a relationship invests in a museum membership, or a concert or theater subscription, both the arts and togetherness are supported.

Stephen Kurkjian, author of “Master Thieves,” is outraged about the heist. “These thieves stole more than a Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas; they stole gifts given to us by this great lady. They deprived the art community and our children of treasures lost to us 25 years ago and still lost,” Kurkjian told me. He said he wrote “Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist” in an effort to “keep up the pressure” to find these works.
Kurkjian added, “When artworks are stolen in Europe there is almost a national mourning as agencies pool resources and commit to finding the pieces.”

It was in mourning the loss of her only child at age 2 that Gardner embarked on travel at the suggestion of her doctors. She overcame her depression, returned to Boston, and traveled again with her husband. This time she embarked on collecting furniture, fabric and artwork. Kurkjian reminds us that “she sponsored painters, musicians, and dancers and, after her death, gave thousands to organizations to protect children and animals and endowed her museum for others to enjoy.”

The museum was a gift to her Boston neighbors. Some call this unconditional love, giving with no expectation of a return. Loving others not because they earn your love or deserve your love, but simply because you believe in showing love.

His voice sounding like that of a man on a mission, Kurkjian continued, “I’m calling upon clergy, churches, and citizens to make an effort to bring back these paintings. We know that someone knows what has happened. Why the conspiracy of silence?” A former member of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, who has shared three Pulitzers, Kurkjian is passionate when telling the story of the museum heist. TriStar Productions has optioned the movie rights to his book.

When couples share a museum membership, it guarantees them a time to put day to day stress behind them as they walk the halls of a gallery and exchange thoughts. Or with subscriptions to music or the theater another opportunity for intimacy is created through uplifting moments. For two people to give to each other a gift that supports the arts mean sharing time and beauty while creating memories to treasure.

Rita Watson, M.P.H., a Providence Journal relationship columnist, writes “With Love and Gratitude” for PsychologyToday.com.

https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=Providence+journal+steve+Kurkjian

After the fig tree was buried, Grandpa took Grandma to the palm trees

Posted on November 11, 2015
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There is a painting by Sandra Bierman, “The Planting,” which portrays a woman on her knees with her hands almost cuddling a seedling tree. It was with similar reverence that Grandpa treated his fig tree, raised from a cutting he brought from the old country. Grandma said, “That fig tree, I’m telling you, he takes care of it just like it was a pet.”

Figs from Grandpa’s tree were sweet and succulent because, he said, “I bury her each year. This climate here is cold. She needs to be protected. In the ground, the good earth keeps her warm and safe. That’s why I take your grandmother to Florida each year — for the warmth.”

In truth, Grandma was never happy about going to Florida to stay with her in-laws. We do not have a single picture of her smiling under a palm tree. Why did she go? “If it makes him happy, what’s to say?” she would shrug. “He works hard.

Although there was a major ritual in the springtime when Grandpa and his brothers unearthed the tree, preparing to bury the tree was something that Grandpa did with just one of his brothers. There was a bit of solemnity to the occasion around the first of November for two reasons. A chill in the air signaled the coming of the first frost, and it was important to get the tree in the ground before that happened. Also in Europe, All Souls Day is a serious time to visit the graveside of one’s relatives. After burying the tree, Grandpa would make a sign of the cross, look to the heavens, and say, “Momma, grazie.”

Grandpa would start digging the trench before the ground hardened, but was careful to protect the roots of the tree. Then just after Halloween, he would prune the branches. The next day one of his brothers came by to hold the tree upright while he cut some roots. Once my youngest sister and cousins came by and Grandpa let them help. They felt so proud when he said, “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Then of course, Grandma would come to witness the moment in which the tree was wrapped, tied with rope, put into the ground, and covered with leaves. Then came a tarp and some boards before the men dragged a big wooden rowboat over the shallow ditch for further protection.

By now Grandma would have slipped away to the kitchen to brew the demitasse, put out a bottle of anisette, and arrange her biscotti on a tray. The two men would walk in smiling. Then, pinching her cheek, Grandpa would say, “Nancy, she’s safe in the ground. Now we can leave for Florida.”

Rita Esposito Watson, a Providence Journal and PsychologyToday.comcolumnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Creating “a Time” for Grandma Took Her Mind off the War

Posted on November 11, 2015
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Today we have get-togethers and parties, but when Grandma would reminisce about a large gathering of food and family, she called the event “a time.” My younger sister, Lois, gathered old family photos into a pictorial family history. Looking through it again the other day, there were photos of our Mother’s beach parties with her coworkers from the telephone company.

Grandma often talked about those gatherings. She said the girls would create “a time” to take her mind off her worries about the boys at war. “And what did I do all day? I cooked for them,” she both pouted and smiled.

Technically “a time” was more than just a gathering, it was a term associated with a significant event. When our Mother talked about creating “a time” at the Water House, she said they would find an excuse to make it special. Party excuses ranged from letters from fiancés, to someone announcing talk of marriage, or a celebration for one of the women receiving a promotion.

Perhaps the best description of “a time” is portrayed in the book by Ed Iannuccilli of Bristol, “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner.” His father defined “a time” as parties after graduation, a wedding ceremony, funeral, or Holy Communion. But during the war, Mother and her sisters stretched the meaning to include an old-fashioned good time even on late summer days.

The Water House was a perfect place to gather because its front lawn stretched to the beach. And there was never a need for a rain date. Between the wrap-around porch and the entry foyer with its window seats, 30 to 40 people could comfortably party and enjoy Grandma’s cooking.

Grandma told us, “I would make my fried pizzelles, pour fresh-cooked tomato sauce over them and then add shredded mozzarella. You should see how those girls gobbled them up. And my stuffed artichokes — they couldn’t get their fill.”

Apparently these were just snacks. No gathering would be complete without Grandma’s fried sausage and peppers, her handmade ravioli, and eggplant Parmesan. I can just hear her say, “Mangia. Mangia. This will put some meat on your bones.”

Then, as she did with us always, after heaping seconds of ravioli onto our plates, she would remind us: “Save some room. Papa will be home soon with the Italian pastry.”

But to her partying daughters, their girlfriends, and a few men who did not make the Army, our aunt said Grandma would add: “Until Papa gets here, mangia. It will take your mind off your worries. And trust the good God to bring our boys home. Then just wait and see what a time we will have.”

Rita Watson: Creating ‘a time’ for Grandma was well-planned / with photo link

Rita Esposito Watson, a Journal columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom”

 

Angry Texting Can Damage a Relationship, Projo

Posted on October 22, 2015
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Oct. 18, 2015 at 12:01 AM

While texting may be the new form of communication, when it comes to couples’ texting, it can be damaging. Texting tantrums are becoming the new way for couples to argue.

Have you even been in a room in which a young man keeps answering text after text? Then he looks up and says, “She won’t leave me alone.” Can it be that while he is spewing angry text messages, she is trying to set the record straight? Or it can be the other way around.

Angry texting creates emotional distance along the “ghoster” road; this is, angry texts become less frequent until the texter disappears.

In a 2014 North Carolina study with some 395 participants, most of whom were 19 years of age, researchers found that couples who spent a significant amount of time texting were less satisfied with their relationship than other couples. It appeared that texting replaced kinder and more intimate communication.

As a longtime advocate of creating serenity spaces for men and women to try to solve a problem face-to-face, I see texting as the cowardly way out. When a man starts sending angry texts, women often try to mitigate this by responding with smiling faces, sad faces or kisses. Although women also send angry texts, they tend to prefer talking to texting.

From texting tantrums to children throwing a supermarket tantrum, there may be little difference. When a child wants something in a store, screaming is an attempt to control the parent. When men want to avoid a face-to-face conflict, they send angry texts, even when they know they should call. Although men are often conflict-resolution champions in the work place, they will often try to avoid any kind of conflict at home.

The real problem with angry texting is that one person controls the argument. When couples argue face-to-face, there is the opportunity for one person to say, “What are you talking about? You’ve got this all wrong.”

Author Jeff Wilser, in writing about men and texting for New York magazine, says that men have not figured out how to text as well as women. If men are the other half in a romantic relationship, this can spell trouble. Researchers have determined that most couples have one to three disagreements in one week alone. Two people in a not-so-happy relationship might be arguing daily. With texting tantrums, if there is no resolution, both lose.

It does not take research to determine how to handle the tantrum-throwing texter — whether a man or a woman. One person must end it either by texting back saying, “When we can have a calm conversation, please call me,” or simply stop answering the texts.

— Rita Watson, MPH, is a Journal relationship columnist who writes “With Love and Gratitude” for Psychology Today.com.

Making a Trail for Gratitude, Projo

Posted on October 22, 2015
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Every once in a while my Pollyanna disposition takes a dive and I just cannot find my smile. When that happened a few weeks ago, I thought of all those who had come to me wishing for a magic word to uplift their spirits. My usual suggestion is to count one’s blessings to outweigh sadness. Despite my own best efforts — as with writer’s block — I was beginning to face a blank gratitude page. Nonetheless, I continued to send out “thank you” notes and try to express appreciation. Suddenly the universe rewarded my efforts.

For me, help came in an email from Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., author of “Meet Your Happy Chemicals.” She was letting me know of the new YouTube videos she had created to explain the concept of creating new neural pathways in the brain. Doing so gives us a boost and is a way to enhance love and family relationships.

What I learned is that you cannot just give gratitude a try — you must work at it consistently for at least 45 days. Breuning pointed out: “Life is frustrating because happy chemical spurts are short. You have to do more to get more. Also electricity flows into the old neural super highways — and you have to focus intensely to steer it into new neural trails. But here is the good news. Since our brain has a huge stock of extra neurons, you can build new neural pathways with them. It is not easy. But you have the power to repeat a new behavior until a neural pathway is created and electricity can flow in a new direction.”

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She added: “You can wire yourself to see the good in the world. Oftentimes, this gets ignored because it has no place to flow until you build a new pathway. And you can do this by focusing on the good three minutes a day or three times a day at one minute intervals.”

But here is the catch. You must focus on gratitude for 45 days even if it seems fake or foolish. She says: “If you miss a day, start over from Day One. You must go 45 days straight because that is what it takes to get a new trail established.”

What happens in this exercise is that in creating and expanding the pathway for good, the neurons in the brain that you might have depended upon for negativity may lose some of their drawing power. These old neurons remain there — just as temptation is always with us. However, once you’ve created that new neural pathway for gratitude, because it is available, you will be more likely to travel along the goodness road.

Rita Watson, MPH, is a Journal relationship columnist who writes “With Love and Gratitude” for PsychologyToday.com

 

The mystery of friends who fade away, Projo

Posted on October 22, 2015
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Grandpa’s Garden Brought Him Joy, Projo

Posted on October 7, 2015
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As the harvest moon implies, September marked the time when Grandpa would be bringing in the last of the vegetables from the garden. And for Grandma, her canning season would begin. “Even though I put up all these vegetables for the winter, just look at the treasure you girls have — you eat fresh from the back yard every day.”

This was the season when Grandpa loved showing off his fennel plants, finocchio (fen-nok) and a prize cucuzza (coo-gootz). An Italian squash known to grow up to three feet long, cucuzza became a key ingredient for a month of meals.

Grandpa was so proud of his finocchio, that he would bring them to some of the merchants in town near the family pastry shop. With a texture similar to celery and an anise taste, we would have them sliced thin for munching between courses at dinner or slivered into a salad to accompany a cucuzza dish.

My younger sister just wrote me of their trip to a roadside stand. “Our intention was to pick up fresh peppers, but lo and behold they were selling cucuzza. I had to buy a 3-foot-long squash to make stuffed canoes, and Gramma Water Stew. Can’t you just taste the cucuzza, onions, garlic, carrots, fresh lima beans, and tomatoes?”

Not only could I conjure up the taste, I can still see Grandma dipping her long ladle into the deep soup pan, then pouring the sweet-tasting stew onto a thick frizelle at the bottom of a bowl to seep in the juices. Then at the table there would be a shaved stack of Parmesan cheese to top off the meal.

My sister remarked, after making it in her own kitchen, “All we needed was a glass of Gram’s homemade grape juice and it would be like having her standing there, smiling, and saying, ‘Mangia.’”

While Grandma and all of us savored the stew, Grandpa’s favorite was the stuffed cucuzza. After scooping out the squash, Grandma would dice a yellow onion and mix it with diced Roma tomatoes, fresh garlic, parsley, and basil and mix it together with cucuzza. Then she would add bread stuffing, usually day-old crusted bread that she soaked in water. She mixed this together with diced mozzarella and an egg and stuffed the canoes. Before baking she topped the dish with some fresh tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. While it baked, it seemed as if the entire neighborhood had the aroma of her little village in Italy.

When we would sit to eat, Grandpa would pinch her cheek and say, “Eh Brava.” She would teasingly push away his hand, then hold it and say, “Now we give thanks.”

— Rita Watson, M.P.H., a Providence Journal relationship columnist, writes “With Love and Gratitude” for PsychologyToday.com.

 

Creating “A Time” for Grandma, ProJo

Posted on October 7, 2015
Filed Under Italian Kisses, Providence Journal - Relationships | Leave a Comment

By Rita Watson
Special to The Journal
Posted Oct. 4, 2015 @ 12:01 am

Today we have get-togethers and parties, but when Grandma would reminisce about a large gathering of food and family, she called the event “a time.” My younger sister, Lois, gathered old family photos into a pictorial family history. Looking through it again the other day, there were photos of our Mother’s beach parties with her coworkers from the telephone company.

Grandma often talked about those gatherings. She said the girls would create “a time” to take her mind off her worries about the boys at war. “And what did I do all day? I cooked for them,” she both pouted and smiled.

Technically “a time” was more than just a gathering, it was a term associated with a significant event. When our Mother talked about creating “a time” at the Water House, she said they would find an excuse to make it special. Party excuses ranged from letters from fiancés, to someone announcing talk of marriage, or a celebration for one of the women receiving a promotion.

Perhaps the best description of “a time” is portrayed in the book by Ed Iannuccilli of Bristol, “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner.” His father defined “a time” as parties after graduation, a wedding ceremony, funeral, or Holy Communion. But during the war, Mother and her sisters stretched the meaning to include an old-fashioned good time even on late summer days.

The Water House was a perfect place to gather because its front lawn stretched to the beach. And there was never a need for a rain date. Between the wrap-around porch and the entry foyer with its window seats, 30 to 40 people could comfortably party and enjoy Grandma’s cooking.

Grandma told us, “I would make my fried pizzelles, pour fresh-cooked tomato sauce over them and then add shredded mozzarella. You should see how those girls gobbled them up. And my stuffed artichokes — they couldn’t get their fill.”

Apparently these were just snacks. No gathering would be complete without Grandma’s fried sausage and peppers, her handmade ravioli, and eggplant Parmesan. I can just hear her say, “Mangia. Mangia. This will put some meat on your bones.”

Then, as she did with us always, after heaping seconds of ravioli onto our plates, she would remind us: “Save some room. Papa will be home soon with the Italian pastry.”

But to her partying daughters, their girlfriends, and a few men who did not make the Army, our aunt said Grandma would add: “Until Papa gets here, mangia. It will take your mind off your worries. And trust the good God to bring our boys home. Then just wait and see what a time we will have.”

Rita Esposito Watson, a Journal columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom”

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