Time alone, Providence Journal

Posted on June 30, 2015
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Rita Watson: Time alone helps tend the soul
Special to The Journal
Jun. 28, 2015 at 12:01 AM

In a technology connected world, we often forget the value of alone time. Researchers are suggesting that Facebook is impacting self-esteem and social media is becoming addictive. In an effort to see what our friends are doing, we oftentimes forget to look at what it is that we are doing. Have you ever thought of making a date with yourself and spending three hours alone?

With our busy schedules, making time to be alone can be both difficult and a bit frightening. People are often afraid of silence and solitude because it feels too much like loneliness. But there is a vast difference between alone and lonely that you come to appreciate once you make a date with yourself.

Several years ago the Philippine Journal of Psychology reported that students were asked to make a date with “the self.” They were told to think that on the date they would not be “alone” but that rather they would be going with a very special companion, themselves. We were not surprised to learn the results: Students appreciated the time alone and found that it gave them a sense of inner peace.

To experience the meaning of solitude it is important to set aside time, as if you were going on a date. Whether you choose your quiet moments at home, outdoors, or in an uplifting environment, turn off all electronic devices.

To find solitude at home you may need to set the stage before embracing silence:

If you decide to seek solitude away from home, try to:

Solitude has invaluable benefits. Solitude allows us to take a journey inward — a place where the inner workings of our soul may come in touch with the outer realities of the world beyond our vision. Once we become accustomed to an occasional date with ourselves, it will become easier to allow our heart’s desire to unfold.

Copyright 2015 Rita Watson

Restoring a sense of gratitude, Projo

Posted on June 3, 2015
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Rita Watson: Restoring a sense of gratitude

Special to The Journal/ Posted May 31, 2015 at 12:01 AM

Compassion is more than just a feeling; it compels us to reach out and help others. We see outpourings of compassion when a tragic event occurs. Yet ironically, many of us have difficulty when those within our intimate circle anger, betray, disappoint, or hurt us. However, if we can look beyond our immediate negative feelings, we might experience compassion’s relationship to the love hormone, oxytocin.

At the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, some scientists are even mapping “the biological basis of compassion.” Researchers there point out, “that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the bonding hormone oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.”

But here is the key question: Do we give and care for others with selfless love or do we expect a return on investment? When an angry situation occurs within our own home or close circle, oftentimes we simply react. However, it is possible to turn around hurtful situations by looking at the role we might have played to create a flare-up. In identifying and owning up to our actions, we can mitigate the situation and work toward a solution.

Just why it is that even those with a loving nature can become enveloped in seething anger is complicated. However, the center’s research on gratitude indicates that people who turn to acts of kindness — even why they do not feel like doing so — can trigger a positive response. In other words, instead of stewing, change the channel. Express gratitude and take action. Send a thank-you note to someone. Make a visit to someone who needs you.

When you are feeling a lack of empathy, consider the Three Day Gratitude Plan:

Day 1: Express thanks for three positive qualities of your partner or friend. No matter what happens, try to ignore all of those little irritating moments or habits that drive you mad.

Day 2: Identify three aspects about yourself that you know annoy others. Be honest, admit your shortcomings. Now forgive yourself and others.

Day 3: For an entire day speak only kind, complimentary words, no matter what petty grievances might annoy you.

After three days, you should feel a sense of relief. In some ways this exercise is like cleaning out closets and drawers, or tossing piles of papers. And you can expect to feel better and sleep better after banishing the emotional clutter. The gratitude plan is essentially a way to sweep away feelings that deprive you from the joy and satisfaction of unconditional love.

Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for The Providence Journal and PsychologyToday.com.

May Memories with Grandparents, Good Food and a Good Cigar

Posted on May 31, 2015
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For me, May is filled with images of Grandpa, his brothers, and cousins preparing the gardens for vegetable planting. I remember how excited I was to plant the green beans that would grow along the vines. But Deborah, my 10-years-younger sister, remembers green beans that Grandma served on weekends. After reducing his hours at the pastry shop, late Saturday morning became errand time with Grandpa. She recently wrote:

“Do you remember that for years Grandpa drove a black 1948 Plymouth 4-door sedan with a steering wheel that looked like it was made of taffy? The back seat, where grandchildren sat, was big as a sofa and it felt like velvet. The large curved back window gave us a movie view of the beach houses painted like candy canes, white porches and red turrets. On a Saturday drive to Squillo’s Cigar Shop in the city, he would look back at us at stop lights and smile as if he had won first prize at the county fair for his Roma tomatoes.

When we entered the shop he would stop. Look around. And after breathing in the smell of tobacco, he would exhale with a long, loud, “Ahh.” Those short, dark brown cigars were extra stinky. Whenever he pinched my cheeks saying ‘Quanto sei bella,’ and planted a kiss, I could almost touch that lingering scent.

“I loved Saturday afternoon drives because we would come home to a dish of homemade pasta that inevitably involved a side of their garden string beans swimming in tomato sauce.

“Then Grandma would nod to you to get a bottle of her homemade grape juice. She poured the purple nectar into vintage glasses painted with oranges and green leaves. Their food always tasted better than food served anywhere else. And the first time I saw hundreds of canning jars in their basement, I felt that I discovered the secret. I remember staring at the long rows of colorful fruits and vegetables and saying to myself, ‘And to think this is all from their garden.’ “

For most of my own growing-up time, Grandpa was at the pastry shop while I was at home with Grandma. And my green beans memory is one of bushels. We would spend what seemed like forever sitting on the front porch as Grandpa would bring in the green beans. Our job was to break off the stems and snap them to fit into canning jars so Grandma could “put them up.”

Bushels of beans later she would say, “You see how lucky you are. Some children eat food from a can. Thanks to Grandpa, you children have food from God’s good earth. Always be grateful for this.”

For me, May is filled with images of Grandpa, his brothers, and cousins preparing the gardens for vegetable planting. I remember how excited I was to plant the green beans that would grow along the vines. But Deborah, my 10-years-younger sister, remembers green beans that Grandma served on weekends. After reducing his hours at the pastry shop, late Saturday morning became errand time with Grandpa. She recently wrote:

“Do you remember that for years Grandpa drove a black 1948 Plymouth 4-door sedan with a steering wheel that looked like it was made of taffy? The back seat, where grandchildren sat, was big as a sofa and it felt like velvet. The large curved back window gave us a movie view of the beach houses painted like candy canes, white porches and red turrets. On a Saturday drive to Squillo’s Cigar Shop in the city, he would look back at us at stop lights and smile as if he had won first prize at the county fair for his Roma tomatoes.

When we entered the shop he would stop. Look around. And after breathing in the smell of tobacco, he would exhale with a long, loud, “Ahh.” Those short, dark brown cigars were extra stinky. Whenever he pinched my cheeks saying ‘Quanto sei bella,’ and planted a kiss, I could almost touch that lingering scent.

“I loved Saturday afternoon drives because we would come home to a dish of homemade pasta that inevitably involved a side of their garden string beans swimming in tomato sauce.

“Then Grandma would nod to you to get a bottle of her homemade grape juice. She poured the purple nectar into vintage glasses painted with oranges and green leaves. Their food always tasted better than food served anywhere else. And the first time I saw hundreds of canning jars in their basement, I felt that I discovered the secret. I remember staring at the long rows of colorful fruits and vegetables and saying to myself, ‘And to think this is all from their garden.’ “

For most of my own growing-up time, Grandpa was at the pastry shop while I was at home with Grandma. And my green beans memory is one of bushels. We would spend what seemed like forever sitting on the front porch as Grandpa would bring in the green beans. Our job was to break off the stems and snap them to fit into canning jars so Grandma could “put them up.”

Bushels of beans later she would say, “You see how lucky you are. Some children eat food from a can. Thanks to Grandpa, you children have food from God’s good earth. Always be grateful for this.”

Rita Esposito Watson is a Providence Journal relationship columnist who also writes for PsychologyToday.com

A Memory: Sunday dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, ProJo

Posted on April 19, 2015
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Special to The Journal Posted Apr. 19, 2015 @ 12:01 am

 

Just as the cake was brought to the table and placed alongside a tray of cookies and chocolates, out came the old photographs.

We were at the home of one of my sisters, reminiscing about “the olden days” at Grandma and Grandpa’s for Sunday dinner at noon. Relatives and friends always joined us. One photo of our grandparents with our mother, her two sisters and brother perfectly portrays their Sunday best for church and then home again for a seriously food-filled day.

Meals were always sumptuous. But unlike Easter Sunday, there was no leg of lamb, nor a variety of pies. Instead, we often had roasts, tender veal cutlets, meatballs, and a dish of braciole. Thinly cut rolled steaks, braciole had centers of garlic, parsley, pine nuts, prosciutto, and Parmesan cheese. These were tied with string and cooked for hours in the tomato sauce that would cover the homemade ravioli or lasagna.

As I think of those days, I can see why Grandma and Grandpa had so many Saturday afternoon opera tiffs. When Grandma wasn’t standing in the kitchen cooking, she would sit by the radio and crochet.

But Saturdays were a challenge. Grandpa was hard of hearing and would not wear a hearing aid. So their arguments often had a familiar ring. When he came to arias that he loved, he would turn the volume up loud enough to scare away the seagulls and then start singing along.

“Anthony, turn that down. How can I think and cook at the same time?” Grandma would say.

Finally she would stop stirring the sauce and go to him with her arms waving in the air crying out, “Silenzio!”

He would counter with “Annunziata, appetto un minuto,” meaning that he expected her to wait until the aria ended. He only called her Annunziata when he was very serious about something.

Or he might wave her off with “Nancy, aspetta” at which point she would walk away shaking her head saying, “He never listens.” However, when he called her “Nancy” he was listening — just not immediately.

Gram would say, “I’ll be glad when the warm weather comes. He’ll be out in the garden and I will have some peace and quiet in here.”

Because every Sunday was a feast, for Grandma all the cooking on Friday and Saturday was both her passion and her mission. On Sunday, when people gathered round the table, she would be watching faces for signs of contentment.

Then just as we were about to take the last bite, she was there heaping a second helping onto your plate smiling and saying, “You see, I knew you were still hungry. Grandma always knows. Just save some room for dessert.”

Rita Esposito Watson, also a PsychologyToday.com columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Rita Watson: Remembering Sunday dinner with Grandma and Grandpa

Copyright 2015 Rita Watson

 

Resiliency: Thoughts on springing forward

Posted on April 6, 2015
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For many of us, the Easter season is time for a new beginning.  By now the winter doldrums should be giving way to sunshine happiness. Easter Sunday is characterized by the Pascal Lamb, resurrection, and rebirth. And in “The Passover Lamb,” by Linda Elovitz Marshall, we see a delightful reminder of a child’s creativity while honoring religious tradition. We all need to find ways to move forward after a snowy winter of interrupted routines, seasonal affective disorders, frazzled nerves, and strained relationships.

In addition to reminding ourselves of that, scientific gratitude research from Robert A. Emmons, PhD, and the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, have regularly found that “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”

Here are three other thoughts. Let’s reassess our priorities, make time to play, and embrace mindfulness.

Reassess Priorities: When we were overwhelmed by snow, it felt as if time stood still in terms of our routines. Look at what you let fall by the wayside during that time. Then ask yourself two questions: “How much of my ‘To Do’ list is all that important? What is most important for me today, for those whom I love?” Whenever you go through the unplanned, by making a list of what was expected of you and what you were able to accomplish reinforces your resiliency.

Make Time for Yourself: When time appears to stand still while we address an immediate need — handling a crisis, caring for someone who is ill, or even planning a happy event — we get through it, often without enough sleep. But what about starting now to think of ways you might make yourself a priority? How much time should you save for yourself for the arts, reading, pursuing a hobby, or exercising?

Even our ancestors, early settlers with difficult lives, knew the value of play time. Take a ride on the carousels in Rhode Island, which still bring laughter to children and adults alike, and be grateful to those who built them. The carousels are an example of resilience through folk art.

Embrace Mindfulness: Focus on the moment, not even the next hour. Take just one moment at a time and vow that it will be the best moment you can give to yourself. The Harvard Health Letter, in discussing mindfulness, pointed out that there were 47 well-designed studies whose findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The studies “suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.”

Resiliency means to spring back. In some ways it is a gift, but to those who can recover quickly from difficulties, it is also a blessing, one that we can all cultivate.

Rita Watson: Three thoughts for springing forward Published 4/4/2015 / Providence Journal

Copyright 2015 Rita Watson

 

Remembering Grandma and Grandpa on a Musical Afternoon

Posted on March 29, 2015
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Read the original in the newspaper to see the priceless photo of my grandparents.

Within a concert hall of oil portraits, overlooking a snow-covered cemetery, I saw myself frolicking through the water at Grandma and Grandpa’s beach house. Commentary in a program at the Boston Athenaeum was my cue to return to a time just before Easter when we were first allowed to dip our toes into the water.

The pianist for The Capital Trio, Duncan Cumming, dedicated a Schubert piece to his teacher, Frank Glazer. His teacher believed that an opening chord should say, “Listen, I am going to tell a story.” As the violin, cello, and piano conversed, my story began to unfold.

I am not certain that Schubert would have appreciated my wanderings during his Impromptu in C minor, Op. 90 No. 1. Nonetheless, there I was taking an ocean splash, returning to Grandma’s kitchen while she baked pies for Aunt Rose in Providence, and licking batter from the spatula for her Easter lamb cake.

The music began lightly, perfect for tiptoeing in the water before rushing back into a warm kitchen where I was greeted by Grandma preparing her rice pie, wheat pie, cheese and ham Pizza Rustica and, of course, seeing her mixing the cake batter. Grandma baked these before Palm Sunday so that we could bring them to her Providence sister.

As the musical notes glided from a frolicking march to sounds reminiscent of waves crashing against rocks, I remembered Grandma’s voice: “Anthony turn down that music. The opera is drowning out my thinking. I need to concentrate on my pies.”

Taking pies to Aunt Rose — and visiting Roger Williams Park — was special for our mother during her courtship days. Before they married, Providence was as far as she and our father were allowed to travel together.

Grandma’s Easter pies became legendary; however, because she never wrote a recipe, it is difficult to re-create her delights. Each time she baked she would try a different flavorful accent, from lemon or orange rind to hazelnut liquor. Grandpa and his brothers ran a pastry shop where all of the traditional pies were baked.

Yet Grandma was always reminding her sister-in-law, the pastry shop’s Grande Dame, that she could bake a heavenly dessert right in her own kitchen. Indeed, Grandma’s Easter lamb cake, made from her mother’s own mold, was like food for the gods.

At the end of their day of bickering about music being too loud, Grandma’s face would light up when Grandpa put his arm around her at dinner, took a second bite of cake and spoke words that were music to Grandma’s ears: “Nancy, this tastes even better than my mother’s; may she rest in peace.”

During times of change serenity comes through forgiveness and gratitude

Posted on March 29, 2015
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Stress and anxiety are serenity stealers that we often experience during times of change. Even for the better, change can send us into a panic. I was overwhelmed this week in the midst of downsizing. As treasures came out of hiding, I began second-guessing. I found two tiny sweaters worn by my children as infants. Then there appeared a box of drawings from my sons’ kindergarten days. And glistening in plain sight was our mother’s ornate crystal.

Could I leave all this behind? Serenity began slipping away.It is doubly challenging when you and your partner have different points of view as to how to manage change. As stress and anxiety build up, fighting words just seem to roll off tongues: “How could you?” Or “What made you think this was a good decision?” Or worse, “What’s wrong with you?”

In one of my earlier books, I describe serenity as the simple experience of absolute calm. And yet the dictionary meanings are far more expansive. Definitions of serenity range from the visual panorama of light, ocean, and sky to a quality known as regal, a demeanor called dignity, and a state free of storms or change.

When our comfort zone is interrupted by planned or unplanned circumstances, we oftentimes begin questioning ourselves. But in addition to change, there are other serenity stealers: Anger, betrayal of trust, the desire for retaliation, undermining, untruths told about us.

To gain control of ourselves, rather than fall prey to the serenity stealers, it is helpful to build up reserves of peace and spend some time alone in quiet. Here are four thoughts on creating a reservoir of calm and confidence:

Gratitude: Make a daily gratitude list even if you can just think of four things for which you might say, “Thank you.”

Praise and forgiveness: For the decisions you made that turned out well, applaud yourself. For decisions that did not turn out as well as you had hoped, forgive yourself and move on.

Create positive scenarios: For those situations in your past that did not have a positive outcome, rehearse how you might behave or react differently when something similar happens again in the future.

Appreciate heightened intuition: When you spend time “centering” each day, researchers say that you will discover a sense of “knowing, just knowing.” Trust these intuitive leanings.

Yes, change can be disruptive. Just look at how many of us reacted as the snow kept piling up on our streets. However, whether we chose to make a change or change is thrust upon us,  an appreciative and confident sense of self can help you attain a certain peace of mind.

Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for the Providence Journal and PsychologyToday.com.

Visits with Grandma are delicious memories

Posted on March 29, 2015
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Memories of celebrations at Grandma and Grandpa’s big house on the water still bring a smile to my face. They lived at 221 Beach St., which had a large wraparound porch and a widow’s walk at the top. As I was going through our photo albums on a snowy weekend, I came across a photo of my second birthday. At the top of the stairs, there stood three Italian matriarchs with Grandma in the center. My mother, with her long black hair, was seated in front of her. And I was centered on the first step surrounded by seven mothers and eight children smiling.

The photo was framed by four white columns. And when I think of our life there, I can almost see the stories unfold as we walk up the stairs, past the columns and into the parlor from the double doors. However, when growing up, we never had to open the doors ourselves – Grandma was always there to greet us.

When our parents were traveling, I lived there. But when they were home, Dad would drive me to “The Water House” and the moment we rounded the bend along the ocean, he would toot the horn of his station wagon in rhythmic fashion to announce our arrival.

Grandma would open the doors and walk down the stairs, a vision in white. Over her flowered cotton housedresses she always wore a large baker’s apron. Her hair, face, and apron were often covered in flour. “Come to Grandma,” she sang. And as I hugged and kissed her, I still remember a flour cloud forming as I nestled into her arms.

As always, Grandma had been in the kitchen making pasta and cooking fresh tomatoes to smother her ravioli. Yet, her large pantry was always festive with an array of sweets from biscotti to miniature pastry. By the time I was a teen, she liked to bake my two favorites, Sfogliatelle, a clam- shaped phyllo dough pastry filled with sweet ricotta and Bocconoti, an oval shaped piecrust-type pastry filled with chocolate custard.

As March approaches, I am reminded of another favorite pastry, the zeppole. It was made just once a year for the Feast of San Giuseppe, March 19. That was the one day in the year that Grandma would leave her own kitchen to help Grandpa at his pastry shop. Because the zeppole was delicately fried, drained, and then filled with cream and a cherry, many hands were needed to make fresh batches and accommodate the lines of customers.

When asked why she would work so hard that day, Grandma always said: “In Italy today is also Father’s Day. I am here to honor my husband and St. Joseph.”

 Rita Esposito Watson, also a PsychologyToday.com columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Embracing Valentine’s Day with Love

Posted on March 29, 2015
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Each February, as Valentine’s Day approaches, we think of hearts, flowers and love gifts. We search for the perfect card depicting romance. But this year, the love day has a new twist, colored by gray — “50 Shades of Grey” to be precise. The film is set to open in theaters on Valentine’s Day. Even those cuddly love bears have become hooked by the “Grey” frenzy; you can order them holding handcuffs and blindfolds. While some may think that these look cute on the bear, somehow the message of love and gratitude for the special person in one’s life is lost.

Here are seven ways to embrace Valentine’s Day, whether you will be spending it alone or with the love of your life. If you are looking for “the one,” sometimes it helps to clear our heads and hearts and prepare the path for love.

Be aware that love has its risks. But as Dr. Leo Buscaglia, author of the book “Love,” once said: “Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life.”

If you have been hurt by love, learn again how to embrace its mystery. Express love on Valentine’s Day to family, friends, children and to those who are lonely and need a smile from your heart.

For couples who are blessed to be in a love relationship — express gratitude. Write and mail a love note every day for seven days. Put a picture of the two of you when you met in a frame with a note that says, “This was one of the happiest days of my life.”

Or try filling a heart mug with small scrolls of paper tied in a red ribbon. On each paper write a love note as if it was a fortune cookie. However, be specific, such as:

“I am grateful for the days you lift my spirits when I’m sad.”

“I thank you for calling me when you are traveling.”

“I love when you send me an unexpected xoxo text.”

“I appreciate that you listen to me when I speak.”

Sometimes we assume that people in our lives know that we love them. But everyone likes to see how eyes brighten and smiles broaden when we look them straight in the eye and say, “I love you with my whole heart and soul.”

Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for the Providence Journal and PsychologyToday.com

Italian Kisses: Sugar Roses on a Wintery Day, Projo

Posted on January 27, 2015
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Special to The Journal

While most of the little town on the water was sighing from the winter doldrums, Grandma had a January birthday and a smile on her face. Although she liked to say, “No fusses about this; it’s just another day,” she always looked forward to the Italian cream and rum cake decorated with a dozen pink frosting roses. The second reason for her happiness was that her niece would go back to the convent school for “girls on the wild side.”

Miss Mischief was usually there for the birthday celebration, except for the year the nuns threatened to expel her from school. She had to cut short her holiday to return there to study.

There was always drama and tears as Gram felt somewhat guilty that she had sent her brother’s only daughter to live with the good sisters of the Immaculate Heart of the Most Holy Mary. While she hoped that the nuns’ purity would rub off on Missy, instead some of the other girls there taught her to smoke and swear.

Although Grandma’s brother and his wife lived near the school and brought Missy to their home every weekend, Grandma lamented: “Family is supposed to take care of family. How could I send my brother’s only daughter away?”

But then with Missy home for the holidays, we could hear Grandpa whisper, “Annunizata, she will be the death of you.”

“But Anthony her mother died in that sanatorium. She only had us. What did we do wrong?”

Grandpa would smile: “God gave us a chance to watch over a little angel who lost her wings. Missy is a good girl with bad habits who likes to tease the nuns.”

Since the nuns were filled with faith and prayer, their hearts had little room left for humor. The day they wanted to expel her was the day she was asked, “What do we do to save our souls?” And instead of the Baltimore Catechism answer Missy said, “Walk on our heels.”

Soon after Missy’s shortened holiday, Grandma transformed herself. The plump woman who lived in flowered cotton house dresses became a grand lady on her birthday. Wearing a navy blue gabardine dress, with a white crocheted collar, earrings and a pearl necklace, she made her grand entrance down the winding staircase and into the dining room.

Then after a rousing song and before cutting the cake she said, “We celebrate my birthday so I can thank God for every year I share with all of you. And my brother took a cake like this to the convent today so that Missy can celebrate there with us. May all the sugar roses help her to become a little bit sweeter.”

Rita Esposito Watson, also a PsychologyToday.com columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Published on 25 January 2015  Rita Watson: Sugar roses sweeten a winter’s day.

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