When She Wasn’t Baking, She Was Crocheting

Posted on October 30, 2016
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Stop Texting and Start Talking

Posted on August 30, 2016
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Telling someone you love them is more powerful than any text.

When it comes to texting instead of talking, I confess to being guilty.

However, after re-reading Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” I reviewed some of my own articles on texting and have come to see its danger. Texting can replace conversation as communication. Turkle reminds us of research that determined “without conversation, we are less empathetic, less connected, less creative and fulfilled.”

Researchers in a University of North Carolina study in 2014 found that college students 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. Here’s why. Texting requires almost no emotional investment.

Texting “I love you,” can become almost robotic. In fact, you can just send a heart emoji. While it is fun to receive a love note, it may be far less meaningful than a quick phone call. Telling someone in a sincere tone of voice, “I called to say I love you because you were so supportive when I was falling apart this morning,” is more powerful than any text.

At the other end of the spectrum is the angry text, a way to avoid facing a problem and fixing it. When couples argue face to face, there is the opportunity for one person to say, “Please, I think you may have misunderstood me.”

Texting can also be a way to mask feelings or intentions. While so many young people today say, “I’d rather text than talk,” one must wonder if this is simply an excuse to avoid talking about a relationship problem. Avoidance sets the stage for a peripheral relationship rather than one based on honesty and intimacy.

If you are a texter, it is best to do so for:

— Clarifying a time and date of a meeting.

— Sending directions to an address.

— Asking only one question at a time to get the best response.

— Setting a time for a phone conversation, or even better getting together.

Never use texting for:

— Sending a long angry message unless you are between 12 and 15 years of age.

— Ending a relationship because you are too afraid or indifferent for face to face.

— Saying something hurtful because you are being passive aggressive.

— Teasing someone with half a message and then leaving them hanging.

On the positive side, with a new relationship, texting can be a way to flirt. After an initial meeting, if you really want to connect with the other person, say so. Be direct. “I’m happy we met today. Can we get together this week for coffee or lunch?” This gives the message for starting a relationship based on the art of conversation, a first step toward “getting to know you.”

—Rita Watson is a Journal columnist who also writes “With Love and Gratitude” forPsychologyToday.com.

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Music and the Boston Athenaeum

Posted on August 15, 2016
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As an academic member of the Boston Athenaeum, through my appointment at Suffolk University, Department of English, I often find myself attending concerts there.  Although the Athenaeum is a private institution, concerts are open to the public. Here is a sample of some of the pieces I have written to give you a flavor of this incredible Boston treasure.

For more events: Boston Athenæum | Sweet are the Fruits of Letters

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June meant lilacs, brides and bocce

Posted on July 24, 2016
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Rita Watson’s Italian Kisses: June meant lilacs, brides and bocce
Late-blooming lilacs, biscotti, bridal bags and bocce balls were signs of June at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Rita Watson’s mother, Clara Rose, in 1944, when she was 24 years old. Rita remember…[+]
By Rita Watson

Special to The Journal Posted Jun. 9, 2016 @ 9:00 pm

Late-blooming lilacs, biscotti, bridal bags and bocce balls were signs of June at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Although Grandpa’s garden was filled with vegetables, he made certain that there were flowers blooming. Grandma believed that houses close to the water should have flowers to counter the salty air that settled into walls and carpets. “Too much salty air makes the house musty. Even my baking aromas can’t fill the rooms upstairs as the flowers do.“

Grandma liked the double white peonies because of their lily of the valley scent. For color she arranged them with dark pink peonies. To the side, there was often a small vase of roses. However, Grandma said our mother‘s room was like a lilac garden. “When your father was home on leave [during World War II], they went walking one day. He broke off a lilac sprig and put it in her hair. She held onto that lilac for days before pressing it into a memory book.”

In June, there was often a friend of our mother and her sisters getting married. Grandma would proudly say, “They always wanted me to make the tray of biscotti. They said mine were better than any pastry shop, even Papa’s. Of course mine were better. I used flavorings from the old country. These were too expensive to make to sell in a store. “

Our mother and her sisters decorated the large trays with Jordan almonds, Italian candies and strands of tinsel. At receptions, it was traditional for brides and grooms to pass a tray of cookies to their guests. The bride usually wore a satin drawstring bag on her arm. After guests took the biscotti, they would open the bag and add a card with a cash gift.

Because our mother’s friends knew that Grandma could sew beautifully, they often brought her fabric to match their gowns so that she could make their bridal bags adding lace, seed pearls, or even a crochet fringe.

Grandpa also loved June. After having spent May planting his gardens, which forever needed tending, he took time for his favorite sport — bocce ball. Grandpa made a court on natural soil on the side of the house and planted tiger lilies within view so Grandma could enjoy looking at flowers while the men played their games.

Grandpa had said to her, “Nancy, I don’t see you all day. At night, when I am home playing bocce, I like for you to be there to watch.”

As Grandma explained, “What was I going to say? He takes good care of this family. So I sit and watch and enjoy the flowers. He looks over, smiles at me, and sometimes throws a kiss.”

Rita Esposito Watson — www.ritawatson.com — is a Journal columnist writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

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Summer Rituals: Fireworks, Flying Horses, and Frozen Custard

Posted on July 20, 2016
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By Rita Watson
Special to The Journal 
Posted Jul. 7, 2016 @ 9:30 pm

Summer rituals and fireworks always take my breath away. Growing up Italian, we loved having any excuse for a celebration.

One of my favorite times was gathering on the lawn at Grandma and Grandpa’s house on the water to watch the fireworks. Then the next day we strolled along the boardwalk to a nearby amusement park where we indulged in frozen custard and rides on the flying horses. But Grandma always warned us, “Stay away from the mechanical fortune teller in the glass booth. That woman is trouble.”

Although the amusement park was just several blocks away, Grandma did not like strangers and crowds. She was even more cautious on the Fourth of July weekend when she saw cars maneuvering the narrow road in front of the house.

“They are not from around here,” she would say.

For that reason, she would invite family, friends and neighbors to sit on the large wrap-around porch or the lawn to view the amusement park’s blossoming array of colors under the safety of her watchful eyes.

During the fireworks display, she would bring out her trays of biscotti and pass them around as if she was serving guests at a wedding. And after the finale of booming sounds, either Grandpa or my father led the singing of “Happy Birthday.”

Every year my father would say, “Can you believe that all these people came here for you?” My family would shower me with presents and I was led to believe that the fireworks were a gift from the neighbors.

The next day, despite Grandma’s misgivings, we would head to the amusement park very early in the day. From the time I was a baby, my mother and aunts would take me for a boardwalk adventure.

Grandma said one day, “Much as that place gives me the woollies, your mother looked forward to the frozen custard stand. Papa knew the owner, and when he saw you and my girls, he would open early for you. I knew they went there because you always came home with ice cream all over you.”

What I also loved about that summer ritual was the ride on the flying horses. When my father caught the brass ring, before the music started, the operator would walk along the horses and tell everyone to sing “Happy Birthday” just for me.

In terms of happy memories, Grandma often reminded me of my favorite horse, a white stallion who I named Posies, because she had so many pretty flowers around her.

Whenever we returned from that park, Grandma would say, “I’ll bet Posies was happy to see you. Flying horses are magical. They will always remember you and they will always give you a smile.”

— Rita Esposito Watson — www.ritawatson.com — is a Journal columnist writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”



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Kind Commencement Words Counter Political Negativity

Posted on June 1, 2016
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During this month of graduations, in a nation inundated by political name-calling, I am reminded of two commencement speeches that resonated with words of kindness and justice.Former President Jimmy Carter spoke at Trinity College in 1998 at the graduation of one of my sons. He urged graduates to be mindful of the discrimination of “rich people against poor people.” The other memorable speech was by George Saunders, who teaches at Syracuse University. His address to the 2013 graduating class there was released in a book called, “Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness.”

President Carter’s address at Trinity was fitting in that the college is involved with Habitat for Humanity. He has taken part in fundraising and homebuilding since 1984. The nonprofit group views housing and shelter as a matter of conscience, which underscores its dedication to eliminating “poverty housing” and homelessness internationally. In speaking of breaking down barriers between the rich and the poor, Carter’s words struck a chord when he encouraged graduates to look beyond the world of their own social milieu. “There’s a vast world out there, not just in our country, but in other nations as well,” he said.

When his speech on kindness and justice ended, the graduates, their families, and friends gave him a rousing, standing ovation. Initially, video sales of the commencement seemed sluggish; after his words, sales soared.

At the Syracuse commencement, Saunders spoke of regret as well as kindness. He told of a seventh-grader at school often ignored or teased by others. And while he says he was moderately kind and might have been kinder in the future, he lost his chance. One day the young girl’s family moved away. Saunders’ message was a simple one. “As a goal in life … try to be kinder … What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

For some students, kindness and gratitude are taught long before graduation. Jeffrey J. Froh, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University, said to me during an earlier interview, “Data indicate grateful teens have more self-control and, during a time when their identity is forming, gratitude correlates with fewer reports of antisocial and delinquent behaviors.” He also noted that “grateful children may be more community minded.”

Froh is co-author with Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., of “Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character.” He added: “A lot of these findings are things we learned in kindergarten or things our grandmothers told us, but we now have scientific evidence to prove them.”

Research seems to indicate that those who nurture an attitude of gratitude may foster a reservoir of kindness that enriches their own lives as well as the lives of others.

—Rita Watson, M.P.H., also writes “With Love and Gratitude” forPsychologyToday.com.

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Italian Kisses: Biscotti for fabric, a fair trade

Posted on May 18, 2016
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Special to The Journal Posted May. 12, 2016 @ 9:30 pm

To Grandma, looking fashionable was as simple as taking off the white baker’s apron that usually hugged her pastel-colored house dress. It was only on Sunday, when she dressed for church in her navy blue gabardine dress with the lace collar, that we could see her sense of style.
When her daughters tried to take her shopping, she would say, “I’m not like Papa’s mother, your great a nonna, who was always out and about. I’m here cooking and baking.”

Nonetheless, Grandma appreciated fine cotton and linen and, to keep us looking fashionable, she became a barterer — her biscotti for the newest in fabric.

Our mother worked in the city at the telephone company, where she and her friends tried to dress according to fashion. They would shop on their lunch hour at Horowitz Bros., a fabric store with textiles, patterns, buttons and zippers. When our mother discovered that Angie, a saleswoman, lived near the Water House, she told her to simply knock on the door whenever she walked by and could smell Grandma’s freshly baked biscotti.

Every few weeks, Angie would catch the aroma of Grandma’s baking, and a predictable routine ensued. She would stand under the grape arbor and call out, “Nancy, are you in the kitchen? It’s me. Angie.”
Grandma would lift the window frame and call out, “Angie, I was just thinking about you. Come in. The back door is open. You are just in time for some biscotti and demitasse.”

On cue, Angie would say, “I don’t want to bother you, but I did want you to know that we had some new fabrics. I think that your granddaughters will look adorable if you and your daughter have time to sew them some new dresses.”

Then, seating herself at the table, she would say, “Now don’t fuss. Just sit with me and we can talk.” That was the sign that Angie was having company and wanted to bring home some biscotti.

Grandma kept Angie and her husband happy with sweets and, in exchange, Angie brought fabric swatches and sometimes even fabric remnants.

On some Saturdays, our mother and her sisters would invite Angie to their sewing bee. They transformed the front parlor overlooking the water into a sewing room. There they spent the afternoon designing their own patterns, cutting and basting dresses, and then waiting for Grandma to “run them up” on her old Singer sewing machine on the second-floor balcony overlooking the parlor.

Angie was never as much fun as our aunts, but Grandma said it was because she had a difficult husband. “That’s why I tell you all the time, be nice to everyone. You never know what troubles they carry in their hearts.”
—Rita Esposito Watson is writing “Italian Kisses: Grandma’s Wisdom.”

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Grandma’s Rose-Colored Words

Posted on April 18, 2016
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Rita Watson’s Italian Kisses: Grandma tried to avoid unkind words

By Rita Watson Special to The Journal Posted Apr. 14, 2016 @ 9:00 pm

Grandma believed in clichés, euphemisms and kind words. “Bless instead of curse, because curses come home,” was a favorite saying.

Grandma may not have seen the world through rose-colored glasses, but she spoke as if she did, even though her body language sometimes betrayed her. Our philandering great uncle was never called a “Casanova.” Instead, Grandma talked about his “tendency,” shrugging her shoulders, lifting her hands upward and raising her eyes to heaven. Yet today, despite the golden rules from the “Baltimore Catechism” we learned preparing for our First Communion, it is her words that resonate.

My 94-year-old Aunt Rose recently explained: “Uncle was tall and handsome with thick, black, wavy hair. The twinkle in his blue eyes was his downfall. The girls were all in love with him. And he had the tendency to please. He didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Once he married, Aunt Georgia straightened him out, although the tendency sometimes returned.”

As family lore goes, one day Uncle entered the family pastry shop hugging a young, giggling bank teller. It seems that Aunt Georgia was helping in the back kitchen that day. When she heard his voice, she gasped, “the tendency.” Zia, the pastry shop matron, dashed from the kitchen waving her rolling pin. The young lady fled and, after that experience, Uncle began taking trips to Italy with his brothers. He claimed his doctors said that exercising in the old country was good for his heart.

Another uncle had what Grandma dubbed “the condition” — Grandma never used the word alcoholism. She said he developed “a condition” after his wife died. “It broke his heart,” Grandma would say, “and blackberry brandy is a healer.”

Apparently tendencies and conditions were not unique to our family. A colleague from a large Italian family remembers an older cousin, “Tony, the painter,” who missed family gatherings for three years. Whenever anyone asked “Where’s Tony?” the matriarch answered, “He’s painting a house.” No one dared mention that he was “doing time.”

Another euphemism we often heard was quietly spoken when a man jilted a relative, either by choice or because a father deemed that he was not suitable for his daughter. We never heard, “He stood her up.” The words used were “È scomparso,” meaning, “He disappeared.” Today we call that “ghosting.”

Although some relatives whispered, “She’s better off without him,” or “She deserves better,” no unkind words were spoken in our house.

“Watch your words,” Grandma warned. “What if he comes back again, the family reconciles, and the two want to marry? If you speak unkind words, and it gets back to the family, you won’t be invited to the wedding.” With that threat, everyone made the zip sign across their lips.

Rita Esposito Watson (ritawatson.com) is a Journal columnist writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”


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Creating your gratitude story

Posted on April 7, 2016
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We all have a story to tell, even though sometimes our stories mingle between reality and what we choose to remember. However, what determines our destiny is oftentimes the way we fashion our stories. While it is always best to err on the side of truth, sometimes we are driven to reshape unhappy experiences to find a smidgen of the positive; doing so can be life preserving.

Memoir writing has soared in popularity in recent years. It is one avenue for recording life’s experiences. Viewing the memoir within the genre of creative non-fiction makes it easier to write a personal, family or love history from the perspective of gratitude. There is no longer the constraint of rigidly adhering to dates and history. With spring in the air, it might be time to buy a new journal, pen words on a card, or begin writing an uplifting memoir.

While at Yale’s department of psychology, Robert Sternberg, PhD, pointed out that a love relationship between two people follows a story, oftentimes a story we created as children. If we find that our stories do not turn out happily, he suggests rewriting them. Here is a twist on a love story for couples. Remind yourself as to why you fell in love and retell the story to each other. Embellish it. Fill it with romance. Add wishes that you can now make come true. Fashion your love story into a commitment to each other.

Take to heart what we learned from the research of Marcel Zentner, a professor of psychology at the University of Innsbruck. “Men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind and ideal for them — in just about every way — remain content with each other,” he said to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It is one of the secrets to lifelong love.

If you are seeing the love of your life, a family member or friends in a less than perfect light, Loretta Breuning says that you can wire your brain to see the good. Just spend three minutes a day for the next 45 days (or one minute intervals three time a day) building a pathway for gratitude. Oftentimes we focus on the negative because the positive has no place to flow until you build that new pathway. Author of “Habits of a Happy Brain,” Breuning told me, “If you miss a day, start over.” Then she added, “Make your energy available for gratitude. You’ll be so happy that you did.”

Deciding to write a gratitude memoir can bridge family relationships, capture the wisdom of older relatives and even enrich the love bond between couples. To begin, it simply takes treasuring one memory at a time.

Rita Watson, M.P.H., a Providence Journal relationship columnist, writes “With Love and Gratitude” for PsychologyToday.com. / http://www.providencejournal.com/entertainmentlife/20160331/rita-watson-creating-story-of-gratitude

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From her Pizzagaina to Zeppole, Grandma Was Queen

Posted on April 7, 2016
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By Rita Watson

When both San Giuseppe Day and Easter would fall within weeks of each other — as with this year — Grandma would say, “I’m beside myself with all of the baking and cooking. I hope I still have the strength to stand on my feet for this.”

Despite complaints of her aches and pains, when Grandma was in her kitchen cooking, she smiled as if she was in a corner of heaven. Convinced that her Zeppole di San Giuseppe and her Easter-time pizzagaina were unrivaled in the family of cooks, she looked forward to hearing the words: “The taste of this is even better than it was last year.”

The zeppole was the first of the family bake-offs, and there was a discernible difference in taste and appearance. Unlike her in-laws, who made zeppole resembling a doughnut filled with cream in the center, Grandma’s looked like cream puffs. Then she would add swirls of extra custard cream on the top, highlighted by a dark Amarena cherry.

When the family gathered to celebrate San Giuseppe Day, which was Father’s Day in Italy, her in-laws would try to determine the ingredient that gave her pastry such zing. It was Limoncello, a liqueur that her brother brought her from the old country. Grandma never served it as an after-dinner drink because she was afraid the sight of the bottle would give away her secret. While her in-laws used lemon zest or orange zest with bits of candied fruit in their custard, Gram’s magic was hidden in back of the pantry cupboard.

At the end of the day, she and Grandpa would sit on a window seat overlooking the dock sipping their demitasse. Then he would pinch her cheek and say, “Nancy, even though my sisters make zeppole just like my mother, you are my Zeppole Princess, the best in America.”

The second March bake-off was with the pizzagaina, Napolitano Pizza Rustica. Gram believed that no one could compete with the texture, moisture and meats in her treasured recipe — baked ham, capicola and pepperoni. On the Saturday before Easter she held a women’s brunch for the exchange of hearty pies.

It was after the family left that Grandma’s blue eyes twinkled and she became the resident food critic. Tasting the leftovers on the dining room sideboard she would begin, “Zia still uses too much mozzarella. See how heavy this is. Concetta always makes hers too watery. This one is from Aunt Georgia. Just look how she skimps on the ham. And Antoinette, can you imagine she uses boiled ham instead of a fresh-baked ham?”

Looking at her face as she became “the taster,” it was apparent — Grandma was once again convinced that in the kitchen, she reigned supreme.

Rita Esposito Watson, a Journal columnist, adapted this from her “Italian kisses: Gram’s wisdom.”

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