Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Long Siesta

I linked to my Blog Dashboard to shut down my site just now. 

I am once again feeling overwhelmed by obligations of my own doing: taking on too much work and not enjoying moments of nothingness. To that end I have (nervously) extracted myself from some paying jobs, taking a leap of faith that I can make my living just fine on one, not three jobs that are pulling me in all directions - or to an early grave.  

In the process of this "house cleaning" I figured that I would stop feeling like I should be writing my blog posts on a more regular basis, just another obligation I felt I was failing. Then, I saw a comment that was awaiting moderation.

Someone had taken the time to write to me regarding a post I wrote all the way back in 2009. This unknown individual shared her own birth story after reading Childbirth My Way .  I realize that I love this venue for writing my story, I love most of all that I touch others in doing so. I may not have a huge following, however, nearly 30,000 people have stopped by to read my musings since I first started writing the blog. My dream has always been to write and inspire. It has never been about becoming rich or famous, but I would lie if I said I didn't wish I could be the next Frank McCourt or Linda Lou

So, instead of signing off for good, I am putting my blog, This Gioia's Chronicles, on hiatus. I hope readers, new and returning, will take the time to scroll through the last five years of writing while I'm taking a long siesta. There may just be one or more posts that you relate to, are inspired by, and you will take the time to tell me so. 

Adios for now.

Lisa Gioia-Acres

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Delayed Responses in an Instant Messaging World


I thought technology, you know: cell phones, emails, and the like was supposed to make our jobs and lives easier. Instead, I find that I am constantly waiting for a response to messages left on "instant transfer" messages. Do you feel the same?
 
 
I send an email to apply for a new position, to submit important documents, or just to say "Hello" to someone.

Nothing.

No, "Hey, I got your important information, thanks for sending. We'll be back with you as soon as possible."  

It's an email! It takes literally five-ten seconds to hit the Reply button, say "thanks" and hit Send. I have taken to writing in my emails, "Please reply to this message so I know you have received it."

Not long ago I delivered some delicious cookies to a neighbor. She wasn't home so I set the cookies on her table with a little "thank you for your help" note. I didn't hear a thing back from her. I sent a little nudging text message, "Hey, how are you? Did you get the cookies?"

Nothing.

I think our instantaneous world is overwhelming us. Most likely the culprit is that everyone's email
box is filled with so many emails it is hard to sift through the good ones from the spam.

Maybe it's time to go back to sending things the old-fashioned way: writing a note by hand or applying for a job through the
post.
 












But, then again, no one will have time to read a letter in hand because they are too busy staring at and cursing their computer screen. 
 
Ah, the world we now live in.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Be the Master (or Mistress) of Your Own Destiny


Today I met up with a friend I haven't seen for a few months. We shopped at a few thrift stores and caught up with one another's life. At one point she said to me, "Have you been depressed? Are you taking anything?"  I thought she was asking me because perhaps she was asking advice for herself. I was partly right; seems she has trouble, being a southern California born-and-bred girl, with the rainy, sometimes snowy winters where we both now call home.

Why she'd asked, however, was because, to put it in her words, "You are so happy, I thought for sure you were taking medication."
 
 
I've thought about that exchange ever since we parted. I am happy and no pill is responsible. Rather, I am the master of my happiness because I took a leap of faith and followed my heart.

For years I've lived in a place that just wasn't suited to me. I am not going to bash the place I called home for twenty-five years. I've made some amazing friends, built a career, and have memories that make me smile. But, I didn't want to be there anymore. I had another place in mind to live, and for many reasons. But everyone around me, save for my closest friends and family, told me I was crazy to want to leave, especially where I hoped to go. They said that I was always doing impulsive acts. They said I should count the blessing I had and stay put! They told me that I'd never be happy (See Happiness is in the Heart of the Beholder).
 
I knew what was best for me and I finally dared to gift it to myself.
 
So, at the end of this past summer I settled somewhere else. I still keep tabs on my old stomping ground because I can't make a complete break as of yet, but this is where I plan on being for a long time. It does make me happy. We have four seasons here, and when it rains I don't feel gloomy – I know that Mother Earth is being nourished and I feel giddy. The people here are so friendly! I've made some fast friends in the short time I've been here. And that friend I mentioned in the beginning? We were best of friends a long time ago in another place and we just happened to end up here, in the same place. Serendipity!

We all live in the shadow of others' expectations, and sometimes the pressure of that keeps us from doing what we most desire. For so long I thought I was doomed to accept where I was and that indeed made me depressed.
 
But now I have a whole new lease on life. I am my own best medicine.
 

 
 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I'm Still Here!


Oh, yes. It has been far too long since my last blog post.
 
There are times I wonder if I will continue using this venue to express myself, since it is obvious with the length of time between postings that I may, heaven forbid, have run out of things to say. That really isn't true, not by a long shot, but the thrust and need for sharing from when I began my blog in 2009, to now, has diminished some. For one, I am working on that long-delayed memoir and want to save at least some for the published (and paid for) copy of my life story! And, the blog posts of the past have certainly served their purpose: I got a lot of that angst stored up inside of me off of my chest. Lastly, A LOT has changed in the last half of the year and truthfully, some of it is personal and I'm not too willing to share it with the anonymous audience. 

My dreams are coming true. They are. I have leaped with faith and have been rewarded ten-fold. It is a wonderful story that continues to unfold, and as much as I wish to tell every step of it, I feel a need to hold back. I am so proud of what I've accomplished in a short period of time. Everything I've ever believed in and followed through on – meaning all those years of impulsive actions, still serve me; even in this time of my life when I should, according to so many willingly giving me free advice, be conservative in my life choices. I say the heck with that. I have reinvigorated my life by taking chances.

As usual I am so busy that I often wish I could stop the world from spinning and get off. But, it is me that makes the choices to say, "yay" or "nay." My responsibility and I accept my role in it. Besides, as the old saying goes, "I'll get plenty of sleep when I'm dead."

I most certainly hope that event is a long, long way off. I have so much more to do yet!
 
Here's a hint about my new life: my view
 
 

 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Time Travel is Possible: In Your Dreams

Although I experienced loss (my parents) at a young age, I really didn't know anyone close to me that would die until much later.  My first experience was at age 17 when a high school friend died in a car accident.  Prior to that it was my pets that came and went that taught me about the fragility of life and the inevitability of death.  Now that I am older, however, deaths of both human and animals that I know (friends and colleagues) and love (close friends, family, and beloved pets) is happening more and more frequently.

When I have lost someone I realize that they are gone for good; they've left the planet and no longer exist in bodily form.  It really affects me as I know it does anyone who experiences loss.  Just like wishing I could go back in time to when my girls were babes in my arms, I often wish there was a time machine so I could go back and reconnect with lost loved ones.

When that show Quantum Leap was on, I so wanted it to be true that we had the ability to time travel.  But I realize that we all do have the ability, just not in the way that Hollywood or H.G. Wells have portrayed it.  My time machine (and yours) is in our head.  It's called dreaming.

I received a text this morning from a friend who said she had a dream about her long-lost beloved pet, a Pomeranian she adored that crushed her when she'd died.  It reminded me of the dreams I have with my grandmother, the woman who was my mother-substitute; yes – when I awake I realize it was just a dream, but for a time I was really with her.  We talked, did things together, and shared space together just like we did when she was alive. 

I have never had a dream about my mom and dad because I was so young when they died that I have no memories.  But I have vivid dreams of so many others that have come and gone in my life.  I am so grateful to have those stored memories so I can revisit Nancy, the friend who died at age 17; Maya, the terrier that gave me so much cuddling joy; and Elizabeth Montgomery, who I never met in person but who made an impact in my young life (I wanted her to be my mom!). 

Yes, time travel is possible, when we are asleep everyone we love is alive!


Saturday, October 26, 2013

History, big or small, matters to us all

Years ago when I was old enough to know that my family history was unique, I became a rebel.  

Those that I grew up around hoped that the story of my parents' life and death would fade into obscurity because it wasn't a "nice" story, in fact the very nature of it brought shame to the family name and brought up memories too sad to be recalled. 

First I asked questions out of pure curiosity: why was I raised by my grandmother?  Why were there no photographs of my parents?  Why, when I asked questions was I met with, "Never mind.  It's in the past.  Let it go." 

A persistent child and adult, I began to dig.  Those efforts, of finding out the truth from uncovered documents, as well as interviews with people who knew my mom and dad, has turned me into the historian I am today.

To me, facts, dates, and stories matter. 


Today is the anniversary of my father's death.  Nine days ago it was my mother's; both died in the same year, nine days apart. 

So many years have passed since that fated month.  That's what I tell myself when I notice the dates: October 17 and October 26.  I ask myself what does it matter?  It is just another day.  My life is full and happy, I have so much to be thankful for that I should not dwell on the past.  That is so much easier said then done.

I am a historian and dates matter. 

Teaching students about history on a global level is all about making sure they know when historic events happened, where they took place and who was involved.  It the story of human history.  The story of my family is a much more personal, intimate one that concerns very few.  But the impact of the events that took my parents from me, leaving my three brothers and I adrift in life with questions that can never be answered are as important to us as any major world history event.  It happened in our world and we have been forever changed.

History matters; whether it affects a few or an entire population, remembering it is a debt we owe to those who made it and left behind a legacy, no matter how big or small. 

No, that don't have to hold me back, but it is okay to remember.

Today, many years ago, my father died.  His story and that of my mother has not been forgotten.  That's my job as a daughter - and as a historian.

Joseph and Patricia Gioia with
sons Michael, infant Jimmy, and Joseph, Jr.
1954






Monday, September 9, 2013

It's the Journey AND the Destination that Counts

It was 1979 and I'd returned from a cross-country trip with Mike, the man who would, over time become my husband and the father of my two children.  I'd recently graduated from the EATM program.  In an old car and an (adorable) teardrop trailer, Mike and I went to my home in New York, stayed a few weeks and headed west again.  Instead of going back to southern California, he took me to an out-of-the-way place called Happy Camp in northern California.  There we stayed the summer and it was the first time I'd laid eyes on the Pacific Northwest, an experience I was never able to shake. 

The teardrop trailer that had everything we needed
 
After returning to the Los Angeles area, I grew tired of the relationship and in typical Lisa fashion, I left the state in order to leave a boyfriend.  Where did I go?  I headed north again.  I had heard from one of my teachers in the EATM program, a hardened old former circus animal trainer, Wally Ross, that I might get a job in southern Oregon with an old friend of his.  Without first checking to see if I would find employment, another impulsive behavior typical of me, I purchased an old Willy's Jeep, a cabover camper to go with it, filled it with my few material possessions, as well as my most precious ones: my dog, cat and bird and headed on to a new adventure.

"Babe", my faithful companion














I got the job, working as an animal trainer for Dogs for the Deaf.  I also took on a job as a waitress.  I lived in the camper until someone offered to rent me, for $25.00 a month, a little travel trailer.  I also lucked out and found a place to park my mobile home, right along the Applegate River.  There I lived, for the first time in my life, all by myself.  It was a wonderful, albeit small existence, but one that changed me forever. 

The experience didn't last long; Mike was a persistent suitor and shortly after the new year I discovered a whole new life awaited me - that of a first time mom.  Once again, with Mike as the driver of both my Jeep and my life, I found myself on the road again. 

Throughout the subsequent years, through all the trials and tribulations of a life well lived, I have thought fondly of that little trailer by the river and the place that reminded me so much of the country life I lived as a child.  I wondered if I'd ever get the chance to live there, or someplace like it again.

It took a long, long time, but I did make it back to a place that is surrounded by old-growth trees, the four seasons, and water.  Oh, how I missed water: rain, rivers, creeks.  While I still have to call Las Vegas "home," I can finally say that I'm on my way to recapturing what I thought I might have lost forever.  The temporary home I live in is a bit bigger than that trailer, but not by much, yet it suits me because I am warm and safe and it's the outside world that interests me most.  Surrounded by nature that includes vegetation and wildlife, I am literally in my element. 

The view from my back porch
I have found much inspiration here in my little writer's retreat.  I can't wait to see what I produce.  I have to sign off now; it's dusk and the wild turkeys are getting ready to roost.  I just have to step onto my back porch to watch.

Time for bed

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Night to Remember: My Date with The Monkees

My rock concert experiences have been few and far between.  Although as a kid I was more into the Jackson Five (the animal lover in me listened to Michael Jackson’s Ben over and over) then the Osmonds, I saved up my allowance money to take my favorite aunt to see them in Buffalo for her birthday.  My next concert was another teeny-bopper affair: David Cassidy had me joining in with all the other screaming girls.  As I matured my music tastes didn’t get any more sophisticated than Elton John, whom I have seen a couple of times and have never tired of the way his music touches me.
I am a loyalist when it comes to musicians and bands that take me back to my childhood; my iPod is filled with the sounds of music that makes me feel good.  So when the opportunity came recently to see The Monkees in Las Vegas, I felt like a preteen again, hopping about in anticipation before, during and after the event.  The experience was everything and more for me and I wish, like every other fan there that I could express to the group how much they mean to me. 

I attended with my Las Vegas BFF Linda, whose enthusiasm nearly surpassed my own.  She and I are the same age and come from the same region in New York, so our childhood experiences with Monkee Love are the same.  I told my husband it was a good thing he wasn’t going with us because we were sure to make fools of ourselves.  Thank goodness we were in good company; the other concert-goers took no notice of us as they were screaming and dancing in their seats the same as us. 
Davy Jones was, of course, missed.  Mike, Peter, and Mickey (he and Davy were my crushes) did a beautiful tribute to their lost band mate when they said that “Daydream Believer” belonged to the fans so they brought a guy from the audience up to lead us all in singing we watched a montage of Davy scenes from the television show. 

During the entire concert I wondered how I would put into words the feelings I was having so I could write a blog post.  Although I have conveyed here a little bit of the experience, I really am at a loss for words to share everything I was feeling.  My emotions were mixed with nostalgia and joy, but there was so much more that I don’t know how to express.  To have been able, in my fifties, to see and hear live a group that I only dreamed of being in the presence of as a kid is, well – I have no words to express.  That is perhaps why music sometimes says it better and while I swayed, sang, jiggled, and screamed during the concert, I let me emotions do the talking for me. 
It was a magical night. 


Check out the video:
 


Monday, August 12, 2013

Taking a Trip Takes Its Toll, But I'd Do It All Again

Summer is winding to a close and before it does I wanted to finish my chronicle of the summer trip I took with my eleven-year-old grandson, Aiden. 

My last post had me picking Aiden up from a sleepover with his "cousins."  It was Saturday and his next stop was to the home of his mother's friend to spend the day with more kids.  After a goodbye, I headed down the road to the reason I had come to New York at that particular time - the Batavia Ramble Music Festival

My friend Mike Murray, a guy I knew ages ago in high school and thanks to Social Media we have stayed in touch, is one of the organizers of this annual event.  He's been pushing me for years to come to the Festival and I finally made it.  The Batavia Ramble is a chance for several bands to play on stages in Batavia's Jackson Square and for old friends to reconnect. 

Mike Murray jamming with pals at
O'Lacey's Irish Pub

I was really looking forward to seeing friends I'd long left behind. 

It was a typical NY summer: hot and muggy.  I just don't look my best when I'm mopping sweat from my face and trying to keep my hair from turning into a frizzled mess.  But it was all worth it because I did get to see many old friends and catch up on the years since we'd last seen each other.  All of this catching up, however, had a detrimental effect on me.

I'd woken up that morning with a dry and scratchy throat, a result I was sure of my previous late night out and talking too loud.  Personally I didn't feel that I'd done an inordinate amount of talking, after all it's what I do (see Call Me Chatty Cathy).  In any case, by late afternoon my voice was weakening.  I felt fine, just tired.  I said my goodbyes to old friends, picked up Aiden and headed to see more people.

Before I headed to one of my favorite places, the large farmstead of one of my dearest friends, I took Aiden to meet yet more cousins and see my brother and his wife.


I wasn't much good company, however; the heat was draining me and my voice was little more than a whisper.  A good night's sleep and I'd be alright I told myself.  Once I'd arrived at Kathy and Danny's in the town of Medina, I was ready for some shut eye. 

The next morning my voice was completely absent.  We went to breakfast at this great place that was serving a Sunday Pancake Brunch made from the berries they picked on site.  Danny's aging mom was there, a really nice woman whom I hadn't seen since 1997 and I couldn't talk to her at all!  The rest of the day was a blur of activity, which probably didn't help me try to recover my strength.  In these small towns of NY going to visit isn't just a "hop, skip, and a jump."  You have to travel many long miles to get from one place to another. 

I had agreed to take Aiden to see his paternal grandfather.  He lived 60 miles from Medina.  But it was worth it because he was so happy to see his little grandson.


From there I invited us back to my brother, Mike's house.  While I rested my brother took Aiden to a local treasure: Vidler's 5 & 10 Store

 
To say that Aiden was like a kid in a candy store is an understatement; Vidler's IS a candy store and much more.  It was even highlighted on Martha Stewart's now defunct television show. 

After a great meal made by my big brother, Aiden and I slept.  I woke up no better.  We had just one more full day in NY and I was hoping to make the best of it.  It included one of my favorite activities:
 
a hike in the woods


where we found an abandoned cabin to explore


and more visits
Aiden walks with Kathy around her Water Lilly-filled pond

Nothing like a tractor ride!
 
the eating of more great food, and then to bed early so we could catch an early flight home.

It took another week for my voice to return to normal.  I developed an accompanying cough and eventually had to go on antibiotics, which worked to finally get rid of whatever bug I must have caught.  Was it worth it?  You bet.  I can't wait to take another memorable trip with Aiden.  Next stop: Orlando, Florida to go to Sea World, where another old school (college) friend works with marine mammals and he wants to give Aiden the chance to pet a walrus and then to Disney World to experience the World of Harry Potter. 

Nana and Aiden.  Picture taken under the famed Erie Canal

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Time and a Place: for my Grandmother's cooking

My grandmother taught me many things, but the tradition I carry on most and with great relish is that of her cooking ability.

Grandma Oberlander with great-grandchildren Adrian (on left)
and Erin (on right) in her well-used kitchen, circa 1985
I am fond of telling people that the Apple iPad is the “greatest invention there is.”  One of the reasons I love this gadget is it allows me to “FaceTime” with my grandchildren; we can talk face-to-face, in real time and I don’t miss the new haircut, they can show me their new boo-boos, etc.
 
Rain and Nana (in top right) captured on iPad during
a recent chat fest
The other day talking to my three-year-old grandson I said to him, “When you come visit Nana, do you want her to make you some beet soup?” 

Not in the mood to talk at the moment, he nodded with a big smile on his face because my Beet Soup is one this picky eater’s favorite foods. 
I share this little story because as I await the arrival of my grandchildren from their home five hours away, I am busy in the kitchen going back to a time when an iPad was as foreign an idea as space travel.  Today I am recreating meals my grandmother used to make and I’m doing it for my grandchildren as well as for myself. 

I miss my grandmother who has been dead since 1998.  I don’t think of her every single day, but I find myself recalling her in moments as I go through my day; something she may have said, the way she taught me to do a task, or when I’m cooking a meal that was one of her signatures.  Beet soup was just such a dish.  So is the Bean and Cabbage concoction I have simmering on the stove. 

These are meals that I rarely make.  If I cooked and ate these meals the way I did when I was a young girl, I would not be able to fit through my door.  During the time when I was growing up under the tutelage of Grandma Oberlander, I was witness to a way of life that was fast fading into obscurity. 

My grandmother was born in 1912.  She raised a large family on a farm during the Great Depression.  I recall her telling me she could make one potato feed her family of ten.  My aunt shared how she would watch her mother-in-law make bread, kneading a mountain of dough on a wooden table with the end result being the best bread she had ever eaten. 

My grandmother was of Polish extract; I assume she learned the basics from her own mother.  The foods she made (recipes for two follow at the end of this article) contained potatoes, beans, cabbage, bacon; all hearty and inexpensive, yet, filling and nutritious.  They kept my grandmother’s brood of children (she raised a total of 15) fed.  They have kept me hungering for my childhood favorites all of my adult life.  The combination of the ingredients are amazingly addictive: eat just a few bites and you are craving for more.  Trust me, it's true!

And, now I pass on the tradition to my own children albeit in small, excuse the pun, bites.

While my skinny-minnie grandchildren are in no danger of obesity from eating such carbohydrate packed foods, there is no way I could eat like this every day the way we did when I was growing up.  Not just the fact that I try hard to maintain some semblance of a trim figure, but think of the gastronomic consequences of those beans and cabbage.  I’d like to stay married, thank you very much! 

No, my diet these days is more typical of yesterday’s breakfast: a smoothie of kale, spinach, apple, and rice milk.  Can you imagine my grandmother’s face at the idea of that being called a meal? 

But on occasion it is so nice to return to the tastes of my grandmother’s kitchen.  There is a time and place for such nostalgic visits, and when the grandchildren come it is the perfect reason.  It gives me the chance to reminisce in my heart and to pass along traditions that began many generations ago. 

Yes, this is the time and my home is the place.  Thank you, Grandma, for the memories, great food, and traditions.

Beans and Cabbage

Great Northern White beans
½ head of cabbage
Vinegar to taste (approximately ¼ cup)
½ pound bacon
¼ cup of flour
Salt & pepper to taste
Soak beans overnight

In the morning, rinse the beans.  Place in a stock pot and cover with water.  Cook on medium heat, stirring often to prevent sticking.  Add salt and pepper.  Cook until beans are tender and water is reduced.

Chop cabbage into small pieces.  Add cabbage and vinegar to the cooked beans.  Cook about 30 minutes.  In a fry pan, cooked bacon that is chopped into small, bite-sized pieces.  Cook over low heat in a non-Teflon coated pan to bring out the fat.  When the bacon is crisp, remove it from pan.  Add the flour to the grease and whisk until blended.  Add the liquid from the beans and cabbage, a ladle-full at a time, then pour the thickened mixture into the pot of beans and cabbage.  Add the bacon bits.  Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.  Add more water as needed.  Cook on very low heat for 30 minutes. 

The recipe for Beans and Cabbage is from my memory.  My grandmother never used a recipe book and neither do I.  Sometimes the end result is off; sometimes it’s the best I’ve ever made.
 
 

Beet Soup

Ham bone (not from a glazed ham)
Onion
One large potato, cut into bite-size pieces
Two cans sliced or whole beets (not pickled)
Sour cream
Marjoram
Vinegar (approximately ½ cup, but maybe more, depending on taste)
Salt and pepper
Macaroni (elbow), cooked

Put the ham bone in a large stock pot and cover with water.  Add whole onion, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium high heat until water is reduced by almost half, 45-60 minutes.  Add the two can of beets, marjoram, vinegar (as my grandmother used to say, you can always add more but can’t take it out, so be easy on the vinegar.  Add it, taste it, add more as needed), and potato.  Cook until potato is tender.  

Turn the heat off of the soup and allow to cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl place the sour cream.  The amount depends on your taste; start with a ½ pint.  Add the lukewarm soup, one ladle-full at a time, whisking until about ¼ of the soup is mixed with the sour cream.  Transfer the sour cream/soup mixture to the large pot of soup. 
Turn the heat on very low to warm the soup, but NEVER bring to a boil.  You may add more sour cream at this time, depending on your taste.  Too much sour cream takes away from the nice ham & vinegar base of the soup. 

Serve with noodles.  Never put the noodles in the soup; store separately. 
Again, no exact recipe.  Sometimes it comes our perfectly, sometimes it’s an off day with too much of one thing and not enough of the other.