All I want for Christmas is…

Tradition, as defined in my iPhone dictionary app, is a specific practice of long-standing and/or an inherited pattern of thought or action.  Basically traditions are those rituals we perform over and over, through the years and pass down to our kids.  We may tweak what our parents did or start new ones.  Traditions are like mac and cheese, comfort food for our souls.  They make us feel safe and secure.  We know what will happen next. The traditions with which I was raised and even those I started fresh with my family make me feel like I am wrapped in a Boston Red Sox Snuggie while lying on the couch watching Jaws for the umpteenth time.

I asked various friends and family to share their favorite traditions with me.

Gigi from Atlanta, GA emailed and said,” What comes to mind for me is that my mom passed on her recipes to me and now I make and share them with my kids.  Holidays were very special at my house and now my kids love the same foods and traditions. In so many ways I feel like my parents are with us celebrating.”

 Natalie from Wakefield, MA responded to my Facebook request, “Here’s something I remember well…..my sister never helped clear the table on any holiday….NEVER
.”  (If you haven’t guessed, Nat is my sister.)

Camille from Peabody, MA, also via FB, tells us about her father’s nuts, “My favorite tradition is my father roasting his nuts every Thanksgiving.  We get the biggest laugh when we have to call him to check his nuts. By the way, he’s 95
.”

Christine from Santa Fe, TN writes in on FB about her Italian Christmas Eve: “One of my favorite memories involved our traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, known as The Feast of Seven Fishes. We always had family and friends around to share the food, love, and joy of being together. A family friend we called Uncle Walter, always told the same stories every year. We humored him every year as if it were the first time we had heard each one. One year, my brother Ross and I were standing at the kitchen sink clearing things for the next course while Uncle Walter started one of his repeats. We both, simultaneously were able to mouth the exact words he was saying. We could not stop laughing at the fact that we had both managed to memorize his story. For the rest of the evening, it became a private joke between the two of us, and we still laugh about it to this day.”

I also compiled a video of some of my traditions as well as my Atlanta friends.  I hope you enjoy it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  Make 2013 a year of self fulfillment.  More on that in the early part of the year.

Tell me what’s going on in your life. I want to hear from you!

Wishing you love, balance and peace.

Amore & Baci,

Just Steph

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Yah, You Blend!

DSC02453  I have been living in Atlanta for twenty years.  I was a young mother of one when we arrived south of the Mason-Dixon line.  It took me seven years to finally say, with a lump in my throat, that the peach state was home for me.  It was at this turning point that I knew I would never move back home to Boston.  In those early years with small children and limited funds, a quick trip back to Beantown was nearly impossible.

There is not a day in the last twenty years that someone has not commented on my accent. “Where are you from, New York,” they would say as they mimicked the lack of R’s in my vocabulary.  Can you say, Paak the caaah in the Haaavaad Yaad?  Please, nobody says that! NOBODY!  I remember feeling so alone. I never saw anyone I knew when I went out to eat or to the mall.  Back home, wherever I went, I met up with old friends or family.   I felt like E.T. So I phoned home daily to get my fix and be sure my accent stayed strong.

After twelve years, we moved from what I now refer to as New Hampshire, Woodstock, to Atlanta.  Aaah, traffic, restaurants, nightclubs and lots of concrete gave me a sense of security.  I started to explore my new “hood.”  I found Atlanta had so much more to offer than I imagined.  There is culture, fine dining, philanthropy and fabulous people, not to forget SEC football.

Now, everywhere I go, I seem to meet up with friends and acquaintances.  I enjoy frequenting my fav dining and night spots where I have made some great business connections. I have found great spots to write in the city where people watching gets my creative juices flowing.  Luckily, I get to go back to Boston more often for accent maintenance.  Atlanta is now truly my home.  Yes, I still stick out like a sore thumb, and I will nevaah blend. At the same time, I leave a lasting impression with those  I meet.  That is comfort enough for this Boston girl gone south.

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Tell me what’s going on in your life.  I want to hear from you!

Wishing you love, balance and peace.

Amore & Baci (love & kisses),

Just Steph

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It’s Not Personal, Sonny….

According to Don Miguel Ruiz and the Toltecs, never take anything personally is agreement number two.  This one is my biggest struggle.  It has taken me all these years to finally be able to laugh at myself, but I have the hardest time separating someone’s actions from me.  According to “The Four Agreements” (“the book” for future references), even if someone directly insults or undermines me, it is not personal.  That is their problem, their stuff.

In my world, I get all bent out of shape when my kids huff and puff at my discipline.  I ask them to do something: the face, the sigh, the groan, the balking, the negative verbiage…”never mind, I’ll take out the recycle bin.”  Why do I do that?  Am I the only mother on earth that will do anything for peace, including ruining my kids?  I think life was so chaotic and turbulent for my sister and I that I just want a nice, orderly, peaceful existence.

Who suffers in the long run?  Everyone! I become exacerbated, even angry.  I end up doing the chores that the kids SHOULD be doing and I just f*%#ed up their future wives’ life. My boys will expect their spouses to do what I’ve done for them.  Your welcome, girls!  Sorry!

In the work world, I get the same anxiety.  Why won’t people buy my book?  Why don’t I have more likes on Facebook and follows on Twitter?  My son (a.k.a. Mr. Rolex/lefty pitcher) says I’m uncool because I am following more people than follow me.  So I find myself not following people of interest after they follow me just to prove a point.  God forbid my numbers go down…what did I do? Was it something I said?  Do they know I am uncool?  Did Mr. Rolex tell them?

In the scheme of things, who gives a shit?  My Facebook/Twitter fan club will like me today and unfollow me tomorrow according to their own whims.  I cannot worry if my friends from the old hood ignore my posts.  I don’t need Xanax every time I share my page and my classmates won’t like it.  Hell, my cousin Carla won’t return my texts.  I keep reminding myself: they are busy; they are not trying to stick it to you; you are not on their radar.  It’s all ok.  I’m a good person.

If I am true to the teachings from “the book,” I would not be writing this blog.  Will I feel better when I get one thousand likes or twenty thousand follows?  Will I be a better mother if my kids never resist my authority?  No matter, I would probably continue to take out the recycle bin and risk my future daughters-in-law unhappiness.

Tell me what’s going on in your life.  I want to hear from you.

Amore & Baci (Love & Kisses),

Just Steph

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All The Shrinks I’ve Loved Before

In the spring of 1996, I buckled my two and four-year old boys into my Ford Aerostar and headed to Nashville from Atlanta. My grandmother was visiting her sick brother who was being cared for by his daughter, my beloved cousin, Christine. It was a great chance for my boys and I to visit with my Gram and be with family.

I know three families that moved from Boston: My father’s brother, who raised his family in Arizona, my grandmother’s brother, a doctor who moved south to further his medical career and my husband and I who took a chance and left home for the land of milk and honey: Atlanta. Leaving Boston is almost unheard of. Many live on the same street as their parents, if not the same house or building. Why would you leave the entangled web of dysfunction for freedom and Sundays without meatballs?

My cousin Christine was raised in South Carolina and moved to Nashville. Her age falls mid way between me and my dad. She is a tough cookie, a country girl with the intellect of a Harvard (Haaavaad) grad. When we pulled up to her home on Dallas Ave., my four-year old broke free of the restraints and scaled the outer walls of her hundred year old Victorian home. I couldn’t get him to stop, listen or settle. Chris gave me this look like she was saying, “girl, get a grip!” Her advice was this, “you need help. And, when you get your life together, the weight will come off.” Knowing how right she was, when I got home, I found my first shrink.

Money was tight, so I had to go with whomever insurance would pay. I found this lady in the center of the town where we lived at the time (a.k.a. nowheresville). She was a cross between Wednesday and Pugsly Addams and Rosie O’Donnell. I complained to her that my husband didn’t help me with the kids, like I was the first mom with this issue. Her advice was to stop taking care of everything and let the house fall apart until he kicks in. Are you f*#@ing kidding me? You want an Italian mother to not cook dinner for her family? After a few sessions in her dark Addam’s office, I waved bye to her and her beheaded doll.

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Two years later, still miserable and one more kid on the hip, I wobbled into my next shrink’s practice. This one I loved. He was Italian and he got me. Unbeknownst to me, he saw right through me. He could see the deep, dark brokenness I bore, even though I could not. It was in my fav guinea shrink’s office that I discovered I had a small hand, a physical disability. I had buried it so deep, I didn’t know. I had concealed the pain, shame and self loathing. When I erupted, it was the Mt. St. Helen’s of emotion. I said to him, “HOW LONG IS THIS GOING TO TAKE?!!” I could not stand the physical hurting and the mental torture.

A year later, I had spent a small fortune rebuilding myself. Money was tight and to my husband, I looked crazier than before I started therapy. Ironically, I thought I was cured. So I bid farewell to my paisan and continued on with my faux happy existence.

Eight years passed before the event that catapulted me back onto the couch. My closest relationships were causing me extreme anxiety and anger. I was in the pit of misery. I knew it was my own fault. No one can make me feel anything. I allowed it. I was taking everyone’s behavior personally. After researching via my church newspaper and cross checking my insurance, I found my next shrink-victim.

This one was hard work for me. I needed to get past the granny Clampet persona to hear the message. I dreaded every appointment, not because I was dealing with my dysfunction, but because she drove me nuts, no pun intended. It was here I uncovered my fear of public humiliation. After this major break through, she sat across from me in her undersized rocker that I feared was going to collapse every time she sat in it, and shed tears. My therapist was so moved at how hard I had toiled to gain emotional health, that she actually was crying.

By October 2011, I was feeling much better. I walked into her office and she handed me a pile of papers from my insurance company. She told me I would have to pay full pop if my insurance company continued to give her a hard time. I got my agent involved. He informed me that my therapist could not do this as she was under contract. If she didn’t honor the contract, I was owed free therapy. My insurance company was going to contact her and let her know. At my next appointment, she dumped me, stating I wasn’t making progress. Hmmm!

Fast forward to January 2013 and I burned through another therapist who was nice and served his purpose in a time of crisis, but I didn’t have the ethnic connection.  Through professional references I happened upon my current sounding board.  He’s a little Jewish New Yawkaah who likes to rattle off a mix of Italian and Hebrew at me.  He gets me, my situation and has no problem putting me in my place.  I think I found my shrink-mate.  I hope he doesn’t dump me, because I now know I am in this for the long haul.

Lastly, I have one other shrink in my life.  One of my besties is an addictions therapist who I bribe with great food, girlie talk and movie nights in exchange for free advice.  The best part of this relationship is I get to give advice back and the cost is a girls’ night out.  IMG_0120

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You’ve Come A Long Way, Stephie!

545979_422327397803756_1360828757_nI’ve come a long way from Medford (Meffa).  This is a state of mind for me.  As you continue to read my blogs, I can only hope you understand my words do not reflect my true feelings about Meffa or the reality of city living.  On the contrary, I hold so many of you in my heart and cherish the experiences of  an education in the school of hard knocks.  You helped mold me into the person I am today.

Yes, materialistically, I’ve come so far from sharing a bed with my sister, the two bedroom rented apartment, playing jump rope on a busy street and summer vacations spent sweating it out at Harris Park.   There is a more important issue at stake.  I have had the ruby slippers on my entire life.  I just didn’t know it.

The only element that truly matters here is love.  None of the worldly riches, or lack thereof, can bring me happiness.  If I can love myself, my family, friends and everyone I meet, regardless of my personal suffering, I am truly rich.  The wealth to which I am referring is rooted in love and manifests itself through  freedom.  I am liberated from the desire to acquire possessions, certain acquaintances and a lifestyle.  My energy is not wasted on worrying about what others are thinking.  I am unleashed from the shackles of not living up to someone else’s idea of who I should be.

I can look back on my youth and not shudder.  I turn my heart toward Meffa, the old friends and the laughs with affection.  Today, I enjoy everyone I meet from the bathroom lady at Rose Bar, to local radio and TV celebs.  I am free to love without getting anything in return.  I welcome everyone to my home for various events knowing I may never get a return invite.  I am truly free!  I’ve come a long way from Meffa.  Where are you?  Are you free?

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Tell me what’s going on in your life.  I want to hear from you.

Wishing you love, balance and peace!

Amore & Baci (Love & Kisses),

Just Steph

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Interested in booking Just Steph?

Contact Steph or call 678.777.5859

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