Do Pigeons Eat Gelato? Memories of a little Italian kid immigrant.

My older sister’s watch was going to be permanently wrong. Not just temporarily incorrectly ahead by six hours, but permanently wrong. If we did not switch the little hand on it accordingly, the watch would be set to the wrong time indefinitely.

That was my biggest concern. That’s what I remember thinking on the flight from Rome Italy, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (I’m sure with a layover here and there) as an eight-year-old – almost nine-year-old – child who was about to move to America with her family.

Nothing about the fact that we’d probably not get to see our friends and family much ever again, or any thought about any food or item not being readily available to us any more, or any wonder as to what difference in scenery would now be our new home. Nope. Just an observation about my sister’s watch – my oldest sister, by the way, who had a hell of a lot more emotions and opinions about how her life as a 15-year old was being ruined (Sorry Claire!).

This, to me, is a prime example of the atmosphere my parents successfully created for us as young kids during such a big, daunting, complicated ordeal. Aside from some talk about the movers needing to get our furniture efficiently and properly bubble-wrapped to get it safely across the Atlantic Ocean, I had absolutely no idea how incredibly stressed out and scared my parents must have really been. And still to this day, I don’t think they’ve ever outwardly expressed that.

No idea whatsoever that many of their friends and family were probably telling them not to do it. Concerned relatives were likely exchanging phone calls with burrowed brows about what was going to be of these five kids and parents when they got to this whole new country they knew barely anything about.

No inclination whatsoever of how freaking cool of a childhood my parents had created for us to spend our days walking through dilapidated streets of Rome with cobbled roadways and tall, ornate buildings made of concrete and brick, and little touches of marble. Spending mornings and afternoons in Piazza Navona, with stately scowling statues staring off into the distance as pigeons fluttered around, using the statues’ pointer fingers as their temporary perch as they awaited the next unsuspecting child to toss a handful of bird seeds their way. Or if luck was really on the pigeons’ side, a tourist passing by may just have the bottom of their cake cone cracked and softened gelato could slip and drip through the bottom of the cone and unto the ground for them to have at it.

I had no idea, how exactly awesome holidays and weekends were back then taking our car from Rome, Italy to Gascony, France visiting my dad’s side of the family. Or hopping on a train and watching fields of sunflowers sway in the wind as our train passed them, if we chose to take the train from city to city. We would stay at this old farmhouse hotel, with a large weeping willow tree, and little barns filled with rabbits and chickens, nourished for the in-house restaurant – much to our unfortunate surprise. We’d build little snail villages and run the dirt streets of the little town, looking for snails to rescue and bring in our little fairy-like gardens we made for them. Little did we know we were probably bringing those poor snails more to their demise than any fictional French chef we’d made up in our minds. The hotel had dark woodworking beams along the ceilings and large stones molded together along the walls.

Not to mention the summers in Tuscany, packing prosciutto and sopressata sandwiches to the beach, which would crunch just a little in your teeth and have an extra hint of salt as little bits of sand would make their way in there. It didn’t matter. The sun in our face and the wind in our hair and running after each other, and sandcastles, and big umbrellas to provide some shade were pure happiness. Or picking fresh basil from one of the neighbor’s gardens of the apartment building where we stayed, which my Nonna lent to us for the week or two so we could stay closer to the beach.

I really don’t say any of this to brag. I mean it to give credit to my parents, who no matter what life threw at them, no matter the craziness of having five kids, and working multiple jobs, they gave us an amazing childhood. They always got creative and did what they could for us. And the world should know everything they did for us.

The point is, my dad recently asked me to think about and write down some memories of my perception of moving from Italy to the united States, and the truth is, the transition is a little bit of a blur. I didn’t think much of it when it happened. And that speaks volumes of their parenting. I was there and then I was here.

But now as an adult mom of five myself, my heart creeps to my throat a little bit thinking about my mom, who followed her philosopher husband across the ocean with virtually no way to have any sort of communication or connection to any part of the life she was leaving behind.

Can you imagine boarding a plane with your five kids (Some of whom, let’s be honest, were already into touchy teenager territory, and I know my brothers and I bickered like crazy as young kids) and husband and having to start a life in a completely new place where you’re not quite comfortable with the language? And as your kids start school at their new school every day, and your husband goes to work, you are at home, without a vehicle or legal permission to work, or an economic way to call home to your sister or mother or friends on a regular basis?

That’s what she had to do. And she didn’t wallow. She sought out opportunities to volunteer, and organize religious meet-ups, and go to church, and read books, and be there for us.

I do remember our first day of elementary school in this new country. I remember my twin brother Marco and I were placed in separate classes (Probably to force us to adapt), and I remember he was crying so hard and was so inconsolable, that they brought me in to console him, and I think I just kind of looked at him in bewilderment and shrugged, not knowing what to do. And eventually he figured it all out, too.

I remember the teachers sounding to me like the adult characters from the Peanut cartoons of Charlie Brown. I remember one of the girls who had an Italian grandmother trying to talk to me and just saying the word very audibly and clearly “Pa-ssss-taaaaaaa!” in an effort to communicate.

I also remember that by 5thgrade, which was a year after we moved to the United States, we were all fluent in English and this was just a part of life.

But I feel that the experience has given us as kids a less sensitive of a panic button when it comes to change (At least the younger ones), and we owe that completely to my parents. We moved around a few times after that, and every time I’m sure they were scared as heck, and we knew it a little bit, but definitely not to the degree of the situation at times (At least as kids). Of course there was emotions, and communication, and openness of the situations, but every time with the message was that with God, everything would be okay.

Through the experience we learned prayer, trusting God with whatever situation is presented, following God and only God, and that family is number one, and with family, you can do anything. We learned a new language, English, and stayed fluent in Italian (And French and Spanish for some of the siblings). We learned that no matter what we go through, we come together as a family and figure it out.

We make new friends everywhere we go, and still have strong friendships with the most awesome people back in Italy, and thanks to the world of social media, we stay connected to many of our awesome French, Scottish and Italian relatives (Of whom I burst with pride any time I see a new milestone pop up for them).

This essay is still a work in progress, and as I think bout it more, I am sure more memories will resurface, but the fact that the memory of such a huge transition doesn’t bring any sort of crazy feelings, you did good Mamma e Papa’. And we are all grateful for you every day.

Nonno and Nonna with all their grandkids – who are typically actually very happy children 🙂

 

FIVE REASONS WHY YOU THINK YOU CAN’T LET GO OF YOUR STUFF, AND WHY YOU SHOULD AND COULD

It’s no secret that we are a society of consumers and collectors, but living a simpler life has been proven to bring more peace and joy. So why is it that we just can’t let go of all our stuff? Why is it that we just keep buying? And then keep on working for the buying?

Here’s 6 reasons why, and why we gotta stop.

 

 1. We don’t want to be wasteful 

We think of getting rid of things as being wasteful. We keep food in the fridge longer than we should because we don’t want to be wasteful. We keep outfits we’ve never worn because we don’t want to be wasteful. We keep the ten million nail polish bottles we have because we don’t want to be wasteful. But the truth is that by keeping these items, we are wasting the items even more, and the items are wasting so much more of us! They are wasting our space; they are wasting our time re-organizing to make them fit in our space; they are wasting mental and emotional energy it takes to keep track of these extra items because they’re wasting our space – you get the idea here.

 

2. We feel bad

Someone special gave us something, and we feel bad returning it, regifting it, giving it away or selling it. The truth is, once someone gives you something, it has served its purpose. The gesture of giving the item to you was the purpose – it made you happy, it made them happy, everybody’s happy, and the item’s job is done! It’s yours now to do as you need. Don’t keep something just because you feel bad.

 

 3. We want our stuff to serve a meaningful purpose

I hear it all the time. I myself do it! If we’re going to get rid of our stuff, we want it to mean something. We want to give it to someone who needs it. And if we can’t find the right candidate, we keep it. But in reality, eventually no matter where we donate the item, the item will find someone who needs it and uses it.

 

 4. We don’t have time

We’re all so busy doing everything we need to do, we don’t even have the time to think about looking around and realizing that a majority of the stuff around us is just causing us chaos. Just like you schedule a doctor’s appointment for your kid, it’s important for you to schedule time to get organized, and if you don’t have it, then it might be worth it to schedule a professional to help you.

 

 5. We think our things are too valuable to just get rid of them

Maybe it’s a designer purse. Maybe it’s an expensive coat. Maybe it’s a family heirloom. If no one’s buying it for the price you want to sell it, then maybe unfortunately it’s just not worth that much, and it’s not worth storing it until you find someone willing to pay the price, because in the meantime, you’re paying the price of clutter – which can cost you a whole lot more. Unfortunately, most new goods lose a ton of their value as soon as you buy them – all electronics, designer apparel, cars, furniture, you name it. They all are worth at least 10% as soon as you buy them and use them. If you want to cut on the waste and your carbon footprint, start being okay with maybe rescuing someone else’s stuff and spending on used instead!

 

 6. The clearance section

IT’S JUST TOO GOOD A DEAL TO PASS UP! I GOTTA BUY TEN! I used to do this too. Any store I went, I’d walk right into the clearance section and – GASP! “It’s only $4 bucks! I might as well get it! Heck I’ll get it in every color!” But do you love it? Will you use it? How easy will it be to get rid of it (Many of our large items will require us to spend more money to get rid of them than it was for us to buy them – crazy!)? How much space will ten of those bulk discounted cleaning supply bottles take up in your cupboard? How much are you going to need to step on a stool and stretch to find what you need behind them? Is it worth it?

Letting go and getting space can truly bring on peace, joy, and just mental clarity. For a little help on getting started, check out The Joy of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, or watch her series on Netflix, and when you’re really ready to dig deep, head on over to theminimalists.com

 

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We’ve gone Minimalist – breathing in simplicity in a hectic world.

THE BACK STORY

It kind of started as an accident before we realized it was a thing. Now certainly many think we may have gone mental because we’ve gone minimalist, but in the most chaotic times in our lives yet, we found peace in purging – we embraced the minimalist lifestyle and let go of the stuff.

About two and a half years ago, we sold our first home – and we sold pretty much everything else we owned with it. What we couldn’t sell, we gave away to others who could use our stuff. I’m talking EVERYTHING but basically the clothes we needed and a few of the kids’ favorite toys. We were trying to move to a larger home for our growing family in an area closer to our kids’ beloved school.

Any family who’s moving will tell you that moving is one of the most stressful things you can do – so I said screw it, and decided I wasn’t moving nearly any of the stuff. Moving with four little kids, managing multiple businesses, and our fifth baby on the way, and truly unsure of what our next home would be, that was the way to have a manageable cope container.

For the next two years, we had no choice but to stay minimalist. We were very fortunate that my parents welcomed us and provided a 2-bedroom 1-bath mother-in-law suite attached to my parents’ house connected through their basement, and basically their entire basement too. But still – it was minimal space for a family of 7.

Yep – you got it – at 29-years old, I decided to sell my house, sell all of our stuff, and basically move into my parents’ basement while we figured out how we wanted to develop our businesses, and where the heck we were going to buy a house.

During this already-crazy time, we put an offer on a home, ended up not buying that home, and then bought a home that turned into a rehab nightmare, which nearly bankrupted us (There you have it – It’s the cold hard truth folks), resulting in taking on even more jobs to financially finish it.

At the same time our kids’ school essentially closed, which was a heartbreak for our family because we loved our school community, and it sent us scrambling to find a new one that would work for our family. My mom also was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and Cancer in the kidney shortly after, and I thanked God for having the opportunity to be in the situation to live with her so I could be there and present next to her while she went through it all (After undergoing three surgeries and chemo, she is currently cancer free).

The point is – life was flipping crazy – out the wazoo packed with uncertainty and decisions and stress. And the only thing we could do to sustain it, was to let go of all the extra. And it felt – so – GOOD.

About mid-September 2018, our home was finally move-in ready. So, each child packed a large suitcase, and Michael and I each had a large suitcase, and we moved into a gloriously empty house.

THE NITTY GRITTY 

It’s hard to fit the whole philosophy into one blog post, so I strongly encourage you to check out The Minimalists to get the full picture of what this life is all about.

Interested? Here’s. few FAQ and tips to get you started!

#1 Do you think everyone should be a minimalist?

Not one bit. You do you, and this is us.

I hesitated to write this because I would never want it to come across as if I’m ever judging anyone for having too much stuff. We believe in keeping everything you need and makes you happy. In fact this new minimalist lifestyle took form also a place of being unable to keep up with the society norm with with time and expenses with our large family, but we know this lifestlye isn’t for everyone.

We know it might seem strange, and we understand everyone has different needs and different lives.

#2 Do the kids need to be a strict part of it too?

No. Absolutely not. But, kids do tend to absorb the behaviors around them. When we suggest they haven’t used something in a while, they’ve  so far been eager and open to get rid of it or excited about turning it over for something different at Kid to Kid or selling it in a local mommy group so they can take the cash to Target next time they want or need something. We probably just got lucky on that one so far – the jury’s still out on the baby and toddler tendencies of course.

Our oldest does tend to carry around many books and notebooks and pens and pencils around with him at all times, and you know what? He has a heck of a hard time staying organized and keeping track of it all. He leaves a trail everywhere he goes. So we gently remind him (Okay sometimes not so gently) the his life would be so much more manageable if he maybe just picked one book to bring with him to run errands with us rather than 10 and five notebooks.

Also minimalists don’t believe in getting rid of things you use and bring you happiness and that you love. We do suggest he cut it down when we can, because overburdening oneself with excess items also leads to disorganization, which can lead to stress and inability to focus, and he always seems open to the idea because he does tend to get overburdened with everything he likes to carry around with him – and many times he is eager for the opportunity to make space when he comes across a new book or notebook he might love in the future.

So far they have kept themselves in check from having too many toys or clothes and even offer them up when they’re starting to feel things are tight in their cubbies.

#3 How do you get rid of everything without it being a huge waste of money?

It starts with what you buy. Don’t hit the clearance section, don’t impulse buy on Amazon (Been there). Research, think about it, ask for others’ reviews. Quality vs. Quantity.

Then assess each item you have and keep what you need. A minimalist lifestyle is also very much about reserving waste of energy, waste of emotions, waste of time, waste of space. If tripping over an old baby bouncer every time we go into the basement is going to save you $25 when and if you have another child, the waste of space and energy and emotions are not worth it. We just simply don’t have room left in the mental capacity jar for extra stuff.

Also, we believe in buying everything we can used. Often we take unused items we no longer need and trade them in for new used items we need at local stores like Kid to Kid.  As a large family, we thrive on hand-me-downs, and usually end up using things we need up until the last thread is no longed hanging on.

And to give a specific example – had we kept all the furniture and stuff from our old house, we would have had to spend money in storage space every month. About two years passed before we could have moved them into our house. If you do the math, it just wasn’t worth it, and ended up saving money by simply choosing to re-buy as we need years later. Let alone the energy it would have taken to pack it all, move it all in, organize it, then move it all out of storage, into the house, unpack it and organize it and need to make decisions to purge anyhow.

I do not regret getting rid of al of it one bit.

Disclaimer: we are grateful for having had the opportunity to store valuable items such as studio equipment and music gear at a relatives’ house. But even many of those items have been posted for sale.

I know this also sounds like an episode of Extreme Cheapskates, but the minimalist lifestyle can be quite the opposite unfortunately. It often is the decision to spend hundreds on an adult pair of pants that will withstand being worn almost every day for years rather than about a sixth of the price of each of ten pairs of pants we own and aren’t crazy about. It includes maybe even spending thousands on an accessory that is quality and will withstand the wear and tear and last longer and require just one of it (Which I haven’t done yet, btw). And then those come along with expensive maintenance costs. But again it’s one expensive item in place for spending the same on dozens of the same category of items.

This theory of spending, by the way, also goes hand in hand with keeping spending in check according to the Dave Ramsey mentality.

#4 What about food?

The same philosophy trickles into what we eat. We try our best to stick to a healthy, minimal diet and our favorite recipe blog is The Minimalist Baker. For us, Michael stops at the grocery store almost every day on the way home from work and buys only what we need for dinner and the next day’s breakfast and lunch and we don’t go to the store again until we’ve eaten every last leftover, oatmeal morsel, or half-eaten apple.

We don’t find that buying bulk would save us money even as a large family, because we would just end up eating the bulk of it within a few days and running out to the store regularly anyways to get staples we run out of. Now, I’m sure we could ration it and control it, but it would just be taking up space and more energy and time to manage it ahead of consuming it.

I applaud those of you who can mentally prepare and list items you need a week ahead of time and meal prep and organize it and use it as you need it. I tried it, and simply just don’t have the mental capacity for it, so a minimalist approach it is for me (Or I should say my husband, since I’m a pretty terrible cook)! Which by the way that is also considered minimalist so kudos to you.

But, we are never a family to turn down a baked cake or casserole. We gleefully indulge, and are appreciative for anything gifted to us. And heck even a bargain if we need one to get through!

For instance, we have dinner with my in-laws at least once a week, and dinner with my parents at least once a week. Whether it’s at their house or out at a restaurant, we are grateful for anything they treat us to.

#5 Speaking of presents.

Presents fulfill their purpose when they are given because they bring joy to the receiver, and happiness to the giver for extending a kind gesture.

We let our kiddos keep any present as long s they want and can use it. We try to integrate the presents given to us in our lives, and if the present simply does not fill a purpose any more, we pass it on to be enjoyed by anyone who can use it.

We have a small collection of sentimental items like baby’s first footprint or a particularly meaningful first drawing, but we don’t tend to feel attached to items no matter where or how we came across them.

Christmas is simple. Each child gets one present they really want and love.

#6 How do you stay clutter free?

We have a set container where items go that aren’t used. We have a regular pickup scheduled with The U.S. Vets. to come and schedule it regularly.  Anything that can be traded in for something we need gets saved for Kid to Kid, and when the kids need something, we go and trade what we have for what we need (Usually obviously having to spend a little more to get what we need).

We assess each situation and weigh it against the waste of time as well. If it’s simply not worth the time and effort to sell something, we happily give it away to someone who can use it. Or even if we see someone can use it and it makes them happy, then that alone isn’t worth the time or money to make the effort to sell it if it will serve purpose to someone else who might need the item we are giving away.

#7 Another note about time 

I thrive on the nonstop. But it was another non-minimalist tendency I tended to have to “stack the deck.” I enjoyed signing us up for anything possible to keep myself and the kids busy and entertained and do one right after the other every single day – nonstop. I mean nonstop till we dropped.

Now I still currently must work quite often, but for our personal life, we try to keep planning and activities to a very bare minimum. We have our set evening dinners planned with family, church on Sunday followed by Sunday lunch with my parents, but anything else we take it as it comes.

My kids haven’t really shown any interest in a particular extracurricular – believe me we tried it all. But they lacked passion for the activities, and they wanted to do them simply to spend time with their friends. It caused more stress than happiness or fulfillment, so we just simply stopped and opt for hiking, family drives, impromptu play dates, reading, writing, drawing, city-sploring, birthday party invites, and just good ole family snuggle time and dance parties as our extracurriculars. It’s all about calm and taking it in as it comes.

I strongly believe though that it is not my responsibility to keep my kids from being bored. I’ll certainly keep an eye on that as they get older in order to be careful that they don’t let their boredom lead to mischief, and guide them to filling time with wholesomeness, but for now – they’ve got toys, art supplies, music, plenty of room to run, fort-building skills, rainbow loom kits, lego sets, whatever they find entertains them, and anything extra goes in the give-away piles.

Each child on average has about 300 toys, and only plays with 12.

I should add, if they show interest in a hobby, we’ll certainly explore it and encourage it, but we no longer feel obligated to the idea that kids must be involved in regimented extra activities if they solely add chaos.

What do you think?

By all means again, I want to stress that we realize this is unconventional to society. I know there must be at least ten things you found appalling in this post. But in a world where children are dying because they have NOTHING at all, it feels silly to even be writing this blog post (Yeah I know I got all dramatic on you for a second). And hey there’s certainly moments when the car is packed with stuff that we let add up for the week with our five kiddos – the important thing is re-evaluating all items and purging as you see fit. If this post can help you find a little more peace and clarity by seeing that a crazy big family can do it, then it has served its purpose too – if not, just toss it in the give-away pile ;-).

Have a thought or two about it? Drop it in the comments!

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