P.C.Pop with Pablo

Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Why I Love to Vote!

In Children, College Students, Election, Family, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Politics, Tradition, Uncategorized, Vote on November 3, 2012 at 9:02 am


“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” Franklin D. Roosevelt


As election day approaches I start to get more and more excited because I love to VOTE.

I grew up in a house filled with politics and lively discussions about the issues facing our community and our nation. My father was a city council member for many years; and my mother was appointed by the mayor of our city to serve on the city’s Housing Authority, of which she soon became the chair for more than 15 years. In addition to my parents’ direct service as public officials, one elected and one appointed, we were involved in several political campaigns. We always had candidates’ signs on our lawn, we always worked our party’s “booth” at the various town gatherings and festivals, and we always worked on election day. My parents wrote letters to editor, called their elected officials, spoke at open forums and attended meeting regularly. My mother was asked to leave a few open “public” meetings, once even by the mayor. Of course she challenged them by filing a complaint with FOI (Freedom of Information) — and BTW she won — resulting in the mayor and city manager having to personally pay a fine.

As a teenager on election day, I made phone calls to remind people to vote, drove people to the polls to vote, collected data from polling sites for the party headquarters, and even worked for a national TV network to survey voters and call in polling information. I attended several post election receptions — and for the record, I prefer partying with the winners. That was the fun part. It wasn’t so much fun when my father voted against the teachers’ contract triggering a teachers’ strike. The head of the teachers’ union was my calculus teacher, and he did not hesitate to make comments about my father in class. My brother got the same treatment from his Italian teacher who was also his soccer coach. I laughed it off; my brother got angry and quit soccer; and my sister was too young to understand. My parents eventually transferred by sister to catholic school. That was not fun — but it was a great learning experience and made me even more passionate. When I attended college, I joined a political student organization and continued to work on campaigns and work on election day. My involvement and interest in politics, campaigns and elections never waned.


“Thinking is not to agree or disagree. That’s voting.” Robert Frost


Then I began my career in higher education and chose to put my personal political beliefs aside. I say “chose” because it was not a hard/fast policy. I decided that if I was going to “serve all students” I had to be nonpartisan. Being nonpartisan meant that every student leader and every student organization could count on me to serve them well — regardless of their politics, regardless of their beliefs, regardless of their religion, regardless of their attitude. I encouraged political engagement; I encouraged political rallies and protests (and counter-protests); and I assisted in candidate and surrogate visits (including three Presidents, several US Senators, and a few Governors). Everyone knew that I would work hard to support them and make their dreams come true — no matter their agenda. They were important, they were valued, and they were a vital part of our campus and our nation. I pushed them to exercise ALL of their rights and fought for them when others objected. What a great job it was. I worked with a wide variety of student organizations including the following:

  • Amnesty International
  • College Democrats
  • College Republicans
  • Conservative Action Network
  • Feminists
  • Green — Anti-Coal
  • LGBTQ Student Alliance
  • Libertarian Socialists
  • Libertarians
  • Marxists
  • Military
  • Non-Theists (formerly known as Atheists)
  • NORML – National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
  • NOW – National Organization for Women
  • Occupy Wall Street
  • PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
  • PIRG – Public Interest Research Group
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Pro-Life
  • Pro-Peace
  • PUGWASH
  • Socialists
  • Student Government
  • Students Against Sweatshops
  • War on Hunger

Since I was unable to put a sign on my lawn, wear a button on my lapel, support a candidate, openly debate political issues, or work for my party on election day — encouraging students to care about politics is what kept me going. During this time I grew as a professional and as a citizen when I was truly nonpartisan — when I was working hard for ALL student leaders – ALL student organizations. Today, I am a little bit more open about which candidates I support but still hesitate because of all of those years keeping it under wraps. Those year did however help me develop a much greater respect for anyone who gets involved in any part of the democratic process. After all  how much fun would it be if everyone agreed with me? Not too, that’s how much!


“In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.” David Foster Wallace



I love voting. I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to election day though. On election day, I will get up early and put out our USA flag. I wear only red, white and blue — and have a special “election day” tie and a wide assortment of flag lapel pins. Before I was eligible to vote, I couldn’t wait until the day came that I could vote — especially in a presidential election. My visit time was as exciting as I imagined. Before I vote — I study, I read, I listen, I debate — until I am ready. I take this process very seriously. I usually vote the straight party ticket — but I never pull the straight-party lever. I enjoy pushing a lever for each and every candidate — and vote on every question and referendum. I also don’t vote early – even though I passionately support early voting — and anything that enables more citizens to vote. I am afraid that if I don’t vote on the actual election DAY it won’t feel the same – and I am not willing to take that risk. For me it is all about getting prepared, waiting and anticipating, and getting more and more excited — and voting on election day, the second Tuesday in November (not before). If a candidate visits our city, I am there whether or not I agree with their platform. To name a few, I’ve attended speeches or debates with Jerry Brown, Mitch Daniels, Chris Dodd, Ross Perot, Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Richard Lugar, Lowell Weicker, Joseph Lieberman, Evan Bayh, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill Bradley, Mario Cuomo, and Colin Powell. I was even involved in the first ever Rock the Vote campaign in 1992.


“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” John Quincy Adams


To me it is a privilege and honor. To me it is a duty and an obligation. I know it sounds corny, but when I am voting I feel very patriotic. And I wear my “I Voted” sticker with great pride. Voting on election day gives me such joy. I love democracy and I love the United States of America. I don’t take my citizenship for granted — and know how lucky I am. I can’t even comprehend US citizens who are eligible to vote who DON’T. I just don’t get it. I also believe if I vote then I will have a right to complain later. And those who don’t vote; well, you know – how do they have the nerve to complain? The people who really baffle me are the self-proclaimed “undecided” voters. How can this be possible? Who are these people? Are they messing with us — or just in need of attention?


On Undecided Voters: “To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes​ down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. ‘Can I interest you in the chicken?​’ she asks. ‘Or would you prefer the platter of poop with bits of broken glass in it?’ To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.” David Sedaris


Lastly, I don’t even acknowledge the argument by non-voters that “my one vote doesn’t count and doesn’t matter.” I truly don’t believe that and even if it were true — that would not stop me. I AM VOTING!


“Voting is the most precious right of every citizen, and we have a moral obligation to ensure the integrity of our voting process.”  Hillary Clinton


I truly appreciate my parents for surrounding me and my siblings with politics and getting us involved in current issues and the needs of our community. They made it accessible and exciting. My mother (who is a few years past the age of legal retirement) still attends Housing Authority meetings and is an advocate for any tenant who needs her support. Our weekly phone conversations typically include some talk of the politics of the week. And nothing would stop her from voting — nothing!


“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Winston Churchill


My obligation to my country and my parents is to VOTE. And now that I have two kids (12 and 14 years old) – I must keep up our family tradition. A family tradition of caring, staying informed and getting involved — and being patriotic, loving our country and doing our duty as engaged citizens. Both of my kids, especially my oldest, get fired up as much as I do about politics. My oldest even watches political news shows with me — and get frustrated and laughs at the appropriate times. This is the greatest gift I can give to my parents…and my country. The next generation will have at least two kids who will VOTE and will become involved, good citizens — stepping up to serve their community, studying the issues, supporting candidates, putting signs on their lawns, and working on election day.


“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.” Gore Vidal


I must admit — I am ready for the 2012 “campaigning” to end but I can’t wait to VOTE. My only complaint is that my time in the voting booth isn’t long enough. I believe in democracy – I believe in this country – and I believe in the strength and resilience of the generous and caring people of this great nation. I am an eternal optimist and have great hope – always. And when I VOTE – Inever feel more HOPE and hopefulness deep within my soul. This one act – VOTING – defines who I am as a US citizen. It is a beautiful and inspiring thing.


“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.” Theodore Roosevelt


So, next Tuesday (and every second-Tuesday of November) — I will meet you at the Voting Center. Please – don’t forget to VOTE and bring a friend to VOTE too. We all matter — and our votes do count! If only for that wonderful feeling of patriotism — that knowledge that your vote is as important as anyone else’s — that sense of duty. Then, perhaps, you will LOVE to VOTE and get as excited to vote as I do. I am certain of it.

Have I mentioned — I LOVE TO VOTE!


{For more information on how to VOTE and get engaged — click HERE.}


“Stand beside her, and guide her | Thru the night with a light from above” – Irving Berlin



Read more stories about growing up in my family and our traditions, check out these PC Pop posts:


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How to Say NO to Facebook – Advice for Families and Educators

In Education, Facebook, Family, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, social media, Uncategorized on October 7, 2012 at 7:42 pm


Facebook – Advice for Families and Educators

Each day in the life of a parent of a teenager or tween invites challenges. Parenting today’s youth contains so many contradictions and conflicts. We want our kids to respect us — and like us. Kids need and are begging for boundaries — but we don’t know how to say “No.” We want to protect our kids from worshiping material things but we want them to have better stuff than their friends. We hope our kids will follow the rules but we teach them how to break them every day. Some decisions are easy – say No to drugs, don’t steal, don’t cheat. Others are not so simple, like when it is OK to date, go to an R rated movie, or get on Facebook.

This post can’t possible cover all of those issues adequately – so, let’s focus on one – how to deal with that inevitable question about Facebook. My first reaction to parents and educators is that it is simple – follow the rules and agreement. Most people “agree” and “accept” agreements with online sites and software without ever reading a word. Scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll…click the “I accept” box and submit. So it is no surprise that very few know Facebook has an age minimum. Here is an excerpt from the Facebook Agreement you accepted (but most likely did not read) under the Safety Section, specifically “Registration and Account Security.”


Facebook – Statement of Rights and Responsibilities

Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:

    • You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.
    • You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.

Facebook and many other online sites like Twitter, Instagram, and all Google products including Gmail and YouTube has age restrictions to show good faith to the US Federal government. These social networking sites have adopted these policies based on their interpretation of the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 also known as COPPA.


Here are some COPPA facts:

  • COPPA is a Federal Law
  • COPPA was Enacted on October 21, 1998
  • COPPA became Effective on April 21, 2000
  • COPPA applies to the “online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction from children under 13 years of age.”
  • It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.
  • While children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents’ permission, many websites altogether disallow underage children from using their services due to the amount of paperwork involved.

This doesn’t stop kids under 13 from getting Facebook profiles on their own or asking their parents to give their blessing for a Facebook profile. Facebook doesn’t do too much to prevent kids from creating a profile. Facebook screens out kids by requiring new members to submit their birth month, birth day, and birth year. If the birth year reveals that the person registering is over 13 years old – they make it past the one and only hurdle imposed by Facebook. Most kids savvy enough to know about Facebook are savvy enough to fudge their birth year to get approved for a profile. The only other ways a minor may lose their Facebook account is if another user reports them as being under age or they change their birth date information too often. Otherwise, once a minor gets in they are set.

After surveying the parents of the kids who were already using Facebook, many of these parents admitted to helping their children falsify their information to get a Facebook account — creating what is known as a “Virtual Fake ID.” Parents who actually help their kids commit fraud when registering with Facebook concern me for a couple of reasons. These parents either don’t completely understand the dangers of kids using Facebook, or they know the risk and don’t really care. Most of these parents find it very difficult to deny their kids anything. So when the kids ask for access to Facebook stating that all of their friends are on Facebook, the parents concede. These parents don’t want their kids to have less than other kids, and they really want their kids to like them and think they’re the cool parents. So these parents teach their kids to cheat, lie and commit fraud to get that much desired Facebook account. With these families, saying NO to Facebook is not their real issue. The good news is most parents know that there are risks and know they should say NO but just need some advice on “how to say NO” and information that supports the claim of risk and danger.



As parents, that day arrived for us when our kids were in fifth and fourth grades. My son came home and told us that many of his friends had Facebook profiles and he was wondering if he should get one too. We sat down with both of our kids and told them that Facebook did not allow kids under 13 years old to register – and kids between the ages of 13 and 17 needed their parents’ permission and the parents’ commitment to monitor their activity. We continued the discussion with our two kids about our concerns and about the risks and dangers of the internet. The topics or discussion points we used in our conversation with our two kids are as following:


  • Purpose of Facebook — The original purpose of Facebook which was to assist college students in connecting online – and now any adult. Due to the amount of college students and young adults using Facebook — inappropriate content and language is freely shared, used, and available. Just like we wouldn’t allow them to wander around a university campus at their age, they shouldn’t be allowed to wander around Facebook at their age. Quite simply, Facebook was not designed for kids.
  • Why an Age Restriction – First it is part of a Federal Law and written into the Facebook agreement. We as a family follow rules and obey laws. A lot of research and discussion was involved in passing the law and creating the rule; therefore we will comply.
  • You Don’t Need It – When kids get older and go to college, Facebook is a useful tool to keep in touch with your high school friends and family.  Once you graduate college and/or get a job in the real world, your network of friends, family and colleagues will most likely extend across the country and perhaps will be global. Facebook will then be a useful tool to keep in touch, share information, and develop relationships that may assist you in life and your career development. But until you can show your parents that you need Facebook to communicate or stay connected to your friends – you should not be on Facebook. Go to school and talk to your friends instead.
  • Too Public, Too Many Strangers. Due to the amount of users (more than 1 billion to date), there is a great potential for predators to hurt them, harass them or just pick on them and make them feel bad. Bullying is a real issue, and cyber-bullying is even easier and potentially more damaging. Even though kids are using the internet and Facebook in the safety of their own home – it is a very public place. Kids are just not developmentally ready to be on their own in such a public place with potentially a billion strangers watching them.
  • Waste of Time – Addictive. How it can become addictive and a waste of valuable time – taking away from the true priorities of doing well in school, having friends, and participating in other activities like sports, band and student council. Online addiction is a real issue especially with kids who are easily distracted, seeking attention or validation, or avoiding work. This by the way describes most children, tweens and young teens.
  • But Others Kids are Doing It. Why other kids are doing it and we can’t. In our family, we have already established with our kids through various conversations that other families may make different decisions than us. We are not going to judge other families but typically what other parents do will not have an impact on us. Only we know what is right and good for our family.

That being said, it is great when the parents of your kids’ friends have similar rules about Facebook. It is the Tooth Fairy Syndrome – when you discovered that one kid in your kids’ circle of friends has received $10 for just one tooth from the Tooth Fairy. Those parents ruined it for the rest of us parents whose kids only got 50¢ to a dollar per tooth from the Tooth Fairy. For this reason it is worth having a discussion with other parents, your kids’ teachers, and other family members to see if you can establish some consistency in the messages your kids are getting about social media and social networking. Most parents when they are educated about the dangers and risks of kids using Facebook will also restrict their kids’ usage. Also, most of our parent-friends were clueless that the age restriction was tied to Federal Law and explicitly stated in the Facebook user agreement. If you can’t find common ground though, don’t back down and don’t compromise. After all it is the safety of your kids that is at stake.


So, now that we have this Facebook dilemma figured out – whose going to help me figure out how to talk to my kids about “you know what,” when they could start dating, and when they can go see an “R” rated movie without me tagging along. Somebody Help Me. Please.


Nobody said it was easy — No one ever said it would be so hard.


Read more about Social Media on PC Pop with Pablo:


References & Resources for Parents, Teachers, and Families:


NetSmartz Workshop is an interactive, educational program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) that provides age-appropriate resources to help teach children how to be safer on- and offline. The program is designed for children ages 5-17, parents and guardians, educators, and law enforcement. With resources such as videos, games, activity cards, and presentations, NetSmartz entertains while it educates.


OnGuardOnline.gov is the federal government’s website to help you be safe, secure and responsible online. The Federal Trade Commission manages OnGuardOnline.gov, in partnership with several other federal agencies. OnGuardOnline.gov is a partner in the Stop Think Connect campaign, led by the Department of Homeland Security, and part of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our nation’s children spend more time with media and digital activities than they do with their families or in school, which profoundly impacts their social, emotional, and physical development. As a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.


Kids Using Social Media – A Guide for Families and Educators

In Children, Education, Facebook, Family, Malavenda, marketing, parenting, social media, Uncategorized on September 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm


Since the launch of Facebook in 2004, I have been studying the impact of individuals’ Social Media choices on their lives. I have seen time and time again individuals who insist on posting inappropriate content online using Facebook and other social networks. These choices cause problems, anxiety and often severe and irreversible consequences.

In 2005, my focus was on educating college students and college administrators. Facebook was such a new and mysterious internet phenomenon, I was kept very busy working with student athletes, coaches, campus officials in the dean’s office, top administrators, campus police, media relations staff as well as religious leaders and student leaders.

In 2010, there was a shocking increase in the number of middle school and elementary school students joining Facebook despite the age restriction. (Facebook requires that members be at least 13 years old to register.) My kids were in elementary school at the time, and I went on a crusade to get the word out to teachers and parents. As I started to give Social Media lectures and workshops I realized how ignorant most parents and teachers were to the potential dangers and pitfalls of social media and networking.

Today, the problem still exists only the technology is getting more and more advanced, parents and getting worn down, teachers are getting desperate, and the kids are getting more persistent and savvier. So, I am taking my crusade to the place where everyone is and wants to be – the internet.


Families & Parents

Many parents in this generation are intimately involved in all aspects of their kids’ lives and want them to have everything – including the latest cellphone, unlimited texting, and a Facebook profile. A majority of the kids who were altering the “birth year” to gain a Facebook profile had their parents’ consent and in many cases had their parents’ help with the registration process. Parents want the latest gadget for their kids but don’t even know it’s bad. And the pressure is on to equip your kids as well as your neighbor’s kids. Yes, peer pressure exists among parents too. Families must become engaged in social media in order to understand and to help their kids to avoid the pitfalls and navigate the dangers.



Teachers

Teachers on the other hand know the potential dangers when kids use Facebook but most teachers simply don’t know enough about technology to assist the kids or the parents. Teachers have a great deal of training and experience in how to deal with bad behavior but no one prepared them for this. Technology has added a new troubling dimension to student behavior issues. Every issue teachers have been dealing with for decades are still prevalent but with a new twist. Teachers know it’s bad – but get stuck there. Teachers must focus not on where the behavior is occurring but rather on the behavior itself. Whether the incident happens on the playground or on Facebook, the approach should be the same and the discipline, if necessary, should be consistent. Educators will then realize that they already know how to handle this online behavior and already have the resources to combat it. Educators should trust their instincts and rely on their training and experience to proactively work on educating kids on the pitfalls and giving parents the tools to do the same. But they must also be prepared to react swiftly, fairly and firmly, when needed.



Kids

The kids are going to take what they can from their parents – who want to give them everything. Kids will do their best to be safe but will eventually make a mistake. Let’s hope the consequences aren’t too damaging. There’s a reason they don’t have middle school dances at night – and they don’t have them at all in elementary school. Tweens do not have the skills to deal with complex relationships. Elementary school kids aren’t even ready for simple relationships let alone complex ones. Children are just not ready – developmentally – for the skills needed to use Facebook and other social media without getting hurt in some way.  Through my experience I know that social networking environments like Facebook are difficult for adult and college-age students; therefore, it will be impossible for teens, tweens and juveniles to avoid trouble. This new technology has far worse consequences though.  The danger is real, the harm is severe and the results can be permanent and irreversible.



Educating Kids

First, parents and teachers must partner together. The solution is not to ban young adults from using the internet but to make choices as a family – as a community.  For instance, like with PG-13 and R-rated movies we must have conversations with our kids about what’s appropriate, what the boundaries will be and why. Once kids are old enough they must be educated, trained and coached. Parents and teachers must expect mistakes and be supportive and understanding while correcting behavior immediately, equitably, and consistently. Social media is not going away. The best gift we may give our kids is the street-smarts to navigate this new medium successfully.



I plan on posting a series of blogs discussing the issues with kids using social media. My goal is to educate families, school personnel and students on some of the pitfalls. For now I will offer a short list of some of the potential issues with using Social Media for young adults and children. Ponder these and stayed tuned for more.



Now – if you choose to and allow your kids to go online – enter at your own risk – Godspeed.



Glossary of Internet Acronyms:

  • ASL = Age, Sex, Location?
  • BRB = Be Right Back
  • G2G = Got To Go
  • MIRL = (Let’s) Meet in Real Life
  • OMG = Oh My God/Gosh
  • POS = Parent Over Shoulder
  • P911 = Parent Alert
  • TMI = Too Much Information

A complete list of Top 50 Internet Acronyms Parents Need to Know


Read more about Social Media on PC Pop with Pablo:


References & Resources for Teachers, Parents, and Families:


NetSmartz Workshop is an interactive, educational program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) that provides age-appropriate resources to help teach children how to be safer on- and offline. The program is designed for children ages 5-17, parents and guardians, educators, and law enforcement. With resources such as videos, games, activity cards, and presentations, NetSmartz entertains while it educates.


OnGuardOnline.gov is the federal government’s website to help you be safe, secure and responsible online. The Federal Trade Commission manages OnGuardOnline.gov, in partnership with several other federal agencies. OnGuardOnline.gov is a partner in the Stop Think Connect campaign, led by the Department of Homeland Security, and part of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our nation’s children spend more time with media and digital activities than they do with their families or in school, which profoundly impacts their social, emotional, and physical development. As a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.


My Story of Pasta Fazool

In Family, fatherhood, Food, health, Italian, parenting, Summer for Renewal, Uncategorized on August 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm


Pasta Fazool aka Pasta e Fagioli — This is My Story


Pasta e Fagioli is one of those dishes in my family that popped up every now and then — and everyone loves it. Later in life I was given more insight into this simple Italian meal from my Grandmother, Phyllis. If I hadn’t lived with my grandmother for a while in college, I might never have heard some of these stories about our family, our heritage, our Pasta e Fagioli. When I was accepted into college my family didn’t have a lot of disposable income to support me 100% — so, I made some tough decisions to make college more affordable. First decision was to attend a regional campus of UConn to save some money.  Commuting to the Hartford regional campus would allow me to live at home and pay a fraction of the cost of tuition/fees compared to the main campus. By the time the first day of classes rolled around I unfortunately no longer had a working car. Just getting to the campus every day was a challenge. I did various things to get back and forth and for part of that time I lived with my grandmother. My grandmother lived in the south-end of Hartford and the UConn Hartford campus was on the west-side of Hartford — actually in West Hartford. I soon became a city kid and got comfortable taking the bus everywhere.

My new home was in one of the oldest Italian neighborhoods in Connecticut. Franklin Avenue is a well-known center of the Little Italy of Hartford — and I live right on Franklin Avenue in an apartment with my grandmother. The street level of her building was one of the best Italian grocery stores on Franklin Avenue and directly across the street from one of the best Italian bakeries in the city. It was a very walk-able neighborhood — everything you needed was within walking distance and downtown Hartford was only a 20 minute bus ride away. My grandmother did not drive or own a car either but never struggled getting by on Franklin Avenue. At this point in her life my grandmother was retired but still very busy. I soon realized that during the day through early evening she had a definitive routine.

My grandmother’s routine was driven by “her shows.” Her first soap opera came on at 11 a.m. so everything had to be done by then. She got up and made breakfast. One of my favorites was French toast made with Italian bread. She often ate hers with salt and pepper — not maple syrup. Once breakfast was done, my grandmother planned the menu for the day and then went shopping for fresh bread and everything else she needed for lunch and dinner. She enjoy really fresh food, so she shopped every day at the small grocery store downstairs, the bigger grocery store a block away, and one of the several bakeries on Franklin Avenue. Her options of places to shop increased on Wednesdays because she walked a couple of blocks up Bond Street to attend early morning mass at St. Augustine’s. My grandmother worked very hard all morning planning the meal, shopping, tidying up the apartment, and making lunch. Her ultimate goal was to be settled in her chair in the TV room with her lunch ready to eat at exactly 11 a.m. when her first soap opera started. The dinner she planned would be pretty traditional with an Italian flair but lunch was consistent — a sandwich and a side dish. My grandmother used fresh Italian bread, fresh deli meat, and fresh cheese usually provolone. She then prepared a hot side dish. Although for most this would be just another lunch — but to my grandmother it was an inspired work of art made with love. The sandwich was toasted or grilled and was a masterpiece.  The side dish could be almost anything like a simple soup (chicken noodle, turkey rice, split pea & ham, minestrone), vegetables (ratatouille or grilled vegetables like peppers, onions, squash, zucchini), pasta (risotto, pastina), or creamy polenta with grated cheese and/or tomato sauce. I learned a great deal about cooking and planning meals during these times. My grandmother shared little tricks and techniques and soon I knew how to turn a good sandwich into a great sandwich.

Most of the time, my grandmother was so focused on getting settled for her soap opera TV show, that there wasn’t much time for chatting. But I learned that if I listened carefully, I could learn a lot. She not only taught me about food but also would tell me the story behind the food. One of my favorite stories is how this is the food that the poor people at in Italy. Most of the ingredients of her side dishes were inexpensive, grown in the garden or from left-overs from dinner. As I mentioned in another blog, we rarely went out to eat at an Italian restaurant because they served we could make better, fresher and much less expensively — for pennies. As Italian chain restaurants started to pop up and become popular it amazed my grandmother that they offered and charged a lot for Italian “peasant” dishes like polenta, pastina, risotto, Pasta e Fagioli, and even pizza with homemade pizza dough.

Another story was about Pasta e Fagioli. Pasta e Fagioli is the ultimate poor-family meal. Among her friends when she was a kid, Pasta e Fagioli was made at the end of the week with the left overs from the entire week. Pasta e Fagioli literally translates into “pasta and beans.” So technically any soup that includes pasta and beans can be called Pasta e Fagioli. It is a delicious, hearty meal that you could make with everything you had on hand. Pasta e Fagioli can include meat but it can also be a vegetarian meal. Now you have to be careful with old time Italians because even though it was served vegetarian most of the time in my family — the flavor in the broth came from pork. A hunk of salt pork, some bacon fat or a ham bone was often used to add flavor. Salt pork or bacon fat was used when sautéing the onions and celery and if you had a ham bone on hand you would include it with the water or broth when you begin simmering the soup.  You then add the first of the two main ingredients — the beans. It can honestly be any bean you like but in my family it was typically kidney, chick peas, canteloni beans or some combination of the three. After an hour or so of simmering, remove the hunk of pork and ham bone and add beans and pasta. My favorite is a mini tube pasta called ditellini. Others in my family prefer a bow-tie pasta. I think you get the idea — frugal families would take all of their leftovers for the week (including hunks of salt pork and bones), add rough-cut vegetables, onions, celery, garlic, broth/water and the magic ingredients — pasta and beans.

Pablo’s Pasta e Fagioli Recipe – click photo

The best part about Pasta e Fagioli is it is the ultimate Italian food for the soul. There is nothing more comforting that a hot bowl of Pasta e Fagioli with grated parmagiana, crushed red peppers, and a slice of crusty Italian bread. So it is not surprising that most Italian restaurants offer Pasta e Fagioli; and it is one of the best things to bring to a carry-in or potluck. And when you want to show your friends that you care about them during tough times or times of joy, nothing says you care more than sending a big pot of Pasta e Fagioli. You’re not only sharing a meal but you are sharing your heritage and a family tradition.

Another quite humorous part of this meal is the pronunciation itself. When I was growing up we ate something called “Pasta Fazool.” Everyone in our family called it Pasta Fazool; our friends called it Pasta Fazool; you could order Pasta Fazool in a restaurant on Franklin Avenue and get what you wanted without the server giving you a strange look. Basically there was no reason for me to question the proper pronunciation of Pasta e Fagioli. It wasn’t until the coordinator of the potluck lunch at work asked me for the recipe of my Pasta Fazool that I actually saw how it was spelled. And then the first time someone ordered it at the chain Italian restaurant, the well trained server of the fake Italian restaurant gave us a funny look and corrected our pronunciation — which by the way wasn’t correct either. I again denied our family mispronounced Pasta e Fagioli because we also didn’t pronounce other foods phonetically — like lasagna, manicotti, mozzarella, or ricotta. I later discovered that the pronunciation, Pasta Fazool, is unique to the American-Italian community in the Northeast. So I now proudly say Pasta FAZOOL!

Our Pasta e Fagioli is vegetarian (often vegan) and a healthy, high protein, low fat meal. Today, I share this story and meal with my family — the next generation. The most wonderful part of this meal are the memories of my grandmother and our time together. The cook that I have become is in large part to my grandmother. She was a creative and confident chef. She loved making meals special and loved sharing meals with others. As a tribute to her and all of the other great cooks in my family, I am committed to not only sharing these meals with my kids but also keeping the stories alive. My grandmother would be very pleased that I have kept many of her traditions alive and I am still sharing her stories and our memories.


Buon Appetito!


If you want my recipe for Pasta e Fagioli, click here.


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:

 


Read more stories about growing up in my family and our traditions, check out these PC Pop posts:


Family TV-Food Road Trip

In Food, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Pop Culture, Summer for Renewal, TV, TV shows, Uncategorized on August 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm


Food — Travel — Family; the combination defines me. So when we were deciding what to do this summer, our Summer for Renewal, we knew it had to include all three. All of my family is in Connecticut (and a bit of New Jersey) and to fit the budget of a family of four, we drive. Travelling by car from Indiana to Connecticut is a drive into which you must put some thought. I guess you can just get in the car and go; but when you have two kids, you should think a little bit about getting there without killing each other. The more you plan, the easier the Road Trip part of your vacation will be. After all the drive to your destination is not really your vacation; so, if the trip is a disaster it could potentially ruin the “actual” vacation. Regardless the Road Trip is a part of the overall experience — a part of the family vacation memories that will last a lifetime (good or bad). The most recent strategy we tried actually worked — for us, that is. We are big fans of any TV shows about Food, Cooking and Restaurants. We find ourselves watching hours and hours food related TV on the Food Network, Cooking Channel, PBS, TLC, OWN, and Travel Channel.



Some of our favorites TV Food Shows are as follows:


I even watch PBS’s Check, Please! which features review of Chicago restaurants and classic Julia Childs’ cooking and baking shows. And lucky for us there are new shows popping up each day like the latest — All You Can Meat and Invention Hunters.


“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”

– James Michener


Actually searching out restaurants all along our 1600 mile round-trip, Road Trip to the east coast from the mid-west is a first for us. In the past we have searched the internet before we go on vacation to a new city to find out where Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay, Adam Richman or Guy Fieri had been in that city, and it wasn’t easy. Today thanks to two guys from New York who love Foodie TV as much as we do, the process of finding restaurants featured on most national TV programs is much easier.  These two guys created a website that is such a great idea and so easy to use — you wish you had thought of it first. TV Food Maps is their website which allows you to search for restaurants featured on TV by location, type of food and/or TV show. And if that weren’t easy enough, they launched a mobile app in its second version. There are other sites and blogs about Food TV but this is my favorite; again, because it works for me.


“The air you smell, the sights you see, the food you taste, the language you hear, and the feeling you get…nothing familiar. That is true freedom.”

~ Anonymous


Whenever we take a car trip that is focused mostly on family, we make a deal with our kids. The deal is we will try to see something interesting on the way there and on the way back. For the past few Road Trips eastward, we have spent a day in New York City because we are so much in love with this city. On the way back to home to Indiana we pick a different city each time and go exploring for a day or two.  The last two trips (this one and the Road Trip this past January), we have stopped in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, respectively. On this particular Road Trip we also managed to spend a good part of a day in Hoboken, New Jersey – birthplace of Frank Sinatra and Buddy Valastro — the Cake Boss.


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

– Mark Twain


Now, I don’t want you to think that all we do is eat — our Road Trips also include fun, history and culture. For instance  in New York City between lunch at John’s Pizzeria (of Bleeker Street), a sweet treat from Dylan’s Candy Bar  and dessert in Little Italy at Ferrara Bakery, we have visited all of our favorite places in the Big Apple including the Statue of Liberty, Belvedere Castle in Central Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Whitney Museum, and South Street Seaport; to name a few. Getting our kids excited about touring a new city or taking a 15 hour Road Trip to see family is a challenge. But when you can tie the trip to pop culture it sure does help — like visiting the Abby Lee Dance Company (home of Lifetime’s Dance Moms) while in Pittsburgh. In New York City finding pop culture references is a bit easier. Walking through the Central Park Zoo and finding some of the animals from the movie Madagascar or exploring the American Museum of Natural History and looking for exhibits featured in the movie Night at the Museum have also been strategies for us. Now we add getting a corned-beef sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen which was recently featured on the Travel Network and also is famous for a scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally — which we will consider discussing with our kids when they are much older, if you get my drift.


“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

– Henry Miller


For our family Road Trips and hectic sight-seeing days in new cities are now a bit more enjoyable. Following the food just adds another dimension giving us something to do together, a new memory to create, and another page in the photo album and scrapbook. We can’t wait to try this out on our next Road Trip south to the in-law’s home and west to my brother-in-law’s. As long as there’s a PBS, Food Network or Travel Channel — there will be funky restaurants to explore and unique foods to eat. If you want to see the lists of restaurants we have explored on our various Road Trips, check out my posts featuring the restaurants’ names and locations as well as reviews of our visits (coming very soon). And next time you head out on a Road Trip with your family — consider making it an official Family TV-Show Road Trip.


Happy Trails — and Buon Appetito!


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:


Mad Men Style

In Fashion, fatherhood, GQ, life, Mad Men, Malavenda, metro, metrosexual, Movies, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Pop Culture, Rat Pack, Sinatra, TV, Uncategorized on March 26, 2012 at 10:25 am

Growing Up with GQ — Part 2:

Either You’ve Got or You Haven’t Got STYLE!


Robin & the 7 Hoods


This is the second PC Pop blog post in a series called Growing Up with GQ.  As you know from previous PC Pop blog post (Growing Up with GQ), I grew up surrounded by men who took great pride in how they looked, smelled, and were proud to be one step ahead of the latest fashion.  Every man in my family was voted “Best Dressed” in high school; and someone in our family has continuously subscribed to GQ magazine since the early 70′s.  We were metro before there was a word for it.

Robin & the 7 HoodsRecently I have realized that my son is the sole heir of this marvelous legacy.  He’s the only Malavenda male in his generation.  That’s a lot of pressure on him — and me. I have been looking for inspiration in many places and searching for opportunities to make the point without triggering the “oh, dad” so typical these days.  Not sure if you have noticed but men are dressing better in movies and TV — and men and fashion is once again acceptable.  And thanks to shows like Mad Men and characters like Don Draper there is a renewed interest in the classic fashion styles of the past — even the ’60’s. One thing my son and I do have in common is our love of “black and white” movies and TV — classic cinema and television.  He and I (to the dread of my wife and daughter) watch a lot of the Dick Van Dyke Show and movies on the classic movie channels. He loves the George Clooney – Ocean’s movies; so, we watched the original from 1960. Last weekend, we stumbled on a movie similar to the original Ocean’s 11 that featured amazing fashion — Robin and the 7 Hoods starring the Rat Pack.

Robbo played by Frank Sinatra is a mobster from Indiana who is now in control of Chicago’s north side during pre-prohibition times. Robbo and his band of thieves which features Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin are different from the other gangsters (Peter Falk) and corrupt Sheriff (Victor Buono).  With some of his money Robbo with theSinatra, Dino, Bing help of an orphanage director (Bing Crosby) creates a nonprofit social services initiative.  In addition to the orphanage, they run a homeless shelter and soup kitchen. The movie is a great vehicle for the Rat Pack with great music, dancing — and great costume design. The movie score features some of the most memorable Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen songs like “My Kind of Town,” “Bang! Bang!,” “Any Man Who Loves His Mother,” and “Don’t Be a Do-Badder.”

Ole Blue Eyes, Bing, Dino and Sammy are also dressed to kill the entire movie. Mad Men - Men's StyleThe fashion and style of this movie are classic, mobster, glamorous 1910’s style with a Technicolor – 1960’s – Vegas – Rat Pack swagger. More importantly the fashion in this movie has helped me make sense of my family. I forgot about the connection between the appreciation of GQ style with the men in my family — and the Rat Pack. The song and dance routine, “Style,” from this movie says it better than I. As the song goes, “Either you’ve got – or you haven’t got – style.” It would even inspire Don Draper.

Watch this clip from Robin and the 7 Hoods.  I think it speaks for itself.



Today, with the recent fascination with everything Mad Men and Don Draper — perhaps there is hope for my son to be more conscious about fashion and how he looks, smells, and dresses. A father could hope for a kid whose “got it” — yes?