7 Things Learned While Helping My 3rd Grade Nephew During Distance Learning (AKA Zoom)

Being in Los Angeles, we will likely be one of the last cities to let the kids go back to school, in my opinion, based on the past year. They are going back everywhere around us but not yet for us, says the LAUSD.

Because of my flexible schedule as a furloughed server and freelance writer, I volunteered to help my 9 year old nephew do his Distance Learning. He has a lot of energy and last year, I saw how it was going with being taught in front of a computer screen, so I vowed to do my best to help. I sit with him during the entire zoom two days a week and go through his google classroom with him daily. I check his homework. His teacher knows me well.

My nephew tells me I help all the time, and continually thanks me for it through his words and actions. I’m fortunate he does. Because let’s just say it has not been easy. His love and education are what keep me going. I get a lot in return and have no regrets.

On that note, allow me a brief interruption….

To teachers everywhere who are working around the clock, in chaotic times with unclear directives, I bow to you. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

7 Things Learned While Helping My 3rd Grade Nephew During Distance Learning (AKA Zoom)

  1. A child’s love is truly the best gift out there. It’s raw, real and has true purpose.
  2. I am 43 years old and cannot do third grade math. In fact, it makes me rip my hair out.
  3. I thought I was a better speller than I really am.
  4. Does the five-second rule still apply with parents today when a snack is dropped? If not, huh….. well… too late
  5. I’ve seen more boogers to last a lifetime. A few even placed in my hand for observation.
  6. Nine year olds have a weird body movement clock. They can’t stay still for longer than a minute.
  7. And on that note, their attention span is so minimal that I truly wonder how they remember anything at all. Unless it has to do with video games. Then, they can focus for hours on end. Which is equally amazing.

My Little Buddy In The Age Of The Coronavirus

Having been laid off from my job while the world pauses, I’ve found some extra time on my hands. And in an effort to help my family, I’ve begun to aid in the homeschooling of my eight-year-old nephew.

Now, my nephew and I were already close. I’ve been watching him since practically the day he was born and over the years, we’ve developed a special bond. When I enter my brother’s home, my nephew is the first to great me with a huge smile and a loud, “Hi Aunt Tina! Come play!” or “Hi Aunt Tina! Come look at this!”

And while I am 42 years old, there is a young 10-year-old girl in me who loves to play and have fun. Seriously. I’m a champ at Nerf gun battles, hide ‘n find (a take off from the original hide ‘n seek, which my nephews and I made up,) coloring, board games (especially Battleship!) and soon, if my nephews have it their way, video games.

But back to the beginning. I’ve been helping homeschool. And I must say, TEACHERS, YOU ARE GODS. Thank you soooooooooooooooo much for what you do. You help the future way more than any Congressman/woman and should be paid accordingly. And they patience you must have! I am in awe.

So, yeah. I’ve been helping with homeschool and also babysitting more than normal and because of this, an 8 year old has become my new little buddy.

When I told him he could call me whenever he wanted, I began to wake up to text and phone messages asking if I wanted to play Roblox remotely – me on my phone, him at his home while we chat over FaceTime. He made sure to install it on my phone on a visit  and then proceeded to give me a tutorial. When I struggled, he said, “Aunt Tina, do you know what patience is?” I smiled and said, “Yes, I do” to which he replied, “Well, then you just have to have it.”

Words of wisdom right there.

When we finish our school lessons, he asks how much time I can stay to hang out. We are currently watching the first season of Clone Wars, which is very well done btw, and also love to go outside and plant flowers in the backyard and fill our bird house with birdseed and more. His smile brightens my day.

And the last time I was with him, I was doing laundry and he opted to stop playing and join me, just to chat. He told me about his best friend at school and how they get in trouble and the big spider he saw the other day in the backyard, that had hair!

I will miss these days when all goes back to “normal” but I’m happy to know enough to cherish them as they are happening.

To see a big smile on an eight year old’s face is to witness real happiness.

To receive a hug from a child without asking for one is to know real affection.

To make a child happy and comfortable by embracing who they are is to teach real confidence.

To have a child call upon you because they consider you important is to understand the essential.

And to wake up to a phone message from your nephew asking where you are and if you want to come over and you alter your day to do so is to experience real love.

Thank you Fair Bear (my nickname for him,) for all you are and all you teach.





Lessons from time spent with my 90 year old Nonna

When my mother called to ask if I would join her on a trip to visit my 90 year-old grandmother, without hesitation, I said yes and began to look forward to it.

Growing up on the east coast, I spent quality time with my Nonna but when my immediate family moved to Los Angeles when I was ten, our visits were not as often but were still filled with quality time whenever we saw each other, which was yearly. As she aged, my Nonna could no longer travel to us but I could still travel to her and have managed to get out to NY on average once every two to three years. Distance is an obstacle but I believe time spent with others is not about quantity but rather quality.

As I wait for my plane to board to return home, I’m reflecting on the past four days I’ve spent with my Nonna and how amazing it was to be around this lively ninety year-old Sicilian woman. And I learned a few things I’d like to share…

  • Age is but a number and does not define a person.
  • Being in the moment can be just sitting there, in a person’s presence.
  • See things for yourself before you form an opinion, regardless of what others tell you.
  • Love keeps you young and alive. Bottom line.
  • Family is a window to look into to help understand yourself.
  • Letting others be who they are is perhaps the best thing you can do for someone you love.
  • Making a 90 year-old laugh is one of the greatest joys I’ve experienced.

I wish so bad I could just take her home with me and let her breath the Pacific Ocean mist for her remaining days (though I think she has a looooooonnnng time to go!) but alas, that is likely not to happen as she told me she can’t travel and the rest of my family are there with her…

“In ever conceivable manner, the family is the link to our past, bridge to our future.”
– Alex Haley, author



1 Day Till Christmas – Giving Back

Tomorrow is Christmas 2017.

What a year it’s been… a world full of turmoil, strife, love, loss, grief, happiness…

Today, with my yoga studio owner and other members and friends, we took presents to a children’s hospital.

It was very sad that all the children in the ward were in quarantine with influenza of some sorts. We left the gifts with a very nice head nurse who was grateful for our visit and excited to let the parents in to select toys for their young ones.

Can you imagine that? A child, in the hospital, on Christmas.

A very sad thing indeed.

Here’s to all the kids (and adults) who have to spend the holidays in the hospital. I can only imagine that is the last place you would want to be and my hope is that you get out with a clean bill of health sooner than later and that you are able to be with your loved ones, because really, when you boil it all down to the point, it’s being with loved ones that make a holiday special.

After the hospital, I rushed home to prepare for my first Christmas Eve dinner at my home for family and it went off without a hitch.

Here’s a big Happy holidays to all my readers and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!



#givingbackblogseries #givingback

2 Days Till Christmas – Giving Back

Wait… what?


I am sorry to make this quick but I am tired!

Today I decided to give back by preparing for Christmas Eve at my place. My husband, Don, and I are hosting the family holiday for the first time!

I cleaned, prepped and made a lasagna – up to the point of sticking it in the oven to bring the cheese to a boil.

We did the last of the decorating and the final shopping. Gifts are wrapped and under the tree, (here’s hoping my nephews can make it through Sunday Christmas Eve dinner before opening presents!), and the apps are waiting to be prepared.


We am so happy to carry on a tradition my mother and father once did in Buffalo, NY in the 1980s. Christmas Eves at our place were a thing to be remembered.

Here’s hoping we can give back to the nostalgic feeling while also creating new traditions of our own.

Merry Christmas Eve Eve!!!

#givingbackblogseries #givingback

3 Days Till Christmas – Giving Back

Today was part 2 of 7 Days till Christmas

Quick summary – I volunteer at an organization and one of my tasks is to deliver a holiday gift bag to an elderly person in need. She wasn’t thrilled to hear from me until she fully realized who I was. And though she didn’t want to schedule a drop off time, I tried to make it work.

From our conversation, I surmised that she was going to be away this week. So, I purposely waited until today (honestly, I was suppose to drop it off by yesterday but I fudged that a bit…) because I was hoping to catch her home.

Sure enough, I did this afternoon and what a lovely moment we shared.

I delivered her present and a big smile spread across her face. She mentioned she was expecting it. I told her I purposely waited because I knew she was traveling. She told me she just returned last night. She felt the bag and with a smile, said “Oh, this is heavy!”

I told her how much we appreciate her and how we wish her a merry Christmas and happy New Year. She told me the same and we parted with smiles on our faces.

Not the ending I knew would happen, but it was certainly the one I hoped would…

3 Days Till Christmas!!!!!

#givingbackblogseries #givingback

4 Days Till Christmas – Giving Back

Who better to give back to than a pair of loving grandparents?

When I was a child, I admit my grandparents were not my primary focus. Don’t get me wrong. I loved going to grandma’s because it typically meant I was going to see my extended family, in particular my cousins who were all around the same age, and have a great time while the adults chatted at the big table but I should mention the adults all spoke in Sicilian to one another so none of us kids could understand much of what was being said.

But my Nonna and Nonno were always happy to see me and I especially remember my grandma’s cooking and the smell of onion and garlic wafting throughout her house, no matter which room you were in. Tomatoes from the backyard were always used to make sauce, a Sunday tradition for us Sicilian folk, and all seemed right with the world back then… ah, famiglia!

It was only a few months ago that I introduced my Nonna and Nonno to my husband, Don. They were unable to come to the wedding unfortunately, as they’re in their nineties, but it was very important to me that they meet Don and I wasn’t willing to risk anymore time so we went this year. It was a wonderful visit and they welcomed him right in. He got to see a little slice of my past while meeting two people that mean a great deal to me.

Sorry to take the scenic route to my point… Today, I wrote a letter to my grandparents (in their native language, which I’m still in learning-mode on!) to say hello, happy holidays and to let them know I love them both very much. I am waiting to mail it though, because I want to print a few photos to include in the envelope but didn’t get out of work in time to go do it. Tomorrow morning though, I’ll be printing and mailing and I hope when they get my card, it puts a big smile on their faces.

“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”  –  Alex Haley (American writer, 1921-1992)

#givingbackblogseries #givingback

8 Days Till Christmas – Giving Back

It’s 8 days till Christmas!!

And today I decided to give back by spending time with my nephews in a positive and educational way.

I see my nephews, ages 8 and 6, weekly, unless I’m out of town. It’s a commitment I made to them when each was born. Flash forward to today, this weekend, and time was a little limited with my work schedule and their schedule, but we made it work.

During the two and a half hours we hung out, we did a map puzzle of the United States WITHOUT looking at a picture, drew dinosaurs (I’m pretty confident I could beat most in a trivia game about the Triassic period, I’ve been quizzed by an 8 year old, but I digress…) and then ended the morning with a few games of “hide ‘n find”, a game we made up which is a little like “hide ‘n seek” but instead of hiding ourselves we hide toys and then the other two have to find them and if it starts to take too long, we turn on the game of “hot and cold” too (it’s very fun!)

I witnessed smiles on two children’s faces today and the sounds of their laughter and “I love yous” were enough to make me want to give back to them until I am no longer able. They are the future and I want to help guide them toward a positive and healthy one by giving them their auntie’s time, attention and love.

La tua famiglia è tutto, as my grandparents would say.

Till tomorrow…

#givingbackblogseries #givingback


Family Weekends

This past weekend has been a bit of a blur. My whole family was (mostly) all together from Friday to Sunday since my sister was in town.

I know family means different things to different people but at its core, to me, it means a deep connection among a group of people, often associated with a blood relation though not exclusively.

Growing up in an Italian-American (Sicilian) household, I was first generation born in the states. Both cultures were always mixed in our family and still are. It means a great deal to me to keep the traditions of the past alive while developing new ones.

Whomever one determines their family to be, weekends of togetherness are oh so important, are they not? What better way to deepen the connections, air grievances, laugh together while knowing one another’s peccadillos and psyches? Few people in one’s life will have the type of history you do with your family members… perhaps it is this concept that connects family more than anything else.

“The past could be jettisoned . . . but seeds got carried.”
― Joan DidionWhere I Was From

Time moves fast. My advice. Make time for your family and what better way than a weekend all together?


(Also, If I may, I’d like to share a guest post I wrote for Write Naked, where I interviewed the lovely Director of Publicity, Caroline Sun. I hope you enjoy!)

Road Tripping Day 13

The last destination on our east coast road trip was Toronto, Canada.

On the two-hour drive to get there from Buffalo, my husband and I reflected on the wonderful trip we’d just experienced over the past twelve days.

And a big thank you to all who have come along for the ride. It’s been fun going through it with readers and participants :)

Toronto is not entirely new to me. Growing up in Buffalo, Canada wasn’t really another country. It was the city next door. It was Niagara Falls. (Yes, the Canadian side gives the best views. BUT the Buffalo side gives a great sight of the rapids, unlike anything other. And it’s still America, so you don’t have to deal with going through the border. (It’s the getting back through the American side that has become a pain in the ass. I felt like I was being interrogated, but I digress…)

We live in a different world from the days of my childhood when my dad would pay fifty cents and go in and out of Canada with little effort. Terrorism is suspect though and America does not mess around. TSA even took the jar of Georgia peach jam I got for my mother. Sad… I felt invaded when they went through my whole bag and undid the great packing job I had strategized over but don’t get me started.

Toronto was fun and the view from the C & N building was no joke. 181 floors up. And there was a lightning storm happening while we strolled around as our ears popped. My husband was bummed a bit that the outer walkway was closed but to be honest, I was fine with staying behind the glass. (Please excuse the rain drops on the shot above; I tried my best.)

It was a wonderful way to close our two-week road trip, which started in Central Florida and ended in Toronto, Canada.

Tomorrow will be my last post for my road tripping series. Stay tuned as I list observations from the trip as a whole….