SHE SAYS:

Every day that we’ve been in our Arizona house, it feels more and more like home.  Last year, I talked about our first winter in Arizona in “Home is Where the Heart is”.  This year, we arrived in Arizona in late January and did not leave until May 1st.

In October, when we traveled through Israel, we purchased an original painting from a local artist and a handmade copper platter, both of which are now displayed in our Arizona home.  This is something we have done with other items over the years.  When we travel to foreign countries, we always like to bring back something unique and display it in our home in New York.  Now we have begun buying items with our new home in mind.   Adding these items of personal significance to our house in Arizona helps make it feel more like home.

Most of all, sharing our house in Arizona with family is what ultimately makes it feel like it is our home.  Our first family visitors were Matthew and Erika along with Erika’s parents and sister.  They arrived for a long weekend in late March so that we could all celebrate Matthew and Erika’s First Wedding Anniversary.  That was a very special weekend!  We all gathered together to prepare and enjoy meals and, of course, spend time at the pool.  We visited a couple of nearby places and generally just enjoyed each other’s company.  We have all become one big, happy family.

Only a couple of weeks later, it was Easter and we were lucky to have all four of our children join us along with significant others.  Julia came from Syracuse, Joseph came from NYC, and Matthew, Erika and Michael came from San Francisco along with a group of their friends.  My Mother also came from Florida.  In all, there were fifteen of us for the weekend.

For a few days before everyone arrived for Easter, I cooked and baked in preparation for the weekend making all of our traditional family recipes.  Just like last year, we put everyone to work on Saturday morning making dough for homemade ravioli and then spent a couple of hours putting them together for Sunday’s dinner.  Everyone loves the process and because of the team effort, the ravioli tastes that much better.

Part of the ravioli-making crew

Part of the ravioli-making crew

Some of the ravioli we made

Some of the ravioli we made

Getting ready to serve the ravioli

Getting ready to serve the ravioli

This year, I will share my family recipe for Easter Meat Pie as well as some pictures from the weekend.  The recipe goes back, at least, to my Mother’s Grandmother. 

Easter Meat Pie

Ingredients:

PIE CRUST
2 cups Flour
2/3 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/3 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Shortening
1 Egg
½ Cup Cold Water

FILLING
8 oz. Pepperoni, diced (optional)
4 oz. Cappicola, diced
12 oz. Fresh Ground Sweet Italian Sausage Meat
4 oz. Ham, chopped
8 oz. Mozzarella Cheese, diced
4 oz. Provolone Cheese, diced
4 oz. Prosciutto, diced
4 oz. Salami, diced
(All of the above are approx. amounts)
1 Level Tablespoon Grated Romano Cheese
1 – 1 ½ Pound Fresh Ricotta Cheese
2 Eggs

Prepare the Crust:
 A.  Sift the dry ingredients together.
 B.  Blend the shortening into the sifted dry ingredients with a fork.
 C.  Mix the egg with the cold water and add to the flour mixture until a ball is formed.
 D.  Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour.

Prepare the Filling:
 A.  Brown the sausage meat and set aside to cool.
 B.  Combine the ricotta and Romano cheese.  Add two eggs, one at a time, beating after each egg with a wooden spoon.
 C.  Add all other ingredients and blend well.   The meat to cheese ratio is a matter of personal choice.   Blend in as much cheese as desired for the amount of meats used. 

Prepare the Pie:
 A.  Divide the dough into two portions for the top and bottom crust.
 B.  Roll out enough of the dough to line a deep pie pan (approx. 2 inches deep and 10 inches in diameter) with the dough.
 C.  Pour the filling into the lined pan and cover with the top pie crust.   Trim the crust, leaving a ½ inch overhang.
 D.  Fold the overhanging dough under and back to flute thickly.
 E.  Cut slits in the pie to allow steam to escape. 
 F.  Lightly brush the top of the crust with beaten egg whites before putting the pie into the oven.
 G.  Bake in a 400◦ preheated oven for fifteen minutes, then lower to 325 degrees and continue to bake for 45 more minutes. 
 H.  Remove from the oven.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  Can be served hot or cold.

Easter Morning Breakfast

Easter Morning Breakfast

Relaxing at the pool

Relaxing at the pool

On Monday, Joe offers a better alternative to the trial of the 9/11 terrorists in “Our Greatest Virtue Is Also Our Greatest Folly”. 

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

SHE SAYS:

Our house in New York has been our family home for 24 years.  It is essentially the only home our children know.  We knew that when we built our house in Arizona that it would someday also be our home.  Would we ever feel comfortable in two houses?  Our first winter in our Arizona home is now a memory and we look forward to many more memories there.

Much of our time in the last three years was spent supervising and agonizing over the building process of the house. Over the last year, we worked with Stephanie, our interior designer, to select furniture, window treatments and other furnishings.  We took pictures of the progress and imagined what it would be like to eventually live there.  Little by little the house took shape.

When we first arrived there in January, it still seemed like we were visiting the house just as we did during the building and decorating phases.   On the first weekend we arrived, our three sons and significant others were there with us, but by Monday, we were on our own.

In January and February we started getting used to this house and its little quirks and creaks, but almost every day, someone had to come to fix or tweak something.  Because we were living there full time, we noticed more things that needed to be fixed.

Almost everything in the house is new, but in some cases we purchased items for this house that were identical to things at ‘home’.  Little things like the coffee maker, the stand mixer and framed family photos to name a few.  That helped build a sense of security and familiarity for us as we settled in to our new environment.  Every day, there were new sounds, new dishes, new pots and pans, new morning routines and a new style of living.  Just when we started to develop a routine and felt more comfortable, we left for a two week trip.  We no sooner returned from that trip and had to go home to New York for our son’s wedding.

Upon returning in April for a month, we had company for nearly the entire time until we left in mid-May.  I think this time period was a turning point for us.  All of the entertaining we did with family and friends really made the kitchen feel like mine.  I have heard the saying that ‘the kitchen is the heart of the home’.  I believe it.  To me there is nothing more rewarding than cooking and feeding everyone!  It must be the Italian in me.

My mother visited and stayed through Easter.  On Easter weekend, our son Michael along with his girlfriend, Jacque and 7 more of their friends joined us.  I cooked and baked all of our traditional family dishes for several days before their arrival and we enjoyed wonderful food all weekend, but the real treat was on Saturday morning.  Twelve of us did what usually our family of six does each year for Easter.  We made home-made ravioli, 185 of them to be exact!  Our doubly long assembly line gave everyone a task and the process was flawless.  Of course, we had to adapt to our new environment and a larger team, but suddenly, we were at home.  Creating a holiday memory with this large extended family all weekend, helped make the house feel like a home.  The ’kids’ even dyed Easter eggs later that day.  The weekend was so much fun!

Ravioli Assembly Line

Let me share our ravioli recipe with you:

Ravioli

Ingredients:   (approx. 150 – 160 large Ravioli)

DOUGH:
36 Large Eggs
3 Cups of Water
10   Pounds of Durum Semolina Flour (approx.)

FILLING:
6 – 8 Pounds Ricotta Cheese
10 – 12 Large Eggs
2 Cups Grated Romano Cheese
¼ Cup of Parsley (approx.)
Salt and Pepper to taste

A.  Divide the dough ingredients into two equal amounts and make the dough in two batches.  Beat the eggs and water in a large bowl.   Add flour until the dough is stiff and slightly sticky.   Turn the dough out of the bowl on a counter, board or table and knead for 5-10 minutes.  Cover with a towel and let stand for 30-40 minutes.

 B.  Thoroughly mix the filling ingredients in a large bowl.

C.  Cut the dough into uniform pieces and run through a Pasta Roller Machine (electric or mechanical) three times until you reach the desired thickness.  After each pass, fold the strip in thirds and then place through horizontally.

D. Drop about 1 Tablespoon of the filling along the middle of the strip and fold the strip over itself.  Cut evenly between each one.  Carefully seal all of the edges by crimping with a floured fork.

E.  Cook fresh or freeze.

Note:   When freezing, place in single rows in a cookie sheet (without over-lapping) on wax paper and corn meal so they do not stick.  Partially freeze, then place in a large sealed freezer bag and return to the freezer (depending on size, usually 12 to a bag).

Ravioli

After Easter weekend, some good friends from home visited for a few days, we went to Las Vegas with them for two days and then my best friend came to visit for two days.  Finally, Matthew and Erika joined us for Mother’s Day weekend.  Our daughter, Julia surprised me that weekend too and then spent the last week with us because her final exams were over.  She needed the rest after a tough semester.

It was the perfect way to end our time in our new ‘home’.  Julia is our youngest and she is the most resistant to a new home, but after moving the furniture around in ‘her’ room and helping pick out a large urn with flowers for the Great Room and some decorative sconces for the mantel, even she had to admit that it was starting to feel more like home.

After all, ‘home’ is where the heart is!

Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs

Easter Morning

Easter Morning

Ravioli Simmering

Ravioli Simmering

 

 WHAT DO YOU SAY?

This is the fifth part of a five part series.
Click here to read the first part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Prelude.
Click here to read the second part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Process.
Click here to read the third part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Problem.
Click here to read the fourth part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Solution.

SHE SAYS:

Even though we took control of the project and managed to recoup all of our lost money from Jason, the project still was much more difficult to finish then we had hoped.   We did have the advantage of being able to make design changes any time we wanted and our home truly became our vision even if this caused us to go somewhat over budget and added to the delays.   It was not unusual for us to walk the house with Jason and make design changes on the spot which he would then implement in our absence.   We had the added advantage of no longer needing to be involved in the complicated process of negotiating change orders or paying extra contractor fees for change orders.

Delay after delay caused us to get so far behind schedule that sometimes, from month to month, the progress was imperceptible.  Some of these delays were caused by the weak economy which resulted in some of our subcontractors going out of business or cutting back on their employees thus slowing down the work.  We even had a robbery where all of our plumbing fixtures and light fixtures were taken from the site while still in their boxes.   This is not an unusual occurrence on construction sites, particularly, in bad economic times.   We suspected that it was done by one of the subcontractors we had fired, but, neither we or the police were able to prove it.   Luckily, our insurance claim was paid rather quickly and we were able to replace everything in short order.

Ultimately, the house took two years to complete and anyone who has gone through the process of building a house can probably relate to this story.  In those 24 months, I made 19 trips to the site for a week at a time.  I pretty much spent 1 week out of every 4-5 weeks in Arizona.  I began to feel like my job was interfering with the building process.

In the fall of 2009, when we thought the house would be completed by Thanksgiving, Joe even went to Arizona to stay for a six week period.  Those six weeks led up to Thanksgiving when all of our children and significant others were joining us at the house.  We ended up spending Thanksgiving in a rented condo and visiting our house.  It was the ultimate disappointment for me and I was so angry with Jason that I could barely look at him never mind work with him any longer.

The next month, when I returned, I fired Jason and hired a new Project Manager who finally completed the construction for us by May, 2010.  We now have a beautiful home on our mountainside vantage point with spectacular panoramic views.  As we sit on our pool patio, all of the work, effort, and agony we put into building this home starts to feel like a distant memory that we hope will eventually just fade away.

As was once said by a famous English author, all’s well that ends well.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

This is the fourth part of a five part series.
Click here to read the first part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Prelude.
Click here to read the second part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Process.
Click here to read the third part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Problem.

SHE SAYS:

We cancelled Jason’s contract and we filed with the county as the Owner-Builders for the project.  We then hired Jason as our Project Manager with the understanding that he would not be allowed to handle any money and that we would make all of the deals with the suppliers and subcontractors.   Further, we would use the money we would have paid him under the original contract to pay off all of the liens and recoup our money that had been seized from his bank account.   It was only after all of the outstanding liens and bills were paid that we started to pay Jason and then only up to what remained of the money he would have received under the original contract.  It was not our intent to punish Jason but only to make him pay for his mistakes.

Faced with the prospect of law suits and possibly jail, Jason agreed to work for us, essentially, for nothing until all of the money he lost was recouped.   The fact that he agreed to this rather than just slink away helped confirm to us that he was more of an inept businessman than a common thief.   In time, we came to realize that he was relieved to be just supervising the construction while we handled the business end of the project.

We were now in complete control of the project which also meant that we would need to spend a considerable amount of our time bringing this to a successful conclusion.  While I was in Arizona and even when I wasn’t, there were numerous phone calls, emails, letters and other interferences that began to creep into our day-to-day lives both at home and at the office and became the fabric of our lives for two years.

In order to protect our interests, I had to spend some of my time in Arizona meeting with the suppliers and subcontractors who had filed preliminary liens so that we could work out arrangements to pay them.   We also had to re-negotiate most of the contracts with the subcontractors and pay them directly.  Many of them liked this arrangement much better because they felt more secure knowing that payment was coming directly from us and they did not have to rely on Jason.

Contractors are small businesses and many of them were suffering from the downturn in the economy.  Sometimes, we could get a great deal just because the contractor wanted to work and earn some money and, sometimes, they tried to gouge us to make more money.

We had our share of both honest and unscrupulous subcontractors so we had to constantly be on our toes and managing this project from 2,500 miles away wasn’t always easy.  To compound the problems many of the subcontractors did not speak English.  In an area that has a prevalent Spanish-speaking population, communication was sometimes difficult.  Jason spoke some Spanish, but since we don’t, it was not always clear if the communication was successful.

Eventually, we got into a very workable system with Joe and I handling all of the financial arrangements while Jason concentrated on supervising the day to day construction at the job site.
 
 We finally reach our happy ending in the next installment, “All’s Well That Ends Well, The Conclusion”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

This is the third part of a five part series. 
Click here to read the first part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Prelude. 
Click here to read the second part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Process.

SHE SAYS:

Jason predicted it would take two weeks to excavate the property to prepare the pad for the foundation.  Those two weeks turned into almost three months.  Finally, the concrete started to appear and so did the preliminary liens.  Due to Joe’s background as an attorney with some experience in construction law, this sent up a red flag, but Jason assured us that these preliminary liens were only informal notices and were a standard industry practice especially in these hard economic times for builders.  Joe checked with a local attorney and was told that this was basically true.

Under our fixed price contract with Jason, we had the usual arrangement whereby we would pay him and he would then pay for all of the materials and subcontractor fees.  The contract also called for contractor fees to be paid to Jason over the course of the project.  By the fall of 2008, we started contacting some of the suppliers and subcontractors who were sending out the liens, only to discover that Jason had not paid them the money we had given him for these costs.  To compound the problem, we discovered that Jason had not set up a separate bank account for our project as is required by law and his personal bank account which contained some of the money we had paid him was frozen and seized in order to pay a previous judgment against him.

The problem had reached a critical point.   The lien holders were justifiably upset and many of the other suppliers and subcontractors were ready to leave the project since they no longer had any faith in Jason or that they would be paid.   We knew that we had to take action or our dream house would turn into a financial nightmare.

With our money gone, we had two choices.  We could start a law suit against Jason and, perhaps, even have him arrested; however, since he did not have any money we would never be able to recoup our losses.  We would also have to start over with another builder and incur many of the costs and fees again.  The alternative was to try and find a way to salvage the project.  Since there was a considerable amount of money that would have been paid to Jason as his fees under the original contract if everything had gone as planned, we felt that there may be a way out of this mess.

We had the work that had been completed inspected and it must be said that Jason proved to be a competent builder and we found him to also be very creative in matters of design.   His short fall was, primarily, that he was a young and inexperienced businessman and had overextended himself.   When things were booming he was able to keep his projects going despite his bad business practices because he was generating enough money to keep everyone at bay.  Once the economy went bust his house of cards fell apart.  Under the circumstances, we felt that the best course of action was to find a way to work with Jason as the best way to recoup our money.

Things get better in the next installment called “All’s Well That Ends Well, The Solution”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

This is the second part of a five part series.  Click here to read the first part, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Prelude.

SHE SAYS:

Then, the process began.  After meeting with several builders over the course of the next year, we settled on a builder (who we will call “Jason”).  Jason was 27 years old and had been in business for only a few years but we liked his ideas and his enthusiasm.  He showed us several houses he had completed and we were impressed with their design and construction.  Jason also recommended an architect who we hired by June 2007.  By the Spring of 2008 we had our contract with Jason in place and had secured all of our approvals for our architectural plans from the County and the Home Owners Association.

On April 30, 2008, we broke ground on our dream house which Jason said would take 10 months to complete.  How naïve we were.

Prior to the contract being finalized, we also met with a house designer/interior decorator.  We spent the greater part of a week in November of 2007 going from one store to another and with her help we selected every design component for the house from roof tiles, stucco and trim colors to light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and windows and right down to such details as interior doors and door knobs.  In some cases, by the time we got to the ordering of these items, the pricing had increased or the items were discontinued or were just never delivered causing us to make alternate choices.

On April 30, 2008, I was excited and eager to begin our 10 month project.  I had organized a large notebook that included the contract, the plans, and a section of empty pages for notes.  I just assumed I would use this book as my guide through the process and to keep me organized.  After all, building a house seemed like a relatively simple process that has been done over and over.  I assumed that all builders followed the same order and I put my faith in Jason that the process would be followed in the correct manner.

We assumed that we would be able to visit the construction site from time to time to enjoy the warm weather as we marveled at the progress being made to our new home.   As things became more and more complicated, we realized that this was not going to be a pleasant experience for us and that we would need to become much more involved than we had ever imagined.

After just a few months of construction, I had to abandon my book because it grew so large and ultimately I accumulated volumes of notes, emails, notices and other pertinent documents that take up an entire file cabinet.  As the problems mounted, I found that I had to create a paper trail on every issue and keep my documents very organized in order to stay one step ahead of Jason and the subcontractors.  
 
Things go down hill in the next installment called “All’s Well That Ends Well, The Problem”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

SHE SAYS:

Everyone spends some time during their career dreaming about retirement and what it will be like.   In the Fall of 2005, Joe and I started to discuss the realities of our retirement.  Do we want to stay in the northeast and the cold?  Probably not.  Do we want to move somewhere that is warm in the winters?  Maybe.  Do we want to rent in different warm environments each year?  Maybe.  In any case, Joe asked me to think seriously about what I wanted to do.  His theory was that you should start thinking about retirement possibilities, at least, 5 years before you retire.  Our youngest was approaching college age at the time and Joe wanted to start planning.

In early December, 2005, Joe started talking about Phoenix, Arizona.  He read some good things about the area as a retirement destination and he seemed really fixed on it.  Neither of us had ever been there, but we also knew we did not want to go to Florida.  He was so persistent about it that for a Christmas gift, I booked a week-long trip in February 2006 during Julia’s winter break so all three of us could go.

We stayed at a beautiful resort in Scottsdale and I don’t think we were there for 24 hours when I decided that I was born to live in the desert.  Much to Julia’s dismay, we met with a real estate agent and looked at a number of condos, houses and land in the greater Phoenix area.  There just wasn’t enough time.

In April, I convinced my sister, Lynda to go back with me.  Luckily, her friend, Donna who had moved to Phoenix and is a real estate agent was able to set up appointments for us to look at other properties.  Eventually, I found just the right spot.  It is a large lot on a small mountain that has an up-close, direct view of a mountain range.  I knew it was perfect and that Joe would love it!   I consulted a couple of builders about the feasibility of building on such a steep lot and found that it was definitely possible.  The only difficulty they could see was the uncertainty of the cost of the excavation because of the terrain.

Lynda and I sent Joe emails and pictures and convinced him that he would love it there.  He placed his trust in me and sight unseen Joe agreed that we should purchase the lot.   We closed on the property by June, 2006.  Joe’s first visit to the property, along with all of our children wasn’t until one month later in July.  What a dream it was, picturing the house we would build there.  The story has a happy ending, but the process to reach it took us through hell and back.

This is a five part series that brings us to a successful conclusion.

Look for the next installment called “All’s Well That Ends Well, The Process”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?