More Than Life Itself

"Stevie Z"

“Stevie Z”

It’s rare in life that you meet someone who changes everything.  Someone who fills your heart with joy and gives you a reason to live.  Someone you can’t stop thinking about because just the thought brings a smile to your face.  Your wife, your husband, your children, and your parents all contribute to this unconditional emotion we call love.

On October 28, 2013, the Stampone-Zamulinsky circle of love was forever connected by the arrival of Stephen Joseph Zamulinsky, Jr., a very special gift.  Stevie Z, as he is affectionately known, was delivered by my daughter Nicole and husband Steve, in a bit of a surprise, 10 weeks early.  Nicole and Steve had followed the prenatal care handbook to a “T”, but at 31 weeks, Nicole had a sudden onset of HELLP Syndrome requiring the emergency cesarean delivery of a 3 lb. baby boy.  It was a scary day for all concerned as Julia and I were in Charleston, South Carolina attending Andi’s final collegiate soccer game (Drexel University 4 – College of Charleston 1) when we received a call about the emergency.  Immediately boarding a flight to Philadelphia, we had no idea what to expect upon landing.  You know the drill, all electronic devices off, seatbacks in their upright position, table trays up.  Three and a half agonizing hours later, wheels on the ground, Julia’s cell phone lit up with the news of Stevie’s arrival as well.  By the time we got to the hospital, a waiting room full of family including great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws, and Nicole’s longtime friend Kim Fogg, were already present to support Nick, Steve and Stevie.  Numerous others would arrive within hours.  Our circle of love had surrounded Stevie before he even had a name.

Circle of Love

Our Circle of Love

The initial weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit were tense and unsettling because of the baby’s weight and his pulmonary and heart issues, but these problems proved no match for this soon to be “bull” of a baby.  After five weeks in the Bryn Mawr Hospital NIC-Unit, Stevie was released into the Stampone-Zamulinsky family, and I can truly say life will never be the same.  Stevie’s escape from the NIC-Unit was quicker than anticipated – - in part due to his genetically guaranteed power eating appetite.  Doctors and nurses were overjoyed with his rapid progress.

For Bill and Mary Z, this was their 15th grandchild, veteran grandparents, wonderful loving grandparents to all 15.  For Julia and I, this was Numero Uno!  (Need to teach grandson Zamulinsky some Italian).  This was unfamiliar territory for us, with new responsibilities and lots of traditions to pass on.  Having raised 5 children, you would think this is more of the same, but it’s not, it’s different, inexplicably different.  As a grandfather, I have it easy, Grandmom is the useful one, the one who spends those first weeks reassuring the new parents they are doing everything right.  The nurse, the cook, the go-to babysitter, for all intents and purposes, the best nanny money can buy.  Me, I just have to show up, toss him in the air, snap some photos, shoot a few baskets, and buy him his first baseball glove.  Boy, I love my job!

Stevie & Grandpop

Stevie & Grandpop

Almost 16 months have now passed, and there has not been a day I haven’t thought about Stevie, looked at his photo, or wanted to hug him.  I recently reminded Julia of a post I wrote a couple of years ago about Roseto, Pennsylvania, a small town founded by my great grandfather, an Italian immigrant.  The lesson of the Roseto story is how the people were able to live long healthy lives with no heart disease primarily because of their lifestyle – the emphasis being their focus on what really matters – family and friends.  They had insulated themselves from outside pressures of a fast world and somehow had extended their own lives.  No one dies of heart disease in Roseto.  I recalled the Roseto story with Julia because most homes were occupied by 3 or more generations under one roof.  My brothers and I were lucky enough to be raised in this very type of household and I have such vivid memories of my grandparents being more than grandparents; they were surrogate parents.  It has taken 60 years, but it all makes sense now with the arrival of Stevie.  How special it would be if I could come home to him every day.  But the world has changed, and that is not the American Dream, only my dream.  And fortunately, we get to experience that same satisfaction every weekend at the Jersey shore when we have just that, 3 or 4 generations under one roof.  Cooking, eating, playing the harmonica, splashing, all in harmony, all within our circle of love.



Being grandparents gives you a second chance at being the parents you wish you were.  Being more patient, less distracted, more fun, more attentive and not sweating the small things.  But for me, the most amazing thing is how much you can learn from someone who has an entire vocabulary consisting of “nana”, translates to banana.  (Nicole tells me Stevie can say dozens of words, but the only discernable one for me has been his food reference – who’d a thunk it.  We are working on “meatball”).

But I digress.  My point is, Stevie doesn’t care how you’re dressed, what you look like, whether you have brought him a gift or anything else material.  He’s just happy to see you and touch you.  He reaches for a hug not a handout.  There is no better feeling in the world than this little man running across the room, arms open for a hug and kiss.  So uncorrupted, so simple, so pure.

For me, the story of being Stevie’s Grandpop has not yet been fully written, lot’s still to do.  Babysitting, going fishing, having a catch, maybe even Disneyworld; but one thing’s for sure Stevie, “I love you more than life itself”.

The Next Great Wine Frontier…New Jersey

There was an interesting NPR Planet Money podcast which talked about the next great wine frontier – no, not Spain, France, or even California, the story covered the interesting tale of New Jersey wine.

People from around the country often associate New Jersey with Springsteen, Snookie, and the Sopranos – but not great wine. Louis Caracciolo, a vintner in Atco, NJ is trying to change this reputation. Caracciolo has been making wine since 1976 at his vineyard, Amalthea Cellars. He believes that Jersey can become an internationally recognized wine capital, much the same way Napa Valley and Sonoma did in the 1970’s.

Prior to 1976, California wine got no respect and fancy wine drinkers wouldn’t touch it. To celebrate the American Bicentennial, California wines out of the little-known regions of Napa and Sonoma went head-to-head with French Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting was judged by the preeminent French wine experts of the time. To everyone’s surprise, the judges chose a California wine over the French for both the red and white flights. The tasting became known as the Judgment of Paris.

The next week, the wine stores were packed with people looking for California wines. As a result, the price of California wine went up and the number of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma exploded.

JerseyIf that was possible, any region in the world with good wine-making conditions could do the same thing – even New Jersey. There’s a big issue however, New Jersey is associated with fruity wines such as the famous New Jersey blueberry wine. As a result, New Jersey has what is known as a collective action problem; the success of Jersey wines depends on how the competitors behave. People judge Jersey winemakers not only by their product, but by the product of the rival down the street. All Jersey wine is grouped together in the consumers mind.

So how do New Jersey winemakers change people’s expectations? The first thing winemakers did was ditch the name Jersey and slap on the official geological name for the area around Atlantic City, the Outer Coastal Plain (O.C.P.).

The Outer Coastal Plain is 2,250,000 acres of the best wine-making land in the country. The area has been certified by the Federal Government as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). The Americans got this trick from the French, this is how they dealt with their collective action problem back in the 19th century.

The region, which has nearly the same composition as Bordeaux, experiences a warm growing season, spring frosts are rare, and the breezes from the Atlantic are ideal for winemaking.

But changing the name is not enough; New Jersey needs a critical mass of wineries producing quality wine. So Lou Caracciolo is on a mission. He visits wineries throughout New Jersey and gives them the sales pitch – continue to sell your sweet wine and make money that way, but make your reputation and prestige on the quality stuff. While Jersey is not there yet, if you listen hard enough, you’ll hear a rumbling in the wine world…New Jersey is coming.

This past summer my daughter Nicole, my wife Julia, and I visited Cape Mary Winery, which has 150 acres of grapes, three tasting rooms, and some of the finest wine in the world. While sipping a glass of Cab Franc, overlooking the vineyard with the bay in the distance, it’s hard to believe that you’re in Jersey.

Next time you want a fine wine, screw Napa and Sonoma, think Jersey (or the O.C.P.).


Yo Coglione! Be Happy He Only Cut Your Hair

It was just one week ago I was taking a seat at Mario’s barbershop in Maple Glen when I noticed a calendar hanging on the wall with a familiar image on the cover. I did not envision the picture as most would perceive, but as I had remembered it; peering over lemon trees, rosemary bushes, and olive groves while engulphed in floral perfume looking down onto coral-colored buildings whose reflection subtly fluttered in the flawless blue sea.

I was brought back to reality when the guy in the chair next to me, upon pinpointing where my eyes had landed, interjected, “That’s the worst place in Italy.” Rather than telling him he was wrong I told him another truth, “Beauty is subjective”, to which the man shrugged his shoulders and returned to staring into the mirror, perhaps wondering if people viewed his beauty as highly as he himself.

I was incredibly fortunate to study abroad in Italy (upon dad’s insistence) during my Junior year of college and crossed a few items off my bucket list in the process: skiing the Swiss Alps (in my Flyers jersey); admiring the Statue of David (every time a friend came to visit); fishing the south of Spain complemented by views of northern Africa; and, drinking beer with thousands of Germans outfitted in lederhosen. As memorable as those occasions were, there is one image engraved into my memory. No, it wasn’t the jagged snow-capped mountains of Switzerland, the ancient relics from Italy’s renaissance period, priceless works of art crafted by Van Gogh, or the exotic fish (and women) of Italy and Spain, but rather a small coastal region in Italy, roughly an hour and a half from my apartment in Florence. Yes, the coastal wonder the shortsighted man in the chair next to me, on a miserable rainy day in suburban Philadelphia, decided to call the worst place in Italy. . . .CINQUE TERRE.

Vernazza - Looking down over olive groves

Vernazza – 1 of 5 towns that make up the Cinque Terre region

Cinque Terre, which translates to “Five Lands”, is exactly that, five small coastal towns comprised of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso in the Italian region of Liguria. Cinque Terre is relatively inaccessible as the only way to enter the towns is via boat or train. Cars are not permitted in Cinque Terre so visitors are forced to decide whether they wish to hike from town to town or travel by train.

Narrow Path

One of the many narrow paths on ‘Sentiero Azzuro’

There are four hiking trails that connect the five lands. My friends and I walked “Sentiero Azzuro,” the Blue Trail, a popular cliff-side path that takes roughly four hours to navigate. The Blue Trail is the most aesthetically pleasing route beginning with “Via dell’ Amore”, an Italian Lover’s Lane, where you can’t help but notice the colorful love notes scrawled on trees, cliffside rocks and even the path itself. Via dell’ Amore is also a popular location for marriage proposals and I imagine it yields a high success rate. Please do not be fooled by Lover’s Lane as the difficulty level of the Blue Trail increases as you continue south. There are points along the trail, especially going from Vernazza to Monterosso, where the path becomes so narrow it results in a traffic jam of people analogous to a narrow bridge that can only permit one car to pass at a time. Similar to a bridge, if you fall from this portion of the trail you are likely to end up in the water, it is that steep. Appropriately, signs at the trails entrance urge you to wear suitable footwear.

Each town is registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List, a list of 962 properties forming part of the culture and heritage the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding value. Those who call Cinque Terre home radiate an old-world Italian style of living and slow pace while the visitors see a beach resort; neither is wrong. Again, no cars are permitted in Cinque Terre and many townspeople live off the surrounding land making nearly all of their products from scratch – green and sustainable long before the terms were popular. Monterosso, the final town, offers a sizeable beach outfitted with colorful umbrellas, beach-side shops and restaurants, and the Italian equivalent of the Wildwood boardwalk.

Repping the Flyers in the Swiss Alps

Repping the Flyers in the Swiss Alps

It is the totality of these cultural marvels that made me appreciate the beauty: Cinque Terre’s chameleon-like persona, the people, the architecture, the vegetation, the sea . . . and the food; my goodness the food. While catching our breath in Vernazza I refueled on red wine and Pesto, a native Ligurian sauce, while others enjoyed spiced octopus and stewed cuttlefish, each of which was likely caught just hundreds of feet from where we were seated. Did you really expect a Stampone to tell a story about Italy and not talk about the food?

After tipping my barber I began to wonder if I would ever see the man in the chair next to me again.  As I exited the shop I received a wink and a smile from the proprietor, Mario, a native Italian and very talented barber, who coincidentally had just given the worst haircut of all time. I doubt Mario or I will ever see that coglione again.