Like When the Lights Go Out

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I cried often my first few weeks of high school.  Being overwhelmingly shy, it felt like I had no sooner made friends in the school we moved to when I entered seventh grade, and now here I was, just two years later, having to do it all over again.  It was painful, uncomfortable, like being in a familiar place, but not recognizing anything.  It was like when the lights go out, and you know where you are, but you still have to fumble around, find your way through the darkness, and hope you come out without too many bumps and bruises when the lights finally go back on.


There was one constant through those early tear filled days of high school.  It was Jenny.  The first day that I wandered into a cafeteria, crowded with more than 500 kids who all seemed to have established their clique in those newborn hours of a new school year, she was there at a back table.  She was all by herself, and she smiled in my direction as I approached and offered me a seat at the otherwise empty table.

It was the start of an awakening.  She argued about everything with me, which may not sound like the thing good friends do, but I felt challenged and alive.  We argued politics, religion, what we wanted to be when we grew up – if I had said the sky was blue, she would have argued that it was a particular shade of azure as opposed to just a banal blue.  It made me want to come back each day, armed with headlines from the local newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine.  I wanted to be a better me because SHE wanted me to be a better me.

Jenny was dynamic and charismatic, but she pulled no punches.  She had no trouble telling me, at our first dinner together when I moved back to New Jersey from Florida, that I was kind of a shit for not staying in touch and that I should have been writing books in addition to changing diapers all those years.  She saw potential in me that reached way farther than I’ve ever seen in myself, and no matter who you were, she looked through you to see the you she knew you could become.

She was successful and talented, and she was intimidating in her ability to overcome things without skipping a beat.  She defeated cancer  – twice.  She stared death in the face following a bleeding ulcer and went back to work almost immediately after being discharged from the hospital.  She stared down an e.coli infection that nearly cost her her life, and didn’t let grass grow under her feet when she recovered.  You couldn’t complain about your worries and woes – she’d been through much worse and lived to tell the tale.


They say some people light up a room when they enter.  Jenny commanded a room.  To me, she was larger than life, indestructible, infallible.  A warrior and a conqueror.  It breaks my heart to know that I’ll never share a coffee with her again, and wonder how I’ll fill those days where four or five hours and two or three lattes in, I was still captivated by a conversation with her.  I’ll miss the once in a while dinners – not often, maybe twice a year – that turned into lessons for me, an eager student clinging to every word from the professor’s mouth, gleaning pearls of wisdom in her conversation that I hope to find the courage to use one day.

For now, though, it’s like when the lights go out.  Everything is familiar, but it’s darker; scarier.  And we are left to fumble through the darkness.


Studio Movie Grill Fight Against Hunger

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$5 for a movie?  When do you ever see that happen?  Never.  But here’s your chance to see a movie for $5 and help support the Studio Movie Grill as they fight against hunger in our area.  100% of the ticket proceeds will benefit the PhilAbundance Food Bank.

In addition, to coincide with the release of the Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Studio Movie Grill will donate 10% of every digital e-card purchased from October 23 – November 25th.

To help support this cause, I am giving away passes to the Studio Movie Grill in Upper Darby.  Post a comment on the blog, on Facebook, or retweet the blog post to enter.  Enjoy a movie; enjoy a meal; help provide meals for people who need them.  Support the cause.

Studio Movie Grill Launches

Fight Against Hunger Campaign


Studio Movie Grill Fight Against Hunger

Studio Movie Grill Fight Against Hunger

Studio Movie Grill Upper Darby  Benefitting Philabundance

53 S. 69th St.

Upper Darby, PA 19082

In Anticipation Of “Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” All Ticket Proceeds Over 4-Day Period Will Be Donated To Local Food Banks


Proudly continuing its tradition of community involvement, from Monday, October 19 through Thursday, October 22, Studio Movie Grill locations in all 10 states nationwide will host $5 movies and donate all proceeds to local food banks.

Additionally, 10% of the proceeds raised from online sales of Hunger Games-themed digital gift cards will benefit these partnering food banks. Gift cards make great holiday offerings and will be available online from October 23 – November 25 at

What:   “SMG Fight Against Hunger”

When:  Monday, October 19 – Thursday, October 22nd

             Every movie, any show time from open to close


Mother of the Bride – Or How Am I Going to Fit into a Size 10 Dress in 16 Months?

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I ask so little of my children.  And when you consider what I’ve done for them – months of pregnancy related illnesses; days of of my life spent trying to get spit up stains out of Every. Single. Favorite. Shirt.; not throwing up when they showed me wiggly teeth until after they were out of the room; countless hours sitting at teachers’ desks for conferences – I really, truly haven’t asked for much in return.

Except that one thing.

Most moms whisper lullabies to their babies as they rock their tiny newborns to sleep.  I sang to the beat of my own insecure drummer.  On any given day, you could see me happily gliding in my glider, singing “Fat Bottomed Girls” to my babies.  Other moms were playing Laurie Berkner on the cassette player while they drove their children to preschool.  My girls listened to Sir Mix-A-Lot and the virtues of a big butt.  Granuaile was serenaded by Mika singing “Big Girl You are Beautiful” as we dropped her sisters off at school and skipped a walk around the lake in favor of going for ice cream.

I felt I had primed them for that one thing I was going to ask.  I laid the ground work for the appreciation of plus sized people.  They should have seen it coming.

“Don’t marry anyone with a mom thinner than me.”

Simple request, no?  Remember, this was in exchange for countless changed diapers, nights sitting up with ear infections and broken hearts, and too numerous to count school plays, concerts, and talent shows.  Yes, I did.  I sat through talent shows.  Even when my kids’ grade performed last.  I know – why have I not been canonized?


But do they listen to me?  No.  My daughter’s future mother-in-law is down right svelte.  Spindly and sylphlike. Clearly, this kid did not get the memo.  Or the subtle reminders.  Or being verbally beaten over the head with my pleas of a plump parent.

So I am back at the game I have lost so often.  Dieting.  Exercise.  Torturing myself in the name of not being triple chinned in a photo.

Wish me luck.  Say a prayer.  Send me rice cakes.  And if you don’t see this fat bottomed girl at the gym, give me grief.  Just dip it in chocolate first.




A Separation of Souls

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I have not yet told Eilis that my mom has died.

Shortly after 10:00 PM last December 23rd, my sister called to tell me that the hospital had just called to tell them my mom died.  I hung up the phone, crying out loud, and called my family to me.  Eilis, instead of joining Jim and Granuaile next to me, raced away from the room yelling, “I don’t want to hear it!”

And I think in that outburst, she found a place in her mind where if she didn’t hear it, it didn’t have to be real.

Eilis and my mom were fast friends.  We moved back to New Jersey when Eilis was four months old, and from the time she was just a few months older, she loved spending nights at Dram’s.  At 18 months old, she would pack her own bag, anxious to have even just a few hours in my mom’s company.  They would play for hours, exhausting each other with laughter and songs, and my quiet, reserved Eilis came into her own with my mom.  She seemed more animated, more outgoing, more loving.  Eilis wasn’t a huggy kind of kid.  She would sooner hug a tree than a grown up, but with my mom, she was so different.  Eilis was her true self with my mom, and the two of them were like soulmates, destined to find each other on this earth and complete each other.DSC01864


The day my sister Bean died, my mother took Eilis home with her.  Instead of going home to fall into the desperate pit of her own grief, she wanted Eilis to be with her, and my tiny two year old was anxious to go.  She didn’t leave my mom’s side, know ing even at this tender age that she had a job to do, making sure her kindred spirit survived the first few devastating days after Bean’s death.

One weekend, during one of their infamous sleepovers, my mom got sick.  holakxmas2An ambulance had to be called, and Eilis was there as they lifted my mom’s pain wracked body onto a stretcher and into the glowing cavern that was the back of the emergency vehicle.  The police came, there was a cacophony of dispatching calls coming over the squawking radios, and the lights and sounds were just too much for my sensitive kid.

It was the end of the sleepovers.

Eilis was afraid to go spend the night after that, and my mother knew.  She talked to me often about how guilty she felt over Eilis being exposed to human frailty in such a traumatic way.  I had a hard time getting Eilis to even go visit after that, and she was more than happy to pass on the mantle of best sleepover buddy to Granuaile as she got older.  Eilis didn’t get over it, silently lamenting the loss of this precious bonding time, and I think it impacted her more than we ever realized.


Today, after one of her increasingly rare visits to my stepfather at the home heshared for nearly 40 years with my mom, Eilis and I were driving home.  We were talking about our annual visit to Walt Disney World this coming Christmas, the first one we are taking with my sister, her husband, and my stepdad.  In between conversation, she was singing along to theCD she had popped into the car stereo.  And then she was crying.  The tears were silent, yet they poured as if a flood gate had been opened down her cheeks, dripping onto her shirt.  Quietly, acknowledging for the first time the loss she suffered last December – if not those many years ago – she said, very simply, “I miss Dram.”

I can do nothing with my own broken heart except pray that this is at last a step toward healing for Eilis.  Perhaps this is the beginning of her heart accepting – or at least understanding – the loss she has suffered.  And even though they can’t be together, maybe this is the point where Eilis lets the memories be of some comfort.  Maybe she can focus more on the bond they had than the separation they suffered.

And maybe she’ll find peace.

Time Flies When You’re Raising Kids

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You hear it all the time.  You might have even said it yourself a time or two, especially if you’re a mom.  But time really flies when you’re raising kids.  They grow up so fast, that you turn around from throwing the last diaper in the trash and they are wearing a cap and gown, graduating from eighth grade.

That’s where we are in my house.




Most of you know my Eilis story.  After trying for 10 years and experiencing four miscarriages, a psychic told me I was pregnant.  Yep, a New Orleans street psychic.  We had tried and tried again with fertility medication, and had failure and loss after failure and loss.  I think before we left for that cross country vacation, we had pretty much decided we were done trying.  Nothing good was coming from it.  And there I was, in New Orleans, sitting across from a pixie-like psychic, asking the question about whether we’d ever have another child.  The smile that came across her face was one you normally see on the face of someone in handcuffs as they are about to declare their innocence for a mass murder spree due to reasons of insanity, but I so wanted to believe her when she said, “It’s already taken care of.”

A little more than a year later, we celebrated Eilis’ first birthday with a Mardi Gras party.

Eilis' Mardi Gras Birthday

Eilis’ Mardi Gras Birthday


I love all of my children, and I believe I love them all equally, but Eilis is truly different.  The other two are huggy, kissy kind of kids.  Eilis makes you work for it.  She doesn’t just pass out hugs and kisses at whim – you know you deserved it if you get an Eilis hug.  Her laugh, which I always thought was contagious when she was a baby, is absolutely infectious now.  Maybe it’s because she’s a teenager and I don’t hear it as often, but my whole body feels happy when Eilis is laughing.

Eilis Smile

She has always stood up for what she believed – whether it was demanding a blue crayon when her preschool teacher told her she didn’t need it for a fall picture or when she was making dinner for families at the Ronald McDonald House.  She has and always will make a difference in this world, not just in my life, but in the lives of those around her.

Eilis is my miracle baby – the one I prayed for, longed for, and cried for.  She continues to amaze me, impress me, and astonish me simply by the fact that I gave birth to this incredible person.

Eili007 - What a dream

I’m so proud of her every day, but as I get ready to watch her get her certificate for graduating eighth grade, I am even more proud.  She has overcome bullying, survived middle child syndrome, and blossomed into the most amazing human being.  I can’t wait to see where she takes this incredible life.

8th Grade Danc

8th Grade Danc

Not Knowing You Hit the Lottery Until You Lose the Ticket

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One of the things I’ve learned as a writer in this social media world is that the title of your blog should always tell the reader what they’re in for.  Y’all, you have no idea.  But I so truly feel today that I hit the biggest lottery in the world and was totally ignorant about the victory until I lost the ticket.

My dad was sick for a long time, and when the end came, he was in hospice.  People came in and out to see him, and through much of it, I waited in the small waiting room across the hall from his room.  I wanted all of the people that knew him had a chance to say their goodbyes, but it gave me the unique opportunity to hear their conversations as they went in and out of his room.  People loved my dad.  He was well respected, would be desperately missed by more than just us, and I heard time and again as friends and family drifted in and out of that room what a great man my dad was.

My dad the day I got married

My dad the day I got married

The same types of conversations were had at his funeral.  People approached me and talked about what a great man my dad was.  When you’re a kid, you always think you’re dad is a great man, but hearing how much he impacted the lives of others gave me a whole new perspective on just what an incredible guy he was.

My mom’s passing was much more unexpected than my dad’s.  Because she was on life support, there really wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to go in and tell her goodbye.  On her last day, when they roused her enough for us to talk to her, we were able to tell her how much we loved her, but the same opportunity wasn’t afforded to any of her friends.

My amazing mom

My amazing mom

She didn’t want a funeral.  My mom felt like she would be saving us the pain of having to greet people at a time I think she believed should be private.  But this afternoon, I had a chance to be around people my mom worked with.  “She was good people.” “You’re mom was awesome.” “Anna was the best.”  They couldn’t say enough good things about her.  My mom was loved, respected by the people she supervised, and as one of her coworkers told me through his tears, she was an amazing and incredible friend.

I loved my parents.  I knew we were lucky to have them, but I didn’t know how lucky we were.  It was both a moment of tremendous pride and incredible sadness to hear how beloved my mom and dad were to those people I didn’t know very well.

I wish I’d found that lottery ticket.  I had a treasure way greater than I ever imagined.

50s Prime Time Cafe – Disney Dining Review

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Imagine walking into your Mom’s kitchen back in the 1950s.  You’re probably being told to set the table, while the smell of Mom’s pot roast swirls around you.  Dad may be sitting in his chair in the living room, watching Father Knows Best on the black and white TV.  Then Mom yells, “Kids, come and eat!”, and the family gathers around the laminate topped table with the chrome chairs to dig in to the delicious meal Mom has slaved over all day.  This is the same thing you’ll experience at 50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Entrance to 50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Entrance to 50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Whether you enter into the lounge area – where you’ll find a full bar and some retro furniture to relax in while you wait for your table – or through the main entrance, you are transported to that era when life was as simple, families ate dinner together, and the food was made with love and home in mind.  All the servers here are your relatives, and you’ll find some are like the mean older sister, bossing you around, telling you to set the table; others are the helpful younger brother, reminding you to keep your elbows off the table so you don’t get in trouble with Mom.

Dining room, featuring black and white TV

Dining room, featuring black and white TV

The menu is heavy on American comfort food favorites.  A tender and delicious pot roast, swimming in a gravy with carrots and celery, accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes; a crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside homestyle fried chicken; even meatloaf the way you remember it – sliced thick, covered with gravy, and with a healthy helping of mashed potatoes on the side.  This is not gourmet cuisine, it’s comfort cuisine, and it’s done absolutely perfectly.

Mom's Pot Roast

Mom’s Pot Roast

Menu favorites include the peanut butter and jelly milkshake – a creamy and cold blend of your two favorite childhood flavors, served in an old fashioned milkshake glass with the extra on the side.  Beer battered onion rings are a crispy and delicious throw back to 50s diner food, and a great way to start your meal.  And if you can’t choose among the flashback entree favorites, try the sample platter that gives you a taste of the meatloaf, fried chicken, and pot roast.  There is even a daily blue plate special that can offer a delicious menu alternative to the traditional favorites.



This is a must do meal for our family each time we visit Walt Disney World.  They do accept the Disney Dining Plan, and your meal here is one table service entitlement.  The restaurant also participates with Tables in Wonderland.

Daily Blue Plate Special of shrimp and grits

Daily Blue Plate Special of shrimp and grits


Redesigned Disney Store Brings Renewed Magic to Lehigh Valley Mall

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You would have thought you were at Walt Disney World, with lines that wrapped around the entire upper level of the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall, PA this morning as the Disney Store opened a newly redesigned Disney Store that promised to bring renewed magic to the shopping experience at the mall. I wound my way through the Anna and Elsa worthy line to the front of the store, where I was greeted by Meliss, the District Manager. She took me on a tour of the magic guests to the store are in for – and believe me, there’s more than just a good sale to be found!

Walk Through Castle for Your Little Princess

Walk Through Castle for Your Little Princess

You’ll find a beautiful blue Pixie Dust Trail that leads straight through the store to every corner of Mickey merchandise – and you’ll find more than just the Main Mouse himself.  Whole sections are dedicated to Star Wars and the Marvels Avengers merchandise, which is a great addition to a normally more princess-centric shopping experience.

Great Star Wars Section

Great Star Wars Section

Magical Tree

Magical Tree

There are magical trees scattered throughout the store.  Magical, because when you look close at the beautiful leaves, you might catch a glimpse of your favorite Disney character.  Look away, and when you look back, you might find another.  Each tree features at least six fabled favorites.

Peek-a-Boo! Which Characters do you see?

Peek-a-Boo! Which Characters do you see?

Area shoppers can look forward to a full schedule of events taking place in the store, especially the new Disney Store Theater and Storytelling Neighborhood.  A peaceful gazebo covers an area where kids can watch Disney stories on the little screen, or do some hands on activities at the table.  Look for store parades and special events coming soon inside the store.

Storytelling Neighborhood

Storytelling Neighborhood

My favorite part of the whole experience, though, is the nod to the local community.  The skyline mural that runs around the entire perimeter of the store is a collection of photographs of local landmarks, including the Troxell-Steckel House and the Geiger Covered Bridge.  You’ll have to look closely, but when you do, you’re rewarded with a glimpse of your Disney favorites – shadows among the local scenery.

Geiger Covered Bridge in Whitehall, PA

Geiger Covered Bridge in Whitehall, PA

I loved this new interactive shopping experience.  It was hard to know which way to look first – at the amazing array of Disney themed merchandise or the incredible details throughout the store.  It’s safe to say that when you journey down that pixie dust trail, Disney has created magical moments for guests of all ages!

Tables in Wonderland – Helping Make Disney Dining Affordable

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As a long time Walt Disney World annual passholder and a DVC member, I admit to feelings of jealousy when fellow travelers gobbled up offers of free dining at Walt Disney World.  With minimum ticket purchases and minimum night stays, this great way to save money at Walt Disney World always left a bad taste in my mouth.  But for those of us who come with tickets and accommodatios already covered, there is an alternative.  Tables in Wonderland has been helping to make Disney dining affordable for those of us who aren’t eligible for the free dining promotion.


Tables in Wonderland is only available to Florida residents, annual passholders, and Disney Vacation Club members.  “Boasting a buffet of benefits”, the card offers a discount of 20% on meals at participating Walt Disney World restaurants.  The list of restaurants is extensive, featuring resort dining, theme park dining, and even locations in Downtown Disney.  Primarily accepted at table service dining locations, you will find a handful of counter service meals available, especially where there isn’t a table service option (value resort food courts, for example, are participants).

The card costs $125 for Florida residents, $100 for DVC members and annual passholders, so it doesn’t take many table service meals to hit the break even point.  With my family of five (plus one), one really nice meal at a place like California Grill can make the card worth the purchase.  You get a full year of benefits, and the perks include complimentary valet parking at resorts and complimentary theme park parking (before 5 PM, there is a three hour maximum).  Even better, Tables in Wonderland offers the discount on your entire meal – including alcoholic beverages!  Many of the resort hotel lounges are covered under the plan.


So if you are looking for ways to make Disney dining more affordable on your next visit, consider making the Tables in Wonderland purchase.  Enjoy the cuisine you’ve come to love while keeping a little cabbage in your pocket!


Bridesmaids – Beautiful on a Budget

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The time has come for the most difficult task of your wedding. You have to approach the people you love the most and ask them to spend hundreds of dollars on your wedding, with the biggest chunk going to a dress they will likely Never. Wear. Again. You want your bridesmaids to be beautiful, but your idea of beautiful might be their idea of breaking the budget. How do you have beautiful and happy bridesmaids in your wedding? Keep an eye on a realistic budget for EVERY member of your bridal party and consider borrowing (or renting) your bridesmaid dresses.

Would you be caught dead in this? Don't let your bridesmaids!

Would you be caught dead in this? Don’t let your bridesmaids!

Renting formal wear has always been an option for men, but is becoming increasingly popular for women as well. Many women are familiar with Rent the Runway which rents out designer gowns for a fraction of their purchase price. The shop carries bridesmaid appropriate gowns and dresses, and you’ll find Monique Lhullier, Halston, and Badgley Mischka among the available designers. An $850 Badgley Mischka rents for about $100 on the site.

Weddington Way is another bridesmaid dress rental option. They keep things simple, offering only six different styles in six different colors, but a dress that normally retails for $150 can be rented for half that price and returned after the wedding. It won’t even take up precious room in your closet.

Another option to keep your bridesmaid budget in mind is to choose a color instead of a gown. If you tell your bridesmaids your color is navy blue, they can then purchase a dress that suits your wedding vision, their body type, and their budget. It allows them to shop at the mall or look for discounts that might not be available at your local bridal salon.

No.  Just no.  Not on any budget.

No. Just no. Not on any budget.

Also consider the re-wearability factor of the bridesmaid dresses you choose. Someone who just can’t rationalize spending $200 or $300 on a gown for one day might be able to see the value in paying that same price for a dress that they can wear out to a club, on a cruise, or to another nice affair. Choose something in a practical fabric without a lot of embellishment that can be dressed up or down for another function.

It’s such an honor to be asked to be in someone’s wedding. It means that you cherish them in your life and want them to be a big part of one of the most important days of your life. Make sure the experience doesn’t cause them any unnecessary stress. Beauty on a budget is possible – even for a bridesmaid.