Happy Birthday Brighid

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It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. ~Joyce Maynard

My oldest child turns 23 in an hour and a half.

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22 was a year of big things for Brighid – not always good things, but big things.  She spent most of the year living away from home, learning the good and the bad about running a home, paying bills, and struggling to balance everything.  She also moved back home, swallowing a bit of pride, learning how to share with sisters and do chores all over again – teetering between being a real grown up and a grown child.  She made changes in her career goals, altering her educational plans so that she ends up graduating a full semester sooner.  She lost – then found – love.  She made genuine re-connections with friends, and made genuine new friends that have become increasingly important in her life. She has gone from informed and interested voter to informed and invested candidate.  She may have even made one or two decisions on her own about what to wear when she’s going out.  That alone brings a tear to my eye.

Honor Cadet

As we begin her 23rd year together, I see things differently than I did a year ago.  I see a more determined, more sure person than I saw at age 22; one who seems to have found a path she’s comfortable on and convinced she can navigate.  She seems certain about the goals she’s set and her ability to achieve them.  She has fewer questions and more answers.  When she asks my advice, is not so she can go against it; it’s because she might actually benefit from it.

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Then I finally realized what it was I was seeing.  As Brighid has grown, so have I.  I’ve evolved as a mother, and without babies in the house, I can see these kids as they truly are – their personalities, quirks, and their individual brilliance.  I recognize them equally as people and as my daughters.  I am at the same time both awed by them and impressed with them.  With each passing birthday, they grow; I grow; the vision we have of each other grows.

Each birthday is a milestone – bittersweet to be sure, but growth always is.  Gone are the beautiful babies I rocked to sleep, but they have been replaced with these amazing, incredible people I am so grateful to know – grateful to be a part of.

These are my daughters, I suppose.
But where in the world did the children vanish?
~Phyllis McGinley, “Ballad of Lost Objects,” 1954

Happy birthday, Brighid.  I am as excited for the accomplishments I know you will achieve as I am proud of the ones you’ve already earned.  Love you!

Paul Ryan

 

Appreciate What You’ve Got

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Jim and I were riding in the car listening to Comedy Central Radio, and comedian Katt Williams was talking about how important it is to appreciate what you’ve got in life.  It kind of hit home for me because I dropped the ball on two Facebook gratitude challenges – not because I don’t have things I’m grateful for, but in part because I almost feel guilty talking about the things I’m grateful for.

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We’ve been so fortunate in our life together.  But we’ve faced challenges – for sure.  I remember when Brighid was just home from the hospital after a month in NICU, and Jim lost his job.  Then our insurance company decided that since our preemie was on room air after four days, they weren’t going to pay any medical bills beyond that point – despite the fact that at four days old, she weighed just barely over two pounds.  Gotta love an HMO.  We were literally down to our last cents when we were approved for a gas station credit card.  While certainly not the cheapest option, it allowed us to grab a few packages of diapers and wipes, a gallon of milk and some eggs, and it helped us let by until we got on our feet.

I’m so grateful for that time in our lives.  After freaking out over being new parents to a sick baby and worrying about where the paychecks would come from, we somehow managed to use creative thinking to get us through.  And oh my gosh, how I appreciated being able to go into Babies ‘R’ Us a few weeks later to buy a case of diapers!

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I think part of the reason Jim and I work after more than 25 years together is because we do appreciate what we have.  We’ve lost so many people that were close to us – both of our dads, my sister, close friends – it gives us an appreciative perspective on the time we have with the people we love.  We’ve been a step ahead of dirt poor, and learned to appreciate the luxury of a $5 pizza and a free movie rental.  And when life has been good and we’ve been able to do things like cruises, trips to Europe, and cross country vacations, not only are we grateful for those opportunities, but there is an appreciation for the ability to provide those opportunities to our girls.

So this is my apology to those of you who challenged me to find three things I was grateful for three days in a row.  I cannot think of one thing in my life for which I am not grateful – the good, the bad, the God awful.  I’d need more than three days and three things – and I’m grateful to you for understanding how tough a challenge it was for me!

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Ferguson – What Can Be Done?

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You have undoubtedly heard of the chaos going on right now in Ferguson, Missouri.  An unarmed 18 year old man – Michael Brown – was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson.  Due mostly to the opaque manner in which the investigation has been handled, the atmosphere has continued to deteriorate into what can best be described as civil unrest.

Michael Brown

Why?  What happened in Ferguson that hasn’t happened in other places throughout our country where similar incidents have occurred?  There were no riots over the Trayvon Martin decision in Florida.  So far, no riots have broken out in New York City, where Eric Garner was recently killed by a police officer who used a prohibited choke hold to subdue Mr. Garner.

What has happened is people are tired.  They are tired of African American boys being victimized by police departments all over this country.  I know, I know – Michael Brown wasn’t an innocent in this.  Trayvon’s own mother has said he wasn’t an angel.  Eric Garner was known for selling illegal cigarettes.  But honestly – what is the crime that warrants the penalty of an execution?  Is it stealing $48 worth of cigars?  Is it selling loose cigarettes for a few extra bucks to feed your family?  Are those acts that should be punished?  Sure.  With death?  No.  But that’s what these people got – death.

And it’s not just these incidents.  As I type, they are reporting another black man near Ferguson has been shot by police for allegedly brandishing a knife.  On scene reports are mixed – some eyewitnesses claim he was behaving erratically, but had no weapon; police claim he was armed and attacking.  We don’t get an answer in a lot of these cases as to which side of the story is true, but it should be obvious to anyone with eyes capable of reading the news that African American men and boys have way bigger targets on their backs than anyone else in our population.

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So how do we fix things in Ferguson?  I’ll tell you what I think.

1 – Those kids need to get back to school.  Schools there are cancelled at least until next Monday.  These are inner city kids who are more likely to get involved in the nightly fracas because they DON’T have school than they would be to get harmed if they did have school.  Put some sense of normalcy and a schedule back in place.

2 – Release the results of the initial autopsy and any tests done on the service weapon used to kill Michael Brown.  There are stories that claim Michael attempted to relieve the officer of his weapon in a vicious struggle that left the officer injured.  Others are claiming the officer shot at Michael for no reason.  Somewhere in between lies the truth.  No one will know what that truth is because the Ferguson police haven’t released any information.  It’s almost like they know they have something to hide.

3 – Immediately remove all law enforcement responsibilities from the Ferguson police department.  Put every member of the department on paid leave until an investigation of this entire incident has been completed.  And then, determine which members of the force deserve to have their jobs back.  This is not the first incident in Ferguson.  Five years ago, a DUI suspect was beaten by police officers while in custody, then charged with criminal counts of destruction of property for bleeding on the officers’ uniforms.  Do I know if his injuries were sustained due to an altercation between the suspect and the officers?  I do not know those circumstances.  But really?  Charging the man with bleeding on you?  Ummmm, no.

4 – Appoint community liaisons.  When I lived in Philly, we had “block captains”.  There should be someone in the community who has the ability to attend meetings, receive information, and has the ability to reach out to some member of law enforcement with concerns and questions.  There has to be a positive flow of communication, trustworthy law enforcement officials, and the encouragement of participation in the community by all members of the city of Ferguson.

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5 – Cultural competence training for all city officials and law enforcement officers.  In an African American community, you should have a department that has some sort of training for officers who are NOT members of the African American community.  In the words of my middle schooler, “You don’t know their life; you don’t pour their cereal.”  How can you expect to be successful communicating with someone whose language you don’t understand?  You can’t.  If I dump you in the middle of Afghanistan and tell you to make friends and get along, you’re going to struggle.  If I dump someone from South Florida in Alaska in the middle of winter and tell them be a successful member of the community, they won’t know how.  There has to be some sort of training.

I hope the end is near for the violence in Ferguson.  I pray the family of Michael Brown gets justice and answers in his death.  I hope the mother of Michael Brown knows how much my heart breaks for her, and I hope she knows that his death was not in vain.  Things will change because of what has happened to Michael Brown.  They have to.

Review – Shades of Green In Room Dining

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After a long, hot day shopping, we opted to cancel a dining reservation at ‘Ohana (maybe it was the threat of matching grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts?) in favor of an evening of air conditioned comfort in our resort room.  Room service began at 6 PM, and by then, we were starving!  The menu wasn’t extensive, but everything sounded delicious.

SoG Menu

 

SoG menu 2

Eilis decided she was just going to get the chicken wing appetizer, so because I thought she might still be hungry, I added an appetizer of fried calamari to share.  For my entree, I selected the ribeye steak.  The $19.99 price for the steak also included a choice of house or Caesar salad, garlic mashed potatoes, and a vegetable.  Let’s just say, for $20, my expectations were low.  Wow, was I about to be surprised!

We live in Jersey, where the only thing we have more of than diners are Italian restaurants.  Fried calamari is a restaurant staple here, and they give you a huge portion pretty much everywhere we go.  They are a bit risky for me, because if they are overcooked just a little, I can’t swallow them.  No matter how much I chew a rubbery ring, it’s going to get stuck and cause serious discomfort.  The calamari at Shades of Green were so tender, lightly breaded, and seasoned practically to perfection.  I have had calamari that I needed to dunk pretty liberally into the accompanying sauce to give them flavor, but I almost didn’t need the sauce for these – they were THAT good.  Only complaint – it was a small portion.  I toyed with the idea of just ordering this as my dinner, and I’m glad I didn’t.  Eilis and I shared, but you would need another order if you were going to share any further.

There were a few more pieces, but we were starving - this couldn't wait for photos!

There were a few more pieces, but we were starving – this couldn’t wait for photos!

The Caesar salad was simple and good, nothing special, but tasty.  I love roasted vegetables, and these were perfect – onions, peppers, and zucchini, tender with just a bit of a texture to bite into.

Who doesn’t like steak and potatoes?  The garlic mash were a  hit with Eilis, who helped me get through my plate.  They were a tad thick and “sticky”, but did have a great taste.  The ribeye was the star of the plate – absolute beefy perfection.  The seasoning enhanced the flavor of the medium steak, and there was just the right amount of juice to mix in with the potatoes for added flavor there as well.  This was possibly one of the best steaks I’ve had at Walt Disney World.

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Eilis loved her wings – a healthy portion of 10 with a bleu cheese dressing.  Don’t expect heat, though – these were kid friendly.  Brighid inhaled, ummm, I mean enjoyed a chicken penne alfredo.

I would say the portions were just enough – I was able to share thanks to gastric bypass, but a hungry Dad would be able to easily finish a meal and possibly an appetizer to boot.

We’re so glad we opted for in-room dining.  The meal was great, the room service attendant awesome, and the price for our entire meal was less than the price for two at ‘Ohana.  A delicious bargain – definitely a winner on two fronts!

Shades of Green – Military R&R At Its Finest

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SoG entry

Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC), located within the Walt Disney World Resort property.  As the only AFRC resort in the United States, this is a popular destination, and the resort has more than 500 rooms that can each accommodate at least five guests.  There are rooms that are ADA compliant for those with accessibility requirements, and there are a couple of suites for larger parties.

SoG guard house

As we pulled up to the beautiful flag lined entrance, the gate guard checked to make sure our name was on the list, and you must have your military ID to show him.  We pulled up to the front of the resort, and a valet came over to see if he could help us.  He explained that there was a parking garage available for $5 per day, or we could use the valet for $5 each time we needed them to get our car.  We opted for the garage, which was a multilevel facility with ample parking.

The lobby is beautiful and simple, with comfortable furnishings and a nice fireplace.  The registration desk is in an alcove just off of the lobby, which is kind of nice, because you are removed from some of the noise and busyness of the lobby.

SoG lobby

The room, on the Magnolia side of the resort, was easily as big as a room at the Grand Floridian (and a check when I got home shows the Shades of Green standard room is actually 40 square feet larger than a room at the Grand Floridian).  It’s not fancy, but there were two queen sized beds with comfortable mattresses and a convertible sofa for a fifth person.  Not a fan of the color scheme, but they are definitely aiming for a tropical feel.

SoG whole room SoG sofa bed SoG seating SoG dresser SoG beds

The bathroom was very generous, although I wish they had separated the toilet from the shower, which I think works better for families.  There was a definite lack of toiletries – one small bottle of shampoo, no conditioner or lotion, and a small bar of soap on the sink and in the shower – but I always bring my own, so it didn’t impact our stay very much.

SoG bathroom

One of the pools was open during our stay, and it was a zero entry pool with lots of seating, tables and umbrellas, and room to move around without bumping into people.  The Mickey pool was being renovated during our stay, but just near the pool was a small play area.  Not huge, but it was cute.

The people here were all very friendly and really helpful, from the valet and the front desk people to the store clerks and the room service attendant.  The resort is laid out so it’s easy to find everything – even for the directionally challenged.

We used the room service option for dinner once during our stay, and the food was delicious.  I had the very best steak I’ve had in ages, and the calamari was just delicious.  The portions are not huge, but sufficient.

Overall, our experience was great.  This was kind of a no-frills resort – but the comfort and quality were certainly there.  We paid $95 a room for the night, and taking that into consideration, this was a huge bargain for what we got.  We would totally stay here again.

Depression, Addiction, and Robin Williams

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One sad day, a man who had battled years of illness, struggled with years of pain and depression, and was physically and emotionally beaten and exhausted defied the wishes of those who loved him and chose to end his life.  After years of putting on a brave smile, we finally got to see the genuine sadness in his beautiful eyes, and he left those who loved him to find his peace.

Robin Williams? No.  That was my dad.  His body, ravaged by the effects of his diabetes, was finished without medical intervention.  His mind was weary.  He had no fight left in him, no matter how much those of us who loved him wanted him to pick up arms and live to fight another day.  He instructed the doctors to discontinue his medical treatment and allow him to slip away, which he did, in hospice.

Robin 1

Yet people are saying Robin Williams took the “easy way out”.  I’ve seen comments that allude to the fact that he had money, he could have hired all the help he needed, and he opted not to get the help that might have saved his life.  I’ve heard people call him a coward.

It’s funny, because I heard none of those things about my dad.  No one accused him of taking the easy way out.  No one said he was a coward.  Even though my dad blatantly refused medical help that would have prolonged his life, no one would dare say he chose not to save his life.

My dad’s illness could be seen by everyone.  His arms were riddled with the bruises from constant medical treatments.  His legs had been amputated.  He needed dialysis.  You could look at my dad and know he was sick.

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That’s the rub with depression.  It’s a pain you can’t see – an illness that eats you from the inside, leaving your outside in many cases looking perfectly normal.  Yes, there’s medication to ease the pain, but many of them cause a whole different kind of pain – some of them even have the side effect of wanting to commit suicide.  All too often, people suffering the excruciating pain of depression turn to booze or drugs to help with the pain.  Then, instead of looking sick from a very real, incredibly devastating illness, you look like a drunk or a druggie.  We don’t have much sympathy for those kinda people in our society.

As my dad lay dying in hospice, he was medicated to help alleviate his pain.  Robin used alcohol and drugs, both of which were removed as options for him, again, because that’s not an acceptable way to conduct yourself in public.  I cannot begin to imagine them not easing my dad’s pain with some kind of medication.  My heart breaks that Robin didn’t have something legal and morally acceptable that worked to ease his pain.

People Robin Williams

You see it in comedians all the time.  Richard Jeni.  Freddie Prinze.  Charles Rocket.  Mitch Hedberg. Belushi.  Farley.  Bruce.  No matter how much they make us laugh, they remain ravaged by this illness that doesn’t let them feel the warmth of the humor.

I loved Robin Williams.  The sadness in his eyes was always there, but it was hard to tell if it was part of a character or him really struggling.  No one can say he took the easy way out.  This man lived in agony for years with a disease most of us don’t even fully acknowledge exists.

There is no easy way out of that.

I hope the way he took was the path to his peace.

Robin 4

 

 

Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down on Disney World – All in the Same Day!

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There is absolutely no doubt – I love me some Disney World.  Some of my most magical moments and favorite memories were made in Disney parks.

My cousin Margaret is in Walt Disney World right now, and the entire first day of her vacation has been a stressful, tear-filled disaster.  Through no fault of Disney’s, her airline lost her luggage, claimed she never checked a bag, said Disney’s Magical Express team picked it up by accident, and ultimately found it this afternoon in Ft. Lauderdale.  In the suitcase were all of Margaret’s clothes, the princess dresses she bought for her two nieces, and other personal items – in other words, everything Margaret needed for her vacation was in that bag.

She spent hours on the phone with the airline, stressed over the girls’ having their dresses for their long awaited dinner in the castle, and worried about not having the allergy medicine she packed “just in case”.  But, like other plus sized girls, Margaret’s biggest concern was getting clothes that fit.

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So, here’s what Disney did oh my gosh, so right.  They very generously offered Margaret a credit on her account to help her either replace her clothing or enjoy a meal or two without worrying about the extra expense of taking taxis to replace items at stores away from the resort area.  Again, this was in no way Disney’s responsibility, and this little bit of pixie dust is the midst of such stress was really the one bright spot over the two days of agony.

But here’s where I think Disney fails some of us sometimes.

It’s one thing if you lost your luggage and you were a regular sized person.  You can find virtually everything you need at Walt Disney World – underwear, shorts, bathing suits, dresses – both fancy and casual.  But when you’re a big girl, you are, for lack of a more appropriate term, screwed.

Up to a certain extent, you can probably find t-shirts or sweatshirts at Disney World if you are plus sized.  You may even find shorts or sweatpants.  But you’ll have to spend your trip pretending it’s panty-free Friday if you’re a plus sized gal in the House of Mouse.  There will be no underwear to be found.  Forget finding a bathing suit bigger than a 14 or 16.  Even if you settled for living in your bathing suit for the whole vacation (and just adding pearls to go to Victoria and Albert’s), you won’t find one in your size if you’re a bigger person in the pixie dusted domain.

Now, of course, you can take a taxi to the mall, the local outlets, even WalMart for essentials, but that adds an additional expense, takes you away from the parks and the vacation fun you are looking for, and when you’ve got kids in tow (Margaret is traveling with four of them), now you’re talking about a cab ride for the whole crew and keeping the kids corralled while you try to find the things you need in an unfamiliar mall.  Definitely not the way to start a vacation.

I’m not saying it’s on Disney to carry every article of clothing in every size.  It would be unrealistic to expect to lose your luggage and have options such as boxers or briefs (I have found men’s boxers, by the way); Michael Kors or Zac Posen; or every color of the rainbow.  But maybe just a few more items in a sistah’s size would go a long way to making a stressful start to a vacation a little bit easier to swallow.

 

Lost Luggage – Don’t Let it Be a Vacation Bummer

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Jim and I flew to Vegas one year, with snow on the ground here in Philadelphia.  We arrived at the airport in Las Vegas only to find our bags were snow delayed somewhere in Chicago.  I was wearing stirrup pants (don’t judge – they were still in fashion) and a butt covering, thick wool sweater.  Did I mention it was 90 degrees in Vegas?  I sweat my ass off as we walked to the mall at Caesar’s, only to find out almost everything there was so far over my budget and under my size, I was certain I’d have to be naked the whole weekend.

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There is nothing that can ruin a vacation faster than lost luggage.  Beyond what you need to do with the airline to help track down your bags, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re not devastated in that just in case moment.

1 – Be prepared with your carry-on bag.  Make sure any medications you’ll need are in there, along with money, credit cards, attraction tickets, and identification.  Beyond that, throw an extra pair of panties in there, along with some clean socks.  If you’re going somewhere where a bathing suit is needed, put it in your carry-on.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve tried on 4,298 suits, ordered from 184 different online vendors, and it’s unlikely you’re going to find one you’re comfortable in at the resort gift shop.  Going out for dinner your first night?  Pack a nice blouse – one that will work at virtually any location.

2 – Dress for your destination.  Had I just put on a t-shirt with a sweatshirt over it before I left Philly for Vegas, I would have been WAY more comfortable when I arrived by just taking off the sweatshirt.  Jeans are good just about anywhere, and can be rolled up into a capri pant (or an ankle pant) if your destination is warm.  Another good thing about jeans is that you really can wear them to just about any restaurant – dressed up with that nice blouse you have in your carry on bag.

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3 – Talk to your hotel concierge or front desk.  Before you make that run to the local Walmart to replace your toiletries, check into your hotel.  Most hotels will have a pretty well stocked bathroom – soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion.  Some hotels, however, also keep a supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs, disposable razors, and other small toiletries that might get you through at least your first night or two, at which point, your bags might actually arrive.

4 – Have a positive attitude.  Yes, this is inconvenient.  You might have to spend money you didn’t budget for – although hopefully, you’ll get money back from your airline.  But do your best to make it work.  If you’re vacationing for fun, put the worries on the back burner and have all the fun you intended to have.  If you’re traveling for work, use this to show people what a trooper you are – even without luggage, you’ve shown up on time and are raring to go.

If you let this ruin your trip, it will.  So don’t let it!

 

The Art and Agony of Being Elmo

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My kids call them “Sad” – as in “Sad” Mickey, “Sad” Minnie, and “Sad” Elmo.  You find them all over near the tourist attractions in New York City, but they seem to cluster in Times Square.  They are the people who dress – badly – as your favorite characters.  Some have heads that aren’t quite the right shape or costumes that look like they could use a good cleaning, but tourists flock to them to have their photos taken.  And to make a donation that might be supporting a family here, a family in Mexico, a family in Ecuador.

Sad Mickey

The New York Times did an article this past weekend about these characters – most of them immigrants, many undocumented.  They pay big money for those costumes.  Mostly made in Peru, Minnie Mouse might set you back over $400, unless you can find it used for half the price.  But they buy the best costumes they can afford.  They don’t have to speak as their characters, so the language barrier is no problem, and many of them don’t speak English.  They do, however, try to impart some familiar trait to their characters.  They want kids to be comfortable approaching them.  And they work for whatever tips the tourists give them to stand for a picture or two.

Sad Pooh

I never knew anything about the sad characters.  And honestly, we’ve made fun of them and we’ve chuckled when we’ve seen news articles of Elmo losing his shit and trying to take out a tourist.  But there’s so much pressure on these characters.  The competition for real estate on the street continues to get tougher, and the aggression has to come out if you want to be recognized over the four other Elmos vying for the attention of the tourists.

Sad Elmo Arrest

It seems like regulation is the way to go to protect not only the rights of the street performers in those costumes but the tourists as well.  But with regulation may come things like permits, licensing fees, even paying taxes.  Not that they shouldn’t be paying taxes, but again, some of these people support not only a family here, but families back home as well.  The burdens are great and the money so scarce.

Now I feel like they truly are the “sad” characters.

Sad Elmo