Harper Vee Marti

We got Harper when she was 8 weeks old. A tiny, chocolate drop of fluff and fun. She bounced like a rabbit, and her whole body wagged when she wagged her tail. She was, literally, only about as tall as a blade of grass

Every year during my 30 days of thanks, I repeat how thankful I am for Harper. Everyone who knows me knows my Harper story. She was just about 12 weeks old when I was hospitalized in ICU. I had MRSA and a gram negative infection that was resistant to antibiotics, and it was a really rough road. I was eventually put on a wound VAC, and due to the daily visits from home care nursing, I was stuck at home most of the time. I couldn’t do much, and I couldn’t sleep in my bed because I couldn’t lay down properly. I spent most of my days – and nights – propped up in a recliner.

And Harper never left my side.

I often wondered how a puppy so young, with such boundless energy, could sit so still – in my lap, on the arm of my chair, by my feet – for hours on end. But I was then – as I am now – so grateful to have her by my side, keeping me company, always making me feel better, offering comfort and bringing peace.

She was rewarded. Starbucks has always been a particular favorite, but Harper and car rides have just always been a perfect match – even if there wasn’t a puppacino in it for her. A couple of times, she got out the front door on her own, and we always knew if we opened a car door, that’s right where she ran.

She made herself top dog in the house – despite her petite stature. The other dogs knew that if they left a bone or a treat anywhere in the house, it not only became Harper’s, but she would take it, hide it, and guard it like a ferocious watchdog if the other dogs came near. Growling, snapping, sneering – every stolen treat was a trophy to be savored and lorded over the other dogs.

I will be grateful for Harper forever – as long as I live. But this is the lsat year that I will include her in my 30 days of thanks.

Because today, my dedicated companion and faithful friend is gone.

I knew it was coming. She lost her hearing about a couple of years ago, and she’s battled eye infections and vision problems. She struggles to get up and down the stairs – well, unless she’s racing another dog for a treat. She’s had some digestive issues and breathing issues in the last few weeks. She snapped at people – except me – but including the vet tech today when Jim took her in.

He noticed her struggling to breathe this morning, and took her to the vet. She was anxious, struggling for air, and agitated. The vet examined every inch of her. She was for sure deaf. She didn’t seem to follow his movements with her eyes. Her sense of smell seemed to be gone. He suspected maybe a brain tumor.

And like that, my tiny girl is gone.

What was humane for Harper and safer for my grandchildren is a searing heartache for me. With the new job and school, there hasn’t been as much time to cuddle, to make a Starbucks run, or even to answer the little scratches on the side of my bed when she wanted to come up in the middle of the night.

I know – don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. And I will, some day.

But for today, I’ll be sad that I couldn’t be here for her like she was for me – always, every minute, any time I needed her.

Best dog ever.

Oh Very Young

There are endless Uncle Bobby stories. We all have them, and we’ve all shared them. He made an impact on all of our lives that we will never forget. He just had that kind of personality.

Some stories are uniquely our own – parts of my uncle that he gave just to us individually. I got access to parts of him my younger cousins didn’t, and those are the pieces I will treasure.

We were only 10 years apart in age, and I think as I grew older, Uncle Bobby felt obligated to pass along to me the things he learned not that much longer before me. I think I was about eight when he gave me a copy of The Hobbit. I was still reading Judy Blume books, like the other third graders, and it felt way beyond me, but I read it, cover to cover, hoping to impress him. But he wasn’t out to be impressed. He was out to educate – to make sure I had exposure to something to which my own dad might not have exposed me. He had such an appreciation for the book, and I think he wanted to make sure I did, too.

I couldn’t understand when he gave me the album Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. I was listening to “The NIght Chicago Died” and “Seasons in the Sun” – I just didn’t “get” Cat Stevens. But I tried. I listened to the album a few times. I put it away a few times. I bought myself Cat Stevens album Teaser and the Firecat. And who knew? Maybe Uncle Bobby knew. But years later, while other moms were singing “You are My Sunshine” to their babies, I was singing “Wild World” and “Moonshadow” – songs that spoke to my heart as a mom way deeper than anything Paper Lace ever sang. And there were days that I would silently thank my Uncle in my head for bringing real music to me in the age of disco. I didn’t get a chance to apologize to him for liking some of the Bee Gees music. I don’t think I admitted it, but he knew. Just as I was in the throes of “Stayin’ Alive” back in the day, he threw some Phoebe Snow albums my way to swing the pendulum back into a normal rhythm.

Here’s a story I never thought I’d share. I liked a boy I met during a summer with my aunt in North Carolina. My parents were not thrilled when I decided this boy should come and visit me. I believe my mom said something about not knowing whether or not he was a serial killer. I managed to grab some private time with my Uncle Bobby and quietly told him what was going on. He offered to let this potentially serial killer boy stay at his house, without telling my parents. He opened his home for a week to this guy, never having met him. I loved him then for doing it, but I love him even more now for keeping my secret and letting me know not only that I could trust him, but that he trusted me.

I last saw my Uncle Bobby when I went out to St. Louis for Eilis’ robotics team competition. I knew he had been sick on and off, and I knew he had heart problems. He was super excited to talk on the phone about the tournament, and he wanted to know all about what he was watching online from the competition. He asked about coming to watch, but I was afraid. The walk from the garage to the actual tournament area was substantial, and I didn’t want anything to happen to him. I didn’t tell him not to come, but I described the areas and how far the walk was, and he decided not to come over and watch it online instead. I was so relieved. My head swirled with having to tell my little cousins that I was responsible for something awful happening to their dad.

Instead of getting together during the chaos of the tournament, and worrying that something would happen to him climbing the steps and trudging across to the playing field, we got to enjoy a really great meal out and a family get together at my cousin John’s house. I loved that he asked about my kids, talked to Granuaile to learn more about her, and spent time sharing a story or two with her. I loved that despite all he’d been through, he still held the childlike charm that endeared him to so many hearts in his lifetime. I loved that after all these years, I felt like he was still teaching me what was important about life – how to recognize and appreciate the things that sometimes get clouded when your eyes are blinded by disco balls.

My Uncle Bobby raised three really awesome kids. He had a wife for whom he took the words “to love and to cherish” very seriously. He rocked the grandfather gig. He made friends of strangers and family of friends. There is nothing harder than saying goodbye to someone who has filled such a huge place in your heart. But as long as we have the stories – and we share them with each other – we will never truly lose him.

“Oh very young what will you leave us this time
There’ll never be a better chance to change your mind
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride the great white bird into heaven
And though you want to last forever
You know you never will
(you know you never will)
And the goodbye makes the journey harder still.”

Elsie’s Pickle Sandwich – An Honest Review

More than a month ago, my sister called me from the Outer Banks to tell me I had to go have an Elsie’s pickle sandwich. A deli right in my backyard was apparently all the rage. Who knew.

I had doubts. I like pickles. I like sandwiches. But the ratio of pickle to sandwich has always been a big old sandwich with some itty bitty pickles. Would I like it if the universe became unbalanced in a way with which my tastebuds were unfamiliar? We’d have to find out.

I waited a while for the buzz to die down. I figured once Michael Strahan from Good Morning America visited, people would flock to this little corner deli. But more than a month has passed, so I ventured over, just minutes past the 11 AM opening time, figuring we’d saunter in, grab our sandwiches, and go.

It was packed – both inside and out. People were happily munching pickle sandwiches in chairs outside the shop, and the walls inside were lined with people. A super friendly woman greeted us outside, and she asked if we had already ordered. We had not. She escorted us into the shop and led us right to the register, handed us menus, and told us to place our order when we were ready. The actual menu is rather small. There are a few standards – an Italian, an homage to Katz Deli, and a couple of other things – but from there you customize. https://www.peacelovepickles.com/menus

We opted to make it easy and go with three Italians – one with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, the other two with just lettuce and chips. You can get all the typical sandwich toppings and condiments, but my mind kept thinking a pickle sandwich is slippery enough on it’s own, so it might not be a good idea to add other slippery toppings.

The sandwich is tasty. At first thought, it seems the pickle would be too much, and overwhelm everything else. Perhaps this would be more true with a turkey sandwich, but the spicy Italian meat held up just fine with the pickle “bun.” I enjoyed the flavors very much.

The challenge for me was that slippery factor. The struggle was real, my friends. I could not, no matter how I tried, keep the meat on the pickle. Several valiant attempts were made, but in the end, I was eating more of a pickle chef’s salad. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – because it was delicious. Perhaps a more coordinated person would know a trick or two to better maneuver with this sandwich, but I enjoyed it regardless.

A great alternative, which we will be trying in a couple of weeks, is the pickle rolls. Much like a sushi roll in appearance, it’s all your favorite deli meats wrapped in a thinly sliced layer of pickle. You could also get this with plain cucumber. That seems like the way to go for those of us that are pickle sandwich challenged.

Everything You Need to Know About Life You Learned Watching Slingshot Videos

Ethan and Landon, Courtesy of Screamer’s Park Daytona Slingshot

There is nothing in this life you need to know that you can’t learn from watching videos of people on the SlingShot rides. If you aren’t familiar with these attractions, they are basically a capsule that can hold up to two people, attached on both sides by bungee cords. The capsule is pulled back and released, and you are thrown, like a slingshot, through the air.

I spent a good chunk of an hour watching these videos, which it seems the attractions do as a matter of habit, and I feel like everything I needed to know about life was contained in these little morsels of terrified, petrified, and horrified wisdom.

Before anything else, you NEED to know this – be like Landon – the little kid on the left in the video up above. He is IT. He grabs the fear by the throat, looks it in the eyes, spits in its face, and LOVES life. He is the ultimate friend to Ethan, who likely has peed himself at some point – but not because his friend Landon abandoned him. Landon encouraged him, supported him, reached out for him at his moment of greatest need. You may never know someone like Landon, but I can’t imagine not wanting to do everything Landon does, I want to be Landon when I grow up. And that begins the lessons we learned watching slingshot videos.

  1. You only get one life. Live it. – I am an anxious person. Much of my life, even when I am doing my best to live it, is lived in terror of some kind. I have social anxiety, I worry about my children, I fear things both known and unknown. And the irony in that is that I LOVE being around people who have an adventurous spirit. My husband, for example, is afraid of next to nothing. He doesn’t worry about being late, he’s never concerned about bills getting paid, he gets to experience life on a level I will never know – but had I watched SlingShot videos growing up, maybe I would have known. Yeah, shit is scary. Face it, embrace it, and live life.

2. Never underestimate the value of good underwear. – Aside from the occasional bowel or bladder accident on these slingshot rides, the biggest undergarment issue is those people who choose to go without. I’m looking at you, ladies. Women in tank tops or – who even wears these anymore – tube tops spend a good chunk of the ride trying to restrain “the girls,” who seem to take on a life of their own, with the help of the gravity defying slingshot effect. Always have the respect in yourself to put on some damn underwear. It’s important in life to know your worth and wearing clothes that randomly give freedom to your boobies is a little devaluing in my opinion. You’re worth more than that. Keep the mystery alive, and dress appropriately. Oh – and your mom wouldn’t want you to be caught by paramedics in an accident not wearing your best underwear.

3. Moms will always have your back, even when they are losing their lunch. – There are moms on these videos with young children, who let go of the safety harness they are wearing themselves to put out the good old mom arm seatbelt device, in an effort to protect their children. There are older moms with older daughters, and I watch them try desperately to control their own fears and tears so they can guide their children safely back to sanity and the earth’s surface. Your mom is always doing the best with the tools she has to work with. Give her credit.

4. The most important thing you can have beside you is a friend who will do even the dumbest shit with you – like ride a slingshot. There are some things in this life you just can’t face alone – and you won’t have to if you keep one good friend by your side. This is your go-to person. This is the person who will pick your kids up when you forget them – yes, I said forget them – at school. They will help you plan birthday parties, weddings, funerals, and escape routes for when your teenagers become too much. They know when you need a cup of coffee or bottle of wine, and they make the time to make sure you don’t drink either alone.

I won’t ruin the experience for all of you, should you choose to learn more of life’s lessons by watching slingshot videos. I saw people scream, curse, laugh, cry, pray, and pass out – literally pass out. All of life’s emotions tied to one incredible ride.

Live, my friends. We come this way once, and for some of us, the trip is way shorter than we want it to be, Experience things, learn the lessons, enjoy the journey. n

Spilling Some Tea

Whose family doesn’t have drama? Some dark secrets you want to keep hidden? Some unsavory activity someone is guilty of? Or just some normal every day crap that gets stirred up by the family instigator?

Our family is no different.

Some of you who know us personally don’t even know that my husband has two brothers. He stopped talking to them when his father died and some stuff got stirred up. His father’s will, which had been on the kitchen table with other documents, mysteriously went missing. His sister-in-law beseiged us with requests to split everything three ways, despite what the will indicated; requests to do what “daddy” wanted (she’d never personally met the man), and requests for a copy of the death certificate – before we’d even had the funeral. Niether of his brothers wanted to see his dad, so we took care of the viewing and cremation ourselves. The week of the funeral, where we hosted his one brother and sister-in-law in our house, ended with his brother telling me I was fat, and me, in true South Philly fashion, yelling out the front door as he was walking away – for all the neighbors to hear – that his wife was a bitch, and at least I could lose weight. For any of you who have referred to me as “Sweet Anna” at any time, this was not my finest hour.

Jim and his brothers were not particularly close. I didn’t even meet this one brother until we had been married 10 years. I’m not sure why it took that long. He lives in California, we’ve always been on the east coast. We invited them to come stay with us for a family event when we lived in South Florida, and they came, spent two days with us, then left for Key West. His wife called me from Key West and begged to come back to stay with us, because she didn’t like Key West and guys were hitting on her husband. They came back to Weston, stayed another couple of days, then went to Orlando to visit Jim’s mother. I only saw them one other time outside of the funeral in the 30+ years Jim and I have been together. We stayed one night at their house in California. They gave us a nice dinner, let us sleep in an unheated water bed, and we took them to brunch the next morning in Sacramento before we left to continue our cross country trip. It was pleasant, but not comfortable, and I was so glad to be on my way away.

Jim’s mother never fostered any kind of friendship among the brothers. At times, although I have no concrete proof, she drove wedges between them. His brother Robert married after Jim and I did. The two were talking on the phone in one of their rare phone conversations through the years, and Jim asked Robert about the wedding he was going to have. He told us that he was having just a quick trip to Nevada because their mother wasn’t paying for their wedding like she had paid for ours. Except she didn’t pay for ours – Jim and I did. We told all of our parents we’d pay for our immediate family, aunts, and uncles, and if they wanted to go further with guests – like their friends – they would pay for the extra people. She did have some of her friends there, that she did pay for, but that didn’t mean she paid for the whole wedding, like she told Robert she had.

This brother also seemed like “the golden child” from my perspective. Although his mother, on multiple occasions, referred to her sons as “the cheat, the sneak, and the liar,” it always seemed like Robert was favored over the other two. He seemed more well liked by his aunts, he was invited to things we were never invited to, and he just seemed he had a much closer relationship with his mother’s family than we did, despite being so far away from everyone. I won’t say he did everything right. I remember his wife calling us one Christmas after we had hosted them at our place during their Key West debaucle saying she had sent what she thought was a lovely gift to Jim’s mother, only to have her send it back, broken, with a note that said she didn’t want it. She vowed never to talk to Jim’s mother again – but quickly changed her tune when probate issues arose around Jim’s father’s death and she needed to rally troops to her side. I guess the wind blew in many directions.

Another thing that has always bothered me about this brother is that before Jim and I were married, shortly after we moved in together, he told Jim not to marry me. He didn’t think I was a good fit for Jim for a number of reasons, and he had no trouble at all telling Jim we shouldn’t get married.

So, when we inadvertently found out over the weekend that this brother was now divorced, I have to admit that I did a little internal happy dance. I don’t ever like to see anyone go through difficult times, but knowing the heartache this brother has caused me through the years – even in his absence from our lives – made me praise the Lords of Karmic Retribution just a little bit.

I spent almost 30 years with a mother-in-law I could never make happy. If I did what she wanted, it wasn’t good enough. If I didn’t do what she wanted, I wasn’t good enough. If I didn’t do things she thought I should do but that never entered my mind, I was awful. And whether it was her influence or not, I never felt I could measure up to standards Jim’s brother (this one in particular) expected Jim to reach. I feel like a horrible human being, but his divorce sparked joy in my heart.

I’ve never been more proud to be married to my husband than I was after this news. Although communication between Jim and this brother was rare, it seemed that those communications were filled with messages of negativity and disapproval of the life Jim chose. Yet here we are, 31 years into our relationship, three children and one and a half grandchildren in, living in a small home in Bellmawr that is filled with more love than money. And when I heard this news, as horrible as it makes me as a human being, it made me feel rich. It made me feel triumphant. It made me feel overwhelmingly blessed that despite messages from his brother, Jim hung in with me and made US work.

And wow. I’m so grateful that this brother – and Jim’s mother – continually challenged Jim with their negativity. I have so benefitted from him continually climbing out of the pool of adversity they wanted to keep him in. He’s been determined from day one to prove them wrong, and it’s proven to me that he would go to the ends of the earth for us.

Storybook Dining at Artist Point With Snow White – A Review

After booking a last minute trip during spring break with my daughter and grandson, I was certain we’d never score a reservation for the new Storybook Dining at Artist Point with Snow White. I was honestly stunned that not only did I snag a reservation, but I was able to change it three separate times to accommodate our ever changing schedule. This, perhaps, should have been a sign of things to come. This is one story that doesn’t necessarily have a fairytale ending.

We arrived for our 5:50 dining reservation about 20 minutes early, and when we checked in, we were told we’d be seated about the time of our reservation. By 5:45, we were already comfortable at our table, gazing around at the beautiful surroundings. It does look like they’ve taken you into the woods, where you would expect to find the Seven Dwarfs’ cottage. It’s rustic and woodsy, but still bright and inviting. We loved the vibe.

Trees at Storybook Dining

The grown up menus are encased in a rustic looking leather portfolio. It evokes a feeling of nature, and you could well imagine this is the type of “book” cover that might have been on one of the little tables next to Snow White’s bed. Love.

Adult menu at Storybook Dining

Our waiter comes over and informs us that in about five minutes, Snow White will appear from a door at the far end of the dining room, and she will be followed soon after by Dopey and Doc. He then gestures towards the Evil Queen, who is standing in front of a large scale book, and says that once the bill is paid, we can get in line to have photos taken with her on the way out. It seems like a fun way to end the evening.

Dinner here is a prix fixe menu, about $55 for adults, depending on when you go. The table is served three different appetizers, each guest chooses an entree, and then the table is served three different desserts. I’ve never been in love with a restaurant that doesn’t really let me choose which options I’d like to eat, so I take this with a grain of salt and hope for the best.

The shared appetizers and desserts are served on a really adorable yet surprisingly annoying Lazy Susan that resembles a branch of a tree with three large leaves. The plates are placed atop the leaves. This is totally cute, until you realize that the child you are there to photograph is on the opposite side of this giant Leafy Susan thing, and you cannot get a good photograph of him no matter how you angle yourself. You pretty much have to get up to take any photos around this thing. This is not a bad thing, it’s just not nearly as convenient as pointing the camera across the table to get a great photo at eye level with the little guy. When I tried to move the Lazy Leafy Susan thing, the base of it was sooooo sticky, it sort of grossed me out for any food that might come into contact with it, but I also learned that it’s darned heavy. It wishes not to be moved. I ended up pushing it ever so slightly out of my way so I could at least interact with my grandson during the meal.

Lazy Susan at Storybook Dining

So now let’s get to the food.

Appetizers included a butternut squash soup, served in tiny cauldrons, with a caramel/marshmellowy lollipop that was meant to be melted into the soup as you stirred. Except in our case, the soup wasn’t hot, so the marshmellow didn’t melt and sort of sat as a too sweet lump in the middle of the soup. The soup was sweet already, and a huge hit with Calder, who easily ate up both my cauldron and Brighid’s.

Next up was a Hunter’s Pie – a small, flaky pastry dough surrounding some sort of ground meat. I learned online later that the meat is chicken, however, we didn’t get that from the taste of it. It comes with an accompaniment of a stone fruit jam. The pastry dough is delicious and a beautiful, flaky, golden brown. The chicken inside is tough and a bit chewy. It looks like a meatball, although the flavor is a bit bland and nondescript. The stone fruit jam was slightly sweet, and it added much needed flavor to the chicken, although because the chicken was so bland, it overpowered it a bit.

Storybook appetizer selection

Finally, there is Wicked Shrimp Cocktail. I’m not sure where they catch the shrimp in the heart of the forest, so it’s a bit odd to see a shrimp cocktail among the appetizers. There is one shrimp per person at the table, and it is in a jar with miso, soy, Thai chili, and greens. This one was too spicy for me – heavy on the Thai chili. I just didn’t like the taste of this at all. My daughter also dismissed it after the first bite, and while her tolerance for spicy food is way greater than mine, it just didn’t taste good.

There is a decent selection of entrees, with something for every palate – seafood, beef, chicken, and even a vegetarian option. The waiter highly recommended the prime rib and the veal shank, so we went with those. The veal was fork tender, served over a celery root mash. It was a little awkward eating, in a bowl, but because the meat was so tender, it didn’t really require much in the way of cutting. The prime rib was okay. It really could have used more seasoning, but the “popover” (a Yorkshire pudding type of accompaniment) was quite yummy, and the horseradish mashed potatoes, while powerful in flavor themselves, were almost necessary to add a bit of taste to the beef.

Desserts here are also served as a trio – small, individual sized portions for everyone at the table. The desserts were a small, gooseberry pie topped with meringue; the Miner’s treasure – which was sort of like a cupcake in a jar type of thing with layers of sponge cake and buttercream frosting; and a poison apple – which was a white chocolate apple mousse with a tart center. The Miner’s Treasure was – to put it mildly – awful. It was a way too sweet dessert, with what tasted like stale spongecake and a thick, gritty frosting. There were chunks of something in the cake, but we each only took one bite before passing on it, so I’m not sure it added anything (internet research tells me they are chocolate bits). The gooseberry pie was a pleasant little dessert, with a tart filling. It’s not anything I would order if I could choose from a menu, but it was okay.

Miner's Treasure
Gooseberry tart

The star here is the poison apple. It’s light, just slightly tart, and a nice blend of dessert flavors. Again, I don’t think it’s something I’d order if I saw it on a menu of options, but when not being given choices, it was the best of the bunch.

Poison apple dessert

The meal ends with the waiter bringing over a small, smoking chest. The contents of the chest are the Hunter’s Gifts to the Queen. If you know the story, the huntsman was supposed to bring back Snow White’s heart, and inside the chest you’ll find a chocolate heart for each guest at the table, surrounded by cracked maple popcorn. I would have happily given up the entire dessert portion of the meal for a small bowl of the popcorn. I want to say up front – it had a slightly stale texture to it – but that is my favorite way to eat a caramel corn type of popcorn. This was sweet, with a hint of salt, and slightly chewy. Between Brighid and I, we got seven pieces of popcorn, and I was so glad she opted out of her share.

The Hunter's Gift

Because Brighid is pregnant, she couldn’t enjoy any of the specialty cocktails, so she instead got the Transformation Potion – a lemonade with a shot of blue stuff on the side that changed the color of the lemonade to a beautiful purple. It came with a blue lollipop spoon. I opted for the Enchanted Apple specialty cocktail. Slightly sweet, slightly tart, with a sugar rim around the glass. Tasty.

Enchanted apple cocktail

Overall, this is not a meal we’d repeat – although with a new granddaughter on the way, we may have to at some point. The character interaction with the baby was absolutely wonderful.

Calder and Dopey

For that alone, if there were options to choose your meal on this menu, we’d come back. But if you’re paying close to $60 a person for a meal and not enjoying either your appetizer or your dessert, you lose a lot of the value in a character meal. I’d rather pay for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party, where you often find the Seven Dwarfs, and know we are getting something for the money we are going to enjoy.

Calder and Grumpy

Oh – and we did not get to see the Evil Queen. By the end of the meal, the line was pretty long, the baby was done sitting still, and both Brighid and I needed to visit the restroom. I’d suggest not waiting until the end of your meal, as our waiter advised. There are periods of lull while you wait between courses and characters that might be a better time to meet with her.

Calder and Snow White

On a scale of 1-5, we have this meal at about a 2.5. Great characters, nice entrees, but the rest of the meal was majorly disappointing.

When You’re the Mom

Mommy and Granuaile

Life is a whole new ballgame when you realize you’re the mom.

I’m not talking about physically having children who refer to you by the name Mom. This is bigger. This is the time in your life when your children are having children, and they call you and want to talk about grown ass things.

My mom was the mom for a very long time – and man, she was so good at it. We talked every day on the phone – okay, we talked several times a day on the phone. She was the person I talked to when I didn’t know what else to do, when I knew what to do but lacked the confidence to do it, or knew what to do and didn’t want to do it. And the reason she was so good is because she wasn’t tactful. She wasn’t subtle. There was no sugar coating anything.

“Mom, should I go through with the gastric bypass?” “Well how else are you gonna not be so fat?”

“Mom, Jim wants to move to Florida.” “Well don’t listen to him, he’s an asshole.”

“Mom, Eilis just wrote with green Sharpie marker all over the white rug in the living room.” “Oh my God, she’s such a little bitch! That’s why I love her. Bring her here for a sleepover.”

See – she had an answer to all the world’s problems. And she did it almost full time, sitting at her kitchen table, wearing a nightgown, and until her later years, chain smoking cigarettes.

But here’s the thing, My mom died in 2014. And not that you’re ever “good” with that – because you never, ever truly are good after your mom dies – but life moved along and things happened, and you go from every minute of missing her and barely functioning to every day missing her and faking it until you make it. Then you realize – you’re the fucking MOM. And there’s so much pressure to do it right, to get it right, to be the kind of mom your mom was. You are the MOM.

Your child calls you every day – or you call her – at least once. And you talk about the things the MOM is supposed to have the answers to. I should know things like how to put a baby to sleep so that he isn’t poking his little head up every two hours, giving some gut wrenching cry, and manipulating his mom into bringing him into bed with them. I should know whether my daughter made the right decision with the college she picked. I should know why my child still has clean clothes to put on when I haven’t seen her put dirty clothes in the laundry room in a month.

But I don’t. I don’t have all of the answers my mom had, and I don’t know where to get them. And I’m a mush – I’m wishy washy. While I have moments of blunt brilliance, I mostly try to figure out what I think my kids want to hear, or what I think will do them the most good to hear, and I say those things – not the things the MOM would say.

At some point, I don’t know if the MOM wisdom just comes to you, or if I have to realize that I’ll never be as good at this game as my mom was.

But can anyone ever be?

If You Pray

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a sign, signifying hundreds of thousands of federal employees who won’t be receiving their paychecks as a result of the partial government shutdown, during a “Rally to End the Shutdown” in Washington, U.S., Jan. 10, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

I try so hard not to be divisively political. I know there are people who are very passionate about their political beliefs, and in keeping with my life’s goal of avoiding confrontation, my attitude toward most things political is a resounding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

But if you pray, now is seriously the time to do it. I don’t care who you voted for in the last presidential election – we have to live with it and deal with it as a country. But there are people – probably right in your very neighborhood – who need your prayers. And so much more.

Who are these people? People who were relying on the paycheck they didn’t get yesterday to pay off Christmas. Families who burned through all the holiday abundance of delicious foods and now face bare pantries and no income. Children whose parents have to pay their spring baseball dues, senior class trips, field trips, and their dance class fees – something taken for granted in many households – when suddenly, the money isn’t there to cover it.

And what’s worse – these people are working. These people are going to be scraping together change from the sofa cushions to put gas in their cars to go to a job where they put in their 40 hours a week for NOTHING.

Pray, my friends. And rally. Just like the holiday season, where you generously donated non-perishable foods to food pantries – do it now. So many government workers – those who have been furloughed and those who show up every day to do their job – are going to need a resource to get food for their families. If you know someone who is facing going without the very basics through absolutely no fault of their own, take them a meal. Better yet, invite them to dinner, and pack up the leftovers for them to take home. It’s an hour where they can talk to someone about what’s going on for them and their families, plus they can maybe get two meals out of it for their kids.

You know how it’s such an awesome feeling to pay it forward in the Starbucks drive through line? Imagine how awesome you’ll feel helping someone cover their electric bill, their phone bill, a tuition payment for their children, or even helping towards rent or a mortgage.

I love that locally, many of the museums are giving federal employees free admission for them and their families, but what about other businesses? Half price meals? Discounted school supplies? How about donations of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items?

We all come together in times of tragedy. We rallied on 9/11 to support the families. We rallied when Houston flooded in Hurricane Irma. Our nation’s people come together and we lift each other up and see each other through some of the worst times.

We are in some of the worst times. Gather together, my friends. And pray.

2018 Year in Review


When I was a newer mom, I always sent perfectly drafted letters tucked into Christmas cards that I spent hours choosing, just so they were the most perfect holiday cards I could find. As an older mom, I know now that the holidays – Christmas especially – are never quite as perfect as the picture on the Christmas card or in the carefully worded holiday letter. So this year, I am posting our 2018 Year in Review – the real one. The one without kids who should have already been declared saints by the Pope. The one without the people who are so overwhelmingly happy you want to know what drugs and how powerful they have to be to get that level of happy-citement. Here is the Skamarakas Family Year in Review – warts and all.

January 1st – 

I got a call from my stepdad. He’d been battling cancer for nearly two years, but had only begun intensive treatment at the start of the holiday season. He was having trouble breathing and wanted me to come over and wait with him while I called for an ambulance.

I arrived about 25 minutes later, and found him sitting, panting for breath, on the sofa. He was surrounded by his two best buds – John and Ron. All three had Crown Royal and Ginger-ale poured into tall glasses on the coffee table. Had I known it would be the last time he’d be in that house, I would have taken the picture. It summed up his life so perfectly. He enjoyed a good Crown and Ginger, loved being with his friends, and lived and loved in that house for more than 40 years. It was, in retrospect, poetic.

He fought hard to live for the first week of the New Year, but by the start of the second week, he was tired. On January 12th, my sister and I went into an early morning meeting to admit him into hospice care. He died just a couple of hours later, and about half an hour after he died, a woman came into the room to have a serious talk with us about transferring him to the hospice care building. With him, dead in the bed. No, I mean obviously dead – like his eyes half open and his mouth agape. She stared at him in the bed on and off as she explained the process to us of moving him before my sister, God love her, finally looked the woman in the eye and said in not quite an indoor voice, “HE’S DEAD.” Add this to your list of party games if you are ever hosting hospice care people for an event – it was HYSTERICAL. I mean it – first time we laughed in two weeks.


March – After weeks and months of trying to get the house ready to sell, cleaned up and cleaned out (oh my God, my sister and brother-in-law were amazing in making sure this task was completed), we got some heavy rain, and the basement flooded. Faced with repairs in the $10,000 range, my friend Joy and the next door neighbor helped us clean up the downstairs, we hired someone to clean out the gutters, and voila – dry as a bone. The house sold for more than we expected, but in the unexpected financial gain, we lost our childhood home. For my sister Meg, it was the only home she’d known growing up. Closing was a day filled with stress and tears, but then there was a great celebration of Bob’s life. Friends and family gathered one last time in his honor, drinks flowed, food was plentiful – it was the kind of party he and my mom always threw. He would have loved it. Okay, well, he would’ve hated the fact that he was the dead guy, and he probably would’ve sat in a chair in the corner with his drink and not really talked to anyone that didn’t come to him first, but yeah, he would’ve loved it.


June 8th –

Who would have thought, just a couple of months after going through some of the most difficult moments in our lives, we would be so joyful? Calder James Tracy, our very first grandbaby, arrived after more than 24 hours of labor. He was healthy, mom and dad were happy, and he was absolutely perfect – every tiny inch of him. He was – and is – the silver lining to a dark cloud kinda year. And boy oh boy was I glad he arrived early. We had a vacation planned over 4th of July, and I couldn’t cancel – and didn’t want to miss Calder’s arrival. He is such a cooperative little guy. 


Summer Vacation – It was the best. Part Disney World and part cruise, we were with some truly terrific people who brought the best out in our kids. The girls tried new things, thanks to this great family, and had fantastic experiences. I love those guys. 


August – We moved home. Oh, did I forget to mention? Our house has been under construction since December of LAST year, and the initial contractor caused so much damage to our home, we had to vacate it in order for a new contractor to come in and make the repairs to the house was habitable again. To anyone who has ever thought it would be awesome to live in a hotel with daily housekeeping services, shut your face. It’s awful, it’s crowded, and you miss your dogs, who have also had to relocate to their trainer’s house through the process. With litigation pending, I can’t say much other than some people suck.


Fall – Jim got his Bar exam results – HE PASSED!! We were so freaking proud of him. But in the midst of his academic success came much struggle for my girls. Which college would Eilis choose? Which high school would Granuaile choose. They don’t warn you there are tears involved with these big decisions – not just on the part of the hormonal teenagers. Both have made their decisions, gotten fantastic scholarships, and can continue on a path of empowerment and enrichment. All three of my daughters inspire me. #GirlPower


Thanksgiving – It’s the first one where we’ve all been apart. I’ll never do it this way again. But, having said that, Granuaile and I had the most amazing time at Walt Disney World, seeing sights and doing things we haven’t done before. The other two girls have had mother-daughter trips, but Granuaile had not. It was great to be away with her, enjoy our favorite place, and get to connect on some things – school being the biggest – we had been kinda putting off. 


Winter – After a whirlwind trip to Walt Disney World for Calder’s First Haircut, we settled in for the holidays. Law school exams were done, shopping, well, is it ever really done? Wrapping – well, if you count leaving crap in the shipping bag it came in “wrapping”, then yeah, it was done. We woke up Christmas morning at Brighid and Brent’s house, seeing Calder open his gifts and play with his new stuff. I’m not gonna lie – this is the first year in a LONG time we haven’t been at Disney for the holidays. And being home right now, thinking of the people we no longer have here to celebrate with, makes it a little sad. But there is nothing that can replace the experience of the baby’s first Christmas, and I’m so glad Brighid and Brent allowed us to share in the day.


What’s next? Well, Jim is awaiting his New York State Bar exam results, and he takes Pennsylvania in February. In 2019, the Skamarakas house will get a little quieter as Eilis gets ready to head off to college. Granuaile becomes a high schooler later in the year, and Brighid and Brent have big plans for the coming year, starting with a vacation to Napa in January. We are scheduled to go to court in February against the shady contractor that messed up our house – please say a prayer the jury sees clearly what was done here and how bad it truly was. I’ll be plugging away at law school – Lord help me – and practicing my grandmom game as often as I can.


Thank you, to friends and family who have shared our sorrow and our celebrations this year. You are only as good as the people who surround you, and we have been so very fortunate, more than I can even express, to have some truly amazing, incredible people in our lives.


My New Year’s Resolutions:

Have more fun

Have more parties

Cry less

Celebrate more

Oh yeah, and if I could lose a few pounds – well, that’d be awesome.


There it is – our year, in review. The good, the not so good, and the downright ugly. But through all things, you learn and you grow.


May you be blessed with love in the coming New Year. If you have that, you have it all.

She Sings in the Shower

I have a 12 year old daughter. She is the youngest of my three girls – my last “tween” year, my last middle schooler, my last whiff of innocence.

She sings in the shower.  It may not seem like a big deal, but very soon, the music she listens to will become “deep” and have meaning beyond what my naive heart thinks she should understand.  But the music in the shower is still light and fun and Bieber-y.

She spends thirty minutes in the shower, depleting the hot water supply in the house, and may still come out without the top of her head wet.  I frequently send her back to wash her hair, brush her teeth, pick up her dirty clothes.  It won’t be long until she’s showering with purpose.  She’ll want to apply makeup to that clean little face.  She’ll want her thick, beautiful hair to be the shiny envy of her friends.  She’ll want to smell good to catch the nose of someone she likes.  The room – well, if experience is any indication, it will have dirty clothes strewn about for at least an abundance of years to come.

I’m already seeing things that accompany the teen years.  The “I’ll just have yogurt for dinner” attempts to control what she perceives to be a paunch.  The trials and tribulations of painting fingernails that I still imagine as so tiny, the brush barely fits on them.  Debating whether she looks better tucked or untucked.

It moves so fast, it makes your head spin.  Moms tell you all the time to hug your babies, appreciate the peas that get raspberried all over you when you try to feed them, don’t be in a rush for the walking and talking and the independence.  Believe them.  Sniff their tiny heads a little longer, snuggle when they have the sniffles, read one more bedtime story.

Listen when they sing in the shower.