Dear Abby and Dirty Laundry

When my father-in-law died in 2001, a family that had been fractured for as long as I had been a part of it fell completely apart.  Those of you who are close to my family know the story of the incidents that took place surrounding the passing of my father-in-law Custy.  If you don’t know the sordid details, suffice it to say, it was the ugliest of times.

I woke up this morning to find two things that brought me back to the time of Custy’s death.  The first one was a lengthy diatribe against my husband from his only niece, in which she used all the foul language she could muster to beseech my husband to make up with his brothers, completely disregarding the things that transpired around the time of the funeral.  She publicly aired some of the family’s dirtiest laundry, using Facebook as the forum to spread a message of misunderstood hate.

The second thing I learned was that Dear Abby had died.

Why does Dear Abby bring me back to that horrible time in my family history?  It seemed that with all that transpired involving my brothers-in-law at the time Custy died, I found myself at the end of my rope.  I had never experienced anything like this in my own family, and the behavior to which I was a witness was so deplorable, I spent days trying to examine my own part in the fiasco, trying to determine what blame should be placed on my shoulders.

I sat down one night, in tears, and wrote everything out that had happened, and I sent the note off to Dear Abby.  In my mind, she wasn’t someone who could help, but she was the anonymous face in the crowd to whom I felt I could spill the story and alleviate my guilt.  So I did.

About a week later, my phone rang.  Jim answered it, and the woman on the other end asked to speak to me.  He handed me the phone, and a voice identified herself as Pauline Phillips.  I didn’t know who Pauline Phillips was, and I didn’t recognize the voice, but when the voice spoke the words, “I’m Dear Abby, and I received your letter”, it all began to register.

The kind, gentle voice explained that she understood exactly what was going on in my family, and she proceeded to tell me that I would be positively shocked at how frequently what happened in my home also happened in other homes.  She told me that my husband and I did everything we should have done in the circumstance we found ourselves in, and she wanted me to know that, but she couldn’t publish my letter.  She said the amount of dysfunction in the letter was so dramatic that people would think she had made it up!  What’s more, she said that my letter was one of the most powerful she’d ever read, and because of how it was written, people would automatically conclude it was fiction, even though she knew all too well how frequently other families faced what we faced.

I felt relief that day, hearing the words of this wise and honest woman clearing my conscience.  There was kindness in her voice, sympathy in her words, and knowledge in her heart.  She restored peace to my home with that phone call, even though we would deal with the repercussions of those heartbreaking events for many months – no, many years – to come.

Thank you, Mrs. Phillips, for getting me to the place I needed to be at that time.  I know her column was read by millions around the world, but her voice and her message will stay with me all of my days.

“Fear less; hope more. Eat less; chew more. Talk less; say more. Hate less; love more.”  Abigail VanBuren (Pauline Phillips)

30 Days of Thanks – Day 20 – Thankful for Disney

So, you had to know this was coming.  I wouldn’t be able to get through 30 days without being thankful for the Mouse and all it’s meant to me.

My first real vacation with Jim was to Walt Disney World, and my honeymoon was to Walt Disney World.  That made the earliest happy memories, the foundation of my life with my husband, of Walt Disney World and how much fun we had together.

When we moved to Orlando in 1993, the first thing we did – without jobs to pay for them – was buy annual passes.  We were thousands of miles away from family and friends, and having a fun, familiar place to go while people at home were enjoying turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or celebrating a family birthday we couldn’t be home for took some of the sting of homesickness away.

EPCOT is where Eilis took her first steps unassisted, and it’s where Granuaile had her first popsicle – and Itzakadoozie pop that gave her baby brain freeze.  We’ve got wonderful memories of Brighid dancing in a parade, Eilis hugging Donald Duck, Granuaile window kissing Goofy.

Then, in November of 2008, when I was selected to be on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I acquired a whole family of amazing people who have become my lifelong friends.  Along with them, I’ve been introduced to others in the Disney community who have taken up residence in my heart, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without them (I’m talking to you, Jackie P  and my bonus children, Amy and Anthony!!).

Today, with all of y’all’s eye rolling and fake gagging when I mention my beloved Walt Disney World, I’m so thankful for Disney.  And I’m so thankful for the people it’s brought to my life, enhancing it in ways I’d never imagined possible.

30 Days of Thanks – Day 19 – Thankful for Potato Salad

I asked my mother one day for her potato salad recipe.  It was the one she used, which was the one my grandmother used, and as far as I know, it could be a recipe that has spanned even more generations in my family.

One of the ingredients used in the recipe, according to my mother, was one capful of white vinegar.  This was for five pounds of potato salad.

Every time I made the salad, following precisely what my mother had told me to do, she would tell me there was something wrong.  I could never figure it out.  I used the same brands of mayonnaise and bacon she did.  I used the potatoes she recommended and sliced my celery so thin, it only had one side.  I sprinkled with celery seed.  What was I missing?

One holiday, my sister Bean was at my house, and yet again, I was giving my mother’s potato salad recipe a go.  I cooked, I peeled, I chopped, I assembled.  Then it was time for the cap of vinegar.  I carefully measured, not one drop more or less than exactly one capful.

Bean looked at me.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m putting the vinegar in the potato salad.”

“That’s not enough.”

“Yes it is.  Mommy said she uses one cap of vinegar.”

“Well, yeah, she uses the cap, but she pours the vinegar into the cap and lets it drizzle over the sides of the cap onto the whole potato salad.  She probably puts a good quarter of a cup in there.”

……….

You can see now why I will never be a good cook.

But aside from my failing to understand that “one cap” meant “one quarter of a cup”, I love the fact that I now know how to make this potato salad.  I hope one day, one of my kids will want to learn how to make it.

Food is one of the ways we stay connected to previous generations.  I consistently put onto my family’s table food that came from my mom, one of my grandmoms, or even an aunt or uncle.  And as I prepare it, I feel the connection.  I watch my hands chop onions for clam sauce, and I can almost see my mom’s hand, when I was a kid, doing it for her sauce.  As I mix my crab cakes, I can remember my Aunt Annie making her’s, and it sends a flood of memories of her over me, wrapping me up like a warm blanket.

Today, I am thankful for potato salad.  And for the women in my life who have shared this connections with me.

My mom, my cousin Dolly, my sister, and my daughters - along with my stepdad

 

30 Days of Thanks – Day 18 – Bean

When I began my 30 days of thanks, I wanted to think of things a little bit outside the box. I didn’t want to just be thankful for my home, my family, and my friends – I am so grateful for all of those things every day.  But Day 18 – November 18th – is my sister Bean’s birthday.  How could I not be thankful for her?

There were days during her life when I can admit I didn’t always quite appreciate having Bean for a sister.  She was somewhat of a slob.  No, she was an enormous slob.  I was constantly on her about cleaning up her stuff, putting things away, picking up shit she left all over.

When the holidays would come, she would take her disability checks and spend nearly the entire amount on dollar store gifts for my children.  I loved her for wanting the kids to have a huge stack of presents, but wanted to kill her when twenty minutes into Christmas, I was picking up broken dollar store toys all over.

But when her life was over, I had time to how very fortunate we were – in spite of her dollar store spending sprees.  As bad a cook as I am, I knew I could put something on the table that Bean would think deserved to be on the menu at Buckingham Palace.  She never met a person that didn’t like her, and she had friends from all walks of life.  Imagine my surprise when, just after she died, a woman I knew from a Yahoo Group I belonged to for years sent me a note to tell me she had met my sister during a stop at the store where Bean worked MANY years before.  In all the years this woman and I had chatted, she never put two and two together, but when I mentioned Bean’s passing, she remembered her from that casual meeting.  She made an impression and people loved her.

I never had to do anything alone when Bean was alive.  I could drag her to do anything with me, whether it was yet another trip to Walt Disney World, a 30 day trek across country, or to the dentist’s office to hold my hand.  She was always ready and willing to go.

Above everything, I am so thankful that I had her to help me with my youngest two children.  When I moved to Florida, I felt so isolated and alone.  Bean flew down, intending to stay for two weeks, but she always extended her stay for me.  She volunteered at school, she went to all the recitals and feisanna, and she made me a better mom by keeping me from feeling so sad and depressed that I wasn’t able to get up to be a mom.

November 18, 1965.  It is the day my sister was born, and the day I feel like I should have been ensured a partner in crime for life.  There’s so much I’ve gone through that I wish I had been able to have Bean here with me to share, but the sadness I feel at not having her here is quickly replaced by the joy I have in my heart that we had her in our lives at all.

I am forever truly thankful.

For Bean.

30 Days of Thanks – Day 10 – Fakesgiving

The made up holiday, designed to allow my children to be home with me to celebrate “Thanksgiving” when they get older, while allowing them to spend the actual holiday “day” spending it where they’d rather be, has taken on a new meaning over the past couple of years that we’ve hosted.  Initially, it was just us, our family of five, fighting around the turkey, just like it really was Thanksgiving.  Someone was poking someone else; someone didn’t like peas; someone didn’t want someone else touching them; someone shouldn’t have hidden Mommy’s medicine that stops her eye from twitching.

A year later, with grandparents that hadn’t seen their college aged granddaughter since the summer, we decided to extend the invitation to grandparents.  All went well, no one got hurt.

This year, we included extended family and friends, and honestly, it just keeps getting better.

My mom, who has been so sick the past three years, came and saw my new kitchen for the first time since we redid it almost two years ago.  Neighbors from our old South Philadelphia neighborhood – that we hadn’t seen since 1976 – were here enjoying catching up on what’s transpired in 36 years.  Old friends that have become family and newer friends who we could not love more if they were family joined us in the stress free, no food fight Fakesgiving festivities, and it was awesome!

Day 10 of my 30 days of thanks is just that I am so thankful that we are surrounded by such amazing people.  The love and laughter that filled my house yesterday will carry me through the rest of the stress filled holiday season.

2011 – What I Learned This Year

I could sum up my year in one word.  School.  I feel like the entire year was consumed by my educational aspirations.  But aside from all the -ologies I studied in 2011, I’ve learned quite a few other things.  With a year that saw me recovering from last fall’s bout with MRSA and then a stay in ICU battling kidney failure, I had lots of time to reflect on things – the good, the bad, and what was more important.

So here goes:

I learned that it’s perfectly okay to be sad about the things I’ve lost.  My sister, who died way too young; my dad, who fought for the last ten years of his life to make sure he snatched every bit of joy and happiness he could in the time he had left; the five babies I never got to hold or cuddle or sniff the tops of their tiny heads.  I know now that it’s okay to still find myself in a puddle of my own tears over not having those things.  But it’s even more important to celebrate and appreciate the things that I haven’t lost.  I have three amazing daughters, who can melt my heart with their beautiful smiles and warm me on my coldest days with their giggles.  I have a husband who loves me – cherishes me – and through all of his own battles, always manages to make me feel like his number one priority.  I am blessed with an awesome sister, terrific parents and step-parents, and extended family and friends that I adore.

I learned that it really does take the worst to make you truly understand and appreciate the best.  The worst snowstorms help you appreciate the warmest days.  A bad grade on a test makes you truly grateful when you get an A.  A bad eye day for Jim makes a good eye day such a gift.  Laying in bed in intensive care helps you to remember to find gratitude when “it’s only a cold” or “it’s a small cut”.  I’m going to bitch way less about how sore my nose is when I get a head cold and be happy instead that they discovered Puffs with Lotion!

I have finally figured out what a “good” doctor is.  I’ve had the same primary care doctor for almost 30 years.  While I’ve appreciated everything he’s done for me, I never really appreciated what a good doctor he is.  He’s funny.  I don’t mind going to see him, because I feel I will surely be entertained, but this year, when we needed balls to the wall, he stepped up to the plate.  And you already know that I truly believe I found God’s gift to medicine when I found Dr. Veitia.  So if you’re in the area, and need a primary care doctor, it’s Dr. Gary Heck.  Looking for a phenomenal surgeon?  Dr. Nestor Veitia.  And you’ll love them as much as I do when you meet some of the other doctors that are out there.

I”d like to say that in 2011, I figured out the meaning of life.  Well, at least my life.  I haven’t.  But I have made huge strides in figuring out what was important.  Family, friends, health, education, and Mickey Mouse.  If you discover the joy in all of that, you don’t really need to know the meaning of life – you just need to enjoy it.

Thankful…

It’s that time of year – everyone is taking stock of their lives and acknowledging their gratitude for the things in life that they are most appreciative of.  And, of course, I do the same thing.  It goes without saying – I’m grateful for my family, our home, our wonderful friends, and even the dogs.  But here’s a list of things I’m grateful for, because I’m not quite sure I could get through life without them.

Cream Cheese

Yes, I think my life would be decidedly less tasty without cream cheese.  Not only am I a huge fan of cheesecake (for which I am equally as grateful), but I can eat cream cheese on potato chips, pretzels, celery (see, it’s a healthy food!) – anything that will stand still tastes better with cream cheese.

Mickey Mouse Front Door Key

Every time I open my front door, I do it with my Mickey front door key.  And it makes me smile.  And I’m not even all that fond of rodents.

Pine Sol

I don’t smell it often enough in my house, but I love the smell of Pine Sol.  It makes me appreciate a clean house, because I know with three kids, two dogs, and a husband, not only does the house not stay clean very long, but the other, ummmm, smells soon kill that Pine Sol smell.

Hot Tub

I have only gotten to use the hot tub we bought over the summer twice.  With an open wound that has persisted since my March surgery, anytime I mentioned it, Dr. Veitia would get an eye twitch and a lip tremor.  I am, however, nearly healed, and am so excited to sit in my hot tub, with the snow slowly drifting down on me as I relax in the hot water.  I’m so grateful, I haven’t even done it yet and it makes me happy!

Comfortable Shoes

Never underestimate your gratitude for comfortable feet.  I love my Crocs, even if they look obnoxious.  I love my sneakers – even the ones that claimed they would give me buns of steel (but apparently, that doesn’t work while you’re eating buns of cinnamon).  I love my Ugg Boots.  I never leave the house without my very own Happy Feet.

Starbucks

This isn’t just about the coffee.  Although, admittedly, I do love me a hot vanilla latte in the morning.  I like the routine, I like the socialization, AND I like the coffee.

And yes, I am so grateful for Jim, Brighid, Eilis, Granuaile, my parents (all of them!), my sisters, and even my dogs.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Things I’ve Ever Eaten

Food is one of my favorite things.  Turns out, I can’t live without it.  But as much as I love food, there will always be some foods that stand out as some of the best things I’ve ever had to eat. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to some of my favorites:

Cafe Tu Tu Tango, Orlando

Pears on Pecan Crisps – My mouth waters when I think about eating this. 

My favorite part of Cafe Tu Tu Tango is that it’s a funky tapas style restaurant, where you order a bunch of stuff and everyone shares.  My least favorite part of Cafe Tu Tu Tango is that my family expects me to share this dish.

Imagine oven roasted pears, done to a juicy perfection, just long enough to bring out the incredible sweetness.  Place the pears on top of a crisp, wafer thin type of cracker made from pecans, add a fresh arugula and bleu cheese salad, then drizzle the whole thing with a balsamic glaze.  I know – you’re drooling now too, right? 

There are so many flavors in the dish, that you wonder how it’s all going to come together, but the harmony of sweet, tangy, crispy and creamy is music in your mouth. 

Elements Cafe, Haddon Heights, NJ

Cinnamon Ice Cream – You know that phrase “To Die For”?  It was invented after tasting this ice cream!

Chef Fred at Elements Cafe is a tapas genius.  We’ve eaten at Elements five or six times, and every meal is more memorable than the last.  The fact that this is another tapas style restaurant would have you believe that with the appetizer sized portions that I’m sharing with my family, there would be plenty of room for dessert, but there almost never is.  But whatever else you eat, leave room for the cinnamon ice cream.

The ice cream conjures up memories of fall, and family, and home.  Sweet, with the spice of the cinnamon, cold and creamy – it’s like a grown up version of your favorite treat from childhood.  The ice cream is usually paired with some other spectacular dessert, but this stands alone.  I wish I had some right now.

Bruno’s Restaurant and Pizza, Haddonfield, NJ

Roasted Red Pepper Gnocchi with Seafood

There should be a picture of this dish here, but every time we’ve gotten it, it’s been gone before I remember that I don’t have a picture of this work of art!

Bruno’s was our favorite local pizza shop for years before we ventured in to sit down for dinner.  We’ve always listened intently to the list of specials, and each time we’ve gone, we order from the specials list.

That’s where we first met roasted red pepper gnocchi.  I have to tell you, Jim has never been a fan of gnocchi, and now we know why.  What we were used to were heavy, gummy, and flavorless lumps of pasta.  What you’ll find at Bruno’s are flavorful, delicious, and topped with the freshest shrimp and the meatiest pieces of crabmeat.  I could never eat the entire dinner by myself, but even with Jim and I sharing, we always have some left over for lunch the next day – how could this not be a favorite? 

Adding to the whole experience, you’ll often see the man himself, shaking hands as patrons walk into his restaurant, and the waitstaff are friendly and fun, and they make you feel like you’re part of the family.  What could be better than having one of your favorite meals in one of your favorite family restaurants?

Let me know what some of your food favorites are.  I have a whole list – and I’m sure I’ll be sharing again soon!

If You Could Take One Thing With You…

So, as you’re well aware, especially if you live somewhere that the six o’clock doomsday hour has already passed, God saw fit to spare us miserable mortals for the time being, allowing us yet another day to mess things up.  Well, damn.  I had an awesome outfit chosen for the looting party I’ve been invited to on Facebook for the day after, when those of us not among the chosen were going to get us a five finger discount on some HD TV.

But, let’s just say today HAD been the day.  And on your way up to Heaven, God said, “Choose one thing from your life on earth – not something living, because frankly, I don’t do diapers, I don’t walk dogs, and I don’t want to have to set yet another place at the dinner table – and bring it with you.  It’ll be nice to have that memory of home, and it will reduce the chances you’ll moan and complain about your accommodations or the food if you have something to keep you company.”

What are you bringing?

I’ve thought long and hard about all of my worldly possessions.  I have photographs that I cherish, jewelry that I love, books that I would never want to be without.  It’s been really tough to decide on just one thing, but after much thought, I’ve chosen my item.

I’m taking my pink Walt Disney World Moms Panel jacket.

I know – I hate pink, for the most part, so why would I want to spend eternity with only a pink jacket?

Here’s the rationale:

Disney World is where I have some of the most wonderful memories of my family.  Brighid as chef of the day at the Crystal Palace when she was four; Eilis learning to walk at EPCOT when she was a year old; Granuaile at 8 months old looking directly into the eyes of the Santa at Downtown Disney; and my honeymoon with the one and only true love of my life.  The jacket will remind me of the holidays we spent at Disney World, the occasions we celebrated, the meals we all ate together, laughing and joking – not worrying about cheerleading practice or dance classes or a scout meeting.

The jacket will also remind me that I was a competent and qualified enough writer that I was able to write answers that helped at least a few people plan a vacation that would give them some of the same wonderful feelings I get when I think of my cherished family Disney memories.  I can say that being on the Moms Panel was a true highlight of my 46 years on earth (okay, the end of the world is surely coming now – I’ve put my age out there in print!).

And the jacket is a symbol of the friendships I’ve made.  The weekend that I got that jacket, I met the 15 people who will be friends for life.  They are the people with whom I bonded more quickly than I have ever bonded with anyone else (except Jim).  When I look at the jacket, I will think of when we met; our weekend in Chicago; my visit with Joanne in NYC; Margaret’s birthday weekend at WDW.  And I will cherish every Facebook conversation, text message, and Tweet that we’ve shared.  Not to mention the bonus friends I’ve made as a result of being on the Moms Panel – Moms Panel Erin, Jud, Anthony, the other Moms Panel members, and those Skurvy Monkeys.

So, while I rarely ever wear the jacket; pink is not my color; and I would hope that I could find the darn thing in an instant if God said I could take it with me, the one thing I would want to depart from this mortal soil with is my jacket.  And all the memories that come with it.