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Letting Go

The neighborhood we live in is not really conducive to a free-wheelin’ get out and play lifestyle for my kids. Our road is a busy one, so playing in the street is out of the question, and even taking your bike out causes me to sprout a few hundred grey hairs.

Oh yeah, you need to know that I am one nervous Nellie of a mom. And dad? He’s neurotic Nathan. We make a great team.

But, I got tired of seeing my youngest daughter just sit around the house on sunny afternoons. We are not lucky enough to have friends who live around the corner – just a younger boy who lives next door. However we do have a community park about six blocks away. Six blocks away…it might as well be six miles away. I thought back to my own childhood where at my daughter’s age I spent endless hours on my bike traveling everywhere, my parents absolutely clueless as to  my whereabouts. Ugh. Something had to change.

So, I suggested she take  her scooter and ride over to the park one day - maybe kids from school were there and she could have a little fun. At first she was like, “I don’t know,” and dad was like, “are you crazy?” But after a little cajoling, she agreed to go with the boy next door. I made her take her watch and promise to be home by (x) o’clock. As she glided off down the road, I took a deep breath and said to myself, “it’ll be okay.”

And it was. She had fun – there were tons of kids there from school and now trips to the park are a commonplace thing. She abides to her “home by” time and she’s getting fresh air and exercise. Win-win. And I’ve loosened the strings just a tad…win-win-win.

I wanted to do one better for my girl – I still felt bad that she has no friends that live nearby, so I suggested she have a movie night with the girls. She had wanted a sleepover, but the thought of 5 giggling girls in my small house for hours on end left me with little to no enthusiasm, so I suggested a long afternoon/early evening party.

She invited 5 girls, and 4 were able to come. There was the usual shy awkwardness when they first arrived…”this is my room, these are my cats, what should we do…”

But before long, they were playing music, eating snacks and dishing dirt on the kids at school. And while I thought my daughter would be awkward, she was actually the life of the party. She had these girls laughing and they were all having a really good time. And I let them do their thing. I let them order their own pizza. I let them make their own cupcakes. I retreated to the back bedroom and caught up on episodes of “Game of Thrones,” checking up on them from time to time.

And for the most part they were good - I had to step in once, though. They were all in my daughter’s room with the door closed and I heard one girl say, “let’s all take off our shirts!” Nope, not in my house ladies. My daughter, of course, was mortified that I made them all come out into the living room.

But not her friends. They loved me. I think it was because I didn’t hang over them and try to micromanage the night, And for the most part I liked the girls too. But one girl…one girl could be trouble. She was loud and cursed and talked a little too much about boys. I wasn’t sure if I was happy about Sasha being friends with her, and then I thought back to Patty.

Patty was a friend of mine in middle school. She was a tomboy to say the least – she wore only t-shirts and jeans, used foul language and smoked. Needless to say, my mother did not like her. She lived with her mom, who was divorced, in a small apartment in town. She was the only kid I knew who lived in an apartment, and one of only a few who had divorced parents.

I don’t know why we were friends - we were polar opposites. Yeah, I did some bad things with Patty, but it was petty shit – walking up to Fort Lee when I was supposed to stay in town. But once we took a bus into the city…the Bronx…to meet some dudes she and her friend Cathy knew. I spent the afternoon fending off a guy named Chucho in Fort Tryon Park while Patty and Cathy made out with their dudes du jour. I think my mom would’ve flipped her wig if she knew that.

But I didn’t let Patty influence me. I remember us hanging out at the rec center and her taking a small brown bottle out of her pocket. She opened it up, put it to her nose and inhaled. I had no clue what it was – I think she said it was speed. She coaxed me to try it, but I said “no way,” and asked her why she was bothering with that shit. Between that and the Bronx incident, we didn’t remain close friends throughout high school.

In the end, my mom had little to worry about because she raised me right. And I remembered this as I spied the girl with the foul mouth who had suggested going shirtless. I hope I raised my girl to do the same. But I worry – I think she could be a follower…

After the party I sat her down, told her about Patty and how I thought her one friend could be what moms would call “a bad influence.” She readily agreed with me – at least she knows to watch out for her. And me? Now I’ve got a Patty to deal with.

Just like my mom.


Let me start this post by saying I like snow. I enjoy the prospect of a storm blowing in, and me all safe and snug at home, with enough bread, milk and wine. I even like to shovel, and am usually out clearing our driveway before the flakes have stopped wafting to the ground.

Wednesday I had to endure one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. Bad timing coupled with bad weather had me at the mercy of mother nature and perhaps even fate – it was 3+ hours of sheer torture.

I knew a bad storm was coming in, but it wasn’t supposed to start until the evening – 5 or 6 pm. I get out of work at 6, but there was no way I was staying that late with the forecast they were predicting. Usually you can waive a dismissive hand at our weather folk, but this was different. Even the weather channel was on board with the predictions, so I worked through lunch and left at 5.

By then the snow had just started in town. Hubby had called and said snow at home had started a half an hour earlier. I wasn’t worried…it’s only a 25 minute commute and I was confident that I could get home with no trouble. After all, the snow had just started!

There was some traffic getting out of town, which was to be expected, and before long I was on the long and winding way home. When I was around 3 miles from pulling into my driveway traffic came to a dead halt. I was right at the base of a long and fairly steep hill that I have to travel up in order to make it home. I turned on the radio and discovered that there was an accident about a mile up the road and both lanes were closed.

Now I had to make a decision…stay here and wait or turn around and find another way home. At this point reader, you need to understand something – there are only 2 or 3 ways to get to my development, buried deep in the sticks of central Virginia. Making the decision to turn around meant traveling 5-8 miles just to get to the closest cross road that I could turn onto.

But, I figured that if I waited where I was, the snow (which was getting heavier and sticking) might make getting my car up that steep hill impossible. Besides, I had no water and I knew I’d have to pee within the next hour or so. That being said, I turned my car around and made the slow drive back, all the while figuring which way I should take.

The first route I took was a huge waste of time. I didn’t get more than 1/4 mile down the road before I was told the road up ahead was closed and we all had to turn around. When I got back to the crossroads I skidded on the snow and almost crashed into another car. My heart was pounding,  my knees were shaking, and I just wanted to go home.

The next road I took taxed me to my very core. On a sunny day this road is a pain in the ass…windy as hell…the girls always get carsick on it unless I travel at 20 mph or so. But, this road is the quickest way to get to where I needed to go, so I took it.

I was only driving at around 6 mph down steep hills and twisty turns. At one point I had to drive up a fairly steep S-curve. Letting the car just roll, and barely giving it any gas, I fish-tailed my way up that hill very slowly the whole while chanting “help me God, help me God, help me God.” When I made it to the top without landing in a ditch or hitting another car, I breathed an audible sigh of relief. It was mostly down hill from here.

As I was heading down the next hill at a record speed of 4 mph, a car in the opposite direction came zipping up the road, went to make the turn and ran straight into a rather deep ditch. Although I’m sure the driver turned their wheels, the car just didn’t respond on the slick roads and just rolled right off the road. The car was now at a 30 degree angle, half of it on the road, half of it in the ditch. I thought to myself,  that person is totally fucked – and that could be me very easily if I’m not super careful.

As if just driving wasn’t tense enough, my windshield wipers decided to start icing up at this point. I had the defroster blasted so hot and hard that I was sweating bullets all bundled up in my coat, but it was no match for the weather outside. Rather than wiping the snow off my windshield, my wipers were just smearing the snow and ice – I had about a 2 inch field of semi-clear vision.

Finally I made it to the next crossroad, which thankfully had a gas station. I got out to go inside and my legs were actually wobbly. The past hour and half of driving in the snow in beyond shitty conditions had exhausted me. I went to the bathroom, bought a couple of waters, called hubby and got back in the car to make my 3rd attempt at getting home.

I began to get hopeful…If I took it slow, driving wasn’t really that bad along roads that were fairly straight. I made the turn that takes me to my development and about a mile down the road, more tail lights. Hells bells, not again. One call to hubby confirmed it. There was an accident at least 7 miles up the road – all these people were just sitting there – along 7 miles of road just waiting for it to be cleared. So, once again, I turned around.

My only option at this point was to get on the highway and head East. This would take me past my house, but bring me to a pretty major intersection where there was a hotel, a Walmart and a few fast food joints. The highway was pretty good if you went slow. I don’t think I broke the 25 mph mark, but folks in 4 wheel drive vehicles were zipping past me. I also saw at least 4 cars off the shoulder with their 4 ways blinking. Again, I thought to myself, slow and steady and super careful. I was determined not to be a VDOT statistic.

25 minutes later I made it to Zion Crossroads and  headed straight for the Best Western. In the lobby I called hubby and asked if I should just get a room. It’s stupid because I was only 15 minutes from home now (in good traveling weather) but it would probably take me at least another hour of driving to get  home and I just didn’t think I had the strength. I had left my office two and a half hours before, and had been driving in blinding snow ever since. I was done.

As luck would have it, she had one room left and I took it. But before I went up, I got back in my car and drove across the road to the Walmart where I picked up some food, a toothbrush and a night gown. By the time I got back and in my room (thanks to a ridiculously slow cashier) it was 8:30. I called my family who were relieved that I was safe for the night, but bummed that I was not home.

They weren’t the only ones. But before I went to bed that night, I took a moment to thank God for getting me somewhere safe and warm for the night. I could have easily been in my car in a ditch, spending the night rationing my water and peeing in a snow drift. I decided I was one lucky gal.

The next morning I awoke with a sense of dread. One look out the window made me realize my morning drive home wasn’t going to be fun. About a foot of snow had fallen, but on the bright side the roads I was taking home were primary roads, and had most likely been plowed. After breakfast I dug out the foot high snow drift from around my car, cleared off the ice with the side of a ball point pen, and began my drive home.

The road from the hotel to the main road was horrible, and filled me with a sense of dread. But once I reached the main road I saw blacktop and my spirits lifted. This might not be so bad.

And it wasn’t. It was slow going, that’s for sure, but the roads were drivable if you were careful. The one part of my drive I was dreading the most was getting into the gate of my development. The one closest to my house is up a pretty steep hill. There were abandoned cars piled up at the base of the gate – they obviously couldn’t get up the hill and opted to leave their cars and walk home.

I made it up the hill fine, but got stuck at the top in a huge pile of slushy snow that the plow failed to remove. Ugh. Here I was a  mile from home and I finally got stuck. But not for long. Two very nice fellas came to my rescue and helped push my car out of the slush. Hooray! I was almost home!

When I reached my house hubby was there and had shoveled out a nice spot for me at the base of the driveway. I was never so happy to pull into that narrow driveway – I’d finally made it home.

After many hugs, and a hot cup of tea I took a much needed shower, put on some sweatpants and just flopped on the couch. It had been a long night and a long morning. Even though it was only 9:30 in the morning, I felt like it should be noon.

Do you know I fell asleep before 8:00 that night? I guess my body needed the rest.

I’ve come to a conclusion…I’m never taking a chance when it comes to the weather again. If my boss doesn’t like me leaving early…fire me. I don’t ever want to go through that again. Ever. Especially since I have the capacity to work fully from home. The only task I can’t do remotely is answer the phone…but really, who’s going to be calling during a blizzard?

Nope… from now on if they’re calling for bad weather I’ll just tap my snow boots together three times and say, “There’s no place like home.”

CarolI’m not sure how this post is going to turn out. Being an amateur writer makes it tough to tackle certain topics. It may be why I shy away from some of the larger, more personal topics of my life because I figure there’s no way I can tell the story and do it justice. But I’m going to take a stab at it for the sake of Aunt Carol, who was one of my favorite people on this earth for most of my young life.

It may be a bore for the average reader. So be it. But she was a huge part of my life, and it’s a story I’ve got to tell.

Aunt Carol was the youngest sister of my mother, and she lived with us when I was very young. She occupied the small bedroom next to ours; the one that would eventually become my sister Wendy’s room, until she moved into her own apartment when I was around 8 or so.

Those early memories are vague ones for me. I remember her expertly setting our hair in pin-curls, a jar of Dippity Doo on the table. I remember her friend Gail, who lived down the street, and would come and visit with her boyfriend Benny. But my real memories of Aunt Carol were after she moved into her own place. I would sleep over her apartment every chance I got, because hanging out with Aunt Carol was just fun.

Maybe it was because she had the heart and soul of a child. She had been in a special school before she came to live with us. That’s all I knew. I’m sure there was some clinical diagnosis to describe her mental or intellectual abilities, but as a youngster, I didn’t know what it was. Parents didn’t share information like that freely, and if they had sat me down to explain it, I forgot or didn’t care. She was just Aunt Carol – simple and sweet – and I loved her.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 4.35.20 PM

The street where Aunt Carol lived

For the next few years, Aunt Carol lived in a series of apartments that were all on the same street about 5 minutes from our house. I know she spent some time in the large apartment building in the background – on the 2nd or 3rd floor. But the times I remember most was when she lived in one of the smaller two story apartments in the foreground.

Her apartment was on the bottom floor, and there was a little back door that lead into the alley behind. She actually had a small patch of dirt surrounded by a wire fence back there – a sort of small garden. Weekends spent here were blissful for me because I got to do stuff that I could never do at home.

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Not the actual Lady – but she pretty much looked like this adorable pooch

For one, Aunt Carol had a dog named Lady. Lady was a of a terrier breed – bigger than a Jack Russel, but not so large that she was difficult for a child to manage. My job when I went visiting at Aunt Carol’s was to walk Lady, and boy did I love that job. I’d walk around and around the block, feeling so cool because I had a dog. We were cat people…

Oh, I loved Lady. She was so sweet and well tempered – always happy to see you, tail wagging, waiting patiently to be scratched and petted. She never bit or growled at me, and she was a wonderful companion for Aunt Carol.

Nights at Aunt Carol’s were spent visiting friends of hers in the neighborhood, or watching television – Saturday nights had a great lineup back then; All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett. By 11 pm I was droopy-eyed, and we’d climb into her very high double bed. The next morning we’d walk to the little diner on Broad Avenue and eat fried egg sandwiches.

Carol Wedding

The lovely bride and Pop – nice ‘stache…

Then Aunt Carol got married to Uncle Joe, a Filipino dude who made excellent fried rice. I remember the wedding; it was held at our house, and my sisters and I were flower girls. After the wedding, sleeping over at Aunt Carol’s didn’t change much at first. Joe was a custodian in New York City, and worked nights a lot, so it was just Carol and I at her apartment. Then there was the incident.

One night after I was asleep on the little daybed they had in the room off the kitchen, Joe came home pretty drunk. It was a fight between him and Carl that woke me up. Joe had brought home a large metal desk – a cast off from one of the office buildings he cleaned. Carol exclaimed that it was too big to fit in their small apartment. There was some arguing, and then I heard a drawer open and the noisy rattle of cutlery. It got very quiet for a few seconds, and then Carol said, “Are you going to kill me with that knife, Joe?”

I froze. Right then I wished I was anywhere than where I was. I’m not sure Joe was aware that I was “sleeping” just feet away, and I was glad of that. My 10 year old brain ran a few quick escape plans…if I heard screaming, I’d bolt for the front door and run upstairs to Carol’s friend’s apartment.

But there was no scream. Instead, Joe muttered something, threw the knife in the sink, and went back out into the night. Aunt Carol came to check on me, and we sat and talked. She asked me not to tell my parents about this. They would only worry about her, and probably wouldn’t let me stay with her any longer. I figured she was right, and I never told anyone in my family until years and years later. However, I was never comfortable around Uncle Joe again. I didn’t even like him after that, and would only stay with Aunt Carol if I knew he wasn’t going to be around.

But Joe didn’t last long anyway. I don’t think they ever got divorced, but he stopped coming home after a while. I wasn’t sorry to see him go.

And then Aunt Carol moved. At first it was a huge disappointment for me, because she moved much further away. Rather than living a mere 5 minutes away, she was now a 20-30 minute drive from our house. She also began taking care of my grandfather who had suffered a stroke, which left one side of his body paralyzed. That might be why she moved; I think she needed a bigger apartment with a spare room for grandpa to stay in.

I never really knew my mother’s parents. They lived in Lockport, New York, which is way out there – near Niagra Falls. They only came down to visit it once or twice a year. My maternal grandparents held a sort of mystique for me. I’d heard tales of my grandfather’s musical abilities both on guitar and banjo, and my grandmother had played the drums. My grandfather had also worked for a candy company, and when he came to visit, he brought us mass quantities of candy coated peanuts, and Ford gum – that square, colorful gum found in the penny gumball machines.

I got to know him better during that time he lived with Aunt Carol, but I don’t think it was him at his best. He was cranky a lot of the time – frustrated that his body wouldn’t function properly after the stroke. I remember him pounding his bad arm with his good one, cursing bitterly. I always tried to cheer him up when he was in those moods, but sometimes he didn’t want to be cheered up.  That’s when I’d go out and play.

One of the good things about Aunt Carol’s move to the new apartment was the kids. There were a ton of kids to play with – her apartment was part of group of buildings that took up the whole block. I became friends with a particular group of kids who were always excited to see me when I came to visit. We’d run in and out of each others apartments, play tag, hide and seek, and kickball from sun up to sun down. Nights were spent hanging out with Aunt Carol, listening to ABBA albums, and watching bad Saturday night movies on TV. Those were some of the best Aunt Carol years for me.

But, I was growing up. By the time I was in middle school and then high school my weekends at Aunt Carol’s grew less frequent. We had her over our house every holiday, and once I began to drive, I’d head out to see her as often as I could, and spend the afternoon with her. My grandfather had died some years before, and with the exception of her friends in the apartment complex, Aunt Carol was pretty much alone.

By the time I was finishing college, Aunt Carol had moved back to her old neighborhood that was near our home. She had a job working in the store around the corner, had a new little group of friends, and seemed to be happy. I remember one time when my dad came to pick me up from at the University of Delaware, he brought Aunt Carol along for the ride. She seemed so happy to make the trip, even though it was just a boring 2 hour drive down the turnpike, and then back up again. We filled the trip back to Jersey talking and singing along with the radio. It’s one of my last good memories of her.

I don’t remember the exact year – you’d think I would – but I’m going to guess 1987. I had come home from work in a sour mood. It was my birthday, December 1st, and the day had not gone well. I stomped into my house yelling, “Don’t even bother to wish me a happy birthday, because I have had one crappy day.”

My family was sitting in the living room, somber looks on their faces. Something was very wrong. “We’re so sorry to tell you this today Tracy, but Aunt Carol is gone.”

My favorite aunt, dead. On my birthday. She’d died alone of a heart attack in her apartment. When she didn’t show up for work, her boss went to her home and found her. That bothered me the most. I wished there had been someone there with her.

Her funeral was a nightmare for me. I could not make myself go up to her casket. I figured if I never went up and actually looked at her face, I could make believe that it was all a mistake – some hideous misunderstanding. But, my friends dragged me up there – said I had to go for my own sanity, and out of respect for my Aunt. Oh, and I lost it. Big time.

I wasn’t the only one. Dad had managed to track down old Uncle Joe, and when he approached the casket, he began to weep and wail loudly. He stroked Aunt Carol’s face, and tried to lay down beside her – my dad had to pull him away. Guilt can do strange things to a person.

Holidays weren’t the same for quite a while after that. Each Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, I’d expect to see Aunt Carol at the end of the table, eating a turkey leg or slices of ham, happy to be a part of the family, and catching up on the lives of her nieces and nephew. I still miss her.

She was like no one I’d ever known…sweet, loving and generous, always looking at the bright side. Anything and everything made her happy, and in turn, it made you happy just to be around her. I’m so thankful for the time I spent with her. I hope she knows how much I love her.

Carol & Me

2013-07-15 15.14.05Yesterday my family and I went on an adventure of sorts.

The area we call home is teeming with swimming holes – we’ve just never been to any of them. There’s a website that shows the location of them all, and I’ve suggested going to them in the past, but the drive is usually long enough to wonder if the location is worth it. Besides, I’m truthfully more of a nice, clean pool kinda gal.

But my husband’s boss went to one called Sugar Hollow a few weeks back and posted photos on Facebook. Once hubby saw those and asked him about the location, he was raring to go. We planned a trip there, but I had badly stubbed my toe just days before and my oldest daughter had bad cramps, so only hubby and our youngest went.

He came back raving about it, and insisted the whole family take the trip a.s.a.p – that a.s.a.p was yesterday. I was a tad wary as it was going to be in the high 90′s, and a hike up a mountain isn’t my idea of a good way to stay cool. But good, bad, or ugly, my family was headin’ for a day at the ole swimmin’ hole.

2013-07-15 16.42.08The drive was beautiful, but it always is when you head out by Crozet, VA. When we approached the entrance to Sugar Hollow, we passed the reservoir, which is featured in the movie “Evan Almighty.” Then a short drive up a dirt road lead us to the parking lot. We gathered our stuff in back packs and began to hike.

We had agreed to take a different trail than hubby had blazed the last time. There was another swimming hole called Blue Hole that we wanted to explore. We crossed the river, soaking our feet, and headed up the trail. It was wide and worn and easy to navigate, but it was uphill. All the time.

At times it got really rocky, and you had to pay attention to where you put your feet. We hiked up and up, usually at a grade that was not steep enough to really make you huff and puff, but was taxing on your legs none the less. We spotted a ton of raspberry bushes, and my youngest and I stopped to pick a few.

We’d been hiking for about 20 minutes when I turned to hubby and asked if the other swimming hole had been this long of a trek. He said no, but that the trail was rockier and steeper. And on we went. It was getting monotonous, but we were in the shade so it was cool. And, looking on the bright side, I figured the walk back would be a breeze as it would be all down hill.

2013-07-15 13.48.02We crossed the river again, and I welcomed the cool, refreshing water on my feet. We had been on this trail for more than 30 minutes and it was getting increasingly steeper. Where was this joint? Thankfully, a group of college kids began marching past us and I asked them how much further up the swimming hole was. I was thankful (and inwardly groaning) when they said a 1/4 mile more.

When we finally got there, the climb down to the water was pretty treacherous – at least the dopey path we decided to take. We had to go one at a time, and it the going was slow. By the time I got down to the water, sweat was pouring into my eyes and I was having trouble seeing.

And it wasn’t as if you could just fall into the water. The river was teeming with rocks…slippery rocks that we had to navigate before you could sink down into the deep pool of water that was just a little further upstream. Plus it was crowded for a Monday. There must have been at least 20 sharing the average sized swimming hole. Some had lawn chairs and I thought to myself, “carrying that all the way up here would suck,” but they had a great place to sit!

There were rocks that surrounded the pool that the kids were climbing up and jumping off of, and there was a gorgeous little waterfall – all in all it was pretty. But it was also so exhausting.

It was really hard to walk, and I had sneakers on. The rocks were slippery and there were lots of them. It was hard for me to pick my way up and down the stream – I was constantly checking my balance which began to take its toll on me. I was thankful when I finally found a spot where I could sit down and take a breather.

I eased down into the pool and was instantly astonished at the temperature of the water. It was freezing! I mean super cold – refreshing, because we were so hot from our hike, but there was no way on God’s green that I was going in any deeper than my waist.

I watched folks jump off the rocks, and just enjoyed the scenery. Before long everyone left we had the whole place to ourselves. The girls took their turns jumping off the rock, now that they could do it without an audience, and it was really funny to watch. The water was so cold that my oldest would resurface accompanied by a look of utter shock, and that first lung full of air was an actual gasp.

We didn’t stay that much longer though. While the pool was pretty, there wasn’t much to it. We’d cooled off sufficiently and decided to just call it a day. The hike back to the car went much faster than the way up, because it was downhill, and we knew what we were in for.

We picked quite a few raspberries along the way. They were scrumptious. For me, it was the best part of the day.

I Googled the hike to Blue Hole when we got home and found out it was 1.5 miles. Uphill. I swear it felt like 10; on the way up anyway.

Hubby wants to take us back, but we will go to the other swimming hole he went to on his first visit there. He says the hike is easier and the pool is bigger. I’m up for it. I like to hike, especially when you know you can take a refreshing dip at the end of the trail.

I just hope there are raspberries on that trail. I’ll bring a bucket just in case.


Sometimes it takes another person to snap you out of a blind panic – like Hicks did for Ripley in Aliens.

In less than 12 hours, I begin my 5+ day shift as hostess for a weekend of festivities surrounding my daughter’s high school graduation. The climax of this weekend is the graduation after party we are hosting at our house. This is the event that is giving me grey hairs, nightmares and indigestion.

What do I serve? Do I buy it catered or make it myself? How much should I put on the grill? Will the weather be good? Do those foods go together? Am I making too many starches? Where am I going to find the time to get good bread? That has to be bought the day before or it will be stale. Do we have enough chairs? Do I need to buy more steak knives? Wait, am I serving steak?

This is the state my sister found me in when she called the other day. I was in an absolute frenzy because I was running out of time and didn’t have a menu for the party. This is because I don’t do a whole lot of hosting – it’s waaaaay outside my wheelhouse. In fact, I’m not all that sure I’m even on the boat. But I’ve got more than 15 people coming to my house on Saturday afternoon and I have to serve them something.

Her advice? Nobody is going to care what we eat. The fun of the day is celebrating my daughter’s graduation, and hanging out with friends and family. She reminded me that at her daughter’s graduation we had simple fare – fried chicken, salads, mac & cheese – and we had a blast.

It was a revelation, and a attitude adjuster for me. I mean, we are all family – nobody is going to care if the foods don’t exactly pair up perfectly, or God forbid, doesn’t taste great. I remember serving my sister and her family a london broil that tasted like wet band-aids thanks to a really bad marinade recipe I got off the internet. Nobody cared. We laughed it off and drank more beer.

Plus, my other sister is a kitchen whiz (actually they both are) and she arrives today and is prepared to help me in any way she can. That’s good because I need to make a cheesecake, macaroni salad, cucumber salad, and get the lamb marinating.

I hope it doesn’t taste like wet band aids.


Have you ever been to traffic court?

I had to go years ago when I was living in Florida. I had been a resident of the Sunshine State for almost a year but never got a Florida driver’s license. I just couldn’t part with my Jersey one I guess. I also couldn’t part with my Jersey plates, and before long I got pulled over for having expired tags.

Turned out that having an out of state license while living in Florida was an offense that held a penalty larger than just paying a fine. I had to go to court, and I was petrified. As long as I could prove that I’d procured a Florida license and plates, I would only have to pay a small fine, but still, I was scared.

As I sat in court, my nerves began to dissipate as I watched other cases go by. Many of them were for passing bad checks – all at Publix. One man was accused of bashing in his ex-girlfriend’s front door. And another man was convicted of exposing himself to children in a park. This was some heavy stuff…and here I was with my out of state driver’s license offense. By the time it was my turn I was almost proud of what an upstanding citizen I was.

That was around 15 years ago. Day before last I found myself in traffic court again, but this time, it was hubby who was on the docket.

He was driving home from working an overnight shift, and I’m always thankful when I hear him come in the house, safe and sound. He often talks of coming close to nodding off on the long and boring ride home. It’s why I understand the mistake he made.

He was less than a block from our development, where he has to make a right hand turn. It was 5:30 am, there was nobody else on the road with him. But off the road was a State Trooper parked in the weeds. Hubby saw him, checked his speed to make sure he was not going to fast, made his right hand turn, and was shocked to see the lights in the rear view mirror.

He got a ticket for not using his blinker. Can you believe that? Now, I’m a rule follower by nature, but come on. I can see if he’d been speeding – then you can pile on the fines. But is business that slow that you have to break someone’s balls for failing to flip a switch? Don’t get me started on how I feel about cops in general. It’s not a pretty topic.

When he came home that morning he was crushed. The fines totaled over $100 – that’s money we don’t have to spare these days. I suggested we go to court. Maybe he could talk his way out of it, or the cop wouldn’t be there that day. Oh, turns out that is rarely true – we discovered that the officer is held in contempt of court if he fails to appear on the scheduled court date. So much for that urban legend.

Hubby’s court date was Tuesday morning, and we got there with 20 or so minutes to spare. An officer made him leave the courtroom to tuck his shirt in. We also got scolded for whispering to each other. One couple was not allowed to enter at all because the defendant showed up in a dirty T-shirt and jeans. Even Judge Judy yells at you for that shit. Duh.

Once again, it was interesting to see the other cases go by, and once again, hubby felt like a fine, upstanding citizen next to some of the offenses other people were brought up for. There was one DUI – he had to do jail time. One gal was speeding and wasn’t wearing her seat belt. And one woman was brought in wearing an orange jumpsuit and was shackled at wrist and foot. I couldn’t quite hear what she’d done wrong, but I suspect it was for more than a minor traffic infraction.

By the time hubby stood up before the judge for not using his blinker, he was too nervous to do any smooth talking and simply plead guilty. The judge was feeling generous, and knocked off $25 because hubby’s driving record was good. I was relieved that he’d given us a break, and it proved that appearing in court rather than blindly paying the ticket was beneficial.

I’ll tell you, knowing that there are cops out there ready, willing, and able to ruin your day, I’ve been paying attention to my driving. It’s easy to get lazy – how often do you slow roll through a stop or forget to flip on your blinker? I know I was super lazy, but this ticket of hubby’s opened my eyes. Money is too tight to throw it to the county – I’m going to make sure I give them nothing to pull me over for.

Hot dog

Nothing irks me more than when I think I have wasted money. I believe it occurs most while dining out – paying for food that wasn’t all that great is the ultimate waste of one’s hard-earned dollar.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable – like when you’re at an amusement park. You pay $5 for a slice of pizza that tastes like cheese and sauce on Wonder Bread, and another $4 for a soda that is 85% ice cubes. But unless you are willing to get hand-stamped, exit the park and picnic out of your car, you have little choice. (By the way, we did that all the time as teens going to Great Adventure in New Jersey)

However, when I am free to chose amongst the hundreds of eating establishments in town, and I chose a clunker, I get mad. That happened to me yesterday. Our family decided to have lunch together before hubby headed to work and my girls and I finished our prom shopping.

See, it was senior cut day, so my oldest was “off” from school. As luck would  have it, it was also the day that my youngest daughter’s school was having a BMX bike show for kids who sold enough items in their fundraiser. I blogged about my issues with this fundraiser a few months back (read it here), and vowed to boycott the school that day. So, the four of us were looking for a place to eat lunch.

There’s a restaurant called The Riverside that makes really good burgers. However, they are always crowded, and the parking lot is a hassle to maneuver around, especially when they are crowded, which they always are. There is another joint across the street called Jak n’ Jil. They’ve been in business since 1954, and are supposed to be known for their foot-long hot dogs, so we decided to give them a try.

The prices for your average burger or dog seemed reasonable enough. Some of the other sandwiches and platters seemed a bit pricey for me; a Gyro was almost $8 and I was fairly certain there was no little Greek man in the back shaving lamb off a spit. Eight bucks wasn’t worth spending if all you got was pre-packaged gyro meat.

We all got burgers or dogs, an order of fries, an order of onion rings, one milkshake, and one soda. I had water.

My dog was just ok. It tasted like a very low quality dog…you know, the kind that tastes like baloney? My bun was dry and too big for the dog – with each bite I felt like all I was eating was white bread, and then my mouth would find some of the hot dog, and my brain would say “oh, there’s some baloney.”

The onion rings, priced at $3.75 were also a disappointment. They only gave us 7 onion rings. That’s over fifty cents per ring.

When it came time to pay the bill, I was astounded when the gal behind the counter said “That will be $32.60.”

How’s that?

Within seconds my brain counted through all the things I could have bought for $32. Things that I have avoided buying because I am trying to watch every dime. Things like:

  • A haircut
  • Plants for my garden
  • Grass seed for my lawn
  • A new pot to replace the one with the bowed bottom that wobbles on my stove when I’m trying to boil water

Instead, I had spent it on HOT DOGS.

I was furious. I turned to my husband and said “Thirty-two dollars for that…can you believe it?” I didn’t care who heard. I was in no mood to be polite. I went back to check the menu and did a little quick mental math. Although all the prices seemed reasonable, once you added it all up it equaled out to a pretty pricey repast.

I usually try to keep our lunches under $20, sometimes even less if I have a coupon. Hell, I was pissed a few weeks ago when I paid over $18 for a three slices of pizza and a salad at Sabarro. And here I spent twice that amount on a lunch that was nothing more than baloney sticks.

Ugh. Thirty-two dollars on hot dogs and fries. Had they been good dogs? You wouldn’t be reading this. There’s a place where I grew up called Hiram’s that makes the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. Anthony Bourdain featured them on an episode of “No Reservations.”  Those dogs are worth paying $32 for.

So what’s a gal to do? Nothing. All I can do is put Jak n’ Jil’s on my permanent “no way, José” list. They will never, ever see another thin dime of my money.

And to add insult to injury, every time I burped I was given a gentle reminder of the money I had wasted.


Mallard Duck Egg

Yesterday my girls and I took a trip to town to do a little shopping. After lunch, we decided to go to Target to see if there were any new Skylanders. I lucked into the first parking spot in the aisle, and proceeded to get out of my car. The driver’s side door was right next to a little island, freshly mulched with a few low, bushy evergreen shrubs. Sitting there in the mulch was an egg.

It was pale green – the color of an Easter Egg dying experiment gone wrong. I’ve seen it a million times with my girls. They dunk the egg in yellow, then decide on blue, then switch to pink; the result is a sickly greenish grey egg. This was the same color, and the same size and shape of a jumbo chicken egg.

I called to my girls, alerting them about the egg, and they both ran over and gawked at it in amazement. My guess was an old Easter Egg. I mean, Easter had only passed a few weeks back, and it was more conceivable to me that this was an abandoned hard-boiled egg than a bird egg because:

a) There were no trees with nests anywhere around us.
b) Why in the world would an egg be on a mulched parking median in front of Target?

My youngest grabbed a couple of napkins from my glove box and picked the egg up. We all looked at it with a mixture of wonder and puzzlement. Our curiosity getting the best of us, we wanted to crack it, but I did not want to do it by my car. If it was a rotten egg, I didn’t want it smelling up my parking spot. So we took it to a secluded area and passed it from person to person. Nobody wanted to be the one to crack it, so the task was left to Mommy.

Remember, I’m still fully expecting this thing to be a hard-boiled egg.

I gently tossed the egg on the curb of another row of shrubs, and the top cracked. Out oozed clear goo. And a little blood. And some orangey looking stuff.

This was no hard-boiled egg. My youngest began to wail “We killed it! We killed it!” Now, I know full well that no egg left alone in middle of a Target parking lot was a viable bird-to-be, but I still felt kind of shitty. We walked into the store and did our shopping the whole while trying to explain to my youngest that whatever was in the egg was already dead. I told her how animals know when an offspring is defective and how they usually kill it.

But I still felt really crappy. Why did we have to break the egg? Maybe there is some species of fowl that prefers to leave its egg in a sunny and somewhat congested spot, unattended. Maybe we did kill a poor little birdy. Ugh.

When we were leaving the store, the kids went back to look at the egg. Well, poke at the egg with a stick to be more exact. I felt too guilty to return to the scene of the crime and went over to our car. But my curiosity was still nagging at me. Where had that egg come from?

I looked down at the squat, dense little shrub that I had found the egg beside. My mind argued that there was no way anything could have a nest in there…it was too compact…too, well, bushy.

I looked under and saw the dim shape of another egg. I then pulled back a branch or two and saw the metallic blue feathers of a drake duck. I jumped back in surprise, half expecting the duck to fly out and attack me. It was a duck egg!

Some dimwitted duck had decided that a bush on the median beside the very first parking spot at Target was the perfect place to lay her eggs. I called the girls over and told them what I had discovered. I also told them to be respectful and quiet while they spied in the little bush to see the duck sitting on the eggs.

My youngest felt way better after that…she knew there was a nest with other eggs being watched over by daddy duck, and realized that what I told her was probably right. Mom had most likely abandoned a bad egg.

When we got home I had to look it up. I found article after article about ducks pushing eggs out of the nest for a variety of reasons, and I shared them with my girls. It made me feel a little bit better, but for some reason I still feel bad for that poor little ducky whose egg we cracked out of sheer curiosity.

I love ducks. I love how they waddle and quack and shake their little tail feathers. I love how they land on the water like little seaplanes, and how they stand tall and flap their wings.

It’s funny. I almost didn’t park in that spot. I was waiting for another parking place, but there was too much congestion in that aisle so I gave up and found another spot…a spot right in front, next to a freshly mulched little island. With a pale green egg.


I am doing absolutely nothing. Ok, not nothing, but close to it.

My unemployed days are spent lolling around in a dark room watching television shows that I had never watched before, but have now become addicted to.

First it was “Girls.” Luckily there had only been one season at that point, so I was able to catch up in a single day.

After that,  a “Walking Dead” marathon weekend chained me to my couch for two days straight. At least I shared that obsession with my two daughters. You could kind of file it under family time.

Then it was “Downton Abbey.” That took a few days because the shows are an hour long and I had two and a half seasons to watch. My husband was working almost non-stop at that point so I was able to spend most of time viewing it on our living room TV – where the sun shines and I feel like I am somewhat part of the living, breathing world.

Once I got caught up with both Hannah and the Grantham gang, I needed a new show. I had acquired a taste for non-stop entertainment – for discovering those progrmas that the masses were talking about, but I was oblivious to.

My regular readers will know that I then gravitated to “Homeland.” Oh, that show was wonderful. I spent the better or 3 or 4 days watching seasons 1 & 2 – 24 action-packed, suspense-filled episodes. This was beginning to become a dangerous and lonely trend, though.

With hubby home more often, the living room television is mainly controlled by him. He watches ESPN classic which plays old baseball games from 1979, or interviews with Howard Cosell and some legendary sports figure that I don’t know or care about. So if I’m in the mood to watch TV, I have to take myself to one of my daughter’s rooms; rooms with very little light and very little television sets.

That’s how I watched “Homeland;” crouched in the dark on a bed in an entertainment induced coma. Yes, I would twist open the blinds and let in some light, but before long, the light would fade as the sun went down and I realized it was time to cook dinner.

I was both dismayed and relieved when I’d watched all the episodes. Perhaps now I could join the living; get out and walk, maybe take up my crocheting again, or try some new recipes. Didn’t I have better things to do than stare at an illuminated box?

Not once I discovered “Weeds.”

Yes, yet another Showtime original (damn, they have some good writers there) has taken claim of my miserable, pathetic life. And there are 7 seasons. S-E-V-E-N. I am currently in the middle of season 6 – this translates into me sitting in sweatpants, in the dark, staring at a television for most of this past week. I will say that I have showered every day. I have also gone to the store and brought the kids to school. Outside of that I’ve pretty much been a “Weeds” watching zombie.

So now let’s talk about the show. I have a love-hate with Nancy. As the seasons are progressing, she’s becoming less cool and more wtf to where I just want to smack her. And why the hell is she always on the last few sips of a latte? It’s never full – always empty with a loud slurp.

Andy will be my boyfriend in my next life. Celia is a never-ending source of amusement for me. I adore Dean and Doug – I wish I could spend a day with them and a bong.

It has made me laugh out loud at least once an episode. The taint/runway argument was legendarily funny. Celia calling Dean  “Harley Davidstein,” was a knee-slapper, as was anything U-Turn said, and all conversations between Andy and Doug are guaranteed to bring at least one chuckle.

It’s a really filthy, funny show. And I can’t stop watching it. Not until I’ve seen the very last episode of season 7. I figure I’ll be done in time to cook Easter dinner and hide a few eggs.

After that you have a vow from me. There will not be a hunt for a new show – I will not latch onto “Dexter” or “Mad Men.” I’ll pass on “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad.” I’ll stay away until I’ve done a few things…cleaned out my cabinets, raked every leaf, mulched my garden and lost 10 pounds.

Then, and only then will I hit that button on the remote. The one that gives me access to every season of every show that everyone is talking about. But for now, On Demand Be Damned!


As I sit here in a dark hotel room while my family still dozes, I am writing this blog post on a tablet. Isn’t that wild?

Maybe not for the majority of you with your iPads and smart phones, but for me this a total hoot!  Yes the typing is clumsy and awkward, but here I am tapping out a blog post where in the past I’d be sitting in the dark waiting for everyone to wake up!

I bought my oldest a tablet for Christmas, and I am finally getting some time to play with it. There have been isues with the device…broken camera, namely. We are waiting for a replacement, but in the mean time I am loving having access to the world while I’m out of the house!

I guess you can just call me techno Tracy. Now if only I knew how to add a photo…


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