Eileen’s Chocolate Cake

IMG_1392My mother-in-law was  a lot of things, but fancy wasn’t one of them. And even though in the end she would wind up living on a golf course in Florida and belonged to one of the swankier beach clubs on the Jersey Shore, she stayed pretty true to her humble Pennsylvania roots. She saved rubber bands and plastic bags and twist ties and presumed birthday candles were good for a few birthdays. Why chuck perfectly good candles out after just one use?

She was also good at getting the job done. A real pragmatist. So when her youngest of four was old enough, she went back to school to get her master’s degree, often carting him along and depositing him at some childcare situation on campus. She landed a job as the librarian (back when we had librarians) at one of the local high schools where she worked for 25 years and retired right as the Dawn of the Internet approached and her long-practiced methods would become obsolete.

So when she cooked for her family, her offerings were basic but good. Comforting. The broccoli casserole covered in mushroom soup on Christmas. The savory baked beans she’d prepare for a summertime bbq. The pot roast she brought over the night I came home from the hospital with my own fourth child.

Of course she baked all sorts of cookies around the holidays and put them out on her fancy tiered plates on Christmas Day for us to nibble on as we opened our stacks of presents. And she would make a peach crumble in the dead of winter using canned peaches that brought me back to my childhood desserts of the 70s. When my mom would serve us bowls of peaches floating in that sweet syrup straight out of the can. Those nights were so much better than when she’d open the can of fruit cocktail with the sour pieces of grapefruit lurking within. #buzzkill

But my favorite of my mother-in-law’s desserts was her chocolate cake that is as no-nonsense as she was. A real workhorse. It’s always a crowd pleaser and couldn’t be easier to make and when served a little warm with a big dollop of freshly whipped cream (or perhaps a scoop of ice cream), measures up to some much more complicated recipe. But who has time for that?

Life is short, people. Bake a cake and share it with the ones you love.



  • Box of Devil’s Food cake mix
  • Box of instant chocolate pudding
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a tube pan (Eileen’s trick: use the cake mix as your flour). Mix together everything up to the chips and then throw them in at the end and pour into your prepared tube pan. Bake around 45 minutes to an hour or until the cake looks firm and not jiggly. Let it cool for a bit before removing from pan and serving to your happy family. Taste the love.

What mommy doesn't want to feed her baby cake (and apologies for blinding flash but I'm really a much better writer than photographer and have to live with that deficit every day)?

Hey Sexy

7d2bb7a51210e9e6257b75357ab7af62We used to joke that while his dad was teaching his two brothers how to fix things, my ex-husband was out throwing rocks and setting fires . In all likelihood, he was probably running around being sporty while his siblings watched their dad fix stuff and put things back together in his tidy basement workshop, but it was more fun to infer otherwise.

The result was while my former brothers-in-law could build and fix all sorts of stuff, my ex didn’t always have the skills to match his enthusiasm for repair. One time, I believe I am not making this up, he got zapped trying to fix a lamp and singed his eyebrows. Like, he could smell the burning hair.

We joked about that for a long time.

But we would laugh about his mishaps because it just wasn’t who he was. He was a great athlete who wasn’t really interested in the way things worked. But somehow, maybe through the kind of osmosis that occurs when you grow up in a house with people who care about that stuff, he was handy enough to manage basic things around the house.

He could hang shelves and pictures and there was nothing the man couldn’t carry. He even single-handedly fenced the backyard of our first house in an attempt to contain the crazy mutt I’d given to him right after he graduated from college (an insane gesture for which I would like to apologize publicly). His methods weren’t always orthodox, but he could usually figure out how to get a job done. He was like the Macgyver of household repairs.

We hired plumbers or electricians for the bigger repairs but mostly, my first husband took care of all the other stuff around the house. He mowed the lawn and raked the leaves. He cleaned the gutters. He hung shelves and drawers in all our closets.

It was nice.

Today, I pretty much outsource all of those chores. I pay someone to mow my lawn and clean my gutters. My younger daughter showed a talent for hanging things a few years ago and there is nothing she can’t put up on a wall using the cordless screwdriver and level I bought her. She replaced a high school friend of mine who used to come over and hang mirrors and pictures for me after my husband and I split. That pal also painted stripes on my daughters’ bedroom walls and glued my kitchen stools back together when they began to fall apart a few years ago.

I’ve also found a couple of handymen who I’ve paid to hang smoke detectors and paint my deck. And finally, there are the poor, unsuspecting husbands of friends who have also helped me out over the years; the ones who’ve had to come over to start a generator or fix a leak under my sink.

Recently, I needed help hanging a fire extinguisher in my old kitchen as part of the smoke and fire inspection I need to pass to sell my house. I mentioned the dilemma at knitting and a gal pal immediately said she’d send her husband over to get the job done.

And honestly, while I really hate being so needy, I’m also tired of paying someone else to do these jobs. And I like to think that I can do just about anything myself. I’ve stepped up over the years and figured out how to shovel myself out of a blizzard and scoop up the dead things that crop up in my pool a few times a season. But if you’ve ever seen me hammer a nail into the wall, you’d also encourage me to hire someone to help out when drills are required for a job. I bring a reckless and imprecise approach to nailing things to the wall.

So I quickly took my girlfriend up on her offer and a few days later, she and her husband showed up to hang my fire extinguisher. Her hubby even had to run back to their house when it was discovered screws were not included with the thing. He also suggested a much better place to hang it than where I initially thought it should go. They were gracious about the whole operation and the fire inspector agreed a few days later and I put that part of the house sale behind me.

I dropped a bottle of wine off at their house not long after to thank them for helping a sister out. It was late afternoon when I left the wrapped bottle on their front porch and because I hadn’t attached any kind of note, I sent her a text so she’d know it was from me.

“Hey sexy … just left a treat on your porch, hopefully just in time for happy hour. So thankful to have friends like you with handy hubbies … xo”

On a side note: I am big on starting texts with openers like the aforementioned “Hey sexy.” “Hey sexy pants,” is another popular one. I also like a good “Hello gorgeous” or “What’s up fabulous,” so, you get the point. I like saying crazy things to my girlfriends. I can’t help it. They bring it out in me.

So, I thought it was weird that I never heard back from her but I’m not always the best message-responder either so figured she was living her life rather than checking her phone a zillion times a day. And then she called me the next morning laughing and told me what happened.

Apparently, they were having cloud issues at her house – you know, that mysterious virtual place to store data – and she never received the text, nor did she see the bottle of wine until she came back from the gym the following day. She brought it in and showed her husband and wondered aloud who might have left it there.

“I know who it’s from,” he said, and told her how a text had cropped up on his iPad from an unknown number that began “Hey sexy.”

“You made his day,” my girlfriend laughed when she told me the story. But as he read on, her husband found out the text – which landed on his iPad rather than her iPhone due to the confusing workings of the cloud – was just his wife’s weird friend and not some mystery admirer.

I can be a messy/haphazard texter, sending unfinished messages and sometimes to the wrong recipient. I actually do that a lot. I was texting with my 18yo daughter yesterday about a podcast I was listening to with our hero Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec’s April Ludgate) and inadvertently posted the text “weapon of choice? Poison, hello” on a thread I was on with a bunch of my Little Moms. Interestingly, no one commented on my weird interjection.

So take care when texting. Make sure you’re calling the right people “sexy.” And if you screw up, pray your girlfriend has a great sense of humor.

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Dr. Amy

amy3I don’t know about you, but I embrace self-diagnosis, generally with no medical evidence for backing accompanied by a dire prognosis for good measure.

During various pregnancies – and thanks to the very helpful What to Expect When You’re Expecting tome – I was certain I’d developed a kidney infection, gestational diabetes and placenta previa when it turns out, it was just really bad gas.

For a while, I was fairly certain that a pain under my right ear was cancer and not the result of tightly clenching my jaw throughout much of my day (teenagers, anyone?).

And the pain I felt in my left knee every time I ran had me convinced I had torn my meniscus somewhere along a wooded trail. But when I stopped running, the pain magically went away.

And then there’s the pain in my feet. My big toes in particular.

It’s been there for years, this weird irritation in, like, my big toe knuckle. The one that connects the toe to the rest of the foot. And every once in a while in more recent years, the pain would really flare up, causing me to limp around when I woke up, and then eventually subside.

Then, about two years ago, we had the Summer of Amy. Remember that? When I went out – hard – about 10 nights in a row and it involved a lot of dancing and teetering around in high heels?

Well, it seems after that stint, my feet have never quite been the same. Like, last summer I officially swore off flip flops and started wearing Birkenstocks instead. And I don’t think I could shoehorn my hooves into a high heeled pump if you offered me money. My feet just don’t bend that way any more. Lunging is also a thing of the past (the exercise type of lunging and not, like, lunging for a glass of wine or the last piece of pizza).

So, I’d had my secret diagnosis for what was ailing me, the cause I was convinced was causing my pain. I just kind of kept it to myself. But then my younger sister told me she was having similar issues that a doctor diagnosed as some long, complicatedly-named issue. So, I decided to go with that. Much less embarassing.

Fast forward to this past fall and I’m sitting outside by a fire having drinks with an old college friend and trading ailments. I tried to pronounce this multi-syllabic foot condition from which I’d been suffering and she laughed in my face. “You’ve got the gout,’ she barked and we both started laughing our heads off, me only because I was a little drunk. In reality, I was freaked out because here was another person giving a voice to the condition I was both convinced and terrified I had: gout. Like Ben Franklin. Like, I might as well just go out and fly my own kite and electrocute myself.

I was convinced that my daily alcohol intake – because that’s just where I am right now in my life – had caused the joints of my toes to start to swell and I was just weeks away from needing a cane and wearing round wire-rimmed glasses and pantaloons.

So I was managing. Shuffling along in my Birkenstock slippers and sensible flats. And then my mom started needling me to get my feet checked by an actual doctor. Someone with a medical degree and not just, like, a router and access to WebMD.

She and my younger sister (another one with foot issues) had started seeing a foot doctor down by them and my mom couldn’t stop talking about her (this is how my mother gets when she really likes something). And then, one day last week, I finally got around to calling and lo-and-behold the doctor had an opening the next day.

Like most people, I don’t think my feet are particularly attractive. I don’t really like them being the center of attention. But there I was in an exam room with my tootsies propped up front-and-center on a chair. The doctor – who is 5 years younger than I am, which is a whole other blog post – came in and I joked about how ugly my feet were and then told her my secret diagnosis.

“I’ve got the gout,” I blurted, and she looked down and shook her head while gently cupping my feet in her hands and said, “I can assure you, this is not gout.”

She took some xrays to confirm what she thought my problem was and explained that the pain was being caused by degenerative arthritis stemming from a condition called hallux rigidus. The very sexy Stiff Big Toe.


Really, this is the only way I’d allow any of you to see my feet. Especially on the Internet.

The good news is that this is not an unusual circumstance for an almost-50-year-old-gal to find herself in. According to the doctor, she sees it a lot. The bad news is that it’s only going to get worse. Unless I opt for some type of surgery, it’s pretty much all about managing the pain, which can be done through things like buying certain types of sneakers, getting some orthotics made, and cortisone shots.

She told me that if I wanted, she could give me the shots right then and there and I started to sweat. On the one hand, I really wanted my feet to stop hurting so fucking much and on the other, I was scared. I really, really hate shots, and if any of you have had any in your face lately (ladies of a certain age you know that I am talking to you and you know just what I’m saying), you know that it’s a friggin’ nightmare. Like, I’d rather straight up have a baby.

But I pulled up my big girl panties and told her to go for it and then did legit Lamaze breathing while she pumped 3ccs of whatever it was into my feet that burned like hell. Talk about a hot flash.

But you know what? It worked. Immediately, my big toes felt infinitely better and later that night – don’t tell the doctor – I even wore high heels.

And since then, I don’t feel like I need to hobble out of bed in the morning, however my one attempt at lunging the other day reminded me that it’s not like my feet went back in a time capsule 20 years. Like, the damage has been done.

So, now you know all about my Granny Feet. And that I don’t have gout. Seriously, I should use this blog as a dating website because I’m sure the picture I’m painting of myself is hard to resist.

And I’d spend more time worrying about all of that if I didn’t have some research to do about my declining eyesight. I’m pretty sure it’s glaucoma.

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Public Apology


To the Good Samaritan who helped my 13yo pick up a case of Costco water bottles (because I cannot be satisfied with the paltry 32-pack at a grocery store and need the warehouse-sized 40 bottles) off Branch Avenue around rush hour last night:

I’m sorry I’m an idiot. That I was in such a rush to get my son to lacrosse practice and get back home in time to get picked up by my girlfriend to go out to dinner, that I forgot to close the back of my car. That when I discovered the kid we were picking up to carpool was stuck at a track meet and no longer needed a ride, I sped out of the driveway without pushing the little button inside my car to automatically close the back door. I had popped open the door in a preemptive measure to get my carpooler in the car as quickly as possible. I’d hoped he’d throw his gear in the back and jump in.

And it wasn’t until I was racing down one of the main arteries through town towards the practice field at the high school that I noticed the interior lights overhead were still on. “That’s weird,” I thought, and then thought, “Shit.”

It was then I regretted not bringing in the giant 40-pack of waters after a trip to Costco on Monday. But it was raining. And I’d already carried in about 100 pounds of milk and paper towels. And, I mean, what’s the point in having two sons if not to get them to haul giant packages of water to the basement? And I don’t know if it’s because I instinctively hit the brakes when this clicked in my brain or if those waters were destined to hit the pavement but in an instant, I saw in my rearview mirror the familiar blue-labeled bottles bouncing and rolling across the road behind me.

And honestly, my initial instinct when I pulled over and saw the debris scattered on this very busy thoroughfare that was thankfully deserted at that moment as a train had pulled into the station, bringing traffic to a halt (which is funny because I can’t tell you how many times in the last 20 years I’ve cursed goddamn NJ Transit for the very same inconvenience that had now ironically become a strange blessing). And I was dressed for dinner and wearing snug fitting pants and heels. And earlier in the day I’d gotten a cortisone shot in each of my big toes to relieve the arthritis that has of late relegated me to a life of Birkenstocks and Vans. I just didn’t want to add to the spectacle of the water bottles in the street by teetering around in tight pants and my fancy new heels (Clarks, but still).

But how could I just leave? How would that work? Would oncoming traffic simply drive over the bottles? Would the town’s DPW have to come out and clean it up? And how long would that take? Would I be guiltily driving by the bottles for the next few weeks? When a deer was hit not far from my old house, its carcass sat on the side of the road – that my children had to walk past on the way to school – for days before someone authorized for that type of disposal came and hauled it away. And would the local police deduce I was the drop-and-run litterer and come knocking on my door to arrest me?

I worried about all of the fallout from the literal fallout from my car and in an instant you were there, scooping the bottles off the road. I don’t know where you came from, maybe you were in the middle of a run, but you ran across the street and started to clean up my mess. And in an instant, my son was out there, too, grabbing as many bottles as he could and throwing them in the back of my car.

I thought about making a joke about being a crazy, menopausal woman rushing around as you threw bottles into the back of my truck but you didn’t really seem open to jokes. And I really did contemplate coming out to help but, I mean, the shots and the heels. But the two of you made quick work of it and in no time, as traffic slowly drove around our little circus, the bottles were off the road and you resumed whatever it was you were doing before you made the decision to help.

So, I just want to thank you for that. For coming to the rescue of some crazy white lady rushing around in her high heels strapped to her arthritic feet while all that plastic – talk about a carbon footprint – spilled out of her SUV. I hope something good happened to you later that night. I hope the universe, impressed by your goodness, paid it forward towards you in some really awesome way. And I also hope that when you recounted the incident later that night, maybe to your wife or girlfriend, that you were kind. That I didn’t come off as too much of an asshole. And finally, if I did, I hope you’ll accept my apology. I’m sorry I’m an idiot.

Humbly … Amy

Okay, maybe I’m a bit of a jerk. But still, it’s funny.  Sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. 

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I’m From Jersey



It wasn’t until I went away to college that I learned firsthand that New Jersey, and its denizens, were a joke. Like, even my new roommate who hailed from Baltimore — BALTIMORE! — sneered at any mention of the Garden State.

Apparently, it was an embarassing place to live.

Even when we gather now as legit grown ups, there’s always some put down of my home state by my college friends and sometimes the person throwing the insult actually grew up in New Jersey. We went to high school together but after college she moved outside D.C. so I guess there’s a statute of limitations imposed on Jersey. You can disavow yourself of any relation to the state as long as you skeedaddle before you have to start paying taxes.

For a while, I dreamt of getting the hell out of Jersey, too. There’s just so many assumptions made about those of us who live here by those who don’t and for a long time, I really cared what other folks thought. I hated having the taint of Jersey on my skin.

I had a big interview for a PR job at Gucci years ago in Manhattan and the elegant Italian woman conducting the test-a-tete was astounded I grew up in the Garden State. “You don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey,” she observed, and this was long before Snooki and the Housewives gave the rest of the world the impression that we awl tawked liyk dis and ran around drunk pulling each other’s hair. I mean, I gave that shit up after college.

Following my divorce, I dreamt about moving with my youngest child to the city when the older three kids graduated from college. But as time went on, it became clear that my situation was not that cut-and-dry. It turns out, just because your child completes his or her’s higher education does not necessarily mean they’re relocating. Sometimes they’re still living in your basement despite a diploma.

So when I was looking to downsize a bit I realized a 2-bedroom apartment was really not going to work and I quietly wondered how long I would be trapped in the wilds of New Jersey.

But it was a conversation I had this fall with another college pal that helped me see that my thinking was twisted. She and her husband had relocated to Long Island and she said it was hard to make friends because she commutes to work every day and didn’t have kids in the school system to help forge those local connections.

“It’s nice that you’re a part of a community,” she said to me, and I was like, “What is my fucking problem?”

I have everything I need right here. My family. My friends. A lovely town. I’ve also got the beach, pork roll, proper pizza and bagels, Bruce Springsteen and a cool new national park  that’s got an Alexander Hamilton bent and I mean, who’s cooler than that fly founding father these days?

This is where I live. It’s where I’ve raised my four children. Practically my whole family is a quick drive away and I’ve come to appreciate the real Jersey part of Jersey. The Goombas. The accents. The Turnpike. That opening sequence of the Sopranos? You better believe you’ve got yourself a gun baby. Bada bing!

It’s all part of the charm of the state. It’s what gives it its color. The same can be said for where you live, too. Whether you hail from Long Island or Boston or Savannah or Minnesota.  Or even Baltimore. I don’t want us all to be the same. Shiny and hoity-toity. Let’s celebrate our differences and not make assumptions.

And on Sunday nights in the summer, there’s no place on Earth I’d rather be than dancing to Rosalita and being in love with a Jersey girl surrounded by friends in a crowded bar about a block away from the beach because, it turns out, down the shore everything’s alright.

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Carpe Diem

IMG_1417Today I am thinking about how complicated life can be. And short. And confusing.

You think you have all the time in the world to make things right. To tell people how much they meant to you. How much you loved them.

But that’s not how it works and I am reminded once again there’s no time to right all the wrongs and settle all the scores. Giving that big monologue you’ve been composing in your head when you’re awake in the middle of countless nights and you can’t settle your thoughts — you’re spinning back in time to long ago arguments and college and wedding days — just might not pan out. All that waiting for the right moment — when the moon and the planets and the stars align — might have all have been for naught. That window might just snap shut.

Instead, let the people you love know how much they mean to you every day. Tell them. Show them. Bake them a cake.

Life is messy and complicated and it is so easy to take the path of least of resistance. To avoid yucky situations. To tell yourself you’ve got all the time in the world.

Because you don’t.

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Ignorance is Bliss

IMG_1340To celebrate my newly-renovated bathroom in the house I bought this winter, my mom presented me with one of those super-duper magnifying mirrors to sit on the pretty quartz counter where I can pull up a stool and examine my face to my heart’s content.


In my old bathroom, I had a big rectangular mirror I’d bought at Costco hung above the vanity. Screwed into the wall over to the left was a smaller mirror that swung out on an arm and you could flip the round mirror between regular strength and the other side that provided a more magnified view of oneself.

I bought the smaller mirror a few years ago when I determined I couldn’t really see specific things on my face that required grooming, like errant brows and pimples. At the time, I chalked it up to the inferior craftsmanship of the Costco mirror but in reality, I couldn’t see myself as clearly as I used to because my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, much like abs.

So I began to rely on that smaller side mirror for grooming but, honestly, my routine is not very complicated, especially when it comes to wearing makeup. I don’t really get involved with anything other than lip stuff unless I’m, like, going on a date or something. Honestly, I can’t stand the idea of taking eye makeup off and I’m also just not super-handy in the makeup department. Much like hair braiding and doing splits, I am deficient in those most feminine of skills.

All this being said to explain that as I am not applying mascara or rouge on a regular basis, I did not find myself really examining myself in that smaller mirror. The big Costco deal was just fine for putting on deodorant and rubbing lotion onto my elbows.

I also outsource my waxing needs, which eliminates another reason for heavy examination. Every few weeks I visit one of my favorite “browistas” who somehow shape the, like, three eyebrow hairs I have left into something resembling an arch and then rip the mustache off over my lip for good measure.

While I was paying for my waxing a few months ago, I picked up this little mini-razor that was displayed on the counter after all the girls who worked there were raving about all the hairy bits on their bodies they used the razor on – their arms and their faces, to name a few. What the hell? I thought.

I went home and went to work on the fuzz covering my right cheek and jawbone. I began scraping and holy shit, it was like I’d uncovered a small kitten on my face. Who knew all that peach fuzz, which I’ve noticed every now and again since I was, like, a little kid, would have added up like that? Of course, it was kinda satisfying, too, so I continued down my neck and up along my chin. I moved over to start working on the left side but the lighting in my bathroom above the vanity only illuminated the right side of my face so I did a little scraping on the left but couldn’t really see much accumulation and then decide I just didn’t have as much fur on one side than the other side of my face.

But a trip back to my browista a few weeks later confirmed the fuzz on my face was not relegated to just the right side. “You should use one of the mirrors in your car,” my brow girl suggested. “You’ll really be able to see your whole face in the daylight.” So, apologies to anyone who had to witness me half-shaved for those few weeks.

But honestly, I was just screwing around. I’m not really worried that the fuzz on my face is horrifying those forced to look at me. I mean, our whole bodies are covered in hair and even though I spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to keep a lot of that hair at bay, I can live with a fuzzy face. It was just fun to scrape up all that fur. And a cheek is a lot easier to work with than an arm. I have no interest in getting involved in removing all extremity hair and luckily, my Irish heritage is on my side in that respect.

So, even though I have not been a great mirror examiner in the past, when we moved into our new house in the beginning of March, our only mirror was a little old medicine cabinet in the hallway bath upstairs that requires really good eyesight to  see things. I could identify my teeth for brushing and hair for combing, but not much else. I’m lucky though in that I am definitely a glass-is-half-full kind of person. Unless otherwise notified, I tend to assume that everything is hunky-dory.

Ignorance really can be bliss.

I even found myself in a condo on vacation recently with an equally-bad mirror situation. But it was just me and my 13yo son – who has a hard enough time looking up from his iPhone, much less look at me – so I wasn’t too worried about what I looked like. We’d gone down to Hilton Head with our neighbors and enjoyed low-key week of sitting on the beach and riding bikes that didn’t really require any gussying up. I was shooting for presentable, at best.

When we got back from our spring break, I picked up the mirror my mom had bought me and eagerly took it out of its box, placed in on my counter and pulled the stool up close to take a gander. It’s the kind of mirror that magically lights up when it senses you in front of it and as the light bathed my face, I was horrified at what I saw.

It was ALL. SO. BIG.

The pores. The wrinkles. The eyebrows that had grown down to my lids. Even my earlobes looked crazy.

The whole thing gave me pause. On the one hand, it’s good to know what you’re dealing with. It’s nice to keep things in check. And on the other hand … I don’t know. Has it really improved my quality of life knowing I can literally see through the holes punched through my earlobes when I was in second grade that have supported four decades’ worth of dangly earrings and slowly stretched? If anything, it has alarmed the poop out of me.

But the mirror is not going anywhere. For one thing, I can actually see my eyelashes and putting on mascara isn’t the nightmare it used to be. And also, nose hair.

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DSC_0430Every six weeks or so, a brown stripe appears down the center of my head, which I used to be cool with until those darkened roots became increasingly flecked with grey wires. Now, I scurry to my hair colorist so she can wave her magic wand and return my hair to its make-believe, uniform-blonde state.

I started fooling around with my hair color about 15 years ago to lighten up my mousy brown locks with some highlights but the greyer I got, the more highlights I needed and the blonder I became. So, what was once a beauty treatment I kind of dabbled in – there was never any great sense of urgency – has now become a critical part of my maintenance schedule. It’s right up there with my annual mammogram and getting my teeth cleaned.

But I often tell anyone who will listen that even if I didn’t like how my hair gal has transformed my head, I’d still show up in her chair on a regular basis for the conversation. She’s funny, smart and remembers as much as my therapist does from one session to the next and she’s not even taking notes. Plus, she’s a rock star. Last week she paired kind of Western booties with a long black tulle skirt and I’m telling you, few people could pull off that look. She also converted to Catholicism recently and is very active in her church community, so she’s a bit of an enigma to boot.

I brought her up to date on my life as she dipped a brush into a mound of goop she’d concocted in a plastic bowl to paint my roots and she asked me about my pending real estate transactions. I told her how nerve-wracking the whole process had become and fretted that I wasn’t going to get what I wanted.

“If it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen,” she said, parting another segment of hair to swab her potion. “Then it just wasn’t meant to be.

“You just have to believe that God has something even better planned for you,” she finished. “You can’t have any attachments.”

And you know how sometimes you hear something or read something you’ve heard or read a thousand times before but then it arrives one more time and it’s like you receive it in a whole new way? Where before you were like, “Oh, yeah. Blah. Blah. Blah,” and then all of a sudden you’re like, “Whoa”? Like the heavens open and a chorus of angels begins to sing?

That’s what it was like for me, sitting in that chair with a head full of chemicals waiting for a timer to go off. It was like a light bulb went on over my head instead.


The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to realize that I spent much of my life trying to manipulate outcomes, often against fairly considerable odds. I had been very attached to how I wanted my life to look.


And it worked, for the most part. In fact, a former neighbor told me well after we’d been living across the street from each other for a while that when my family first moved in, she referred to my husband and me as Ken and Barbie.

In a way, that was just what I wanted.

And that was okay until it wasn’t. Until I realized that what I really wanted out of life was less plastic and more real. Like, old Velveteen Rabit-real.

So I started letting go of things I never thought I’d be able to live without.

And in a curious case of weird timing, last week brought with it three milestones to mark my journey towards letting go.


First of all, my baby turned 13 and while on the one hand it seemed to have happened in a flash, on the other hand – with two of his siblings in college and the oldest a recent graduate – it’s been a bit of an eternity. But there was no talking me out of having that fourth child and even though I’ve had kids in the school system for so long that I remember when you sent cupcakes in for birthdays and slathering peanut butter on everything seemed nutritious and not dangerous, I wouldn’t want a life without that kid. Who else would watch “The Pioneer Woman” with me during dinner or open the window for me when I’m having a hot flash? And he’s the perfect example of someone who’s benefitted from me letting go and not trying to filter everything he comes into contact with to create some perfect person. He just is who he is, which ended up being pretty great.

That same day, I sold the house we moved in to right before I gave birth to that fourth child. Another questionable decision you could not have talked me out of at the time. But that four-bedroom colonial in a neighborhood of similar homes represented the lady I wanted to be, no matter the cost – monetarily or otherwise. It was who I thought I was.

Apparently a lot has changed in real estate since I last bought a house 13 years ago because now you no longer need to attend the actual closing. I signed the papers in my kitchen the day before instead so I could go to my son’s basketball game, so it seemed a little surreal when I got the call from my attorney on my way home from the game to tell me the deal was done.

“Congratulations,” he said before we hung up and I could feel the door close on that chapter of my life.

I looked around to commiserate/celebrate with someone nearby but only saw my four children who were definitely not interested in hearing about how conflicted I was about the sale of our home. As far as they were concerned, the whole thing was bullshit.

Instead, I took the kids out for hibachi for the birthday celebration and had a quiet drink later with my pal across the street, who made some delicious old fashioneds to mark the occasion. She, probably more than anyone, knows what a journey selling the house had been.

And finally, last Tuesday would have been my 25th wedding anniversary and instead of celebrating on one of those big trips other couples I know go on to commemorate being able to stay together for so long – like a trip to Paris or the Amalfi Coast – I took a boat into New York City for dinner and drinks with high school friends, one of whom had the honor of wearing the crazy tulle and velvet costume I’d chosen for my bridesmaids all those years ago.

We asked each other a million questions and admired each other’s hair and although not all of us have remained close, there’s a certain comfort and ease being in the company of people who knew you when. Who know the real arc of your story.

That girl they knew in high school was a bit of an unanchored mess who had a lot to learn about life and love. What all of that should REALLY look like, which, it turns out, has nothing to do with the house you live in or – alas – your hair color.


My oldest daughter and I went for a walk at the end of the week and as we picked our way down a dirt path through the bare trees, I thought about all of those outcomes I’d been so attached to – marrying that guy and having four children and living in a big house. Ask anyone who knew me back then and they could confirm how overwrought I’d been trying to make all of those things to happen.

And I thought about how I didn’t want to get so worked up again about something so beyond my control. The word “attachment” kind of kept going through my brain as we hiked and I saw the late morning sun gleaming on the water through the trees. During the warmer months, that view is blocked by leaves and you forget that the river is right there, beyond the hills of the park. But there it is, all along. We stopped to admire the view for a bit and my daughter took out her phone to take some pictures because, that’s what you do when you’re 21 nowadays.

I started to tell her all about this revelation of mine, and she listened with her usual skepticism. I usually make good on about 10 percent of the things I talk about. I’m full of big ideas. So I told her all about my desire to just go with the flow and not get hooked on any outcome – I practically started singing “Que Sera, Sera” – and then I asked her if that wasn’t, like, the foundation of Buddhism.

“Maybe,” she answered.

“Then I think I’m a Buddhist,” I told her.

“Congratulations,” my girl responded in a tone that seemed less-than-sincere.

And whether I can sustain this new outlook remains to be seen but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to start practicing Buddhism any time soon. I can, however, guarantee that the one outcome I refuse to disavow myself of is the color of my hair. I am permanently attached to being a blonde.

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Me and the Boys

Me and the men in my life.

Me and the men in my life.

About six weeks in, I continue to be amused by the shift in my surroundings. Or, more accurately, life with a big helping of sons versus a life sprinkled with daughters.

I took my two lads – 22 and 12 respectively – to visit their sister at a giant university at a nearby state to see one of their legendary football games.

There was a marching band. Cheerleaders. Dancers. A tumbling mascot. Waving pompoms in the stands and fireworks each time the home team scored. Yes, fireworks exploding off the tops of the two scoreboards flanking the field.

It was pretty epic.

I had downloaded the new Mindy Kaling audiobook to listen to during the over four-hour drive there and that was my first mistake. Because while my little guy – who spent a lot of time surrounded by just women when his older brother was away at school and thus is familiar with and open to the funny lady canon of books we all like to listen to – my oldest son was like, “Absolutely not.”

He somehow missed that feminist boat.

So instead we listened to mutually agreed upon music. Billy Joel’s “Billy the Kid” and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Some Kings of Leon for good measure.

It was a far cry of all the sugar pop tunes my youngest daughter used to play for us on road trips. All that Beyoncé and 1D. One trip we listened to the entire “Frozen” soundtrack twice and belted out dramatic interpretations of “Let It Go” (although my grasp of all the words to the song is lacking I make up for it with plenty of feeling).

We got into State College and grabbed my girl and had a great dinner but the boys balked when we wanted to do a Wal-Mart run and load up on paper products and chips for the next day’s tailgate. “Why do you always need to shop?” they grumbled.

But the real dividing line separating life with women versus life with men came when me and the boys crammed into our Hampton Inn room for the night and the effects of their massive pizza burgers moved through their digestive systems. And I’m not saying we don’t all have to move our bowels and all that (Everyone Poops, you know), it’s just that things got real smelly, real fast. Like, I had to employ the fancy Oribe hair texturizing spray I probably spent over $20 on as a makeshift air freshener to keep the room from smelling like a barn.

And for some reason, dudes can’t share beds. The girls and I would squish into double beds in hotels and make do (well, actually, I make it a point to never share — I am paying after all — but the girls deal) but the boys could not abide and my little guy ended up sleeping on the floor between the beds that first night and we called down for a cot the second evening.

But the next day made it all worth it.

My brother, an alum, made the drive from his new house about 90 minutes away and we got the full tailgating experience, including a spot in the parking lot a stone’s throw away from the stadium. My daughter joined us with a few of her new college pals and we drank cans of beers as my brother manned the grill. We played KanJam and listened to music on a wireless speaker. And about an hour before kickoff we packed up and headed inside to watch the team warm up and then see them come onto the field for the game (cue the fireworks).

After the game (we won) we walked into town and the boys filled up on chicken wings and pizza piled with sausage and sliced jalapenos and you can imagine how that exploded in their digestive systems.

Cue the Oribe spray.

The next day we availed ourselves of the free breakfast situation at the Hampton Inn where I ate a banana slathered with peanut butter and the boys made Belgian waffles topped with sticky syrup and a big dollop of whipped cream with a side bowl of sugary cereal for good measure. Before we headed out, my oldest asked if it was okay if he drove home and reader, it’s been a long time since anyone has driven me anywhere (although recently the kids’ dad drove the car home after we dropped our daughter off at school). It was nice to just sit in the passenger seat and close my eyes. It even took the edge off listening to the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Drake.

The fun thing about all this is that I now know that nothing lasts forever. My time in Manville is just another chapter in my life. I’m sure within the year my oldest boy will move out on his own, only to be replaced by his sister who graduates from college in the spring. Then the estrogen levels will again outweigh all that testosterone that’s flowing around here.

Maybe then I’ll finally get to listen to Mindy Kaling.

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Newfoundland: Not Your Average Ladycation

The view hiking up towards Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland.

The view hiking up towards Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I was reminded recently why I love to travel. Why I need to travel.

I returned last week from a four-day jaunt to Newfoundland with three other women and yes, I know, you’re not the only one who thinks this is an odd choice for a girls’ getaway. Why not Vegas or South Beach, you’re wondering.

Imagine the locals’ reaction when they learned the Girls From Jersey, as we came to be called, travelled to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for a vacation. It ain’t no Napa.

And initially, I thought it was a little weird, too.

The occasion was a close friend’s 50th birthday and she determined we should all head north. Like, really far north. But she proceeded to do all the research and make all of the reservations and I am a baby and deep down love being told what to do so happily agreed to join her. The four of us also happen to travel really well together. There isn’t a diva in the group and we’re all pretty flexible. Some of us like to adhere to rules more than others, but that causes amusement rather than irritation among the group. At least it does for me.

The birthday girl’s logic, when she later explained how she chose our destination, made perfect sense. She said beach getaways and wine tours were lovely, but she wanted a little more excitement. Something out-of-the-box.

“I wanted an adventure,” she told me.

And that’s what we got.

I’ve spent a lot of time since my return extolling the virtues of Newfoundland in particular and Canada in general and have been encouraging everyone to make plans to go today. And you really should because soon, you will not be alone. An expansion project in the works will double the size of the airport in St. John’s, the island’s largest city on its easternmost point, by 2020 to accommodate the approximately 2 million tourists expected to visit Newfoundland. You’ll thank me later.

On the three-hour flight home, my travel companions and I decided that what made Newfoundland so special was a combination of three outstanding features.

Hiking up towards Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Hiking up towards Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The Scenery

 I don’t want to spend too much time giving you the history of the island or describing its geography. Let’s just say that initially, I assumed it was off the coast of Maine only to discover, right before I left, that it is significantly more north than Maine and way east. Like, we visited Cape Spear – just south of St. John’s – to take selfies standing at the easternmost point of North America. Keep going from there and eventually you hit Ireland (in fact many Newfoundlanders speak with an Irish accent and there’s a vibrant Irish music scene). Newfoundland is right under Labrador, where you’ll find arctic tundra and icebergs float by in the spring. And the combined population of the two regions, which comprise one Canadian province, is a little over 500,000. FOR BOTH. Just to put it in perspective, in 2014 there were 8.9 million people living in New Jersey.

The coastal views are stunning. Rocky shores. Picture-perfect lighthouses. The clear, dark Atlantic Ocean crashing against steep cliffs. It’s like walking through a postcard.

During the late spring and summer you can see whales who journey north to feed on the water’s abundant krill and icebergs float south from great glaciers in the north. Our visit was on the tail end of all that excitement but we did get to see a lot of puffins on a boat tour out of Bays Bulls and two bald eagles soaring through the sky. We also saw a giant mola mola or ocean sunfish eyeing us as he floated atop the waves until he dove down and sank out of view.

When we weren’t stomping around hiking trails and old fishing villages, we also enjoyed the sights of St. John’s colorfully-painted “jellybean” buildings and the interiors of a fair share of Irish bars.

And I’d be remiss if I did not mention the scent of the sea — and not the Jersey Shore low tide odor — but the ancient, salty blast that hit us as we descended from Signal Hill into the old fishing village Quidi Vidi. It was accompanied by a blast of cold air that cooled us down after a sweaty hike to the top and reminded us how everything about Newfoundland was unpredictable. We were constantly surprised during our stay.

Finally, we rented a charming house in the city’s Outer Battery section just steps away from Signal Hill that offered sweeping views of the city’s busy harbor. Beautiful spot to cozy up on the couch in our pjs to sip coffee and watch the fog roll in each morning and to drink a glass of wine and see the harbor lights twinkle in the background before dinner. But I mostly loved falling asleep each night with my head next to an open window and listening to the sound of the water hitting the rocky shore nearby and the moan of a lighthouse in the distance. We were sorry to say good-bye.

Our brunch here at Mallard Cottage included breakfast pizza and a smoked blueberry old fashioned.

Our brunch here at Mallard Cottage included breakfast pizza and a smoked blueberry old fashioned.

The Food and Drink Scene

 Would you believe that one of Canada’s top-rated restaurant – I repeat:  top-rated  – is right in downtown St. John’s? Prior to our trip, that little fun fact left me dubious about Canadian food in general. I mean, how good could the food be if the best place is on some random, barren island, I thought?

And so, to all of the good people of Canada, I’d like to apologize for my ingnorance. If Newfoundland is any indication, you people are eating like kings. At least compared to the food and drink found in my neck of the woods.

Some standouts:

  • I know it’s not very ladylike, but I am an enthusiastic carnivore. I dig meat. So I found myself drawn a few times on the trip to menu items that included bone marrow as a type of condiment. I spread it onto my hanger steak at Chinched and ordered the cheeseburger with house-cured bacon at The Social House where they slathered the marrow onto their homemade buns. Both dishes came with thin, salty frites, which also might have contributed to the beauty of these meals.
  • I’ve never been a huge oyster enthusiast. I think the only time I’d ever eaten them was when my first husband and I went to New Orleans with another couple to get away from all our babies and toddlers and kind of drank our way through the city as an escape one weekend years ago. I believe oysters were involved. And lots of beer. But since then I’ve stayed away from them. I mean, who’d want to put that weird grey stuff in their mouth? But a plate of them arrived at our table at Chinched on Saturday night on a bed of ice and once I heard they were from Prince Edward Island – right around the corner – I knew I just had to try them. I squeezed some lemon juice and plunked a dollop of the sweet and slightly spicy mignonette on top and tipped the cold shell to my lips and let the whole gloopy mass slip inside my mouth. And then BAM. It was like taking a sip of the sea, all cold and briny. Totally magic. It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever tasted and we ended up eating oysters everywhere we went because when in Rome, brother, eat the oysters.
  • Have you seen my veggetti? I actually don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here but love to talk about it ad nauseum to people who have to put up with me in real life. And although it sounds very dirty and scandalous, I use my veggetti to do awesome things with squash and zuchinni. Wait. Stop. Now you’re getting weird. It’s a spiralizer that turns veggies into long spaghetti-like strips you can sauté. Someone got their hands on one at Chinched and used it on a potato that was then wrapped around a big fluffy piece of cod and the whole thing is fried, I suppose, to make it a yummy crunchy coating around the fish. Divine.
  • When they are not coming up with amazing things to do with cod and marrow, Newfoundland restauranteurs are also concocting amazing cocktails to drink. I have a thing for Old Fashioneds and sampled them all over St. John’s during our stay but the standouts had to be the classic rendition at the bar at Blue on Water and the smoked blueberry variety I sipped at Mallard Cottage with my brunch on Sunday. Heaven. My partners in crime would tell you that they enjoyed the cilantro margaritas at Chinched and the El Camino at Adelaide Oyster House  (please enjoy with one of their fish tacos which I could eat every night of my life).
Getting "screeched in" at Christian's and becoming honorary Newfoundlanders.

Getting “screeched in” at Christian’s and becoming honorary Newfoundlanders.

The People

There are plenty of beautiful places to travel in this world. And plenty of destinations where you’ll find outstanding food and drink. But the reason you should visit Newfoundland is for the people. They behave the way we are supposed to behave as humans. They are polite. They are considerate. They are kind. They are curious. They are knowledgeable. Time and again we had encounters with the locals that left us shaking our heads and marvelling how certain things would never fly where we live. I’m taking about:

  • The woman working behind the counter at a remote post office where we stopped to buy postcard stamps and ask where to find a hiking trail, who let me use the bathroom in back. Actually, she let all four of us use the restroom and I’m pretty sure in the United States, that would be considered a federal offense.
  • A gentleman we started talking to at a local liquor store walked us to the walk-in beer cooler in the back to help us pick some interesting brews to bring back to our house and it was only after we parted ways that we realized he didn’t work there but was only an extremely helpful fellow customer.
  • The security guard at a museum/cultural center called The Rooms travelled with us from room to room and explained how historical events influenced much of the artwork on display, giving us a mini lesson in Newfoundland history. His knowledge completely enriched our experience.
  • The women working at the museum gift store not only took the time to tell us how to get to said liquor store but Googled what time it closed.
  • Taxis not only showed up for early morning pick ups scheduled after very late night drop offs but drivers were a font of information for places to go and things to do and also happy to let you walk off with their map. In fact, they insisted.
  • The TSA agents at the St. John’s Airport greeted us with a friendly “bon jour” and when one of our travel party members was unable to access her boarding pass via the Internet, a very helpful agent showed her how to take a screenshot on her iPhone to avoid a similar situation in the future.

I’ve joked in the past that friendly people make me nervous but honestly, after a few days in Newfoundland, I was sorry to return to a decidedly less kinder and gentler place to live. Where oncoming traffic doesn’t stop to let you pull out of a parking lot and TSA agents don’t bark at you to take off your jacket.

On our last night we ate dinner at a hot new restaurant on Water Street called The Social House. We sat at a high top table and slurped our final plates of oysters and chatted with our charming young server named Jordan. He told us he’d grown up in Sweden and moved back to Newfoundland – where his dad was from – a few years earlier and was finishing his last year at university. The 21-year-old talked about his internship in broadcasting and thoughts about breaking into sales and we asked him where — with all those plans — he thought he’d wind up after graduation.

“Right here,” he said, spreading his arms. “We have everything we need right here.”

And so they do. I’m glad I got to experience it for myself.

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