Friday faves: Athleisure Edition

As some of you may know, I recently took a part time job folding yoga pants at a popular store known for selling stylish athleisure clothing. But between buying stuff for me and my two daughters, I have pretty much just given all the money I’ve made so far back to the company. You’re welcome, Gap.

On the one hand, the company gives a very generous discount and we all needed a little wardrobe updating and on the other, I do have one kid still in college and an insatiable cat to feed. I need to keep my fiscal wits about me.

But there have been a few pieces I’ve added to my wardrobe that I really don’t know how I’d been living without before. I say this not only because the styles fit my casual lifestyle but also because they’ve kind of become my uniform. Like, I’m not really sure what I used to wear before I brought them home.

Here are some of my faves:

Cozy Karma Pullover

If you stop by my house most days after 5 p.m. and before 10 a.m., you will find me wrapped in my Cozy Karma and, in all likelihood, I will make you feel the soft fleece at the hem of its sleeve, which lines the entire interior of the sweatshirt and insist you go and purchase one for yourself. Plus, I really like saying “cozy karma.” A lot. It also comes in a bathrobe-like style in a darker gray that I fondle whenever I’m at work but have managed to resist, mostly because I know my daughters will yell at me if I buy it.






The other piece that’s getting quite the workout since I brought it home is theis baby. Their super-soft and cut generously and in that M.C. Hammer style that I’m endlessly drawn to. Slip these suckers on and it’s Hammertime, sister.





screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-10-12-48-amLess you think I’m always dressing the part of the shlub, I’ll have you know I do dress up on occasion. Well, sort of. I’ve been loving these Wanderer cargo pants (which I boughtin both colors) and think they’re super cute dressed up with this sweater and these fab boots I bought at Madewell this fall or with this striped JCrew top and my slip on Vans. I even like them with my Nikes. What’s nice is that the fabrication on the front of the pant is kind of nylon-y but the backs are a stretchy panel with little pockets on the butt. I dunno, they’re just v cute.






screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-10-15-42-amI flew to Denver last month to be a panelist on a show called Moms EveryDay (more on that later) and wrapped myself in this yummy cardigan for the flight. I love how soft the fabric is and that it has those awesome thumbholes in the sleeves and when you pull the shawl on the front around you it’s pretty much like you’re wearing a legit blanket. With a collar. The kids and I are going to London between Christmas and New Years (more on that, too, another day) and I totally think this is just the thing to wear on the overnight flight with a tshirt and leggings (loving these muffintop-friendly tights) and maybe these Dansko boots.

Are you an Athleta shopper? Let me know what you love, which is actually probably a terrible idea because I don’t need additional retail enabling. Then again, it will give me something else to think about while I’m folding.

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Hope & Change


Our new house is right around the corner from our town’s middle school, which is so close I’d be ashamed to have someone see me get in my car to drive there. Our old house was pretty close too, but now instead of crossing a busy county road and cutting through a town parking lot – past the public tennis courts – to get there, our new route to school takes you through the quiet streets of my neighborhood past about a dozen neatly-kept homes.

I bundled up Tuesday morning to make the five-minute walk to school to help out with the student version of Election Day. Along the way, I counted exactly one Trump sign and one Clinton sign decorating neighbors’ front lawns.

But if you drove around this small town, you’d find mostly Trump signs. It didn’t surprise me when I started to see those navy blue signs crop up on lawns this summer. Even though we’re in New Jersey, a traditionally blue state, our neck of the woods bleeds red politically. There are a lot of Wall Streeters around here. Not a lot of diversity. Pretty conservative. So folks tend to support Republican candidates. I mean, it was kind of a big deal a few years back when a Democrat was elected to our historically all-Republican borough council, even though the man could not be less controversial.

Which leaves me in the minority around here and that’s hard because I really like being a part of the majority. I really like doing what everybody else is doing. Being part of a collective. A community. That’s why it felt natural to join a sorority in college and when I’m searching for something on Amazon I use the “most popular” filter. I want to do what everyone else is doing,

This character trait definitely influenced my very first presidential election back in 1984 when I’d just turned 18.

I was pretty clueless back then, a couple of months into my freshman year at a fairly big state university, but I did have the wherewithal to procure an absentee ballot. This ingenuity also came into play when I figured out how to get someone to buy me and my roommate a case of Busch Light our first night in college (which we had to lug about a mile home in her father’s Army duffle bag). Somehow my excitement over our vice presidential candidate cut a swath through all the thoughts of beer and boys in my brain and I was ready to support her and the other guy on her ticket.

But as I went about filling out my ballot in our dorm room one night in October with the vice presidential debate playing on our small television – long before cable became de riguer in dorm rooms and reception came through carefully arranged antennas and positioning the set just so – my roommate and I started talking about the election.

My roommate had very different opinions about the candidates and as the conversation progressed, I started to become less sure about my decision. This is long before I learned I could easily be talked out of or into anything. Before I embraced the courage of my convictions. Instead, I went along with her. I nodded my head as she derided my candidate and, as Ms. Ferraro stood onstage in Philadelphia and broke through the first of the glass ceilings here in our country, I checked the box for Ronald Reagan.

And I can’t tell you how bad I have always felt about that knee jerk decision.

Sure, we’d learn later that her husband turned out to be a bit of a crook. But, ladies, you are either old enough to know now or will someday learn – either the hard way through personal experience or over wine and tears with a girlfriend – that we can’t be held responsible for our husbands’ actions. They do not define us. And sometimes – a lot of times – we do what we have to do for our families. We smile and swallow bitter pills and smooth things over and sometimes, that can work forever and other times, you just can’t stuff one more pill into your mouth.

But I digress.

Right or wrong (and really, is there ever really a “right” or a “wrong”?), I should have gone with my gut and been proud of that decision. Just like my roommate should have felt proud of her own and very different take on that long ago election.


The middle school had sent out an email a couple of weeks ago looking for volunteers to help the kids with their own presidential election and I quickly signed up for a morning spot and joked to my kids that I was going to secretly engage in electioneering. Honestly, I really just love saying the word “electioneering,” but it would be nice to sway some of those budding baby Republican voters in the meantime.

The teacher running the “election” for the school divided the eight of us parents up into groups of two to help with each grade’s voting and I ended up at a voting booth set up at the top of a stairwell outside the double doors leading to eighth grade’s floor with a very nice dad.

The first wave of students came through and I looked their names up on their class list and helped them sign their ballots, which they then brought over to the very nice dad who took their ballots and directed them to the laptop set up behind a screen to vote. We explained to the kids that the process was just like the one their parents would experience that day when they went to cast their own vote in the election and I felt a sense of civic pride sharing that info with my fellow young Americans.

We made small talk with the kids as they stood on line and waited their turn to vote. We asked them about how sports were going and marveled at how they’d grown and eventually the stairwell was empty again.

It turns out, we had a lot of downtime in between classes coming in to vote during their social studies periods so we filled the time with very pleasant conversation. The nice dad is a former member of our town’s borough council, so we talked a little bit about town stuff but mostly we talked about our kids. We compared notes on the differences between boys and girls lacrosse programs in the area and, because of his work in law enforcement, he shared some of his concerns about Internet safety for our kids.

The very nice dad told me about how I could monitor the battery use on my son’s iPhone to see just how much time the 13yo spent on various apps. He walked over to show me how to get to that bit of data using his own iPhone and I noticed when he got to that screen that he’d been spending a majority of his mobile time on the Fox News app that day.

He noticed it too and laughed and said he’d been checking election results all morning and then we talked about our kids some more. That was the only time the real presidential election ever came up. Up until I saw the Fox News thing there was nothing about our conversation that led me to believe he and I weren’t on the very same page.


I thought about that a lot on my walk home after I finished my shift at school. It’s the perfect time of year here in the Northeast and the weather on Election Day really pulled out all the stops. The sky was a clear blue with big puffs of white clouds and the leaves crunched under my sneakers as I walked along the sidewalk towards home. Even the political signs seemed quaint and part of the whole quintessential small-town diorama.

I thought about how much we really are all the same, regardless of the apps on our phones and signs on our lawns. We want to be good parents and keep our children safe and live in safe communities. And we want what’s best for our country.

But sometimes it’s the means we adhere to in the getting there – the keeping kids and families safe and our communities and country great – where we begin to disagree. Where we seem to hit snags.

And this is where tolerance comes in, along with a big dose of respect for our differences in all areas. I can disagree wholeheartedly with your decision to not use a playpen for your one-year-old – personally, I don’t know how any young mom can expect to poop or wash her hair without one – but I need to respect that decision. Plus, my kids are grown now – with varying results – and I can poop and flat iron my hair til the cows come home.

My friend Dan loves guns. I do not understand them and think they are an extension of the male … ego. At any rate, we’ve had a few conversations on the issue and I’ve come to the conclusion that we are never going to change each other’s minds about it. We agree to disagree and are still friends and I really respect his stance because I respect him as a person.

Then there’s my friend Robert. Another one I don’t always see eye-to-eye with on the issues. He’s a former Army guy and I remember having very heated discussions back in the 1990s about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (a position he tells me he has come to rethink). But we’ve both softened over the years and have started to see things in less black-and-white terms. And he’s a voracious inhaler of information, from all news outlets. He says he listens occasionally to a New York Public Radio talk show I told him about and on election night toggled between Fox News and MSNBC.

We still have conversations about topics we don’t agree on but in the end, respect each other’s points of view and move on.


On Wednesday morning, I woke up to a nasty text from one of my brothers (I have four), which was interesting because the only time he ever reaches out to me is to attack my perceived political leanings. Like, even on my 50th birthday.

In that birthday exchange, in which he derided me for writing about being a Democrat – not that in the three or four years I’ve been publicly writing about my life has he ever mentioned anything else I’d ever shared –he asserted my candidate was a “scumbag.” He ended the long tirade with some smiley-faced emojis, as if that would take the edge off his assault.

I brought the whole incident up with my therapist during an ensuing session and she pointed out how angry my brother seemed to be. She said that we could not ignore that such a large segment of the American population felt so disenfranchised by our government and reminded me that people were totally entitled to their feelings.

So that’s how I framed that interaction. I felt compassion for my angry brother and closed the door on that issue.

Until Wednesday.

At 1:53 a.m. he texted a tweet that Trump had been elected president and a rant about how Attorney General Giuliani would prosecute Clinton “for her many crimes.”

“What a disgusting piece of garbage,” he ended.

And I have to hand it to my brother, he was able to get me more upset and sad about something other than that Trump was to become our nation’s president. Not an easy task.

But in the end, I decided – with a little help from some friends who talked me off the ledge – that that type of vitriol is not what I want in my life. Being intolerant of others – who they are and their opinions – is not who I want to be.

I mean, my own mom voted for Trump, as did my brother’s wife and, well, my mom is my mom and my sister-in-law is probably the nicest person I know. For reals. I keep waiting for her to show her evil side and so far, I just see her as a wonderful wife, mother, daughter and sister-in-law. I love them and respect their opinions and would never even consider wrecking our relationships over something over which we ultimately have no control.

My mom and I didn’t talk for a while in the 1990s because of politics and I never want to go down that road again. I love her too much and my life is too short.

And I know in my heart that we are all just boats against the current – the quagmire of politics and the great highs and lows of this one big life – and all we can do is beat on, whatever that looks like. And we need to remind ourselves from time to time that we are all, each and every one of us, struggling.

And respect that.


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I Remember Nothing. Seriously.

Once I went to a store to buy a book about Alzheimer’s disease and forgot the name of it. I thought it was funny. And it was, at the time.” – Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing 


I recently took a part-time job folding yoga pants for a popular store at our local fancy-ish strip mall in an effort to bring some structure to my days and give me some kind of purpose as I figure out where all this writing is going. However, the only thing that has become quickly apparent is that I am either A: dumb or B: losing my mind.

And I can’t really figure out which is the better option.

If I cop to stupidity, it does indeed support that very low SAT score I garnered all those years ago, but I really had that pinned on the giant hangover and speeding ticket I brought to the testing facility that October morning in 1987. But it doesn’t bode well for the story I’ve been secretly telling myself forever, which is that I could have been a decent student had I just applied myself instead of talking on the phone and watching “Knots Landing”.

Now, if I accept the idea that I’m not so smart, it might help put my college GPA into clearer perspective.

What if I am losing my marbles instead? What then? I mean I know, at 50, I’m kinda old. Just ask my kids. But in the scheme of things, I really shouldn’t start trying to use celery sticks to start my car or go food shopping without my pants on for at least another decade or two.

What is it, you’re wondering, that’s got me so concerned? Reader, the following are a few anecdotal pieces of evidence of my mind losing that have occurred in just in the last three months.

The Back to School Boo Boo

In September I attended my final back-to-school night at our middle school. I marched up the stairs to the 8th grade hallway towards my son’s homeroom where I’d been told I’d get a copy of his schedule, which I would move through over the course of two hours.

I walked into the classroom and surveyed the handwritten schedules the kids had laid out on top of the desks for their parents. I immediately noticed a penciled scrawl reminiscent of my own child’s scribble scrabble and grabbed the slip of paper and proceeded to his first period class, which the schedule indicated was Language Arts. I sat and got pumped up hearing about how his year would be full of The Outsiders and vocab words and then moved on to Period 2 in the gym.

It’s a casual 10 minute break as we’re all just standing around talking to other parents when I noticed the slip of paper another mom was holding looked really familiar. “Hey, that’s weird,” I said, pointing to the schedule she was holding, “our boys have the exact same handwriting.”

And as I go to show her the schedule I’d grabbed off the desk in homeroom, she starts to tell me how she couldn’t find her son’s schedule in his homeroom and had to go to the office and get a duplicate they had on file. This is when I actually think to look at the name at the top of the schedule I’d been carrying around and noticed it had HER son’s name written across the top. My decision to grab that scheduled was based solely on the sloppy handwriting and that both of their last names begin with the letter “W.”

“Um, Maria?” I say, showing her the schedule in my hands, “I think I know what happened.”

It turns out, I’d gone to the wrong homeroom altogether. In my head, my son was in Mrs. Lesch’s homeroom and that’s where I marched with great confidence to swipe another kids’ schedule. So then I found myself in the school office in the middle of my ninth back-to-school night there trying to figure out what homeroom my kid was in.

Macchia! Right! He was in Mrs. Macchia’s homeroom! Mystery solved.

About a week later, I got a call from our new PTO president to let me know that I’d been picked to be my son’s room mom. I knew that would make him happy because he’d observed a couple of years earlier that, unlike when his older siblings were in middle school, I never volunteered to do anything on his behalf. An observation, I conceded, which was totally on point.

I relayed the good news when he arrived home later and he said, “Cool,” with a mouth full of cookie and started to head outside to kick the soccer ball around with our neighbor. “Tell Mr. Olsen to let me know if he needs anything this year!” I shouted to him as he walked out the door and he paused to look at me. “Mom. I’m in Macchia. Remember?”

Oh. Shoot. Right. Wrong teacher again.

Which led me to realize that in all likelihood, I’d put the wrong homeroom down when I’d so generously volunteered to be room mom and sent the PTO president an email indicating as much. Sure enough, I was homeroom mom or a homeroom my son was not in and requiring me to abdicate that throne (can you tell I’ve been bingeing on “The Crown”?).

The way I see it, my son’s never going to find out so I kind of have the best of both worlds. On the one hand, he’s under the impression I’m involved in his school and on the other hand, I don’t have to figure out how to create group emails and and inundate parents’ mailboxes with news about upcoming teacher cookie exchanges and the 8th grade fruit sale.

The Trouble With Working 

As mentioned earlier, I now fold leggings for a living and it’s reminded me what it’s like to work a room cold. In most situations I find myself in these days, I’m interacting with people who already know me and kinda like me. We’re either friends or they’ve read my blog or I’ve given birth to them and in one way or another, I’ve managed to charm them a bit (I mean, the kids tolerate me because I’m now shorter than everyone and they are convinced I’m losing my marbles so treat me like their crazy aunt they need to take care of). But at the new job, no one really knows who I am so they’re meeting me totally out of context of my whole established “Amy” shtick. I do some weird hand gesticulating or try to crack a joke and they’re just like, “She’s weird.”

None of my idiosyncracies can be passed off yet as just part of my quirkiness.

For example, about a week into the job, I got a call late one Sunday morning from one of the managers asking why I wasn’t at work and I had no idea what she was talking about but apparently I was on the schedule that day. We talked briefly and I said, “Derrr,” and she was less than amused and I apologized one more time and we ended the conversation.

Then I started really thinking about what could have happened and I realized the I had indeed gotten a computer generated email indicating I was to work that day but decided not to write it on my calendar as I had told another manager I could not work that day and was simply going to point that out to her and clear the scheduling up. Except I forgot to do that and went on my merry way that Sunday morning never giving it a second thought.

My bad.

I went in to work the next day as scheduled and towards the end of my shift, that manager asked if we could talk before I left and I thought, “Seriously? She couldn’t have just fired me before I had to fold all those leggings?” but instead, we rehashed the whole me-not-showing-up and I told her what I thought had happened and said it was all my fault and a dumb mistake and then I think we were over it for good.

I came into work the following day and busily got to work folding stacks of leggings and about an hour into my shift, the same manager looked up from the schedule she’d been scanning over at the register and said, “Amy, what are you doing here? You’re not on the schedule.”

I’m not kidding. I’d totally written the wrong shift in my calendar.

“Oh man,” I said, trying to find the humor in the situation, “I guess I was trying to make up for Sunday.”

“If that was the case,” said the manager, “you wouldn’t have punched in.”


So they’re definitely thinking I’m a bit of a loon.

Then last week, another manager decided it was time for me to learn how to use the cash register and told me to go get my employee ID, which I needed to log on and of course, had yet to memorize. I went in the back and copied the number from the notes app on my iPhone onto a post it note and went back out to the register to try to log in with that and the password I’d set up on the first day of work.

Five tries later, I still couldn’t log in and we decided I needed to reset my password, which was a pain to try to figure out how to do. Finally, the manager was able to figure it out and found my ID# and guess what? I’d copied the number down wrong and flipped two of the numbers, which is why I couldn’t log in. She looked at me and laughed and kinda punched me in the arm and I leaned down on the counter put my head down on my folded arms. “What is my problem?” I moaned and we kinda laughed about it.  I’ve worked there a few weeks now and we’ve had pleasant conversations while folding sweaters and tank tops and if nothing else I’m forcing everyone to like me. It’s part of my routine.

So, I don’t know. You guys tell me: am I dumb or crazy? I used to be able to chalk my forgetfulness up to having too many kids or working full-time or even booze but I’ve pretty much got only one teenager to tend to nowadays and that full-time job is no longer and I haven’t had a glass of alcohol in almost three months so there’s not much left to blame for my boobery except the two options I’ve outlined here.

My friend Dan likes to tell me I’ve got CWD (Crazy Woman’s Disease) and thinks menopause is the root of all our lady problems. And sometimes that pisses me off and pushes my “how-dare-you” button but right now I’m thinking he might be onto something.

Hopefully I don’t try to put the cat in the dryer or show up to fold leggings without my own pants on. But at least then we’ll have some answers.

Are you forgetful? A procrastinator? Or, perhaps, just plain losing your mind? Sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below and new posts will arrive without you having to remember to look for them. Everything should be this easy. You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and (what the hell) Pinterest

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Ridiculous Situations That Make Me Laugh

I leased a new car recently – a gorgeous silver Subaru Outback named Sheila, who’s never been barfed in or had a can of Pringles potato chips explode in her backseat – so thought I’d take a few minutes out this morning to quickly set up a monthly automatic payment plan for her and check that puppy off my to-do list.

I am all about autopay. In fact, were it not for those types of setups, which eliminate my unreliable memory from nagging things like paying my mortgage or various utilities on time, I’d be – at the very least – sitting in a cold, dark house if not in debtors prison right now.

I actually cut up my credit card from The Gap not long ago because using it – even though The Gap showers you with reward points and there’s nothing like getting $30 off a mound of $60 worth of clothing at Old Navy – requires me to remember to pay the bill in a timely fashion. And for whatever the reason, I am absolutely terrible about doing things on time and The Gap has no patience for procrastinators. They start calling your house, like, the second that you’re late.

I learned the consequences of that behavior the hard way when I was trying to get a mortgage not long ago. Apparently, being a sporadic payer can (and will) bite you in the butt. It turns out, creditors don’t look kindly on those who mean well but can’t make payments on time. They turn around and report you to higher authorities, which can wreak havoc on your credit.

So, like a good girl, I learned my lesson and tried to set up all recurring payments automatically to avoid these dramatic situations. I mean, I already have an ex-husband. Do I need any more drama in my life?

I quickly logged onto the Chase site (who my lease is through) and plugged in all my info — social security number, routing number, blood type – and waited for the site to verify my checking account. After two failed attempts I heeded the kindly advice that popped up on my screen and called my bank.

I told the whole story to a very nice woman named Colleen at Wells Fargo (where I do my banking) who was very patient and let me go on and on only to then tell me when I was through that she’d have to transfer me to another department. Deep breath.

Then I told my tale to Justin, who was having a hard time figuring out just why I was transferred to him in the first place, and kept asking if I’d leased the car through Wells Fargo. No, Justin, no. I just want you to help me pay the nice Subaru people. Eventually, Justin told me he could not help verify my checking account and I should call the leasing people at Chase.

So I called that 800 number and went through all the prompts until I had to start shouting “representative!” and ended up with another nice gal named Ivy. But, alas, before she could even listen to my story, Ivy needed to verify that I was who I said I was and told me I’d have to answer a few questions in order to do so, which always makes me nervous. I worry that, even though I didn’t need to study and know all the right answers about myself, that somehow I’ll give off the vibe that I’m trying to put one over on someone. That I am up to no good.

But I really thought Ivy was just gonna toss me a few softballs and we’d be on our way but instead she threw a curveball right at my head (okay, sports metaphors might not work for less-than-sporty writers).

She asked me to choose from a list of options who I have my mortgage through and that’s a tough one because I’ve already refinanced the mortgage on the house I bought at the beginning of this year and each time that company has quickly sold my account off to some completely random company. Like, it’s not a big name like Chase or Wells Fargo but more like Jimmy John’s Sandwich and Loan Shop. Like, are these people licensed and equipped to handle anything heavier than salami, I ask you?

So, I hesitated when Ivy finished her list of options, which included D: None of the Above, and eventually picked A: my initial mortgage company and Ivy told me I’d done good and some bells went off in my head and we moved onto Round 2: my employment history.

IVY: Please select a company through which you’ve been employed.

ME: Okay, I’m game.

IVY: A: Home Shopping Network. B: Touched By an Angel

ME: (Burst out laughing) Is this for real?

IVY: (Trying to keep it real) Yes.

ME: (Wiping tears from eyes) No. Like, is my daughter there making you say these things?

IVY: (Really trying to remain professional and move things along) No, ma’m.

ME: (Still laughing) This is like a crazy game show about myself. Okay, what’s C?

IVY: C: Apple. Or, D: None of the Above

ME: Okay (Trying to regain composure), I really want to say “Touched By An Angel” but have to go with, “What is ‘D: None of the Above’ for $1,000?

But Ivy really wasn’t finding the same kind of humor in the situation that I was. She didn’t think that a round of Amy Jeopardy before helping make my lease payment on time was remotely funny. I mean, in this age of credit card account hacks and Wikileaks, I appreciate all the big monoliths’ due diligence in securing my personal information and taking it all so seriously. While, to date, I’ve managed to refrain from snapping any selfies of my various bits and pieces unclothed or in compromising situations, I’d hate to have any of my secrets end up in the wrong hands. I’d hate to have the public privy to confidential emails I’ve sent regarding how much I hated our last book club book or evidence of all the shit I order off Amazon Prime (to wit: the Tekton set of three rubber mallets I ordered earlier in the month). Because that would be embarrassing.

In the end, Ivy couldn’t help me set up my auto pay either and forwarded me to another very nice woman, named Christina, who answered the line all jolly until she asked me how my day was going.

“Actually, Christina, not great,” I told her, and then launched into everything I just relayed to you, minus the rubber mallets. “I know none of this is your fault,” I told her, “but I’m just really frustrated that something that should have taken five minutes has eaten up 45 minutes of my morning.” (Like I was expected to perform brain surgery or help feed hungry refugees as soon as I’d paid my car lease. I am a very important person.).

Christina was pretty much all business after that. We jumped over Double Jeopardy and went right into the final round of account authentification and I made a payment for this month, which is a relief because I really like the shiny new Sheila. I’d hate for the RePo man to come take her away from me; just when I was getting used to driving a car with good brakes that didn’t carry a faint smell of sour milk during the summer months.

So I’m good at least through Thanksgiving but, sadly, at some point will have to rely on that noggin of mine to remember to pay next month’s bill. In that case, who knows how long we’ll be enjoying riding around swathed in that new car smell and working air conditioning? I might want to hold off getting too spoiled until I get that automatic payment account set up to keep the Chase hounds at bay.

All of this is to say that if you see me riding a bike down the highway in December holding what looks like a big bag of presents, you’ll have a fairly good idea what happened. Or, more accurately, what didn’t happen.

Are you forgetful? A procrastinator? Or, perhaps, just plain losing your mind? Sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below and new posts will arrive without you having to remember to look for them. Everything should be this easy. You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and (what the hell) Pinterest

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Burnt Quinoa

a1364128Every Sunday I wake up fairly certain I’m going to start putting into motion all the magical elements needed to change the course of my life, and this weekend was no exception.

To that end, I dutifully made a list of all the tasks I wished to accomplish throughout the week, investigated the health benefits of drinking lemon water each morning, shoved all of the dirty towels into the washing machine and put a pot of quinoa on the stovetop to boil.

And then I went back up to my bedroom, opened up my laptop and got sucked into Facebook.

As part of my ongoing efforts to revamp my lifestyle, I’m trying to incorporate healthier eating. I’m trying to eliminate things like that ham and cheese sandwich with a side of potato chips I enjoyed every day for lunch on the beach this summer and replace with things like salads and the aforementioned quinoa. I find if I have healthier items on hand, just lying around my refrigerator, then I’m more apt to reach for the good stuff rather than my beloved ham and cheese. And, full disclosure, I was also planning on making pancakes for my kids as a special Sunday treat and was going to sneak a glob of quinoa into the batter because I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the only one eating healthy around here.

So there I was, sitting on my bed teary-eyed watching a video someone posted of Bette Midler singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” at a prayer service shortly after 9/11, when the smoke detector started blaring from down below.

“Holy quinoa,” I thought as I jumped off the bed and ran – laptop in hand – down the stairs to find one of my kids waving a dishtowel under the smoke detector and smoke pouring from my All-Clad saucepan on the stovetop. The two cups of water I’d carefully measured and added to the cup of dry grain had evaporated and the remaining quinoa had hardened into a brown crust that adhered to the sides of the pan.

“Mom!” yelled my 13yo son, “what were you thinking?”

And, honestly, I was asking myself that same question. I had completely forgotten that I’d put that pan of quinoa on to boil when I drifted upstairs and fell into a Facebook trance. Like, I never gave it another thought.

Interestingly enough, I’d just finished reading Sarah Hepola’s wonderful memoir Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, which forced me to question my own relationship with alcohol. Did I think about it a little too much? Had I found myself over the years in situations I might not have found myself in had I not been drinking? Little stuff like that.

The author writes about putting a pot of water on to boil for pasta after a night of considerable drinking and the next thing she remembers, a man is breaking through her apartment door holding a fire extinguisher. The story was oddly comforting because I was all, “Hey man, I’ve never almost started a fire when I was drunk. Things have never gotten that crazy.”

No, sir. That would be a job for my ADD.

The incident left me shaken. As I flew down the stairs and rounded the corner into the kitchen, I swear for a moment I thought I saw flames out of the corner of my eye and that scared the life out of me. All I could think about was how I’d just ruined my recently renovated and very adorable little kitchen and that I’d endangered my children and how weird it was I was reading a book where the protagonist had almost set her own kitchen on fire but that I was completely sober. Like, I hadn’t even had a drink in over three weeks (weirder, still).

No, at that moment my issue was a dire inability to focus, and I’m not so sure there are 12 Steps to help get that straightened out. I don’t know how many support groups meet daily in church basements to discuss this crippling disease.

So I bustled around the kitchen, switching on overhead fans, opening windows and throwing the crusty pan into the sink and when the smoke had – literally – cleared, I went back upstairs to make my bed. I threw all the various sleeping pillows and throw pillows and blankets (my bed is a complicated, yet cozy, situation) and knelt down to tuck the bedspread in on my side of the bed, and heard the washing machine in my closet click off.

My towels had completed their spin cycle and the machine gave its cute little chime to indicate it was finished and I thought, “Oh, I should get those right into the dryer.” So, in mid-bed-making, I popped up and started pulling wet towels out of the washing machine and into the dryer. “Wait,” I said out loud. “What the hell am I doing?” I mean, there I was moving onto one task while in the middle of another and probably, I had started the bed making while in the midst of something else.

Later, after the near-fire and arrested bed making incidents, I decided to make myself a smoothie for breakfast. I went to the closet in the hall off the kitchen that now serves as our pantry and pulled the Vitamix base off the shelf but my mind was a thousand miles away. I was probably thinking about what I should wash next or Bette Midler movies. Then I turned to head back into the kitchen and collided with the doorframe, smashing the heavy base I was holding in front of me hard into my chest. It did not feel good and I stood there pretty pissed at myself.

I felt like a giant toddler, drunkenly lunging from my crayons to my sippy cup to my mom’s iPhone and then back to my crayons in about a 30-second timeframe. And I didn’t wike it!!!

And this, my friends, is an allegory for my life and the reason I can never complete a project. This blog post is no exception. I started writing it at around 6:00 this morning and now it’s almost 8:30 and aside from emptying the dishwasher and toasting some Eggo waffles for my son, I haven’t really accomplished much else. Sure, I ordered some items from Target to be sent to my daughter in college, whipped up another smoothie for my breakfast and Googled “best time to buy new car,” but that’s about all I have to show for 2.5 hours. In that same amount of time, I bet my neighbor, Liz, has had three conference calls and trimmed the privet hedge between our two yards. I mean, this is a woman who can stay on schedule.

So today, I am going to try to be more like Liz. I recognize that I flounder without a schedule so I’m going to start blocking out time throughout my day for various projects that have been smoking, much like my quinoa, on my back burner all summer. I’m also going to try exercises to improve mindfulness with a little meditation each morning, which will hopefully save my breasts from further Vitamix crunching.

And last night, as I was bingeing on FXX’s “You’re the Worst,” I pulled out a scarf I’ve been knitting on and off for over three years and began working on it in vain over the course of three episodes. Knit 3. Purl 3. One way. Knit 1. Purl 1. Back in the other direction.

It’s gotten pretty long and is made of a thick, chunky yarn and I probably only have about six more inches before I can sew the ends together and make one of those infinity scarves that you wrap around your neck. But I’ve never really loved its cream color and I was kinda over the whole thing. Until last night, I’d left the unfinished scarf to die hidden in my closet, shoved into a little reusable Whole Foods bag.

But now, I’ll be damned if I can’t see at least one project through to completion.

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I’m 50, Dammit

Credit: Dominique Browning (I think)

Credit: Dominique Browning (I think)

Well, it totally happened this weekend. Some time while I was sleeping and probably in the midst of dreaming about snakes or giving birth, something far more sinister occurred.

I turned 50.

Yes. I know. It’s true. And contrary to popular belief – er, that is, what I assumed was going to happen – it did not hurt one bit. There was neither pain nor hair loss nor bleeding.

I just got out of bed and started my day.

And maybe that’s where my 50s will be different from my 40s. I turned 40 in the emergency room of our local hospital, which is a story for another day, but needless to say, I was less than thrilled. But that night kind of set the course for the rest of the decade. In 10-years’ time, I’d change pretty much everything about my life. Oh, sure, I still want to lose 10 pounds and remain a dedicated procrastinator – I defy you to out-procrastinate me – but most everything else about my life has changed.

I ended my marriage, got a full-time job, started a blog, sent three kids to college, sold my house on my own and bought and renovated a new casa. I even went out on some dates and am way blonder than I was as a young girl of 40.

Are things perfect? Absolutely not. Have I figured this whole life thing out? Please, on a daily basis at least 1.3 of my children is mad at me.

But I like to think that I’m a work in progress. And even though I’ve figured out what some of my issues are, like not feeling good enough and the aforementioned procrastination, it doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten a handle on things. I get snagged thousands of times each day.

That’s why I’m in therapy.

But in a weird way, I’m kind of looking forward to what the next 10 years brings. There’s still so much I want to do. So many places I want to go. People I need to meet. And stuff I need to work through.

I hope I stop caring what other people think about me and start accepting people for who they are rather than who I really want them to be. Because getting on top of that shiz will free up a lot of time I would have used to fret and, as we all know, I am not getting any younger.

Honestly, I’m just glad it’s over. The day had been looming for about 18 months and I just needed to get it behind me. It was kind of like wanting to not be pregnant any more and just have the baby already, without all the crying (okay, I cried a little).

But so far, my 50s are going quite well. I spent the weekend celebrating and being showered with all the attention a needy Leo demands. There were lunches and dinners and cocktails and so much dancing that my feet feel like they just turned 60. Friends and family proved how well they knew me by giving me perfect gifts, like the stack of rings from my mom that I’d been lusting after to an autographed copy of Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing from my pal who takes such good care of me and a weird amount of booze from everyone else.

But maybe the best part of my birthday weekend was getting to spend a big chunk of it with my four children, who had no choice but to go along with it and act like they were having fun. We took the bus into Manhattan and I sat next to my oldest child, who is sometimes hard pressed to even say hello to me, and listened to him talk pretty much nonstop about his job during the hour’s ride in. We ate a delicious lunch in the Theater District that included thin, salty French fries and big pitchers of perfectly-proportioned mimosas, light on the juice. And when the check came my three oldest children surprised me and footed the bill.

Then, because it was literally (okay, not literally) 1,000 degrees on Saturday in New York City and felt like we were walking through the inside of an oven set to broil, we walked very slowly over to the Barrymore Theater to see “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” which we loved. We tried to go to a rooftop bar in Times Square afterwards that proved slightly challenging to locate and when we finally found the place, discovered everyone in our group needed to be 21 to enter so my highly disgruntled party and I found ourselves back on the hot, hot streets of New York. And instead of Googling the perfect place for post-theater cocktails, we ducked into the closest bar and drank cold beers and ate chicken wings while the 13yo sprawled out on a couch and watched the Olympics and everyone was happy. When we finally arrived home that night, we all went our separate ways and that did not make me one bit sad. It was time.

By my calculations, I held the children captive for nine hours, which is about eight hours and 55 minutes longer than our usual time we spend together as a family. And I guess if it took turning 50 for me to get that kind of gift, the gift of my children humoring me and going along with my one-big-happy-family fantasy, then it was totally worth it. Plus, I’ve got enough tequila to last me until I’m 60.

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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)?

When Family’s Not Family Any More

IMG_1963At least once a day this summer, I will notice a woman of a certain age out of the corner of my eye and think, just for a moment, that it’s my former mother-in-law.

Maybe it’s the color of the woman’s hair as she moves briskly through the parking lot of our local farm market. It’s cut short and straight, the way my mother-in-law began to wear her hair after she’d finally forsaken the permanents she had endured every few months to give her locks the curl she always admired on others. Or maybe it’s a certain type of beach cover up that catches my eye and the tote bag she’s carrying, similar to the canvas one my mother-in-law would bring to the beach each day, neatly packed with all of her reading essentials. There would be whatever book she’d most recently checked out of the library along with that day’s The New York Times and probably some gardening magazines for inspiration and brochures for whatever European bike trip she and my father-in-law would embark on in the fall.

When I spy her doppelganger, my gut reaction is relief. There’s been so much I’ve wanted to talk to her about. I’d want to know what she was reading and how the tomatoes in her garden were doing and whether she’d seen a certain smash hit on Broadway and if she loved it as much as I did. I’d tell her all about my new house, how some mourning doves built a nest in the branches outside my daughter’s bedroom window, and we’d talk about how wonderful it was that my two oldest kids had graduated and landed grown up jobs. We’d shake our heads over how quickly they and all the grandkids were growing up. And, man, would we both have a lot to say about Donald Trump.

But then, just as quickly, I realize that it’s not my mother-in-law after all. It’s just another small-framed woman in her 70s with short hair and not the woman I met right after my 16th birthday who taught me how to add bone meal and fertilizer to the soil before I planted something in the earth and that All Things Considered makes for good company while cooking dinner. That same woman with whom I’d end up spending countless hours over 25+ years talking about our gardens and politics and what we were reading and the kids.

And although her family would often joke that their matriarch sometimes lacked that filter the rest of us have between our brains and our mouths, the one that prevents us from really telling people what we think (and she had some pretty infamous zingers), I’d say about 95 percent of my interactions with my mother-in-law over the years were perfectly pleasant.

I mean, I also don’t remember childbirth being that big of a deal so obviously I am pretty good about glossing over the more negative stuff in life. It’s a gift.

All the same, I think it would be fair to say that my mother-in-law and I were cut from a similar cloth and as such, were pretty fond of each other.

I got the call that she was in hospice one Monday afternoon in April as I was just sliding back into my car after picking up some dinner fixings at the market. It was my sister-in-law, we’d both been married to brothers, calling to tell me that our former mother-in-law had suffered a stroke that morning and was in the hospital down in Florida where she and our father-in-law had spent their winters for about 20 years.

And even though in retrospect I probably should have been preparing for the call for a while, I’ve never been really good about reading the writing on the wall. Instead, I found myself stunned and sobbing in the car.

I mean, I knew her health hadn’t been great these last few years. She looked so frail the last time I’d seen her. I’d heard she’d started to need an oxygen tank to help manage her COPD and that she had fallen and broken her hip a few months earlier. But I was under the impression she was on the rebound. I’d overheard her voice when my oldest son called to check on her while she was in rehab and was glad to hear how strong she sounded on the other end, promising him she’d be out of there in no time.

That last time I saw her was at my son’s college graduation last year. Honestly, I was irritated at first when I noticed her and her husband making their way up to where we were all sitting in the football stadium, me and the kids and their dad. I was still so angry with her for believing she needed to choose sides following the divorce and, frankly, that she did not choose mine. I still have dreams in which I find myself screaming at her for dropping me like a hot potato. For forsaking all of the hours we logged together over the years sitting on the beach or around each other’s houses for holidays and birthdays or summer days reading on the porch of their cabin in the Poconos. Hadn’t that meant anything?

I had known that their family’s immediate response to conflict was to cut a person off, so I had written a letter to her in the throes of the divorce in an effort to circumvent an estrangement. I tried to reason that we could still be a family even though I was no longer married to her son, unto no avail.

In short time her presence began to fade from my life. Gone were the Christmas and birthday cards and thoughtful gifts – the glass hummingbird feeder for my garden or the copper mixing bowl like the one she used to whip cream for her famous chocolate cake. She no longer called to see what I thought the children might want for Christmas and when I ran into her on the sidelines at one of the kids’ soccer games once, she gave me a perfunctory “hello” and went back to watching the action on the field. She acted as if I simply didn’t exist.

And it kinda broke my heart.

One of the things that attracted me to my former husband way back in the day – aside from the killer blue eyes and smooth bad-boy ways – was his family. Especially back then. They enjoyed being together and I loved being a part of that. Spending hours around the coffee table in the living room duking it out over Trivial Pursuit or out in the yard throwing bocce balls on a warm summer night. That sense of family unity was something that I desperately craved. I still do. And even though things changed over the years, the kids got older and we started spending less time together, my mother-in-law and I could pick right back up and fall into our old, comfortable groove whenever we were together.

And all of those days and hours and conversations have infused much of who I am today. A good mother. A reader. Gardener. Ardent Democrat. Someone who’s gone on vacation by herself and owns a cooler with a flat top for the beach because that only makes sense.

But as I watched her at the graduation slowly make her way up the stadium steps to our row, I began to soften. She was winded by the climb and the early-morning Virginia sun was already strong and I could tell she was not doing that great. Over the next 24 hours we engaged in pleasant conversation, just like the old days. We talked about books and the kids and when it came time to say good-bye, we both had tears in our eyes as she gave me a big bear hug. We stood and embraced surrounded by black-robed graduates and proud families, and it was like we silently forgave each other. In a weird way, as I watched her slowly walk away, I knew I’d never see her again.

She died a few hours after I got that call about the stroke and just a few days before she was to have celebrated her 80th birthday. In a sad twist, her four children and a couple of grandkids had tickets to fly down to Florida to surprise her that weekend for her birthday. But it had all happened so fast and she was gone before anyone could get to her to say good-bye.

The kids and I cried long and hard after we got the news that she was gone. The girls were still both away at college so we commiserated over the phone but the two boys were at home so we sniffled together on the couch. It’s the kids’ first brush with losing someone they loved and the first time for me since the last of my grandparents passed away some 15 years ago.

The day after she died, I went food shopping and bought devil’s food cake mix and a package of pudding and baked my mother-in-law’s chocolate cake, even though only the two boys were home to eat it and I really need to lose 10 pounds and not gain 10 pounds. But it felt good to pull it out of the oven and remember all the times we ate that cake together over the years for birthdays and barbeques, the warm, chocolatey slices slathered in the whipped cream she’d beaten in the icy bowl pulled from the freezer.

Then I dragged my youngest guy over to my in-law’s house in the next town to see her garden. I hadn’t been there in years and it looked like it was waiting for her return from Florida and bring it back to life. I’d spent so many happy hours in that yard, swinging in the hammock and playing bocce. Getting a tour of the garden from my mother-in-law as she pointed out the bright red poppies blooming along the side yard or the tangle of pink roses at the end of the driveway. And man, did I cry.

But I was also glad for my 13yo to see me so sad as he came over to the middle of the yard and wrapped me in a hug, leaning down to rest his head on my shoulder. For him to understand that even though I wasn’t married to his dad, I could still really love his dad’s family.

Because they had been my family, too.

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It Would Be Wrong Not To

IMG_0121Here’s something you should know about me: I can be pretty spur-of-the-moment. It’s an attribute that helped get me invited recently on an amazing Caribbean getaway, but also may or may not be the reason why I ended up with so many kids.

It seems I prefer to let things happen organically.

Now, this type of life-strategy can be fraught with uncertainty. It can leave you wondering what you have in the pantry to feed your four children for dinner at 6 p.m. or whether you’ll be spending your golden years living in you daughter’s basement eating cat food.

But when it comes to vacationing, the what-the-hell approach really seems to be working out for me.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to be one of those people who can tell you where she’s spending her holidays through 2019. I have a girlfriend who’s already booked her all-inclusive stay in Mexico for spring break next year and Disney World the following summer.

I’d also love to be one of those people who has traditional annual getaways marked on her calendar. The Presidents Weekend ski trip you’ve been doing with a bunch of families since the kids were small or the end-of-summer beach house your extended family has been renting for years.

Sadly, I am none of those things. It’s expensive taking four kids on vacation. Throw in all their different schedules and the ten-year disparity in the children’s ages, and we haven’t all gone away together in years. I would also like to add that coming off a decade of having at least one teenager in the house might also be a contributing factor. Sometimes it’s hard enough sitting down to eat dinner together, much less paying to share a hotel room.

And since my divorce six years ago, the few traditional trips we did enjoy as a family have become a thing of the past (well, for me anyway). I loved our annual ski weekend at the Scooby Doo House – so named because the place was so dated it looked as if the Mystery Machine could pull up at any moment –with friends and cousins. While the house was pretty creepy, like I’d arrive bearing my own sheets and blankets, it was ski-on/ski-off and slept a ton of people and the mountain was manageable enough that the kids could go off on their own and feel like they owned the place.

For a few years towards the end of my marriage, I would accompany my husband to London for a long weekend in February. Say what you will about the man, but my ex can be super fun and for some reason, we were always able to push aside whatever strife was disrupting our stateside life and just enjoy those U.K. trips.

Nowadays when I travel it’s generally on the coattails of somebody else’s planning and often, arrives last minute. Which is where the benefits of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-life come in.

I just returned from one of those trips.

A few weeks ago, a friend texted and asked if I wanted to jump on her 50th birthday jaunt to St. Barth’s. Her husband had rented a villa so pretty much I just needed to get myself there. I knew that the trip had been planned for couples and tried to weigh the potential fabulousness of an island getaway with, once again, playing the part of the fifth wheel.

“We are so NOT couply,” my pal texted and when we spoke later, she explained that two of the couples had dropped out and she was trying to fill the open spots with girlfriends instead.

“Why wouldn’t I go?” I asked her, reasoning that I was also turning 50 this summer and didn’t really have anything planned to mark the occasion.

“Exactly,” she said. “It would be wrong not to.”

And just like that, a catchphrase was born.

Throughout the five-day trip, whether the question was whether to have a rum punch at 9 a.m., eat one of the little sugar-crusted donuts filled with Nutella that were delivered in a basket each morning, or take off our swim tops (See: starting the drinking day at 9 a.m.), the answer for all eight of us was invariably, “It would be wrong not to.”

In fact, had I not applied that way of thinking to a last-minute invitation I received a few years ago, I would not have met the birthday girl in the first place. Two friends from town were flying to one of their places in Florida for the weekend and they asked me to join them. We were going down on a Thursday night and would be joined the following day by the homeowner’s college roommate. But I was more than satisfied with the company of my hometown girls and didn’t really give much thought to the college roommate’s arrival.

Early the next morning, in walks the college roommate. We eyed either up and down. “I love your shorts,” she told me. “I love your shoes,” I gushed. And the rest, as they say, was history. It was love at first sight and we’ve stayed in touch well after that fateful trip.

Maybe another way of framing “It would be wrong not to,” would be: “When opportunity knocks, open the damn door.”

For my daughter, a recent college graduate, that meant saying “yes” to her first job offer following her very first interview. She came down from her bedroom to share the good news she had just received in an email while I was sitting outside on our deck drinking a bottle of rose with a pal. My daughter’s initial reaction was to reject the offer. It was so soon after graduation and she didn’t know if this is what she wanted to do with her life. And then my friend gently suggested, as only someone who is not the mother in that situation might do, that my girl had nothing to lose and so much to gain. A salary. Life experience. The opportunity to start figuring out what she really does want to do with her sweet, wild life. And before I knew it, I had a child with a Big Girl Job.

For my younger daughter, saying “Hi” to opportunity means juggling all-manner of odd jobs this summer, and it seems one gig has led to the next. She’s got a group of families for whom she babysits, taking kids to the beach or hanging out with them after a day at camp. She’s been helping a local caterer do some food prep as well as deliver dinners she prepares for customers. And someone in town hired her a few weeks ago to put together IKEA bedroom furniture. For someone who started the summer with not many job prospects, the girl is always working.

Last fall, my mom asked if my 13yo son and me wanted to join her for a November trip to Disney World. One of my sisters had dropped out and the villa she’d rented had enough room for us to tag along. Now, at the time, I was undergoing a financial downturn as I waited for the sale of my house to go through. I knew the villa was paid for and that my mom would probably treat us to most of our meals, but I still had to fly us there and pay for the park tickets.

But my youngest had never really been to Disney and none of us was getting any younger and, I reasoned, when would I ever have another opportunity to go with my own mother to Disney World? Or anywhere else with her, for that matter?

So I booked it. And guess what? It would have been wrong not to.

IMG_0378If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten to watch my 13yo son happily push my 4-month-old nephew’s stroller through the throngs of people at the Magic Kingdom one morning, pausing to stick his head under the stroller’s canopy to make the baby laugh. Or I’d have missed seeing my child walk hand-in-hand with his 4yo nephew. I wouldn’t have walked with that Tiny Husband down one of the side streets of Hollywood Studios, fresh off a spin on the Rockin’ Rollercoaster, and have him grab my own hand and hold it as we strolled towards the exit, happily chatting about what to do next. And, had I not said “yes,” I would not witnessed my mother – who is the opposite of me, a planner and always in control – deliriously out-of-control one night in Epcot.

We’d gone to the park after an early dinner to walk around and see if we could jump on any of the rides. We walked past spraying fountains timed to music and watched my 4yo nephew jump up and down when Nemo swam onto the screen in a darkened theater. Later, we strolled past the thrill ride Test Track and saw that there weren’t the usual long longs waiting to get in.

And maybe because she had just dipped and swooped over the majestic state of California on a ride called Soarin’, or maybe it was just being out of New Jersey and in Florida on a balmy November night, but my usually reticent mother seemed to be feeling a little more adventurous and before we knew it, six of us were on the line and moving towards the ride.

The last time I’d been on Test Track was when it first opened years ago and my only recollection was that it kept breaking down throughout so I guess we never really got the ride’s full effect. It’s pretty much like you’re pretending to test a race car – its brakes and steering, stuff like that – and in the end you kind of open it up and test its speed capabilities, but I didn’t remember it being particularly thrilling.

So we all climbed into our vehicle – my brother, 4yo nephew and his dad in the front and me, my mom and the 13yo in the back – and set off on our journey. The car jerked around the track as it went through its various tests and we were all laughing and pretending the 4yo was driving the car and yelling at him to stop being a crazy driver.

We twisted and turned through the course, dipping down sudden hills that gave our stomachs little jolts that made us whoop with delight, and about 3.5 minutes in were alerted that we’d arrived at the Barrier Test Area. The vehicle began flying down the track towards a wall that pulled apart at the last second and we sped outside into the warm Florida night. A light rain was falling as we whipped around the track and I turned to see my mom sitting next to me laughing harder than I’d ever seen her laugh – like, from deep within her belly – and her usually perfectly arranged hair flying in every direction. I’d never seen her so raw. So free. I sat next to her and tried to take it all in, imprint all the details of that moment – the rain, the force of the six of us hurtling down the track, my mom’s laughter – in my mental hard drive. I savored the sweetness of that moment like I do when I bite into that one perfect peach each summer. I know from experience that there will be plenty more peaches to come, but few –if any – will measure up to that one exceptionally juicy bite.

When I returned home I wrote about it in my journal, placing that moment at the top of my highlights from the trip. Seeing my mother from a new angle. Watching her let go.

Man, it so would have been wrong not to.

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Magic on the Sand


Here’s a story about finding your place, and a little magic, on the sand.

I saw a little piece of magic this weekend, right here on the Jersey Shore. Something that reminded me, not for the first time, that I am right where I’m supposed to be.

The celebration of our nation’s independence stirs up a lot of emotions for me. I mean, when you’re divorced, all holidays kinda suck, but the Fourth of July a few years back marked the end of my almost 18-year marriage and the beginning of a whole new way of life for our family. It’s become the delineation between our “before” and “after.”

For me, that means I no longer spend my summers at the hoity-toity beach club where we raised our four children – our days filled with swim team practices and tennis lessons and where beach boys set up your chairs and umbrellas – to a much more low-key situation about a half mile down the beach to the south. There’s a snack bar, bathrooms and a pool but parking can be challenging and I now own a rubber mallet to help secure my own beach umbrella.

Honestly, that fancy beach club – with its dramatic arches, mullioned windows and black-and-white-tiled ballroom – was probably one of the reasons why I stayed married for as long as I did. It was a part of my super-shiny identity. You know, that part of me that secretly loved the club’s parking sticker on the front bumper of my car and Sunday happy hours in my oh-this-old-thing Trina Turk cover up. Or humbly telling folks, when asked, that the exclusive club was where I planted my umbrella during the summer months. Oh, you know. NBD.

But it’s also where I hauled my children – and their playpens and buckets of toys and our cooler filled with juice boxes and ham sandwiches with neatly trimmed crusts – every single summer day for 15 years. Seriously, I was like a pack mule. We’d set up camp in the morning and stay until dinnertime. I was the boss at getting babies and toddlers to nap and later, I’d carry them into one of the club’s shower stalls and rinse the sand from all their chubby little nooks and crannies before heading home for the day.

As the kids got older, there were early-morning swim team practices and tennis lessons later in the afternoon and then swim meets at night. The kids would go to bed sunburnt and exhausted and – aside from the sunburnt part – I’d felt like I’d crushed my job as a mom that day. And then we’d get up the next morning and do it all over again.

One of the more interesting dynamics of this club is that members sit with their families on the beach or – if you were so blessed – in front of coveted cabanas lining the boardwalk. As my then-husband’s parents were the original members to the club, we spent our days sitting with his family. We’d sit in a circle on the sand or watch the kids together up at the pool and a lot of times, sit together at dinner in the club’s Tea Room overlooking the ocean. And honestly, I didn’t hate it. I mean, I’d complain sometimes and roll my eyes behind their backs about this or that but really, I could do the same for my own family. Probably your family, too. We’re all a little annoying. A little bit crazy.

But I spent many a pleasant summer afternoon sitting with my former in-laws, taking turns filling inflatable pools with big buckets of ocean water for toddlers to splash in and chatting and reading the paper. The ladies would talk about the books we were reading or the trials and tribulations of raising children and the men would dig holes and play basketball on weekend afternoons (while the women back on the sand watching the kids noted how annoying that part was).

The years went by and the kids grew older and those traditions became woven into the proverbial fabric of our lives. We had the sweatshirts, trophies and the kids’ names engraved on the plaques that line the club’s walls to show for it.

When my marriage ended, I fought hard to stay at that club and help maintain those traditions. I reasoned that even though the marriage fell apart, everything else in my children’s world didn’t have to. I’d been down that road when my own parents’ marriage dissolved 30 years earlier and didn’t want my kids to have to experience the same type of disruption in their lives. The abrupt end to everything they knew before the fall.

Sure, their dad would still be a member, but he worked full-time and – if we’re being really honest here – I was the glue that kept all that family stuff together. I embraced his family and made their traditions ours. And a big part of that was the beach club. And at the time, I still had four kids from about 5 to 15 to entertain for four months out of the year.

But neither the powers-that-be at the club nor, sadly, my in-laws subscribed to that broader type of thinking. They were all immune to the idea that divorce doesn’t have to end a family. That it could be, instead, a different way of being a family; a group of people who, despite the lack of a marriage license, still care about each other after years of sitting around and talking in the sand.

Instead, lines were drawn and sides were chosen and I was left looking for a new place to park my beach chair.

So I headed south and fell into the big, wide safety net held up by my new beach family. The men and women who made room for my beach chair in their circle and offered me their company – not to mention some super-spicy margaritas – when my going got tough.

Sitting in that circle in the sand this weekend I thought about how far I’d come in the six summers since my marriage ended. How, at first, I felt so out-of-place sitting on that new beach as a single person. I felt like an intruder among the couples. I mean, I didn’t even know how to put up my own umbrella. Back then, I figured it was as good enough place as any to bide my time and besides, my youngest was thrilled to get to spend his days in the ocean with all his friends.

But now we’ve logged a lot of hours together on the beach, bonding while kids swirled around our circle, looking for towels and fins and money for the snack bar. We save places for each other in the sand and talk about our kids and what we’re reading and roll our eyes at the guys and come back the next day and do it all over again.

Just like any other family

As the sun began to set on Sunday, I noticed a couple of kids running to stand at the shoreline and point towards the ocean. I turned and saw a fin rise out of the darkened water before slipping back down and soon we were all on our feet watching a line of dolphins swim north past us, close to shore.

We oohed and aahed as they began undulating a little higher out of the water, exposing more and more of their sleek gray bodies. And then, as if on cue – as if the animal knew an audience stood gathered on the beach watching the parade go by in wonder – one of the dolphins jumped completely out of the water and gave its tail a shake before plunging nose first back into the ocean. The crowd erupted in hoots, turning to each other in amazement, as the pod continued to make its way north under the setting July sun before we all settled back into our chairs to wait for darkness to arrive.

And I have to believe that the dolphin’s thrilling leap was a sign from the universe that there is magic around every corner – no matter where your umbrella is planted – and that I was right where I was supposed to be, on a beach in New Jersey surrounded by friends on a warm summer night.

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