My Thanksgiving Battle Plan

Preparing for Thanksgiving dinner is like getting ready to go into battle. It’s all about putting together your marching orders, gathering your troops and executing the plan.

But weirdly, I kind of like it, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve been doing it for years.

The first time I hosted Thanksgiving was about 20 years ago and I think I fed around that many people. My mom came over the day before with a couple of my sisters and we all worked side-by-side peeling pounds of potatoes and chopping apples and celery for the stuffing. I didn’t grow up doing these kinds of things with my family — Thanksgiving dinner just kind of appeared – so it was a great team-building exercise, watching my mother stir the butter into the bread crumbs and monitoring the amount of half and half we poured into the potatoes. When we sat down to dinner the next day, we were pleased with the creaminess of the potatoes and nodded to each other as we tasted the apples and sausage in the stuffing. We gave each other a collective pat on the back.

Now that my girls are older, they have become my Thanksgiving soldiers. Our chopping and stirring is in lockstep. There’s no one I’d rather go into battle with than those girls.

Over the years I’ve kept copious notes of my Thanksgiving prep efforts. What worked and didn’t work. Different centerpieces that I tried. The Paula Deen sweet potatoes that made everyone swoon in 2006 and how a homemade pie crust would have been a better match than the Pillsbury affair I paired with the delicious filling in the apple crumble I made in 2007.

This year, we’ll be making dinner for a much smaller crowd than usual. On Thanksgiving it will be my kids and their dad sitting around the table and honestly, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather gather and give thanks with. Unless Oprah wants to come. There’s always room for Oprah.

There are a few staples in my Thanksgiving menu. My stuffing is always a sausage and apple combo (the carmelized onions are the secret-sauce); Barefoot Contessa’s pumpkin banana mousse tart is so delicious you forget pumpkin is involved; and it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cauliflower served with a white béchamel sauce on the side.

 I’m kind of obsessed with this blogger lately so thinking I might try these brussels sprouts she wrote about recently and even though the aforementioned Whiskey-Apple Crumble Pie is pretty delicious served warm with vanilla ice cream, I’m tempted to try Melissa Clark’s Apple Gingersnap Crumble. This sweet potato casserole is also kind of calling my name.

One thing that I’d never change are my mashed potatoes because not only are they consistently perfect (using a ricer ensures the smooth consistency), they can be made the day before. Go ahead, give them a try. And happy Thanksgiving.

Mrs. Pezzuti’s Mashed Potatoes

5 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes

8 oz. cream cheese

1 c. half and half

1 stick butter

1tsp. onion salt **

1 tsp. seasoned salt **

1 tsp. salt **

¼ tsp. pepper **

Peel potatoes cook until tender and drain. (Here’s where the ricer comes in.) Beat softened cream cheese, seasonings, and hot potatoes and butter with hand mixer. Blend well and add half and half.

Put in a buttered 2-quart casserole (preferable a shallow one). Brush top with butter.

Bake at 350-degrees for 30 minutes (can be made 1 to 2 days ahead and refrigerated). Place on foil on cookie sheet, may bubble over.

*If making in advance, give ample time for reheating, taking dish out of fridge well in advance and heating in oven for at least 30 minutes.

**Season according to taste. I use a lot more than what the recipe calls for.

[This is pretty much the same recipe if you’re the sort who needs a video.]

What are your Thanksgiving staples? Share in the comments below!








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.


Feeling the love? 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

[wysija_form id=”1″]

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.

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.

[wysija_form id=”1″]


Where We Live

And just like that, it's time to go.

And just like that, it’s time to go.

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but around here people tend to stick around. They buy a house, raise a family, send their children off into the world and then, quite often, the kids come back to buy their own house nearby and raise a family of their own and begin the cycle all over again.

I live in a town of about 6,000 people in New Jersey and it sits at the bottom of a peninsula that juts east towards the Atlantic Ocean and is surrounded by two rivers. And while there are lots of fun things to do in and around those rivers – sailing, fishing, paddle boarding – for a lot of us, it’s all about the nearby beaches. There’s a bridge at the end of the peninsula that connects us to a skinny spit of land that is dotted with public beaches and beach clubs, which runs north and curls into Sandy Hook. This is where we spend a majority of our time in the summer months. Going to the beach. (Not the “shore.” Nobody around here goes to the “shore.”) But I mean, don’t get crazy. Nobody around here goes to Sandy Hook between Memorial and Labor days with outsiders. We stick to ourselves.

Because of the geography, we are a pretty insular community. We eat here. We drink here. We shop here. In fact, people always seemed shocked when I tell them I do most of my food shopping at the Wegman’s about 20 minutes away.

For Wegman’s, I am willing to travel.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when a bunch of the people who showed up for my open house this weekend already lived here in town. They all have young children and are starting to feel the pinch of their capes and ranches. They’re looking for a little more space to store all those bikes and American Girl dolls.

It was a busy two hours and I am thankful I had a wonderful friend help me show everyone around my house and point out the big garage that use to teem with scooters and pogo sticks and the finished basement where we stored our own impressive collection of American Girl and Bitty Baby merchandise. But now that garage is down to two bikes with flat tires and the basement is mostly a place to go play XBOX or smoke pot. Actually, I said that last part just to be funny but certain people around here have over the years thought the basement an excellent place to try to get stoned.

I’m giving selling my house without a realtor a shot and have to say that the Internet certainly makes marketing and getting the word out about an open house pretty easy. Most people who came through on Sunday had seen my “for sale” post on the almighty Zillow or through word-of-mouth, which I attribute to a few things I had posted on my own Facebook page that a lot of lovely people shared with their “friends.”

And so it was through the magic of the Internet that among the day’s visitors was the family that had lived here for 30 years, who saw that the house was on the market and stopped by Sunday afternoon to check it out. I had bought the house a dozen years ago from the people who had bought it from them. Those people were here two years, made some quick improvements and updates and a giant profit off us. What can I say? That’s the way the real estate cookie crumbles. I was super-pregnant with my fourth kid and crazy.

I had seen the former owner’s name here over the years. Every once in a while, some mass mailing arrives in my mailbox with her name on it. And I’d also pieced together that she had also gotten a divorce while living here but stayed in the house to raise her kids. I had developed an affinity for this woman I’d never met. I felt kind of a solidarity with her. A kinship. So I was thrilled to discover that the lovely woman standing in my foyer with a European accent was indeed the former owner who had arrived with her son, who’s now in his late 30s, and his wife.

And they were adorable.

He shouted, “No way!” a lot as they walked through the house and he pointed out different things to his wife, like the way the paneling in the den had been painted over or that the bar that had been in the basement was no longer there. I even discovered that the light hanging in the foyer was not some cool, Shabby Chic number that the people I had bought the house from had found in some upscale shop – because they acted like it was a big deal when I asked if they would leave it – was instead the same fixture that’s always been hanging there except it had been spray painted white.

Overall, they seemed pleased with the changes that had been made to the house in the 15 years since they moved. They liked how we combined the kitchen and dining room to make one big living space in the back of the house and how that now opened up to the family room in the front. They described how the back deck used to be higher up off the ground and how a pool table used to take up a big portion of the basement.

The son joked that had he known the house was going up for sale, he wouldn’t have just bought an apartment in Hoboken and they laughed about how weird that would have been.

After we’d said good-bye and I continued to show young families around the house, it occurred to me that that’s going to be me in 15 years. I’ll be in my mid-60s and my oldest son will be edging towards 40 (which is messed up, but whatever). I hope that someday we’ll be able to come back and see what has transpired here in our absence. I mean, the stuff you can see – like decks and kitchens. Whether or not this is a place to come and get divorced remains to be seen.

I did, however, get to peek recently at the house we lived in before we moved here. My oldest daughter and I had to pick something up from the family that’s lived there for I think over a decade and the owner asked us if we’d like to come in and look around. We’d moved there when that daughter, who’s now 21, was an infant and her older brother had just turned 2. We had another girl a few years later and so the house is mostly remembered by me as a place where I raised my babies. The kitchen that always had a high chair crammed in the corner or booster seats strapped to our old Ikea kitchen chairs. Where we’d spend rainy days around the table working with crayons and glitter and PlayDoh. On sunny spring afternoons we’d fill the big plastic pool I’d bought at ToysRUs with water and they happily splash the hours away or play in the nearby sandbox their dad had built for them one weekend. And the bathroom we built in our bedroom downstairs had a big Jacuzzi tub that easily accommodated three little soapy bodies to soak and make bubbly beards before bedtime.

In fact, it took me a long time to get over that house. I had terrible buyer’s remorse after we’d packed up every last Lego we’d accrued over eight years and moved to the bigger house across town. I regretted the impulse to upgrade our life. It turns out that bigger is not always better.

So my daughter and I walked around the house and a little bit down memory lane. The owner pointed out some things they had done – like refinish the basement – and some things that were the same – like the Dutch door that led out to the screened-in porch where we’d sit on summer nights and listen to a bullfrog croak in a nearby pond.

Once we sell this house, we’re still not going very far. We’re planning to stay in town. My youngest in going into seventh grade and we love our school system and I don’t want to pluck him from the middle school action and move to a nearby town. It’s bad enough that his parents are divorced.

I just want something smaller that I can afford along with my portion of two college tuitions and still get my hair done every six weeks.

And maybe some day one of my kids will come back and buy a house in town and we will be neighbors. When they were small, I liked to ask the kids where they thought they’d live when they grew up. Back then, I hoped they’d think bigger than I ever did and say they wanted to live in a big city or some exotic country. But now, in retrospect, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to just like what you have. What you know. Maybe I should have been proud when they answered, “Here, duh.”

You can sign up to get all my latest posts sent right to your inbox lickety-split by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

[wysija_form id=”1″]









Michael and LaToya

Sisters, circa 2007.

Sisters, circa 2007.

My siblings and I – especially two of my sisters – look a lot alike. Most of us have brownish hair, Hazel eyes and pretty bushy eyebrows that, if left untended, would grow up into our hairlines. And, other than the oldest of my brothers, we are not the tallest people on the planet.

So naturally, when I began to reproduce, I just assumed that my children would look exactly like my people. It was like we came in one basic flavor. But genetics don’t always comply with one’s assumptions and I was surprised to end up with three quarters of my children looking exactly like their father – blue eyes, long-legged and pug nosed – and one of them looking exactly like my father-in-law, especially since she was as bald as he the first few years of her life.

Now I have two daughters with size 11 feet and who tower over me at just about 5’9″ and 5’10”. I literally stand on my tiptoes in pictures just so I don’t look so weird compared to my two tall daughters. Even my head looks really small when I stand next to those two and not in a good way.

This is me standing on tiptoe and still looking small and weird.

This is me standing on tiptoe and still looking small and weird.

But I always thought my oldest son favored my side of the family – the hair and eyes and bushy brows – despite people always saying he was the spitting image of his father. I just didn’t see it but began to assume I was delusional and that, despite my best efforts, none of my four children looked like me.

Until yesterday.

My younger three are away with their dad at a family cabin in the Poconos and my daughter texted me a picture she’d taken of a framed photo sitting on a table of the extended family, circa 1991 and at first, I wondered what my son was doing in the photo (given he was not born until the following year).

And then I realized it was me. I looked like my son in drag. I was like the LaToya to his Michael.

This was before I started fiddling with things, like my eyebrows and hair color, so there I am with short, dark brown hair and thick eyebrows. I’m only a year or two older than my son is now, so I still have that fuller, baby face and not a stitch of makeup.

I even forwarded the text to my son at work and his initial response was, “Where am I?”

“It’s me!” I told him.

“Haha that’s freaking me out now,” he answered.

I sent the same picture to my girlfriend who was more interested in my ex-husband in the photo, in which he’s looking off to the side with his hands stuffed in his shorts pockets and appears ready to flee at any second.

“That’s some freaky body language,” she noted.

But I can see our son in him, too. Our child inherited his father’s swagger; his inherent coolness. So that’s probably what people see, when they tell me they look exactly alike. They sense a vibe that goes beyond Hazel eyes and shaggy brows.

It’s funny what you end up passing along to your children. The good things – like long legs – and the bad – like cheap Irish skin. I see my own personality and inherent weirdness in some of my kids, but it’s cloaked by big blue eyes and curly hair.

I just feel vindicated that — despite all those months of gestation and all the hard work getting them out of my body —  I finally have proof that one of them is actually mine.

Even though he sometimes acts like someone else.