Despair, Denial and No Ketchup

The strangest thing happened yesterday.

A truck pulled up to the house.  Filled with construction guys.  To work on my basement.  The basement that is almost complete.  But only in an alternate universe where “almost complete” means total lack of progress for four consecutive weeks.

Potato, potahto.

So it turns out I can cancel that APB  I was about to put out on my General Contractor (clearly I watch too many crime/forensics shows).  And the handmade “Missing” flyer that I considered posting on my local utility poles.   You know, complete with little fringy tabs with my phone number across the bottom — and a photo of me giving the finger.

But it seems, after the strange appearance of the truck, we can call off the dogs.  At least for now.

How did we get here?  I get this question a lot.  Actually, the question I get more often is “What the hell is going on with your basement? ”

And the honest answer is that I’ve lost track how we got here (which is nowhere, for the record) at this point.  I know this much is true:

–We made a decision to drop the basement floor down to give us more headroom.

–This decision exposed parts of the foundation on our 100 year-old house that needed to be reinforced.  As in, there were piles of rocks in their original 1909 formation, a la Blair Witch Project.  These piles may or may not continue to hold up the house over the long term now that we have dropped the floor down.

–As a result, new plans and inspections were required in terms of how the foundation work would be accomplished.

–As best as I can recall, it was right about here that weeks of finger pointing between the architect, the town’s building inspectors, the mason and the contractors ensued.  Just when you thought one person was holding us up, that person would tell us it was someone else.  And so on.

–Four weeks passed like this.  With an insufficiently secure foundation.  Which has resulted in floors buckling, door frames shifting and walls cracking.  While we waited for the Finger Pointing Tournament to reach the next round.  Or for the house to fall.

I recently broke down and begged my husband to go batshit crazy on have a reasonable discussion with our General Contractor.

Because, remember, while fingers were being pointed and floors buckled, our heat was also not restored to some rooms, and the work has left an exposed hole from the house to the elements.  (For the calendar and weather-challenged folks out there:  It’s almost November in New Jersey, aka we’re screwed).  And I continue to forbid my kids from using any condiments on their food because we have no laundry machines.  They’ve been eating very bland meals since August 22.

And they miss ketchup, my kids.  A lot.  Also, I’m kind of weirded out by the fact that I’m considering adding the laundromat manager to my Christmas card list at this point.

So.  At my urging, my husband tried to go batshit crazy have a reasonable conversation with our GC.  But.  His voice mail box was full.

Every day.

Where does one go from here?

Well, I got some good suggestions from people about next steps.  Like call one of those Consumer Action reporters.  Or even the HGTV Holmes on Homes dude (who I may or may not have a renovation crush on).  Or get meds to keep my frail remnants of sanity intact.  Oh, and I got some great leads on space heaters.

It was right about then that our GC returned from the missing and got back on his game.  It seems.

So the work has resumed and our five-week summer/early fall project may wrap up before 2012.

In related news, I no longer give a shit.  That’s the sad truth.  I’ve gone from rage and frustration to total detachment and apathy.  I am ignoring it.  I’m burying my head in my pile of outsourced laundry and pretending the whole damn basement no longer exists.  I don’t care anymore.

As you can imagine, this is a problematic approach for several reasons.  The biggest of which is the fact that some major decisions still have to be made.

My husband knows I’m at my limit.  Tonight, he suggested, as a joke, that we can roll with my whole denial approach and then I can have the Big Reveal Moment at the end.  A la HGTV.  I then suggested we take it up a notch.  Let’s take the pressure off of him with the remaining decisions — we could have the blog readers vote on options and make the final choices.

On my second glass of wine at the end of another long week without condiments, the Big Reveal/Let the Blogosphere Decide option seems pretty compelling.  Maybe I should pitch this somewhere.

Or.  You guys could just do me a favor:  Adopt a vigilante/mob mentality and break my GC’s knees.  Or at least restore his voice mail box.



Separately, a huge thanks to all of you who have commented on the post about my Aunt Debbie to help raise $100 for the Susan G Komen Foundation.  You guys rock.  If you haven’t commented, it’s not too late — October 31 is the deadline.  And I will nag you all until the bitter end.

I’m about 30% there.  Spread the word!


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The Better Bermuda Triangle


Hey, is this thing on?  It seems more time went by than I had realized since my last post.

That’s what happens when you get stuck in The Bermuda Triangle.

“The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil’s Triangle, is a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where a number of aircraft and surface vessels allegedly disappeared under mysterious circumstances.” {source: Wikipedia}

That’s the traditional, widely-accepted definition.  Or you can use this one:

“The Bermuda Triangle, also known as Getaway Paradise, is a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where sleep-deprived adults vacationing without their children disappear somewhere between three distinct points:  Drinks, Spa and Reading.” {source:  Fordeville}


Regrettably, I’ve returned.  Re-entry to reality was tough.

Where is my drink on the beach that shows up from a mere wave of the hand?

Where is my daily massage?

And, why, for the love of all that is holy, does my room key not work as a form of payment in the real world?  I’ve tried.  Nobody will take it.  This sucks.

But I’m happy to report that My Bermuda Triangle was downright dreamy.  Truly.  For starters, I totally dodged the falling satellite debris.  Add in my husband, great friends, gorgeous weather and you really can’t go wrong.  It’s amazing what you can do in a day with no agenda.  Sleep in.  Eat room service for breakfast, with an ocean view.  Run on a treadmill without a child hanging off your leg.  Get pampered at the spa.  Read magazines to your heart’s content.  Have drinks delivered on the beach.  Repeat.

Now.  Since there has been much trepidation and fear about The Bermuda Triangle over the years, I’m here to tell you that my version — The Better Bermuda Triangle — is worth demystifying.  Here’s a quick look at each point.

Drinks:  This may have been the most stressful decision I had to make over the course of the trip.  Repeatedly, of course.  Because, sometimes, it takes a while to get your tropical palate back.  For me?  It was a combination of wine, pina coladas, and, by night, the ever-fabulous espresso martini. Because a potently smooth cocktail + delicious caffeine boost = my personal version of heaven.  Which may not surprise you.  And this cocktail is an ongoing tradition in Fordeville, particularly with our friends who joined us on this trip.  Try it one day — any season — you’ll thank me.

Spa:  I think I can sum it up by quoting my massage therapist:  “Uh.  You need a lot of work.  What are you carrying around all the time?”  Sort of a loaded question, I thought — but I assumed she didn’t want me to turn this into a psych session.  Two massages later with Let — who was a 95 lb, Asian female version of Chuck Norris in terms of ass-kicking — and my back feels like a million bucks.  Which is almost what it cost me to procure her services.  And with my spine newly intact, I was able to take on arduous tasks like sitting upright for a sunset cruise.

Reading:  I’m happy to report that my vacation allowed me to get fully up to speed on important global issues.  Like the Kardashian wedding.  And the top picks for the fall TV line-up.  Once my mind was sufficiently challenged by these pressing matters, I made the questionable decision to tackle my backlog of home/life/parenting magazines.  Feeling a false sense of DIY confidence that was surely fueled by my twelfth-teenth pina colada, I dog-eared the ridiculous:

  • How to make realistic Halloween bats to hang from my front porch (screw you, Martha).
  • How to organize that junk drawer “once and for all” (further underscoring my ongoing love/hate relationship withReal Simple).
  • And, of course, how to stop those toddler temper tantrums before they start (Parenting).
  • Not to mention the countless overly-ambitious recipes that I’ll never really cook, despite their promises to make my life easier.

Because, under the harsh and sober light of New Jersey, without the reflection of the Atlantic Ocean bouncing off the pages, I can see that I’ve probably set myself up for failure.  That’s OK.  I’ve been looking to increase my recycling contributions — so perhaps we’ll just forget all about those magazine-driven ambitions and literally kick them to the curb.


That said, everything wasn’t all palm trees and sunshine.  I did have to contend with some mishaps.  There was, after all, a total wi-fi failure at the resort.  As in, I had no connectivity for 24 hours.  You may think that’s the very definition of vacation.  Not me.  I get all twitchy if I have to completely unplug.  And how the hell was I supposed to track the falling satellite debris without an Internet connection?  How was I to tweet enviable photos of my beach views?

So there was that.  And also this.

In a rare moment of connectivity, I pulled up my Starbucks app.  You know, just out of curiosity.  And this crazy message appeared that I’ve never seen before.  What do you mean, no stores were found in my area?  You’re Starbucks.  I’m on Earth.  How is this possible?

Thankfully, this crisis was fixed by the swift delivery of an espresso martini.  You use what coping skills you have, right?  Now I know what it’s like to be on Survivor.

Those were the only tragedies of the trip.  So I’d say we fared well, on the whole.  And nobody threw up — setting a new Fordeville record.

* * *

I hope you can now see that The Bermuda Triangle doesn’t have to be a scary place.  I’m glad I was able to take this trip as a public service — so that millions of prospective travelers know not to fear this much-maligned region.

Take it from me.  You’ll be fine.  Just be careful re-assimilating to reality — take baby steps.

Now I’m off to see if I can use my room key at the pub down the street.

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Everyone says “Never forget.”

It’s impossible to forget what I heard and saw and felt that September morning, when I lived and worked in Manhattan.  I’ve never written it down before.  But I know what I remember, though some of it has gaps in between, and the sequence may not be intact.  Some parts are crystal clear and others inexplicably muddled.  But I know what I remember.

I remember the sky — the clearest, bluest morning sky.  It was gorgeous and warm, but also crisp — one of those first mornings each year when you realize that soon it won’t feel like summer anymore.

I remember watching The Today Show and getting ready for work.  Just like every morning.  On that day, P was with me — we were just dating back then — and we were watching a segment about a Howard Hughes biography.  It was interrupted to tell us a plane had hit the WTC.  We thought it was a small plane.  We thought it was an unfortunate accident.  And we thought it was incredibly odd that one couldn’t avoid hitting a building that prominent on such a clear morning.  But, strangely, we didn’t think much more about it.

I remember the second tower being hit.  We were still in my apartment, about to leave for work (we worked in the same office).  And, for some reason that I can’t explain, P and I — still not realizing the enormity of what was happening — got on the subway to head to midtown for work.  It seems ridiculous now, but we didn’t know what else to do.  We’d later find out that we were among the last folks on the subway before the system was shut down.

I remember people on the subway talking about it.  Some had boarded the train before anything had happened, and had no idea.  Others, like us, knew about both WTC hits.  There still wasn’t much panic.  I think, because, again, there wasn’t yet a full grasp of what was happening.

I remember arriving to my office building and hearing that, while I was underground on the subway, the Pentagon had been hit.  I then saw on the lobby’s television the downfall of the first tower.

I remember thinking how sad it was that there would only be one left.  There would only be one tower left. It’s strange how your brain works in the midst of disaster.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that the other would also fall.  I went up 40 floors in the elevator to my office.  Again, because I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do.   And I didn’t know what was next.  I wanted to be around the people I knew.  Around my routine.

I remember the hysteria really building in my office when the second tower fell.  And when there were reports of Flight 93 off the radar.  It was unclear how many more planes would come down.  Or what else would happen.  People were coming undone.

I remember the phone lines going dead in our building.  And the cell phone networks quickly getting overloaded.

I remember a senior leader in our company, with tears streaming down her face, gathering all of us together and telling us to go.  Anywhere.

I remember walking with colleagues through Central Park because we felt we should stay away from tall buildings.  We gathered around a parked car to listen to its radio — hundreds of us, standing around this guy’s car.  Moving but paralyzed.  Streets began to close to make room for the steady stream of police and ambulances, sirens blazing, speeding downtown.  One after the other.

I remember sitting in my friend’s apartment watching the coverage all afternoon.  Because we all felt my building was too tall, too exposed.

I remember the ongoing spotty cell phone coverage.  Trying to reach my parents, my sisters, my friends.  And the people I knew were downtown.

I remember feeling both trapped in Manhattan and not wanting to leave my beloved city.

I remember people everywhere in the streets.  The images of the doctors lined up at hospitals, waiting to treat the rescued.  Who never came.

It was the longest day I’d ever known.  And when it was over, we awoke to a different world that wouldn’t begin to feel normal again for so, so long.

One where quiet replaced the hum of the city.  When I went back to work some days later, there were no working phones for quite a while.  There were no planes flying over my 40th floor office.  Just silence — except for patrolling military aircraft.

One where, for weeks, months and years later, every conversation in New York started with “Where were you?”

One where I received an email about a month later, asking people in midtown — anyone — to stop by St Patrick’s Cathedral as often as they could.  Because each day, there was at least one funeral for a fallen firefighter.  The bagpipes echoed through the streets every afternoon.

One where the “Missing” fliers draped walls and fences downtown.  Most of them in vain.

One where I no longer had a southern compass on that island.

One where we read the “Portraits of Grief” section in the New York Times for months, and often realized we knew some of these people through mutual friends.

One where we couldn’t quite see straight for a long, long time. Where we took a deep breath for months going through tunnels in and out of the city, and certainly getting on planes.

One where, every year, right after Labor Day, there is an odd space between summer’s end and the 9/11 anniversary.


Though I was in Manhattan and close to the attacks in many respects, I know that I was worlds away compared to those downtown.  Their reality and their memories are ones I can’t imagine holding onto.

I was incredibly fortunate not to lose anyone I knew personally that day.  For the many others who can’t say the same, I hold them in my heart.

I was physically unharmed on 9/11. But my soul was irreversibly scarred.  And a city that I will always call home was forever changed.


{photo credit: Bob DeAmbra}

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Cutting Class

She was on to me.  She was watching.  In the halls, day after day, as I came and went.  Waiting, ever so patiently, for me to act carelessly and blow it.  It took the better part of a year, but she gained the upper hand.

She had caught me.  The jig was up.

The funny thing about that day of my senior year of high school — when I was summoned to the principal’s office — was that I wasn’t sure what it was for. Which offense, I mean.  I thought I was getting in trouble for parking in the gym teacher’s parking spot again.

Nope.  It was worse.  Way worse.  Kind of like that moment in Goodfellas when Henry Hill thought he was busted by local cops for  “normal” crimes, but it was really the Feds getting him for drug trafficking.

OK, it  wasn’t that bad.  Especially since I was in high school and all.  And no narcotics or broken laws were involved.  I guess that was a dramatic example.


I remember I was wearing this prairie-like dress from the Gap.  Apparently from their 90s Amish Collection.  And penny loafers.  The principal sat me down and asked me very directly, “Is there a problem you want to discuss with me?”

“Uh, no.”

“A drug problem maybe?”

“No, definitely not.  Why would you say that?”

He pulled out a file. And I knew.

“Because, according to Mrs. Vogel’s records, you have missed 40 days of school this year. 40.  The state maximum is 20.  So you see the problem we have, mere weeks before graduation.”

Mrs. Vogel. The school attendance officer.  That little troll.  She was like my non-Seinfeldian version of Newman.  She knew I was, shall we say, on the truant side.  And I knew she knew.  And she knew I knew she knew.  It was an ongoing dance between us.  But she couldn’t prove it.

Because I had one airtight alibi after another.  I was a good girl.  Student Council officer, Honors student, the whole thing.  But.  I had this older boyfriend who went to the local community college and lived at home, up the street from the high school.  With a mullet.  So I made a habit of skipping classes — not whole days, just one class at a time — to hang out with him.  I used  excuses of National Honor Society meetings, college essay application writing workshops and other upstanding activities.  My teachers all believed me, and my work was always done, so I kept getting away with it.

But Mrs. Vogel was watching.  She would see me leaving school property or sneaking back in.  She was on a mission to make an example out of me.

And she did.

You can imagine my parents’ reaction to the news that I had skipped double the state’s maximum allowable days — under their noses — and that my graduation eligibility was questionable.  At best.  As I was wait-listed to attend my top college choice, pending final transcripts.  It was not a good day.

{For the record, I think 40 days was a gross exaggeration.  I would put it more around 28.  But I wasn’t in a position to be arguing technicalities at that point.}

The standard disciplinary action for such misconduct was suspension.  Which the Mullet Boyfriend and I thought was fabulous — until the administration realized the irony of this punishment.  Perhaps it seemed a bit short-sighted to order the Extreme Truant to miss school.

So they commuted my sentence to something far worse, in my mind.

In-School Suspension.

Seriously?  It was like a juvenile detention hall.  There I was with my perm, my horned-rimmed glasses and my U2 text book covers.  I was blood in the water.  These other students — if you can call them that at age 21, on average — were basically criminals.  Who wanted to eat me for lunch.

But I’m nothing if not resourceful, and I befriended them by offering to help with their English essays, if they promised not to dismember me while the teacher took a bathroom break.

And, three or four times a day, Mrs. Vogel would walk by and just give me the stink eye.  And laugh.  Just like Newman.

I spent my incarceration plotting my road back to graduation.  My first thought, though fleeting, proved just how quickly a desperate person can consider turning to a life of crime.  A good friend of mine had some attendance issues as well and she, as a joke, said we should consider stealing the “M” file (both of our last names started with M) while Mrs. Vogel took a cigarette break.  I was totally and instantly on board.  At least in my head.

Then I reconsidered and figured there must have been a way to put all of that debate practice from history class to use.  After all, I thought, how would it look for the school to have missed such gross misconduct on the part of one of their student body leaders?  Surely, there was a misunderstanding at hand.  Obviously, the records were wrong.

I may have missed my calling in professional debating.  I’ll leave it at that.

Though I had to face the music at home, I did graduate with my class.  I went off to college as planned.  I kept Mullet Boyfriend for a year or so, but it wasn’t meant to be.

As for Mrs. Vogel, she kept her post long after I left.  She was pretty pissed that I slipped through her clutches.  I could have been her swan song.  It had been so close.  She had watched and watched, and plotted, with minimal payoff.  So she set her sights on a new victim in my absence:  My sister.

And, with that, Round Two was on back at home.  While I skipped my fair share of freshman core curriculum classes away at college — where nobody was watching.


{This post was inspired by Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop.  The prompt was “Write about a time you believed someone was watching you.”}


Mama’s Losin’ It

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We’ll Just Stay Here


Date: August 7, 2011

To: Travel Gods

CC: Karma Masters

From: Fordeville Vacation Planning Headquarters

Subject: Vacation Illnesses


I’d like to take this opportunity to inquire about the apparent Fordeville Vacation Vomit Policy that has been implemented without my knowledge.  As a key planner in all Fordeville vacation destinations, timing and itineraries, I would very much appreciate a copy of this policy so that I can prepare accordingly.

You see, at first I thought it was a fluke when my daughter came down with a stomach bug during our drive to North Carolina last month.  But after the events of this past weekend, I began to take a good look at things and feel an explanation is in order.

It started Thursday afternoon, the day before we were to depart for a much-anticipated weekend trip with good friends.  Not only were we looking forward to everything about this — the resort, the time with friends, the ocean — but I also found it to be an excellent distraction from missing the BlogHer conference out in San Diego.

Anyway, Thursday afternoon, my daughter — the same child who puked her way to North Carolina a mere month ago and who, I swear, had not been sick for a year prior to that point — had a definite fever  and stomach issue on Thursday.

And Friday morning.

By lunchtime, she seemed decidedly better, so we pressed our luck and got in the car.  Yes, that was a little risky.  But by the time we finished cursing out the I-95 North corridor and arrived in Rhode Island, she seemed totally fine.  All was well.  There were clambakes to attend.  And spa appointments to savor.  And cocktails aplenty to consume.  And unmatched ocean views to take in.

Life was good.  We had dodged a bullet.  So we naively thought.

Until Saturday morning.  When my husband could not get out of bed.  Could not.  All day.  All evening.  Not until Sunday.

In between keeping my kids occupied/out of the room all day and wondering if we should get the man a doctor, I started to get visits from the Ghost of Fordeville Vacations Past.

First, the time we went to Turks & Caicos a few years ago.  Our son, then age 1, and me, then four months pregnant, came down with food poisoning.  Oh yes, those calls to my OB back home about potential Caribbean hospitalization were great.

Then, memories of another trip to the Caribbean, when just P and I went on our own about a year before.  That had been our first getaway since our son was born.  And we spent it with my husband sick in bed.

Then North Carolina.

Now this.

The poor guy.  He was. So. Sick.  It’s a good thing we had a beautiful room, because it’s the only thing he saw for 24 hours.

Are you thinking what I was thinking?  Could the spin of the Salmonella Roulette Wheel on Taco Night have been his downfall?  Or was it the bug my daughter had?  Or a rogue mussel from the clam bake?  I don’t know.  My money is on option #3 right now but it doesn’t really matter.  Well, it will matter if the rest of us get sick.

But here’s the point.

You may not believe this, but we rarely get sick.  At least not at home.  So this is getting sort of bananas.

I’m starting to think it’s karma.  For all the times I cut class in high school.  For cursing like a sailor on a regular basis.  For being snotty about the suburbs when I lived in the city.  Yeah, I think it’s small-scale karma.

Or a family allergy to leaving the tri-state area.

I can’t even speak out loud about the travel plans P and I have in September.  I can’t.  Because then I’ll get Bubonic Plague.

So, until I get a copy of the policy — including the cause, timeline and potential remediation — we’ll just stay here.



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The Words That Won’t Come

I’ve had the card sitting here for almost two months. Blank. Waiting. I know I have to send it. I’ve wanted to send it. But the words wouldn’t come.

Words rarely fail me.  But this is just more than words are equipped to deliver.

I’ve thought about it every day.  Once in a while, a sentence would come to me.  And then, no.  It didn’t work.  It didn’t make it to the pen.

And I’ve stared at the card.  Waiting.  For what, I’m not entirely sure.  Maybe for undiscovered words or a better way to say what raced through my head.  Maybe for the chance to think, for a moment, it hadn’t happened.

But it had.  With every day of the last two months, it became more painfully evident to me that it had happened.  So the card needed words.  Yet my problem remained.

How do you take 27 years of an unforgettable friendship and put it in a folded piece of Hallmark card stock? It seemed almost ridiculous.

How do you say I’m sorry she’s gone, I’m sorry you lost your wife, the mother of your young kids — without warning?

I’m sorry? It doesn’t begin to cover it.  Not even remotely.

How do you say I wish I could do something to change it? Or at least something to take away your pain, even when my own loss still feels gaping and raw and unimaginable?

And I know my loss doesn’t begin to compare to that of a husband, a parent, a brother or a child. I truly can’t imagine how they feel.

How do you say I’ll always remember and I’ll always be here?  As much as it’s a pure and absolute truth, is sounds so incredibly trite.

As I’ve tried to find a way to say any of this, more times than I can count, my mind races.  It tells me that once these words, or some version of them, hit that card, this is all somehow more real. Once I write that home address on the envelope, once I seal it and stamp it, once I let it leave my hands forever — it’s more real. Even more real than the hole I feel sitting in front of the blank card. More real than the inability to call her, to see her, to have her stay.

I know the card doesn’t have to be everything. I know they know what is in my heart for Jen. And I know they know I’ve meant to send it sooner. I really should have.  I just couldn’t.

I suppose the words — the real words — don’t actually exist. The ones from deep in my soul — they can’t find their way onto a Hallmark card. They will have to translate to other things — visits and prayers and memories. And over time, old stories told through both laughter and tears.

But for now, this card has to be written. It’s time for it to leave my hands. Even without the right words.

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Scenes From a Friendship

All of my old photos — the hard copy, pre-digital ones — are in storage.  Cleared out, with many other items, in preparation for Project Pimp My Basement.  I had forgotten this when I impulsively decided a few nights ago to dig out all of the photos of Jen that I had. 

And then I couldn’t.  They weren’t there.

Until I remembered the photo book that was given to me at my bridal shower — the one that was tucked away in the living room bookcase.  I knew Jen had put some photos in there.  I walked down the stairs, saw the white book on the edge of the shelf and remembered exactly at that moment one of the photos I would find.

This one.  From a Jersey Shore photo booth, circa 1988.  I can pretty much guarantee you that some song from Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” was playing within a mile radius.  Obviously.


Look. At. Our. Hair. 

{If you’ve never met me in person — I’m on the right — the one with the sky-high spiral perm.  Jen’s on the left, sporting a tan achieved in one day that I could not match in a lifetime.}

This was 1980s New Jersey at its finest.  I remember Jen’s older brother had come home from his first year of college around this time with a friendly warning — a revelation, even:  Girls outside of New Jersey don’t do this to their hair.  And so, he urged, we may want to consider that if we ever wanted to date anyone outside of The Garden State.

And who did we think we were in that top photo?  I don’t know.  But I love it.

* * *

The day she put that photo in the white book was 17 years later, in 2005.  It was this day — my bridal shower.  We had long ago heeded her brother’s advice and toned down the hair.  We cleaned up OK from our photo booth look, don’t you think? 


* * *

And this may be one of my favorites.  March 2007.


Here’s the funny part:  She had two babies in there, while I had one giant child.  Who looks that good at nearly eight months pregnant with twins — with a 15-month old at home? She did.  Amazing. 

* * *

And this is the last picture I have of us together — at our 20th high school reunion.  October 2010.  More fun than we ever imagined, with lots of talk of those high hair days.  Actually, we laughed about those times often — but that night was particularly nostalgic.

* * *

There were hundreds of photos taken of us before and between these shots — many of them away in that storage pod (and yes, all very well protected, bagged, sealed, etc.) — but these are some of the ones at my fingertips right now. 

For those of you who have frequently visited my blog for snark and fun, I’m sorry it’s all a little sad right now.  But it would be disingenuous of me to not write about this, since the loss of Jen so unexpectedly is pretty much always on my mind.  She was really just so special to me.  Funny seems far away.  But I know some days are better than others, and somehow this will all be OK. 

So, what I’m trying to say is thanks for indulging me while I share these photos, these memories. While it makes everything harder, it also — for a few moments at a time — makes it all just a little easier.  Because I can laugh about these times. 

Like the 1988 hair. {Which you should feel free to laugh at, too.}

And all that came before and after.

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Project Distraction

OK.  Another week of trying to work through the loss of my good friend Jen.  I’m trying to hold it together but am only doing so with varying (and wildly unpredictable) degrees of success.  I told you last time that my punishing new workout is keeping my mind occupied for one crazy hour, several times a week — even at the expense of other able-bodied tasks, like walking.  I have found that some other things also tend to work in keeping me distracted:

  • My kids shouting at each other.  Thankfully, this happens often.  I’d like to think they are doing this for my benefit — but the truth is that the lure of ensuring order, at all costs, on The Island of Sodor is really what drives them.  I facilitate so many negotiations and trades among Thomas, Percy, James and others all day that I could probably build a credible resume for an international diplomacy career.
  • Grocery shopping.  Seriously.  I don’t know why, but it makes me feel better. Except for the horrific soundtracks that may medically predispose one to clinical depression.  Anne Murray and Sheena Easton, I’m looking at you.
  • My fury toward NBC for allowing Ann Curry to replace Meredith Vieira as morning anchor.  My husband and I have several theories about this, the front runner being that, for years, NBC has actually been playing a game of “Beat the Clock” to kill off Ann before they were forced to promote her.  Or until she learned to read the news.  So they sent her to the forefront of every possible dangerous story — from the ridge of erupting volcanoes and pretty much all natural disasters, to in-person conversations with Angelina Jolie.  Somehow, like a cat, she prevailed in this ultimate game of Survivor.  So my mornings are even crappier now that I have to get all acclimated with GMA as my replacement show.  Because I can’t watch this woman.

YouTube Preview ImageSee?  I’m distracted.  So that’s good.

I was only recently allowed to come out of witness protection for my opinions on Oprah, so I won’t further endanger myself by belaboring the Ann Curry point.  Instead, let’s go back to the grocery shopping — from which an interesting development has occurred.  I’ve become a Trader Joe’s convert. 

A convert?! 

{Gasps all around.]

How did you not love Trader Joe’s? 

Yeah.  I get that a lot.

For a long time, I didn’t feel the TJs love.  Because, plain and simple, I can’t do all of my shopping there.  For all of the original TJs treats that are sublime, I don’t want to make a separate trip to buy other essentials that they don’t carry.  It’s annoying.  Do they think that people just sit around and eat delicious appetizers, exotic yogurts and yet never need a roll of paper towels?  I appreciate the bargain wine selection — I do.  But, dude (or, Joe, I guess) — I need to buy diapers for my kid.  And I don’t want to grow them from flax seed.


TJs is the closest grocery store to my house, and so I’ve recently found myself walking its aisles more and more as part of Project Distraction.  And with each trip, I become just a little bit more enamored. 

I know.  I’m really late to the TJs lovefest.  So I need your help getting my cult credentials up to par.  I’ll tell you my favorite finds if you tell me yours. 

Sea Salt Brownies.  Sweet Jesus, these are good.  The culinary sea salt rage seemed a little overboard to me for a while until it entered the chocolate realm.  Now I wonder how I ever ingested anything chocolate without sea salt.  You complete me.

Marinara Sauce.  Shhhhh.  I’m supposed to make kick-ass homemade tomato sauce like my mom taught me.  Like a good partially-Italian girl from Jersey.  And I do — a few times a year.  But for quick fixes, I need good jarred stuff and this is my new favorite.  Also pretty low in calories.  See ya, Classico.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough.  The current mutual love of my kids and me at dinnertime.  99 cents.  20 minutes to pizza.  Hello.

Chocolate Covered Banana Slices.  Frozen deliciousness.  Don’t let the packaging fool you — I don’t waste these on my kids, since they have zero appreciation for the sublime effect of dark chocolate smothering their fruit.  It’s all mine and I hide it in the depths of the freezer.  Behind the frozen cauliflower decoy bag.

Mini Chicken Tacos.  My secret weapon for easy entertaining.  Always an appetizer hit.  Crack open some salsa and/or guacamole and you’re good to go.

Classic Hummus.  So much better than other brands.  Creamier, more flavorful.  Love.

Frozen Turkey Meatballs.  Back under the category of “Shameful Italian Shortcuts” (see also, Marinara Sauce) — really good stuff.

Honorable Mention:  Bucket of Chocolate Chip Cookies.  You know the ones.  My husband loves these.  He could eat the whole container himself.  I think they’re good but not special.  But I have to promise him I’ll buy them during my TJs wandering sessions, so they make the cut.  Sort of.

Also: This list does not include wine.  Because I am still conducting thorough and proper due diligence on TJs’ offerings and I wouldn’t want to speak prematurely.  But definitely let me know if there’s a bottle I should move up the list.  You know, in the name of research.

So, TJs enthusiasts, hit me up with your Best Of list.  I know you have one.  And I know you want to share it.

{I was not compensated for this post.  All opinions are my own.}

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Working Through It

I took a little online break after the events of the last week.  I backed off of Facebook and email, except to exchange details about wakes and tributes and memories with folks.  I stepped away from Twitter for a bit and re-learned to communicate in more than 140 characters.  I hugged my kids a little tighter and watched them play a little longer.  And I remain shell-shocked by all that transpired.  Add in a significant health scare that my mom had a few days ago (she is much better now) — and I think I could use a nap, or a reset on the karma button, or a time machine.  Or something.

My head hurts.  My heart hurts.  Even my body hurts.  But three things tend to make me feel better when awful things happen:  Keeping busy, connecting with people and writing. 

So here I am.

I can’t promise to bring the funny just yet, but I’ll try — maybe in some small doses.  So bear with me.  It’s a little like trying to stand up after getting the wind knocked out of you.

Since I’m on the topic of pain, I thought I’d share with you some of the physical torture I’ve been inflicting upon myself in the last few weeks.  Its name is Pure Barre, and it is the face of evil.

You see, sometime during the long, long winter we had, I guess I subconsciously started to believe that I’d never have to wear a bathing suit again.  That I’d been unknowingly relocated to the Polar Ice Cap, followed by a springtime transfer to the Rain Forest.  It appeared that I now lived in lands where shorts and tank tops and bathing suits had no place, where open pools and beaches could not possibly beckon.  Until they did.

And so I had this moment a few weeks ago:  “Holy Crap.  Summer may in fact actually come.” And this led to my quest to step up my fitness regimen. 

{By step up, I sort of mean begin.}

I hate running.  It just makes me feel bad about myself and turns me into shades of purple that make strangers want to seek out medical attention on my behalf.  I wanted to try to enjoy working out, instead of feeling bad about it, and I also needed to be held accountable.  And so I decided that a group class dynamic was the way to go this time.  But not Zumba — it has a certain Charo-meets-Dancing With the Stars quality that scares me.

I started doing Pilates.  I figured that my 12 years of pretty serious ballet training would serve as a good foundation.  Never mind that those 12 years ended over two decades ago {details, details}.  So I have been loyally showing up to Pilates and getting my ass kicked.  At least I thought so.


Recently, Pure Barre came to town.  The way an evil traveling circus shows up one day — all enticing and full of promises, luring everyone in, but sort of strange and twisted in the end.  Again, I thought the “barre” part, plus my ballet background — and fledgling grasp at Pilates — would make it all fine.  I had high hopes that this would be my fitness calling.

And it is. In Hell.

I jumped in feet first and showed up to a 5:45am class.  This, alone, should have provided some reward, I felt.  I figured since it was their first week open and it was an ungodly hour, I may even be alone in this class.  Because who else besides the desperate, fitness-deprived would be there?

Triathletes, apparently.  About 25 of them.  Decked out in lululemon.  Whereas I rocked a Target fitness ensemble. 

I looked at these girls and I started to get nervous.  They didn’t look desperate like me — they looked toned as hell.  And perhaps a little hungry.  Maybe I was in over my head.  But, no, I figured — everyone has to be a beginner at some point.  And that ballet barre, it was an old familiar friend. 


A woman with a headset told us to grab weights, a ball and a piece of red tubing that resembled a torture device.  From there, I don’t know how else to explain the events of the next 55 minutes to you, except for these highlights:

  1. The first ten minutes were so intense, so beyond my fitness level {which we can all agree leaves something to be desired}, that I was terrified.  Terrified to stay.  Just when I considered leaving, the instructor says cheerily:  “OK, that completes the warm up.”  Holy shit.
  2. The fact that they invoke the word “barre” in their name is false advertising, as far as I’m concerned.  Because the barre is inconsequential.  You don’t use it, as I’d hoped, for ballet-like exercises.  You use it to grasp on for dear life while you try to complete some sadistic set of ab, thigh and seat work.  It doesn’t have to be a barre.  They could call the class Pure Live Electrical Wire or Pure Waterboarding.  It wouldn’t make a difference.
  3. I feel that certain elements may have been taken from Cirque de Soleil.  

When it was finished, at 6:40 that morning, I could barely accelerate my car to drive home.  I was useless for most of the day.  And the next day.  Which works really well with a one and four year-old. 

Two days later, when I could walk, I went back.  It was not any easier — but, at a humane, less triathlete-like hour of the day, I was not the only one who looked like they had 911 on speed dial next to their water bottles.  They also rocked the Target workout gear.  There were others like me — they were out there.  The circus had lured them in.

So I went back a few more times.  And I hated the woman with the headset a little less each time, even if she does play Ke$ha before 6am. 

Now I sort of like it.  They way you can like something painful. 

There’s some pain you can control and some, as I learned over the last week, that you just can’t.  So I’ll concentrate on grabbing  that live wire barre for a while and see if it makes me feel better in some way.

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The Shoes I Never Wanted

Today I have to buy shoes I never wanted.  Shoes to go with a dress I never thought I’d wear.

Things change in an instant.  With a phone call.  A call that tells you, somehow, one of your oldest and dearest friends is gone.  Gone at 38, without warning.

And the lens through which I see the world may never be the same.

I’ve known Jen for 27 years.  She lived down the street.  She went to middle school with me.  And dance class.  And high school.  And summer vacations down the shore.  She shopped for my wedding dress with me.  We were bridesmaids to each other.  She told me which car seat I needed for my first born —  in fact, she bought it for me.  I’ve known her parents’ phone number by heart for over two decades.  And now she’s gone.  And I don’t understand.

I don’t understand how, today, I’m supposed to show up to this address I was given — a funeral home — and tell her goodbye.  The truth is that I don’t think I can.

I don’t understand how her husband and kids and parents and friends can be left without her.

I don’t understand how it’s ever going to feel any less like this combination of heartbreak, disbelief and helplessness.

I would give anything to be buying different shoes — the pumps for our prom, the ballet slippers for our recital, the flip flops for our high school days at the beach, the comfortable white heels that let me dance with her for hours at my wedding.  Not these shoes to wear with this dress to show up at that address today.  I don’t know how these shoes will hold me up when I look her parents, her brother, her husband and her kids in the eye and tell them how much I loved her.

But here’s what I do know.

I know that there will never be someone whose laughter draws you in like hers.  Jen, you never believed you were that funny.  You were so very funny.  You always made me laugh louder and without reservation in a way that nobody else could.

I know that I will think of you hundreds of times every day, and I will try to smile instead of cry.  I will try.

I know that I will tell your beautiful children, like many others will — for years and years to come — all of the things that made you so fabulous.  I will tell them about our times in school.  I will tell them about your unwavering friendship and everything you ever did for me.  How you were a fixture at my parents’ kitchen table, telling jokes.  How a friendship this true grew more and more with each milestone of our lives.

And I know that, wherever you are, you are with us.  Always.

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