Monday, September 27, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

August 1, 2003

Just another day.

Marcus and I had been dating each other roughly two years.  It started out as a tumultuous relationship, after all I was trying to shake an ex-boyfriend.  Moving pretty much took care of that one, so there we were, two cuties in love. 

After work we drove to Paolo’s Italian Restaurant in Northampton for a relaxing dinner.  As usual, on a weekend, the wait was approximately an hour, so we passed the time perusing the useless items and tacky lawn ornaments in the dollar store next to the restaurant. 

We were seated at a cozy table that bridged the way between the front room and the main dining area.  Our server, who has worked there for years, (and notably an unpleasant woman) took our order right away.  We got our usual meals, after all this was ‘Our Place’.  Marcus ordered the Chicken Parm and I got the Italian clam sauce.  It’s just too good – a huge bowl overflowing with linguini swimming in a garlicky white clam sauce.  Always too much for the average person to eat, my dish was packed up to be saved for the next day’s lunch. 

What a lovely evening.  Wait.  What is this?  Oh no. 

There was a storm approaching…a storm, I tell ya.  A storm that would demolish everything in it’s path.  There was no shelter; there was no hope.  Realizing this my body was instantly covered in goose bumps.  I HAD to make a pit stop.  Thankfully, Marcus still had his apartment in Northampton and I politely requested that we head there first.  “You can’t wait?” he questioned.  “Um, no,” I responded.  I believe he asked me if I was serious, but I couldn’t hear the question.  I was going deaf; the storm started to consume my body.  I was fearful that walking would be impossible.

We made it to the parking lot in about five minutes flat.  I definitely took to the stairs two, maybe three, at a time and anxiously awaited the opening of the apartment door.  I rushed through the first floor, up the short stairs and into the bathroom.  I relaxed in my deafness.  Until it was interrupted by a muffled voice, “You almost done?”  Was he kidding?  Jeez!  So pushy.

After the thirty minute diversion we headed back to Allentown – back to my house.  We parked across the street, but directly across from my home.  I looked over and noticed flickering lights coming from the living room.  It didn’t subside; it was constant.  Shit, my house was on fire.

I ran out of the car, screaming mad, and quickly pulled the keys from my purse.  I popped the lock and threw open the door.  My brain couldn’t comprehend what was occurring.  I slowly panned the room with my eyes to digest the scene.  There must have been hundreds of flickering tea lights in my living room – on the mantle, on the table, on the floor.  Rose petals everywhere, roses on the table, champagne chilling.  I slowly turned to my left to see Marcus on one knee, reaching for my hand with a ring in the other. 

It took about ten minutes for me to pull myself together.  Of course, I said yes and called my parents.  Dad knew this day was coming; Mom had no clue – that was their problem.  After the craziness died down and the engagement settled in my mind I asked how this was all possible.  Who the hell did this?

Apparently, a great friend of ours received a text towards the end of our meal.  She and her husband started lighting the candles when we left Paolo’s.  My unplanned pit stop forced them to blow out all the candles and wait for the next queue.  Once we got in the car to head to my place, the candle lighting commenced.  It was a challenge for the couple, considering it was about 80 degrees and I didn’t have air conditioner.  They needed to close all the windows to ensure that no breeze would damper the flames.  As I entered the house, they slipped out the back door. 

So, the day of my engagement goes down in history as a romantic event, complicated by Mother Nature.  I wouldn’t have had it any other way - the Italian clam sauce is SO good!

Sweet Nothings; Savory Everythings

This past weekend was jammed with activities which included the celebration of my fifth wedding anniversary.  Perhaps, I’ll start there.

We celebrated the evening with dinner at Emeril’s Chop House.  To summarize the experience in one word: SUPERB.  But the meal wasn’t as memorable as the day we exchanged vows.  Even the few months leading up to ‘the day’ are stamped in my mind.  I still remember the day we got engaged…that’s a great story for another time. 

To keep this post somewhat brief I’ll summarize as best I can:

1). Selecting my maid-of-honor was thought provoking.  I still believe that Christine was the perfect choice.  Throughout college she was my rock, saving me from terrible relationships (if that’s what we call them) and putting my head on straight – a few times. 

2). The plans quickly progressed from a low-budget affair to an all out elegant bash. 

3). I found the perfect dress; The perfect dress that my mother hated.

4). We mailed the perfect invitations; The perfect invitations that my mother hated.

5). I found the perfect shoes; the perfect (FLAT) shoes that my mother AND Andrea hated.

6). I had the perfect wedding party; the perfect party that hated each other.

7). We selected the perfect location for our ceremony.  Relatives didn’t understand why it wasn’t a Catholic church. 

8). Although I was feverishly working out I mysteriously gained twenty-five pounds in about three months time.  Turns out, I was very stressed.

9). Stress levels slowly became manageable with an obscene cigarette habit. 

10). I successfully micromanaged my wedding, down to checklists for the ‘key players’ on THE DAY.  (Let me know if you need a template for your event).

11). Andrea and company threw a hell of a rehearsal dinner.  It’s amazing how a non-descript church common room was transformed into our own little paradise. 

12). I received my late mother-in-law’s refurbished pearls from my soon-to-be husband along with a beautiful letter from him, that I read before I went to bed.  Tears of joy soaked my pillow.

13). A strange calm fell over me as I woke on September 24, 2005.  Everyone around me was moving at warped speed – bunch of crazies. 

14).  Marcus spent $100 on a bullshit breakfast tray from Panera.  I’ll never hear the end of that one. 

15). Andrea and Karen helped me put my dress on.  When it was discovered that the skirt was two inches too big, I laughed.  They freaked out. 

16). My Mom, bro Matt, Matt’s then lady friend and my beautiful girls got out of the limo bus while I stayed behind with my Dad.  It was a moment to cherish, but the silly driver, a nervous Nelly, wouldn’t stop talking to us!

17). I started to shake…the flutes kicked off Pachelbel’s Cannon in D…the girls started the procession…I took a huge breath, but choked on it.  Squeezing my Dad’s hand as he held me up, we walked down the aisle.  I sobbed like a baby.  And Marcus shed a tear.

18). My photographer likes to talk.  A lot.  All the time.  But, damn, he takes great pictures.

19). We visited my late mother-in-law’s grave site to lay yellow roses, her favorite.  Wished I could have met her. 

20). The Hotel Bethlehem sure knows how to throw a party.  And my Dad’s frat brothers sure know how to have a good old Italian time. 

21). Our DJ took credit for the dinner CD we created.

22). My Mom drank and danced; Karen drank and argued with the front desk on the whereabouts of her luggage (which my brother forgot to pack in his car) and an estranged friend sobbed on my shoulder. 

23). My kick-ass college friends hung out on the front steps of the hotel waiting for the pizza delivery guy while making friends with all the Celtic Fest riff-raffs. 

24). I pulled seventy-five pins out of my hair after deconstructing my twenty-five pound Swarovski crystal accented dress. 

25). It took about seven days for the feeling to return in my toes.  Damn, gorgeous shoes!

26). Next time, I’ll have a destination wedding, but keep the groom.


Monday, September 20, 2010


Ava’s a huge fan of pancakes.  She’s so much a fan of pancakes that I make them every weekend.  I try to stay away from the boxed mix, so I seek out a new pancake recipe almost every time.  I grew up eating different types of pancakes: whole wheat, buckwheat and palačinka.  We didn’t have butter in the house; we had margarine and it never made an appearance on our table, except if we had corn on the cob.  Topping pancakes off with a pat (or two) of butter was unheard of.  Syrup was the only topping.

Whole wheat and buckwheat pancakes appear to be a little more dense and they’ll suck up a quarter cup of syrup like a kitchen sponge.  I like to think that these pancakes are the healthier option, but I’m only kidding myself.  Pancakes, no matter what type of flour used, are pan fried flour.  How can something so simple be so tasty?

Palačinka is a thin type of pancake, typically made with more eggs than the traditional ‘flap jack’.  My Mom, staying true to her father’s Croatian roots, made this breakfast treat more often than the whole wheat or buckwheat pancakes.  They resemble a crepe, but weren’t filled with anything; a drizzle of syrup did just fine.  Although Mom made them frequently, she always pulled out the recipe which was typed onto a large index card.  When I first moved out of my childhood home she made me my own recipe – typed on the same sized index card.  Yup, she has a typewriter…still. 

I subconsciously knew I was going to make pancakes this past weekend.  Due to my commitments, Saturday would be pancake day.  I woke early, a few hours before the rest of the house, to log a few miles.  The crisp air hit the exposed skin on my neck and ankles as I pulled my hat down over my ears.  So, it is September.  Maybe the hat (oh, and the gloves) are a little ridiculous, but that’s me!  I proceeded on auto-pilot for the first two miles, but I caught a whiff of coffee as I passed a familiar house.  I immediately shifted my thinking towards breakfast…pancakes in particular.  Yum, pancakes. 

I love the amoeba shaped cakes with crisp, buttery edges.  They’re stacked upon each other like a stable game of breakfast Jenga.  Pure maple syrup goodness slowly dripping off the round edge towards the plate below, creating an oil slick of liquid sugar.  Delicious. 

I hurried home, having put in four miles, and immediately brewed myself a cup of coffee (did I mention that we have a Kuerig)?  In my haste I half-assed my stretching and skipped my pint glass of water.  I needed pancakes!  With my phone in hand and a cup of joe in the other, I started searching for pancake recipes.  Since I recently replenished my King Arthur’s whole wheat flour I decided to peruse their website for recipes.  Well, well, well…what do we have here?  ‘Simply Perfect Pancakes’.  Okay. 

Like most pancake recipes, this one had minimal ingredients.  I appreciated the use of sugar because I enjoy the sweeter pancakes.  Sold on the recipe I proceeded with the preparation.  Because I always have a need to be in control and take ownership of things, I modified the recipe to make it my own.  I substituted milk with almond milk and swapped the oil with applesauce.  Everyone at the morning’s table walked away with a smile on their face and a piece of my childhood in their bellies.  Maybe I’ll send it to Mom; I think it’s index card worthy. 

Last weekend's pancake recipe.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Year Passes

In honor of September 11th I am re-posting last years' post:

It was a beautiful Tuesday morning…

I had left Staten Island the year before in search of a more structured life. Sounds a little backwards…I left a city of opportunity to return to the Lehigh Valley. Funny how things happen, though.

I had just changed jobs and was teaching my first software class to a room full of nurses. They had no faith in me and I was definitely scared of them. I started my class at 9 am. A short while later one of the secretaries, a friend, came into my classroom to deliver the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Then, another one…

I left my class and sat in the secretary’s office staring out the window listening to news radio detail the events over and over…breaking in with the latest updates of other hijackings. I remember jumping out of my seat to call my mom. She was doing some housework and didn’t have the television on. She immediately called my grandmother who lives in North Jersey, about 45 minutes from the Tunnel.

My personal life was complicated then. I was trying to end a relationship with a train-wreck of a man while developing one with a stable gentleman. I called the latter first. Our cells wouldn’t connect. I tried the other…same result. This was a time of coming together and these goddamned cell phones…

I called almost every friend I had in Staten Island…I thought of the worst. How couldn’t I? I was oddly appalled that work wasn’t cancelled. In hindsight it was a dumb thought; I worked in health care. Health doesn’t stop. Besides we were anticipating a surge in patients due to the disaster. We were on alert.

From a work perspective the rest of the day was uneventful. Yeah, I taught my other class and I guess it went well. I just don’t understand why nurses couldn’t understand dose versus quantity. I digress. After returning to my apartment I got a message to meet my then boyfriend at TGIFriday’s. What a disaster. He had left work after the towers collapsed and spent the rest of the day drinking. Wonderful. He was devastated. It’s interesting, actually. He was one of few people I met who had such passion for NYC. And he was passionate about everything. He lived for the city, longed to be in the city, always was a part of the city. I never fully understood why he left.

It was at that moment that the events of September 11th punched me in the face. I didn’t know where my true friends were and I was stuck in my own personal ground zero. My ‘stable’ life had crumbled and I was left behind to pick up the pieces. I needed to make the most of what I had and move on.

That weekend, I kicked him out. It took some time for the dust to settle, but I eventually recovered and left him behind.

About three weeks later I went to Staten Island…up to the Wag… parked my car, illegally of course, and just stared at the jagged city skyline. Almost every day of my college career I looked out over the Hudson and gazed, admiringly, at the city line. Those two shining towers reached towards the heavens. I didn’t know the skyline any other way. Now, it’s changed forever.

I took a cab to the ferry and hopped on the 25 minute ride across the choppy waters. No one spoke. Occasionally, you’d hear a crying baby, or a sniffle, but other than that…silence. After getting off the ferry I immediately headed to the subway, but it was shut down. I followed the mass of people headed north toward ground zero.

There was still dust and debris all around, people wearing face masks, and hundreds of flyers posted to places of business. These flyers were those of the missing. Their pictures showed them with a beloved pet, or a newborn baby; maybe a spouse or on a fishing boat. Some people were holding the flyers of their loved ones asking strangers if they were seen.

As we got closer to the site, the silence fell upon us like a heavy cloud. Again, no one spoke. There were no cars with blaring horns or sirens. People were walking so slow; even stopping to lean on a wall and silently sob.

And there it was…a big gaping hole in the soul of the city. You don’t realize how large a city block is until it’s vacant. Thousands of people were in the bowels of the site pulling up debris in an effort to search for any sign of hope. I walked up to the fence, held on and cried.

I cried for all those who had their lives cut short, here and at the other locations. I cried for the families who had lost their loved ones. I cried for the heroes who gave their lives to get people to safety – they knew their outcome, yet continued on. I cried for the souls of the terrorists who will burn in hell forever.

September 11, 2009…I’ll never forget.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, September 6, 2010

Junk Run

Labor Day is nearly over – the unofficial end to Summer.  The night air breeze comes through the open window with a slight chill, but my cup of hot chocolate keeps me warm.  Today begins a new chapter in my life.  I’m not sure what book this chapter resides, but it’s new. 

The latest issue of Runner’s World offers a few wonderful pieces on trail running.  I’ve always been intrigued by trail running.  The articles motivated my interested to ditch the pavement and find a trail to get lost in.  Allow me to clarify before I even continue with my story.  TRAIL RUNNING IS NOT HITTING THE LEHIGH PARKWAY FOR A FEW MILES.  Trail running, to me – a non-trail runner, is navigating rocky, sometimes steep, terrain, hopping over tree roots while ducking under branches, watching the sun peek through the tall forest and maybe spotting a deer or two.  Trail running is not about PR’s (Personal Records) and Garmin watches; cool shoes and mileage.  It’s about losing yourself in nature while being overly observant of your surroundings.  Typically road runners, at some point, are on auto-pilot; sure, each run is different even if the route stays the same, but not a lot of focus is necessary.  When running a trail (or sometimes walking) you need to be mindful of your foot placement and lurking animals. 

So, this morning I was thinking about running a trail as I jogged up the hill past my house.  I’m close to a few trails and thought about hitting them one day.  Something came over me and I made a quick decision to ditch my current route and run through the park to the nearest trail.  Exhilarated by my decision I nearly sprinted through the first few feet of the trail, quickly hopping through the overgrown brush.   I took a mental moment and slowed my pace – didn’t want to break my teeth on a rock.  I immediately passed a tree marked by a spray painted skull; I contemplated turning around, but continued on.  I remembered pieces of the trail from my earlier years and was hopeful in it’s destination. 

Ah, yes, here we are.  I hopped over a dip in the trail towards the back yard of a familiar house, recently on the market.  The exit was overgrown and littered with old children’s toys.  I pulled some branches out of my path and skipped up the hill out of the woods.  Back to the pavement I ran through the neighborhood, past my parent’s house and danced around my childhood.  On the way back home I found another trail that led me to a misty field.  The sun was rising up over the valley and cast light upon an inviting bench.  I took off my hat (after all it was 49 degrees when I started my journey) and sat down. 

Being the traditional road runner that I am, I got up and headed toward the road to find another close by trail.  It’s a short trail that’s peppered with some rock scupltures, but no real navigation necessary.  I exited on a familiar road and stopped by a driveway nearly barricaded with discarded furniture.  There were actually some nice pieces, but I never could have run them home, so I trudged on.  About a half mile from home I came upon a house with two stacks of books at the edge of the driveway.  Again I stopped, as if discovering a yard sale in a remote location, and began to rummage through the piles.  Most of the books were fitness related, both of interest to me and my brother.  I found four that would satisfy our brains and carried on.  I felt a little ridiculous running the half mile back home with two books in each arm.  Maybe it’s not as ridiculous as running with a coffee table hoisted above my head. 

The trail run did the trick – it cleared the junk out of my head.  Making it back to the pavement and I picked up more junk.  I guess you could say that I broke even?


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Just a Tiny Strip of Land

Close to noon on Wednesday, September 1st and the temperatures are in the mid-80’s with the sun blazing.  The curling waves crash on the shore just beyond the waving, bright red ‘No Swimming’ flag.  Hurricane Earl has already forced evacuations on the Southern most point of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  I’m not concerned about it; maybe I’ve reached a state of apathia (look it up). 

This past Monday morning I woke early, on my own, to check out a free yoga class in the heart of Duck.  I lightly loaded my back pack, secured my yoga mat and hit the pavement.  The mile run, challenging with the extra, awkwardly placed weight, took me to the center of Duck which was marked with a large bulletin board detailing the local events and activities.  I continued on the trail towards a small pavilion overlooking a large, grassy area when I was approached by three people asking where the class was being held.  I wasn’t sure, but we were early.  In my experience, most full time yoga instructors are historically late without concern.  Within five minutes the grassy area began to fill with people.  As if given some unspoken direction we laid our mats or towels on the damp landscape and waited. 

As expected, five minutes late, a white SUV casually zipped through the gravel parking lot and stopped illegally, close to the pavilion.  A tall, woman with sun-bleached hair walked on to the grass with her too long pants and platform flip flops.  For a moment, she contemplated taking off her flops, but after sight of the wet grass, kept them on and approached the front of the group.  Immediately, she began talking in a loud, yet calming voice.  As she explained the type of class we’d be led through, I was overcome with a little disappointment.  I didn’t want a gentle stretching class; I didn’t want to spend the majority of my time on the mat.  I wanted a strenuous class with DEEP stretching.  The angel of my mind intervened to damper the devil.  I was on vacation, here to relax.  I would not let the plans set forth by this beach bunny ruin the goal.  I’m glad that I came to my senses.  

About fifteen minutes in to the class I was relieved to spend time on the mat.  The sun started to peek over the trees, warming my back; the glistening dew on each blade of grass had evaporated into the salty air - I was on vacation.  Just a few minutes shy of the one hour mark we were guided into a seated position with our hands joined on the heart chakra.  Blondie focused the group and asked us to think of one thing that we wanted to accomplish – a personal goal, perhaps.  She advised us to think on a small scale.  My mind went blank.  I couldn’t think of anything that I wanted to accomplish; I’ve been blessed in my life and it was uplifting to have a moment to recognize that. 

This morning I woke early, again without the assistance of my alarm, to change Ava’s diaper and head up to the common area for a light breakfast and a cup of coffee.  There was a yoga class being held at 8:30 am in a loft about 1.2 miles North of our oceanfront house.  I arrived, by vehicle, ten minutes early to check out the joint.  I was ushered into the shop front by a young, native OBX-er and given vague instructions about payment and where to place my things.  I followed her up a creaky set of stairs that led to a loft filled with half finished art work.  I cozied up to the far right hand side of the room, right next to a silk sheet that hid bottles of used paint brushes. 

A young couple arrived just as the class was about to begin.  They laid out their mats, careful not to get too close to me, and our nervous instructor guided us to our backs.  After an hour of asana, including a breakthrough in two poses, we were again in a reclining position resting in Savasana.   I focused on nothing but my breath.  I appeared to have assumed a state of apathia.  Within five minutes I was fully seated with my hands in prayer.  Namaste.  I bowed my head, exchanged pleasantries with my company and headed out the door.  Ready to face another day. 

So, now, I sit in my room – Ava snoozing in the bed next to mine – slightly disappointed that this short time in paradise may come to a screeching halt with the possibility of a hurricane hit.   I’ve fallen out of my stoic state and slipped into sadness.  As I type these words I remember the times that recently passed; those that are fresh in my memory…sweet, beach kisses from my little girl, sunshine reflecting from my love’s compassionate eyes and belly laughs among friends.  I’m trying to find some gratitude…after all, I’m just sitting on a tiny strip of land that can be gone in the blink of an eye.