Monthly Archives: December 2013

Finding the Good Moments in 2013


Yesterday I tried to sum up 2013 in my blog.  A rough year, but there were still a lot of happy moments so today, I am going to share some photos of “The Best of 2013” because despite all the sadness we experienced, there were still a lot of really good moments.

We celebrated Father’s Day and all the great dads in our lives!IMG_2846

Although I was not a big fan of them, the cicada out break this spring was pretty interesting.IMG_8473

The new porch construction was a great addition to the house!IMG_9896

Celebrating dad’s 68th birthday with the family was a great day.IMG_9588e

DJ getting his driver’s permitIMG_3214

A quick overnight to Atlantic City with a few of my coworkers.IMG_3067

Visiting my college roommatesIMG_8598

Drew graduating from elementary school.IMG_8777e

Grammy turning 98IMG_9475

Mud Runs like The Dirty Girl IMG_2991e and The Muck Fest!IMG_2842

Drew and baseball, baseball, baseball!  Playing, watching and being a batboy for The Newark Bears. IMG_3212

and truly there were so many, many more.  Including joining the coaching group I am in where I have made some amazing friends this year, spending tons of time with extended family…I could truly go on and on.  Sadly, those terrible moments of 2013 have overshadowed the good ones, but when we looked back upon this year, it was really nice to find so many happy memories amongst the sad ones.  I am looking forward to making more happy ones in 2014!

Happy New Year!

Good Bye 2013 – I can’t say I’m sad to see it end.

life knocked me down

2013 is coming to an end and I cannot say that I am sad for it to be it over.  This was the toughest year of my life and I am very glad that it is complete.  My year began with a phone call from DJ on the morning of January 1st.  He had stayed at my parent’s house for New Years Eve.  During the night, my mom had been rushed to the emergency room with a heart attack.  Fortunately, it was mild, but with all of her other health conditions, she stayed there for a few days until the felt she was well enough to go home.

That same day, I wound up with a migraine.  I have suffered from them for years but little did I know that this headache and many more, would last me EIGHT months. MRI’s, numerous specialists and appointments, various medications did not help but finally, in August, a new doctor suggested a few things to try, and perhaps it was one – or the combination of several, but I went from having five or six headaches a week, to only two or three a month.  This is huge for me and I am so grateful for each day that I wake up headache free. In January and February, my blog focused mainly on kindness and sharing stories that spread kindness.  That was the original intent of my blog.

Then, March came along and my life was changed forever.  On March 8th, my mom, who was suffering from COPD for years, stopped breathing on her way to my grandmother’s house.  It was just a routine 10 minute drive.  They were actually headed to Florida the next day, so this was totally unexpected.  By the time my dad reached the hospital, she had been without oxygen for too long.  She was kept alive on life support for a week but we made the decision as a family to take her off of it on Friday, March 15th . That entire week, I wrote about nothing but my mom.  My blog took a total turn from just writing about kindness, yet was being read by hundreds of people everyday.  My mom had touched the lives of so many people and I have been told that this blog helped them understand what our family was dealing with and getting us all through the hardest time of our lives. Writing her eulogy and then reading it at her funeral, was so hard but I needed to do it and that church was so filled with people that loved her and loved us, it helped begin the healing process for me. Throughout the rest of the month, my entire blog focused on mom and her friends and our first holidays, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter without her.

April arrived.  It has always been one of my favorite months.  Spring had sprung and we had all begun to adjust to mom not being around and then we had the devastating news of my sister-in-law Francine.  What a shock to our family.  Two deaths in our family in less than a month.  She was only 31 and she and my brother Tim had just found out that she was pregnant with twins.   Once again, my blog provided an outlet, for me to write it and for others to read it and try to comprehend what our family was going through.  The day I wrote Francine’s story, over 1000 people saw it.  Incredible to me that so many people were empathizing with our family.   This led to even more blogs about family and coping with death.  Tim had asked me if I’d also do a eulogy for her and of course I said yes.

Although I did not know him well, death touched our family again when my brother-in-law’s father passed away at the end of April.  Bad things happen in 3s. My father could not believe how unfair this year was

I turned 43 in May and although it was not quite the same without mom around, my family and friends did so much to help make is a special one for me.  Our first mothers day without mom was low key and we made it through without too many tears.  All those “firsts” came and went without mom and Francine, birthdays, holidays, Christmas… but we got through them with the support of our family and friends.  Thank God for all of them because without them, I don’t know where we’d be today.

Things really did settle down for us once Summer arrived but then, on Labor Day, my sister’s birthday, she wound up in the hospital for emergency surgery to have her gall bladder removed.  Fortunately that was routine and after a little less than a week, she was home recovering.

I will admit that there were some positive things that happened this year… There is now a beautiful bench dedicated to my mom in the park given by my class and The Kiwanis club.  Dave and I celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary. On October 18th, NJ passed the marriage equality law. giving everyone the freedom to marry and to me, that is a huge step in the right direction.  Because of that, we were able to attend the wedding of two friends Eddie and Todd.

I surprised myself by sticking to TWO New Years Resolutions this year.  I did the 52 week money challenge AND wrote my blog everyday this year.  I am trying to find the positive in this year.  My two boys are healthy and happy and enjoying school.  I love my job and look forward to going to work everyday.  Dave got some licenses he needs to move ahead in his career in the mortgage business.  Now, if he could drum up some business for 2014, that will be a huge step in the right direction!So here’s to the end of 2013 – and a positive outlook to the future.  As we move forward, may 2014 bring you and your families happiness and good health!

A Mass for Mom


Last night, Dave and I went to 5:30 mass.  Every mass throughout the week has a special intention for someone.  The intention for this mass happened to be for my mom.  Many people have dedicated masses to her throughout the year and when they fall on a Saturday or a Sunday, I try to go.  My dad goes to mass every week, mostly on Saturday evenings.  I go almost every week, though I do miss a mass here and there.  Last night, dad could not make the 5:30 so I told him I would go for mom.

Dave doesn’t often go to mass, but will occasionally come with me if he knows it is important to me.  Last night, it was just the two of us since my kids were with my dad and brothers and while we were waiting for mass to begin, I realized that it was not one of the usual priests that would be celebrating mass.  Instead, “His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick” was presiding over mass.  He happened to be visiting Seton Hall University, which is in the same town as Our Lady of Sorrows, and he asked our Monsignor if he could serve the mass.

Although Cardinal McCarrick is considered a “retired Cardinal,” there are still only about 180 Cardinals in the world and only 19 in the United States.  Dave and I were asked to carry the gifts to the altar during mass and as we approached the Cardinal he gave us a truly genuine smile.  Dave joked with me later asking me if it made me “feel holier” and although it seems silly – it really did!

This week’s mass celebrated “The Feast of the Holy Family” and the Cardinal’s sermon was all about family and what better day than this to have a mass for my mom?!!?  She was all about family and tradition and she cherished all of us.  There was nothing more important to her.

Although I know it was just luck that caused this mass for mom to be led by Cardinal McCarrick, I know that she would have been truly honored and even humbled to know that such a prominent man was there to lead it.

cardinal mccarrick

More ideas for 2014


After my post yesterday and thinking about the new year, I got a few ideas from friends and family about their plans and resolutions for the new year.  One of them was from my friend Judie who shared a link with me that I am sharing here.  It suggests that instead of making a resolution to change something, we focus on a word.  A word that would guide us throughout the year. It would be our touchstone – a word that gives us something to concentrate on.  Words like, compassion, kindness, growth, awareness, order…are among them.  Definitely something to think about and focus on.

Spending less time on the internet, shop locally, volunteer more.  There were some great suggestions too.

One of my favorite ideas that I saw was to create a gratitude journal.  That seems simple enough.  I might even be able to incorporate it into my blog.  I was looking for a different “spin” for the blog.  It was a cute idea and I even saw some gratitude journals for sale on the internet, yet it seemed easy enough to do on your own.  “365 Things I am Grateful For”.  A simple notebook would work, or scrapbook.  Each day, you could jot something down or put a picture or quote that meant something to you.

At the end of the year, you would have something wonderful to look back on and see all of the things that made your year wonderful.  This year, although it was not all gratitude, I have my blog to look back on and reminisce about all of the things that happened throughout 2013.  For me, it was not filled with all happy memories and I am glad it is almost over but I am lucky to have it all documented to look back on.  A gratitude journal could provide that too.  A memento of all the most important moments in your year.  I think I might just try it myself.

Thinking of the New Year

goals and dreams

We all make New Year’s Resolutions.  Sometimes we keep them, sometimes we don’t.  I read that writing them down and sharing them with others gives you a better chance of sticking to them.  I had two this year.  One I kept a secret, (The 52 Week Money Challenge,) and the other was writing this blog every day for a year,– obviously not a secret at all since according to my stats, it has had 44,456 hits since I began!  I still cannot believe that many people are interested in what I have to say!  I have a little less than a week to reach 45,000 by the end of this year.  I wonder if I will get there??

Today was a great day to stay home, do some organizing, take a nap, spend time with my family and begin thinking about what next year’s resolution will be!  I impressed myself by sticking to the two from 2013, so now I need to find something that will inspire me to stick to it for 2014.  I even “Googled” it trying to come up with something new and inventive.  All the usual things came up, lose weight, exercise everyday, eat healthier… but I want to do something different, (although I can definitely do some of those things.)

Dave would be happy if I chose to do this one that I found, “Spend less time worrying about what other people think.”  This is a terrible problem I have so it could be something to work on.

I would love to be able to spend more time with friends.  We try to do this often, but with crazy schedules, it is hard to find the time.  Even once a month, setting aside time to meet up would be satisfying!

One that I found interesting was, “Learn/try something new.”  I have actually started that already.  I began working out at a new studio in town, taking classes that I have never done before and I am enjoying it so much.  I’d love to be able to keep that up.  I have been kickboxing for three years and LOVING it, but limiting myself to just that.  This year, I’d love to incorporate the kickboxing with some other classes and challenge myself to things I might have never done otherwise.  A few years ago, I would have never imagined myself running 5k’s and doing Mud Runs and now I am doing a few a year so…..maybe this is a good one for me….

I have four days to come up with something for sure.  What are some of your ideas?  I’d love to hear them.   I will be sure to write it down and share with other so that I have more of a chance of sticking to it!!

52 Week Money Challenge

challenge yourself

I have a hard time keeping resolutions but this year, I was able to keep TWO!!  All year!!  I even surprised myself.  The first was my blog.  I said that I would write every day for one year and I am less than a week from meeting that goal!!

The second was one that I kept a secret until Christmas.  At the beginning of the year, I read about something called, “The 52 Week Money Challenge.”  It seemed rather simple, put away a dollar the first week, $2 the second week, $3 the third and so on and so on until this week, the 52nd, which was $52.  SEEMED simple I say again because in the beginning it really was.  Then, came the summer.  My school pays its teachers on a 10 month cycle.  We don’t get paid in the summer and although I work during the summer, the salary is nowhere near what I make teaching.  Those weeks, (around 30 weeks into the year,) were tough to save.  With only one salary coming in, and trying to keep it a secret from the rest of the family, it was difficult.  I fell behind a few times and would catch up when I could.  This month was tough too, because by the last week of December, I had to put away $200 just in this month alone.

I did it though!  At the end of the challenge, there is over $1,300 saved up!  I wrapped it all up in a fancy box and put it under the tree with a note inside that said, “SPRING BREAK.”  We have not been able to take a trip in awhile and this will be able to cover a big chunk of it!  Dave and the boys opened it up and were totally impressed – not just that I did it but that I kept it a secret the whole time.  Now we are trying to decide where to go.  My dad has a time share in Hilton Head, that is a possibility but we have been there a few times and might try something new.  We’d love to visit our cousins in Nevada, or maybe go to Boston where we’ve never been before.  I guess there are a lot of possibilities.  It is not a ton of money, but enough that gives us an opportunity to do something.  Now the fun part starts as we try to choose where!

We are coming up with our new money challenge for next year.  We can do the same one, and add the money to our Spring Break trip, but the first few weeks of the year don’t amount to a lot of money.  DJ suggested we do it in reverse.  That’s a possibility.  We also thought we could just put away $25 a week.  That’s another $1300 by the end of the year.  Now that I have done it once, I want it to be something we try to do from now on.  Fun money I guess we could call it.  Money that will give us a chance to do something we might not have otherwise had the chance to do.

If you are able to, I suggest you try it!  It is such a nice reward in the end!!

IMG_2790 52 week money challenge

Merry Christmas


Today is Christmas.  I thought it was going to be a lot harder for us than it was, but we all made it through without tears.  My parents are VERY big on tradition and one of our traditions was sitting in the same place every year as we opened gifts.  Mom had her chair and Drew put a sign on it saying, “DO NOT SIT,” reserving it only for her.  In the past, even with her health issues, mom did almost all of the Christmas shopping.  Dad did a great job this year though and there was no shortage of gifts.  The kids had a blast and he put a lot of thought into the gifts he got all of us.

We started the day off as we always do. After opening our own gifts at our own homes, we all headed up to my dad’s.  We brought bagels and my brother Tim brought donuts and coffee.  We kept it as “normal” as possible for everyone.  Dad had ordered ham, turkey and pulled pork from The Honey Baked Ham Company.  My sister and I had prepared the side dishes at home and while we all opened gifts from one another, I got everything heated and prepared for later in the day when my grandma, two aunts and in-laws came.

It was another day spent with family and loved ones.  A really nice Christmas.  We all got what we wanted but most importantly, we were all together.  We kept most of our traditions going.  The plum pudding my class gave me was delicious.  Different than mom’s but still wonderful.  As the years go by, traditions change a bit and new ones are created but it is all good.  Traditions help us create memories. I think they are important to instill in our own children.  Today, I noticed that it was our children were the ones who were trying to keep most tightly to the old rituals.  They were doing it for my mom, and at the same time, I think they were doing it for my dad too.

Christmas Eve

christmas eve

It is the afternoon of Christmas Eve.  My favorite day of the year.   Last minute errands are done.  All the gifts are wrapped.  My sister and I went to my dad’s early to set the table for tomorrow.  Only 18 of us this year.  Side dishes for Christmas Day are cooking right now.  I will get the rest ready tomorrow while we are at my dad’s.  We are lucky to live in the same town as him, so in the morning, after waking up in our own home and opening up gifts, we can head over there to spend the rest of the day with hm and my siblings and the kids.

Tonight, we will go to mass and then over to my grandma’s house where we will all get together for our Italian feast, dessert and gifts.  Santa will arrive around 8 and hand out the first gifts of the evening.  Then the kids will get gifts.  The adults do a grab bag since there are so many of us.  We try to make it fun by not signing who it is from.  Instead, we all list three things most people would not know about us.  Then we try to guess who the giver is.  It makes it so much fun and makes us put a lot of thought into the gift giving.

There will be 25 of us at dinner this year.  My kids are the oldest of the grandchildren and watching the little ones’ eyes light up when Santa arrives, is one of those magical moments of Christmas.  He brings a gift for everyone there.  Over the many, many years, Santa has been “played” by several different people.  When we were really little, it was my Uncle’s good friend, DK – I don’t think I will ever forget the year he fell down the stairs.  We heard a, “Ho, ho, hooooooooooo oh, SHI*” as he landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs surrounded by presents.  Fortunately, he was okay and Christmas went on as usual.

Dad’s cousin Greg played the part for a few years but when the kids got old enough to realize that he was missing in the crowd of party guests, he could not do it any longer.

A good friend, Joel, who is Jewish, was Santa for years.  Since he didn’t celebrate Christmas, he LOVED playing the part of Santa and spending Christmas Eve with us.  There was a year when he could not make it and last minute, we got one of Dave’s best friends from when he was a kid to do it.  Dave had no idea and when Santa started to ask him questions about things that no one else could have known, I think Dave actually might have believed that this may have been the REAL Santa!

Danny, a friend from town was Santa for a few years.  He was great and since he had his own white beard and eyebrows he didn’t even need to use the fake ones!  A good friend of Dale’s has done it for the last few years.  Anita, a woman, played the role spectacularly and I don’t know if the kids ever realized it was not a man playing the part!  This year…we might be in a predicament.  Our last two Santa’s are unavailable!  We are waiting for the word from a last minute friend.  If he can’t do it, Dave is going to dress up.  Our own  boys don’t believe anymore, so they’ll find it funny.  The other kids are going to be so excited just seeing Santa, that they won’t even notice Dave not being in the room.

Every year, we create new memories at Christmas Eve.  Tonight will be no different.  We will miss Francine’s delicious desserts that she’d make every year and it won’t be the same without mom’s booming laughter ringing through the room.  We will still all have fun though.  Being together with our family  is what makes Christmas Eve the best night of the year.

Christmas Eve Prep

christmas eve prep

Every year on December 23, the women of the family get together to cook the Christmas Eve meal.  It is not as “primitive” as it sounds.  That’s just how it has always been done, but this year, since most of the women are “working women,” (no offense to stay at home moms – I was one myself for a few years and it is the hardest job there is,) but since most of us work outside of the house and can’t be there for the prep, it has changed a bit over the years.

It started way back when my dad and his brothers were little boys.  Their grandma would cook with their mom and aunt and prepare the dinner for everyone.  As the boys got married and moved out with families of their own, Gram and Aunt Dee did all of the cooking.  A few years before Aunt Dee passed away, (I was still a teenager,) Aunt Dale and my mom asked to be a part of it so that they’d know how it was done.  They were given the family recipes and helped each year.  After Aunt Dee died, Dale and my mom got more responsibilities and the granddaughters got to help too.

Over the years, as Gram could do less and less, my mom and Dale did most of it and the granddaughters helped.  I have been doing a lot more of it over the last few years.  As mom’s COPD got worse, she could not do as much so we’d give her the jobs of cutting clams and garlic so she could stay sitting down while Dale and I did the rest.  Last year, December 23 fell on a weekend so more of the cousins could help out.  I had asked one of my cousins to photograph the process so that we could turn it into a cookbook for all of us.  Unfortunately that didn’t work out and we decided that we’d do it this year instead, never knowing that mom would not be here for the preparations this year.

This year, my Aunt Ellen is visiting from Utah so she joined in with us today as we cooked, chopped and created the sauces to serve to 25 people tomorrow night!  My dad’s brother Richie was there too.  The master garlic chopper we called him as he chopped up three big bulbs of garlic for the recipes.  Gram sat in her seat directing and calling out orders letting us know what to do.  Dale and I have it down pretty well though.  We make a good team.  This year, Drew came to help too.  He was so helpful.  He helped carry the “kids” table up from the garage, he set the table, got the drink table in order, decorated gingerbread men and helped clean up.

It was a long but productive day.  We made clam sauce, lobster sauce and mussels in red sauce.  They just need to be heated up tomorrow and served over pasta.  Tomorrow, Dale will go up to gram’s earlier, while we go to church and then we will all meet up for dinner.  There was definitely a missing place at the kitchen table today without mom there, but we kept her a part of it all, reminiscing about past years and stories that although I had heard numerous times, were new to Drew.  No tears, which surprised me, since Dale gets as weepy about things as I do.  We know mom was there watching over us as we cooked and what sealed the deal was when Aunt Ellen pulled the very last clam out of the container to cut up.  She made us all look at it because it had the funniest markings on it and it actually looked like a smiley face.  Dale said, “it is like Ellie is smiling at us letting us know she was there.”  I am sure she was.


Santa’s Workshop

Christmas feelings

It is like Santa’s Workshop in our house right now!  Cookies are baking, presents are being wrapped.  The tree is lit and the outside of the house is decorated in Christmas lights.  The unseasonably warm temperatures make it seem more like Spring and since neither of boys believe in Santa anymore, it seems a bit odd.   Both of the boys are good about keeping this quiet since all of their cousins still believe.  The gifts are under the tree and they are being pretty good about not peeking!!  I am hoping that they are like me….I love surprises so I never look ahead of time.  It takes all the fun away!

Drew and I went out today and he finished his shopping.  Dave has some last minute things to get tomorrow.  This morning, we visited the cemetery to bring ornaments from mom and Francine,   At the cemetery there was a huge tree filled with ornaments from people’s loved ones.  There were some already there for mom and Francine.  This has always been my favorite time of the year, and even without mom and Francine here with us, I think most of us are getting caught up in the holiday spirit.  It is definitely what mom would have wanted.