So just a quickie about our Christmas celebrations in Sicily. As previously mentioned, we moved to Sailor Boy’s place for the holiday. We didn’t stay with him the whole time in Catania simply because he lives on the third floor, with no elevator, and, well HWSNBN can’t do stairs anymore. It took all three of us to get him up those steps. Singer Girl and Sailor Boy alternated schlepping luggage, steadying Dad from the front, and racing upstairs to turn the motion sensor lights back on (did I mention we moved very slowly?). I stood below, lifting each foot up each stair, left right step. Left right step. So yeah: it was a team effort.
As soon as we got inside, we opened wine. We deserved it.
Sailor Boy had ordered a bunch of food for us to enjoy that night and during the next day. There was pizza, pasta, baked chicken and more. After our dinner, we unveiled the traditional Christmas dessert in Italy: Panettone. Ours was a Ferrero Rocher one — gooey and sweet and naughty. Thanks, girlfriend Lisa, for picking it out!
Christmas day was super chill. In Sicily, Christmas eve is a long night of eating (mostly fish), so the day itself is pretty mellow. So we took a cue. We spent the day doing very un-Christmassy stuff, and generally relaxing. The views outside didn’t hurt.
We listened to odd rap Chirstmas songs (I will not subject you to Sailor Boy’s dance moves).
We had coffee and mimosas.
We played games.
We ate more panettone. We tried to convince Sailor Boy’s rescue kitties that we were nice.
We watched a Rick and Morty marathon.
We watched a movie — Don’t Look Up. Not a typical holiday movie, but we weren’t doing normal Christmas this year, so it worked out.
After the movie it was time to head back to Catania (after descending those dreaded stairs, of course). In the morning, we were changing locations, so we needed to rest and pack. Sailor Boy was a great host, and it was wonderful just chilling family style all day. I don’t knw when we will get another day like that, so I will treasure the memoires– irreverent thought they may be!
We woke that morning without a horse’s head in our beds. But Mario was still about to make us an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Today, we would visit some of the locations for the filming of one of the best movies of all times, The Godfather, perhaps the best sequel of all times, The Godfather Part 2, and one of the most unfortunate series films, The Godfather Part 3. (Coppola really should’ve stopped with number 2, but that’s a discussion for another day).
We met Mario and our driver in front of the hotel and started our journey north. Along the way, we stopped to take pictures at The “Cyclops Riviera.” Sicily is steeped in legend, as are all ancient places. If you remember your Homer, during his journey Odysseus and his crew sought refuge on an island, where they feasted on fresh water and sheep they found. Unfortunately, the “shepherd” was a giant one-eyed dude who didn’t take kindly to the theft. One thing led to another” sailors were eaten, the Cyclops got drunk, Odysseus blinded him, and the remaining crew escaped, only to have the Cyclops furiously hurling rocks after them into the sea.
These, legend has it, are those rocks.
We climbed back into the van and resumed our trek, past the shadow of Mt Etna, winding up the hills to the village of Savoca.
When Francis Ford Coppola was scouting Sicily for locations, he first went to the village of Corleone, where the fictional family originates. But filming was impossible there, and the town was too modern. But a native of Catania suggested Savoca and, upon visiting it, Coppola fell under its spell.
So did we.
The film changed the town’s trajectory: it became famous, but it is so isolated it retains it’s charm. There are a few “modern” buildings, but they mimic the ancient styles so they don’t look like eyesores. Local artist Nino Ucchino did a stunning mirrored sculpture as a tribute to Coppola. Despite it’s clearly modern look, it works, and the symbolism is clear: the town saw itself reflected in his vision, and he saw the film reflected in their town.
When you turn away from the sculpture, you see the Bar Vitelli. This is where Michael sat when he first saw Apollonia, where he asked about her to the bar owner (who happened to be her father), and where he ultimately proposed.
Mario told us of the woman who owned the bar and her lifelong relationship with Coppola and the actors in the film. Inside is a room devoted to memorabilia (and quaint stuff — not some plastic schlock you’d find in a tourist trap).
It was time to sit in the sun and sample some of the amazing granita — just a frozen ice and fruit or nut concoction. While we debated which flavor was best (lemon, almond or pistachio — almond won IMO!), we enjoyed watching the kitties play around us.
Next Singer Girl and I tucked HWSNBN inside the cafe with an espresso, looking rather godfather-esque.
Then Mario guided us up a series of windy streets (NOT wheelchair friendly) to the church where Michael and Apollonia were married.
As you can imagine, this town was very Instagrammable. Patient Mario indulged Singer Girl and I all day. Hopefully you will as well. Here are some of my favorite shots from Savoca.
We had one more stop on our Godfather tour: Forzo d’Agro, and the only location in all three of the movies. This little hillside village with majestic views of the Mediterranean. We didn’t stay long, but wandered a bit and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Then it was time to head back to town to rest up for dinner. Sailor Boy had been busy running errands, as the next day was Christmas Eve. We were joining him at another of his favorite restaurants, Sapio.
Sapio is in some ways similar to Travail, here in the Twin Cities, where food is performance art, and you never quite know what you are getting. It was surprisingly, well, rigid for an Italian restaurant. there were four set menus, and everyone at the table had to agree to the same one. The problem? Most had fish/seafood, which I don’t eat. We finally settled on a menu, even if Sailor Boy and HWSNBN were sad they couldn’t enjoy some of the delights taunting them from their preferred menus. But the wait staff wouldn’t budge. Things were a bit tense for a minute, as this dinner was clearly important to Sailor Boy. But once the menus disappeared an our wine glasses filled up, we relaxed. The menus only mentioned the traditional four Italian courses: an appetizer, a primi (often pasta), a secondi and dessert. But those were just the tip of the ice berg. All told, I think we had about a dozen courses, each one prettier than the next.
Needless to say, we were more than ready for bed when dinner was done. We said goodnight to the kids, who would meet up with us again in the morning as we did our last official day with Mario.
I had heard that Taormina was not to be missed, so when Mario suggested we rearrange our itinerary and visit there, I easily agreed. Today, Sailor Boy joined us, so the whole family enjoyed a day of stunning weather, vistas and, of course: food! On the way, we pulled over to get a great look at Mt Etna.
Next our driver brought us first to a beautiful overlook, where we enjoyed the sparkling Mediterranean views (and took some Insta worthy pics, lol).
Then it was off to the ancient amphitheater, where they still hold concerts amid the crumbling ruins.
Mario’s wife Mara owns a leather goods shop in Taormina (Mara’s Handmade Leather), so we decided to check it out when we got to town. So cute! We purchased a few gifts for friends, then wandered for a bit. It was Christmas Eve, so families were out in full force. Of course, they thought we were nuts: it was 65 and sunny, and most of us has bare arms. The Sicilians were bundled up (it was about 60 degrees warmer than at home for us!). It has been great travelling to places “off season,” as we were practically the only Americans we saw — in fact, there were very few non-Italians in a typically very crowded town. Taormina reminded me a bit of Vail, with its meandering streets full of quaint shops and restaurants.
I loved the jewelry in this shop’s windows!
And look closely: this is NOT what you think it is!
The Christmas tree set up in the main square was a great place to gather and enjoy just being together. As Mario Puzo wrote in The Godfather, “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
Mario asked us to meet him outside one of the many churches when we were ready for lunch. For years I have been fascinated by old churches and cathedrals, and now Singer Girl seems to find them just as captivating, so we investigated this one while the boys waited outside. By many standards, this church was humble, but to me just as lovely as far richer places of worship.
Lunch that day was one of our favorite meals (even if the locale was NOT wheelchair friendly). Mario set us up to eat outside at Osteria Santa Domenica. Between the sunshine, the service, the food and the wine, it was one of the best moments of the trip. And those fried artichokes…
It was time to head back to the hotel. We were heading to Sailor Boy’s place for the night and the next day — it being Christmas Eve and all! So we packed up for the night, and headed to his place!
If you read my last post, you’ll know that we have some new challenges in our lives. But I’ll be damned if we curl up in a ball and hide from the world.
So, despite HWSNBN’s ALS diagnosis, we set out last month on a long-planned trip to visit Sailor Boy in Italy.
Wait, you say: isn’t Sicily a part of Italy? Well, yes, politically speaking. And yes, they speak Italian and have phenomenal food and fashion sense, and horrific driving. But we learned quickly that when you are a land that has been around for 10,000 years, it takes more than a measly 162 years to make you really a new identity.
But more on the history lesson later. First, we need to get to Europe.
Months ago, before I knew we would have the ALS to consider, I decided to utilize a travel agent for the first time to get this trip planned. Enter the amazing Amanda from Pique Travel. She had everything planned: hotels, cars, tours and guides, even wheelchairs at every step of the way. We used the app Unmapped to keep tabs of all reservations and tickets, and of course utilized What’sApp to communicate with her and our European contacts.
ALS was our unofficial travel partner all the way through, and he made us nervous. He was always there in the back of our minds, slowing us down, causing anxiety as we worried about how he would try to complicate and crash the party. Thankfully, contrary to popular belief, the world is full of amazing, humans willing to go out of the way to smooth things out for us.
The minute we pulled up at MSP airport (driven by the amazing Abdulla, referred to us by friends Christie and Jim. Let me know if you need his number for your driving needs!), a wonderful airport worker jumped into action. Seeing me wrangling multiple suitcases and Rich trudging along with his walker, he declared: “You need a wheelchair!” We didn’t even get inside to ask at the Delta desk for the one reserved for us. The MSP staff took charge, chauffeuring Rich and helping me get everything to the front of the check in line. (FYI: being physically challenged DOES have its perks: we went to the front of every line in every airport in all three countries, from check in to security to boarding to customs. Nice!). After we were checked in, we were escorted through security (thank you Clear — always worth the subscription fee IMO), then had time to enjoy the PGA Lounge (courtesy of Priority Pass, a great perk we got with the Chase card — thanks for the tip, Thrifty Traveler!). We asked our escort what to do when it was time to head tot eh gate, and she assured me someone would meet us at the lounge, and they did. Our escort was going off duty, but came with a coworker to make sure we were cared for correctly. Wow: mad props.
The flight worried us: HWSNBN can’t move easily or quickly anymore. When he needed to get up to stretch or use the restroom, I walked in front of him, facing him, holding his hands to keep him safe. It felt precarious, and probably disruptive to some (it’s hard to walk steadily on a plane during the best of circumstances), but everyone resected our odd journey. Flight attendants cleared the aisles for us, and constantly asked how they could help. They also, before I could even bring it up, let me know that they had confirmed that a wheelchair would be waiting for us at the gate.
Classy, professional, caring. Thank you, Delta!
We arrived in Amsterdam unscathed, but tired. Normally I schedule flights to Europe for late in the evening, but this one was an afternoon flight. There aren’t a ton of flights daily to Catania, and we were also coordinating with Singer Girl, who was flying n from Detroit. Our flight landed a couple hours before hers, and we went to the transfer station to make sure we were all set for the next flight. The lovely woman at the KLM desk realized our luggage was not checked all the way through, so quickly fixed that — and told us to come straight to her desk when our daughter arrived so she could personally make sure hers was set as well. When we di that, the woman immediately recognized me and said “Catania!” I mean, how many travelers had she helped in the past two hours, but she still remembered us and our destination. I know I am pretty memorable, but wow: again we were impressed.
The flight was also uneventful, and we were treated with views of Mount Etna, quietly exhaling her volcanic breath as we approached.
Once again, a wheelchair was waiting for us. Unfortunately, our luggage was not. Somehow all the good efforts of the KLM transfer desk agent were in vain. I felt a bit like Etna as I dealt with the situation as best I could: breathing deeply to let off steam so I didn’t blow my top. I know HWSNBN was frustrated that he couldn’t really help. Singer Girl went out to greet our driver, Stefano, and fill him in on the delay. We had no idea where our nags were or when they would arrive, given the afore-mentioned lack of Catania flights. But we finalized the paperwork, loaded ourselves into the van, and headed, finally, to the hotel.
Sailor Boy was meeting us for dinner, and bringing along his darling Sicilian girlfriend who we had of course not yet met. I informed him of the AWOL luggage, and he assured me our hotel was in a prime shopping district. Once HWSNBN was safely ensconced and napping at the hotel, Singer Girl and I ventured out to get supplies for the next two days. I typically don’t visit any stores or restaurants on vacation that I can visit at home, but desperate times call for desperate measure, and there were an H & M and a Sephora on the same block, so off we went. We purchased some basics for all 3 of us, and headed back to quickly do what we could to tidy up before dinner.
We were staying at the Hotel Una Palace in the heart of historic Catania.
We had a small suite: spacious bedroom, bathroom, large walk through closet and small sitting area with couch. It was just the right size for spreading out and wheeling about a walker and wheelchair. The hotel had an elevator, which theoretically made it accessible for those with mobility issues, but man those European shower/tub combos are a bear when someone is unsteady on their feet and can’t easily bend their legs! But we managed!
We supposedly had reservations at the stunning rooftop restaurant, Etnea. However, when Sailor Boy and the Lovely Lisa checked in for us, the restaurant couldn’t find our reservation. Exasperated, I sent them Sailor Boy the confirmation email. He texted me shortly afterwards.
“HAHAHA. Mom. That’s in Turin. I don’t think we can make that reservation, it’s a good 3 hour flight.”
They were able to fit us in — although an hour later than we planned, because Sicilian restaurants rarely open for dinner before 8pm. So we made do with snacks and the best damn tasting cocktail I have ever freaking had. Dinner was great. We all laughed, and were so happy to finally be together. Lovely Lisa was as charming as Sailor Boy is goofy. She was nervous meeting us, which is silly, but I understood. She hit it off (I think!) with all of us.
After dinner, it was more than time for bed. HWSNBN and I crashed at the hotel, while Singer Girl was staying at her brother’s apartment. We said goodnight, eager to see each other again in the morning to begin our Sicilian experience in earnest (and in newly purchased clothing…but I digress…).
HOtels in Europe do the free breakfast thing waaaay better in the states. I popped down in the AM and brought up a plate for HWSNBN. Here’s a really underwhelming pic of the buffet, which had cakes, pastries, meats, cheeses, fruits, veg and more.
After breakfast, we met Mario, who was to be our guide (and friend) for the next few days. We were doing a walking tour of Catania. We met the kids at a café, where Mario plied them with espresso and arancini, the amazing fried rice balls native to the area, as they had not been privy to the luxurious hotel fare. Fortified, we set off.
So about that history lesson! Sicily has been inhabited for 10,000 years, and, during that time, has been settled or ruled by many dynasties, including the Greeks, Romans and Bourbons. All over you see the influence of these cultures and all the others around the Mediterranean. The Turks were in charge for awhile, and during the Muslim rule of the 9th through 11th centuries, Catania became known as the city of the elephant. Why? There is a black lava stone elephant fountain (topped with an Egyptian obelisk) in the main square. U Liotru, as it is called, is the city’s symbol. Was there an elephant on the island? Maybe!
The island’s buildings and layout are absolutely colored by not only the cultural diversity, but by the geological history. Catania is known as the black city, as the oldest roads and buildings are made from lava stone (thanks, Etna). But thanks to massive earthquakes and WWII, the cities are varied, making them a fascinating architectural study (many buildings were constructed not only on top of old foundations, but from the ruins of the ones that preceded them).
Italians take their Christian holidays pretty seriously. Sicily is famous for its creches, or manger scenes. This one inside Sant ‘Agatha of Sicily, who was born in Catania, was stunning — and about 10 feet long!
There are certain things I always take pictures of on holiday: markets, doorways and side streets. This trip was no different. Mario led us to a stunning food market, where we feasted with all our senses.
Oh: and I also have a thing for funky vehicles…
The fod market was an appetizer course: we had local pistachios and nut brittles, and Sailor Boy had oysters right there on the street.
Then Mario directed us down this charming street…
…then directed us to wait in front of a shop. Singer Girl took the opportunity to make a local feline friend…
…and Mario worked his magic. As we watched, a flurry of people swarmed out of the shop, and set up little tables and chairs for us. They set the tables, and invited us to sit. nest thing we knew we were eating cheeses and meats, hand picked by Mario, and drinking wine, as we watched the world go by. One of my favorite trip moment, as a humble alleyway became OUR personal restaurant.
Then we wandered further through Catania, back through the square and past our hotel. The main street was bustling with shoppers. We looked in windows, but we were so happy to be outside in the sunshine we didn’t want to stop. A running joke began that day: the Sicilians thought we were crazy. While we reveled in temps in the 60s, they bundled up in scarves, coats and gloves. At one point, someone yelled to a tank-top clad Singer Girl “where are you from?!” We enjoyed stressing Mario out by our lack of winter garb!
Our last stop on the tour was at Savia, where Mario treated us to more arancini and pastries — and wine, of course. Mario had “American prosecco”: Coca Cola.
We said goodbye to Mario for the day, the kids headed back to Sailor Boy’s abode, and HWSNBN and I went to the hotel to nap — and see if our luggage had arrived. No such luck. I logged into the website provided me by the Catania airport, but it was all in Italian. I decided to go to Twitter to get answers. I described our plight, mentioning my husband’s medical condition and the fat tat we were in town visiting our military-serving son. KLM responded less than 4 minutes later! Within 30 minutes we learned our luggage had boarded a flight to Rome the previous day by mistake, and would be arriving at our hotel within a few hours! Such great news — and great customer service!
When it arrived, I unpacked and we got to shower and do all the things you take for granted when you have your luggage, lol. We decided to walk to the restaurant for dinner, rather than make the kids try and pick us up (it was tough to do so, as no private cars were allowed on the street front of the hotel). It was drizzly, so my hair was a mess by the time we got there, but it was a riot, navigating cobble stone streets in a wheelchair. I burned off all the days treats for sure, and we joked that it is not a vacation until HWSNBN and I get lost on a “Bataan death march,” as my family likes to call my happy meanderings.
That night we ate at one of Sailor Boy’s favorite Michelin star restaurants, Km0.
We had a dreadful time…
Singer Girl decided to crash on our couch that night, as Sailor Boy and Lisa had plans with her friends, and he wasn’t going on the tour with us the next morning (she also wanted to check out the hotel breakfast buffet!). We said our goodbyes, and went back to crash, and dream about what visual and gustatorial delights awaited us in the morning!
It has been so long since I have written — here, anyway. More on that in a minute.
This is a quickie, to just touch base and let you know I’m not gone. But 2021 was kind of a shitshow for me, and my new normal is kind of stinky as well.
In June, my dad died. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than a decade, so it was time. The end wasn’t pretty (I’ll never forget the sound of the “death rattle” as the hospice nurse called it). But it’s over. He is no longer disintegrating piece by piece, so we no longer have the internal war of wishing him peace, but not wanting him gone. I have a tribute post in the works, and will hopefully get to that next month.
Last spring, HWSNBN (my husband who abhors social media) finally decided to see someone about some hip pain he was experiencing. The chiropractor helped for awhile. Then he saw an orthopedist, who suspected an arthritic hip from all his years of long distance running. PT was prescribed, but it got worse. During the Boston trip (read that post here), he calmly shared with me that he couldn’t feel his right leg. It “woke up”, but we were shaken.’
He tried a steroidal injection, and that helped for a bit. We managed a Vegas trip in July, and had a ball. But shortly after we returned, the pain was back, and worse. He continued to be unable to run, which was just killing him. The orthopedist was alarmed, and decided it was tie to see a neurologist.
What followed were rounds of tests — blood work, MRIs, EMGs, manual assessments and more. And then they were repeated. On October 1st, we learned that after excluding everything else, they determined he has ALS.
So yeah. Shit.
Since then we have been busy coming to terms with what that means, now and in the future. What future? Who knows. Could be years. Could be, well, not. So far his breathing, speech nd swallowing remain unaffected, an for that we are grateful. But in the just over 3 months since he was diagnosed he has gone from walking painfully to using a walker and now starting to rely on a wheelchair. His right leg is almost useless, and his left isn’t very cooperative either. His hands and arms are weaker, but we don’t know if that’s the disease or the result of overuse from gripping the walker.
Date nights are gone, replaced by home stretching sessions and the never-ending struggle to keep him comfortable. To that end, a lift-assist recliner, swivel tv tray with handle and sleep number adjustable bed are all entering the home in the next week.
Friends, family and coworkers have been phenomenally supportive. “How can I help?” is the phrase I hear mot these days (well, maybe “Donni can I get some help?” is uttered more frequently). From putting air in my tires to bringing meals, to moving things into the attic and running errands, people are amazing. Truly.
I mentioned earlier that I have been writing, just not here. We have a Caring Bridge site that we sue t keep folks updated (check it out here). It’s cathartic for me as well — although, as Singer Girl reminded me, it’s not a therapy session. So I tend to hold back on the feelings there. I will likely be less inhibited here.
But not every future blog post will be about being a CALS to my PALS (caretaker of one with ALS, and person with ALS. All the cool, exhausted people use acronyms). I hope to post tomorrow about our fabulous trip to Sicily to spend Christmas with Sailor Boy. Lots of photos, as usual, so I’ll get at least 3 blog posts about that.
Thanks for listening. I know it’s a downer, but life isn’t all vacations and fashion. Nowadays, I’m thrilled with any me time and clean sweats (is it wrong that I found my filling at the dentist this week a relaxing respite of me time?).
Yes, I realize that I am a month late on this. But, once again, here is my recap of the 30 days of thankfulness I do every November on Facebook. What are YOU thankful for (besides the fact that 2020 is OVER!!!!)?
Thankful project Day 1: (we need this more than ever this year. Dig deep. Find the every day joys!) My neighborhood! My biggest fear leaving our treasured McKinley Court community was not finding new people to smile at in our new place. Well, 6 years later, I can truly say we have chosen well. This year we have really come together and realized how important those “mailbox” connections are. We are lucky! I love Walden!
Thankful project day 2: grateful that Stevie Nicks, despite stealing a bag of chewy sticks and 6 pumpkin cookies with cream cheese frosting while we were out, did not puke during the night.
Thankful project day 3 (make that hopeful projection that will make me thankful if it comes true): Thankful that, no matter what happens today, tomorrow our country will start to heal. That, if our candidate wins, we have all acted with grace, humility, and quiet hope. So no gloating publicly (but yes, you can feel happy), because that is not how you get people to listen to you. And no rioting/destruction/ugly name calling (but yeah, you can be pissed or sad). This country should embrace differences, not mock them. Our variety is what makes us special, not what divides us. So today: vote for a side. Tomorrow: let’s start stitching things back together. And it starts with you, not whoever sits in the Oval Office. I am not a religious person, but I have always liked the phrase “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” So if my candidate prevails, I will not gloat. If my candidate loses, I will take it upon myself to change the world in whatever little way I can. Try to think of something positive you can do for one person, especially if that person is politically opposite from you. Be the person you want your kids (and your President) to be. Now: go vote!
Thankful project day 4: when my sailor’s ship is near land and he can text!
Thankful project day 5: more internet access for Sailor Boy means PHOTOS!
Thankful project day 7: the weather!!! Probably won’t be this warm for another 5-6 months! TGIF!
Thankful project day 7: that we committed to donating blood regularly ( a COVID silver lining!). Today we stepped it up and donated platelets! Please donate. They are seeing a drop off during COVID times.
Thankful project day 8: that HWSNBN was paying close attention when driving and didn’t hit the chocolate lab that darted in front of our car this evening. We quickly pulled over, I grabbed a leash and a handful of treats, and called to the woofer, assuming he would run. Nope: typical lab. Ran over, wagged his tail, and hopped in the back seat with a bewildered Stevie Nicks. Got home, found his name and number neatly embroidered on his collar (hi Oscar!) and called his grateful people. While we waited, he ran joyfully around the house, ransacking the toy box with glee. So glad it ended that way.
Thankful project day 9: 3 days and 3 1/2 hours until the next original song drops! (this is about Singer Girl’s song, that was soon to come out. IN the mean time, I was sharing one of her tiktok videos. Do you follow her? She’s @frankienstein3
Thankful project day 10: that my brother and I made it through the election cycle “relationshiply” unscathed, and, TBH, I feel we are closer than we have been in years. Happy birthday, Trevor S Rice!
Thankful project day 11: that the cortisone shot in my elbow is in the rear view. Ouch.
Thankful project day 12; the public library! For someone like me, who burns through several books a month, it’s a financial lifesaver! Although, TBH, I also spend a good chunk of change at Excelsior Bay Books, so I’m not totally thrifty. But hey: BOOKS!
Thankful project day 13: Cargill! Tonight I attended a fund raising event at a dog park in Plymouth, where Cargill employees paid for the privilege to stand in the wind and snow with happy puppies, all to raise money for Secondhand Hounds. So cool! Btw don’t forget November 19th is Give to the Max Day, but you can donate now and all donations will be matched by a generous donor!
Thankful project day 14: THE NEW SINGLE IS HERE! Like/follow/share on all platforms! Download on Spotify, iTunes, amazon, YouTube, etc. Wherever you get your music. But please share! Legend (Gin&Tonic).
Thankful project day 14: nature! This was a crazy, random moment off our balcony in Vail! Foxy lady! (see more on this in my previous post, “A-Vailing Ourselves of Colorado”)
Oops: missed day 15!
Thankful project day 16: bulldogs in baby carriages!
Thankful project day 17: dinners like this. (again — see previous blog, and the pic of our staying-in meal).
Oops…another missed day, #18…
Thankful project day 19: I missed yesterday, so today will be an all-day affair! Today I am thankful for YOU, and all the support you will give your favorite Minnesota charities today. It is the annual Give to the Max day! Below is my blog post about one tiny baby saved by Secondhand Hounds. If this or any of the stories you see today inspire you, please donate! (See blog post, “Weeble May Wobble but she Don’t Fall Down”)
Thankful project day 20: the enormous generosity of Minnesotans! Yesterday people gave more than $30million to Minnesota charities. We assumed that Give to the Max Day would not be as lucrative as in last years (pandemic!), but it was a record breaker! I look forward to sharing many amazing updates in the future about the animals we will save with the money!
(And another skipped day…)
Thankful project day 22: Singer Girl (aka Francesca Torres) is home for 2 months! (this was supposed to be my TP D 21, but my info was wrong and her flight was today. Now I need to double up some day…)
Thankful project day 23: fostering! This pic popped up today. It’s HWSNBN and our very first foster, Etta. What a journey she kicked off! That decision changed my life in so many ways. It was a time when I saw the empty nest looming, and kind of wondered: what’s next? lol, be careful what you ask the universe!
Thankful Project day 24: today has been a tough one. I hate vague booking, but I can’t go into details. Suffice it to say I cried and I swore and I worried. But things can always be worse. And, for that perspective, I am grateful. (this was about my sailor son, I can now say. Deployment has been tough).
Thankful project day 25: hearing my girl sing again in the basement. Does my soul good! (and now she’s doing opera, no less. Even makes my cocktail taste better!)
Thankful Project day 26: elastic waistbands. (this was on Thanksgiving, lol)
Thankful project day 27: the simple things, like a long bath (made complete with a CBD bath bomb from Jes Naturals – CBD Wellness, btw), a very full glass of wine, a fun book, and knowing that I neither have to shave my legs or put on a bra. Thanks, COVID, for another Friday night in! Time to fire up the Netflix!
Thankful project day 28: all the people out for small business Saturday in Excelsior! We shopped until mom dropped — the weather was beautiful, the shops filled with goodies, and the shopkeepers were immensely grateful. Some eve had to have people wait outside because they were at COVID capacity!
Thankful Project day 29: zoom calls. I know, I know: yawn. But today, thanks to Zoom, I attended a baby shower in North Carolina, and hung with some of my fave women in my book club. No, it’s not the same as in person. But it is so very much better than nothing!
Thankful project day yesterday (whoops — posted on Dec 1): as the month wrapped up, I tried to think of something profound, but then I realized I was me, so I stopped. Anywho…I feel like I mention silver linings a lot, but I do think they are important. I think I have mentioned that the events of the past year, from the pandemic to the rioting to the elections, have caused me to take a deeper look at myself and how I interact with my community. I have become incredibly aware of shopping local whenever possible — and am now thus on a first name basis with some shopkeepers in Excelsior, and I can tell you I feel much brighter and lighter leaving those stores than I do a big box! (I still shop big as well, but only when I “have” to). I am going to try to patronize a new small business each week, whether a shop, a restaurant, etc. I am already thankful for the new friends I shall meet! Happy December, everyone!
Singer Girl just released her next song!
It’s a bluesy, jazzy song — I wanna have a cocktail and listen to this in front of the fire. But I haven’t had breakfast yet, so that wouldn’t be proper.
Her music is on all platforms, so please download on whichever you prefer, and liste away. Love it like I do? SHARE! FOLLOW!
2020 is full of bad things. Can’t we have a good thing????
Help my girl get her voice heard!
Here’s her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/frankietorress
That is all. Carry on…
…gin and tonic in your hand.
(P.S.: if you missed her last one, here it is!
So there’s this bug going around…
No, I don’t have it — yet.
Am I the only one out there not freaked out, but still get that it is a real thing? I mean, I know I will likely get it, or at least be exposed to it if I haven’t been already. I also assume that, sadly, I will know someone who dies. That’s an awful thought, but the odds are likely.
In the meantime, I am not sitting around wringing my hands and obsessively watching press conferences or reading charts or graphs or statistics.
My life has changed, sure. Date nights are gone. So is any personal space. My activities at home have to be curtailed to accommodate our home being turned into an office and school space.
The first time it started feeling real for our family was on our trip to Seattle Feb 27-March 2nd. That was about the time it started breaking open in Washington. As we wandered through museums and tourist attractions, rode planes and Ubers and ferries and monorails, ate samples at food markets and didn’t wash our hands enough, the bug was out there, closing in.
On Wednesday the 10th, HWSNBN was sent home from work to self-quarantine. He hasn’t been back to work since. That was the first way the pandemic has affected the family. We are lucky that he is still working — but keeping puppies quiet during his conference calls has been challenging.
At my weekly marketing meeting for Secondhand Hounds, the animal rescue I work for, we discussed possibly changing our upcoming events. I reached out the next day, Thursday, to my upcoming puppy parties (that’s what I do: I run our puppy party division), assured them that animals can’t spread the virus, but if they wanted to reschedule, that’s fine. No one took me up on the offer.
The next day we sent another letter, informing that all events were canceled, whether we liked it or not.
About that time my daughter and son were starting to feel the ripple effects where they are.
Singer Girl goes to school in Michigan (Go Blue!). She loves it there. I told her to prepare for things to change. I told her that her A Cappella group’s trip to Boston would likely be canceled. She said no way (it was canceled). I told her folks would soon be leaving. She said no way. The local kids started heading home temporarily. The school canceled classes for two days to decide how to handle the situation. They went to online classes. She wanted to see what would happen with all the social stuff. When St Patrick’s Day and Aca prom and here sorority’s charity event were all canceled, she was stunned.
I told her she would be coming home soon. She said no. She was still working; in fact, she was working more than she ever had, to cover the shifts of all those who had left already. She also worried about exposing us to anything she had come in contact with.
I told her she would be coming home. She said she didn’t want to leave her friends. I said just start emotionally planning for it. She rolled her eyes, and we hung up.
Two hours later she called and said, “Ok: come get me.”
So last Thursday I drove 10 hours to Michigan. We packed her up the next day and drove back on Saturday.
Now, we all have to juggle wifi and quiet time so she can do her studies, HWSNBN can do his work, and I can stay sane while they step all over my routine.
Sailor Boy is supposed to change duty stations this summer — to Italy. Not sure if that’s going to happen now. The military is taking some major steps to deal with the virus, and his day to day life has drastically changed. He calls every day, and we discuss the latest development. Will he go to Italy? Will he stay with his current ship? Will he deploy? Will the navy help him move? Will I have to go to Washington and help?
Weirdly it’s like wartime. It’s what he signed up for, I tell him. In a lot of ways, this whole gig reminds me of what I imagined WW2 was like. Folks are sacrificing and stockpiling. We are being told to use supplies wisely. Many common items are hard to come by. People are churning out homemade masks and hospital gowns to protect health care workers. Neighbors are checking in on one another. Again, we all are waiting for that shoe to drop: who will we know that will pay the ultimate price?
Rescue is all weird now too. We have been told to stop doing spay and neuter surgeries. We’ve already cut our office staff to a skeleton crew. On the plus side, more people than ever before want to foster. Sadly, we are unable to take in as many animals as we usually do, as we have cut down on transports to minimize potential volunteer exposure. So we have fosters just waiting to help, and we can’t get needy animals to their waiting homes.
On a day to day level, my life isn’t radically different. I am not worried. My philosophy for most of my life has been to plan for the worst, hope for the best.
In 2015, I saw a movie that pretty much changed my life: Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks stars as an attorney on cold war America, called upon to defend an accused Russian spy. He funds the situation distasteful, to say the least, but does his civic duty Upon meeting the spy in jail, Hanks’s character explains the gravity of the situation, while the accused spy calmly listens. hanks, exasperated, asks why he is so calm. Isn’t he worried?”
“Would it help?” the Russian replies.
Would it help? Does worrying help? No, of course not. It just stresses you out. So from that moment on, whenever I get that nagging feeling, I pause and take a breath. Rather than waste energy worrying, I take action. Do what I can to take control of the situation, then let it go.
That’s where I am now: I have done what I can to prepare. Now I breathe. And wait.
(Meant to post this last week. What a shocker: my blog is late…)
In November I do “the Thankful Project.” That means that every day of the month I post on Facebook something I am thankful for. Some days it’s easy to come up with something that makes me genuinely grateful. Other days, its a struggle. But I think that’s the point of the exercise: no matter what is going on in your life, you need to know that there is good in your life.
Here’s a day to day account of this month’s project!
Thankful project day 1: HWSNBN is home from his European trip, and so tonight: we date!
Thankful project day 2: spending the day with my friend Anna learning travel secrets at the Thrifty Traveler University. My head is reeling with all the info, but I can’t wait to put it to use!
Thankful project day 3: In a few hours I will see my girlie!!! Been more than 2 months since I’ve seen Singer Girl!
Thankful project day 4: the amazing volunteers at Secondhand Hounds. Every week it seems I have a puppy party staffing crisis. But somehow, all the dogs, drivers and wranglers come together in the end. And I can breathe, even when a time Zone away!(I was visiting Singer Girl at school in Ann Arbor)
Thankful project day 7: Kate at Peak Life Clinic! Who knew getting voluntarily suck with dozens of little needles would make me feel so good? Headache? What headache?http://peaklifeclinic.com/?fbclid=IwAR1YVaK83QYe5YDXO60UBos4vDClXTXjQpYoFS2fP1f1mzysPjhf3CC9D4A
Thankful project day 8: that I am able to spend fun days with my mom! Thanks for planning our outing! (we went to a huge craft fair/Christmas boutique event at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings)
Thankful project day 9: tears and heartache. Today I said goodbye to the last of the sub pups. Stickball Special was my favorite from day one, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t a tiny bit grateful every time the vet said he needed more time before he could go to his forever home. So today I cried. And my heart hurts. But when I see the smile on his adopter’s face, I know it’s okay. Lots of highs fostering this group (like having folks call them fat when I know how hard we worked to feed them) and lows (I still miss sweet Phyllis). My heart hurts, but I am grateful for the opportunity to help them survive and thrive. @shhfostersmn #StickballSpecial #Styx #neonatal #givetothemaxday #adopted #yellowlab @ Lake Minnetonka
Thankful project day 10: that I live in a place that has so much character and variety and fun (and that I have cool friends who want to explore it with me!). Today’s calories brought to you from @kegandcasemn , @truckparkusa, #cosettasstpaul #sundayfunday #thankfulproject #food #stpaul #minnevangelist @ Saint Paul, Minnesota
Thankful project day 11: my dad, my son, my nephew, my father in law, my uncle, my brother in law, my grandfathers, and all my ancestors who have served in all the wars of this country. Thank you for your service. (Veterans’ Day post)
Thankful project day 12 (yesterday!): that I have found the Skipper salute community, where we hold each other’s hands while we hand over kleenex and pour the wine. This weekend I get to help make holiday care packages for military men and women deployed all over the globe through the valiant efforts of Semper Fi Flo. If you want to help, she is still accepting donations!
Thankful project day 13: I am FINALLY getting around to getting the Spooktacular pics published! (this referenced my Halloween Party blog post)
Thankful project day 14: thanks to everyone who has donated today to their favorite charities! Give to the Max Day is THE BIGGEST day of the year for many. It certainly is for Secondhand Hounds! What happens today determines the course of the next year — who we can save. We have a benefactor who has pledged to match your donations, so please contribute something. ANYTHING will help! Donate before midnight tonight!
Thankful project day 15: yesterday I kinda chilled, as the day before had been pretty darn crazy! Two puppy parties, and lots of online stalking watching the G2theMax numbers changing. At the end, we did it. Actually, YOU did it! Secondhand Hounds brought in $400,000 in donations! That. Is Amazing. Every dollar will count — whether it’s $10 to microchip a dog, or $5000 to save a sick litter of puppies with parvo or distemper (we have THREE such litters right now, two with parvo, one with distemper. So far we have lost about six puppies, but we are working hard to save the rest. Vaccinate your pets, people!!!). Thank you to all!
Thankful project day 16: Stevie Nicks! Happy gotcha day, Miss Stevie. The Stevester has been with us officially for one year today, and we couldn’t be more grateful. She is still a bit of a hot mess at times (some people have dogs who defend their homes against strangers. Ours pees.). And yet again we find ourselves dog proofing when we leave the house — but not against food, as we did for Penny Torres, but for anything miss neurotic can destroy during her fear we won’t return. Like tissues. Or baking soda. Or scrub brushes. But she is bombproof with puppies, a hilarious goofball, and makes coming home a joy. I recommend everyone feather their empty nest with a touch of fur!
Thankful project day 17: cooking. I am grateful that having food is a given for me and those I love. I am grateful that I get joy from cooking. I am grateful that I have people with whom to share a meal. Tonight’s meal includes wild rice given to me as a gift from the lovely gal who adopted my last foster. Food brings us together!
Thankful project day 18: the Power of 100. This amazing group of like-minded women meets quarterly to choose a locally-based charity to support. Each time three people present worthy options and the group votes who to support. After many tries on my part, they picked the neonatal program at Secondhand Hounds.
Some folks have questioned why I kept presenting. Well, every time I got up and spoke, a few people stopped me afterwards. Either to hand me a separate check, or to ask questions. I met wonderful women who were genuinely I trigger about fostering, adoption, rescue, and how they could help. So yes: the meant is amazing. But the chance to bring awareness is invaluable.
If you would like to learn more about the Power of 100, come with me next time! It’s a fun, quick, casual gathering, and the group has donated more than $100,000 to local charities!
Thankful project day 19: going clubbing in my 50s. Wine club, meet book club. #thankful #thankfulproject #bookclub #wineclub @pejuwinery #pinotnoir @calmereestatewinery @annpatchett #thedutchhouse #wine
Thankful project day 20 (yesterday): Etsy! I can shop online and still support small business people!!
Thankful project day 21: the moments I have left with my dad.
Thankful project day 22: a quiet night at home. Dinner will likely be popcorn and wine, and I’m okay with that. Busy (but fun) weeks ahead!
Thankful project day 24: that my brother Trevor found Sarah and married her 6 years ago today. She’s a keeper. Him? Jury’s still out. Happy anniversary you crazy kids!
Thankful project day 25: bubble baths, books, and wine! (yeah, I’ve mentioned 2 of the 3 of those before. But I am on my third book since that post, and well, like more than that bottles of wine since then)
Thankful project day 26 (again, a day late): the girl is home! And thank goodness Singer Girl arrived before the storm!
Thankful project day 27: (I posted a link to my blog post, “Merry Thanksvgivmas”)
Thankful project day 28: the Melly-dallys and their infinite hospitality. Thank you, Mike, Erika, Lucy, Joey and Paige for another fun, delicious Thanksgiving. Fat and happy, signing off!
Thankful project day 29: When you are ready to snuggle in for the night before 7pm, and Netflix drops an almost 4 hour movie that you’ve been excited to see. I mean, I know we’ll never finish it in one sitting, but at least we have a fighting chance to get it more than halfway done! (NOTE: we watched “The Irishman.” So good!)
Thankful project day 30: the tree is up, and my girl Is home for one last night. It has been an emotional few days, and I will miss her again when she is gone.
We all need to concentrate on what we have in this life, and not worry so much about what we lack. I am thankful for all of you!
I’m a member of a popular Facebook Group called Grown and Flown. Ostensibly it’s for parents whose kids are in the high-school-college-just beyond age group. The topics covered are too diverse to count, and can focus on all sorts of highs and lows, most pertaining to the drama of young adulthood. Some posts are braggy, some are heartbreaking. Most of the time people are looking for help, such as advice on how to pay for college, what to do when your child’s heart is broken after that first big romance ends, or how to deal with kids driving you nuts.
The other day someone posted something that had been discussed before (frankly, most topics get re-introduced regularly. Reminds me of how similar we all really are). This topic: “What’s a reasonable amount to spend for a prom dress? We are not trying to create entitled attitude but do want to make this special for her.”
Now any time anyone asks a question on social media the answers are gonna range from helpful to hurtful. This was no different. This was my response:
“No one can tell you that! It’s up to you… To me, it’s not about the money. It’s about the memory of THAT MOMENT…don’t do what you can’t afford. But do what feels right. I leave practical for grocery shopping and doing housework.”
Recently I was reintroduced to the high-stress world of prom dress shopping. I thought that those days were behind me (I also thought my days of wondering what school my kid would attend were over as well, but that’s another post). However: Drummer Boy is a high school senior, and he and Singer Girl are still going strong, even after a year of separation (sort of — they saw each other every month, lol).
So it’s prom time again. Which means, of course, shopping again. She wants it to be special but was torn, because she knows last year we spent a lot, and she wants to be practical. It’s not her prom. And wouldn’t it be nice to get something she can wear twice?
I totally understood where she was coming from. And I appreciated it. So when we ventured out, we tried to be fiscally responsible and cognizant of her desire not to look like she was in high school still. She had a look in mind, but we couldn’t find it. Then we started broadening the search parameters and kept venturing away from re-wearable and back. Then we danced towards glitzy and pricey, then retreated.
Anxiety was building. I tried to keep an even facade and let her lead the way. But she was stressed, and the whole time we shopped, I was battling the inner demons of wanting to give her everything and wanting to pull back. After a while, I realized that even though she didn’t want us to go overboard, I was prepared to do so. Why?
Because every day I hear of a family that will never again see their daughter dress up in a beautiful gown. Or of a mother who can’t be there when her daughter shops for her wedding dress. Or a father who won’t be there to be uncomfortable when he sees a young man look at his daughter in awe.
I’m not morbid. But life sometimes sucks. And it’s effing unfair. And shit happens.
Last week we lost a friend. I wasn’t super close with him or his wife, but close enough that we always stopped when we saw each other in the schools or gravitated towards each other at work functions. My husband worked with him and was close to Mark, and the loss gutted him. An amazing man, gone too soon (only 62). Bigger than life — and now, suddenly, gone.
I tried to put myself in his wife’s position, shocked and stunned and overwhelmed. All those plans: gone. All the dreams that would go unrealized. What would it be like, to not be able to do another date night? To quarrel over the kids’ choices? To laugh at the foster dogs and their antics?
Time is short, and memories are precious. I’m not saying anyone should do anything that will truly be a burden for their family. If it’s a choice between paying your bills or buying the fancy, expensive, never-to-be-worn again dress, don’t buy the dress.
If I can afford to spoil my kids, I am going to. If it’s not a financial hardship for my husband and me to take a trip, we’re going now — and not waiting for someday. If I don’t have to choose between groceries and the overpriced glass of chardonnay from a winery a friend raved about, I’m buying it (but I might not share).
When it came time to choose the prom dress, we actually went home with 6 options and we had a voting party with Drummer Boy and HWSNBN. Silly? Maybe. But it’s a memory for all four of us now. Someday Singer Girl could become Mrs. Drummer Boy. Who knows? And someday, when people are reminiscing, this story might be laughed about in a moment of sadness and loss.
Ultimately she picked the first dress she tried on — a respectably priced one. But she actually really loved another outfit as well. It was a jumpsuit, and not really right for prom. But she loved the way it made her feel (and frankly, when an outfit makes you feel good, you should buy it. Period.), so we kept it as well. So yeah, we weren’t totally practical.
But that day was well spent. We didn’t fight. We had fun. What could’ve been a stress-filled trip ended up being a happy one. Maybe when she wears that jumpsuit, she’ll remember that day and smile. I don’t get enough days with my kids anymore, so I want to treasure what I get. And I think they get that.
There’s a funny meme going around, that reminds you to think about what you wear carefully because if you die that will be your ghost outfit. Silly, yes. But it also reminds me: be careful how you end every conversation or experience with someone. If they never see you again, that will be their last memory of you. At our friend’s funeral, one of the sons said that losing their dad suddenly wasn’t as bad because they always knew where they stood with him. He never let them wonder if they were loved.
Buy the dress.