Every Family Has One

If you have ever seen the movie A Christmas Story, you know what I mean when I say:  “Every family has their own version of a leg-lamp”.  It just may not actually BE a leg-lamp.  For some people, its the creepy shelf elf, or some Christmas cookie platter your distant aunt gave you from her attic, something you put out out of obligation, not because you really like it.  For my family, ours was an Aluminum Christmas tree.

I grew up just down the street from my mothers parents.  To give a bit of background, my mom was a middle daughter of 4 daughters.  One of them passed away at age 12 (my mom will forever say she was the favorite) and the other two married people who my grandfather did not approve of and ended up quickly divorced.  While my grandfather didn’t approve of my father initially, he grew to love my father and helped my parents out when they were first married.  Ocoassionally, he would gift my parents things to help make their house a home.  A beautiful Cherry hutch, a Cherry dresser and one time, it was an Aluminum Christmas tree.

The tree was made up of an aluminum pole that stood about 5 1/2 feet tall and had holes all up and down the pole.  In each of these holes, an aluminum branch would fit in, the longer ones on the bottom and moving up to the smaller ones on the top (similar to the modern day artificial trees).  The tree itself sat in a stand that not only rotated the tree, but it played music too.  The tree with the stand was placed on a 2-piece mirror  that was about 6 feet in diameter.  And to top it off, my grandfather had also given us Pink and Blue ornaments to decorate the tree.  Why Pink and Blue?  Why, to go with the Pink and Blue spotlights that shone on the tree, of course!

This was a tree that you simply could not hide.  If you were to stand out in front of our house at Christmastime and looked at our picture window, there would be our own personal “Leg Lamp.  A Silver Aluminum Christmas Tree, decorated with only large Pink and Blue ornaments, lit only by a Pink spotlight on one side and a Blue spotlight on the other side, rotating on a musical stand.

As I think about it now, I imagine what this gift meant to my grandfather.  A man who raised his kids during the depression, and  pulled himself out of it to have a comfortable living, this was like buying her a Cadillac.

I applaud my mother for continuing to try to make that tree special for our family.  She tried to honor him by putting it up each year even though I knew she secretly hated it.

Its now 50 years later and as I walk through some of the stores at Christmas, there are trees in all kinds of colors.  Pink, Blue, Green, White.  But never Silver……….you never see Silver…….images (5)



There is a woman in my neighborhood who walks faithfully every morning.  If I am out and about early enough, I can catch her walking her speed-walk and she waves or says good morning.  She is not one to stop and chat.  She almost always wears Pink.  A Pink hat, a pink jacket or both.  She also always……always wears bright red Lipstick.

My mother was a lipstick wearer.  I don’t know that I can remember a time when my mother didn’t have lipstick on.  The colors ranged from a darker brown-reddish color to a more peachy-reddish color.  She never wore RED DOOR red, but she always wore lipstick.  In fact, I cant remember a time when my mother went anywhere without lipstick, her hair fixed just right and her fake eyelashes.  My mothers fake eyelashes were not like those worn today – the ones that really look fake and no one seems to care.  She painstakingly glued individual eyelashes onto her eyelids in an effort to look like she even had eyelashes.  Like me, hers were sparse and very blonde.  Thankfully I have enough that I don’t feel I need to glue any on.

When I start walking down this memory path, I am  reminded of a time when ladies, including my mother, wore wigs.  Lord only knows what possessed sane women in the late 60’s and early 70’s to don a wig, but it was popular.  In our neighborhood, Margaret Weil, Lisa Rouse, Trudy Sieffert and my mother all wore wigs regularly.  My mom and Margaret wore “frosted” wigs.  Essentially, the wig was supposed to look like their normal hair, though more voluminous, and had a “frosted” or “streaked” look to them.  Trudy and Lisa’s wigs were less flashy and were closer to their true hair color.  Sometime later, I think when I was in 3rd grade, I used one of my mothers old wigs to dress up as Phyllis Diller for Halloween – it was perfect.

Back to the ladies who wore wigs…..I recall this one random Saturday.  It was fairly early in the day, say mid-afternoon and we kids were all out playing.  Me, Lisa Weil, Lynn Rouse and some of the Klemp kids.  It was warm enough that the house windows were open, so it was likely early summer.  Who knows what we were doing, what game we were playing, but we started to hear some raised voices coming from the Weil’s kitchen.  The noise wasn’t as much of a yelling/screaming as it was some sort of a squealing, laughter, gasping noise.  It was definitely a female.  Then it got louder with more voices.  We were just kids.  We weren’t going to go inside and get in the middle of whatever was going on, but here’s how the story goes afterward:

The ladies were in the kitchen around the table.  There was liquor involved.  I can tell you my mom and Lisa didn’t do much drinking, but they did once in awhile.  This day, they were ALL drinking.  The conversation went to clothes, looks, makeup and finally hair.  Trudy said something about Margaret’s wig.  Margaret claimed not to be wearing a wig, Trudy disagreed and snatched the wig right off Margaret’s head.   Margaret was incensed and the rest of the ladies started to giggle.  Margaret stood up, reached over and yanked the wig off of Lisa’s head.  They laughter becomes a mixture of squealing, screeching and more laughter.  Lisa grabs my mom’s wig off and finally Trudy’s comes off.  By the time one of the husbands gets there, these ladies (ages ranging from 50 down to 40) are hysterical with laughter all around the kitchen table in their wig-caps while they continue with their little afternoon party.  Eventually, the husbands come along to get their wives and everyone goes to their respective houses to sleep off the afternoon.  My dad took us to Dairy Queen for dinner since mom “didn’t feel well”.

I sit here writing this and have to stop to giggle at the thought of these ladies getting wild in Windsor Road.  When you’re a kid, you don’t get it at all and you think your parents are crazy.  As an adult who has great friends like these ladies were, it makes me think of all the belly-laughs I have had with my long time friends and that everytime we see each other there is typically some incident, discussion or story that causes us all to squeal with laughter until we cant breathe!

Finally, and my long-time friends can attest to this too, I am indeed my mothers daughter.  I do not now, nor will I ever wear lipstick, BUT I will get up, shower and “put my face on” to cut the grass.   I can still hear Sue and Nancy teasing me about that when we were in Canada…….where we laughed a lot.


Bumbles Really DO Bounce

I like to surprise my husband (Michael) on special occasions.  Those can range from a birthday, Christmas, anniversary or just some random day.  To tell the truth, I just LOVE to surprise those that I love.  Its fun.

Since Michael does all of our finances and I am one of the lucky ones who never even has to slice open  the envelope of a bill, I try to further the surprise by saving for these purchases via “skimming from the grocery bill” and then use whatever I was able to save to purchase a gift.  (I know, my secret is out).  The goal to be so he doesn’t know how much I pay for stuff in addition to the surprise factor.   One particular year I had some BIG plans.

Michael has just about everything that a guy could want.  I have purchased every power tool and re-build your car engine tool one could want.  The longer we are together, the more difficult it is for me to come up with a really good gift idea – something better than a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble, although he appreciates that just as well.  This particular year I had a good bit of cash saved up and decided to get Michael his own Kayak.  Michael and his buddy Blake (aka –“Godfather”) have been kayaking together for years.  Blake owns 3 of his own and Michael ends up borrowing or renting one for every trip.  They took kayaking the rapids classes together and had talked about the two of them going down to the river after work on Fridays to kayak rather than hit Penny Lanes for beers over the summer and heck, its something he can do on his own too.

The Process:

Part 1 – I called Blake for guidance on a GOOD kayak.  I cant afford the kind of kayak Blake can, but with my budget we went online together and we picked one out.  Blake wanted me to get a sit-in kayak, but I insisted on a sit-on-top as I fear that whole drowning thing AND those don’t require they be fitted to the owner.  I ordered it and had it delivered to my neighbors’ house for safe storage in their garage until the big reveal day.

Part 2 – I arranged with Blake to invite Michael on a day trip kayaking on the Saturday of our anniversary weekend.  Michael was excited to go and after some touch and go with the weather (and water temperature in early May), it was set.

Part 3 – The Friday before, I rushed home a bit early, got the girls to make a big Happy Anniversary poster and when Michael got home from work, they were sitting in the kayak in the front yard holding the poster.  Might I say…………..it was the best surprise EVER!

Early the next morning, Blake came to get Michael, they loaded up the kayak and off they went for the day.  About 4pm, Michael calls from the road to tell me to get dressed and he is taking me to dinner.  When he and Blake got back, it didn’t take long to notice how badly Michael’s legs were sun burned.  Evidently in all the excitement he completely forgot to use sunscreen on his legs (having been used to a sit-in kayak) and it was too late before he remembered.  So, he was moving a bit slow, but we headed out to dinner.

We had a bit of wine before we left for dinner and shared a bottle while we were there.  Toward the end of the meal, Michael announces we need to leave quickly as his legs are absolutely killing him.  On the way home, we stopped at Rite Aid to get him some Benedryl.  I am not certain where he got this notion, but he believes that Benedryl will take the pain away from his legs.

We headed home, he took a Benedryl and we opened another bottle of wine.  We ended up watching the end of The Blues Brothers (can you believe he had NEVER seen it before??), finished the 2nd bottle of wine and went to bed.

The fun starts when about 5am I hear Michael get up to use the restroom.  I hear the toilet flush then a strange guttural noise, a stumble, something thunk and a glass shatter.  What concerned me was what I DIDN’T hear.  I didn’t hear any cursing.  In fact, I waited about 15 seconds and I didn’t year anything……so I investigated.

When I get to the bathroom door, I can’t really get in because Michael is sprawled long-ways across the double sinks while still standing and his back-side is blocking the door.  I called his name, but he didn’t move.  Is he breathing I wonder?  I reach in and barely touch his back, “Michael?” I said.  He jerks up, stumbles by me in the doorway and says “Wow, that was weird”.  I tried to get him to stop and wait, but the momentum was in play.  He stumbled forward, I tried to keep him from falling but couldn’t.  He slipped out of my hand and fell, like a 100 year old oak tree, to the ground.  He didn’t even make a move to break his fall.  The floor shook.  Heck, the whole 2nd floor shook.  HE BOUNCED….like the Bumble in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  I am surprised Hunter didn’t wake up in the next room.

When I got to him, he didn’t move.  Was he breathing?  It was hard to tell, but when I touched him, he snapped out of it again and tried to get up.  I made him stop and wait for me to ensure he wasn’t hurt.  He had cut his chin, but other than that, no injury.  I helped him get back into bed and he went back to sleep.  Of course, I couldn’t sleep anymore.  I had some coffee and continued to check on him to make sure he was breathing and not stumbling around getting hurt.

About 2 hours later, he was waking up and groggy.  He said “I’m not sure we’re going to make it to church today” at which point I laughed and said “You aren’t going anywhere today mister.  What the heck happened to you?”  He had no memory of what had happened (stunned!) so I filled him in on all the gory details at which time he said……

FAMOUS LAST WORDS “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that Valium with the Benedryl and the wine”.

Note :

Do NOT drink wine and take other stuff

Do NOT mix Benedryl or anything

Do NOT drink wine, take Benedryl AND a Valium.

DO……..make sure the insurance is paid, cuz momma is getting a swimming pool.  :)

I say the swimming pool thing as a joke.  Michael knows I would wait at least a season to put in the swimming pool…..its cheaper off-season to have it installed anyway.


There was a Bear on this Yoga Hike and…..

I have these friends, Johanna and Laura.  Its funny, we all three worked at the same company for at least 16 years.  I would see each of them individually outside of work, but once I stopped working there (they both still do) I thought……….I need to get these two gals together.

I like them both for many of the same reasons.  They are both smart, extremely well read (I sometimes have to ask them to explain a word to me), love to laugh and they crack me up.  They love their pets, their families and when we hang out I never want the time to end.

A few months ago, I thought it would be fun to invite them to one of those “painting party” places.  You know, a bunch of (typically) women in a room with paints, canvas, an instructor to step you through what to do to get your painting just like the example and most importantly, wine.  So the giggling begins.  By the end of the night, my cheeks hurt from laughing,  Laura and Johanna had gotten to know one another, found they had a lot in common and once again, I didn’t want the time to end.

Fast forward.  Johanna had found this website for a weekly Sunday ritual called YogaHike.  The instructor takes folks to various local and state parks, you start with an hour hike and then an hour of Yoga.  Its not easy to get 3 busy ladies to find a Sunday when they can get together to do this, but we finally did and landed on Byrd Park in downtown Richmond.

We got there and met the instructor.  In total there were about 12 people.  Another threesome of ladies, a few singles, one guy, us and the instructor.  We ventured off on our hike, down some steps and through a narrow path in the woods where I began immediately to worry about poison ivy as I am highly allergic.  Little did I know that Byrd Park is actually very near the James River.  We walked maybe a mile to “The Old Pump House” which is a beautiful old stone structure no longer in service, but with great bones.  As it turns out the instructor had been to an event there the week before – a charity event to raise money to get the building fixed up for….events!  We oohed and ahhhed for a bit and moved down the path, crossing railroad tracks to get to the James River.  There are two railroads that cross not far, the tracks we crossed which go east/west and then a lovely trelace bridge right over the river that carries north/south traffic.    Again, we ooohhh and ahhhhh, and move on.  Through the woods, down to the side of the river on a path.

By this time, the instructor, the 2 single ladies and the guy are all ahead of us.  Then Laura, me, Johanna and the group of 3 other ladies trail behind us slightly.  As we are walking and talking, I see a deer across the river.  I stop Johanna to take a picture as she had been snapping pictures throughout the hike so far.  We notice we have lost Laura so we speed up to catch her.  Behind us, the threesome of ladies are not in sight.

Laura has stopped a bit up the path to wait for us and we catch her.  We continue together a bit, but cant find or hear the instructor.  We decide to head back to see if we missed a turnoff somewhere and find the other threesome, but no instructor.  We all six quickly decide to go back to the tracks where we went into the woods to see if we find the instructor waiting for us there.  Nothing.  An executive decision is required.  We split up.  The threesome went back the way we came and we forged ahead assuming someone would notice we were missing and stop to wait.    Did anyone ever tell you what ASSUME means?

We went about as far as we thought made sense before we started getting nervous that we would be all the way down in Pony Pasture before we turned around and went up to the train tracks.   It was probably about 90 minutes into our 1 hour hike by this time and we were just giggling up a storm.  We decided we needed to start making up a story.  “So, there was this Bear” is how it would begin and it went on from there.

As we were walking down the tracks, we could not help but draw a parallel to the movie Stand By Me.  The next thing you know, there is not only a Bear in our story, but a kid named Ray Brower.  Maybe the Bear killed him by the tracks.  The kid stumbled across him while he was fishing for salmon in the James River.  Wait, there are no salmon in the James River.   We moved on.

Laura and I were in front, singing Lollipop Lollipop, oh Lolly Lollipop just like the boys in the movie – we even did the little skip down the tracks.  Johanna is behind us taking pictures and we start talking about the scene where the train came while the boys were on the bridge and they barely made it off before getting hit.  I even went so far as to bend down and feel the rails to see if they were vibrating……..then the more we talked about it the more nervous I got.  We were around a curve.  A fast moving train could indeed catch us by surprise.  I started planning our escape route.  Where would we jump if a train did come.  The closer we got to the walkover we needed to reach, the more nervous I became, looking over my shoulder, listening for a train.  At some point, there was a train whistle and I admit I got a bit more panicky… Johanna and Laura thought I was nuts.

Once we got to the walkover, a collective sigh of relief and we continued to follow the path we originally came to get back to the starting place.  Of course, we couldn’t EXACTLY remember, so we were once again detoured, but not as drastically, though the woods.  I stopped someone and asked to ensure we were headed in right direction.  My partners in crime said “You cant ask for directions – ye of little faith!”.

FINALLY, almost 2 hours into our adventure, we made it back to the starting point.  We found our instructor along with the rest of the yoga-hikers doing their yoga-thing.  It actually took them some time to acknowledge we were there.  We were invited to join the rest of the class (all 10 minutes), but we opted out.  You see, we had planned long before that after our yoga-hike, we would need some sustenance.  Such as a cocktail and some snacks.  Now we found we needed them more than ever.

Johanna had picked this place called “Starlite”.  My first reaction:  Isn’t there some seedy place in Vegas called the Starlite Lounge?  This was most certainly not the “Starlite Lounge” I was told.   We hopped in the cars, drove over, got a seat, ordered a YUMMY YUMMY cocktail and some snacks along with a LARGE glass of water each.    There was more giggling, expanding on the Bear story (no one ever even asked!) and plans for the next adventure.  As the waitress reached over to re-fill my water glass, I look down to find “The Starlite Lounge” emblazoned on the glass.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, this is exactly what the sign at the one in Vegas (or the one I dreamed of in Vegas) looks like.  Starlite Lounge

Finally, as we were leaving the lounge, I look across the street and what do I find in front of someone’s house?  A HUGE BEAR!

Its a Bear

Laura and Johanna, this one is for you…………..until our NEXT adventure.  ;)


They Call Me “Hurricane Jill”

As Hurricane season kicks off in the mid-atlantic, so does Vacation season.   Since I have moved to Virginia, I have been to or attempted to go to the beach for vacation 6 times.  5 times I actually made it there, 3 times evacuated for a hurricane in the beginning or middle of the vacation week and that 6th time we never even left our house.  The hurricane didn’t hit where we were going, but it sure as heck hit my house – so I had to stay home.  (side note – Michael was off camping in the WVA mountains unable to be reached during #6).

There are stories around all of the beach trips and hurricane evacuations, but I have to say my favorite is the last “family” beach vacation where we went along with our neighbors, the Lacombe family; Steve, Candy, Hannah and Andrew.

We spend a lot of time with the Lacombes.  Hanging in the cul-de-sac sharing our love of wine and stories with Steve and Candy, Hannah was our babysitter as was Andrew once Hannah got a “real job” and all this time Steve and Candy both talked about how much they would love to go on a beach vacation and hadn’t found the opportunity since Candy was “in the chair”.   So one year, we decided we were going to make that happen come Hell or Hurricane :) .  We needed some special accommodations given Candy is in a wheelchair, so I did some searching for a wheelchair accessible rental house.  Once we nailed down a few that sounded right, Steve and I got on the phone with the rental agency and spoke with an agent at length who was familiar with all the properties.  We need to be sure there was a roll-in shower for example.  There had to be an elevator so Candy could have access to all the floors.  We also wanted a pool at the house and easy access to the beach.

We were going to do this up right.  The kids were all allowed to invite 1 friend.  We rented a “beach wheelchair” for Candy who’s only want was to put her feet in the ocean again.  We packed up 3 vehicles, had Michael’s new Kayak on the roof of mine and Hannah drove the 3rd vehicle on her first ever road trip as a new driver. 

We left on a Sunday, drove the 4+ hours down to the house.  Everyone stayed in the driveway and started to unload vehicles while I went to check in and get the keys.  By the time I returned, Steve had been around the house several times and reported that there was no ramp or entryway that Candy’s wheelchair could fit through.  While we were talking with the rental agent, we indeed asked about wheelchair accessibility into the building, but never used the word “ramp”.   In short, this house was set up for someone in a MANUAL wheelchair, not an electric one (which weighs about 400 lbs empty).  I went back to the rental agency, explained our dilemma.  They were terrific and sent a guy over right away.  We decided that if he can build a ramp, we could get Candy through the patio doors by the pool.   It took an additional hour or so, but between the rental agency maintenance guy and Steve, a ramp was built and Candy was in the house.   Problem 1 solved.

That obstacle behind us, we moved on to the elevator.  This particular kind of elevator has a standard door and inside the door there is a “sliding/folding” door with a magnetic catch.  It seems that the magnetic part needs to be connected before the elevator will work.  Unfortunately, for a quadrapalegic, sliding the folding door can be difficult.  Poor Candy got stuck in there the first time.  We waited and waited for her to come up and finally sent someone to the first floor to see what the hold up was.  Once we finally got to her, we decided someone would always be in the elevator with her to ensure we got a solid connection and no one got stuck in the elevator.  Problem 2 solved.

Of course we all wanted to hit the beach so shortly after we got everything unpacked, we grabbed our stuff and headed down to check out the water.  The kids and I went ahead to find a spot, set up shade, etc.  Heck, its August in the south – even at 3pm its hot as hades.  It took awhile, but finally I notice all the people around us looking at the walk-over that goes over the Dunes.  They are watching Michael and Steve carry Candy down the steps in her beach wheel chair.  This is not unusual for them, but the Beach Wheelchair made it particularly difficult.  Imagine a wheelchair built out of PVC piping, heavy duty mesh for the seat and back and HUGE inflatable tires.  The entire design of the chair was to make it light so it could easily move across the sand.  The smile on Candy’s face was terrific.  She had waited so long to see the beach and it didn’t take her long to want to get down there and put her feet in the water.  I remember her saying – “I know I can’t feel it, but I want to get in that water and put my feet in the sand”.   You ask, Ms. Candy, and you shall receive……

Steve and Michael roll Candy down to the waters edge and put her in close enough so the water will rush over her feet.  Everyone is feeling great about overcoming the initial obstacles, we are now at the beach and Candy has her feet in the water.  With Steve on one side of Candy and Michael on the other they all three are looking out at the ocean, watching the waves when all of a sudden some rogue wave comes in, lifts Candy’s wheelchair and flips her forward face-first into the ocean!  It took a second or two before the boys noticed she had gone over.   I hear a HOLY SH&T from Steve as both he and Michael reach down to grab the arms of the chair and pull Candy back up.  At the same time I turn around to see Hannah (who is a lifeguard at this time) running across the beach at us like Pamela Anderson in Baywatch.   Once Candy is pulled out of the water, all you can see is the ear to ear grin on her face.  “That was AWESOME” she says……” I don’t want to do it again, but that was great!”   I thought poor Steve was going to have a heart attack.  Once you get a neck injury, it could easily be worsened by something like had just happened.  I am happy to report, all is well……but the story is not over. 

You may not know (and I sure didn’t until we took this vacation) that if you are confined to a wheelchair, you should NEVER wear your seatbelt while in your chair when you are near water such as a pool or around a lake.  The reason for this is if you happen to go into the pool with your belt on, you will get dragged down to the bottom of the pool right along with your 400lb wheelchair.  Consequently, since Candy had to exit the house through the patio doors out to the pool, then through a gate on the side yard to get out to the car, she never had her seatbelt on.  Candy was extremely consciencious about the seatbelt issue while we were outside, so much so that she would not be outside without someone else with her (smart, right?).  Until the day that we were EVACUATED due to a hurricane……

It was Thursday morning and Steve and I had gone down to the beach as we are early risers in our households.  Early mornings in the outer banks of NC, you can often see dolphins frolicking just outside the surf and I just love watching the sun come up over the ocean.  It was about 7am when we headed back to the rental.  Along the way, one of the neighbor houses said “did you get your call yet?  They are evacuating the island”.  Ugh………….it felt like we had just unpacked and now not only did we have to evacuate, but so did all the other vacationers on the single lane 12 mile stretch of the island.  Traffic…..here we come.  Once we have just about everything packed up, Michael and Candy come out the patio door, past the pool to the gate to get in the van for the trip home – no seat belt.  There was a good 4-inch drop from the concrete of the patio to the yard and with Michael behind her, Candy moved forward a bit too fast and BOOM – the front wheels went down too hard and threw Candy right out of her chair onto the grass face-first.  Michael was stuck behind the chair and Steve was over by the van in the driveway.  He FLEW over to Candy, picked her up to check her out and got her back settled in the chair.   Confirming no injury, we moved on to leave our treasured beach vacation. 

To this day, Michael talks about this story and reminds himself that he was the one watching over Candy each time she took a tumble.  Candy remembers it all fondly and still says taking a tumble into the ocean was FANTASTIC. 

That was the last “beach vacation” I think Michael will go on with me.  It seems I am the common denominator to every vacation coming right along with a Hurricane.  I don’t know why they haven’t named one after me yet.  J


Every wedding has a story….

My Niece Annie made me a card for my wedding.  This is one of the pictures in it.
My Niece Annie made me a card for my wedding. This is one of the pictures in it.

This is our Anniversary weekend so I thought it made sense to tell a bit about our wedding day.

I don’t think there is a single wedding in history that goes off without a hitch. There’s typically something that stresses the bride out, flowers aren’t right, the groom does something stupid (think ‘Father of the Bride’). Our wedding and the time leading up to it is no different.

As a bride, I was lucky. We were getting married in Richmond, I lived in Chicago, so Michael did all the planning, running around, etc. He is an admitted control freak, so the arrangement was perfect. He had created a binder with all these categories and had copies of quotes, different invitation samples, etc. He even created a chapter for “registration” so we could make a list of what we needed to register for given we were combining 2 households already, we really did have to think about that.

For me, my responsibilities were getting my dress and planning the Honeymoon. For the dress, I knew exactly the style I wanted. Funny thing is, it was not a ‘typical’ style that all the other brides wanted so I had a hard time finding it. Jamie and I had gone out one Saturday looking, found maybe 2 dresses in the style I wanted and gave up – we went to Chili’s for Margarita’s instead. The following weekend, I was on my way to David’s Bridal in Lombard, IL when an accident occurred ahead and took out a power pole. Imagine no working traffic lights in a busy road. I am not a patient “waiter”, so as I am sitting in traffic, I look to my right and what do I see but a bridal shop aptly labeled ‘BRIDE$MART’. You will note the S is really a dollar sign.

It was easy to migrate through the traffic to get over to BRIDE$MART. They didn’t have power either and no customers were in the store, so I wandered in, told the salesperson what I was looking for and she pulled a few dresses for me. I had to use a fitting room near the entryway to the fitting area to get enough light to see, but we made it work. I tried on the first dress I liked, walked out to look in the big mirror and said SOLD. It’s amazing to me when I watch the ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ shows now and a bride’s budget is in the thousands of dollars. My dress price – $200.00 cold hard cash (including the veil). Sure, it was used, but who cares? It wasn’t previously used by me. J I must admit, however, I did have a moment of panic when I paid for the dress and left the store without Jamie having been with me. The deal was done, so I just had to hope Michael liked it.

Fast forward a couple of months to the weekend of the wedding. My brother Todd and my Dad flew into Baltimore and drove down, Neal and Robin were here, Jamie was here…we were ready to go. I went to meet Todd and my dad for a drink before the rehearsal only to find when I get there that my dad was not feeling well. Todd didn’t make a big deal, but when I went up to see my dad before we left,  he  was so hot, yet he had chills and could barely open his eyes. He said he “ate something bad”, which was always what my dad said, so we left with the promise that we would bring food back for him.

The next day, we get to the church and are getting ready to take pictures before the ceremony ( I didn’t want to waste time taking pictures to get to the party!) It didn’t take long to figure out how sick my Dad was. He could barely stay awake. His fingernails were blue. We took all the pictures we could without him and only pulled him in for those few he needed to be in. Then the decision had to be made……who’s going to walk me down the aisle? Clearly, Dad couldn’t do it. So….my oldest brother Todd, walked me down wearing dark slacks and a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows. It was perfect. When the pastor says “who gives this woman?” Todd turns to the pews, Neal helps my dad stand and Todd says “Her Father and I”. Michael said my dad was passed out the rest of the ceremony.

The Pastor gets his own part of this story–

Michael was worried about one of our friends who was habitually late not showing up on time. So much so that he told him to be at the church an hour earlier than the rest of the guys. He showed up on time, dressed and ready, it was the Pastor who came running in 5 minutes before we were supposed to start, sweaty from a basketball game with his suit slung over his shoulder. Michael was ready to throttle him, but since he made it on time, he was spared.

Move on to the ceremony to the part where the Pastor likes to tell some little anecdote that makes the participants think he knows you so well. He looks at me and says, “Vickie, I know your always cooking when you wear that Marquette sweatshirt”. Todd was still standing there at this point and all I could think was if he called me Vickie again, Todd was going to lose his temper. He didn’t call me Vickie again, but as we were leaving the ceremony, 3 of Michael’s girl friends started to sing “oh Vickie you’re so fine” to me.  It was a hoot!

After the ceremony we took a few more pictures and then Todd took my dad straight to the emergency room. We had a nice reception at this art studio down in Shockoe Bottom. We were on a tight budget so friends had helped out all over. Cameron and Amy did the decorations; Bruno ran and got the food and champagne. They all met up at the reception place after the wedding and set it up before people started to arrive.

We had a small wedding therefore not a large crowd. People milled around, had some snacks and cider or champagne. We cut the cake. It was hours before Todd arrived to fill us in on Dad. As it turns out, he had a severe infection which so he was admitted to the hospital.

The next morning we went up to the hospital to check on him ourselves. Michael and I were willing to cancel our Honeymoon, but Todd and Dad insisted we go. Todd stayed at Michael’s apartment, which worked out as it saved our friend Scott from having to come over twice a day to give Elwood his insulin shots. Todd already knew how to do it as he took care of Elwood when I was traveling before I had moved to Virginia.

We went on our Honeymoon, Dad remained in the hospital and we called every day. He was released the day we returned. We immediately moved into our rental house, Todd and Dad went home and the rest, as they say, is history.

Egg Wars

As Easter approaches this weekend, I am reminded about a lot of things from my childhood related to Easter.  One of those fond memories includes “Egg Wars”.

I’m not sure how it began, but based on the game as well as the participants, I am pretty sure that my brother Neal made this whole thing up and then Keith and I took over when he went off to college.   Here’s how it works…..after the Easter Egg hunt at your house, you pick your best egg and get a partner who has their own eggs.  Your partner and you tap the rounded end of the eggs together.  Who’s ever egg cracks first is the loser and the winner gets to keep the other guy’s egg.   The goal is to get all the eggs.  Keith and I were vicious about winning this game.  We usually played against Lynn and Patrick Rouse as well as Lisa Weil.  Maybe some of the Tricarrico’s would come by or we would go to their house with our egg baskets.

The act of decorating the eggs each year was with the express intent of creating the strongest egg to be the ultimate winner of the contest.  I distinctly remember when a new kind of egg coloring came out.  It made a “swirly” decoration (still found on store shelves to this day) on the eggs and truly made a stronger shell…almost like it had a small amount of shellac in the color.   Over the years, we became masters at the art creating the strongest eggs in order to steal all the neighbors eggs and then challenged each other to the war to end all wars of egg wars.  The winner gets………………….egg salad?   I happen to LOVE egg salad.

One year as we went egg hunting we could not find one of the eggs.  We had counted how many we decorated.  We were always equal…he did 9, then I did 9 or he did 12 and I did 12.  We did that so when we went egg hunting we would end up with an equal number (yes, all siblings have that “its not fair” gene).   This particular year, we just couldn’t find that one last egg.  We became so disoriented at the loss of one egg, I don’t even remember what happened with Egg Wars with the Rouses, but I suspect we lost.

Fast forward to summer.  July to be exact.  My parents are down the street at either the Rouses or the Weil’s and I am sure the Tricarrico’s and Siefert’s were there and they were all having a great time.  In the meanwhile, Keith and I are home alone, middle school kids, searching the house for a cookie.  Some sort of sweet.  We had checked everywhere and were ready to give up when we decided to check the one place you would think there would be cookies, but my mom never hid them there…………the cookie jar.  On the hutch in the dining room, we had this green ceramic cookie jar decorated with grapes that we never put cookies into, but it was the one place we hadn’t checked yet.

Keith opens the cookie jar and says “Willard, you are never going to guess what’s in here.”  “Cookies?” I ask.  “I found the egg”, he says.  it took me a minute, but I figured out what egg he was talking about.  The missing egg from Easter.

Interestingly, the egg was still in tact.  it has been at least 3 months, perhaps 4.  It was probably that shellac that was holding it together.  We knew it would be nasty when it broke.  We were extra careful to take the whole cookie jar out to the front porch.  Keith picked it up and we decided to see if he could get it out to the street from the front porch.  At the end of our driveway was a street light, so we knew we would see where it hit.  “Go for it”, I said……Keith drew back and let it go.  It hit exactly in the center of the road in front of our house.  When it broke you could see the steam rise in the light from the street light…..then the smell followed.

We ran into the house, slammed the door and waited for Old Lady Hanson to call the police as she usually did when she thought we were doing something we shouldn’t (which was a lot of the time).  She never did, but we did end up having to fess up to our parents the next day when they asked who threw the stinky egg into the street.  They could still smell it when they came home from down the street.  In fact, the smell lingered for at least a week.

Egg Wars continued for a few years after that, but were never as memorable as the year that the egg went missing and showed up in the cookie jar.

There’s still have time…….go start your own Egg Wars.

Marine VS Samauri Sword – A Comedy

I am married to a Marine.  My Marine is 150% Marine.  Oooh Rah, Jar-Head, Once a Marine Always a Marine….. A WARRIOR.   Sargeant Richard Michael Allen.

Michael is a veracious reader.  He is usually reading 2 or 3 books at once.  He loves History and War among many other categories.   We have our own mini library in our house, fully categorized.  I can’t recall the girls having to research some famous person in history for a paper where Michael didn’t have some book, knowing exactly where it was in the library of course.  A large section of the library includes Asian culture, specifically around all things Samurai. For years, Michael has talked  about the Samurai, how their method of “management” has been replicated among current warrior cultures such as The Mob.  When he explains it, you can definitely draw the correlation.

One day about 8 years ago, Michael came home all excited.  “I found it” he explains.  “I found a maker of Samurai Swords who make them following the original Japanese method of hand-forging the steel, hand polishing the single-edge sword with a perfect curve”.  Having heard about these swords for years, I know they can literally slice an animal (or human) in two with a single blow and are beautiful when doing so.

Michael was a kid in a candy store.  By the time he had gotten home to tell me about “finding” the maker, he had ordered a sword.  6 – 8 weeks to arrive.  I had forgotten all about it when he arrived home from work one day, sword in hand.  I was making dinner, so he was telling me all about it while I half-paid attention.  I did note that it is a beautiful piece of artwork.  The blade is polished steel, a polished black scabbard, brass or bronze blade collar, ray-skin Same, black braided handle and a small silver Menuki .   It looks very similar to the one displayed in this picture.


Remember this was 8 years ago when Hunter was 7 and Erin was 4.  So you can imagine why I was a bit disturbed as Michael stood in the kitchen, took the sword out of its scabbard and started swinging it around, cutting the air with the blade.  He was “Playing Samurai”.   He stopped when I reminded him that the girls were right there in the family room and he was making me a nervous.

Fast forward a few hours.  The girls have gone to bed.  We have relaxed a bit, had some wine, watched some television and its about time to get to bed…we have work the next morning.   I went up to bed and Michael said he would be along shortly.  He was down stairs long enough for me to get tired waiting and turn off the light.  Just then I hear a noise.  Its a stumble of sorts, then some swift movement like someone trying to catch a falling lamp, then quiet.  It was several minutes later when Michael came down the hall to announce he “was going up the street for a few minutes”.   Typically, “going up the street” was code for ‘I need an energy drink so I’m going to the 7-11′.  It was 10:30 at night, so I knew that couldn’t be it, then it clicked.  “Did you cut yourself with that sword?” I asked.  “Maybe a bit”, he replies.  “I think I need stitches”.  Knowing how sharp those things are (I had seen the video), I asked if it was his leg.  I wanted to be sure we didn’t get an artery or something.  It was his thumb.  Michael drove himself up to the hospital and when he returned about 2am, he informed me that he had a) cut his thumb down to the bone, through the ligaments and everything, and b) would need to go to physical therapy for his thumb to be usable in the future.

By now you are asking yourself, how does one cut their thumb down to the bone like that without having to “strike” it with the sword?  Its a Samurai Sword…..silly!  As Michael tells it, he was returning the sword to its scabbard after fooling around with it for a bit (think kid with new toy) and decided to pull it back out to “check how sharp the blade is”.  He had read the warning, but couldn’t believe it was really THAT sharp.  With the blade up, he simply rested his thumb on the edge of the blade, using little pressure and BOOM!  Blood everywhere!  He said the stumbling around I heard was him trying now to bleed all over the white rug.  (he was successful by the way).

The moral of the story is:  While sometimes the warning on a package seems ridiculous, they are there for a reason – FOLLOW THEM!

In the end, Michael’s thumb healed with the help of a very attractive physical therapist who had to massage and work his thumb and the sword is hanging in a nice presentation box locked away from boys who like to play with toys.

I love you, Michael.   You crack me up.  :)

A Blonde, A Birthday and NASCAR

Yesterday was the official kickoff of the NASCAR season with the Grand Daddy of all races – The Daytona 500.  So I thought I would use this as an opportunity to tell you a bit about my Nascar prowess (or lack thereof).

I am,  what is fondly referred to down here below the Mason Dixon line as,  “A Yankee”.   Growing up in the Greater Chicagoland Area, we didn’t have NASCAR.  We had Da Cubs, Da Bulls and Da Bears. When I was younger,   I would randomly hear advertisements on the radio for the ‘US Smokin’ 30 Dragstrip’, which was located in Joliet, Il.  Yes, the same location as the State Penitentiary and home to the infamous Al Capone until the day he died.   Back then, in the Greater Chicagoland  Area, we didn’t have anything called NASCAR.

That being said, it wasn’t long after Michael and I met that I was first introduced to this sport.  I will admit I found it very difficult to categorize this as a “sport”; that is until I actually attended a race and was startled by how FAST these guys go!  Over time, I came to enjoy watching races, but primarily for the social event of it more so than the race itself.  I never  had any driver that I followed or really paid attention to.  My neighbors are Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon fans and over the summer, that’s pretty much where we end up in cul-de-sac conversations;  who was “on the pole” and who is “points leader”.  To me, it’s kind of the sound of Charlie Brown’s teacher…..wha wha wha…

Several years ago, one of our neighbors was coming up on his 40th birthday.  The rest of us got together and decided to throw him a Surprise Party.  Being the uber-shy guy that he is, we decided to wrap his party around a NASCAR race – to make sure he showed.  It was fairly common for our neighborhood to all get together at one persons’ house or another to watch a race, we figured that a perfect ruse to get him over.  We enlisted the help of his sister, who lived in another state.   She agreed to plan a visit with him that weekend for his birthday and we would invite him over to watch the race.  It wasn’t unusual for him to change his mind at the lasts minute and not show to some event  and this time was no exception, but having talked with his sister, all it took was her to say “hey, you talk about your friends all the time, let me at least meet them”.

The whole group was over, we have the house decorated with Over the Hill stuff, streamers, do not cross tape, etc.  We have the obligatory baby picture on a large poster board where everyone has written birthday wishes, Steve is filming the surprise on his face as he enters the house.  As he walked in it literally took a minute for him to figure out what was going on.  He had walked past all of the Do Not Cross ribbons, didn’t even notice Steve filming and completely missed the cake and poster sized card with his baby picture in the middle of it.  Once it clicked and we all had a good laugh about it, the party began.  The NASCAR race truly was part of the invite, so it played on the monster screen in the living room where it is clearly visible from the kitchen where many of us mingled.   Another of our neighbors, Danny, decided to go around with a name of each of the race drivers in a hat and have everyone pick one.  This way even if you weren’t a fan, you had someone to follow and pay attention to – fun idea we thought.  Everyone threw in a buck and the person with the name of the winner would get the pot.

Michael loves the movie “The Princess Bride” and if you are familiar, there is a character Inigo Montoya in the movie.  “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die”.  He must say that line 1000 times in the movie.  Well, as it turns out there was a newer driver that year named Juan Pablo Montoya so of course I wanted to pull that name – just for the joke factor.  No such luck.  In fact, I pulled Denny Hamlin, who happens to be neighbor Steve’s favorite driver.   Just as I pull Denny’s name,  Steve is there and launches into this whole story of Denny Hamlin, how he grew up in Southwest Virginia and he drives for Fed Ex.   I’m listening and when I hear the part about driving for FedEx,  I look at Danny (also a Fed Ex Driver) and say; “Wow, that’s pretty cool that Fed Ex lets him off work on the weekends to race?  I wonder how ……..?”   I stop mid-sentence because of the look of shock amazement and amusement on Danny and Steve’s faces that I was serious.  It quickly turned to cackling laughter between Danny and Steve.   I may be blonde, but it only took a second before I figured out what a stupid thought that was and laughed right along with them.

Its been 5 or 6 years since that incident, but it continues to come up at least once a race season.  And I’m ok with that………..cuz it still causes me to giggle every time I think of it.

Go Juan Pablo!

Helter Skelter

Do you remember the first time you saw the movie Helter Skelter?  I do.  If you know the subject matter and violence of that movie, you will understand why at 14, my parents told me I couldn’t watch it, but thanks to my “baby” brother Keith……..I saw it anyway.

It was 1976, I was in the 8th grade and had a babysitting job for the summer for some family I barely knew and 2 little kids I don’t really remember.  What I do remember is calling my mother at work one summer day and someone who was not my mother answering the phone telling me my mother left early because of a family emergency.  She didn’t know anything more.

As the story goes, Keith, Tony Benassi, Jimmy Hardy and a another friend had decided that they were going to “scare” Grandma Caranni .  Grandma Caranni lived at the end of Windsor Road and had THE BIGGEST yard (the size of a football field) on our entire street.  Lots of neighborhood kids used to wander down the street to play in her front yard.  Apparently,  for the boys, she stopped letting them play football in her front yard as they were tearing it up, so they had decided to take revenge.  Along the right side of the long driveway near the detached garage was a huge weeping willow tree.  Here is where the “scare” was to take place.  The boys had fashioned a clothesline from a high spot in the tree and had a skeleton on a hook and were going to let it down the line just as Grandma Caranni drove into the driveway.

Keith and Jimmy  were up in the tree with the others hiding behind its huge trunk.  Just as Grandma Caranni pulled into the driveway, they let the skeleton go.  It didn’t work as expected and Grandma Caranni  drove right by without any notice of the boys.  After the failed opportunity, Keith and Jimmy had to get out of the tree and the best method to do so was to swing off a branch below them and jump down to the ground.  Keith went first.  As he leaned forward to grab the branch and swing down, the branch broke and Keith went head first about 20 feet down to the ground.

Keith hit the ground, limbs bent in unusual directions and lay on the ground in shock.  As you can imagine, the boys FREAKED.  My Nana lived next door, so they ran over to her house, got her to call an ambulance and Keith was carted away to Highland Park Hospital.  1 Surgery, 2 compound fractures and a week in the hospital with his arms hanging above his head to reduce the swelling later, both Keith and his friends were feeling a bit silly about their effort to scare poor Grandma Caranni.

But back to Helter Skelter……All of the “scare” happened early afternoon.  My mom was at work and after my Nana got the ambulance and they carted Keith off to the hospital, she called my Mom who went up to the hospital to be with Keith.  Since he had to have surgery, she was there most all evening, not getting home until after 11pm.  There were no cell phones in 1976 and I never heard from my mother, so I went over to my backyard-neighbors house – Vera Ballan.  Vera and I had been friends for years, she was a year ahead of me in school, but we spent all kinds of time together in grade school and middle school.  Vera’s family was from Yugoslavia and I could never understand what her parents were saying to her, but they were nice to me, fed me that night and I hung out there until it started to get dark.  I still hadn’t heard anything from my mom, so I had Vera come back over to my house to hang around with me until they got home.

What should 2 girls do with no parents around and undoubtedly one of the scariest movies ever coming on TV that night??  Duh……WATCH THE MOVIE of course!    We made popcorn, watched the movie and she went home about 10pm when it was over.   I was left home alone and TERRIFIED after watching that movie!  I understood why my mother didn’t want me watching it, but it was too late by then.  I went to my room, locked the door and waited there until my mom got home.  I still get shivers when I remember how scared that movie left me.

As for Keith and his broken bones….He was a star catcher on the baseball team for Deerfield HS.  He worked his tail off after he got his casts off,  throwing a ball against the wall of TOPPS department store and catching it in an effort to strengthen his arms and be ready for spring season.  I was still in 8th grade at Shephard Jr. High and not a day went by that some girl whom I didn’t know at school asked me “How’s Keith Doing?  giggle giggle, giggle…..” and I just wanted to slap them.

Sadly, that continued even to my 30 year High School Reunion, which will forever be my LAST High School Reunion

Keith, casts