Call it the “everything’s fine” filter….

Sometimes the picture doesn’t tell the whole story. We all know that. This is the age of social media. We filter, we tweak, we tune-up. Every post or pic looks like it was smooth and effortless. I thought I’d share one of my favorite pictures from this past weekend and give you some scoop on what happened right before this cute shot was taken.

First, some context: It’s my cousin’s baby shower. That’s her in the adorable dress with the adorable bump. We were so excited to celebrate with her and her hubby.

My sister and I had helped her plan all the details. I wanted to be there early enough to help set-up so I came the day before. Drove to my hometown, spent the night with my mother.

I Got up early, showered and came down to breakfast with my parents. I was dressed for the day but didn’t have my make-up on or my hair done.

My mother said, “I like your gown.” Hmmm – gown? It was a long dress for sure, but I didn’t focus on it.

Some more context: the night before, after dinner, my mother had laid out nightgowns for me in the bedroom. This may seem strange to many people – I think an immigrant parent is needed to fully understand this. There’s always a clean nightgown waiting for my stayover. There’s also a brand new toothbrush, toothpaste and anything else you need. If, for any reason you ask for something my mother doesn’t have for you… you better know that there’ll be 19 of those things next time. To make up for this time. It’s very sweet. On this visit, however, I’d brought my own pjs. I’m 47. It’s completely normal to want to wear my own pajamas. Right??

This did not go over well. She’d laid out a winter one and a summer one – what was the problem? Why couldn’t I just wear those? After a 10 min of conversation, I convinced her that I was ok but so thankful for the options. I had my own nightgown.

Back to breakfast. Once done, I ran upstairs, put on what I considered a full face of make-up, blew-out my hair before the eventual drop of humidity would kink it out, and headed out the door. As I was leaving my mother said,” oh you’re changing out of your nightgown at the party?”

It took me a minute to catch-on. My what? I calmly smiled and said, nope, this is my actual dress for the party. Not my nightgown. Up until that moment I thought it was a really cute dress.

What’s the moral of the story kids?

Yes, just wear her nightgown.

Anyhoo I’m in such a good mood about the shower I don’t even get fazed. I get into the car, in my nightgown dress and head to the venue.

In the car were the flowers, the cupcake toothpick flags, the pink and pumpkin colored chocolate covered strawberries, the gifts, the welcome sign and some other things we needed to decorate. Because I didn’t have enough stuff in my car, I made a pit-stop and bought balloons – just in case.

I pulled up to the venue, parked right at the front door blocking the small entry way but decided it was ok because it was just for a short time. I just wanted to run in and grab a cart to take all the stuff inside.

I came back outside with the cart, opened the driver’s side door to unlock the trunk, dropped my keys on the seat and pushed the unlock button and shut the door. But it wasn’t the unlock button. I locked the car. For the very first time in as long as I can remember… I locked my keys in the car. Right on the front seat. An hour and a half before everyone was going to show up.

Did I mention I also left my purse in the car? Did I mention my phone was in that purse in the car?

I stood there staring at what I’d done for about a minute and the baby momma-to-be showed up. I put on my biggest smile and said, “can I have your phone?”.

Long story short – everyone should have AAA or is it Triple A or maybe Triple AAA. It’s worth every penny. Especially when you’re blocking a major entrance to a venue with your big old Subaru and have everything you need for someone’s party in the trunk. Everyone should also always serve mimosas at baby showers.

We got everything out. 30 min to spare.

So now look at the picture again. A couple of mimosas and a quick break-in later, everything was as perfect as it looked. Nightgown dress and all.

High highs and low lows

August. You crazy, nutty bitch. You’ve given and you’ve taken away. You’ve made me insanely happy and insanely sad. At the end of this year, when I think about all the best times and the worst times – I’ll think of you.

I’ll think of my daughter finishing up a summer in New York City doing an internship. She loved the work. She loved the city. She loved her roommate. Every time I spoke to her I heard excitement and confidence. I don’t know what I would have done if a child of mine hadn’t loved the city that I love. I would have gotten over it, sure. But I would have held a grudge, truthfully. I would have looked at her with a raised eyebrow…. what’s there not to love? But thankfully she felt exactly the same way I feel. Her exit interview with the CEO included an offer for her to come back and work there. Ofcourse it did. Who wouldn’t want her? A high high for sure. This is her below – one in from the left..the one with the big smile on her face.

When she finished with that internship and finally came home, we all went away for our annual summer vacation. This year, to Iceland. It seemed more like a week on the moon. Beautiful. Striking. Gorgeous. Everywhere you turned looked like a green screen version of reality. Even now, when we look at photos – they look fake. And the country is as friendly as is it beautiful. We spent a week exploring, climbing, hiking, swimming, eating and sometimes fighting (let’s be honest). But it was still perfect. Another high high.

While my girl was spending her summer bulking up her LinkedIn profile, my son spent the summer learning how to surf. He never took a formal lesson (to my chagrin), he just learned from friends. He fell in love with it. Which made total sense. He’s a great swimmer, he loves his skateboard….ofcourse he’d love surfing! It all added up. Once he’d had his fill of beach trips he started looking for a job. I suggested he take a lifeguard class, and miraculously, he agreed. He passed the class and got a job as a lifeguard at a local cougar haunt..errr I mean gym. My little baby boy was going to save lives! Ok…not really. But he was going to watch little brats while their parents got drunk at the pool bar – that’s something to be proud of right? The kid who I have to sometimes remind to brush his teeth, got a job. He had to fill out a W9! What is happening here??!! A high for sure.

I have one more little high. My work team got together for an offsite. We met for a day of eating and drinking and swimming. No agenda. No work talk (that wasn’t juicy gossip). Just fun. It’s a humbling, lucky thing to get along with the people you work with. It’s a miracle to like them. Maybe even love them! This group of people that I work with makes the job feel like fun. And we’ve been through some ugly times. I mean…ugly. But at the end of the day – we stick together. I can’t imagine my time at this company without them. High high! This pic isn’t from this year but I love it.

So that leaves the low. The low low.

And it really was the lowest low.

About a year and a half ago, my husband’s aunt was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Let me back up.

Mary Ohl was born Mary Dahill – we all called her Dee Dee. Sister to Terry and Peggy. Mother to her boys. Wife to Dennis and then Walter (or Teddy, as we know him).

Fiery redhead and New York City hellraiser, she spent her early years drinking, working and causing overall havoc. Eventually she settled down – had her boys – and became a nurse.

By the time I met her, she had already retired. She was no longer a nurse. She no longer drank. No longer raised havoc – atleast not in the bars in the city. By the time I met her – she was a devoted mother to her son Dennis. Dennis was born with a form of retardation that she never actually explained to any of us. All we knew was that he was special needs, but I’m not sure we could ever verbalize what he had. Which is exactly how she liked it. She told me once that during Dennis’ early years, she tried to ignore his disability. She pretended it didn’t exist. She ignored it. She had a ton of guilt about those fuzzy years that were drowned in alcoholism and dysfunction.

It wasn’t until she got sober that she found her true calling. To give Dennis a life. A big, full, complete life. She spent over two decades researching every resource avialable to him, every opportunity due him. She joined national organizations, gave speeches, helped find programs to help him – anything she could do to solidify his independance, she did. She even helped other parents find the same resources she found.

Today, Dennis is a happy, nurtured man. He has a job. He lives on his own (with some angels who take care of him). He makes his own decisions and choices. He loves music and he loves to dance, like his momma.

As a mother, I think I’m doing all I can to make my kid’s lives better. I usually feel pretty good about it – until I compare it to what Dee Dee did. The cold, hard focus she had to make sure he had everything owed to him was and is a lesson.

She was amazing. She had a wicked sense of humor, she was overly generous but at the same time – she held a mean grudge. She laughed hard. She yelled hard. She was a dycotomy, like all amazing people are.

We found out about her Cancer from other people. She never called or told anyone. In fact she was pretty pissed when we all showed up to her hospital room before her surgery. Even then she pretended all was well, annoyed that we were making such a big fuss about it.

The day she came out of her surgery, she started planning Dennis’ 50th Birthday party. And boy was it a party!

12 months after that, a few weeks after Dennis’ 51st birthday party, she took a downturn. There’s a Tom Petty song that I think of whenever I think of her….it’s called “Swingin”. The line in the song is, “..and she went down….swinging”. That’s Dee Dee. Swinging.

We came back from Iceland on Saturday. We went to go see her on Sunday. She passed a day later. The lowest low. The bottom of the lows. An angry low. I didn’t realize how angry I’d be. I hated them all. The hospital. The doctors. The oncologist. The social workers. The nurses. I felt like they all betrayed her. Betrayed all of us. Why didn’t they prepare us for how quickly things would go downhill? Why didn’t they tell us how drastic the road would be? It was a low low low.

But, in all honesty, I think if you would ask her, she wouldn’t agree. She lived on her own terms. She did exactly what she wanted to do. She never ever followed advice or listened to anyone – stubborn to the end. She lived every day after her diagnosis by her own terms. Her rules. She was a force of nature. And nature is beautiful and destructive and unpredictable. It all makes sense. It’s probably exactly as she planned it.

August is over. September is here. This weekend our family will celebrate new babies coming this fall and spend time planning a happy wedding next summer. The weekend after that we continue the celebration with another family wedding, and the happy times continue. Just like Dee Dee would want them to.

Here’s to the high highs and even the low lows. I hope they never end.

Service please! Pretty please?

Here’s an unfiltered picture of where we’ve been for a couple of days. Peaceful. Beautiful. Wide open beaches with no fighting for the best view…everyone gets a good view. We try and come to this little piece of heaven every year. It’s a fancy place but we come all unfancy. We stay with family. We avoid all the crazy crowded restaurants. We try to vacation like a local.

Except we’re not local. We know it. They know it.

A couple of years ago, my husband’s godmother took us to the most delicious little pizzeria in town. It was so unassuming and relaxed – but the food was no joke. The lines out the door proved it.

We began going every time we visited. It was always a sure thing.

You sit. You order a $20 dollar bottle of wine. If you’re my husband you order the seafood fra diavolo, and If you’re me, you get linguini with garlic and oil… because cheese is no longer my friend. And without fail… the food is good. Really good.

Is it slow? Sure. Is it the best service? No. It’s a pizzeria, we get it. I’m not looking for a concierge level experience. I’m looking for bare bones. I’m looking for some water. I’m looking to get the stuff we ordered getting to us. Maybe a quick, brief check-in to see if we need anything. Basic.

Tonight we got none of it. Nothing.

Let me back up.

Admittedly I’m a tough critic of restaurants – food and service. It’s my job. It’s what I worry about all the time. Service. Food. Experience. My husband is the opposite. By the burly looks of him you’d think he’d be the harder judge. But he’s a softie. His mom waitressed to make ends meet when he and his sister were little. He heard all the stories of crabby customers. It’s a hard job. Thankless. Under appreciated. He’s very very sensitive to that.

His idea of a tip for bad service is 18%. It’s his ultimate “gotcha”. If that man leaves you less than 20% you basically didn’t serve him at all. I’ve seen him overtip at every level. I’ve seen him go back to a restaurant where someone else has paid for our meal just to confirm the tip was good. He’s nuts! In a good way. I am mostly in agreement with this. Except when it’s bad service.

We’ve lived with this dichotomy for our entire relationship. I know he can’t take it if I ask the person waiting on us for more than 2 things,” excuse me, can I get some salt?”, “can we get some water?”. That’s it. That’s all I get. And I’m fine with that. Do I mentally make note of all the things that could have gone better? Ofcourse! Do I say anything? Almost never. Like practically never. Between my husband and my kids, the goal is always the same. Don’t make trouble. Just let it go. And I usually do. But not tonight.

Tonight was the worst service we’ve ever had. Worse than the time our waiter left his shift and never told anyone he still had a table. Worse than the time the woman waiting on us was having a full blown fight with the kitchen staff. This was… epic bad. I’m not going to go into detail. You can guess. I’m sure it’s happened to you too.

To clarify how bad it was, when I said to my husband at the end of our dinner,” wow, she’s getting zero tip. None.” I waited to hear what I thought he’d say, which is,”no freaking way”, instead he said,”yep”. I couldn’t believe it. No talk about how harsh I am. No talk about her having a bad day. Nothing. Just full agreement. She was worse than I thought.

So. For the very first time since I’ve known him – about 25 years – we left no tip. By the way, even though this was a very casual pizzeria type place, our bill was over a $100. That’s how this town rolls. And guess what? The food was worth every penny.

Even now, hours later, we are both guilt ridden. Justifying to ourselves why we left her no tip. Trying to validate our actions so we can sleep tonight. It’s no bueno.
We weren’t rude. We weren’t mean. But it still feels rotten. Have you ever done this? Please lie and tell me you have. Going to bed now. Full of regret, guilt and antacids.

My darlings

This quote by Aldous Huxley was posted by a good friend a few weeks ago. Besides the fact that we are legit living Brave New World, I’d forgotten how much I loved his writing.

I sent the quote to my kids immediately. They’re used to it. I’m always sending them videos or quotes or things I need to make sure they see and know. Not sure it ever sinks in but I’m calling it an effort and checking my parenting box for the day. Sometimes that’s all I have the energy for.

“Lightly, lightly”…. it is the best advice.

I think about it at work. At home. On social media.

I’m pretty good about not overthinking. Obsessing. I don’t have too many talents but one has always been that I can walk away from anything or anyone that makes me feel bad. I’m not into it.

Someone said to me that I’m always in a good mood. That’s not true. I’m always trying to be in a good mood. I see no point in being miserable. I also think it’s almost always a choice. Unless there’s abuse involved or if you’re a young child – you can choose to not be miserable. At least try.

I know it’s easier said than done. I know there’s a lot of competition for joy out there. Everyone’s got their own definition of what joy looks like. That’s ok. Because there’s enough for everyone. It’s abundant. Your joy may come from hiking a mountain, mine comes from Bravo. Doesn’t make it any less or more joyful.

Don’t let the quick sands drag you in. Don’t scroll Instagram or Facebook and be angry. You’re using it wrong. Don’t blame the game. Use it for what you want it for. Walk away from the rest.

Same goes for people. There are a lot of people in the world. A lot. Like everyone else, I’ve found some good people and I’ve found some duds. The duds have to go. Doesn’t matter if they’re friends or family. It doesn’t mean that they are evil or bad or that they’ve done me wrong in any way. I just can’t carry their weight. Too heavy. Too hard.

I also know that I’m a dud in someone else’s story. I get it. I’m ok with it.

I’ll keep reading this quote. Maybe you will too❤️

Cooking-ish

It’s been a stressful few weeks…months… ok maybe year. Lots of work stuff. Lots of home stuff. I try to keep calm. We aren’t dealing with life or death at work, but sometimes we are at home. Sometimes when I am completely overwhelmed I’ll add one more thing to my day – which sounds crazy – but the one more thing is something I love to do.

I’ll make plans with friends during a busy week or run out for a quick dinner with my husband. Sometimes that one thing is just going to sleep, which isn’t bad either. But sometimes I’ll cook.

This past weekend I went home to see my family and celebrate all June and July Birthdays and Father’s Day, we’re efficient like that.

Even though my birthday was in May – I still scored a few gifts… one of my favorites was from my little bitty sister. She did done good.

I’ve been following this food writer all year, watching her videos on Bon App (that’s what the cool kids call it). I know what you’re thinking, an Indian cookbook? Not very original of me – but who said I was original? I like Mindy Kaling too (no I don’t think I look like her, and she doesn’t look like my sister or my cousin either and thank you).

Priya Krishna, the author/cook grew up with a mash-up of Indian/American food. This was very different than how I grew up. We ate food no one recognized, flavors that were nowhere to be found in restaurants – turmeric and okra and daikon. It was the 80s. Even chips and salsa hadn’t taken off yet. Plus I just wanted to be normal. I didn’t want my house smelling of garlic and onion all the time – ironically now this is my favorite part of going home, smelling all the cooking.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, I’m stressed and I need a distraction.

Some things about this book. It’s illustrated by Maria Qamar, a Desi (which means of Indian decent) pop artist out of Canada. She published a book a few years ago called, Trust No Aunty. I found out about her because my daughter loved her (this is the way I find out about a lot of cool stuff). Online she’s also known as @hatecopy. Check her out.

I love getting a new cookbook. I read it like a book book – know what I mean?

I knew the first recipe I’d try right away. It had all my favorite things. Poblanos! Serranos! White beans substituting cheese (damn you lactose)… here’s the recipe

I immediately added cilantro to this mix because… you know… cilantro. I also didn’t have fresh garlic so I used garlic in a tube… which is fresh-ish.

Funny side story – when I checked out at the grocery store with my stuff, the cashier, a nice young dude, said to me,” uhh just so you know, these aren’t jalapeños they are Serrano’s which are way spicer.” I was so impressed! I love people who give a shit. I told him how cool that comment was asked if he liked to cook, he said,” nah there’s just a lot of people who come back yelling that they got the wrong pepper.”

Yelling? About the wrong pepper? There’s so many questions I have for the pepper yeller. How was the wrong pepper choice the store’s fault? Is there really that big a difference? And lastly, ARE YOU INSANE??

Anyway, back to the recipe.

So here’s how it goes…

If you want to do it right, put the oil in first and once heated toast the cumin seeds in it first until fragrant before adding the onions. If you want to be like me… put everything in together while talking on the phone with a friend. Then add coriander and let it get nice and translucent.

  • While the onions get cooked I chopped the Serrano – not attractively but I got the job done.

  • Back to the onions… which got well-done by mistake because I ignored them while hacking away at the peppers.
  • Now…take the beans and mash them up.
  • Once mashed chunky, add the onions, the “fresh” garlic, the Serrano’s, lime and salt.
  • Again… don’t be like me. I sliced the poblanos in half so they looked like green alligators.
  • This is adorable but not the right way to stuff a pepper like this. I should have only cut half of it. Oh well. You live and learn. Except I didn’t learn and cut the others the same way.
    So I shoved the stuffing in and put them on a lightly oiled sheet pan. Here’s all my poblano alligator heads ready to go in.
  • Now go and wash your hands carefully because you’ve touched Serrano’s and poblanos. Wait about 45 min and bam!
  • Lol! Ok. So my peppers weren’t exactly stuffed. It was more like a roasted pepper with a mashed bean cake on the side but it was delicious! More importantly I did something not work for 2 hours of my day.
  • Mission accomplished.
  • ps… this is what they were supposed to look like. I debated posting this and saying I did it but of all the things to lie about, is this what I want to choose? Ofcourse not. Then I’d be no better than those wackos yelling in Shoprite that they were sold the wrong pepper. No thank you. I’ll save my lie for something else, like my weight or the success of my children or something… like a normal person.
  • There’s a Bow on This Blog Post – by Hetal

    Saved the best guest post for last! BTW – who knew that these guest bloggers would write about me?? Had I known earlier, this would be a regular thing. Seriously. Anyway – here’s my little, bitty sister’s post…my basic take-away from this was that I taught her everything she knows….so…..anyway….enjoy!

    I spent some time this past weekend thinking about what to get Neha for her birthday.

    But “itty bitty sister,” you may be thinking, Neha’s birthday was last week. I know, okay? Sheesh. We’re all doing the best we can out here.

    Anyway, my presents to her have varied in years in form and function. Some years I really knock it out of the park–I get texts from her on a later date about how much she loves the thing I got her. Some years I get her a card sometime in June. I wonder if she notices how inconsistent I am (that’s a lie–I know she does).

    Although it may seem to her that I simply forgot to get her anything, the years I showed up with nothing really meant that I spent painstaking hours thinking about what to get her, got angry, and finally gave up. Is there a way to bottle up that trauma and put a bow on it? Because that shit should count for something.

    Unlike many of the people I buy books for, Neha actually likes to read, so when I heard an interview with an Indian American cookbook author who had a new book coming out, I tucked it away. Then, over the weekend, a food blogger I know she also follows on Instagram posted about the book. She raved over it, featured several pages and recipes, and I thought, damn it. Because even though I didn’t ask her, I know Neha saw it. And tucked it away. I know that cookbook is being Amazon Primed to her house as we speak, and that there is a 60% chance that I’ll be unwrapping it for my birthday this month.

    Because that’s the thing. If you’ve ever met me, you’ve probably thought about how different I am from Neha. And you’re right in a lot of ways. We’re over a decade apart in age, chose very different career paths, and kinda different life paths. Neha left for New York City when I was six, and really didn’t look back. I don’t blame her. In fact, as someone who spends her days with countless 18-22 year olds, I’m impressed at her bravery and independence at that age. You’ve probably heard some of her wacky stories from college. I’ve heard them all at least twice. And the truth is, I could never have done half those things.

    She also knows way more than I do about the important things in life: makeup, wine, and reality tv.

    But in other ways, we’re weirdly similar. Same sarcastic humor. Same love for food. Once we showed up with the same-ish housewarming gift for our cousin Sweta and her hubby Wendell. For a while we had the exact same iPhone case–bought separately. I know what Neha is thinking right now: she’s thinking that these ways we’re similar–that’s me taking after her. I’ve wondered about that myself over the years, though I’d never admit it to her face. Has she really had that much of an influence on me? Maybe, maybe not. But if saying so gets me out of having to think about her birthday present anymore, well, pass the bow, please.

    Sh&t that drives me crazy – Event Planning Edition

    Guest post! RD is back and I’m here for it….

    – Overly scented florals (in general) but especially at food and wine events.  If I see hyacinths at Le Bernardin, I will smack you with them.

    – A panel event that has no stage.  Why?  Are we in your living room?  Will Uncle Ed be treating us to his Richard Nixon impersonation?  Just because people are in the back of the room, doesn’t mean they don’t want to see.

    – A podium with no podium sign, or a podium that is branded with the hotel logo.  Unless your speaker is actually from The Ritz-Carlton, you need to cover that mess up.

    – Rude staff.  I’m giving you money.  Act like you work here.  Better yet, act like you work for me!  Because at least for the next few hours, you do.

    – Columns.  No one wants to “work around” you.  We’re not in Greece.  This isn’t The Parthenon.  Time to find a new venue.

    – Uninformed folks who refer to an event as “a party.”  If it was a party, I’d be having fun… Not running around like a crazy person trying to make sure nothing goes wrong.

    – Wired microphones.  Bob Barker called.   He told me to tell you that this is the 21st century.  

    And finally….It costs what it costs.  I don’t work on commission.  

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