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.

Baby’s got back… and ribs

I’m still stressed. This means I’m still cooking. Except this time I’m testing out a recipe for a bbq we are hosting this weekend (Ironically I’m not stressed about this at all, although I should be since we have ordered, cleaned, bought nothing for it). Anyway, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a life long vegetarian it’s that bbqs mean meat. Usually even the veggie burger is cooked in a nice layer of beef fat left over on the grill. So this time – instead of a vegan veggie friendly recipe… I’m working on ribs. Baby back ribs.

Nothing reduces stress like smelling pork for 4 hours… I read that on a pillow.

I followed about 4 different recipes that I mashed up.

Basically you take a rack of baby back ribs… make sure your babies have some fat to them. This isn’t a time for lean mean pork ribs.

A dry rub needs to go on overnight (or two). You can mix any of the following: salt, onion powder, garlic powder, a packaged mix – like I did. BUT the key is this… add a cup of brown sugar to whatever mix you end up with. I also added a dash of cayenne to shake shit up.

Once marinated – bring to room temperature. Fully. I’m talking 2 hours outside on the counter hanging out. Do it.

Preheat your oven to 250 and add a cup of chicken stock and 2 tablespoons of any vinegar you have to the pan. I used white wine vinegar. These two things help the cooking/tenderizing process – according to Alton Brown circa 1997. Here’s the rub I used if you’re curious.

Cover tightly and leave it alone in your heated oven for 2.27 hours (I only tested this with one rack of ribs so 3 hours was too long and 2 seemed too short. 2.27 seemed right).

This is what it will look like. Mine came apart when I tried to lift it. A good sign.

Don’t get rid of the juices on the bottom. Strain and add to your favorite bbq sauce. My family loves this one. I haven’t found anything veggie to put bbq sauce on so I have no idea if it’s really good or if my family just has simple tastes – both could also be true.

Smother on the sauce and grill on high. Shouldn’t take long.

Baste, grill, repeat.

Cut them up like porky, sticky lollipops and you’re done!

Stress gone. Meat delivered.

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.  

Liar Liar, Pants on Fyre

Did you watch the documentaries on The Fyre Festival? Hulu and Netflix both have a version of this story. I watched both. If there were 6 versions I would have seen them all. I can’t get enough. I watched the first one twice. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me try to explain…

A young, upstart entrepreneur from NYC decides to partner with Ja Rule to host a music festival on an uninhabited island in the Bahamas (once owned by Pablo Escobar) in 6 months.

Why does he think he can do it? Because he’s been hosting “parties” for a few months in penthouses all over the city. Ja Rule performs at one of those fun parties and decides, “yeah, ok, I’ll partner with you on a multi-million dollar event”.

What happens next is a mash-up of ego, lack of experience, lack of leadership and lack of morality. It’s a hot mess.

Billy McFarland, the young entrepreneur that I mentioned earlier is either a smart dude who let things go out of hand, or a sociopath who let his ego lead every decision he made. Maybe a bit of both.

The documentary tells a month-by-month, day-by-day story of everything leading up to the non-festival. Here’s what they did first. They created a slick, well-produced teaser. They filled it with top models. They went to the island where they wanted to have the festival, stayed on private yachts (not on the island) and partied for a few days while they filmed the promo. Turquoise seas, beautiful women, expensive boats, it had it all. The promo was incredibly well produced. I think you can still watch it somewhere on YouTube. The company they hired to do the teaser gave them an incredible digital and social presence. Their website was super slick and their marketing was off the hook. Really high-end and modern.

They spent the next few months designing an experience. Luxury tents. Luxury villas. Beautiful packages that made you feel like you were going to a music festival in some private piece of heaven. And it had a price tag to match. Each package was thousands of dollars. And they all still sold out, in record time.  Through their social campaign (which was genius), they sold every package they had. All the tents. All the villas. Sold.

Just one problem. There were no luxury villas or tents. All the images were created. Nothing was real.

Turns out the island they originally wanted couldn’t be used. The owner of the island had only one deal-breaker in the contract – don’t mention Escobar – so what did they do? They mentioned it in the first teaser. Game over.

Luckily Great Exuma was near-by. This island, under other circumstances, was a much better place to host a festival. It had infrastructure, hotels, restaurants, etc.

Sadly, by the time they decided to go there – everything was sold out. The only thing they were able to get was some undeveloped real estate on one side of the island by the water. They grabbed it.

The details of what went down are so crazy. Instead of luxury tents – they put up hurricane tents left over from the last season.  There weren’t enough homes on the island to get for private villas, so those who signed-up and paid for one got a tent too. And they didn’t even have enough crappy tents. 380 for 900+ people attending.

Not enough food. Not enough bathrooms. No plan B for rain. The attendees were f**ked. The musicians who agreed to perform weren’t any better. There was barely a stage – let alone multiple stages for a festival. Most of the acts started dropping out. Still, the producers let the event go on.

In the end, it was a nightmare. You can google how much of a nightmare it was.

I can’t tell you how validating it was to see those documentaries. I watched the first one with my husband. The entire time he kept turning to me and going, “ohh babe, can you believe it?”. Even he knew. He knew because he’s been married to an event planner for 20 plus years.

I couldn’t believe it. But I could believe it. It was totally believable. Let’s be honest. People think they can do it. On the surface it’s a job that literally everyone thinks they can do. Oh you planned your sister’s shower? Sure! You can be a planner! You organized the office pot-luck lunch? Sure, you can plan a 1,000 person event. Go for it.

I would re-title those documentaries as, “So You Think You’re An Event Planner?” or “You Are Not A F**king Event Planner”.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. I know. You’re a teacher (love teachers), or a nurse (love nurses), or whatever. You are impacting the world. You’re maybe literally saving lives. But here’s what I know for sure. I know that in this world of big picture thinking, one thing is lost. Execution. No one likes to say they execute. Everyone wants to be a “strategist”. Big thinking. Not big doing.

Ok, sure, you had a really great idea. A world-changing idea. Awesome. Good for you. Can you actually execute it? Can you plan the steps it’ll take to get it done and make it happen? Can you think 10 steps ahead to all the problems that might pop up and solve them before they happen? Can you manage the emotional toll it’ll take on people to get them to do what you want them to do for your idea to come to life?  And can you do it without complaining and whining? Better yet, can you work for never-ending hours and days while pretending to be happy and smiling the whole time? Can you be a 20 year professional that’s managing million dollar budgets while still being asked to get someone a tampon in the middle of an event – and do it without question? If the answer is no. Please, for god’s sake, go back to your day job. If the answer is yes, welcome. You are welcome here. In the group of people who immediately start figuring out how to get something done.

When I saw those documentaries I was so moved. In the last few years, a value has been placed on people who can weave a good story in 280 characters. People who can produce slick, marketing ads and pieces that last about a minute or two. They are digital geniuses. They can make an idea viral. Get a million impressions. Which is great. But guess what they can’t do? They can’t execute. They can’t figure out the one million things that need to go down before something happens.

Billy McFarland had no planners working for him. He had digital teams and marketing teams. He had supermodels and rappers. He even had someone called a “producer”. But no planners. To give credit where it’s due – he did have some people with festival experience that he ignored. But those people basically went along with a plan they knew would fail.

One of the things that is the most troublesome about the documentary isn’t the attendees, ok fine, they didn’t get a music festival. Uptown problems. They had to go back to Miami with their miniature dogs and flower halos. Boo hoo. To me, the saddest part was that the island residents were dragged into making this nightmare happen. Hundreds of workers signed up to help Billy and his crew. No one got paid.

So maybe calling Billy an entrepreneur is wrong. He’s a cheat. A fraud. A con man. And I know that’s what this story is really about. But what I got from it was so different. His story validated and brought to life everything I know to be true. You can be a big idea guy or gal. You can be good at tweets and posts and ‘grams. You can get a thousand likes, and a million impressions, but can you bring that vision to life in the real world? A world full of bad weather, cancelled flights, broken technology, and unhappy people? Can you handle it? Maybe. But let’s be honest, probably not.

 

 

 

My favorite night out…

Is in. Bed. Ya dig?

Aperol spritz+tv+bed= unbeatable evening of fun.

Where are you? At a club? A bar? Vegas? Good for you! Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good night out. I love being with friends and family. I’m all about it.

But a good night in is a beautiful thing. And when you’re in for the evening you have choices. What will you do? Where will you sit? The living room is a nice, solid choice. It’s got the biggest tv, it’s near snacks… it’s a no brainer. Maybe you watch in your den or basement, we have neither so that’s out. We do have a family room, but it’s near the laundry room and sitting in there sometimes reminds me of, you know, laundry. And other things I’m avoiding.

My go-to place is always the same – it’s my bed. And it’s not even a King. I still love it. I could rule the world from here.

So I’ll raise my glass, send you good wishes. Here’s to you, out in the world, in real clothes. I applaud you. Have one for me. I’ll have one for you too. If you need me, you know where to find me.

Phyllo, fancy parties…and medical marijuana?

Thursday night my husband and I decided to go out on the town! Have dinner, see a late show, like other people do. But a few too many of these went down.

And then, long story short,  I went down too. For 34 hours post night out I was out for the count. Coffee didn’t help. Two disco naps didn’t help. I even tried the hair-of-dog…. it didn’t help.

But last night was our book club – and I was not going to miss it. We had a real, live author coming in. We’re hot like that. The book was the wonderful Smiles and Ductape written by my dear friend April’s sister-in-law, Jesse Torrey (did you follow that?). 

The book is about the family’s journey after their son Jack develops ALD. It’s sad, happy and full of love. We were having a good discussion by the time Jesse started talking about the latest part of Jack’s story. It involves using medical marijuana. And then our little book club lit up…not literally, just conversationally. We had questions, lots and lots of questions. We became Charlie Rose level interviewers. I’ve never seen us come alive like that.  It was hysterical. 

And speaking of getting the munchies (just kidding)…

Usually when I go to someone’s home I like to bring a little bite to eat or some wine or both. My mama brought me up right. But did I mention I was exhausted? And old? Luckily for me my girl is home from college and had plans to meet friends for a “fancy dinner”. She had googled an appetizer she wanted to make and like any good mother I offered to buy her all of the ingredients… and then made her to make some for me to take too. I knew having kids would pay off eventually.

Now I love entertaining. I have for a long time. But in all those years I’ve never used Phyllo. Or is it just phyllo with a lower case p? In any case I’ve never used it/bought it/thought about it.

It was a revelation. Easy. Light. Tasty. How come more people don’t talk about Phyllo/phyllo?? 

Here’s what she made and I stole..

You need: Phyllo/phyllo cups, 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, 4 oz of goat cheese, 1 block of cream cheese, thyme, honey, red seedless grapes and black pepper. 


Fillo!! Wtf?? Which is it?



Combine the room temp cheese and heavy cream and whip


Bake Phyllo/phyllo/fillo shells to crisp up (this is optional because they are already fully cooked but remember she was going for “fancy”)


Fill each with the cheese mix – drizzle with honey, sprinkle in the thyme and black pepper, and finish with half a grape. Or one whole grape if you’re a Rockefeller.


Use fancy Ziploc bag as pastry bag….


And here’s my girl and her crew at their dinner. And then me with half the bookclub with the author (lower right) below. 

I’m sure that’s juice punch in that bowl… ahem.

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