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Farrell Family Favorites: A tribute to a favorite uncle and his amazing daughter

Two of my favorite ladies!

Two of my favorite ladies!

I opened Facebook today to find two of my favorite ladies smiling back at me. I was so excited to see that my cousin Coleen had chosen one of my favorites from my wedding day as her new profile picture. It’s a candid of Coleen and Mumsy, in their respective roles as maid of honor and mother of the bride, taken as we were waiting to be collected for the beachfront ceremony.

As I looked at those familiar faces, smiling back at me, I felt so incredibly blessed. I am blessed. Blessed to have found the love of my life and made it official before family and friends on what would have been my parents’ 56th wedding anniversary. And blessed, also, to have these two amazing women in my life.

For the last 40 years, they have cared for me, comforted me, supported me, cheered me on, laughed both with me and at me, and helped me celebrate all of life’s milestones – big and small. And even though we’re a few thousand miles apart at present, we all carry each other in our hearts every day.

In a family of 35 first cousins, it’s a dangerous thing to go picking favorites. Difficult, too, since the Farrells are a pretty amazing bunch. But Coleen and I have always had a special bond. The fact that more than a decade separates us in the roster of Farrell descendants has never been a factor.

It was Coleen who dropped everything and drove from New Jersey to Syracuse the night before my surgery a few years ago, so that Mumsy wouldn’t be alone during those tense hours.

Fun in Philadelphia for AFSP's Out of the Darkness Overnight walk to prevent suicide.

Fun in Philadelphia for AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Overnight walk to prevent suicide.

Who walked 18 miles from dusk to dawn with me to raise money for suicide prevention, a cause that has hit both of us far too close to home.

Who, quite literally, held my hand to keep me sane when a nasty infection in my leg had to be lanced. It was painful, yes, but worse was my fear that it would keep me from making it back to the DR in time for my own wedding! (Something I probably wouldn’t have been able to do if not for Coleen’s sister Jean, who diagnosed the problem and started me on a course of strong antibiotics before sending me to the clinic.)

It was she who moved heaven, earth and the passport office in order to stand up with me on my wedding day.

That’s just a sampling really, of the thousand and one ways she has been there for me over the years. This despite all of the challenges life has thrown at her along the way. You’d never know it though, the way she’s willing to drop everything for everyone around her.

While we have always been close, it was during my father’s illness that we went from being cousins to sisters. She, her husband Steve and their three phenomenal offspring (Jillian, Bret and Eric) were such a comfort to my dad during those three long years he battled cancer. And by a comfort, I mean an excuse to shoot off automatic weapons, adventure out on 4-wheelers or snowmobiles and engage in epic Wii tournaments. They brought a lot of love and joy to a man doing his best to hide his Stage IV cancer from the world. And they’ve helped us find the strength to get through even the most difficult of days leading up to and since he took his last breath on January 26, 2012.

Through all of that, I vowed to myself that I’d do the same for them if ever they faced a similar situation. That unspoken promise was put to the test this year, as both Steve’s mom and then Coleen’s father, my Uncle Bill, fell ill.

It has been difficult to watch both from afar, knowing there is little I can do from this distance. But I know that’s nothing compared to what they and our families have gone through.

I vividly remember the night of August 30. As I tossed and turned, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of my Uncle Bill. I finally gave up trying to sleep and decided to write down all the memories swirling around my brain. I was determined to tell him just how much he meant to me and to all of us Farrell cousins that had been privileged to grow up in his shadow.

My mother has seven brothers, but only one big brother. He was everyone’s big brother, in fact. I can’t imagine the pressure he felt – the responsibility he had – being the oldest of 12. At what it must have been like to lose his younger sister Agnes at such a young age. To have been closer in age to his mother, than to his youngest siblings well before the last of the litter, my Uncle Tim, came along.

One of my favorite pictures of another of my favorite ladies, Aunt Cecilia.

Our angel, Aunt Cecilia.

He would also be the first to go off to join the Navy and, later, to start his own family with the talented nurse who nursed his father back to health after losing his leg in an accident on the tug boats. This last was his coup de grace, in my opinion, because Aunt Cecilia – like her daughter Coleen – is a walking angel in my eyes.

It was from Uncle Bill that I learned to appreciate the Pecan Sandie above all other commercially available baked goods. And I’d wager I’m not the only Farrell cousin that swore never to get a tattoo after being weaned on the story of how he contracted hepatitis from those he’d gotten in the Navy.

Uncle Bill’s family newsletter, Farrell Family Facts, drew something of a cult following among my college friends. A few even angled for invitations to the Farrell Family Fun in the Sun Social, another brainchild of my dear uncle. And when it came time to plan a Winter Break trip to the sunny Florida Keys, a pit stop in St. Augustine to visit Uncle Bill and Aunt Cecilia was considered a given.

This is how I'll always remember Uncle Bill, dancing with Aunt Cecilia.

This is how I’ll always remember Uncle Bill, dancing with Aunt Cecilia and finishing each other’s sentences.

He was recovering from a stroke at the time, and my mother wanted a full report on his progress. But what I remembered most was how he and my Aunt Cecilia finished each other’s sentences. Not out of necessity, but out of habit. I thought to myself at the time that someday that’s the kind of relationship I’d like to have. And I do, with Andry. Although, granted, my fledgling Spanish may have something to do with that. (A topic for another blog, I promise.)

The last time Uncle Bill was at our house, he mentioned that visit to me and I was so touched. Until I realized, that is, that the reason he remembered it so vividly had more was because Liz and Melissa, my traveling companions for the trip, were both close to six feet tall.

It was these memories and more that I endeavored to put on paper that night. It was just a first draft, which I intended to polish up in the morning. I never got around to opening that document again, though. Because at a little before 6 a.m., a message came through from Coleen.

“He’s gone,” it said.

And with that, I knew I’d already said my goodbyes without realizing it.

It reminded me, though, how important it is for us to show our love, appreciation and gratitude while we can. So this isn’t a eulogy for the dead, but an ode to the living. Because he does live on in each and every Farrell.

Coleen, I love and appreciate you more than you know. You are not just my cousin, but a true sister and friend.

To you, Aunt Cecilia, Billy, Timmy, Jean, Cecilia, Terry and your families; My mom and the rest of the Farrell siblings; and rest of the extended Farrell clan – I send all the love in my heart and strength in my body. Because I know that even now, especially now, we reel from the loss of the man who was at once husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, uncle, sailor and friend.

Uncle Bill, I hope heaven welcomed you with an unlimited supply of Pecan Sandies and old Hollywood movies on-demand. Don’t let my dad and Uncle Rich take your last nickel at cards. Give Mom Mom a kiss for all of us.

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Throwback Thursday: Fear Factor

TBTI decided to get into the Throw Back Thursday action this week, after a chance conversation revealed I am NOT the only person on the planet with a (completely rational!) fear of ladybugs. Please forgive me for the seasonally-inappropriate Christmas theme.

This piece was originally published as A Ladybug Christmas on The Evening Sun website, evesun.com.

Enjoy!

My coworkers and I trundled into work this morning, bleary eyed from all that Christmas cheer. After deadline we spent some time swapping tales of our all-to-brief holiday.

Theirs were spent either hopping from one house to another, or hosting a slew of friends and family for the Yuletide festivities. Though less hectic, mine was no less enjoyable.

With my siblings spread out across the East Coast (in New Hampshire, Tennessee and the Florida Keys), it was just me and my parents this year. It was the first one I’ve spent at home in entirely too long.

We opened presents in the morning, a process that was interrupted repeatedly by phone calls from other loved ones wishing us a merry holiday.

I love to watch people open gifts I’ve picked out for them. For me, finding that perfect gift is the best part of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I like getting presents, too. And I think Santa was pretty good to me this year.

At least I thought so until I a gift my mother described as “the funny one.”

She told me this as I was fishing a non-descript white box out of a festive bag piled high with red and green tissue paper. Hmmm… Funny, I thought, what could she mean by that. My confusion grew when I opened the box to find what appeared to be a clear, hand-blown glass ornament. It was only after I turned the globe in my hand that I saw what my mother thought was so amusing.

The glass ball had one adornment: A crimson glass ladybug perched on verdant green leaf.

My mother thought this was hysterical, and was practically rolling on the floor. Me? Not so much. You see, I don’t like lady bugs. In fact, I’ll go one step further and say I’m scared to death of them.

Most people are afraid of things like spiders or snakes, flying maybe, or the color chartreuse. But not me. I can take all of those nasties in stride. But put a tiny little bug most people think of as cute in front of me and I start quaking in my boots.

My phobia dates back about ten years. I was living in Arlington, VA at the time, and had traveled up to visit my parents one weekend. I was exhausted when I arrived, and ended up falling asleep when I brought my bags upstairs. I woke a couple of hours later with a tickle in my ear. A tickle which turned into a buzzing.

When the incessant noise stopped for a moment, my wits returned. And I was able to connect the beastie driving me to the brink of insanity with the number of ladybugs I could now clearly see all over the window sill and bedside lamp.

Then it started buzzing again and all I could think about was the fact that I was at least 20 minutes away from medical attention and that I was going to lose my mind if I had to wait that long to get it out.

Luckily, my mother came to my rescue. Apparently, Stagnaro kids have a long history of getting things stuck in our ears. In the upper recesses of our king-sized medicine cabinet, she located the ear syringe she’d used to extricate a bean from my bother Ken’s aural cavity 20 or 30 years before. With it, she was able to drive the infernal lady bug from my ear and restore my sanity.

The experience basically scarred me forever. But, as evidenced by the ornament, the rest of my family finds it quite humorous.

The rest of the day passed pleasantly enough. We listened to some Christmas music, did some snowmobiling, and yes, finally watched A Christmas Story. (I did enjoy it, but I’m not sure I would classify it as life-changing, not in relation to my ladybug experience anyway.)

Because it was just the three of us, we decided to forgo our usual roast turkey and I roasted a loin of pork instead. It was a delicious ending to the day.

When I went to bed a little earlier than usual, my parents didn’t seem to notice. They thought I was worn out from the snowmobiling, but really I just wanted for a bit of peace and quiet. It may be a full year until Christmas comes around again, but I’ll need every bit of it to properly plot my ladybug revenge.

Like my holiday leftovers, it will be a dish better served cold.

Originally published on December 26, 2008 on evesun.com.

Boris and the Baby Spiders: Why I won’t be sleeping again…ever.

This is Boris. Not the Boris from tonight's adventure, but one I was on more civil terms with. He lived in our bathroom for a few months, before meeting an untimely end in the bath.

This is Boris. Not the Boris from tonight’s adventure, but one I was on more civil terms with. He lived in our bathroom for a few months, before meeting an untimely end in the bath.

I don’t like spiders. I don’t know many people who do, but I REALLY don’t like them.

However, I’ve made peace with their presence here in the Dominican Republic. As long as they are big enough for me to keep an eye on, aren’t too active in their movements and pull their weight around the house (i.e. do their part to decimate the mosquito population), we can peacefully co-exist.

I consider this position to be incredibly adult given my gut instinct is to shriek like a little girl. And did I mention the spiders I’m referring to are cane spiders. The smallest I’ve seen are the size of my palm. The SMALLEST.

And I’m willing to co-exist with them. Pretty bad ass, right?

Yeah. Not so much, as it turns out.

Earlier this evening, I spotted one of these cane spiders. We’ll call him Boris. Because Boris is a good name for a spider, and for my own sanity, I like to think all spiders are male. I should think the reasoning behind that is self-evident. It’s cute that they call baby spiders ‘spiderlings’ and all, but there is no place in my world for them.

This Boris was a little more active than I would have liked. He also appeared to be holding something. That thought made me uncomfortable, but I wrote it off as poor lighting. Because seriously, who’s ever heard of a spider carrying anything.

I was willing to keep to my peace agreement, but Boris made a fatal mistake. Rather than staying put on the wall, he scurried down to floor level. Which is when Frederica pounced.

She’s my new hero. And yes, she will be getting extra treats.

A female cane spider carrying around her egg sack. (Photo Cred: Maui.net)

A female cane spider carrying around her egg sack.
(Photo Cred: Maui.net)

After the brief flurry of activity was over, I noticed something on the floor. It was white and the size of a silver dollar only thicker, and sort of lumpy. With horror, I realized that Boris had really been a Bertha.

My first thought was to flush it as soon as I could, but Frederica was one step ahead of me.

I bent to give her a good scratch when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.

I bent down to the wall to take a better look. That’s when I lost my mind.

I don’t know how many baby spiders escaped. And, for my sanity, I can’t even allow my mind to contemplate how many were in that sack. Thank goodness for Frederica. Because what if they’d hatched while I was holding it…

Ok, Melissa. Breathe.

There was NO WAY I was letting those little Boris’ run around…growing to be the size of my hand…procreating…

I used the only thing I had on hand – Deep Woods Off. Much to my relief, it stopped them in their tracks.

And now, I’m going to brew myself a pot of strong Dominican coffee. Because, as I have no idea how many more Baby Boris’ are running around out there, there’s no chance I’ll be sleeping tonight.

Or anytime in the foreseeable future.

Maybe sometime in mid-2017.

The Night Air

IMG_7047It was impossible for me to sleep on the plane. I tried, but despite my exhaustion, I was still too keyed up from the day’s drama. Which had started when we discovered our original flight was delayed and only intensified as we attempted to rebook our travel plans in a way that would allow my four travel companions and I to enjoy our much-needed Caribbean getaway.

We wouldn’t have made it without the intervention of the kindest woman on the planet – who happened to be a rep for a competing airline. With her help, we were booked on a flight that very evening. The only problem was we had to find our own way to JFK.

Nothing a pedal-to-the-metal dash from Syracuse to Queens – through Manhattan during rush hour – couldn’t solve. Well, along with a slew of frantic calls and messages to iron out all of the supporting details. Like how we were going to get to our final destination considering we were flying into a different airport and the best way to avoid the $30-a-day parking fee at JFK.

All that scrambling was worth it to know we weren’t going to have to scrap the entire adventure. Because NOTHING was going to stand between me and a rum-laded cocktail on the beach, damn it.

I don’t think I really started to breath again until we were on the ground in Santiago. We still weren’t yet at our destination – a small seaside town just east of Puerto Plata – but we were in the Dominican Republic at last.

The mindless trudge through the airport – clearing immigration and customs, retrieving our bags – is all a blur. As we waited for our rental car, I slipped out of my sweater and into a pair of sandals, and pushed through the double doors that separated us from tropical paradise.

Ostensibly I was looking for our taxi driver. (A necessity since there wasn’t a chance all five of us AND our luggage were going to fit in the modest rental we’d reserved.) But really, I just needed to take a moment to appreciate our journey thus far.

It was 2 a.m. local time, and the fronds on the parking lot palm trees hung limply in the still night air. I inhaled, filling my lungs with the thick, humid air. It tasted both foreign and familiar, bringing me back to the year I lived in South Florida.

My mind was on the drive ahead of us. The hour and a half it would take us to drive through the mountains to Costambar. And the two-weeks of much needed decompression before me. It was a welcome distraction from the career transition I was in.

I had no way of knowing how the trip would change my life in so many ways.IMG_7317

…How inexplicably drawn to this island I’d be.

…How it would become the setting for a whole new life, a chance to live out dreams I never dared admit I had.

…How our change of travel plans – which landed us in Santiago in the middle of the night rather than in the middle of the afternoon in Puerto Plata – would cause me to cross paths with my future husband.

I didn’t give him a secomd glance that night – the quiet, unassuming policeman who rode along with his former partner-turned-taxi driver. But the universe had big things planned.

Sometimes, I stand outside and fill my lungs with the night air. It’s laden with the same tropical overtones here in my new home, but also heavy with salt from the sea.

To me, it’s ripe with promise and tastes of untold stories, unforeseen adventures, true love…

and dreams come true.

Dotting our I Do’s: Why Two Anniversaries Are Better Than One

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Andry and I tied the knot last Friday. Yes, I know, I know. I’ve said that before. The first time around was pledging our love and lives to one another in front of our family, friends and God. This time around was about getting the paperwork in order.

IMG_8693We chose May 9th as our wedding date because of its special significance. It is, as many of you know, my parents anniversary. It would have been their 56th, in fact. And I felt so blessed that my mother was willing to share it with us. I was blessed, too, that she and some of my dearest friends and family were willing to make the trip to my impromptu wedding despite the short notice, distance and expense.

So you can imagine my distress when I realized, only a few days before our wedding day, that there was a paperwork issue. Actually, there had been several, but we thought we’d worked them all out. But we hadn’t. We’d left one thing in the hands of the lawyer who had been helping us, and as it turned out, he didn’t fully understand what was necessary either. Only rather than telling us that… well, it’s a moot point now. Suffice it to say anyone that has dealt with the apostille process has probably felt our pain.

IMG_8692Mumsy talked me down from my mini-meltdown. She reminded me that a marriage wasn’t about paperwork, it was about our love and commitment to one another. She was right, of course. And we on May 9, we pledged ourselves to one another. It was a small ceremony on a beautiful stretch of beach. We were surrounded by the most important people in our lives, and the two random kids with beach towel capes that are in practically every wedding picture.

After the wedding, I set to work getting our paperwork problem sorted out. This was no small feat given the fact that I was in the Dominican Republic, and everything I needed to do was in New York. But thanks to some exceptional friends – most notably Nancy Brienza Duffy who ran around Manhattan for me and then hand delivered my documents to me here in the DR – we got it done.

Of course, there was still some legwork – translations and other documents

Andry's partner, Martinez, stepped up as our padrino.

Andry’s partner, Martinez, stepped up as our padrino.

that needed to be executed – on this end. Which we put in the hands of yet another lawyer. This one delivered, but on a slightly longer timeline than we had expected. It was starting to seem like our civil ceremony was NEVER going to happen.

And then last Friday, Andry called me. He was in Puerto Plata running some errands and had stopped to see the lawyer.

“How about 4 o’clock?” he asked me.

“Umm, today?” I stammered.

It crossed my mind to say no. To ask if they had any openings next week. I needed more time. We’d never be able to round up our padrinos (best man and maid of honor) in time. Could I get my nails done before 4? And there were my roots to think about!

But then I realized how silly I was being. After all, we’d already waited for months. And if there is anything life has taught me, it’s that you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. So I said the same thing I said the first time he asked me to marry him.

Yes.

 

Affectionately yours,

Señora de Gomez

It's official

It’s official

Andry Bismal Gomez Amarante

y Melissa Stagnaro

May 9, 2015 & August 21, 2015

Our padrinos, Martinez and his wife Rabelis, and our stand-in photographer, Jordy Brito.

Our padrinos, Martinez and his wife Rabelis, and our stand-in photographer, Jordy Brito.

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The Mango Queen

Bowl of Mangoes

Mangoes are, without a doubt, one of my favorite things about living in the Dominican Republic. The worst mango here is a zillion times better than the cream of the over-priced, under-ripe crop you’re playing top dollar for back in the states. I mean absolutely no disrespect by this. But seriously, you’re missing out.

Mangoes the size of your head, people! They exist!

Mangoes the size of your head exist, people!

The Dominican Republic is Mango Nirvana. They come in all shapes, sizes and varieties – even some the size of your head! And each has its own subtly different flavor. But they have one thing in common: they are so freaking delicious I could swoon. Swoon, I tell you.

I had my first mango ‘moment’ a little over a year ago, on what would have been my third trip to the DR in less than six months. I watched Andry bite into the top and then peel it by hand with a few deft moves. When he handed it to me, I wasn’t sure what to do. I kept looking for a knife. And barring that, a drop cloth. Because oh my goodness, the juice! I may have politely declined, but it smelled so incredibly good. So I did the only thing I could do – I bit right in. It was…life changing. As if the stars and moon aligned, and angels began to sing.

I felt my knees go week as the juice made tracks down my arms.

Not my finest hour. But what can I say? The mangoes here are THAT good.

Not my finest hour. But what can I say? The mangoes here are THAT good.

To know me is to know that I absolutely hate to be sticky. I’ve been a compulsive handwasher most of my life. But for the first time in my life, I didn’t care. I hardly noticed as Andry lead me to the sink. I may have whined when he took the inexpertly cleaned pit out of my sticky hand, but he quickly replaced it with another piece of delicious fruit.

I’m not sure how many I ate standing there at the sink that night. I lost track at 10.

Sure, it took me an hour to floss afterward, but that was a small price to pay for such deliciousness.

I am hardly the only one mango obsessed. This entire country is! Workers pause in the middle of their labors to enjoy one or twenty. Who needs to eat a meal when you have Mother Nature providing. On more than one occasion, Andry has actually stopped the car to pick one up out of the road. (Initially I scoffed at this practice, but now I don’t complain. As long as he shares.)

Yes, that is my husband. (For the record, we did have permission to steal these particular mangoes.)

Yes, that is my husband. (For the record, we did have permission to steal these particular mangoes.)

Mango thievery is an art passed down from one generation to the next. It requires strength, skill and, if you don’t have the owner’s permission, speed and stealth. I’ve seen people climb trees, throw rocks and use poles or sticks all to get their hot little hands on this beautiful fruit.

There is one thief in particular who is unrivaled in tenacity and persistence. That’s the Mango Queen herself: Frederica.

As in, Frederica, our dog.

I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t believe it at first either. But let me tell you, Frederica is obsessed with mangoes.

It started as a bit of a lark on our part. She would come sniffing around when one of us was eating a mango, so we’d toss her a piece of the peel or the pit if it still had some meat on it. But soon I couldn’t even eat a mango in the privacy of my own kitchen without her bouncing back and form between the kitchen window and the back door, eager for her share of the bounty.

If I eat one while I’m out, she goes crazy. I swear she can smell it on me.

Freddy and Armando, the brothers who take care of our property, are kind enough to keep us in mangoes from a tree on one of the other properties they care for. When they realized Frederica was a fan, too, they started feeding her growing addiction by giving her the overripe and damaged fruit. Which, by the way, she would sometimes eat WHOLE.

They find her obsession entertaining. Highly entertaining. But then, they weren’t picking up the you-know-what. (I would like to state for the record that while I can find, err, evidence, of her mango consumption she shows absolutely no ill effects despite the quantity of fruit she consumes.)

The Mango Thief. Doesn't she look guilty?

The Mango Thief. Doesn’t she look guilty?

I was amused, too, until I realized that the quantity of mangoes Frederica was consuming was greater than what the brothers provided. The aforementioned tree was no longer producing, yet there were a growing number of fresh ‘kills’ in the yard on a daily basis.

Seriously, the side yard looks like a mango cemetery.

That’s when rumors of a mango thief reached my ears. You can imagine my shock, horror and, ok, maybe a little pride, when I realized Frederica was to blame.

She has discovered not one, but THREE different ways out of the yard, specifically to feed her mango addiction. As the season winds to an end, she’s going further and further afield to find them.

Thankfully, the whole neighborhood seems to find it entertaining. And I can understand why. I mean, who ever heard of a dog addicted to mangoes?

Now, if only I could train her to share…

Frederica isn't the only one who likes to keep the mangoes for herself. Even my own mother won't share!

Frederica isn’t the only one who likes to keep the mangoes for herself. Even my own mother won’t share!

This is (Almost) 40: Counting down to the big 4-0

This is me, scheming. I hope you're ready for me, 40!

This is me, scheming. I hope you’re ready for me, 40!

In roughly two weeks, I’m going to be 40. I know, I know… I don’t look a day over 39, right? Believe me, I find it just as hard to believe as you. I mean, didn’t I turn 30 like 30 minutes ago? How did an entire decade fly by since I was last crying in my cups about having a milestone birthday!

The good news, I suppose, is that I don’t FEEL old. Not that 40 is old. Maybe at one point in my life, I thought otherwise. But believe me, I’ve revised my opinion on that matter significantly in recent years. I now consider 80 to be middle age. So by that standard, I have plenty of good years left.

Many of my good friends have gone before me, over this invisible wall into our 40’s. They’ve done it with style, grace and, in some cases, copious amounts of alcohol. I’m hoping to more sneak over the line while no one is looking.

My 30’s were, in all honesty, a mixed bag. Some of it really sucked. Like losing my dad. But there were some great times, too. Like taking my mom to Ireland for the first time.

I’m going out with a bang, though. I mean, I do get points for moving to the Caribbean, finding and marrying my soul mate AND writing 2.5 novels (even if they are still in first drafts) – all in my 39th year, right?

The problem isn’t so much leaving my 30’s behind. It’s figuring out how to top them in my 40’s. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling restless. Like there’s a big question mark over my head. I keep asking myself, “What’s next?”

The view from my 'desk chair', aka the hammock. Definitely not complaining...

The view from my ‘desk chair’, aka the hammock. Definitely not complaining…

I don’t know the answer to that, nor am I even sure why I’m asking the question in the first place. Not to brag or anything, but I have a pretty awesome life. I mean, I just married the man of my dreams. I live in one of the most beautiful, culturally intoxicating places on Earth. I spend my days writing, which I love. My ‘office’ is a patio roughly 20 yards away from the Atlantic Ocean and my ‘desk chair’ is a hammock. So, really, I can’t complain. I’m not complaining.

I just… I think I’m ready for some new challenges. What that entails, I’m not quite sure yet. I do know that it’s going to involve starting a new blog about my adventures here in the Dominican Republic, and launching my own business. I’m still working out the details on both of those undertakings, as well as 38 other goals I’m going to set for myself. Because, yes, as corny as it sounds, there will be 40.

So stay tuned. Because there will be no 39-and-holding for this girl.

Here’s to turning the big 4-0!

But first, you’ll have to excuse me. I only have a couple of more weeks of my 30’s to enjoy. I plan to make every second count.

Not to brag, but this is the view from my 'office'. See, really! I'm not complaining.

Not to brag, but this is the view from my ‘office’. See, really! I’m not complaining.

Look Who Remembered How To Blog

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This deserted stretch of beach is located on the north coast of the Samaná Peninsula, just east of Las Terrainas. With places like this to explore, is it any wonder I’ve forgotten to blog for a few months?

Ok, ok. I know. It’s been awhile. Months as a matter of fact. Sure, I’ve teased you with photos and vague Facebook statuses. But I’ve deprived you of all the juicy details of the adventures I’ve been having in paradise.

Sorry about that.

In my defense, I’ve been busy. Busy having all of those adventures I’ve been teasing you with. Busy exploring my home-away-from-home (a.k.a. the Dominican Republic). Busy studying Spanish. Busy spending as much quality time as humanly possible with the love of my life, who I had the fortune to meet eight wonderful months ago. (Thank you, universe!)

In short, busy living every moment of every day to the absolute fullest.

One thing, though, has kept me the busiest of all. Writing. True, little to none has trickled down to this blog. But rest assured, I have been writing.

And I haven’t forgotten about you. Really I haven’t. You, my dear readers, have kept me motivated, inspired and scribbling away even when all I’ve wanted to do is…well, anything except actually write. And I plan to repay you for being the best friends and family a scatter-brained writer could ever have.

I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. How on Earth could she possibly repay me for being so awesome?! (Well, at least that’s what Liz and Julie are thinking, I’m sure…) Well, I plan to do it the best way I know how: by sharing my random observations and crazy adventures. Because I assure you the last few months have been anything but dull. And I know you’re dying to hear all about it.

You’ll get a taste of some of those projects I’ve been working on before long, too. I promise you that. But for right now…

Stay tuned, my friends. The Accidental Blonde is back. And, thanks to the tropical sun (and a slightly overzealous emergency highlight), she’s blonder than ever.

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad: A Modern Air Travel Adventure

I would have a preferred a strict "No Bag Left Behind" policy, but I suppose two out of three ain't bad...

I would have a preferred a strict “No Bag Left Behind” policy, but I suppose two out of three ain’t bad…

“You can only check two bags,” the man in front of me said for the second time. Seeing my expression – and no doubt both questioning my grasp of the English language AND grateful for the counter that stood between us at this point – the airline representative repeated himself yet again. “You can only check two bags. There’s a strict embargo going into Santiago.” Perhaps I would have been better able to process this information if I hadn’t just slid all three of my to-be-checked bags to this man. The three bags I’d spent a week packing and repacking. The three bags containing everything I thought I’d need during the 3+ months of my extended stay in the Dominican Republic. The three bags which, incidentally, I’d had no trouble checking in online the second I was able to do so 23 hours 59 1/2 minutes prior to departure. I couldn’t do anything but stare. First at the man in front of me – whom I’m sure really is a very nice man and I feel horrible about the things I was thinking toward him – and then at those three beautiful bags. Because I want you to think, just for a minute, what it’s like to pack for a trip of that length. Three and a half months in another country, one with a climate completely different from your own. A country where not all of the comforts of home are readily available. And where it is nearly impossible to ship anything without considerable expense and red tape. As you can probably imagine, a great deal of angst went into that process. It seemed never ending. And it wasn’t until I zipped up the final bag that morning that I felt a sense of calm. I was even a little proud of myself, because I felt like I’d struck the perfect balance: prepared, but not ridiculously over-packed. And now this man was essentially sending me back to the drawing board with only the narrowest of windows. I could have wept right there but, frankly, I knew I couldn’t spare the time. The cut-off was quickly approaching. Would it have been different if we hadn’t hit unexpected construction on the way to the airport? Maybe. But even with more time, the task wouldn’t have been any easier. My mind was already working, trying to calculate what was in each of the (very full) bags. What did I absolutely need? What could I live without? Because I wasn’t going to waste time arguing. The important thing was ME getting on the plane, after all. And I couldn’t risk running afoul of the air-travel gods any more than I already had. “I need 2 minutes,” I announced, reaching around to pull 2 of my 3 bags to the side. (Which sounds easier than it was. Keep in mind these were two rolling duffle bags stuffed to the gills.) I unzipped both, picked the one that held the most essential items and, as quickly as I could, removed as many non-essential items as I could. A half seconds later, they were replaced with the most important things from the other bag. Or what, at that split second, I thought were the most important things. Only, of course, I wasn’t half as calm and collected about it as I’m making it sound. I was nothing short of a hot mess. Time crunch or no, I was still distinctly aware of the fact that I was the floor show for the other passengers in line. As a result, that three-month supply of feminine hygiene products I had the foresight to pack didn’t make the cut. (A decision I may very well come to regret.) What felt like 30 seconds later, heart pounding and palms sweaty, it was time to zip up the overstuffed case. In my post-adrenaline haze, I had no idea what made it in and what didn’t. And I was too shell-shocked to care. Thankfully my mother, who had so graciously offered to drive me to the airport in the first place, had insisted on coming in with me. So she was there to take possession of the poor lonely suitcase I had to leave behind.

Post-adrenaline rush

Santiago-bound at last!

As for me, it took the entire first leg of my trip for my nerves to quiet. But now, a few days later, I’m settling in to my home-away-from-home in my tropical paradise. And I can’t for the life of me remember what was so important in that other bag. Because, let’s be realistic: this is hardly the worst airline horror story I’ve ever heard. Heck, it’s not even MY worst airline horror story. And it’s not like I’m never going to see the contents of that bag again. All that truly matters is that I’m in this beautiful place, following a lifelong passion and living a life that still feels a bit like a dream. And if I bit of worry or angst starts to creep in, well…I have the rustle of the wind in the avocado trees, the crowing of the neighborhood roosters, a view of both the ocean and the mountains, and the gentle clatter of the keys on my keyboard to remind me just how lucky I am. Besides, this is supposed to be an adventure, right? It wouldn’t be fun if it was too easy.

Sunrise over the avocado trees on my first morning. #100DaysInParadise

Sunrise over the avocado trees on my first morning. #100DaysInParadise

The Curse of the Blank Page: A tale of writing, self-doubt and purple eyeliner

IMG_3954I’m feeling a bit bored. Something I have no right to feel, really. What with the fact that I’ve spent most of the day avoiding the task at hand: Writing.

It’s not a lack of things to say – or topics to expound upon – that has me avoiding this most earnest of endeavors. So what is it then, that prevents me from taking up my pen and moving it across the blank page or, alternately, positioning my fingers above the keys on my laptop and tap, tap, tapping away at an equally blank screen?

I suppose it’s fear. Not that writing – or even depending on it to make my living – is an unknown for me. But I have this dream, and there is a part of me that fears failing to achieve that dream.

Yes, I’m familiar with all of the old adages. How the only way to truly fail is not to try, etc. etc. I’d rather not run through them all, either on this page or in my head. I can recognize the wisdom behind them. Heck, I even buy into it.

But somehow that doesn’t lessen the dread I sometimes feel when it’s time to sit down and get to the work of actually writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I write every day. I fill notebooks. But it’s coalescing these bits and pieces into something meaningful that freezes my heart. Because as long as I’m not thinking about writing, the words flow – smoothly, painlessly and, when I’m really lucky, beautifully.

It’s when I think that things jam up.

Sometimes it’s the critic in my head. Wow, is she a bitch! She delights in playing Negative Nancy to every idea – sometimes every word! – I try to put down. And she doesn’t limit herself to merely critiquing my writing. Oh, no! She likes to weigh in on all of my life decisions.

Her favorite time to chime in is when people ask me what I do, or what I’m doing these days. I barely have time to respond before she adds her two cents.

“A writer? Really! You have the audacity to call yourself a writer, ” she sneers. “That’s rich. I see the garbage you’re scribbling down. Take my advice – get a day job.”

Thankfully, her berating is only for my ears. But I’m sure the intrepid soul who was kind enough to inquire can see the play of confused emotions across my face. (I’ve never been good at poker.)

Sometimes my in-house critic doesn’t need to say a word. She doesn’t have to. Because the second I sit down to write – or even think about sitting down to write – my writer’s ADD kicks in. Now, I’ve never actually been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. But you wouldn’t know that they way my brain scatters off like a frightened kitten when I come face to face with that blank page.

Anything and everything is a potential distraction. There are the usual suspects – the internet (although sometimes I can justify that as research…), social media, daytime television, etc. And then there are the signs of true desperation. Like the sudden, burning desire to clean out my closet. Or make a vat of chicken soup. Or pluck my eyebrows.

Wow. My eyebrows. They REALLY need some attention. Even everyone’s favorite critic thinks so. I guess she had a good look at them while I was experimenting with some eyeliner a couple of minutes/paragraphs ago.

Which might seem normal, except for the fact that I don’t really wear makeup. And I’m not going anywhere. But somehow, between one word and the next, it was something I just HAD to do. IMMEDIATELY.

So, now I’m just sitting here in front of my computer.

Wearing a shade of purple eyeliner that was obviously a mistake.

Waiting for the words to come.

Something that isn’t even possible if I’m not moving the pen across the page or my fingers across the keyboard.

Which I can’t do if, say, I’m removing the aforementioned eyeliner…

Or flossing, which is what I did to distract myself from the ghastly shade of purple I’ve now managed to smear across my face.

But despite these many, many distractions and that incredibly vocal critic, I have to keep pressing forward. Not because of any impending deadline, per se. But, well, remember that boredom we were talking about?

Well, it isn’t really boredom. No, it’s words – an inkling of an idea, a fragment of dialogue, the tender young threads of a story. They’re just under the surface, nudging against my conscious mind. Like an itch waiting to be scratched.

And there is only one thing to do about it.

I have to sit down, make my peace with that blank page, ignore the nagging voice of my inner critic, forget about eyeliner and oral hygiene, get the heck out of my own way…

And WRITE.