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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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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.

Girly Girl

A rare photo of me wearing pants.

A rare photo of me wearing pants.

“I was just talking about you the other day…”

Hearing those words swelled my needy little ego almost to bursting, especially since they were uttered by one of the most popular girls in my high school graduating class. (Who cares if that graduation was already a distant memory!)

I hung on her words, anticipating what would come next. Praise for my journalistic efforts. Gushing adoration of my writing talent…

“…how I went to school with someone who wore dresses every day.”

Cue the unceremonious exit of wind from my sails.

I looked down at the skirt I was wearing, and my thoughts wandered to the preponderance of similar attire in my current wardrobe.

Even my Halloween costumes had skirts!

Even my Halloween costumes had skirts!

Until that moment, I’d actually forgotten – or perhaps blocked out is more accurate – that my mother had dressed me in dresses every day for most of my formative years. Throughout Pumpkin Shell Nursery School, and the four blissful years I spent being nurtured at the Oxford Primary School.

Well, nearly every day.

I vividly recall the first day I wore pants to school. No, they weren’t plaid, thank you very much. It was St. Patrick’s Day. And, for a reason known only to her, my mother chose that day to send me to school wearing jeans. The sole concession to the holiday was the green crayon on the otherwise blue t-shirt I had on. Never mind the fact that probably half of the dresses in my closet – yes, many of them plaid – were green.

I’d blocked all of that out – particularly those plaid dresses. But the stigma, apparently, lives on.

That conversation, and the near anxiety attack that ensued, took place about 6 years ago. I was working as a small town newspaper reporter, having just moved back to my hometown after ramming around the country for a bit. I’d lived and worked in New York City, South Florida and Western Colorado. I’d traveled and adventured in Europe, North America and one memorable foray into Asia. (China, to be exact.)

Yet here I was…still living down my reputation as The Girl Who Wore Dresses.

Do you know how hard it is to ride a Big Wheel in a dress?

Do you know how hard it is to ride a Big Wheel in a dress?

My tomboy soul let out a warrior cry of despair that quickly devolved into a pity party. Because here I was perpetuating the girly girl image I’d tried hard to outgrow.

For the record, I am not a girlie girl. Not that there’s anything wrong with being one. But in order to qualify, you have to meet certain requirements. Like both owning makeup and actually knowing how to use it. Getting your nails done on a regular basis. (And, no, once a decade doesn’t count.) We won’t even talk about the hair care products…

I’m a little too rough around the edges to qualify.

I own mascara, but there’s a good chance it has expired since the last time I wore it. I’m so bad with manicures that I actually had to get three the week of the wedding so I was photo-ready. My normal ‘pedicure’ involves slapping another layer of polish over the remnants of my last effort. My hair care routine consists of brushing it when I get out of the shower and giving it a good shake. (I do, however, wash my face now – thanks to Rodan + Fields!)
But despite all of that if you were to look in my closet today, you’d find…dresses. Lots of them. Conservatively, I’d say they make up…90 percent of my wardrobe. The very thought is exhausting... (Stolen off Facebook)Why? Because they are easy. And comfortable.

And I just really hate to wear pants.

I was thinking about that conversation, and the ripple of my mother’s insistence on dressing me in dresses for so many years, this morning. When I found myself perpetuating the cycle.

Andry’s daughter is staying with us right now, you see.

And she just looks so darn cute in dresses…

 

Follow me on Twitter… @MelissaStagnaro

I was pretty darn cute, though, you have to admit...

I was pretty darn cute, though, you have to admit…

 

My R+F Journey: Confessions of an unlikely skincare consultant

Liz & I toasting to our twin Rodan + Fields businesses.

Liz & I toasting to our twin Rodan + Fields businesses.

Why, HELLO, sun damage...

Why, HELLO, sun damage…

My last name may be Italian, but my complexion is 100% Irish. Translation: the tropical sun is not my friend. As 40 approached, sun damage was all I saw every time I looked in the mirror. Because my skin is also sensitive – and my one attempt at erasing that damage a very painful failure – I resigned myself to living with those brown spots and freckles forever.

Then one day, I started to notice my friend Rosemarie’s posts about Rodan + Fields on Facebook. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me, and I reached out to her.

Rosemarie told me her R+F story. Not only about how REVERSE had done what no other product had been able to do – get rid of her own brown spots – but also how the business opportunity was changing her life.

When we had that conversation, a light bulb went off for me. At the time, I was struggling to get my freelance writing career off the ground. Not only was it not taking off as strongly as I hoped, but it was also cutting into my personal writing time – the very thing it was meant to help me support.

Rosemarie’s story inspired me. But the kicker was when I discovered Liz, my best friend from college, was also interested in Rodan + Fields. Liz signed up for her own micro-franchise, and a week later, I did, too.

Let me say that I’m the LAST person you would expect to launch a skincare business. I’d splash some water on my face and consider myself good to go. The only thing I did remember to do on a quasi-regular basis was moisturize, but even that was sporadic at best. But that nonchalance was catching up with me, as evidenced by the aforementioned sun damage. Suddenly taking care of my skin seemed important.

The best 40th birthday present a girl could ask for! Thank you, Liz!

The best 40th birthday present a girl could ask for! Thank you, Liz!

When I received my REVERSE regimen in the mail, I was nervous about trying it for the first time. But as soon as I did, I fell in love.

Because of my sensitivity, I eased into it – using it every 2 to 3 days to start and gradually building up to daily use. Because of this, I expected my results to be gradual. But almost immediately, I started noticing subtle changes in the tone and texture of my skin. And as my freckles and brown spots slowly fade away, I’m loving my brighter and more even complexion.

My favorite part about this opportunity? I don’t need to SELL anything. My ‘job’ is simply to share my story and my passion for these products and this business. And that’s pretty easy when you truly believe in the brand. After all, it’s what sold me.

A recent media mention in Cosmopolitan focusing on the Rodan + Field's business model.

A recent media mention in Cosmopolitan focusing on the Rodan + Field’s business model.

Sure, I looked at the business model, the product philosophy, the compensation structure, the recognition the company’s received, the media impressions and the overall size of the anti-aging market. And let’s face it: the opportunity to partner with Drs. Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields, the Stanford-trained dermatologists who brought Proactiv to market, IS pretty exciting… But what sold me was Rosemarie’s story. Her results. Her success. Her passion.

Yes, it’s true what they say about Rodan + Fields changing skin and changing lives. I know, because less than three months into the business, it’s already changing mine.

Are you ready to start your R+F Journey?

Still a work in progress, but well on my way to the best skin of my life!

Still a work in progress, but well on my way to the best skin of my life! (The crows feet are next on my hit list. Lucky me, we have a Multi-Function Eye Cream for that!)

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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Home

Late summer/early fall is one of my favorite times of the year in Central New York.

Late summer/early fall is one of my favorite times of the year in Central New York.

We received the less-than-optimal news yesterday that Andry will need surgery on his knee. Apparently he had a fracture without realizing it, and now there’s a piece of his kneecap floating around wreaking havoc.

The patient.

The patient.

Or something like that, anyway. When it comes to all things medical, I’m even worse at it in Spanish than I am in English. Which is really saying something.

I hate seeing my love in pain, and with my own surgery still fresh in my mind, I’m nervous for him. Even though I have to believe he will be in good hands, and that once he’s all healed up he’ll no longer be in the debilitating pain he’s in right now. So, positive thoughts!

It’s not just the fact that Andry’s hurting that has me down. To put it frankly, the timing of it stinks. Because it means we’ll have to put off the long-awaited trip/delayed honeymoon we were planning for this fall. I know, in the scheme of things, the trip is inconsequential in comparison to surgery. It’s just that we were both really excited for what would have been Andry’s first trip to the US and an opportunity for him to meet more of the crazy cast of characters in my life – family and otherwise.

What I was looking forward to most, though, was the chance to show him where I grew up. To introduce him to the 152-acres that raised me as much as my parents did, and to the house where I grew up. Because I truly was bringing him home.

A picture perfect summer day in Chenango County.

A picture perfect summer day in Chenango County.

We’ll get there eventually, I know. But I’m still disappointed. I’ve been getting a bit nostalgic for those familiar rolling hills of late, as another gorgeous Central New York summer passes by without me there to experience it first hand.

It reminded me of a poem I wrote while living in Western Colorado. It was an anniversary present for my parents. But in the writing of it, I realized where my heart truly was. And it wasn’t in that junction between the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains and the High Plains Desert. I moved back to Chenango County less than a year later.

I’m not in the same situation today. I absolutely love my life in the Dominican Republic. But that doesn’t mean a part of me doesn’t miss Home.

 


 

 

HOME

 

I miss

the scent of the fields in summer,

newly cut hay

and tiny wild strawberries

baking in the sun.

 

I miss

the wild iris

blooming

in the high grass of the pasture.

The forty-watt glow of lightning bugs

dancing at dusk.

 

I miss

fingers of rain

tapping me to sleep

on the panes of glass above my head,

the silence of night

broken

by an unexpected storm.

 

I miss

the spearmint taste

of water from the spring.

The roar of water

rushing in the creek.

 

I miss

spider webs

glistening

with heavy morning dew

on lilacs

long grown from bushes into trees.

 

I miss

the cool stillness of the woods

soft pine needles

cushioning my feet,

near the Indian well.

The snort of a buck

startled from the brush.

 

I miss

the scarred trunks of shagbark hickory

standing tall at the tree line,

flanked by walls of stone picked

from a hundred years of fresh-plowed fields.

 

I miss

sitting on the stone patio

with the long shadows of late afternoon,

cup of tea in hand.

I miss Home.

© 2007 Melissa Stagnaro

This is Home.

This is Home.

Lean on Me: Thoughts on friendship, sisterhood, and the loss of a parent.

Me and my bestie atop Mount Isabel de Torres, Puerto Plata.

Me and my bestie atop Mount Isabel de Torres, Puerto Plata.

My best friend lost her dad yesterday. It was sudden and unexpected, and tragic as only losing a parent can be. She is left hurting so badly. And here I am a more than a thousand miles and an ocean away, totally helpless to do anything about it.

I never had the privilege of meeting Julie’s dad, the infamous ‘Duff’ Cook. I have heard a lot of stories, though. He was something of a legend in the town where he lived, and at the factory where he worked as a welder for many years. He must have been one heck of a guy, if his daughter is any indication.

There’s no one quite like Jules, as I like to call her. While I haven’t known her my whole life, I feel as though I have. Our friendship, forged in both good times and bad, has transformed into something so much more. We have long since crossed the line from friend to family.

Our families – the real ones – have followed our lead.

Jules was the one I called late on a Friday afternoon in early January 2012. I had just found out my father was being sent home from the hospital and being placed in hospice care. It was…devastating…to hear this news. But I had to switch into action mode, because the house needed to be prepared both for his arrival and that of the hospital bed. Jules met me there, and helped me do the heavy lifting – both physically and mentally.

Jules was also the one there with me, walking laps in the hospital, when I had my own health scare a few months later.

She’s the one who not-so-subtly tells me when I’m working myself to death, or when I’m doing – or have done — something stupid. That said, she’s remarkably supportive of some of my riskier moves. She was one of the first I told that I was trying my hand at writing fiction. And she’s been surrogate daughter to my mother in so many ways since I skipped off to the Caribbean.

Jules is the one who cried when I told her I was getting married. Not that she wasn’t happy for me, she was just worried she wouldn’t be there for the occasion. She was, though. Even though she had to move heaven and earth to do it. (Not to mention the fact her son is about to graduate from high school and she has major back surgery coming up.)

See what I mean about the bouquet! Perfect!

See what I mean about the bouquet! Perfect!

Jules was my therapist when the strain of planning a wedding in a month started to get to me, not to mention a co-conspirator in planning the bachelorette bash. When the time came, she sent me down the aisle with a perfect bouquet (fashioned from purloined frangipani blooms). She played photographer, too, capturing all of the precious moments and memories of our special day.

How did I repay all of this when I learned of her father’s death?

Well, I’d like to say I found words that were the perfect blend of wisdom and sentiment. Something that would both sooth her pain, and let her know it’s ok to feel how she’s feeling. That she’ll get through this. That even though it may not seem like it in this moment, she will. Because I know she will. But you have to take it one day, one hour – sometimes one minute – at a time.

But did I say that? No. In the face of the raw emotion that she shared, I said none of those things. Not even close.

Instead, I blathered on about okra. Yes, OKRA.

I think it’s safe to say I’m out of the running for friend of the year.

Oh, Jules. Can you forgive me? What I really want to tell her is that I love you and your family, and I’m so, so sorry about your dad. I wish more than anything that I could be there to help you get through this day, and the next, and the next…just as you was there for me.

I will, of course, be there. But not in person, and I know it’s just not the same.

You will get through this, because you’re one of the strongest people I know. And even though there are a thousand miles or so, plus an ocean, between us, I AM here for you.

Whatever you need, Jules, you can always lean on me.

Sending strength, love, prayers and positive healing thoughts from my heart to yours. You, Lyndon, Jesse, Jaret, my other brother Dennis and all of Duff’s family and friends are in my thoughts and prayers.

xo

M

 

 

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.

Unexpected Detours: A tale of flight delays, tropical escapes and chance encounters

 

The 5 Gringas: Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona y yo.

Mumsy, Jules, Kathie, Nona and yours truly atop Mount Isabel during our 2014 Dominican adventure. I can assure you, a good time was had by all.

At barely 5 a.m. on the morning of January 9, 2014, I found myself staring bleary eyed at the departures board at Syracuse Airport. I was queued up with my four traveling companions – Mumsy, Jules, Kathie and Nona – and what felt like half of Central New York. We were at the tail end of one of last winter’s (then infamous, now long-forgotten) storms, and were well aware that some 12,000 flights had been canceled in the preceding days. The weather had finally cleared, though, and every flight listed was showing on time.

The five of us were bound for the Dominican Republic, and I for one could already taste the rum cocktails we’d be sipping on the beach by early afternoon.

A murmur moved up the line, intruding on my reverie. My friend Kathie, a little ahead of us, caught my eye and gestured to that same departure board I’d been staring at. Somehow, while I’d been daydreaming of sun and sand, the status of our flight had changed from ‘on time’ to ‘delayed’. I groaned, drawing the attention of my mother.

“We’re going to miss our connection,” I told her, leaving her to watch the bags as I wound my way to Kathie’s side.

The next hour was a blur. The airline’s counter person – no doubt eyeing the lengthy line of groggy would-be passengers behind us – insisted that she couldn’t help rebook us. We’d need to go through the group reservation line, she said. (Despite that there were only 5 of us.)

Too bad the first two numbers she gave us to call weren’t in service. The third was actually a chat line. (I kid you not.) And when, on the fourth try, we succeeded in getting the right number – we learned that the group reservation call center didn’t even open until 8 a.m. It wasn’t yet 6.

You can imagine how pleased we were at that.

Kathie made one more trip to the poor, frazzled woman behind the counter and miracle of miracles we ended up with a number that actually worked AND connected us to a human being. After jumping through the usual electronic hoops ,anyway.

For the next 45 minutes, the woman on the other end of the line was my best friend. Time seemed to stand still as she worked through a thousand different possible flight permutations in an effort to get the 5 of us ladies to our tropical destination. We were a model of flexibility, offering to fly out of another airport or fly into another one in the Dominican Republic. (We were headed to Puerto Plata, but we could make Santiago work if need be.)

We asked about other airlines, but she said wanted to exhaust all of their own possibilities first.

As the minutes ticked by, the options grew progressively worse, not better. And it was starting looking as though any cocktails we had in the foreseeable future would be imbibed in the bar of an airport (or airport hotel) rather than on a beach. Because the way she was talking, it would be DAYS before we made it to the DR.

It all went even further down hill when we were handed off yet again, this time to a supervisor. He was most definitely NOT my best friend. In fact, his first suggestion was that we fly to Newark and then wait THREE DAYS for a flight to Puerto Plata. This was the best option, he explained, unless we were willing to drive to Newark in three days time. The latter was certainly more appealing, because no offense to Neward, but spending the first part of our vacation there wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.

We asked again about options with other airlines, but all we received were a few vague promises that he’d follow up ‘later’. I could tell, though, by the finality in his voice as he signed off that there would be no further follow up on their end.

If we wanted a better option, it would be up to us to make it happen.

Before making our final exit from our home-away-from-home in the airline terminal, Kathie and I took a walk to the Delta counter.

What happened next was, in my opinion, a sure sign that there is a higher power in the universe. Because not only was there a flight to DR leaving that night, but there was space for us on it.

The catch, because there is always a catch, was that it leaving from JFK, not Syracuse, and landing in Santiago, not Puerto Plata. But we could work with that. Because it was definitely better than three days in Newark. Or waiting three days for the long-anticipated getaway for that matter.

As the incredibly helpful Delta representative worked with our original carrier to sort out the flight arrangements, I started working out the other details. Like changing our rental car reservation, reaching out to the Farrell network to find a home for our vehicle that didn’t involve paying $30 a day in a lot at JFK, etc.

Kathie sprung into action as well, since with our new, radically altered itinerary her friend Elena could no longer meet us. Elena, ever helpful, arranged for a taxi to meet us in Santiago. (Because, let’s face it, there wasn’t a chance that the accumulated luggage of five women was going to fit in one rental car. Oh, and there was the small matter of not being one hundred percent sure of the directions…)

The airport terminal was all but deserted by the time we had it all sorted. We were in a bit of a daze as we reboarded the shuttle to take us back to the airport hotel to retrieve our vehicle.

This is "the beach" we were trying to get to: Playa Costambar.

This is “the beach” we were trying to get to: Playa Costambar.

Now that the first – and arguably the biggest – obstacle had been overcome, my adrenaline was kicking in. There were still a host of challenges standing between us and the beach. Like getting a refund on the long-term parking we’d prepaid for at the airport hotel. And re-loading the aforementioned luggage into the car without the help of Jules’ very handy husband Lyndon to oversee the process. Not to mention the four-hour or so drive to JFK; the construction related traffic we’d invariably hit along the way; and coordinating the hand off of our keys to my awesome Uncle Tim.

But failure wasn’t an option. Come hell, high water or further interference from the travel gods, we were getting to that beach.

There was too much adrenaline in my system for me to relax on the plane. In fact, I didn’t start to breathe easy until we received the keys to our rental car in Santiago and the smiling cab driver and the off-duty cop riding shotgun with him started loading our luggage.

It was 2 a.m. at that point. We still had an hour or so drive to reach our final destination  on the North Coast. I might not get to sink my toes into the sand for a few more hours, but I was ok with that. Because my Dominican adventure had begun.

When I woke up the next morning and laid eyes on my surroundings for the first time – the palm trees, tropical foliage, the ocean, just all of it –the trials and tribulations of travel didn’t matter. Because on some level, I think I already knew this was where I was supposed to be.

Yes, Andry is that off-duty cop that met us at the airport. We met again in mid-March, when the Delta agent came to Costambar. See what I mean about unexpected detours?

Yes, Andry is that off-duty cop that met us at the airport. We met again in mid-March, when the Delta agent came to Costambar. See what I mean about unexpected detours?

A year has gone by since that hectic day. It feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed in the intervening 12 months. I now wake up every morning to that beautiful tropical vista I fell in love with on that very first day. The customer service agent from Syracuse who helped make our dream of a tropical escape come true has since come down and had her own Dominican adventure, and a wonderful friendship has been formed. Elena is now my friend as well as Kathie’s. Kathie and her husband Mike have added an addition to that beautiful house I stayed in during my first stay (and a couple of subsequent visits, as well). They’ll be arriving in a few days to spend a whole month here. I can’t wait. (And yes, they do still rent it out when they’re not here. You can check them out on Facebook at Oceanfront Rental Dominican Republic.) The cab driver, José, has also become a trusted friend. And that off-duty cop? Well… That’s a story for a different day.

Who knows if any of that would have happened if our travel plans hadn’t been turned inside out that day. Sometimes it’s the unexpected detours that makes all the difference. That one point in time sets off a chain reaction, putting us in unexpected places, meeting unexpected people and it can make all the difference in the world.

It certainly has made all the difference in mine.