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Happy Birthday, Mumsy!

Mumsy and I in the Walled Garden at Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. July 2014

Mumsy and I in the Walled Garden at Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. July 2014

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton

I am a lucky, lucky girl. I know I say that all the time, but it’s true. I am blessed in so many ways. Especially when it comes to the people in my life. Friends, family, former colleagues – they have all made my life richer and more beautiful just by being there. Offering a kind word, lending an ear, giving a helping hand, being there when it mattered most.

They are my “giants”, as Isaac Newton would have called them. And all I have seen, done and accomplished in my life, is as a direct result of standing on their shoulders.

There is one giant, though, who has shaped my life more than any other. By standing on her shoulders, I have seen furthest of all. Which is really saying something since, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle, she stands at (a very respectable!) five feet and one-half inch.

Her presence, though, is much taller. In fact, some people have mistaken her for 5’6”. And she doesn’t wear heels.

I am speaking, of course, of my mother. Eileen Bridget Farrell Stagnaro. A.K.A.

Eileen, Ei, Farrell, Aunt Eileen, Grandma Eileen, Gram, Mrs. Stagnaro, Mrs. S, Mom Stags, Weenie Peppers…and the list goes on.

But to me she is Mumsy.

It all started one bleak morning in the Evening Sun newsroom. Our early morning deadline was looming and my editor, Jeff Genung, was no doubt breathing down my neck for my column. I intended to type ‘my mom’, but in my haste my cold, tired fingers tapped out ‘Mumsy’ instead.

And just like that, a legend was born.

At first, my mother rolled her eyes when I used her new moniker in print. But it caught on quickly. The next thing I knew, other people were calling her Mumsy, as well. At some point in the last six years or so, she stopped fighting it. And it was a true moment of triumph for me when I noticed she was signing her emails ‘Mumsy.’

I’m glad she’s embraced it. Because it really is perfect. There are millions of moms out there, but only one Mumsy.

I am who I am because of her. And I’m not talking about my very existence on this planet, which of course she had a lot to do with. Nor am I talking about my love of old musicals, addiction to romance novels or my ability to make a mean apple pie. All of which can definitely be laid at her doorstep, along with a thousand of my best (and worst!) traits.

Mumsy with her first great-grandchild, Harper Lee Franklin.

Mumsy with her first great-grandchild, Harper Lee Franklin.

No single person, other than perhaps my father, has had such a hand in shaping me as a person. And she did it by example. Because there are few people out there who are as kind, compassionate and giving as my mother. She is also the strongest person I know. Not to mention fierce in the best possible ways.

It is from her that I get my sense of adventure, my grit, my compassion, my desire to heal every wound (well, the emotional ones anyway. I don’t do well with actual wounds), as well as the aforementioned ability to bake pies. She’s also the reason I sob at sad movies, but I won’t hold that against her.

Through her actions, she has always given me something to live up to. Because I hope that some day I have half her strength, poise and purpose.

People often tell me that I look like my dad, but it is when people tell me I look like my mom that I am most touched. (And once they’ve said it, they’re automatically added to my most favorite people list. I’m looking at you, Diane Troxell and Mary Ann DeMellier!)

Like any mother and daughter, we’ve had our share of strife over the years. But there is no woman I love and respect as much as my mom. We have weathered a lot of storms together, and there is no one I’d rather have at my side in moments of challenge or triumph.

She is my biggest fan. My staunchest supporter. My protector. My rock. My ally. My moral compass. The voice in my head that spurs me on in my moments of doubt. My best friend. She is all of those things and so much more. She has taught me so much, but perhaps most importantly how to love – and be loved -unconditionally. I am and always will be proud and truly grateful that she is my mother.

I am truly blessed to be her daughter.

I love you, Mumsy. Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mumsy! (A toast from our trip to the Dominican Republic in January 2014.)

Happy Birthday, Mumsy! (A toast from our (first) trip to the Dominican Republic in January 2014.)

Throwback Thursday: Blogdate 3.27.09

This is what people THINK I'm doing in the Dominican Republic, but really I'm writing. I swear!

This is what people THINK I’m doing in the Dominican Republic, but really I’m writing. I swear!

I’ve been doing a lot of writing, not but not much of it for public consumption. To keep my ardent fans happy, I’ve decided to get into this Throwback Thursday action. But instead of old photos, I’ll treat you to a blast from my past.

I was reminded of this piece yesterday, when a friend was telling me how her friends in the Dominican Republic are always surprised by her ability to take care of her regular car maintenance all by herself. The fact that I originally posted it 5 years ago today (yikes!) made it the obvious choice for this, my first Throwback Thursday.

It was originally published on my blog at www.evesun.com on Friday, March 27, 2009.

Now, without further ado, here’s…

How not to change a headlight

(Originally published March 27, 2014 at www.evesun.com)

This was apparently the week for “p’diddles,” as we called them when we were kids. In the last five days, my co-worker Jessica and I have both had headlights out.

Thankfully, I noticed mine before leaving the driveway. Jessica, on the other hand, had it pointed out by a helpful State Trooper.

Our approach to rectifying the situation also differed. Jessica, in my opinion, took the easy way out. She had her light fixed by a licensed professional. I chose the cheaper and infinitely more entertaining way, and asked my father to do it for me. In retrospect, this may not have been the wisest of decisions.

I would gladly choose a bookstore over an auto parts store any day. It must be all that latent testosterone in the air because, like hardware stores, they typically give me hives.

Since I don’t know the difference between, well, anything they stock, I always end up feeling like a brainless twit. Monday afternoon, when I walked into Advanced Auto Parts, was no exception. I went in fully prepared to feel like an idiot.

To my surprise and relief, the process of getting a replacement bulb for my headlight was, in fact, entirely painless. Thanks to the assistance from a knowledgeable staff member, I had my bulb and was on my way within minutes. (And my wallet was only $10 lighter to boot!)

It went down hill from there.

I should explain that when I was growing up, my father was always the guy who read every manual and every bit of instructions before starting a project. But as he’s gotten older, he’s changed. He now disdains such things as being only for mere mortals. Which is why I was the one holding my car’s owner manual pointing frantically at the tiny diagram as my father wreaked havoc under the hood of my ancient Explorer.

Oh, sure. It sounded simple. Remove the old bulb; install the new one. But is it ever really that easy? Maybe it would be if the space you had to work in was designed for adult-sized hands rather than those of a three year-old considered small for their age. Or if the bulb had ever been previously changed. (To my knowledge, this hadn’t happened in the life of the car, which rolled off the assembly line the same year I graduated college.)

But it wasn’t, and it hadn’t. Add the fact that my father considered himself above such things as reading the directions, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

I won’t go into the gory details. Not only would it bore you to tears, but my therapist has advised me against it. Suffice it to say, it had all the ingredients of a bad cable miniseries. There was bad language, ranting, pleading, tears, a scuffle, too much drama and was dragged out entirely too long.

In the end, my father was cranky and I was frazzled, but my headlight was, indeed, functioning once more.

Now I just have to pray the other bulb has plenty of useful life left, because I don’t think I could face a repeat performance any time soon.

 

Wonder Woman (a.k.a. Doreen Rowe)

One of our Wonder Woman's passions is being an adaptive ski coach at Greek Peak. She gave me the full experience - including a trip down the bunny slope in a mono-ski,when I tagged along for a story in 2011.

One of Doreen’s passions is being an adaptive ski coach at Greek Peak. She gave me the full experience – including a trip down the bunny slope in a mono-ski – when I tagged along with her in 2011.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are always hectic, filled with last minute shopping and holiday gatherings. So why I thought it was the perfect time to plan a reunion of sorts for my Leadership Chenango Class of 2010 classmates, I’ll never know. With everyone’s schedules packed to the gills, it was nearly impossible to find a time that would work for even a meager majority. But finally a date and time were identified that might work.

And it just might have worked, if not for Mother Nature’s untimely intervention. The heavy, wet snow was beautiful, but it made the roads rather treacherous. So much so that I wasn’t entirely surprised to find only one of my compatriots at our chosen venue (Uncorked Cafe & Lounge in Norwich, NY).

I was glad to see that person was Doreen Rowe. Doreen and I had met as part of the community leadership program, and our paths had continued to cross professionally and through shared interests so often that we’d naturally grown into friends. It had been awhile since we’d had an opportunity to catch up. So, we had a glass of wine and did just that as we waited to see if anyone else intended to brave the weather.

It was close to an hour before another member of our group, Roger Connelly, arrived. By then Doreen and I had worked our way through a number of topics, from the sudden turn my career had taken and some things that had been weighing heavily on my mind to her volunteer work as an adaptive ski coach, an upcoming ski trip she had booked and our respective holiday plans.

Doreen left shortly after Roger arrived, anxious to get home to meet her daughter Amy, who was driving down from Albany. But our conversation stayed with me. The last couple of months have been a bit tumultuous, and our time together did me good. Talking to Doreen – even just being in her presence – always helps me put things in better perspective.

I was still thinking about Doreen and reflecting on our conversation the next morning, when I received a message from a mutual friend. Doreen had suffered a major heart attack and was in very serious condition.

The tears came instantly, as a jumble of thoughts and emotions hit me. She had been happy and laughing and her usual amazing self the night before and I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that this had happened so soon after I’d seen her. I was scared to death for Doreen and her family, fervently praying that she’d pull through, scrambling to think of any way I could be of help to her family, and feeling completely lost.

There was one thought in particular that caused my heart to ache so badly it felt like it would burst: what if the time I had spent with Doreen the night before was the last time I would see her? If I’d known that was even a possibility, what would I have said? What would I have wanted her to know?

Let me tell you a story.

Doreen is extremely intelligent and incredibly knowledgeable about her fields of expertise (of which she has many). She’s also one of the strongest, kindest, most caring and selfless people you will ever meet. But I didn’t realize that at first. Because Doreen is calm, cool, collected and incredibly modest.. where I, umm, skew to the emotionally impulsive and wear everything on my sleeve. So, you could saw we were a bit like oil and water when we first met.

That all changed after Doreen came to one of our classes with a new haircut. I mean no offense when I say it wasn’t very flattering. It had an air of mullet about it, cut very close – almost shaved – on the sides with the top/back a tight perm. I am ashamed to say, I may have thrown her a few sideways glances when I first saw it.

But then I learned WHY she’d done it.

You see, a dear friend of Doreen’s was scheduled to have brain surgery. And one of the things causing her the most angst was what she’d look like after she had the operation. So Doreen went with her and had her hair cut, too.

I went home and cried after that. I had clearly, almost criminally, misjudged this woman. Who was a better person than I. See, my father had recently started chemo. He too had been self conscious and anxious about loosing his hair. But it had never crossed my mind to do what Doreen had done.

From that moment on, I paid more attention and had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that the differences I perceived between Doreen and myself came down mostly to communication styles. (And some startling immaturity on my part!) But once I got past that, I began to truly discover what an amazing person she is.

We all have our own way of making a difference. For me, that way has been through writing. But Doreen makes a difference by doing.

One of my more spectacular spills of the day! (Which Doreen was more than happy to capture for posterity…)

One of her greatest passions is volunteering as an adaptive ski coach, helping blind and physically disabled individuals learn to ski and snowboard at Greek Peak’s Adaptive Snowsports Center. I got to see her in action in 2011, when she invited me to do a story about the Winter Challenge she’s involved with.

The day I spent with her and the challenge participants was truly life-changing for me on a personal level. (And not only because I learned how much abuse my body can take – I fell A LOT. You can read all about it here.)

It also solidified my friendship with Doreen, something for which I will always be grateful. We’ve golfed together, skied together, laughed and cried. I’ve come to value her opinion and her insight on so many topics and issues, particularly those relating to education and agriculture. And one story she told me, about a piece of advise someone gave her early in her career, has been something I’ve gone back to on more than one occasion.

Every time I see or talk to her, I am more amazed. There’s a reason my mother calls her Wonder Woman. She’s a one woman dynamo. And she pushes me to be a better person, simply because I want to be more like her. Although she has no way of knowing that, because I’ve never taken the time to tell her.

Until now.

Doreen, without realizing it, you’ve become an amazing influence on my life. You inspire me to put my heart into everything I do, and to be there for others. Your selfless acts and strength have touched so many lives, including my own. I cherish the time we’ve spent together, and I can’t wait to hit the golf course and the slopes with you again.

You have never been far from my thoughts these last few weeks, and you and your family will remain in my prayers throughout your recovery.

Get well soon, my friend.

And thank you for teaching me yet another life lesson: how very important it is to let people know how much they mean to you.