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Posts tagged ‘Mumsy’

When you know, you know.

My first glimpse at the beach in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic.

My first glimpse at the beach in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic.

It all started with a trip to Monte Cristi. I was nearing the end of my second trip the DR, and my friend Elena insisted on taking me to what she promised was one of the most beautiful beaches on the North Coast, and quite possibly the world.

Elena enlisted José to drive us. The same José, a retired policeman turned taxi driver, who had picked us (Mumsy, Kathie, Nona, Julie and myself) up at the Santiago airport on my initial trip to the DR that January. Just as he had on that night, José brought his friend and former partner along for the ride.

“Our bodyguards,” Elena joked, as we headed out early that morning.

The ride to Monte Cristi and back again took us through the Dominican Republic's central Cibao valley.

The ride to Monte Cristi and back again took us through the Dominican Republic’s central Cibao valley.

But I wasn’t so sure. Oh, this young cop was nice enough, if a little shy. The problem was that he’d already made it known that he was interested in me. And, while I thought I’d made it pretty darn clear that I wasn’t interested in him, well… I had a feeling it was going to be a long day.

And, sure enough, it didn’t take him long to make his initial play to hold my hand. I swatted it away with a laugh and a bit of an eye roll. The activity in the back seat did not go unnoticed by Elena and Jose.

“When you get married, I want to be the best man,” Jose said, grinning at us in the rear view mirror.

That little prediction earned another eye roll from me.

But at some point during the day, my attitude started to change toward this man, whose name I didn’t really know. Was it Andy? André? Only later did I finally come to understand it was Andry.

IMG_1626Maybe it was how seriously he took his role as my bodyguard. Or how he insisted on coming in the water with me, even though he was clearly uncomfortable with the size of the waves.

Or maybe it was when I noticed the color of his eyes exactly matched the surf pounding around us.

Or when I went to use the public restroom on site, only to discover I had been a bit too generous with my emergency stash of tissues. (You’re welcome, Elena.) And he handed me his shirt. An offer which I found incredibly chivalrous, but declined.

Or maybe it was the beach itself, with its steep rock walls and terracotta sand. It was stunning and we had it all to ourselves. (It still blows my mind that this place barely makes the foot notes of most guidebooks, because it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.)

Maybe it wasn’t one thing, but rather an accumulation of all of these small items that set the carefully constructed wall around my heart to crumbling. All I know is that at some point the attention he was paying me stopped being bothersome. And on the return trip, when he reached for my hand, I wasn’t so quick to brush it away.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. And the next morning, I woke up with a poem rattling around my head, waiting for me to spill it out on paper.

I did. And then I did something completely crazy: I translated it into Spanish and shared it with him.

José, our best man, looks on after we said our (first set) of I Do's.

José, our best man, looks on after we said our (first set) of I Do’s.

The following day, March 26, we had our first official date. It was another trip with José and Elena, this time to Playa Grande in Rio San Juan. It was another gorgeous beach, and yes, I dragged him into the ocean with me again.

A little over a year later, on May 9, 2015, Jose’s little prediction came true. And yes, he was Andry’s best man.

Here’s the poem I wrote that long ago morning, when I knew I’d found someone special.

Because when you know, you know.

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Lost in the moment…

 

Your voice rolls over me

smooth and seductive

like the surf.

It’s not the words,

but the cadence,

I understand.

 

Your fingers trace lazy circles

and I shiver,

shy like a school girl

with her first crush.

 

The brush of a kiss

on my temple,

feather soft,

draws my attention to your eyes.

 

Grey-green

against the caramel of your skin

I’d lose myself there,

if not for the tug of a smile

on those perfect lips.

 

Would they taste like salt

from the sea?

I wonder, reluctant to break

the spell of this perfect moment

even for the pleasure

of finding out.

 

MS March 25, 2015

 

Perdido en el momento…

 

Tu voz me vuelca

suave y seductor

como el surf.

No son las palabras

pero la cadencia

entiendo.

 

Tus dedos traza círculos perezosos

y tirito,

tímido como una muchacha de la escuela

con su primer amor.

 

La caricia de un beso

en mi frente,

suave como pluma

me llama la atención a tus ojos.

 

Gris-verde

contra el caramelo de su piel.

Me perdería

si no fuera por el tirón de una sonrisa

en esos labios perfectos.

 

¿Saben a sal

desde el mar?

Me pregunto, reacio a romper

el hechizo de este momento perfecto

incluso para el placer

de descubrir.

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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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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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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.

My Dominican Adventure continues…with a trip to the hospital

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“I’m going to Sosua tomorrow,” my friend Elena announced, explaining that a mutual friend was having a minor surgical procedure at Centro Medico. “Do you want to come along for the ride?”

My breath caught for a moment.

“Love to,” came my somewhat strangled reply.

To myself, I thought: Touché, Universe. Touché.

Just that morning, I had laid in bed agonizing over making the trip to the private medical clinic. On one hand, I knew I needed to get in to see a doctor. But on the other, I was scared as hell.

Let me rewind for just a minute. Two and a half years ago, a few short months after my father passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer, I had my own health scare. A scare that was made infinitely scarier by a primary care who was all too eager to jump to conclusions, not to mention unprofessional in her delivery of her doomsday diagnosis.

(As in she told me I had a mass that she presumed was ovarian cancer and pronounced that I would obviously need a hysterectomy. Oh, and while she was telling this to me me – an unmarried woman in her late thirties with no children sitting alone in a sterile exam room – she had the audacity to cry.

The only good thing she did was refer me to a highly respected specialist who assured me that I did NOT in fact have ovarian cancer. Nor did I need a hysterectomy.

What I did have was endometriosis. A nasty case of it, to be sure. And I did need major surgery. (Not to mention a new primary care.)

I have a pretty gruesome scar that, along with my lack of ab definition, has ruined my chances of ever becoming a swimsuit model.

But that scar is nothing compared to the emotional damage wrought by the whole experience. It left me skittish around the medical profession as a whole, not to mention in a constant state of angst over whether I can/will/want to have children someday.

So given all that, you can imagine my distress when I noticed something out of the ordinary on the left side of abdomen. It started out small. A hard lump that felt like I was smuggling around an overfilled water balloon. While it didn’t hurt per se, there was definitely discomfort. And I had a couple of awkward conversations because, well, it was starting to look like a had a bun in the oven.

Ok. So now you’re caught up. That morning, after a sleepless night, I was lying in bed agonizing over this issue, which, incidentally, I named Bob. (No offense to the Bobs I know. But I needed to give it a name, and that was the first thing that came to mind.)

I knew I couldn’t ignore Bob, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t scared to death to acknowledge his existence to the world and an as-yet unidentified health care professional in a clinic in a foreign country. I don’t know how long I would have put it off without the timely intervention of the Universe. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have waited too much longer, but… it was better this way. Somehow, knowing that I wasn’t the primary reason for the trip made it easier. After all, I was just going there to make an appointment. I wasn’t going to actually see anyone that day.

Or so I thought.

After seeing our friend into the hands of the surgeon who would be performing her procedure, Elena escorted me toward the front desk. My palms were starting to sweat even before a woman appeared in our path, asking if we needed help.

Elena, ever helpful, pointed at me.

At which point I promptly forgot every word of Spanish I’ve painstakingly learned over the past year.

In the ugliest broken Spanglish imaginable, I somehow communicated the fact that I wanted to make an appointment with a gynecologist.

She asked me if I had insurance. I said yes, pulling the card out of my wallet and placing it and my passport in her proffered hand.

“Looks like you’ll get to see someone right away,” Elena said with much more enthusiasm than I felt about this latest development.

As I settled myself into a seat in the waiting area, I was anxious but also relieved. Not to mention in absolute awe. It would have taken me weeks to get an appointment with a gynecologist in the U.S., and that was IF they were accepting new patients. A walk in? Never!

Not ten minutes later, I was in the doctor’s office. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw him. He was over 6 feet tall and his name was Fred (well, Freddy). Another sign, I though.

The consultation didn’t last long. We discussed my symptoms as well as my medical history. After a cursory exam, he wrote an order for a sonogram. Which I had across the hall about 15 minutes later, performed by a very pleasant female doctor.

The verdict? A giant cyst on one of my ovaries.

Lots of women have cysts, but that’s not really the important part here. Did you notice the use of the plural? Yep, that’s right! I have two ovaries! I realize that’s completely normal, but you’ll remember that I was under the impression one had been removed.

I sat there in stunned silence for a moment as my new best friend shared this surprising development. All the anxiety and angst that I’ve been carrying around for close to three years… evaporated.

Yes, I’ll need surgery to remove the cyst. In fact, I’m going in this morning for the procedure. Am I nervous? Sure. The fact that I’m having this done in another country doesn’t even factor in. I’d be nervous having this – or any procedure – anywhere. (Hospitals in general make me queasy.) But I feel pretty good going into this. The staff at Centro Medico are a class act, and I feel confident in their very professional hands.

I’ve held myself together pretty well through this whirlwind. It has, after all, been barely a week since my first trip to Sosua, and I’m having surgery today.

I’ll admit I did have a little crying jag yesterday, though. It was after I read an email from my Aunt Kathleen. She’s mobilized the troops, so to speak. The email read like a field report. Franciscan sisters in four countries are praying for me, my names been added to several prayer lists and a mass is being said for me today at St. Joseph’s Hospital Chapel in Tampa.

And this on top of the outpouring of support I’ve received from my friends and family both here in the Dominican Republic and back in the U.S.

I ask you: how can a girl not be overwhelmed when there is so much love and so many prayers and positive intentions flowing through the universe for her?

I am truly blessed to have such a network of love and support. I know when I go into surgery today, I won’t be going in alone.

Thank you, all of you. I truly am the luckiest girl in all the world.

And now I’m off to Sosua. I wish I could say it was nice knowing you, Bob, but…

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.

 

Feliz Año Nuevo: Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

That beautiful tropical vista I was talking about, at sunrise.

That beautiful tropical vista I was talking about, at sunrise.

When I drew back the curtains this morning, I couldn’t help but smile. Before me was a tropical vista that just doesn’t get old. Palm fronds swaying with the breeze against a backdrop of blue sky and even bluer ocean. Yes, 2015 is going to be a great year. I can feel it already.

Not that 2014 wasn’t pretty darn fabulous. It was, in so many unexpected ways, quite possibly the best one yet.

I’m not saying it was entirely without ups and downs. It had its trials and tribulations, I assure you. But these days I choose to live a positive life. And to do so, you can’t dwell on the negatives. They’ll consume you if you let them.

The defining moment for me happened a month or so ago. It was right after Thanksgiving and I was missing my family like crazy. I could feel the old doubts and fears creeping back. Past failures, would-haves, should-haves and a list of to-do list items I’ve so far left ‘un-checked’ started swirling in my head. I was dangerously close to feeling sorry for myself. But this vista before me – the same one that helped me greet 2015 and that is before now as I write – helped me pull myself back from the abyss.

That day, I started to take stock of the past year. And much to my own surprise, I found I had a lot more items to add in the ‘accomplishments’ column than I initially thought. 2014 has been a very busy year. Busier than I remembered, even.

The love of my life, on one of our many adventures.

The love of my life, on one of our many adventures.

See, I learned a new language. (Spanish, of course. And while I’m far from fluent, I can communicate better every day.) I not only discovered paradise in the Dominican Republic, I moved there. I met the love of my life. I watched my nephew walk down the aisle with the love of his life. I helped celebrate my Aunt Kathleen’s 60th Jubilee. Finally, after carrying the book around for more than a decade, I worked my way through The Artist’s Way – healing and awakening my creativity every step of the way. I picked up a paintbrush again after a very, very long hiatus. I wrote a few poems. I went kayaking for the first time. I ‘hoed’ out the accumulated detritus of (most of) my past lives. I started freelancing again (and might even have some income to show for it in 2015). I dragged my mother first to the Dominican Republic and then to Ireland, the latter of which was fulfilling a lifelong dream for her. I started this blog (although I continue to be negligent in posting). I even lost 20 pounds.

Well, before I went home for the holidays, anyway.

And, after years of telling myself I couldn’t, I started writing fiction. And I have two (really horrific) first drafts to show for it.

The fact that they are utter shite is beside the point, really. I learned so much in the process. And I proved to myself that I could do it. That, along with the fact that it was more fun than I ever imagined, made my little experiment a roaring success. And I can’t wait to do it all over again. Novel #3 is burning a hole in my head as we speak, eager to spill out on the page.

So, yes, that’s on the to-do list for 2015. As is taking up a hatchet in one hand and a scalpel in the other to have a go at its predecessors, who are currently aging like a fine wine. I make absolutely no promises that either will ever see the light of day, mind you. But it will be good practice for my future experiments in fiction. Because now that I’ve started, I have no intention of stopping.

So, yes, 2014 was a very good year. I’ve had so many adventures. I’ve explored. Made new friends. Learned anew how to forgive, to heal, to fully appreciate life. There have been challenges along with the triumphs, but the laughter has far outweighed the tears for the first time in a very long time.

Every day I am filled with gratitude and more of a sense of prosperity than a fat paycheck ever provided. And every day, I count my blessings.

As I look ahead at 2015, I don’t just think it will be filled with unlimited possibilities. I know it will. Because I’m no longer afraid to live life to the fullest. No longer afraid to take a few risks. No longer afraid to imagine the life I want for myself – nor afraid to actually live it. I know that when I take that leap of faith, my wings are strong enough to carry me over the abyss of fear and self-doubt.

I’m very familiar with that abyss. After all, I lived in it for years. Believe me, I have no desire to ever, ever go back.

What’s changed? Me. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, when I looked ahead at 2014 with trepidation and fear, unsure what my next step would be. In the last 12 months, I healed, I learned, I loved…and for the first time in a very long time – maybe ever – I am truly living and loving life.

The best part? I’m just getting started.

I hope you’re ready, 2015. Because I know I am.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

Feliz Año Nuevo, amigos!

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.)

Snow Daze: A tale of freezing temperatures, heated mattress pads and karma. (Oh, and nuns.)

A beautiful walk in my winter wonderland. (In case you were wondering, at the time this picture was taken it was 82 degrees in Puerto Plata. Just saying'...)

A beautiful walk in my winter wonderland. (In case you were wondering, at the time this picture was taken it was 82 degrees in Puerto Plata. Just saying’…)

Not everyone has a nun in the family, but I do. My extended family affectionately calls her Aunt Sister due to the fact that she is (a) my aunt and (b) a sister – as in Franciscan Sister of Allegheny. But to me, she’s Aunt Kathleen.

A native New Yorker like the rest of the family, Aunt Kathleen has been stationed in St. Petersburg, Florida for the last thirty years or so. Where the tropical climate has thinned her blood to the point where any drop in temperature below eighty necessitates multiple layers of flannel and fleece.

Her semi-annual visits to the Stagnaro homestead always took place in the warmest months of the year. And who could blame her. Of course, here in Central New York it’s not uncommon for the temps to dip down to the 50’s (or lower) even in the middle of summer. As a result, when we were complaining about the heat wave, she’d be bundling up in all available layers. Then adding a blanket or two to for extra warmth.

Having grown up in Central New York, I found this hilarious. And I often poked fun at my dear Aunt for being ‘soft.’ After all, when you’re from the Frigid North, you don’t think it’s truly cold until it’s at least 20 below zero. (Fahrenheit.)

Now, of course, I regret that supercilious behavior. Especially since it’s come back to bite me in the buttinski.

A buttinski that is currently FREEZING, I might add.

Because as we all know, Karma is a bitch.

Of course, it’s my own fault. No one forced me to return to the Frigid North during one of the coldest months of the year – after spending most of 2014 in the Caribbean. I came up with that brilliant idea all on my own.

Who wouldn't brave freezing temperatures to spend Christmas with this lovely lady?

Who wouldn’t brave freezing temperatures to spend Christmas with this lovely lady?

When I told my friends in the Dominican Republic that I was heading north for three weeks to spend the Christmas holiday with Mumsy, they laughed. Then they laughed some more. When they finally came up for air, they suggested I reschedule my trip to late August.

They meant well, I knew. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it for thirty seconds or so. But I already had my heart set on spending Christmas with Mumsy, not to mention her birthday which is on the 21st. I wasn’t about to let a little personal discomfort get in the way of that. Besides, I was FROM the Frigid North after all. It would take more than barely freezing temperatures to get me down.

If I had listened closely, I might have heard Karma laughing.

I started questioning my decision shortly after landing at JFK. My connection to Syracuse was delayed. And then delayed again. To make it worse, there was a draft by the gate that had my teeth chattering and I felt woefully underdressed for December in my jeans and light sweater.

I was distracted from the siren’s call of the overpriced I LOVE NEW YORK sweatshirts in the gate-side gift shop by a group of middle-aged tourists who sat next to me.

They were wearing shorts.

That’s when I realized it wasn’t quite as cold as I thought. Not the low teen’s as I had imagined, but rather a mild 45 degrees. Which didn’t bode well for the rest of my trip.

The weather channel was going on and on about Winter Storm Damon, the Nor’easter bearing down on the East Coast and I was convinced I was going to get stranded either at JFK or at the Syracuse airport. But the Travel Gods were smiling on me, and I guess they trump Karma once in awhile. Because at 11 p.m., only an hour and a half after I was originally supposed to arrive, my friend Mo was picking me up at the curb in Syracuse.

Mo is pretty awesome. Not only did she brave the freezing rain to come get me, but she also had the foresight to bring a warm coat, crank up the heat in her car AND turn on the seat warmer in the advance of my arrival.

Due to the late hour, we headed back to her place in Mexico. (Which, for those of you unfamiliar with New York State, is on Lake Ontario. And therefore, slightly colder than its namesake waaaaay to the south.) Bless her heart, she even had the heated mattress pad pre-heating in her guest room.

The plan was that she’d take me home in the morning, but Karma – under the guise of Winter Storm Damon – hit over night.

By mid-morning, a sizeable stretch of I-81 was closed. Once I heard that, I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting home that day. So, despite the fact that there was only about six inches on the ground outside of Mo’s cozy little cottage on the Little Salmon River, we resigned ourselves to being snowed in.

This is how Central New York says "Welcome Home." Did I mention it was 82 in Puerto Plata that day?

This is how Central New York says “Welcome Home.” Did I mention it was 82 in Puerto Plata that day?

Which wasn’t exactly a hardship. At least not for me. I can’t vouch for Mo, who had to play hostess for an extra day. And what a hostess she was! When the subject of food came up, there was no scrabbling to throw together a meal from canned goods. Mo simply dug into her freezer and the next thing I knew we were dining on bacon-wrapped filet and Cajun shrimp, paired with excellent red wine. With cheesecake for dessert.

I woke the next day to find snow still falling, but I-81 had been reopened so it was time to go home. Thanks to my little sojourn at Mo’s – and the storm – I was ready. After all, the frigid temperatures and cold wind are a lot easier to take when the world looks like someone has given a snow globe a good shake.

And when I finally walked in the door Thursday afternoon – roughly 48 hours after leaving the Dominican Republic — the warmth of my mother’s greeting made it all worth it.

The early Christmas present she had waiting for me didn’t hurt either: a heated mattress pad of my very own.

As I type this, it’s about 50 degrees colder outside than I’ve become accustomed to. But that’s okay. Because the world outside my frost-covered window looks like a winter wonderland and my mother’s jazzy holiday music is floating up the stairs.

I’m taking it in from where I sit, on my bed, tapping away on my laptop – all bundled up in one of my favorite Champion sweatshirts (circa 1995) with slipper socks on my feet and a fleece throw tucked in around me. And the heated mattress pad cranked up to its highest setting.

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, I can talk Mumsy into a Caribbean Christmas next year?

I find a little Dominican hot chocolate with a splash of kahlua is almost as effective as that heated mattress pad for keeping the cold at bay...

I find a little Dominican hot chocolate with a splash of kahlua is almost as effective as that heated mattress pad for keeping the cold at bay…