Tag Archives: family

A Letter To Jake On Launch Day


Dear Jake,

The car is packed and you are fast asleep on this, your last night at home. We’ve emptied your room and stuffed boxes and bins full of essentials like toilet paper, pop tarts and the mini dunk hoop for you to have as you leave home for college. It seems fitting to send you off with a few words of wisdom as well, lessons I hope you have learned and things I hope you will remember in your head and in your heart as you launch out into the world.

Have a good faith life. Say your prayers. Go to church. Be proud of your faith. When you have dark days (and you will, we all do) check your faith life first. Prioritize and put it at the top of the list. Remember that when you put God first everything else will fall into place. You are likely to meet many new people of different religions and beliefs. Be respectful of theirs and share yours. Be a bridge of kindness and love. Find a thriving parish and faith community that feeds your soul. Who knows, you may stumble upon a bible study group and make lifelong friends.

Speaking of bible study, talk about stuff you want to do. Dream big. Share your passion and goals with those who will support and encourage you. Inspire others and chase your dreams with all you’ve got. Do big work. Put in the time, blood, sweat and tears it takes to make things happen. It can all be done. All of it. The world is yours and I truly believe you can do anything you set your mind to, so long as you follow it with action and perseverance.

Learn the value of a dollar. There is a reason ramen noodles are associated with college students. These years are likely to be rather lean. Be creative and spend wisely. Stretch your pennies as far as you can. Work hard, play hard, save hard. Be mindful of your money and don’t live above your means; that won’t impress anyone. Part of knowing the value of a dollar means knowing what money can buy and also what it can’t. Remember to always take pride in earning an honest living and be mindful that the most important things in life cannot be bought.

Don’t waste a bunch of time. These next four years are unique and special. They are a gift, a luxury.  Make the most of every day. Don’t sit around watching the world go by from the comfort of your dorm room and video game controls. Don’t waste days as you sleep off late nights. Go out and be part of things. Learn something new as often as you can. Take advantage of all the opportunities that will surround you. Go to sporting events, attend interesting lectures, explore crazy art. Admire the works of others. Learn from different people. Branch out. Never again will you have so much free time to absorb so many interesting and new things. And never again will so many opportunities be literally right outside your door. Take advantage of everything. You won’t regret it.

Be on time and show up. Don’t be late. Just don’t. Be early and be prepared. Respect other people’s time and give them the best of yours. Really show up for things. Be present and joyful. Participate in class. Engage in meaningful service projects. Dance at weddings. Wear a festive tie to the Christmas party. Go to funerals and offer condolences with genuine spirit. Kiss babies at baptisms. Share moments that matter in other people’s lives. Go out and be part of things. Celebrate the accomplishments and milestones of others. There is enough sunshine for everyone and when your time comes, your people will be there to celebrate with you as well.

Say yes to adventure and honor your commitments. Be spontaneous. Have fun. Every day is a gift and full of promise. Life is too short not to enjoy each and every day. Put yourself out there. Take risks. Allow for serendipity. Say yes to things and be open to what might come next. No path is perfectly clear, and by no means is any path perfect. So take roads that feel right. Trust your judgement. You never know where your choices will take you, so choose wisely and be open to opportunities that come your way.  Commit to things and give them your all. Find happiness in your commitments; this is easy when things are new and experiences are fun, but it can be especially difficult when there are challenges and the gloss is long gone. Stick things out. Embrace the hard, you’ll find it’s worth it in the end.

Find your people. Be yourself. Be good. Be kind. Look for the good in others and surround yourself with friends who will challenge you, laugh with you, push you, encourage you and bring out the best in you, just as you should do with them. Healthy relationships enrich your life in more ways than you can even imagine.  Who knows, that soon to be fraternity brother or that person in your English class may become one of your best lifelong friends and your kid’s Godparent one day.

Come home for love. Know that we are here. Always. We are your family and we love you unconditionally. You always have arms to greet you, hearts to welcome you and a soft place to land. 

Love you so very much,



Cut It Out

Sometimes my family does odd things. Like cutting, for instance. Most people cut in a straight line with order and continuity. Most people, when cutting bar cookies or brownies or krispy treats from a pan, start on the left and and move across the pan.

Not necessarily the case in this house. I made krispy treats the other day and some wisecracker teenager thought it would be funny to cut a chunk right out of the middle. When I asked what the brilliant thought was behind cutting that way, he said that he was avoiding the “crispy edges.” Hmmmm. Interesting. Silly me, I thought that the very nature of a krispy treat ensured that all edges were crispy.

krispy treat cut out

I called him out on his ridiculousness while the rest of the family rolled with laughter. Even I thought is was funny. Odd, but funny. I told them I thought there was something wrong with all of them and that the cutting disorder must be genetic.

Here is the cutting job that Erin did while wrapping a gift last Christmas. Only I cut her some slack (pun intended) seeing that she was 7. The krispy treat mauler is nearly 16.


But I’m thinking that age must have nothing to do with the mutated cuttings that go on around here. My oldest child husband decided to get in on the action and mess with me too, cutting himself a virtual maze through the middle of the pan.

crazy cut krispy treat

You know those quirky family inside jokes that everyone in the house gets and thinks is funny but no one outside the walls of the home gets? The kind that go on for years and years and come up at odd times? I have a feeling this cutting business is well on its way to being one of ours. I can only pray they all control themselves when mowing lawns, trimming bangs, or cutting wedding cakes. With a multitude of birthdays, a First Communion and a graduation around the corner, you can bet that I will be the one with the cake knife, lest we scare all our family and friends with our inability to cut like normal people.

Everyone’s a comedian around here.

Now, if they only knew how to use knives and scissors …


If You Want An Hour To Watch Downton Abbey …

chocolate pudding cupIf you want an hour to watch Downton Abbey, you will need a chocolate pudding cup to go with it.

If you watched the Super Bowl with your husband and son, more grateful for the time with them than what was actually on the TV,  then you did not get to indulge in a cup of tea and the one hour (God bless it!) of TV you let yourself watch each week precisely at 9 pm on Sunday nights.

If you didn’t get to watch your one hour of Downton Abbey because of said national TV sport holiday, you will take complete comfort in the little red light glowing on the cable box, indicating that your show is recording.  A luminous beacon of delayed gratification.

You will keep your eye on the little red light, oddly giddy with the thought of watching the show tomorrow.  You envision yourself being able to sit down in peace and quiet (in the middle of the day!) and watch Downton. Maybe even make a cup of tea. And put your feet up on the coffee table.  Luxury. Indulgent.

If you think for even a nanosecond about turning on the TV the next day, you will immediately look up the words luxury and indulgent in the dictionary and find they are close in alphabetical order to guilty conscience. Who turns on the TV and sits down on the couch in the middle of the day?!!

If you cannot justify sitting down to watch your show,  you will promptly think of 50 things on your to-do list that you could do mindlessly so you could multitask, be productive, and ahem, not feel guilty about catching up with your English friends.

When you think of the things you could do while not really watching your favorite show while not drinking a cup of tea and not sitting down on the couch,  you will realize you could tackle the basket full of cloth napkins that were washed and (sort of) folded after the holidays and still need to be ironed.  Which makes you wonder why you bother with cloth napkins in the first place.  Does anyone else in this day and age still do this?  The Dowager would be pleased to know that some still use cloth napkins (even if mostly on holidays) so you decide to break out the ironing board.

Setting up the ironing board will remind you of your great-grandmother, GG, who you miss terribly, even though you get to say her name out loud each day because her namesake is your oldest daughter.  You will remember that she taught you how to iron when you were probably way to young to handle a hot appliance in your small hand.  You will recall that you nearly burned a hole through one of your grandfather’s handkerchiefs while under her supervision because both of you got distracted by what was happening on The Guiding Light, which you most certainly were too young to handle.  You will smile and think of the large, weighty prayer-book bound with several stretched rubber bands that she shared with you – sometimes after daily mass and sometimes after The Young and The Restless. Sometimes after both.

After you set up the ironing board you will head for the basket of ignored napkins.  You will look at the disheveled assortment before you and wonder why you put off ironing for so long.  GG would have had these taken care of after they came out of the dryer –  the day after they were used. And she would not have missed a beat in her daily mass, soap opera, and prayer routine.

If you have procrastinated and did not heed your great-grandmother’s example and you have waited weeks to iron cotton items left in a basket, you will need to use lots of steam while pressing them.  You will notice that the water level in the iron is low and not surprising, the gallon of distilled water to refill the near empty iron is, well, nearly empty itself.

So you will head to the store to pick some up.  Your brain will fire on all cylinders for two seconds and you will remember to take your grocery list with you, all set to grab the few things that you need for dinner.  Efficient.

If you stay on task at the store, you will find the distilled water, grab your few items, and make your way to the check out line.  But first you will notice that apples are on sale and since GG is on your mind, you remember the homemade applesauce she used to make.  You turn on your heels with blazing, focused determination and grab a bunch of apples.  The world could come to an end, but you would be making homemade applesauce today.

You will return home, dump the bags on the kitchen counter, and realize you have no recipe for GG’s applesauce.  Did she even use one?  You will think of Ivy and Daisy working away in the Abbey kitchen while you search Pioneer Woman for a recipe you are confident she is sure to have.  You will revel in your mad computer skills when you find it on the first try.  Skah-ills.

Your determination or sentimentality or love of GG’s homemade applesauce will have you peeling and coring apples and making a mess in the kitchen.  You will not really be doing what you had planned for the day.  You will look at the clock and realize that the day is speedily passing by and soon it would be time to head to carpool and start the long evening routine of homework, dinner, practices, taxi service, etc. etc. etc.  Extra emphasis on the etc. part.

Your day will slip away, leaving you in an urgent, mad dash to finish the applesauce, prep dinner, and head out the door to fetch children.  You will realize that you will not be watching your show from the couch.  Nor will you be watching while standing at the ironing board.  You will embrace the notion of delayed gratification, yet again.  Another sentiment the Dowager and company might appreciate.  Well, maybe.

You will relish the idea of watching Downton (once again on the couch with a cup of tea and in PJs) after all children are in bed and all menial household tasks are completed.  You will start to look forward to your night.  You will look at the pot of simmering apples on the stove and decide the evening is looking up!  You determine that it will be positively over the top if you can snuggle up with the remote and a little bowl of warm applesauce and a little scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. Or full fat creamy ice cream.  It will be hard to choose.  Some decisions are taxing.

You will start counting down the hours until you can park it in front of the TV and you will buzz about the afternoon and evening, finishing all that needs to be done.  You will dish out round two of food to constantly hungry children home from practices and realize, to your horror, that you just doled out the last of the applesauce.  The very last spoonful.  The children will delight in its goodness and you will delight in telling them about how you loved it when GG made it when you were a kid.  You will tell them again how much you loved her.  You will tell them for billionth time how much you love them.  And you will tear up because that’s just what you do.  You will promise to make it again (more for your sake than for theirs) as you send them to bed and tuck them in.

After they are all in bed, and all is quiet, you will find the remote and start your show.  And because of genetics or ovaries or something, your sweet tooth will come calling as you start to sit down.  You will remember that there is no coveted applesauce as you stare into the fridge.  But then you will spy a lone chocolate pudding cup hiding behind they mayo which will remind you of your best friend Susan in far away Texas who is probably pining for the couch and a chocolate pudding cup of her own.  And since you share a brain with her you decide the pudding cup will have to do.

And it does.  Quite perfectly.





Dorothy Mae’s Dump Cake


Dorothy's Dump Cake

Dorothy’s Dump Cake

Yesterday was the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And last night the girls made her dump cake. I had a spoonful of it this morning with my coffee. Because I could. And because she would have done the same thing if she were sitting in my kitchen.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. She was the matriarch of matriarchs and stories of her are family legends, likely to be embellished as the years pass on. She dressed me up and gave me my first memory of being “out on the town,” a dinner out where I tried very hard to keep my elbows off the table and then a drive across town to see the Nutcracker, beginning a holiday tradition that I keep with my mom and the girls today. A few years later she unapologetically sat me down on a stool in her kitchen, cracked open a Dr. Pepper, put a silver beautician’s cape around my neck, and permed my straight brown hair. She had an adventurous, if not a ornery and vivacious spirit that was contagious.

As fun-loving as she was, she was practical too. She taught me how to sew using her trusty Singer and hand needles, making use of scraps of material from one of her many ongoing projects. She taught me how to make soup in a gargantuan pot almost too big for the stove, using up just about everything in the refrigerator so nothing was wasted. In some small way, honoring her mother, my Maggie’s namesake, passing on skills she undoubtedly acquired from Grandma Maggie as a child during the depression.

She was frugal and free-spirited, knowing when to hold reserves and when to cash in chips and live a little. While my grandfather was still alive, they golfed and traveled and had dinner parties. And after he passed, she continued on in her ways, just as he would have wanted her to. She had a social life that always put mine to shame, playing bridge, golfing, and getting together with friends constantly. She was always in the middle of a good book, loved a good juicy mini-series, and would yell at the TV during football games. She was the life of the party when she wanted to be. She was also content playing a card game (or several) with us over a bowl of popcorn and her favorite iced tea. She took our quarters when we played for money and she would never let us win a tight game of gin if we did not beat her on our own. She did not like to lose; and rematches, called by her when she did lose, most often went her way. She had the nickname of “Mrs. Big,” and while I don’t know how she got it, it most certainly fit her large personality. She did not know a stranger, would give anyone the shirt off her back, and had no problem letting you know her opinion of something – even if you did not ask. She was a strong lady, proud of her Irish heritage and tolerant of the German she adopted through marriage. She was faithful and devout, kind and loyal, stubborn and gracious. Traits I see each and every day carried on in my girls and I am reminded that it was a privilege to be her granddaughter.

Dotty was always on the hunt for a new recipe to make for her bridge friends and this dump cake is one I remember her making all the time. She wrote it down on a recipe card that is now one of my favorite keepsakes. It makes me smile every time I thumb through it in my recipe box and if I stare at the writing long enough, I can almost see her sitting across the table penning it. It couldn’t be easier to make and the girls love to make it by themselves – another testament to the independent spirit she has passed on through generations. The boys just like to eat it. Warmed up with vanilla ice cream. And they like to make fun of the fact that it’s called dump cake. I wish she could be here to put the boys and their rude comments in their place, to watch the girls handling her recipe card and baking her cake, and to sit with me at the table playing cards and drinking iced tea, one last time.

Dump cake recipe card


Dorothy’s Dump Cake

1-20 oz can cherry, blueberry, or apple pie filling

1-20 oz can crushed pineapple

1 package yellow cake mix

1 cup chopped nuts

1 cup coconut (optional)

2 sticks melted butter


1. Spray 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray.

2. Gently dump pie filling and pineapple into pan and mix together.

3. Dump Sprinkle cake mix on top of fruit mixture.

4. Dump Top with nuts and coconut.

5. Dump Drizzle with melted butter.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Or eat straight out of the pan with a fork with your morning coffee … Dorothy would have.





How To Make Easy Caramel Apples

Easy Caramel Apples

Yea! Fall is here and the girls wanted to celebrate the start of our favorite season with caramel apples.  In all honesty, I was a wee bit hesitant, but they couldn’t have been easier to make. We took a shortcut and used packaged caramel candies, but if you want to get fancy and make homemade gourmet ones from scratch  then here is a good tutorial.

I was in charge of using the big knife to chop up the M&M snack mix and taking the hot bowl of melty caramel out of the microwave. Other than that, the girls really did most of it by themselves. Including photographing each other, trying to engage the apples in conversation on what they would like to “wear” with their caramel, and reenacting the poison apple scene from Snow White.





Here’s what you’ll need (besides photographers and actresses):

2 bags of caramel candies, unwrapped
2 Tbs milk (start with just one tablespoon and add more as needed)
8 apples
8 wooden sticks
Silicon mat or parchment lined cookie sheet for setting finished apples
Toppings of your choice

1. Wash apples, insert sticks into stem sides, and line ’em up on the countertop.

2. Prepare toppings in bowls. (We used mini chocolate chips, toasted almonds, and coarsely chopped sweet and salty M&M snack mix.) Set them close by the prepared cookie sheet.

3. Melt caramel and milk in microwave, about 90 seconds total. Stop and stir about every 30 seconds and adjust melting times accordingly.

4. Working fairly quickly, dunk apple in melted caramel. Swirl and/or use a spoon if need be. Once the apple is coated, let it rest on the cookie sheet until all apples have been dipped.

5. Once all apples are coated, go back and dip and roll them in the toppings, gently pressing the goodies into the caramel. Return them to the cookie sheet.

6. After all the apples are topped, dressed, and coated in all the goodies you have set out, chill them in the refrigerator for a bit to set completely.

7. If sharing with friends, transfer to a small disk of parchment that generously covers the base of the apple and loosely bag with a cellphone treat bag. They will last a couple of days until the moisture gets the best of them.


First Day Of Fall

I We Some of us have been waiting for this day for a while around here. I bought a pumpkin for the porch last week and everyone thought I was nuts. But fall was so close I could feel it and I couldn’t help myself. Not everyone felt the same enthusiasm. After a few “why is there a pumpkin on the porch?!” questions I decided to play it cool and wait a few days before adding anything else. Tough crowd. Sheesh.

Ionely pumpkin

But today, fall is finally here. Maggie has been ready for fall too and last week she started counting down the days. She rescued me from yard work grabbed me near the precise hour she had been patiently waiting for. We listened quietly to the hands on the kitchen wall clock tick towards 4:44 and we waited to see the anticipated numbers illuminate the microwave. She let out a little squeal of delight and hugged me tight when the magic numbers finally appeared. Then we went outside and she jumped for joy, as happy as I was to have fall here.

Maggie jumps for joy

And I smiled at my lonely pumpkin as I introduced it to a new friend, ready to do my own happy dance and leaps in the air as we welcome my favorite season. Only I really won’t be leaping. That’s not likely to end so happily.

pumpkin and mum

Happy Fall!

Love Notes

The girls in this family like to write.  We like to write stories, letters, wordy emails, notes in lunch boxes, notes in travel bags, messages on white boards, sticky notes on counter tops, not to mention all the notebooks and lists. I think we really just like cute paper, pretty pens, and the notion of hearing ourselves think out loud – or for that matter, write out loud.  You get the idea.

Because today is Valentine’s Day, I am reminded of some of my favorite love notes, and they are not what you think.  They are not mushy, eloquently written cards enveloped in shiny foil or velum overlays.  Nope.  My collection of treasures are scribbled on crumpled paper, index cards, and sticky notes like this one that was taped on the peanut butter jar.  Maggie thoughtfully put it there so that I would find it while making lunches early in the morning.  I saved it and tape it to each new jar of peanut butter.  It sits proudly crowned in the pantry and I smile every time I lay my hands it.


One day while doing the normal around the house chores I came across this note from Emily.  I am used to finding scraps of paper around the house with little notes and scribbled messages.  But for some reason, this one came on a day when I was busy and hurried and not expecting it.  It was tucked carefully inside a small envelope and she left it in an unsuspecting place that only I would see – which somehow made it more special.  So sweet.  It made me feel so special and loved.  It put a little spring in my step and an extra wide smile on my face.  Oh me, oh my.  So lucky, so loved.  Me, me, me…


I bounced around the house continuing my cleaning, still feeling special on my own little cloud of happiness.  Me, me, me.  La, la, la.  And then I found another note.  The same small white envelope and the same girly scripted handwriting.  This one was on Jason’s bedside table, nestled between the large stack of books, but sticking out just enough for it to catch his eye at the end of the day.  And I stopped in my tracks.  She made one for both of us, and carefully placed them where we would be surprised by our finds.


As I carried on throughout the day, I came to find notes all around the house, one for each member of the family.  Each one was cleverly, purposely placed so that it would take us by surprise.  Every note to each person said something different, but the message was simple and the same.  She just wanted us to know she loved us all, each one of us, and that we were all special to her in our own unique way.


I very quickly realized that the little love note I found was not just for me – clearly Emily had left them for everyone.  Gone was the little voice inside my head singing notes of how special I was, the selfish tune of inflated self importance.  It was replaced instead by a choir of gratitude, reminding me how lucky I am – how lucky we all are.  While my note made me feel special, it was no less valued because it was one of many.  The truly beautiful part about all these notes is that they did not discriminate.  On this ordinary day in the middle of October, everyone in the family was gifted to a reminder of how special we are to her.

And it was a little whispered reminder to me how of how much better it is to share love with ALL those around you rather than just keep it for a select few.  Isn’t everyone worthy of signs of love and grace or unexpected kind gestures – family members, classmates, neighbors, strangers in the grocery store, even those who test our patience?  Isn’t that one of the miracles of love – the more give the more you receive? And don’t some of the smallest gestures speak louder than the longest words? Sometimes I think we forget this.

Today, thanks to the love notes, I am reminded.


Freezing Thyme & Freezing Time

Freezing Thyme

I took this photo the other day when we had a blast of cold winter weather.

It’s freezing thyme. Literally.

The thyme growing on my back deck was frozen. Outside, everything was frozen. The cold asphalt roads became thin sheets of ice. Grasses lining neighborhood streets were blanketed in white. Even desperate leaves on trees, clinging to brittle branches, bore coats of ice. Small icicles clung to the edges of play sets and roof lines.  Streets were silent and there was an eerie absence of sound, as if all signs of life were nowhere to be found.

But inside our house it was a different story altogether. The kids were all home, relishing the early release from school and the excitement of a break in routine. We all feigned disappointment as activities and sporting events that rule our calendar were cancelled, one after the other. My mom came over to be with us too, bringing added joy that only grandmothers can. There was laughter and life, voices and song, all awash in the soft yellow glow of the warm fire. Card games were played, board games entertained, and Wii sporting tournaments began as playful challenges were made. I delivered cocoa and billowing bowls of popcorn to willing captives. Everyone was happy. It was a perfect afternoon.


And for a moment I stood still, slightly out of sight. I stopped to just watch them all. I crave these days when the worlds stops and we just get to be. Be with each other in the confines of our happy walls, the cold gray world seemingly so far away. I wanted to remember this moment – the kids, my mom, the happy spirit that surrounded all of us. I wanted yet again to do the impossible.  I ached to freeze time. To keep things as they were just then. Everything in a quiet, unspoken harmony.


But ice melts and snow days pass. Garden thyme defrosts. And I am reminded once again that time cannot be frozen. Even on the coldest days when my heart is warmest.


Train Wreck Math

The other night Jake needed help with his math homework and unfortunately for both of us, Jason was not home yet.  So, poor Jake had to enlist my help.  It was late and I was tired which just set the whole thing up to be a comical train wreck.

He needed help with word problems.  I like words.  I don’t like math.  And the combination of the two sets my poor, tired brain on overload.  All the problems went something like this – “if two trains traveling in opposite directions leave the station two hours apart and the second one is traveling 45 miles faster than the first one…”  This was math homework but there were more words than numbers.

It was late and I was tired.  Did I say that already?  Everyone in this house knows that I don’t do well late at night.  But I was ready to give it a go and try to help the kid.  I realized quickly that I was having difficulty even trying to explain the process to him – which made me feel stupid.  In an effort to buy some time so I could jumpstart my brain I suggested we get out some scratch paper and both work on the problems – he on his paper and me on mine.

I tried.  I really did.  Did I mention that it was late?  I seriously could not get the darn things even set up.  Here is what my paper looked like.  Can you find the little choo-choo drawings?  So pathetic.

 I was ready to throw in the towel when a text came in from my dear friend Kara.  Our text thread went something like this…

Kara:  What are you doing up so late? Lots of lights on over there!

Me:  Math with Jake :(

Kara:  I’m sorry for him.

Me:  Me too.  Want to help?  Set up and solve : two trains traveling in opposite directions leaving the station two hours apart…

Kara:  Ummm no!!!. I’m good.  Have fun 😉

Me:  Do you think if I’m lucky one of these trains has a snack car?

Kara:  For your sake I hope so.

Me:  Maybe a bar car too.  I’m on the train for dummies.  I was never on the smart train.  I think my train may actually derail very soon. Good night!

Jake sat staring, a look on his face somewhere between bewildered and amused. He looked at my paper and then at his and I am sure he wondered how I possibly made it through college.  He smiled sheepishly and told me he liked the little train drawings.  I apologized for not being more helpful.  He told me not to worry about it and that he “got it.”

And then quickly said that going in early the next morning for a little more help – from the teacher – might be a good idea.

Smart boy.  He must be on the right train.