Thursday, December 18, 2008

From a special guest blogger: "I miss buying my mom Hanukkah presents!"

Hi, my name is Michelle Hersh, and Marisa has kindly offered to let me share a little bit of my story with you.

I am an almost 40 (shhhh!) year old living in the Midwest and Marisa is a 20-something living on the East Coast. What we have in common is that we both lost our fabulous moms to pancreatic cancer. It is rare even at my age to find other people in my general age category who share the pain of losing a parent and even rarer to find someone who has lost that parent to pancreatic cancer. We would rather have our moms here and never have heard about pancreatic cancer, but since that is not the case, we are making the most of it and are becoming fast friends!

My mom, like Sally, was the life of the party, my biggest cheerleader, and the center of our family. My mom Barbara died at 65, two years ago on November 27, 2006. Even amongst tragedy and death the calendar keeps moving on and so do others around you. When a death first occurs, you just want to scream to people in general "Don't you know my mom just died, how can you be carrying on with your life?" Well, carry on they do and in time you find yourself joining them.

Hanukkah was always a fun time at our house. As kids, my sister Marci and I would sneak around for weeks ahead of time trying to find my mom's hiding places. Seeing if we could cajole my dad into giving up a little hint as to what we could expect in our pile of presents. We would light the menorah and open a present (or two!) for eight nights. What I remember most was that my mom would be as excited for us on the eighth night as she was on the first. She delighted in gathering the perfect presents, festive wrapping and seeing us happy. It did not matter if we were 2 or 32 – her enthusiasm was the same.

As I got older, my gift giving to my mom turned from hand made cards and school projects to finding her equally coveted and thoughtful gifts. Apparently she thought the cards to be most important because as I went through her things after she died, she had kept every single card or letter she ever received from not only me, but my sister, my dad, her parents, her siblings and the list goes on. I don't think that she looked at them very often but she had them.

Now, I have them and I do look at them. Each time I do it is like a little present for me because I get to share a memory with my mom even though she is not here to laugh with me. On second thought, she is probably laughing at me, since that makes me more sentimental than I would have ever let on!

Since my mom died, we have tried to move forward with holidays to the best of our ability. It is very hard not having the one person who was most excited about everything here with us but we are settling into a new groove – another part of our "new normal".

We still buy piles of presents for each other, not necessarily extravagant, but a volume of things because that is what mom did. She liked to see the floor covered in presents and seeing that space bare would be too much bear.

Enjoy your holidays! Remember time spent with your loved ones, make new memories as you will cherish them in the future and I promise you that if I can get through it, so can you!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I wear the (Christmas) pants in this relationship!

I promised I'd tell you about my holiday plans, so here goes...

Even though I'm 100% Jewish, I've always celebrated Chanukah and Christmas. Whenever friends tease me that Jews order Chinese food and go to the movies on Christmas, I say defiantly: "Not me! I celebrate Christmas!"

It started when I was a kid. My cousins Susi and Julia celebrate both holidays, so every Dec. 25 my family traveled from Long Island to Brooklyn to take pictures by the tree and exchange presents. I even had a pair of red and green plaid pants (stylish, I know!) that I dubbed "my Christmas pants!" After my mom passed away, we continued going to their house. Each year, at least one relative would say how strange the holiday felt without my mom. Who knew a Jew would be missed on Christmas!

As a teenager, I also started celebrating Christmas Eve. My best friend Laura's family invited me to their house to indulge in homemade Italian food, Christmas carols edited to include family jokes, and the most delicious cookies I've ever eaten. My favorite were the peanut butter-chocolate kiss ones. Yum!

Last year I began a new tradition. I traveled to Colorado to spend Christmas with my boyfriend Mark's family. On Christmas Eve, after Mark's 6-year-old nephew went to sleep, we all tip-toed downstairs to put our presents under the tree. Never before had I been able to play Santa! The next morning we woke up to a white Christmas. A foot of snow covered the yard and giant snowflakes fell slowly from the sky. It was the most picturesque scene. Imagine me -- a little Jewish girl from Long Island -- seeing a white Christmas in Colorado!

This year Mark and I will travel back to Colorado for round 2 of Christmas with his fam. Tingles of excitement (OK, and 10% nerves!) flutter in my stomach. I'm happy for another chance to get to know everyone better and spend time together. I also love who Mark is in his home state. There's a calm and warmth he never quite achieves in busy-busy New York City.

Do you have any advice for visiting your significant other's family?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How do the holidays make you feel?

Good evening. I hope you're keeping warm on this rainy night.

Now that it's mid-December, the official holiday countdown has begun. Commercials nag me to buy gifts, neighbors put up crazy lights (one house plays "Jingle Bells" at a dog whistle pitch!), and coworkers ask how you'll spend your time off.

Chanukah, Christmas, and the New Year evoke strong feelings in most people. And for anyone who's grieving, holidays can be just plain hard. Let me be the first to say: I hear ya!

Over the weekend, I'll post again and share my thoughts and plans for this season. But right now, I'd love to hear what you're doing, where you're going, and how you're feeling.

P.S. If you don't feel comfortable posting a comment publicly, you can post under "anonymous" or you can e-mail me at

Photo courtesy of krisdecurtis,

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A little pip squeak with a big voice

On Friday night, I heard a story about my mom that made me crack up.

I was hanging out with my mom's college roommate, Bonnie, and her husband Arnie. Bonnie met Sally at the University of Connecticut in 1964. Bonnie was a freshman and Sally was a senior, but they were placed in the same dorm room. At first, Sally was annoyed to be "stuck with a freshman." Soon, despite the age gap, they became best friends.

When Sally graduated and moved to New York City, she and Bonnie remained close. A few years later, Bonnie moved to the city, too. A new phase of adventures began for them.

Because my mom didn't meet my dad until she was 33, she had 12 years of single life in NYC. (Think Carrie Bradshaw, but with jet-black hair and set in the 70s). I didn't realize until Friday night that Bonnie and Arnie have all the juicy gossip (and funny stories) about those years.

"I just remembered a great story about your mom," Arnie began. "Since she was a teacher and had the summers off, she and her girlfriends used to rent a house in Vermont."

Already this was news to me. My mom had never mentioned summers in Vermont. Trust me -- I would have remembered!

"She invited us to come up to Vermont and stay with her for a weekend," Arnie continued. "We drove for hours through the woods. We were really in the middle of nowhere."

"It was beautiful," Bonnie added.

"When we got there, this group of guys answered the door," Arnie said. "They rented the house on the alternate weekends and said there would be no room for us."

"Your mom hadn't gotten there yet, so we hung around and waited for her," Bonnie said. "When she showed up, we told her what the guys said."

"Well!" Arnie said. "She marched into that house and said, 'This is my weekend to be here! You're going to leave and my friends are staying. Those are the rules. Get out!'"

Arnie and Bonnie burst out laughing.

"She was ballsy!" I exclaimed. In missing my mom's softer side, I'd forgotten how feisty she was. I imagined this little 5-foot pip squeak yelling at a group of guys and shook my head. Oh, Sally. "So what happened?"

"The guys packed up and left," Arnie said. He and Bonnie were still laughing at the memory.

Is there a story you've heard about your parents in their youth that made you crack up, or surprised you, or made you really proud? Share with me!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My favorite meal from Sally's kitchen

When most children crave their mom's home-cooking, comfort food comes to mind: fresh tomato sauce, hearty meatloaf, chicken soup when you're sick.

Me? I long for leftover Lo Mein.

Chinese take-out was a weekly event in my house. Don't get the wrong idea: my parents did their fair share of cooking. But everyone needs a day off. Chinese food was my mom's favorite cuisine. Her second favorite cuisine? Reheated Chinese food. And she didn't always rely on the microwave. Sally would stand over the stove with her well-loved wok, stir-frying our leftover Veggie Lo Mein. "I'm doctoring it up!" she'd announce proudly. The results were delicious.

Tonight, in honor of Sally, I "doctored up" my leftover Pad Thai in my bright-red wok. Here's the recipe.

"Doctored Up" Pad Thai

Leftover Pad Thai*
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp Sriracha hot chili sauce
1 tsp crushed red pepper

1. Heat sesame oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes
2. Add leftover Pad Thai and toss until heat softens and separates the noodles and ingredients
3. Squirt a drop of Sriracha hot chili sauce (careful: it's hot!)
4. Sprinkle red pepper flakes

Tonight I even had leftovers of my leftovers. Looks like I'll have lunch tomorrow!

What's a favorite recipe that your mom makes or used to make?