Thursday, December 31, 2009

The resolution of vulnerability

In searching for Regina Spektor's song, "Hero of the Story," from the 500 Days of Summer movie soundtrack, I came upon dozens of young women who have recorded their own covers of Regina Spektor songs and posted their videos on YouTube. You try: Compare Regina's original to the cover and tell me what you think:

The original:

The cover:

For me, the cover won hands down. There's something so vulnerable about the girl performing the cover. Maybe it's her pet parakeet shrieking in the background. Maybe it's her dorky red polo shirt. Maybe it's because she rarely looks up, but when she does, she looks right into your eyes. Maybe it's because she reminds you of all the drama girls you've ever known, the girl in your second grade class who already had perfect pitch.

The Internet has created an open mic night for anyone with a wish to be a performer. My whole life I wished I had a singer's voice. Instead I have a writer's hand. Luckily, both are ways of sharing and showing that vulnerable side.

Last night I had dinner with my cousins, Susi and Sylvie, who are also two of my closest friends. A couple of glasses of wine in, I found myself confessing secrets I'd been keeping to myself the past month. The result? I woke up this morning feeling not necessarily better, but certainly more honest with myself.

So for 2010, perhaps a good resolution is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. I'll try harder to share my innermost thoughts with you here at Sally's Circle, and I'd love if you tried to share more with me, either in the comments or via email.

Wishing you hugs and happiness in the new year,


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When the road is paved with question marks

Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to see into the future.

In 2nd grade, Mrs. Rosen called me "Miss What If" because I asked a lot of questions to help me determine all the possible outcomes of a situation. Example: "What if we can't hand in our homework because tomorrow's a snow day?" Follow-up question: "What if the next day's also a snow day?" Sally did not like Mrs. Rosen's nickname for me. She thought it was an undeserved stigma. I always wondered if there was some truth to the name.

In 6th grade, I realized Mrs. Rosen didn't hold all the answers -- the fortune teller at the Gold Coast Flea Market did. For $5, the lady in the tapestry skirt told me I'd get married at 24 and have a baby at 26. At age 11, that sounded pretty accurate. Now, at age 27, unmarried and unchildrened, and with the Gold Coast Flea Market conveniently out of business, I'm pretty sure I can't get a refund.

As an adolescent, I thought obsessively about what I'd look like and what my life would be like at 17. I thought that was the perfect age. It turned out to be the age that Sally was diagnosed. After that, I stopped looking so far into the future. It seemed to be bad luck.

But here I am, at 27, and still I'd like to know what the future holds. Wouldn't we all, I suppose? When I gaze into my crystal ball, however, all I see are question marks. Will I get married? Will I have kids? Where will I live? Will I change careers? Question marks everywhere I look. And it bugs me.

I know deep down that that's what life is: a series of question marks that gradually get answered. Sally wrote it to me once in a letter when I was 13:

I wish I could impart to you some very important wisdom -- on how to live your life, on whom to love, on whom to choose as your friends, and on how not to get hurt. But, unfortunately and fortunately, there is no secret formula for success. You, alone, will have that adventure -- that wondrous adventure called life. And remember, life is always filled with unexpected surprises!

I read this letter whenever I feel a little lost, and even 13 years later, it still rings true.

How do you deal with all of life's question marks?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sally and the very odd dream

Sally visited me in my dream last night. But it was a very odd dream.

In the dream, I had to go to the hospital for a series of tests. The doctor started describing the tests to me. "In the first test," he said, "I'll inject dye into you and you'll have to tell me if you feel a painful sensation all through your body." Yikes. He injected me and sure enough, it hurt like a beast clawing my insides. Luckily, the pain didn't last very long. He got the result he needed and we moved on to the next test.

"In the second test," he continued, "I'll give you instructions and see if you can carry them out." Well, this test seemed far easier. "I'm going to give you this ketchup bottle and then" -- his voice cut out. His lips were still moving, but it was as if the audio had been cut. Instinct told me to scramble off the doctor's table and start running, but I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Scraggly, long-haired men jumped out at me, and I squirted them with ketchup, thinking maybe that's what I was supposed to do. I kept running and squirting until finally the nurses stopped me, brought me back to my original room, and tried to settle me down, but I was very upset.

That's when I noticed my mom and dad were huddled in the corner, whispering to each other and obviously very concerned about me.

"Mom, what are you doing here?" I said, shocked. "You're not supposed to be here."

"Missy," she said, sternly. "If something really serious is going on, I'm going to be there."

The dream ended abruptly. Half-asleep, I reflected back on the dream. Sally believed that when the dead appeared in your dreams, it meant they were coming to visit you. I believe that, too. So does Dad, who said he dreamed about Mom the last night he slept in the house before selling it.

The dream reminded me of a poem that Laura's mom gave me after my mom died. The poem is called "Footprints in the Sand" by Mary Stevenson, and it's often recited to people who are going through tough times. In the poem, the man sees two sets of footprints, his and the Lord's, but during tough times he only sees one set of prints. He asks the Lord, "Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?" The Lord replies: "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you."

Perhaps Sally, all 5-feet-1-inch and 104 pounds of her, is offering to carry me. Thanks, Mom.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I hope you all had a lovely (and filling) Thanksgiving!

Like last year, and every year since I was a little kid, I spent the holiday with my mom's side of the family in Connecticut. Aunt Sherry & Uncle Stuary host a wonderful dinner packed with about a dozen of our relatives and tons of yummy food. Even though my mom is no longer here, I'm proud to carry on the tradition and represent "the Bardach clan"! It's my favorite holiday of the year.

This year was particularly special because we celebrated my Great Aunt Ruthy's 90th birthday and my Uncle Stuart's 70th birthday. Everyone wrote beautiful, heartfelt notes to Aunt Ruthy, which she read aloud. Some even made her well up! Uncle Stuart loves celebrating his birthday, as you can tell from his new accessory in the photo below.

I also got to hang out with my little cousins, Jamie & Greg, two of my favorite people in the world. Right before we were about to sit down for the big turkey dinner, Greg decided it was time to pull out his front tooth. The tooth fairy was very generous to him on account of it being a holiday -- $6! All Jamie wants for Chanukah is a puppy, so everyone spent a lot of time debating the ups and downs of owning a pet.

Last but not least, I was also fortunate to have Mark by my side for the third year in a row. He's the only guy I know who can even make stabbing a forkful of turkey fun. He keeps me giggling, and it makes me miss Sally less, because I know she'd be happy that he's comfortable there and loves talking to her older brother (Uncle Stuart), younger brother (Uncle Howie), and all the rest of the family.

Especially in a year full of change (Dad selling the house and moving in with Susan, me moving in with Mark, Jordan's girlfriend Robyn moving in with him), it was nice to celebrate a holiday in a home I've known for as long as I can remember. I may have lost my childhood house this year, but over the holiday I realized Aunt Sherry's and Uncle Stuart's home is one of my childhood houses, too, and I'm lucky to still have not only their house but all my favorite traditions (including Aunt Sherry's famous Chocolate Chip Cake!).

How was your holiday?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saying Goodbye to My Childhood House

19 days remain until my dad sells the house. It didn't hit me 'til last night, when I woke up at 2 AM and couldn't fall back to sleep. I tossed and turned for an hour. And I thought a lot about the house I grew up in (that's it in the photo, isn't it pretty?).

Everyone keeps asking how I feel about the house selling. The thing is, I said goodbye to that house 7 years ago when my mom died. I knew then and there that the house would never be the same. Her too-loud laugh and warm hugs had filled the space for 20+ years. Without it, the house felt as hollow as the pumpkins we gutted and carved last night.

My cousin Susi says she wants to see the house before it goes. I keep thinking she's going to be disappointed. She wants what I want: my mom asking us girls to set the table with her pretty butterfly dishes and all of us gathering round the table to eat baked ziti and laugh at Sally's ridiculous stories, like when she accidentally walked into the men's room at the gym, plus an inappropriate remark about how God really knew what he was doing when he made the woman's body (and not so much when he made the man's). If Susi goes there, she'll see what I see: a ghost of a house, the ghost of Sally.

The truth is, the house being gone is a bit of a relief. These days I prefer going to Susan's house. It has the warmth that my house lacks. And with my dad living there too, it will feel even more homey.

My sadness about the house is also uplifted by the people buying the house. Just like my parents, it's a young couple who are both teachers. And just as my parents moved in with infant Jordan, they're moving in with a newborn son. To top it off, the woman's name is Laura, the same name as my best friend. When my dad told me about them, I immediately knew and told him, "It's meant to be. Mom wanted you to sell the house."

Have you had to part with your childhood home? How did you get through it? What did you save, what did you throw away?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fear of losing the happies

I woke up at 6 AM today -- on a Saturday, mind you -- sweating from a bad dream.

It was the kind of dream that's so bad you don't want to say it out loud, for fear you may completely jinx the person in the dream or yourself. But I think sometimes if you say it out loud, you get rid of it, so here goes: In my dream, my Uncle Bobby died.

I guess you first have to understand Uncle Bobby. He's a one-of-a-kind. He's the single, hip, lives-in-NYC uncle who's always telling you about the latest jazz club or Vietnamese sandwich shop he discovered. Best part is he'll describe it with the enthusiasm of a tourist even though he's lived in the big apple for 50+ years. And he's always eager to spend time with his 5 girl nieces, all of us in our 20s who completely adore him.

Uncle Bobby's been on my mind since Yom Kippur, when we went to temple services together (our annual tradition since I moved to the city 4 years ago). Between services, he told me all about his new job. In a mid-life career switch, he just graduated with a masters in teaching and landed his first job at a terrific school in Brooklyn. After hopping from radio voice-overs to NYC tour guide, teaching just seems to suit Bobby. He's smiling bigger than I've ever seen him.

In my dream, I kept thinking how unfair it was: He had just found his happiness and now it was taken away.

I suppose you're thinking what I'm thinking: the dream isn't about Uncle Bobby. It's about Sally and it's about me.

Sally, when she got sick at 57, had been in the prime of her happiness. She had married late for the '70s (she was 34), had children later (she had me at 39), and was finally enjoying her husband and children and planning for retirement. Cancer came in and took all her happiness away, just like that. It took some of my happiness away, too.

Like Sally's happiness at 57, I feel I am reaching my happiness now at 27. Living with Mark is the start of our home and life together. After so many nerves of whether or not to move in together, living together fits us so well. But sometimes, when I overhear girls on the subway telling their girlfriend to dump his sorry ass, or when my own girlfriends get their hearts broken, I tell myself sternly, "Marisa, this could all go away tomorrow," and then I look for holes and gaps where my happiness could slip through the cracks and be gone.

Happiness has always been top priority for me. Mom used to like retelling the story of me at age 2, sitting on the potty. She and dad had just had a fight. "Mommy," I asked, looking up at her. "Are you happy with Daddy?" Imagine Sally's shock. "Why, yes, sweetheart," she said, "Don't you want to get married one day?" I guess I pondered this, still tinkling, while I came to my decision: "I just want to be happy."

The funny thing about happiness is that as soon as you become fearful of losing that happiness, you stop feeling happy. Why shouldn't Uncle Bobby just enjoy his new teaching venture? Why shouldn't I just enjoy my new life with Mark? What goodness comes of fear? It may first seem like a humble quality, but really it just breeds negativity.

Off to re-start my Saturday with happiness. Step 1: Breakfast. Step 2: Haircut. Step 3: Dinner and a birthday party with close friends.

I wish you all a happy day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Kind of nice or a load of crap?

Hi there,

So, it's October, which means it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The topic came up over the weekend while I was at an annual ladies' getaway to the Jersey Shore with Laura, Mrs. G (Laura's mom), and Mrs. Byrne (Laura's mom's close friend). We discussed whether we were on board with the cancer awareness months. Here's what we decided:

  • Breast Cancer Awareness Month is clearly the most popular and gets the most media attention of any of the cancer months. We need to pay more attention to other cancers, especially pancreatic cancer (which has such a high death rate) and lung cancer (which often has little sympathy because it's associated with smokers).

  • We're a little tired of all the Breast Cancer Awareness products. Stores are stocked with ridiculous items like a pink nail polish with a pink ribbon on it. Sure, some proceeds go to breast cancer, but it's often as little as 3 - 10 %. Why can't companies donate money to cancer charities in a subtle way? The products seem so showy -- for the companies and the consumers.

  • Why should just one month be associated with a specific cancer? Why shouldn't we be charitable and aware every month?
I couldn't help but relate to these arguments. While I feel grateful to the pancreatic cancer foundations like Lustgarten and PanCAN, I don't feel at ease participating in the events like charity walks or fundraisers. Each year I debate doing the walk, especially because my mom, dad, and brother did the walk when my mom was sick. But it just feels forced. I can't tell if I'm being a chicken, or if I just feel funny buying into it.

On the other hand, I admire people who embrace the charitable activities, in particular my cousin Deena who will walk for 3 days straight to raise money for breast cancer, since her mom is a survivor. I wish I had her courage.

What do you think about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or cancer awareness months in general? Kind of nice or a load of BS?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Patrick Swayze Dies of Pancreatic Cancer

Hi friends,

I'm so sad to report that Patrick Swayze died today of pancreatic cancer.

I just found out the news, too. When I logged on to Facebook, the first thing I noticed was a friend's wall post: poor Swayz. Out loud I said, "Oh no." A few other Facebook comments confirmed. Another "Oh no" from me. And then a google of "Patrick Swayze" triple-confirmed. I kept wishing the news was wrong.

It's so strange. Pancreatic cancer has such a hard-hit reality, as close to a death sentence as any cancer. Yet when it strikes someone you love or admire, someone who has so much passion and feist, it's so easy to believe they can beat it. So naive to think they could be the 1 in a million who survive. Sometimes I think if I just accepted the reality, it would hurt less. But I also believe it's our faith in our loved ones that gives them the ability to beat the odds. Sally and Patrick both lived way longer than most pancreatic cancer patients, who often pass within 6 months. I think that says a lot about their gusto. (See a clip of Patrick Swayze in his Barbara Walters exclusive interview in January.)

Poor Patrick. And his poor wife. I'm keeping them in my heart tonight.


P.S. Sally, if you're out there reading, this could be your big chance to go Dirty Dancing with Patrick. Keep your eyes peeled for him. Laura will be very jealous!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Happy Aniversary, Mom and Dad

Today would have been my parents' 32nd wedding anniversary. Sally passed just a week before their 25th. Today I'm smiling thinking of what a terrific couple they were! Love ya, Dad.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is it true summer's ending?

I know *technically* summer doesn't end until late September. But already a window breeze has replaced the air conditioner and brown leaves crunch under my flip-flops and in my heart I know that fall's around the corner.

I'm always sad to say goodbye to summer. It seems strange to say that, since I told you recently that August makes me sad. But the truth is, I'm a summer baby. Born on the 14th of July, I can't help but love the hot hot heat blasting down on my pale skin. New York City feels alive in the summer, too. Friends have dinner on sidewalk cafes or share beers in backyard gardens or gather for picnics in Central Park. There's a buzz that doesn't exist any other time of year.

Fall 2009 is going to be a big and busy time. I'm going to be a professor. Mark's working hard on freelance design projects. Suddenly it feels like our summer move-in was so long ago, and our work-work-work routine has taken over.

How do people balance it all, all the time? Was it any easier in the olden days?

I think of my parents in their younger days, two teachers in Queens who had the summers off. They, too, used to feel this way in late August: the half dread/half excitement of a new school year starting. Now I'm a teacher like them, diving into a career I always thought I'd love.

Less dread, more excitement. I think that's the lesson learned at 1AM tonight. Now, time for bed!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

All I can do is keep breathing

I hope you don't think I'm copping out by posting so many songs this week. It's just that during stressful times, music is the only thing that calms me. Ingrid Michaelson's "Keep Breathing" was introduced to most on the Grey's Anatomy soundtrack. Listening to it calms me as much as yoga. I hope it relaxes you, too.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

7 Years Later: How to let go of negative thoughts

Hi friends,

Well, today is the day. The "deathiversary," as I've coined it, even though I'm still trying to think of a more positive word. August 19, 2009: 7 years since Sally passed away.

When I woke up this morning that was my first thought: 7 years. And then I thought of the curse we taunt as children: Break a mirror, 7 years of bad luck. I endured my 7 years, not necessarily of bad luck, but of longing and missing and wishing for impossibilities -- similar to the characters in The Lovely Bones. Now, today, 7 years later, I want to be rid of it. I don't know if you can get rid of grief entirely, but I'd at least like to exchange the bad luck grief for the good luck grief.

So I'm doing things differently today. For the first time in 7 years, I'm going to work instead of taking the day off. I know some of you had different ideas of what I should do today, but this seemed like the right idea. I'm not giving up the tradition of going to the cemetery with my family entirely. We just plan to go on Sunday instead.

I also tried to treat the month of August differently this year. In the past, I've let the whole month be sabotaged by this date. I've relived every second of her last summer. I've despised August. On August 1st of this year, I woke up in Chicago feeling full of dread. I went for a run and decided mid-run that I was in control of August. I could choose to have a good month and focus on the positive. And most days this month, I didn't even have to remind myself to be happy. It just happened because I had established a new mindset.

Focusing on the positive can be difficult. A few weeks ago, I saw the first cockroach in my new apartment, and after that I put on my "Bardach Surveillance Camera" and scanned the apartment for more. Soon I realized I was dreading coming home, even though I had been so happy here with Mark until then. So lately, every time I think of the cockroach, I immediately think of something positive to counter it, like how much I love all our plants that hang in our sun-filled windows. Similarly, today I don't want to think about all the negative. I just want to remember Sally as someone I really loved talking to, the best conversationalist you could get on the phone, the wisest words echoing out of this little 5-foot woman.

Mom, today I let go of the negativity. I let go, I let go, I let go.

What do you do on the "deathiversary" of someone you loved? And can you PLEASE help me think of a better name!


Monday, August 17, 2009

If you just smile...

When I miss my mom, I sing this song to myself. I first heard it in My Girl 2. It's from the scene where Vada finds home videos of her mom, who died giving birth to her. Scroll to 1:40 to hear her sing the song...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Did Sally tell me to read The Lovely Bones?

As I walked to work yesterday morning, anxious to get some last-chance August sun on my skin, I couldn't shake away a thought: Sally wanted me to read The Lovely Bones.

I picked the book off my shelf a week ago. It had been on the Banned Book List, a group of books my college roommates told me not to read after my mom died. It made sense at the time, since it's about a girl who is murdered and watches her family from heaven. But now, 7 years later, I felt ready for it. Since starting, I haven't been able to put it down. On subway rides I am unaware of anything around me, completely engrossed in the pages. In sleep, a murderer haunts my dreams and I try to fight him off with punches and persuasion.

For the past 2 weeks, I've tried to ignore August. I've tried to focus on what's good: my new apartment with Mark, the warm weather that finally arrived after a rainy June and July, the prospect of being a professor in the fall. I've tried to say it's just another month, even though it's the month my mother died. But The Lovely Bones will not let August rest.

In the book, Susie (the girl who was murdered) goes to some kind of afterlife and soon discovers that unless she stops watching her family on Earth, they will continue to be obsessed with her death and finding her murderer. Likewise, she will never reach heaven.

Especially since it's August, and 7 years since my mom died, it makes me wonder about where my family is and where my mom is. Is writing this blog keeping her from reaching heaven? Do I need to cut the strings and let her go, let me go?

Maybe Sally nudged me to pick the book off the shelf. Nothing in August is ever pure coincidence. And even though it's 7 years later, maybe I'm still not equipped to read books like this.

The 19th of August, the anniversary of when she died, is approaching fast. I could use your advice.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I'm off to Chicago!

I'm off to Chicago for a long weekend away with my dear friends Jes and Gennaro. Jes is from outside of Chicago, so I'll be getting a first-rate tour from a native -- Yankees/White Sox game included! (Although she would argue it's a White Sox/Yankees game.)

I'll report back when I return. Have a terrific weekend.



P.S. Thanks for all the thoughtful responses about my Aug 19 decision. I spoke to my dad and we both agreed to think about what we want to do. I'm thinking maybe cemetery in the morning and a funny movie in the afternoon! Bruno, anyone?!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Should I take the day off on August 19?

Hi there,

Sometimes I write to tell you things, but other times, like tonight, I need your advice.

August 19 is the date my mom passed away. (Is there actually a term for this "holiday"? The only one that seems right is deathiversary, but that's pretty dark, even for me!) Anyway, for the past 7 years, I've always taken that day off from work. At first it was out of fear of breaking down at work, but later it became out of respect for my mom, my family, and myself.

Now, as August approaches, I've already begun anticipating the date. But today I thought, "It's been 7 years, do I really still need to take the day off?"

I'm torn. Part of me likes my family's tradition: My dad, brother, and I go to the cemetery and out to lunch (similar to what we did on my mom's birthday). I also don't subscribe to the idea that grief has a time limit. Although lately I've been curious about what joy I could find if grief did have a time limit, which I guess is the reason behind wanting to treat this August 19 -- 7 years later -- a little differently.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Birthday date night recap

Hi everyone,

I hope you're having a nice weekend. Right now it feels like hurricane weather in Brooklyn... lots of wind and rain. It makes me want to curl up in bed, but I'll write to you first.

So, the birthday date night was a lot of fun. Let me tell you all about it!

Mark texted me to meet him at Brooklyn Heights Wine Bar, where the night started with exotic cocktails (he tried a Whiskey Fig Fizz; I tried a Cherry Caipirinha) and yummy appetizers. We chattered about interesting articles we each had read in Wired magazine, reminisced about our second date aboard the "classy" Staten Island Ferry, and chirped on and on about lots of other topics.

Energy charged across our little table, as if it were indeed a date back from our early days. Even our waitress felt it, so she granted Mark's request to let us watch the bartender as she made his fancy cocktail. While at the bar, we befriended some of the bar dwellers and soon several eyes were on the bartender as she prepared his beverage (which included fig preserves and an egg white). That's one of the things I love about Mark: he makes friends wherever he goes. Sally had that quality, too. (Random women in the grocery store used to spill their problems to her!).

Dinner followed at a fancy restaurant nearby called Le Petit Marche. We sat at a great table right up front looking outside onto the sidewalk. I found out later that Mark had asked them to save that table for us. So romantic!

At dinner we talked about the balance between our little "family" (the two of us living together) and our immediate families who raised us. Between Mark and I moving in together, my dad selling my childhood house, and me turning another year older, I feel a sudden lurch into womanhood that sometimes feels exciting and sometimes feels rattling.

As a little girl, my mother often scolded me on birthdays. She'd climb into my bed the night before, put her arms around me, and say, "Didn't I tell you not to get a year older?" Since I was the youngest, she wanted me to stay her baby. This often made me feel guilty so I'd roll my eyes and say, "Mom, I have to get older!" Now, years later, I feel the same way: like there's nothing I can do to stop time, and even if I could, I wouldn't want to -- I have to get older.

Have you ever had this feeling: the recognition that right now, right in this very moment, you're growing up fast?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Belated birthday dinner

Mark's taking me out for a belated birthday dinner tonight. I'm excited! Since moving in together, date nights have become a little few & far between. I don't know where we're going, just the cross streets. I love the surprise factor. It brings me back to our early dating days where we would each try to out-do each other on date ideas.

I'll let ya know where we end up and how it is!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My mother's plates

You eat your food on them. You put them in the dishwasher. You place them in your cabinet. Plates don't get a whole lot of credit, but these plates here are very special to me. They belonged to my parents -- a wedding gift from my dad's parents -- and now they belong to me.

As a kid, these were not our everyday plates; these were the plates we used for company. This means that when I look at these plates I see a full table with extra chairs, hear my mom's too-loud laugh, and taste my dad's famous baked ziti. My mom always had a thing for butterflies, and once imagined herself as a butterfly in a poem she wrote, so the beautiful blue butterflies on the plate make me feel like she's with me in my new home.

Since my dad is selling our house, the house of my childhood, he gave me this set of dishware as part of Operation: Bardach Clean-Up. I was happy he wanted to give them to me, and I'm happy to have something I use every day that reminds me of my mom.

Do you have a favorite item from your parents?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A very happy birthday celebration

Hi everyone!

Yesterday was my birthday. What a happy day!

I spent my work day doing a video shoot for It's a new cooking series that stars Prevention magazine's editor-in-chief. I write the scripts, buy and prep all the food, and direct the shoot. It's exhausting and exhilarating. My favorite moment was when our editor-in-chief shook a margarita on-camera... and forgot to hold the top of the cocktail shaker. Let's just say Tequila was in the air! (Click here to see a clip of me starring in a video about avocados.)

Work was also accompanied by a party my coworkers threw me, Dunkin' Donuts and beautiful sunflowers included. So sweet!

After work, I headed out with Mark and a handful of friends to see the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league baseball team that plays out in Coney Island. From the stadium, you can see the beach, The Cyclone, and the Wonder Wheel (Coney Island's main attractions). I don't think I watched even one full inning of the game. I was too busy chatting with friends, dancing to the pop music being blasted, and finding some reason to laugh.

I really felt so happy yesterday. Things just seem in place and as they should be. Sometimes this makes me nervous, like if I make any sudden movements everything could change. But then I try to tell myself that life has to keep moving and changing, and all I have to do is enjoy the ride. (After all, I'm only 27!).

Do you think happiness is just a frame of mind and we could find it anytime we want, or is happiness based on outside circumstances going on?

Monday, July 13, 2009

This just in: Kim Jong Il has pancreatic cancer

According to, South Korean leader Kim Jong Il has pancreatic cancer. He's 67.

It feels like so many celebs and public figures are coming down with pancreatic cancer: Patrick Swayze. Steve Jobs. Ruth Ginsberg. And now Kim Jong Il. Do you think pancreatic cancer is more prevalent, or do you think there's just more awareness around it?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

No I haven't forgotten about you

Hi friends,

It's been a bit of a hiatus since I last wrote, huh? This past weekend my girlfriends asked, "So... where have the blogs been?" I shrugged: "It's summer...?" Excuse = lame!

Summer so far has been very Dickens: the best of times, the worst of times. For me, it's honestly been the best of times. I love my new apartment and I really love living with Mark. His friends recently asked how I liked my new "roommate." I said that mostly it's been very normal and nice, kinda quiet and peaceful. For example, right now he's in the office designing a resume for our resume company and I'm lying in bed blogging. We have our alone time but it's wonderful knowing he's a wall away. His friends, joking around, said, "So what I'm hearing is that it's not extraordinary!" But nope, it's that, too.

So while I'm in the best of times, over in newly-moved-in honeymoon-ville, my friends are having a rough go of it. Boyfriends are breaking their hearts, family stress is dragging them down, job loss (or fear of it) is prevalent.

Being happy while your friends are sad just seems unfair. I often wish I could spread the wealth, like blowing one of those poofy weeds where all the seeds scatter. Sometimes I think I'm allowed to be happy now because of all the sadness I experienced when Sally died. Not in an "I deserve it" way. It's more a feeling like there are only so many sobs in the universe and I used up a lot of my quota then. I hope my friends are using up their quota now and will be happy soon, too.

Saying some prayer for my girls tonight.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Sally

What a day, huh?

First, Farrah Fawcett died of cancer at age 62. Next, Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest at age 50. One died expectedly (albeit before her time); one died suddenly. Both feel like major losses even though we never really knew these people. But regardless, it feels like a part of our lives and culture is now gone.

In some ways, their deaths remind me of Sally's, but in other ways it seems like a totally separate kind of death. Today I could call or text anyone and say, "Have you heard?" and everyone shared that grief. Bars blasted "Billie Jean" as I walked to the subway. Every news channel and website is investigating and reacting. In this way, death is a universal connector, and there's something very special and humane about that.

Are you bummed out about MJ and FF? How do you think celebrity death differs from personal grief? Share your thoughts here.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

From a special guest blogger: "Father's Day Without Dad"

Hi! In honor of Father's Day, I invited Cathy Bueti to guest blog. She carries the true spirit of Sally's Circle: she's a breast cancer survivor and recently lost her father to cancer, but her memoir, "Breastless in the City" (LOVE the title!), is all about how she found love, happiness, and hope throughout it all. Take it away, Cathy, and thanks for sharing such honest thoughts.

I have been avoiding the card aisle for weeks now. I don’t want to see commercials or fliers advertising Father’s Day sales. I think about how none of that matters. I still have moments when it doesn’t register in my head, or rather my heart, that I don’t have a dad anymore. This is my second Father’s Day without him. He passed away from pancreatic cancer on June 2, 2008. He suffered with it for a year. During that time I hardly saw him. We spoke on the phone and emailed. That was what our relationship had become over the years. Very distant and difficult.

I realized at the end that he did the best he could. Our relationship was strained to say the least. He was an abusive alcoholic when I was growing up. He was never a happy man even when he quit drinking. It was very difficult to get along with him. I learned to forgive although I wish it had happened sooner. The last time I saw him was on his 60th birthday only two months before he died. I hadn't seen him in a year since his diagnosis and subsequent surgery. I was grateful he invited me over to see him that day. That was something he never did. When I saw him things came out of his mouth that he never said before.

"Next time I will be a better dad." He said
"You did the best you could." I replied.
He said "No, I did what was best for me."

As the tears began to roll down my cheeks I thought about how I wished this conversation had come along years earlier. When he walked over to me I knew it would be goodbye. He put his arms around me and I cringed at how broken his thin body felt. I heard him whisper "I love my little girl." I cried as I thought about how this was something he never said and wished he didn't wait till it was too late. Although he didn't say it in his own way he showed me at the worst times of my life. He was with me when my husband died, he was with me when I was told I had cancer. Somehow when the chips were down in my life he pushed his way back in to be there for me. I didn't appreciate it at the time. The tough part though was how absent he was when I was experiencing the good things that life brought me.

I thought he could be OK even with a cancer diagnosis. I was OK, I survived. I wanted him to survive too. This loss is tough for me both as a daughter and as a cancer survivor. I feel guilty sometimes that I am still here.

Even though I think of him often on days such as this it always seems harder. So on this Father’s Day I will be thinking of him with the knowledge that his spirit lives on. Sometimes I feel him around me. Those moments bring me tears and at the same time also bring a smile.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Father's Day is coming... you doin OK?

Hi there,

Just wanted to check in on those of you who might be nervous or sad about Father's Day approaching. I know Mother's Day is a hard one for me, so I wanted to pass along some tips that have helped me over the years:

  1. Have a plan. Lying low may seem "respectful" to the parent you lost (after all, it seems wrong to celebrate), but 24 hours is a long time to be alone. Seeing family, calling a friend, or even just going for a walk can be a lifesaver. It reminds you that life goes on, and that even if today is hard, it will get better.
  2. Wallow a bit. Even if you have a plan, you're bound to have some alone time. During that time, if you feel like crap, don't be afraid to just feel like crap. Watch a sad movie. Listen to depressing music. Get it all out 'til you get the urge to feel happy again... and then allow yourself to move on from the sadness.
  3. Don't be afraid to cry. Sometimes crying on these big holidays feels like your whole self might just collapse. Well, consider me proof that you won't. I've cried on many Mother's Days, and I usually feel a lot better afterwards.
  4. Appreciate the day. In normal everyday life, it's hard to find appropriate times to really experience your grief or miss the person you lost. Whether it's Father's Day, a birthday, or the anniversary of someone's death, those holidays are a special time for you to collect your thoughts and connect with the person you lost.
  5. Talk. Family and friends are eager to listen to you and be there for you today. Take advantage of them and open up. If you're a more private person, you might write down what you're feeling or "talk" to the person you lost. On Mother's Day, I like to "talk" (in my head) to my mom and give her the update on my life.
You might find there's something you have to avoid this holiday, too. It's different for everyone, but for me, it's the greeting card aisle. Seeing all the Mother's Day cards makes me so sad that I can't send one to Sally. I avoid going to CVS for a few weeks!

I hope this helps. And on Sunday, you'll be on my mind.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Connecticut, Scrabble, Friends, and other things Sally loved

Sally loved lots of things, but here are a few she totally worshipped:
  • Connecticut -- she loved New Haven, her hometown.
  • The beach -- she was a Piesces, 'nuff said.
  • Scrabble -- she beat everyone in my family -- unless they were sick or upset, then sometimes she let us win.
  • Friends -- she valued her girlfriends and taught me to do the same.
  • Birthdays -- she always knew how to make it special.
Last weekend, I got to do all 5 things: I visited my friend Katie in Connecticut to surprise her for her birthday and we played Scrabble and took a trip to the beach. Pretty much the formula for happiness, according to Sally! Actually, I'd add one more to my formula: French toast at a diner.

I've always loved going to visit Katie. Now it's even more fun because she and her fiance Raf just bought a house together. Some girls feel shafted when their best girlfriends find a man, but seeing Katie and Raf is like getting double the fun. I love them as a couple, and I love both of them individually. Around them, I feel 100% myself -- which is why I can go visit them and be totally satisfied staying home on a Saturday night playing Scrabble, drinking wine, and ordering pizza at midnight!

Which friends do you feel 100% comfy around? Write their names below to give thanks!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Salmon Croquettes recipe -- take 2!

Four years ago, when I moved into my first Brooklyn apartment, I didn't know many recipes. Stuck for an idea, I recalled a dish my mom often made: salmon croquettes.

I knew the ingredients, but I didn't have her recipe, and my dad couldn't remember the measurements. Figuring I'd wing it, I mixed together canned salmon, chopped onion, an egg, and some breadcrumbs. It seemed too dry, so I added another egg. Then it seemed too wet, so I added more breadcrumbs. I repeated this process until it was a giant mess. Unable to form patties that would stick together, I threw too-wet patties into the pan and it soon became a salmon croquette scramble. Two words describe it best: ugly and gross. After dumping the contents in the trash, I went to my room, shut the door, and bawled. A simple call to my mom would have recovered that recipe, but she and the recipe were gone.

Last week, four years later, I decided to press my luck and try again. Vital Choice, a company that sells wild salmon by mail order, had sent tons of canned salmon to my office, just begging to be made into crunchy, crispy croquettes. This time, I found a recipe that had the same ingredients as my mom's but with the perfect measurements, thanks to Ashwini's Food for Thought blog (see the recipe here).

As the beautifully-formed patties sizzled in the pan, my new kitchen smelled just like my kitchen growing up. Surprisingly, I didn't miss my mom and I didn't feel nostalgic for my past. I don't know if this make sense, but lately, especially with this new "domestication" of living with Mark, I feel like part of me is taking on her essence -- like all the parts I loved about her are here in the air and within me. Have you ever felt this way?

As we ate dinner, I told Mark about my cooking disaster years ago. Wise as always, he said, "I bet you were the only one who expected to get it right the first time."


P.S. Some readers have told me they want more frequent blog posts. I've often felt like I want to give you quality over quantity, but maybe a couple one-liners or brief thoughts every now and then would be OK. What do you think?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ladies Luncheon!

Happy Sunday!

Today was a great day. Mark and I still don't have curtains, so the bright sun woke us up at 8:30 -- way earlier than I'm normally up on a lazy Sunday! We took advantage of the morning. While we drank coffee, we made our first grocery list (everything's a "first" these days, we're like a newborn couple), and soon after I was off to Trader Joe's (a terrific little specialty supermarket) to stock up on food for the week. Tonight's menu: salmon croquettes. Yum!

But supermarket shopping isn't what made today that great -- please, I haven't turned into one of those weird suburban Stepford Wives yet! -- my best friends Laura and Shari came to visit! Laura drove in from Long Island; Shari subwayed from Manhattan. Friends since age 13, we have to share all the "big moments" with each other, and "moving in with a boy" (as we call it) certainly qualifies. They oohed and ahhed over the apartment, and then we sat outdoors at a nearby pub to eat salads and drink mimosas. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday!

Old friends are funny. You love each other and run to share any moment together, whether it's booking a trip (we're planning to go to Costa Rica in February) or celebrating a new apartment. But we also bicker like sisters (like when we tried to peer pressure Shari to buy her Costa Rica plane ticket this week). It's a love-bicker relationship, but I love (and laugh at) every minute of it. And I loved every minute of having them here today.

Signing off for now. Salmon croquettes to be made!


P.S. I hope you don't mind that I've been drifting off-topic a bit. I know this blog is about Sally and dealing with parent loss/sickness, but sometimes the best way to combat the hardships is to celebrate and really acknowledge the happy times.

Monday, June 1, 2009

We moved!

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to drop you a quick note to tell you that Mark and I are finally in our new place!

We moved yesterday, May 31, a date I hope we'll continue to celebrate in the future. So many couples seem to move in together in a very casual way these days, especially in NYC where rents are high so it turns into an economical decision. But to me and Mark, this move feels like an important step in our relationship. For the past few days -- whether I was taping shut a box or just gazing at the gorgeous greenery from our windows -- my eyes would fill with tears. I feel very happy and lucky and blessed.

Big thanks to everyone who was so helpful with the move. My best friend Laura came out to pack boxes with Mark and I on Friday night, and we all had a blast together. My dad and his girlfriend Susan wrapped everything in my kitchen -- and I have a lot of cooking supplies! A bunch of our friends schlepped to Brooklyn last night, which filled our new space with laughter and good times to come. And Mark's been Mr. Handy putting together all the furniture and suggesting great decorating ideas. Thank goodness I moved in with a designer!

More details and PHOTOS later in the week -- I promise.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Marisa vs. the flu

Hi and Happy Friday!

Unfortunately, for me, it's not such a happy Friday. The flu hit me hard. I've been out for the count since Wednesday with a fever, bad cough, and some hard-to-even-get-off-the-couch fatigue.

Wednesday night was actually the worst of it. The American Idol finale was on, and I was in and out of sleep on the couch. Somehow, I woke up at 10 PM, just in time to hear the winner announced: Kris Allen. I thought I might be warm just from anger over Adam Lambert losing -- but then I took my temperature.

It was 104.3!

I was home alone, so I called my dad, who yelled, "TAKE TWO TYLENOL RIGHT NOW!" and hung up. (He just lost a friend to the swine flu, so he was especially panicked). I did what he said and then spoke to Mark, who immediately jumped in a cab to come over. In the 20 minutes I waited for him, I talked to my dad, brother, and Mark. We all decided that once Mark got there, he and I should go to the hospital together.

But the Tylenol helped immediately, and within the hour my temperature went down to 103.3, and then 102.1. Should we really go to the hospital? we wondered. After all, we'd probably wait in a gross waiting room all night long. We decided not to go. Instead, we stayed up 'til about 2 AM watching TV so I could continue taking my temperature and take Tylenol once more before I went to sleep. We fielded like 80 phone calls, too -- all our family and friends were so nervous! At 2 AM, Mark tucked me into bed and went to sleep on the couch. He was so anxious he fell asleep watching The Weather Channel. Poor guy!

Yesterday, Mark stayed home from work to take care of me. I felt like was 7 again, when my mom would stay home to make me tea and toast. I spent most of the day sleeping, and then Mark took me to the doctor, who didn't seem that concerned and gave me an antibiotic "just in case." Sometimes I hate doctors!

Today I'm just taking it easy. "Dr. Mark" had to head back to work, and I'm home monitoring my temperature and watching Top Chef reruns. I do have more energy today -- not like I'm going to run a marathon, more like I might wash last night's dishes (Mark made us enchiladas!). At least I have a 3-day weekend to feel better. So much for using the long weekend to pack for the big move -- oh well!

Any tips on what helps cure the flu?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Moving in and moving on

I have terrific news to share: Mark and I found an apartment! Now I can officially tell you that we're moving in together.

After 7 days of searching, the 7th apartment we saw was the one. Located on a tree-lined block in a beautiful Brooklyn neighborhood, this converted brownstone was a no-brainer to take. As I walked down the block to meet Mark and the broker last Thursday, I felt it in my gut: this is our block, this is our apartment. And as soon as we walked in, Mark's eyes lit up like a little kid. It took only a 2-minute private conversation to say YES YES YES!!!

This might sound funny, but I can't believe how happy I am. Deciding to move in together was a big deal to both of us, and for a while I felt incapable of making this decision without my mother's words of wisdom. However, once I gave Mark my "yes" to move in together in March, I've never looked back. Link
On our way to sign the lease on Saturday morning, I felt not even an inch of nervousness (and I always feel jitters for big decisions). After we signed, a perma-beam stayed plastered on my face for the rest of the day. I never thought I'd be "that girl" who had such a girly reaction, but I'm totally guilty of it!

As I learned on Mother's Day, part of moving in with Mark means moving on from my mom's death. Surprisingly, I didn't feel sad on Saturday that I couldn't share it with her. I called everyone on my list and squealed in their ears, and then I looked up at the ceiling and knew she knew and was happy for me. I just knew.

So now, I'm focused on the countdown. We move on June 1, which means we have 14 days 'til the big day. I'll keep you updated on our progress!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

From a Special Guest Blogger: How to reach out to sick friends or family

You meet lots of people in the "blogosphere"! Luckily, I've met a lovely woman, brave cancer survivor, and kind mom named Ashley. She's here to share her story and give some advice. Take it away, Ash!

What a privilege to be a guest blogger,
for one of the best blogs in town
or should I say web.

When I spoke with Marisa
about this project of sharing my story,
the key was to keep it short and sweet,
in hopes of bringing light for others
to gain good pointers in helping those
who are in the time of need, whether it be
death, illness or a general troubled time.

The year was 2000,
millennium bug year
as most of you remember.

A year my life was turned upside down.

Just when I, Ashley, thought life couldn't
get any worse, already at the age of 19
I became a mother, then a wife.

A year later at the age of 20
my father passed away,
due to liver failure,
the following day my grandmother died,
from pancreatic cancer..

The month was March,
at the age of 23,
I had just taking on a new job,
during my last two weeks
of my old job, I was diagnosed with
FHC, Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma,
a liver malignancy in young adults,

I saw first hand, with a great team of doctors,
family and friends, how one
should be treated in a time of need.

1. Sit with the patient, even if it's in silence,
the day of surgery, home or even go to the doctor.

2. House hold duties, cook, laundry, yard, groceries etc..,
make sure you ask first.

3. Send cards, flowers, a phone call, gift basket,
a book, funny movie or a gift card,
for a salon, house cleaning or a meal.

Honestly guys anything is better than nothing,
I learned this first hand as well.
One of my best friends
was absent during my battle
with cancer!

I am now a 32 year old
cancer survivor,
on a mission to share my story.

As you can tell my story
is deep, so deep I can not
share it all here.

Instead I am writing a book!

Vist me at my blog, Blog a Verse, to learn more...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mother's Day Recap: Finally finding peace

I feel so weird saying this... like I might jinx myself... so I'm just going to whisper it in your ear: Mother's Day was surprisingly OK this year!

Sunday, that is.

Saturday was a little rough. I knew Mother's Day was coming, and I was dreading it. All day my stomach was upset and I felt on the verge of tears. After a few hours of lying on my couch, I finally forced myself to go to my friend Maria's housewarming party. Instinct told me that being around my friends would be an instant cure. It was. As soon as I arrived, a good giggle and a glass of sangria did the trick. The sad spell was broken.

Sunday started much better. I woke up happy and energized. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I was ready for the day. This was a surprise -- especially since sometimes on Mother's Day, I literally don't want to get out of bed.

Mark and I were in the bagel line by 10:30AM (just in time to beat out the Brooklyn hipsters who sleep in!). As we walked to the subway, I told him that the weather being sunny always makes me happier on days like this. "The day my mom died and the next day at her funeral were both really sunny, beautiful days," I told him. "It makes me feel like the heavens are at peace."

We spent the next few hours on the apartment hunt. We're moving in together (yay!), and this was day 2 of the search. Between apartments, we visited our friend Melissa who's a first-time mommy celebrating Mother's Day. It felt so nice to celebrate a young mother. It reminded that the holiday is happy, too.

At 3PM, my brother picked us up and we drove to Long Island to spend the afternoon at my dad's girlfriend Susan's house. This time, I didn't care about wearing a dress or impressing everyone. I wore jeans and acted like myself -- and I had a great time. Susan and I had some really nice chats, I enjoyed talking to her two children who are in their 30s, and I even got a hug from her 1-year-old cutie-pie grandson, Cooper -- I'm smitten!

When I finally crashed into bed, I was totally wiped but content. It had been a good day, mostly because I finally understood that my life had to go this way. My mom had to pass. This is part of my story. And it shapes the path my life takes -- and I like my life! I used to long for a life with my mom in it again. But now, I long for the life I have, with all the people I might not have met and grown to love like Susan and Mark. I'm thankful, and I'm at peace.

What surprises you about your own story or life path? What turns has it taken that you didn't expect, but now you accept?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mother's Day: How I try to stay OK

Hi friends,

Well, Sunday is Mother's Day. It comes every year, as relentless as the seasons changing, and I tend to approach it half-filled with dread that I'll feel depressed and half-filled with hope that I'll be OK.

I wish I could tell you that I do something wonderfully charitable on Mother's Day -- that I volunteer at a soup kitchen or plant a tree. The truth is, those things seem a little too forced or cheesy. On any hard day that has to do with Sally, I really just want to be near my dad and brother (and recently, Mark), who understand me and fill me with great comfort.

Oddly enough, on the first Mother's Day after my mom died, I didn't spend the day with my family. Instead, I hid. I went on tour with my band and kept all my tears tucked away as my bandmates called their moms that Sunday. I hadn't yet dealt with my mom's death, and I couldn't bear to face my family -- but I did "man up" enough to call my dad and brother and share some mumbled words of how crappy we felt.

For the next few years, we spent the day with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Brooklyn. Surprisingly, it always felt good to wish my Aunt Christine a happy mother's day, since she often feels like a mom to me. On that day, she would always say something to me and my cousins about missing my mom, and all our eyes would well up in that way that feels good and bad at the same time.

This year, and for the past two years, I now spend Mother's Day with my dad's girlfriend, Susan. She invites over our family and her family, and we barbecue burgers and hang out as one big strange Brady Bunch sort of crew. I have to admit: I really like this tradition. I like that she opens her arms to us on a tough day, and I'm thankful there's a plan so I don't have to think abuot what to do or sit around all day feeling sorry for myself. Plus, it means I still get to see my dad and brother and share the day with them, which is what I care about most.

Last year on Mother's Day, I was feeling blue and Mark said something that really changed my attitude. He said: "Ya know, one day Mother's Day might actually be a happy day for you."

What do you do on Mother's Day, or on other challenging days? I know Father's Day is a hard one for some of you readers, too. Please share your thoughts with me here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

My Dad: The father of rock 'n' roll

For the past 6 years, ever since I visited the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, I swore I'd return with the absolute best tour guide: my dad.

This past weekend, I finally made that promise come true. Off to Cleveland we went!

The Hall of Fame was incredible. For 7 hours we wandered through exhibits, marveled at Mick Jagger's super-skinny jumpsuit and Diana Ross's sequined dress, listened to songs together on oversized headphones, and watched videos of exclusive interviews and performances. The main exhibit was on Bruce Springsteen, an artist I never particularly loved and am now totally obsessed with. (My dad actually scored a last-minute ticket to see Bruce tonight -- on the phone just now he said it was "the perfect end to a perfect weekend").

Music has always been a wonderful bond between my dad and I. Whether singing along to Erasure as he drove me to a playdate as a kid, or blasting Blink-182 as we drove home from visiting my mom in the hospital (Dad loves the entire "Enema of the State" album!), music has always been our secret language.

But music isn't our only language. Throughout the weekend, we talked about lots of other stuff: life, work, relationships. All the things you want to talk about with your dad... to get his advice, to learn from his wisdom, to prove to him that you're growing up and making good decisions (even when you're pretty sure he already knows that).

So, tonight's a tribute to "the father of rock 'n' roll" -- my pops! He just called me back to tell me they're playing all Bruce Springsteen on 104.3 FM. So as he drives home from the concert and plays Bruce on the radio, I'm getting ready for bed and letting Bruce croon me to sleep. Miles apart, music is our great connector.

Have you ever been on a trip with your parent(s) that meant a lot to you? Share it here!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

My blog post is on!

Hi everyone!

I wrote another "guest blog" for Glamour magazine's "Life with Cancer" blog. Click here to check it out!

I'll tell you all about my awesome trip to Cleveland later tonight.


Friday, May 1, 2009

I'm taking a daddy-daughter trip

This weekend I'm taking my pops to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. My dad's the ultimate rock fan. He loves Neil Young, The Who, Tom Petty, and lots of other legendary musicians. Although he never really played an instrument (minus the clarinet in elementary school for about 5 minutes), his love for music certainly inspired my brother and I to become musicians.

Growing up, our house or car was often filled with music. My dad says when I was 4 I used to bop around to Springstein's "Born in the USA." The first song my brother and I loved as teenagers was "Video Kill the Radio Star," and my dad used to sing along to the chorus in the car. My whole fam has gone to countless concerts: Billy Joel, Elton John, Tina Turner. Dad even once stayed up 'til 2AM to see my band play a show in Syracuse, NY. What a trooper!

I went to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame five years ago, when my college band Janet Drive was on tour. I loved every second of it, and knew I had to go back with my dad one day. I can't wait to experience the museum with him, since he'll have so much information to offer and experiences to talk about.

I'll report back on Sunday!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Who wants to guest blog?

Happy Sunday, friends! Are you loving the early-summer weather we've been having? I am!

As much as I love sharing my stories with you, I hope this blog might be an opportunity for you to share your stories, too. Everyone experiences grief and loss in different ways, so the more voices we can get out there, the more we can relate to new ideas and opinions.

If you're interested in writing a "guest blog" for Sally's Circle, drop me an email. Whether you're dealing with someone close being sick, mourning the death of someone who has passed (even if it was years ago), or wondering how to reach out to a friend or acquaintance who lost someone, I'm interested in hearing from all kinds of viewpoints. I respect that not everyone is comfortable sharing in a public setting, so you always have the option to post anonymously. I won't give you away ; )

Hope to hear from you soon!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is there such a thing as "almost grief"?

Hi friends,

I just Googled "Patrick Swayze" to check in on him. He's been on my mind ever since I found out he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same deadly disease that Sally had. I never had much of a tie to Patrick as an actor, but now that he's a fellow PC fighter, I feel a strong kinship with him. I know Sally would, too. I was especially intrigued by his interview with Barbara Walters (see a video clip from the interview here).

In Google, the most recent article that appears is an interview with Whoopie Goldberg, one of his Ghost co-stars. "He's going to go, but we don't know when," is the title. What a telling title for terminal disease. It's the dark cloud hanging over your head. It's the unpredictable time you may have left. It's the waiting.

Some grief specialists and psychologists have a name for it: anticipatory grief. It's a debatable term. Some think that loved ones can feel a type of grief before someone passes away. Others feel that grief begins only when a loved one's life ends.

I feel mixed about this. The 2 1/2 years that Sally was sick were life-changing for me. I know in my gut that something extraordinary happened in that time, whether we call it anticipatory grief, "almost grief" (that's the term I like), or some other name.

Do you think grief can happen before someone dies, or do you think the real grief only begins afterward? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy last day of Passover!

Well, Passover is almost over (it ends Thursday at sundown). Most people celebrate by chowing down on bread, pasta, and other grainy goodness. While I have to admit I'm excited to bite into a chewy whole-wheat bagel, I am a little sad to wave goodbye to my favorite Jewish holiday and one of my favorite Passover recipes: Matzah Pizza.

It's so easy to make! Just put a square of matzah on a cookie sheet, drizzle on a little extra virgin olive oil, coat with a thick layer of tomato sauce, decorate with thin slices of fresh mozarella cheese, and add any toppings you wish. Mark and I loaded it up with slices of sweet Italian sausage. I know it's completely anti-Kosher (you're not supposed to combine cheese and meat), but it's so delish!

And in case you were curious, here are some food pics from my Passover seder:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Passover Seder: 9 Things That Made Me Smile

Happy Saturday! It's truly an April day. Rain pitter-patters on the cement, coffee nestles in my belly, and my couch welcomes my tired body. After all, making a Passover seder for 22 people took quite a bit out of me this week! But it was well worth it. On my fourth annual seder -- and by far my favorite -- here are 9 things that made me smile:

  1. Cooking. In the past year, I've really learned to love cooking. I took the day off from work on Wednesday to prepare, and I loved every second of it. Music and flavors swirled around my kitchen while I tasted each recipe: Cranberry Brisket, Apricot Chicken, Pineapple Kugel, Blood Orange Salad, Roasted Asparagus, Raisin-Nut Quinoa, Matzah Ball Soup. Maybe homemakers really do have it made?!

  2. Flowers. My boyfriend Mark and best friend Laura both brought gorgeous bouquets of lilacs, sunflowers, and carnations. Passover is a "harvest holidays" in which we thank the land for being plentiful and enjoy seasonal spring foods, so flowers represent that.

  3. Brisket. My dad searched every supermarket in Long Island to find the perfect brisket of beef for me. Even though we celebrated at separate seders, his gift made him present at my table.

  4. Forgetfulness. As my non-Jewish friends read aloud the story of Passover, they looked at me accusingly when they got to portions I'd forgotten to do. In response, I scurried around my kitchen to enact what they read, including dipping parsley into salt water (and taking a bite - yuck!), displaying the seder plate (which was missing half the ingredients), and pouring a glass of wine for Elijah.

  5. Jordan. My brother's always the last to show up, but the one who brings the biggest smile to my face. I was so happy to have him meet my friends and experience his first seder with me as the host.

  6. Jude. My friends Matthew & Melissa brought their precious 4-week-old son to celebrate his first Passover seder in my home.

  7. Bing-O. Last year, my crafty friend Sarah designed "Seder Bingo," a Bingo board with images that relate to Passover -- especially focused on the 10 plagues (in the Passover story, God used plagues like hail and famine to convince the Egyptians to free the Jewish slaves). Just imagine how many laughs circulated my living room while Sam the Bingo caller hollered out, "Boils! Does anyone have boils?"

  8. Dayenu. Since most of the crew has attended the past 3 seders, some of them know the songs better than I do. In the middle of Bingo, my friend Gennaro lead the crowd in a round of "Dayenu," a popular Hebrew song for Passover.

  9. Mensches. That's Yiddish for "people of noble character." Here, I mean it to describe my kitchen assistants. Jamie, my only Jewish friend at the seder, made delicious macaroons (coconut cookies) and charoset (a combo of apples, walnuts, red wine, and cinnamon) and cut her finger in the process (sorry Jamie!). Colin cut blood oranges for the salad (and did not cut himself). Matt sliced the brisket to perfection. Melissa brought to-die-for chocolate-covered strawberries. Mark made an amazing quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) dish. Sarah helped make the matzah ball soup. Gloria told me the apricot chicken was made out of sunshine. Jes played camera-lady and took amazing pics (especially of the asparagus!). Laura helped me time everything. Everyone brought delish bottles of wine (and we made it through 10 bottles). A seder really is about bringing people together, and I fell asleep thinking of all the people in my life for which I'm thankful and blessed.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Passover Quick Pic!

More details later tonight -- I promise. But all in all, it was a great success and made me so happy! Big hugs to all my friends for coming to celebrate. At the end of the seder, you're supposed to say "Next year in Jerusalem!" in hopes that you'll spend Passover in the holy land. I say, "Next year in Brooklyn!"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Passover Prep: I'm cooking for 20 people!

Your midnight vulture is back in action! Only this time I have a good excuse for staying up late. On Wednesday I'll be hosting a Passover seder for 20 of my friends. I'm so excited!

As a kid, Passover seders were usually spent with my Grandma, Grandpa, and Great Aunt Claire in good ole' Boca Raton, Florida. As a teenager, I spent one memorable Passover with my California cousins, who go all out for the holiday. They "part the red sea" by making everyone walk through a red curtain, and they even "float baby Moses down the river" by sending a baby doll in a basket down the length of their backyard pool. 40 guests -- a mix of family and friends, Jews and non-Jews -- join in their celebration. It definitely inspired me.

So, when I moved to Brooklyn 4 years ago, I decided I'd throw a seder for my friends. It became an annual tradition, and it has grown and evolved each year. This year, it's my first time hosting a seder in my very own apartment, and I've upped the headcount to 20. There's a brisket in the slow cooker, a kugel (noodle pudding) in the freezer, and matzah ball soup cooling on the stove. More dishes will be cooked in the coming days, and then Wednesday is the big night.

Tonight's Matzah Ball Soup was quite a success. My dear friend Sarah offered to come over and help me cook. Together we kerplunked little matzah balls into the boiling water and watched them expand to twice their size. As the NCAA championship began, we sat on my couch and tasted the soup. The broth was salty, the matzah balls were fluffy, and the carrots had softened to perfection. It made me even more excited for Wednesday! (Click here to see more pics of me and Sarah cooking!)

Do you have any favorite Passover or other holiday dishes? Share them here!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Telling Time: Before Sally and After Sally

The finale of "ER" is on tonight. How long has that show been on the air? I wondered today. Well, my mom liked the show, and she passed away 6 1/2 years ago... which means it was on for a few years before that. 10 years, I estimated. (To answer the trivia question, it's 15 years).

But it made me stop and think: Sally's part of my everyday math. Events in my life happened pre-Sally or post-Sally. And the more years that pass, the more of Sally's favorite things pass, too. TV shows end. Her flowered socks that I wear get holey. Photos of us smiling fade.

Stuff is just stuff, though. I'm realizing more and more that I need to forget the material items and tune into my memories. I remember "ER" and "Chicago Hope" started the same year, and my mom often debated which one she liked better. I remember she thought George Clooney was sexy and Noah Wyle had a big nose. I remember she hated that the commercials were always so much louder than the show, and she'd scowl and lower the volume so we could chat.

What quirky qualities do you remember about someone you lost?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tell me about you!

March officially marks the highest traffic month of Sally's Circle, so I wanted to take a moment to thank you for being so supportive and encouraging during the past 31 days. From the birth of a new mommy to making big decisions to my (finally!) completed book proposal, it's been a long but productive month. I couldn't have done it without you.

I especially want to thank the majority of you who breeze in and out of the blog in ghost-like fashion, with no trace of ever having been here. You might be silent, but your mere presence means the world to me.

To celebrate this month's success, I want to play a little game. I always blab so much about my life -- now I want to know a little about yours. Please leave a comment (you can choose "Anonymous" if you'd like to remain private) and tell me one thing about yourself. It could be anything: how you're feeling today, the name of a loved one you've lost or miss or are praying for, why you come to Sally's Circle, etc. I'm excited to get to know you better.