9/11: Always Remember. Never Forget.

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Photo by Joel Altschuler

Do you remember where you were the morning of September 11, 2011? I’ll never forget. I was with my mom. It was the perfect late summer morning, blue skies and pleasant temps. We had just arrived at work (we actually worked in the same office that year) and one of the girls was shouting that “a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!” What?

At that time, my office was on the corner of Madison Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City. I went outside with a coworker to see what was going on, since we had been listening to it all unfold on the radio.

We went outside and looked toward the World Trade Center. And just minutes after 10am, there was a plume of smoke and the spire from the south tower sank within it, sinking further until all I could see was just black/grey smoke. My stomach sank, too. I was petrified. Terrified. And the sense of dread I felt that morning, stayed with me longer than I expected.

After watching the towers collapse, I ran back into the building, got my mom, all the while thinking, “If I’m going to die, I’m going to die with her.” Everyone evacuated our office. But Penn Station (where we had to get a train to go back to Long Island) was closed and there was no word of it reopening.

Mom and I headed to Penn anyway. We walked around 34th Street. I was panic-stricken, worried that something other than a building collapse was going on. But my mom, always calm and unruffled no matter what the situation, just held my hand and said, “We’re going to be okay.”

Well, we were okay, but many people weren’t. While it took me three years after 9/11 to ever get back on a subway, many people lost their lives. (For weeks after, my town had a funeral nearly every day, many for the first-responders.)

We finally made it home that day, arriving at our local train station around 5pm. From then, I was glued to the television, watching Peter Jennings report throughout the day and night, and days that followed. It certainly was one of the most horrific times of my life that I can never forget.

Every year on this day, I take some time to remember where I was, who I was with, and most importantly, to remember those that lost (and gave) their lives—in New York City, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

Message in a Feather

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Photo by Aman Bhatnagar on Pexels.com

Last week when I got run over by the grief bus, thinking about my mom’s last days, I did what I’ve been doing every day since her passing—begging her to give me a sign that she’s still here, still with me. Since last week was an especially low point (hello, grief and major depression!), I needed—and had to get—a sign.

Every morning, Emma and I go for our mile-long walk around the neighborhood. We live on the quiet end of town, so it’s quite peaceful and shady. This one particular morning, I noticed a grey feather on the ground. Nice. I dismissed it, thinking nothing of it. A half a block later, I spotted another grey feather. Okay, two feathers. No big deal. Just a coincidence.

Another half block later, I noticed yet another grey feather and then another. Four grey feathers! In a row! It had to mean something, right? Emma and I walk that same route every morning and I’ve never seen this before.

I had my phone with me so, of course, I googled “meaning of grey feathers” and here’s what came up:

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This might not mean much to you. But in addition to losing my mom, a year after her passing, I lost my job. (Yeah, it’s been a sucky two years. The company I worked for went out of business and I still haven’t landed a full-time job yet.) To me, this was a sign. She was letting me know that better days are still ahead (hard to believe, for me, considering she’s not here to share them).

To top it off, two days later, on our morning walk, I found another feather. This one wasn’t grey, though, it was black. Here’s what Google had to say about that one:

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Since her passing, I’ve always looked for “signs,” thinking I’ll spot her favorites: butterflies and rainbows. Hah! Signs never come in the way we imagine. It’s usually something out of the ordinary. For me, anyway.

Like when I got the first “sign” the month after she passed away. I’ll never forget this. It was Thanksgiving morning—my first one without her—and I was sobbing my brains out in the shower. (Yes, that’s the best place to sob. No one else will ever hear you! My best sobbing is done in the shower.) I collapsed to sit in the tub, begging for a sign. Immediately, my entire shower curtain—hooks, curtain and liner!—fell off the rod and onto the floor. If I didn’t see it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Whether it’s a feather, shower curtain falling or a double rainbow, to me, these things are signs that my mom can somehow hear me. And, they bring me a sense of comfort, albeit slight, as I navigate this world of living without her.

Keep the signs coming, Mom!

For those of you who have lost a loved one, do you ask for signs? Do you get them? Please share your experience. I’d love to hear about it.

New Smyrna Beach: Where to Eat, Drink and Be Merry

img_9424Nothing says summer quite like an 1100-mile road trip with your dog. The drive down took us 19 hours—and this includes the Goethals Bridge being shut down at 4:30 am without notice (even though I had two GPSs running and the traffic radio on), the entrance to I-95 closed due to a construction crew ‘repaving’ (also with no word on the radio or GPS—and yes, my anxiety was in overdrive and it wasn’t even 5 am!), bathroom breaks and dog walks, and stop-and-go-and-standstill traffic near Richmond, Virginia. Thank you, EZ Pass express lanes!

Emma was a saint during the entire trip. Until recently, she hated being cooped up in the car. Now, she loves it. Every time we stopped for a break, we took her for a walk/run to stretch her legs. I swear, she’s a much better traveler than I am.

Sharing the drive with someone made the trip easier. I have to admit, with a bad back and currently under the care of a physical therapist, I was not looking forward to this drive (but I was ordered to do exercises at every stop and while as a passenger). The ride wasn’t too bad—coming back is another story (let’s just say my dad’s homemade limoncello that we had stashed in the cooler saved me. And don’t worry, I was a passenger when I drank, and the driver didn’t get any!). But about three hours before we reached New Smyrna Beach, I was beyond fried. Thankfully, dinner and cocktails awaited us, thanks to one of my besties.

Once we had a good night’s rest and recovered from the long drive, it was time to have some fun. It’s a beach town, so of course, the beach was a must! Also, New Smyrna Beach has several new restaurants. Some are very good; others, just eh.

If you decide to visit this fun beach town, here are some things to add to your to do list:

The beach. What I love most about New Smyrna Beach is that you can drive your car onto the beach. There are only seven beaches remaining in the U.S. where you can do that. Pack a cooler with plenty to drink and munch on, and you’re all set for a relaxing day in the sun. There are several access points; but for those who prefer the traditional parking lot and schlepping all your stuff, there are lots on Flagler and Sapphire Street.

Restaurants. I don’t eat meat, so whenever I visit NSB, I’m always ready for the fresh seafood my favorite spots have to offer. Happy Hour specials are abundant and can be found at pretty much all the bar/restaurants in town. If you’re not a fan of sitting outside in the heat (or blazing sun), keep your outdoor dining and cocktails reserved for the evenings when it gets cooler. Here are just a few of my faves (*dog-friendly):

  • Corkscrew Bar & Grille* has $5 margaritas all day, every day. And they are quite good. The day we were there, I had the special: fresh-caught grouper from Tampa. Yum.
  • Outriggers Tiki Bar & Grille* has one of the best spots on the water. Sit in the comfort of the shade, feel the warm breeze, all while sipping your cocktail of choice. Their crab cake eggs Benedict for Sunday brunch is delish!
  • Hottie Coffee is touted as being NSB’s original coffee roaster. They have a coffee shop where you can sit and sip some of their fair-trade coffees while reading or hanging with friends. Whenever I visit, I always bring home some of their coffee.
  • The Garlic & Blu Bar is a cool place. Whether you want to dine at The Garlic or enjoy tapas at the Blu Bar, you will not be disappointed.
  • The Treehouse Bar at Norwood’s* is another great place for drinks and apps. It’s built like an actual treehouse, duh, hence the name.
  • The Bounty at Flagler Tavern is a unique speakeasy overlooking Flagler Avenue, ideal for people-watching while enjoying hand-crafted cocktails by an expert mixologist.
  • Crow’s Nest Bar & Grille is a must after a day on the beach. After we packed up the car, we enjoyed yummy rum runner cocktails (which we have made since returning home) and the best seared tuna tacos I’ve ever had.

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The Spa at Venetian Bay. My bestie and I hit the spa for some much-needed pampering and girl time. Inspired by the bath houses of Europe, the spa includes a heated nautilus pool, heated stone loungers, a Himalayan salt sauna and much more. We could’ve stayed all day. It was a great way to relax and only a five-minute drive.

White Sands Buddhist Center. Okay, so this is not in New Smyrna Beach, but it’s only a 20-minute drive south to Mims—and worth every mile. The center is situated on a beautiful plot of land featuring the three largest granite statues of the Buddha in the state of Florida. Open from dawn to dusk.

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Seminole Lake Gliderport. Not in New Smyrna Beach either, but if you’ve got your pilot’s license and want to soar the skies on a beautiful day, this is the place. It’s about 90 miles from NSB, so it’s not too long of a drive.

If you make it down to New Smyrna, let me know your favorite places!

When the Grief Bus Runs You Over Unexpectedly … Again

Watching the funeral service for Senator John McCain this week was like getting run over by the grief bus all over again. Not only has it left me bawling like there’s no tomorrow, knowing his family will now have to deal with the “aftermath” that I went through (and still going through), but it has stirred up a lot of anger I have related to my mom’s sudden passing less than two years ago.

While I may not have agreed with McCain’s politics, he certainly was a good man who wanted to make an impact on the country he loved so much. He was a war hero, a husband, a father, a patriot. And like my mom, taken way too soon. (To me, anyone who dies before they’re 100 is taken way too soon!)

In grief, there are many stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They never come in any particular sequence, mind you. And you never know which stage is going to strike or when. (Grief is a personal journey, so how I grieve is different than you. And the sequence of these stages doesn’t always occur the same for everyone.)  I’d already been a bit weepy this week, thinking about and missing my mom (as I do every day) because she’s the only one who “gets” me and can talk me off the ledge when I go through difficult times. But now, thanks to McCain’s funeral, it’s hello, anger stage.

Why the anger? I’m angry that McCain’s family had time to say goodbye—had I known my mom was dying, I would’ve said more, done more. Angry that they knew how much time he had left (those with glioblastoma diagnosis usually don’t live longer than a year)—my mom was fine until a month before her passing when she suddenly got “the flu.” And angry that he had time to plan his own funeral—my mom never expected to die and didn’t plan anything. She kept saying, “I’m fine. I’ll be home. It’s just a virus.” No, Mom, it wasn’t a virus.

Once you’ve lost your person, witnessing the loss of someone else really hits home. Harder than expected. This week, it felt like someone clubbed me over the head with a baseball bat and I can’t focus or shake the grief. I walk around, shaking my head, “I can’t believe my mom isn’t coming back.”

However, listening to the eulogies and hearing other people speak so fondly of the senator—including those that opposed him politically—left me thinking back to my mom’s passing and what others thought of her. She worked at our town library, and everyone that knew her loved her. She was the person who never said an unkind word about another—not ever, not once. “You never know what another is going through or what they have to contend with,” she’d say. When she passed away, I received countless sympathy cards from people who loved her and were devastated to hear of her sudden passing. Library patrons sent me the sweetest messages. I didn’t know most of them. But as I read the cards, I remembered my mom telling me of them when she’d get home from work, and I could hear her repeating those stories in my head.

My mom touched many lives. Even now, nearly two years after her passing, I still run into strangers who stop me in town to see how I’m doing and share a fond memory of my mom. The best compliment they could ever give me is, “You look (or sound) just like your mom.” Since I always wanted to look and be like her, it makes my heart sing. Yes, my mom is gone, but she is far from forgotten by those whose lives she touched, especially mine.

Vice President Joe Biden said of McCain: “We have to remember how they lived—not just how they died.” And while I’m still angry that she’s not here, she will always be a part of me. Knowing that helps me, even if just a little bit.

How to Make Limoncello

img_8909I’ve always loved the taste of lemons—lemon ice, lemonade, lemon tart, lemon cookies. You get the idea. Maybe that’s why I enjoy limoncello. It’s light, sweet and very refreshing, and especially welcome at the end of a hot summer day.

The lemon liqueur originated in southern Italy nearly a hundred years ago. Then, it was customary for the wealthiest Sorrento families to offer limoncello to their distinguished guests.

While the Sorrento-made limoncello is my favorite and has the most authentic taste, the homemade kind can be just as delicious. The secret to the unique flavor is to use lemons that are grown in certain areas of Southern Italy. But living on Long Island, those are hard to come by.  Instead, we chose medium-size lemons, grown locally. And it came out delicious!

Homemade limoncello is easy to make and something that can be served at your backyard barbecues. They make for great gifts, too!

Interested in making some? See the recipe below.  And if you do make it, please let me know how yours turns out!

Saluté.

 

Limoncello Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 11 lemons (medium size; you’ll only be using the peels)
  • 750 ml grain alcohol 95% proof or higher (or vodka)
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups sugar

Directions:

  • Step 1: Peel strips of lemon with a peeler, avoiding the pith (the inside can be used for other purposes). Add lemon peel and alcohol to a large container (glass is best) with a lid. Seal. Let stand at room temperature in a cool dark place for one week. This will allow the flavors from the peel to infuse into the liquid.
  • Step 2: Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Slowly, stir in the 3 cups of sugar, one at a time, until completely melted. Let cool to room temperature; add sugar mixture to the container with the lemon peel and alcohol. Refrigerate for one day.
  • Step 3:  Strain out lemon peels and pour into individual bottles. Store in the freezer. Enjoy!

What’s great about this recipe is you can save the lemons to make another batch.

 

Doggy Day Hikes: 4 Things to Pack

For the last few weeks, the weather here on Long Island has fluctuated from being comfortable to extremely humid. On very humid days, Emma refuses to walk anywhere, and I don’t blame her. I’m not a fan of the humidity or higher temps either, unless of course I’m doing hot yoga. So, whenever the weather is more agreeable, Emma and I will be out and about early to enjoy the outdoors.

There are plenty of places to hike/walk with your dog on Long Island. (I’ve mentioned a few in previous posts.) But sometimes, Emma and I just like taking a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood or into town, which is a good one-mile walk each way.

When venturing out with Emma, especially in this weather, I make sure to pack the essentials to help keep her comfortable and hydrated:

  • Water. And plenty of it! In summer (and winter, too), I carry a bottle of water with a small collapsible bowl. Dogs can get dehydrated quicker than humans, especially in warmer weather, so they need constant access to water. If we drive to a hiking trail, I leave a small cooler in the car with extra bottles in case we need more. (No matter where you take your dog, always remember to provide fresh, cool water to prevent dehydration.)
  • Treats. Long walks/hikes require “special” treats. Emma likes boiled chicken, apples and pears. I store them fresh in a small Ziploc bag. But she’s not the only one who gets goodies on our day trips. I’ll always bring along a snack (fruit/veggies/peanut butter) for myself, usually something I can share with Emma, so it’s less to carry.
  • Sunscreen and flea spray. Westies have very sensitive skin, and I keep this in mind when we are outdoors for any length of time. Before we hit the trails, I’ll spray a special sunscreen on Emma that can be easily washed out. And if we are walking in wooded areas, I will definitely spray bug/flea spray on her to keep the flea and ticks at bay. Then, once we get home, it’s bath time!
  • Paper towels, paw wipes and misc. At some point on the walk, I know I’ll have to clean up after Emma or use paw wipes, as trails can get dusty or muddy, depending on the weather. No matter where I go, I always bring hand wipes and sanitizer (yes, I’m a germaphobe). I also carry a few small Ziploc bags in case I have to throw out paw wipes or a poop bag and there’s no trash can in sight. The Ziploc bags help keep the odor at bay.

Planning a hike? What do you pack for your dog? Tell me about it in the comments section and enjoy the walk!

5 Tips to Keep Your Dog Calm and Safe During Fireworks

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I was going to wait until closer to July 4th to write about this, since most pets run away around that time of year more than any other. But with Memorial Day weekend upon us—not to mention my crazy neighbors that look for any excuse to set off fireworks—I figured there was no better time than the present.

Over the years, Emma has gone from ignoring fireworks as a puppy to being absolutely terrified as an adult dog. In the last few years, though, she’s gotten much better in dealing with the loud sounds. However, she’s far from ignoring them, as she once did.

Unlike hunting dogs, most dogs have not been desensitized to loud noises. Most likely, your canine companion will not be a fan of the fireworks and will need some extra comforting, as well.

img_8152When dogs hear fireworks, they experience internally something similar to what we do when we are surprised by a sudden loud noise—a rush of adrenaline and increase in heart rate. Now, as humans, we are quick to realize the sudden noise is nothing to worry about. But dogs don’t grasp that same concept.

Whether this is the first time or the hundredth time your dog will be exposed to fireworks, here are a few things that will help keep her calm and safe during the celebrations:

  1. Exercise your dog earlier in the day. Go for long walks and give her extra play time. That way, she will be tired and in a calmer state when the fireworks begin.
  2. This is a no-brainer but keep your dog inside during the fireworks. And make sure you or another human is there to offer comfort. Dogs should not be alone during fireworks. If it’s hot out, crank up the AC.
  3. Create a safe space. Sometimes, dogs will want to hide under the bed or curl up in their crate when they are afraid. Give them access to small, cozy places and put a blanket or shirt that you wore earlier in the day next to them, so they have your scent close. A chew toy is also a good way to keep them busy and distracted.
  4. Stay calm. If your dog is anything like mine during fireworks, she will probably pant, pace and whine. I know that if I hold Emma in my arms, it helps her calm down quicker. During this time, I’ll play white noise on the Sonos with the volume up to drown out the fireworks. This combo works best for Emma.
  5. Be sure your dog is wearing current ID tags and is microchipped in case she gets spooked and runs off unexpectedly. That way, if anyone finds her, you’ll be sure to get a call as to her location.

Hopefully, your neighbors aren’t like mine and won’t set off too many fireworks this weekend! With all the dogs living in my neighborhood, you would think they would be more considerate to those little canine ears, right?!

Do you do anything special to help your pet get through the fireworks? I’d love to hear about it.

Hope everyone has a safe and fun Memorial Day weekend!