Day Thirty-Seven – My Christmas Carol

So I didn’t know my friend, Carol, in high school at all. Our paths – as far as I know – never crossed. I don’t recall seeing her at any of our many reunions. (And if you are a DC girl, you know how we love both our regular and mini-reunions. Because we can’t wait 5 years after a reunion to see each other again). The first time I saw her was at one of her mini-reunions at the great Brendan’s restaurant near Penn Station (which always serves great food and always lets us stay as long as we like to gossip and gab and reminisce). She introduced herself to me and we sat across from each other at the table for brunch.

We started seeing each other more often as we did these reunions and then spent a lot of time together at the last big reunion. We began keeping in touch on a more regular basis and, at least for me, I found a true kindred spirit in Carol. She is a great and devoted wife, mother and grandmother and knows that what matters most is family. She is a hard worker and loyal to a fault. She offers advice when asked, comfort when needed, conversation when you just have to talk it out and an ability to get to (as the great Don Henley sings) the heart of the matter.

Over the last few years we’ve started taking road trips a few times a year down to our favorite beach, Point Pleasant, and starting our day there at the great Plethora Boutique I wrote about recently (and where we are always greeted like long-lost family members). We then head back towards the beach and hit up all the local businesses on the main drag ranging from antique furniture stores, to consignment shops, to boutiques that carry candles and clothes and jewelry and lotions and potions galore. We end up at the spectacular Prime 13 restaurant where we have to book a reservation months in advance to get into this tiny dining gem to savor what may be the best steak dinner I’ve ever had.

When I was dragged into someone else’s unhappiness a few years ago, Carol was the first person to come to my defense and stand up for me. When I struggled with something last year, Carol was the person who rallied people to support me. When Christmas was sneaking up on me and all I wanted to do was avoid it, she was my personal Christmas Carol. When I need to bounce an idea off someone, she is my go to person. When I want to vent about something, whether great or totally inane, she listens and commiserates. If any of our DC girls needed anything, she’d be the person who would be first in line to help. Her heart is (as Buddy the Elf would say) ginormous, her compassion endless, her loyalty unwavering.

I have been blessed many times over with more love and friendships than I could hope for. But I have been truly blessed to have Carol in my life. I don’t know if I can ever thank her enough for what she has given to and done for me but I hope this little blog will be a good start. She is more than just my friend. She is a part of my family, forever.

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Day Thirty-Six – The DC Girls

So I was blessed to be part of a graduating class at the late, great Dominican Commercial High School in Jamaica, an all-girls school led by both nuns and lay teachers. We were a class of about 225 or so and many of us have kept in touch throughout these many years since we graduated.

I know there are many people for whom high school was not a happy time. The experience of high school was not necessarily happy for me but the camaraderie and friendships were what made it memorable. When you go to a school, your future friends are selected by chance as the class you end up in is determined by the faculty and administrators. Somehow those women making those decisions did right by me, and many of my classmates too (I suspect), with the decisions they made.

Many people I met when I was 14 in my very first class at DC I am still friends with. I’ve already spoken about Mary and Beans and Karen and Janice and Helen in other blogs and all four were part of that class. My friend, Jeanine, was even back at 14 so smart and intelligent that it was beyond impressive and today’s she a renowned travel author. My dear friends, Maria and Dolores, have been each other’s best friends since high school and, when we had a mini-reunion I had set up a few years ago, brought me a lovely gift to thank me for scheduling it. My buddies, Evie and Lisa, hopped in the car caravan and surprised me at my 60th birthday party.

My friend, Toni, welcomed my great kid and me into her home one Thanksgiving years ago when we had no one to spend it with. My great pal, Maria, who we could not locate for over 40 years literally moved me to tears when we saw each other again at our last reunion and I realized her inner beauty and strength had not changed one bit since I had last seen her. My friend, Nancy, is the sunniest person I have ever known and met her husband when he was the tour bus guide on our junior class trip to Washington DC.

My buddy, Joanne, who I nominated for Cheerleader of the Week in the New York Daily News (she won, by the way!) has raised not only her children but her wonderful grandchild as well. My other buddy, Joanne, along with her husband does fantastic missionary work every year all around the globe. My darling Patrice, adores and is adored by her husband and children and makes me want to live my life as well as she does.

Our class President, Maggie (otherwise called the Artist Formerly Known As Peggy), is a ball of energy and never fails to single out my blogs or give me a shout-out on something I’ve said or written. My friend, Jane, just retired last year after a 40+ years career in the federal government and never forgets my birthday. My buddy from my old neighborhood, Ilse, has proven to be such a strong warrior woman.

My dear Maryellen makes me smile with everything she posts and I am overwhelmed by the support that darling Denise gives me on everything I write about. Because we didn’t share any classes together in high school, I wasn’t friends with either of them way back then but I am so glad that I am now. Letty and I didn’t know each other either but we have learned so much about each other because our sons are so similar and it’s nice to have another mother to talk to. Cathy is as strong and resilient a person as you could hope to know and someone I would always want to be on my side.

All of these women who were randomly placed in my orbit for 4 wonderful years have molded me into the woman, mother, daughter, sister, friend and writer I am today. Every person leaves their mark on you and, if you’re lucky, you are surrounded by people whose very presence makes you elevate your game to meet their standards. I hope I have and I hope I always will.

 

 

 

 

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Day Thirty-Five – The Lady From WaWa

So for those of you who don’t know what WaWa is (because I’m pretty sure it’s a regional thing), it’s one of those great stores where you can buy just about anything you want to eat or drink. It’s always packed full of people and their baked potato soup is my go-to staple on a cold winter night.

And it’s the last stop my great kid always makes before he hops on the New Jersey Turnpike to begin his long trek back to college at the end of both summer vacation and winter break. He stocks the little cooler in his car with sandwiches and fruit and water and beef jerky and heads off on his cross-county journey.

There’s a wonderful woman who works there and, as people do when you’re waiting on line, she and I inevitably chat when I’m there. She knows enough about my son to know where he goes to school, when he’s coming home, how he’s doing in class. And what mother doesn’t want to share her proud stories of her child with someone who seems genuinely interested? This kind woman is just a ray of sunshine that I get to spend a few minutes with before I start my day.

Goodbyes are never easy for me. The finality of the moment is crushing for me and invariably accompanied by much weeping. I usually try to say my goodbyes to my great kid in the privacy of our little nest here so my puffy eyes and tear-streaked face aren’t on public display. But last summer we decided to head to WaWa together, he to buy his rations for the trip and me to get something for breakfast. I waited outside while he finished paying and he told the woman from WaWa that he was leaving that day and said goodbye to her.

He came out and we said our goodbyes too. He is so much braver and better at these things than I am, maybe because he’s going off on an adventure and I’m going home to get used to the experience of being on my own again. I watched him drive away and as I was getting myself together to get in the car and go to work, I looked through the window into WaWa and the lovely woman who I talked to so much about him was crying too.

She came out of the store and hugged me and told me that I should be proud of my son because she could tell by how he acted that he was good and kind and respectful and smart. And with those words and with that hug, she gave me such a gift. The gift of reminding me that, despite the obstacles my son has had to deal with through no fault of his own, he has come out the other side a good person and that I should take pride in knowing I had something to do with that. And she also reminded me that when you teach your child to have wings, you should rejoice when they fly away.

So, once again, God placed the right person in my path when I needed someone to comfort me. I will always be grateful for the kindness this angel showed me. She made my bad day just a wee bit better.

 

 

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Days Thirty-Three and Thirty-Four – Aimee and Sheena

So a whole bunch of years ago, my darling Dad, my great kid and I were down at Point Pleasant strolling the boardwalk on an early autumn Sunday afternoon. There was a crafts fair on the boardwalk and I left my Dad and my son at the arcade and I browsed the tables. I came across a table with the most glorious scented candles I have ever experienced. I picked a few and chatted with the talented woman who made these candles and learned about her process. The scents were heavenly and I bought a few and asked how I could buy more in the future. She gave me a card showing all the crafts fairs she’d be displaying at through the winter and, a few months later, I headed back down to Point Pleasant and its local high school’s craft fair. I reintroduced myself and bought even more candles and asked if she sold at retail. She did, she told me, and gave me the name of a boutique just a short drive away: Plethora.

And that was my how my love affair with this spectacular boutique and its two kick ass owners, Aimee and Sheena, began. Their store, the epitome of a local business that knows customer service like no other retailer I’ve ever frequented, carries a multitude of things you don’t know you need until you see them. Fashion, candles, jewelry, handbags, photography, cards, glassware, baby clothes and more things than I can even recall. When Point Pleasant is our destination, my Mom and I (and my great friend, Carol, when she and I do our every-few-months-trek to Point Pleasant for a day of shopping, a great meal and even better conversation) always make Plethora our first stop.

When my sister came with us one day, Aimee and Sheena found her a one-of-a-kind dress she wore to a wedding that still stands out as a knockout of an outfit. My Mom must have 20 of their multi-dimensional scarves and actually carries their business cards with her to give out because so many people stop my Mom and ask her where she got the scarves. When my Mom was getting out of the hospital a few years ago, they had a gift for her the next time we visited. And they always give us a discount for no other reason than “just because”. I know that we are not the only people they treat this way because it’s in their DNA to be kind and cheerful and compassionate and giving.

When I need a gift, big or small, for my friends or family, Plethora is where I head and Aimee and Sheena are who I look to because they know what their customers like, they never try to push us into buying something that’s not right and they treat us like friends, instead of casual customers. I’ve gifted so many people with things I’ve bought there over the years and, as a local business, they so appreciate their customers. It’s always a privilege to support a business that gives back as much as they do. They often hold fundraisers where they donate a portion of their sales to various charities or events throughout the Jersey Shore. If I spot an item I’d like on their Facebook page (please check it out and I know you’ll fall in love with them too), I can send them a note and ask them to hold it for me and even if it’s months before I get back there, they’ve got it stored away for me. They are strong, beautiful and successful entrepreneurs and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be their customer.

I’m so glad that all those years ago I let my Dad convince me to go to Point Pleasant on a Sunday afternoon where I stumbled across the crafts fair on the boardwalk and bought a candle that led me to the high school fundraiser which pointed me towards Plethora and Aimee and Sheena. They have been so kind to my family, my friend, Carol, and me and I love them to pieces. If you are ever down that way, please patronize their store. I can promise you that you will be happy that you did.

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Day Thirty-Two – Tom

So when I lived my corporate life, well before my great kid was born, I worked so much overtime each week and took so many taxis home from work at 11:00 pm that I didn’t know if I was coming or going. Of course I was 100 years younger than I am now with lots more energy and a youthful belief that hard work, commitment and dedication to one’s job always counted for something. I had been in the same position for a few years during a troubled time when the senior person overseeing our department was very ill and the person who reported to him was carrying on inappropriately with a staff member. A hotshot person in the company was brought in to raise the flagging morale of the staff and to shake things up and get things back on track.

After a few months on the job, this hotshot asked me to consider switching to a different position to try to rebrand, energize and breathe some life back into a division that had come under scrutiny for a number of unfortunate decisions. I accepted, albeit reluctantly, but felt with a little time and patience I could master the new job. I learned quickly that my confidence was probably overstated.

Within days I felt overwhelmed. Not so much from the challenge but because the learning curve on the project seemed insurmountable. I was out of my element. I was ready to go back to the hotshot and tell him he’d made a mistake picking me. But the night before I was going to do that, I called my work mentor, my dearest friend, my consigliere and poured my heart out to him. I’m in over my head, I told him. I feel like I’m never going to get it, I cried. I’m a failure before I begin, I said.

This man who was a role model for me as to what a good and kind and caring man should be counseled me and basically said “You’ve got this”. He told me he would be by my side as I navigated these unfamiliar waters and wouldn’t let me sink. His very words, his confidence in me, his belief in my abilities to not only learn but excel at the new job were like a life-preserver thrown to me. I was renewed with the knowledge that I could handle the new job.

And I did. I managed in about 2 years to turn the situation around and right the ship. The mistakes that had been made were corrected, the staff I was able to assemble was top-notch, the hotshot gave me free rein to lead the team in the right direction. Not only was it the most confidence-building experience of my life, I ended up winning a Presidential award that year for what had been accomplished.

One of the things my mother always instilled in me from the time I was young was that when someone gives you something or does a kindness for you that you write that person a thank you note. So after I won this award I wrote the President of the company a thank you note for acknowledging my work, and my team’s work. But I made sure in that note to single out my friend, my mentor, my hero, Tom Packert. Because I could not have taken a single step nor succeeded in any way if he had not been there with me.

To this day, next to my darling Dad he is the finest man I have ever known. Although we have both moved on to different chapters in our lives, I carry the gift of his friendship in my heart every day. Thank you, Mr. Packert. You are the best and always will be.

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Day Thirty-One – Eileen

So my high school friend Eileen Dolan is the type of woman who is a success at everything she does. She is a Mary Kay┬árepresentative extraordinaire (just ask her how many pink Cadillacs she’s received for her outstanding sales with them) and is also an outstanding nurse, ready to offer suggestions or advice when one of her friends is sick or struggling or has a family member receiving medical care. She has been on missionary missions to help those less fortunate than herself and knows that you are blessed when you give more than you receive.

Whenever we have one of our frequent high school lunches, she comes with little goodie bags for all of us, stuffed with makeup and skin care samples for us to try. At the annual fundraising event in memory of Jenn Esposito, the daughter of one of my other classmates, she always makes a donation of a basket of Mary Kay products to raffle off and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Jenn’s name. She makes no attempt to call attention to what she does but I am making sure that the world knows the goodness in her heart and the compassion in her soul.

I have a very short but deeply moving story about Eileen that demonstrates how kind a person she is. A few years ago I had ordered a Mary Kay gift card from Eileen to give to my Mom for Christmas. (My Mom has used Mary Kay skin care products for over 40 years and, if you’ve seen my mother, you’ll know how beautiful her skin is which she totally credits to Mary Kay). Eileen sent it off, I gave it to my Mom and she was thrilled. End of story.

Except it’s not. I forgot to pay Eileen for the card and then I fell on some difficult times and coming up with the money to pay her for the card became tough. She never nagged me about it even once and honored the git card when my mother redeemed it with her to order some more Mary Kay products. And when I finally was able to pay her for it many months later, she brushed off my apologies and said it was not a big deal at all. But it was for me because she was the epitome of kindness and grace and friendship and loyalty to me. I will never, ever forget that. She is the kind of person we all should have on our side.

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Day Thirty – Eric the Great

So it’s not often you can say that someone changes your life but Eric Wolff changed mine. After my darling Dad died and as my great kid was getting ready to head off to college, I really was at loose ends. I had left my job a few years prior to take care of my parents and to spend more time with my son before he left for his own experiences. I didn’t want, nor could I convince myself, to go back to the 9:00 to 5:00 corporate life with its long commutes and warring factions and lack of appreciation for the value that long-time employees bring to a company. I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what.

I have always written and found it both relaxing and energizing. I’d had some minor success in school with writing poems and essays and a few years ago was lucky enough to win a writing contest which was a big thrill (because I’m not one of those people who will tell you that it’s an honor just to be nominated!) About 7 years ago I decided to start this little blog which so many of you are kind enough to read and share and provide feedback and encouragement and support, all of which I am ever so grateful for. I enjoyed the writing process even more than I had previously so I started looking for freelance writing jobs, mostly ones that could be done virtually because my creative juices seem to get cranked up best when I’m in my little mini-office here at home.

And after applying to many (I’m not kidding; over 100) writing jobs, I was contacted by Eric Wolff, who had a tremendous biography and was looking to launch a website dedicated to making complex financial things more simple so that people could read, understand, be educated and not intimidated by techno-babble. He was looking for someone to write a female-centric blog 3 days a week and I sent him a few writing samples and after chatting a few times, he offered me the gig. That’s how my blog (Kids, Men and Money – Looking at Life’s Financial Complications) was born on his website, PrimeRates.com. I focused on what I knew best: how to manage your own financial situation while dealing with aging parents and children headed off to college and still keep your sanity.

There was never a lack of topics to cover and any time I asked my friends for suggestions, they were always willing to lend a hand and provide great topics for me to write about. Eric was the perfect editor. As he liked to say, he didn’t edit so much as curate articles and it was seldom when I needed to change anything I had submitted to the site.

After a few months, he asked me if I’d start writing about celebrities and their financial issues. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) those were the days of Charlie Sheen being on television telling us he was “winning!” every chance he got, so there was plenty of stuff and more than enough people to write about. One highlight (or lowlight depending on your perspective) was when I received any angry e-mail one Friday night from Wayne Newton’s publicist about an article I had written about his latest bankruptcy. Eric stood by me 100% and told me not to worry and that he’d handle it. And he did.

He also encouraged me to write about the good that celebrities can accomplish with their financial clout and the article I wrote about the great Danny Thomas and his daughter, Marlo Thomas, and the outstanding work the entire Thomas family has done for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was the most viewed article I had written, a fact I am still enormously proud of.

A few months after that, Eric asked me if I’d like to cover the Presidential debates of the 2012 election. I make no pretense about my political leanings but it was a true learning experience to try to be an impartial observer and write based on the narrative as opposed to assuming my candidate of choice (the sorely missed President Obama) had the only right position. I hope I was able to impart some good information and present what Fox News would call a fair and balanced story.

Sadly, as many start-up websites do, PrimeRates was shuttered a few years ago. I’m sorry it didn’t survive because there were so many sharp and talented writers contributing to the site. I miss the writing, the research, the feedback, the reader comments, the thrill of seeing my name on the byline. But mostly I’m grateful for the opportunity Eric provided me, the belief he had in me, the platform he gave me. He was the first person to ever hire me professionally as a writer and, to this day, I miss writing for him more than I can say. Thank you, Mr. Wolff, for taking a chance on an untested writer. Your confidence in me made me a better writer, which made me a better person. I will always be grateful to you.

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