It’s All Relative

It’s 11:00, do you know where your relatives are?

My mom was an only child. So was my dad. That doesn’t make for a lot of relatives, does it? I grew up with no aunts, uncles or cousins. My family consisted of mom, dad, two brothers, a grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side whom we saw once or twice a year… maybe… and me. No huge family reunions for our family, family weddings, baby showers, or graduation parties. Nope.

Growing up I remember family dinners once a year at my grandparents. They were stressful occasions even at my very young age. I always sat next to my mom, across from my brothers and father. My dad would stare at me and wiggle his ears when he thought no one was looking, which made me wiggle and giggle in my seat. “Mrs. Vanderbilt would be disappointed to see you giggling at the dinner table young lady”, my grandfather would admonish. “Who the heck is Mrs. Vanderbilt?” I would wonder to myself.

It turns out Mrs. Vanderbilt was the etiquette queen of the century. My grandparents followed her every word. Children were to be seen and not heard. We were not to play loudly in the house, speak only when spoken to, and obey every command. Oh, don’t forget to leave the room walking backwards so as not to turn your back on the rest of the guests.

My brothers got away with murder at these dinners. My oldest brother was the apple of their eyes. You see… my grandparents believed each family should only consist of one child. So, when the first grandchild was born they were ecstatic it was a boy to carry on the Hathaway name. They called him ‘Button’… as in ‘cute as a’. Every holiday dinner ended with Junket milk pudding as it was his favorite.

A second child came into this world a few years later. Uh oh, accidents happen they surmised, plus it was another boy so it was guaranteed the Hathaway name would continue, yippie! This brother wasn’t as favored as the first, however he looked so much like their own golden haired son they had to set their crazy feelings aside and allow him into their hearts. This is the brother who, out of boredom shot peas under the table at me with the use of his spoon.

Then the unthinkable happened… a third child came along… me! In their eyes my mother was a whore (of course their beloved son had nothing at all to do with it), and I was a good for nothing girl. Oh my! My grandparents were not pleased with my mother or me and therefore were seldom spoken to at these dinners. At the age of four I could feel the glare radiating from my grandfather’s end of the table. I am certain my father felt it also and tried to lighten the air with his wiggly ears. I was his princess and he was rescuing me from the nasty villain.

As time went on I learned it was really my grandfather who had ‘issues’. My grandmother loved us all but was not allowed to show affection or would incur her husband’s wrath. I wish I had known that before she passed away. As an adult looking back I see it so clearly. Sitting in her kitchen at the tiny enamel table in the corner (where the tiny dishes of Junket were cooling for dessert) I remember her slipping me a sideward glance and smiling.

There was no love loss between my mom and her father-in-law. My dad passed away when I was seven years old and these unbearable dinners came to an end. If I remember correctly we did go one more time, but it was so awkward and uncomfortable they were scrapped altogether.

While sifting through my mom’s papers recently after her death I ran across my grandmother’s obituary and a bunch of letters from strange people I had never heard of. I had to re-read the obituary a few times before it struck me what I was reading. Not one, but two aged newspaper clippings boiled my grandmother’s life down to two paragraphs. Both clippings clearly stated she left behind four grandchildren. Four???? Unless my old age is fooling me, the last time I counted there were only ever three of us, my two brothers and myself… three.

My parents were married on the Belmar Beach June 5, 1946, my mom’s 21st birthday. A minister (wink, wink) preformed the service. I don’t know how my dad did it, but a marriage license was never applied for, blood tests never taken, and a marriage certificate never issued. My mom was an ostrich with her head in the sand. When did she find all this out? When she applied for social security benefits after his death, after 15 years of marriage… THAT’S when she found out! Imagine her shock!

I always had the feeling there was a half sibling running around this planet somewhere. My dad was married when he met my mom. Then again, so was she. She divorced her first husband because she felt “the good lord did not intend her to be beaten up every Friday night by an alcoholic “. Apparently my dad never went through with his divorce. Now I am on the hunt for a half sibling. I calculate they should be in their mid to late sixties.

Also found in her secret paper hide out were deeds, receipts, and death certificates for her father’s side of the family. What a shock to discover mom’s father had two brothers! Every time a door would slam by itself mom would say, “Uncle Joe has come for a visit”… meaning her Uncle Joe was stopping by to crash on the sofa on his way through town. She told me she never really saw him, just heard him arrive and leave. That is the most she ever said about her uncles.

Come to find out through reading letters from someone named Marie, Joe was a Police Lieutenant in New York City and was married… to Marie. I have no clue if they had children. I continued to read more letters and stumbled upon David, mom’s other Uncle. I never heard of him. He had a son, Edward who has already passed away.

So the hunt begins. This is more than just learning about my ancestry. There are people out their sharing my DNA and I intend to find them.

Do you know all of your relatives? Are their any secrets and/or stories you don’t have all the facts of? Now’s the time to track them down. Happy hunting

What’s Cookin’?

Do you cook? I mean REALLY cook. Every night?

For the past 35 years I had been solely in charge of planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up all meals… and especially dinner. This was not an easy task for a family of five individuals. So many variables went in to making it a success. Trying to remember every food the kids liked or hated, foods within my budget, easy to cook, or at least make ahead, who would be home that night for dinner, wondering if there would be ‘extra mouths’ to feed, hoping leftovers would be good for lunch, etc.

The rule at our dinner table was, “Eat it!” I made sure each meal was tasty and healthy. One evening my son refused to eat his peas. I refused to let him leave the table until his plate was clear. He threatened to call the police because he thought I was being unusually mean. My reply was, “Go right ahead. Would you like me to dial the number for you?” I further commented, “By law I must provide you healthy meals, no where is it written you have to like it. So go ahead, call the authorities and tell them you don’t like your peas and I’m forcing you to eat them.” Needless to say he didn’t call.

Life moves on and I am no longer cooking for a family… it’s just me. The three hours between 5:00pm and 8:00pm are the longest hours in the day for me. I simply do not know what to do with myself. I have no desire to cook just for me. My routine for the past year has been to eat some cheese and crackers for dinner. However, today I decided it was time to ‘get with the program’ and make myself a yummy dinner.

I have only myself to please this weekend, so I decide to make MEATLOAF! Not only is it a favorite of mine; I can slice it up and freeze pieces for later. My mouth is drooling as I think of a meatloaf sandwich slathered with mayo and ketchup in my near future for lunch. For tonight however it will be hot from the oven, roasted potatoes on the side, topped off with a salad. Oh… and a glass of wine to complete the picture.

As I mush the ingredients together with my hands I now remember how much I loved to cook. “So THIS is what I used to do between 5 and 8,” I comment to myself. The kitchen smells heavenly. Meat, potatoes, and veggies fill the kitchen air. An hour later I hear the oven timer DING! Yea… dinner’s ready!

I plate the food, take a picture of my yummy potatoes in case I want to Facebook my cooking talent, and place it on the table. I sit down ready to dive in. My first bite is of the potatoes. The skin is roasted to perfection and seasoned with a bit of salt, pepper, and thyme. The potato bursts in my mouth, and the creamy goodness in the middle oozes down my throat. Next up, the meatloaf… eh… not my best, but good enough. In the past few years I have made AWESOME meatloaves from a recipe by America’s Test Kitchen… but those days are over… let’s just say, sad memories. Any way.. I threw the rest of the meatloaf in the trash.
I want to get excited about this meal… but I just can’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm. Hmmm… it hits me all at once why I don’t cook dinner for myself. It has nothing to do with the food, or the effort, or cleaning up. Nope… I realized I do not like to eat by myself. Eating is a social activity in my eyes. Without any one to talk to I have an option to read a book, watch TV, or look at the dogs… watching me eat. Alone. None of those options are appealing to me.

For some strange reason it doesn’t bother me at all to read or watch TV while I chow down on crackers and cheese. So I guess I will just continue my normal routine.

While providing for my family I loved the challenge of creating a balanced meal that everyone would enjoy. As the kids began to grow up and move out… and my husband became ill, the local church took over and provided our family with delicious and different dinners. Some we liked, some we didn’t.. but they were all made with love and eaten as a family at our table.

Again my life changed, and so did my eating. Once my husband passed, a daughter married, a son went to school and more… my desire to cook began to wane. Not only that, my economic situation was so strained that buying food became a luxury I could not afford. There were many nights I went to bed starving, and many weeks I ate economical eggs two meals a day. Eventually I stopped cooking altogether… and lost so much weight. Until… I met a guy… who liked food and cooking as much as I! Whoopie! We met for dinner once a week, and cooked together on the weekend trying new recipes all the time. Left overs were packed up for me to eat the rest of the week. Life was fabulous… my weight began to balloon.

Life is cruel at times, and all good things must come to an end. I am no longer with this guy. I could care less about cooking. This time however it isn’t that I cant afford it, it’s simply that I no longer have the desire. Food doesn’t excite me the way it used to… and that’s sad. I remember how my eyes would widen as flavor and texture hit my taste buds. One meal was so spectacular my partner threw his fork across the counter in pure surprise! Now… I eat because I have to. My tummy gurgles to remind me it needs fuel. I grab whatever is in the house, doesn’t need to be prepared, and can be consumed while sitting in my big comfy leather chair. Hey… look on the bright side! Maybe I will lose all this extra fat and will be able to throw my SPANX in the trash!

What are your thoughts? Do you cook for just yourself? What do you cook? What do you do when you eat? What do YOU do between 5pm and 8pm?

Wedding Dress Shopping… Woo! Hoo!

The most surprising day of my life finally occurred! Wedding dress shopping with my oldest daughter. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would have gone the way it did.

Being an active ‘tom boy’ she was never really into wearing dresses. A week before she was beginning kindergarten she fell head over heels in love with the ugliest dress I had ever seen, and INSISTED she wear it on the first day of school. It was cheap fabric, screaming turquoise and red, with white eyelet on the hem, from K-mart. No amount of bribing could persuade her from wearing that dress. I put my feelings and judgement aside reasoning that, “Hey, she has to be happy and feel good with what she’s wearing”. I could suggest other options, but the final decision was hers. So… Off to school she goes, happy as can be… while I looked on and cringed.

I waited at the end of my driveway for the huge lumbering school bus to drop my little angel back home. I had prepared a special ‘after school snack’ just for her. I watched as she carefully climbed down the bus steps, one step at a time, holding on to the hand rail, with a smile on her face. I smiled back. I waved to the bus driver as she pulled away and reached to grab my daughter’s hand. She looked up at me and said plain and clear, “You don’t have to wait for me at the end of the driveway, just give me a key and I’ll let myself in… Oh… and I’m never wearing a dress again”. All of this from a five year old!

Needless to say she held true to word and hardly ever wore a dress again. For church and Easter, and family weddings… Yes, but not for anything else. Semi-formals finally required some dress shopping, but prom time came and I made her the dress. Over the years I have helped her shop now and then for a dress for an occasion or two, but her idea of dress shopping is… “Mom, I need a dress. Can you come shopping with me please?” We go to one store, she walks in, pushes a few dresses aside on the rack, pulls one out and says, “This will look good on me.” She then goes to the dressing room, tries it on, comes out to show me… Of course it looks fabulous on her… she pays for it and we are done. The whole process lasted an hour… If that. Shopping for her wedding dress was not that much different.

My daughter is a planner. From the moment she was engaged, she already had a wedding planner up and running. She had been watching ‘Say Yes To The Dress’ for over a year and had a good idea that she wanted two dresses… a formal one for the ceremony and a tea length for the reception. Scouting the Internet she found both dresses, printed a picture of each and placed them in her planner. She continued to stalk the sites watching for a price change. Last week she noticed her tea length dress was taken off the site. Uh-Oh… That means the dress has been discontinued and you can only purchase what is left on the store racks. PANIC MODE!

“Mom, are you busy tomorrow? Do you want to go shopping for my wedding dress at 2:00 tomorrow? I already made an appointment.” Ah… YES!! She called her sister to join us.

So, here we are… The three of us… sitting in David’s Bridal Salon waiting impatiently for our consultant to haul us in some dresses for my daughter too try on. Obviously understaffed, we had to share our consultant with another bride… who was commanding more than her share of attention. However, some dresses eventually arrived and the craziness began.

First up was a white formal number with beading and a full train. As pretty as it was, I wasn’t thrilled. Next came the dress we actually came here for… the tea length dress for the reception. Just as predicted it looked great on her. A simple white strapless number with rouching, nipped at the waist with a touch of bling. Adorable! Big smile! The bride is happy! Now, on to the formal dress.

The few dresses the consultant had dropped off to try on were not stunning. We were beginning to get bored. Two hours into this appointment and we only saw three dresses. My other daughter and I decided to step up the process and hit the racks ourselves… having no idea where to begin our search, much to the displeasure of the staff.

“Ack! Look at this adorable dress!”, my younger daughter exclaimed as she held up the most perfect reception dress I had ever seen. She poked her head in between the top of the dress and the hanger so it looked like she was wearing it. “Beautiful”, I replied, “Bring it back for her to try on.” This dress was NOTHING like the dress she already decided to purchase… Nope NOTHING like it at all. As MOB (Mother of the Bride) I was as giddy as a young bride myself knowing THIS was the perfect dress.

We continued looking through the racks and pulling dresses until a few disgruntled staff members came our way to shoo us back to our seats. Apparently THEY are the only ones allowed to touch the dresses. Oops! Our appointment swiftly kicked into high gear. Hee, hee. All of a sudden our consultant was much more attentive.

Although we thought the reception dress had already been decided on… The soon to be bride’s eyes lit up when she caught sight of the dress her sister was bringing to her. She eagerly tried it on. She LOVED it! Her sister LOVED it! I LOVED it! Woo! Hoo! AND… it was on sale for 99 buckaroos! Could this have worked out any better?

Okay… Now we seriously have to look for the formal dress. My daughter knew what she was looking for, but nothing was really hitting the spot. From elegant to over the top crazy, they all looked good on her… but just were not THE ONE. Not that it mattered much, we still had plenty of time before the wedding… it’s not until June, and besides we didn’t come out today with the intent of purchasing the formal dress. Today was just ‘try on’ day.

As she stood looking at her reflection in the mirror, we asked her what was wrong with the current formal dress she had on. It was everything she asked for… strapless, rouching, formal, long train, a bit of bling. So… Why not this dress? “I don’t feel like a Princess”, she pouted.

Ahhhh… how could have I forgotten that? The wedding is to be held in the Wedding Chapel in Disney World. Of course she wants to be a Princess… but with class. It’s her special day, and she SHOULD feel like a princess. “So,” I turned to the consultant, “What can you suggest that will make her feel like a Princess?” Her blank stare quickly changed as a smile came across her face. “How do you feel about a BALL GOWN?”, she asked. My daughter lit up like the Crysler Building!

The consultant rushed off and quickly returned hauling this HUGE mass of dress behind her. As she passed me I glanced at the dress… My heart leapt! I instantly knew… even while it was still on the hanger covered in the plastic garment bag… THIS was going to be her dress. Eventhough it wasnt anything at all what my daughter dreamed her dress would look like… I still knew in my heart that it was the perfect choice. I was wiggling in my seat in anticipation of seeing her in this dress. I was not disappointed.

The door to the dressing room opened slowly as my oldest child floated… yes, floated out into the room. Now THIS was a dress that made her feel like a Princess! The look on her face said it all… THIS would be the dress she wore to marry her sailor on June 3rd. No doubt about it… This was it! And no, I didn’t cry. I was way too excited and happy to cry. That doesn’t mean I won’t blubber at the wedding, but for today I am just so happy.

While reading this story I hope you notice I revealed NOTHING about the actual dresses. I will not spoil the surprise. You will either have to come to Disney for the wedding, or wait for the posting of pictures. Let me just say… I honestly thought when this daughter married she would be barefoot on the beach, wearing a short, casual dress. How pleasantly surprised I am!

Oh… And one more thing I would like to mention. My frugal, practical, researching daughter was able to purchase TWO wedding dresses and remain UNDER  budget! She makes her mother so proud!


Getting to know you…

Do you remember the song with the words… ‘Getting to know you, getting to know all about you’? As I clean out my mom’s house that tune constantly runs through my head. You don’t really know a person until you rummage through all of their personal belongings… no matter who they are.

First, let me start by saying only a daughter (or other female) should clean out another woman’s dresser. Especially the underwear drawer! For heavens sakes… how many bras does one person need? Being a product of the depression era, my mom saved everything that ever came in the door… and I do mean everything. I didn’t count them, but I promise you I must have pulled out close to 100 bras from 3 dresser drawers! Coming from a woman who told me to… and I quote… “Just go without one” when my bra strap kept peeking out of my formal gown. ACK! MOTHER! I was sooooo embarrassed at the thought! Currently I only own 5 bras… How about you?

I understand the mentality of the older generation’s obsession with saving things… because you never know when you might need it again. Zip lock baggies get rinsed and reused, plastic food containers topple out of every cabinet, canned goods not only in the kitchen, but hall closet and basement as well. Enough paper gift bags folded inside each other to last three lifetimes, gift wrap tubes stand at attention in a tall box in a closet. Ribbon from every present ever given is rolled up and stored to be used again… even the gift tags from years of Christmas gifts. I get it. A single woman living in a three bedroom ranch with an unfinished attic and basement which runs the length of the house has plenty of space to hoard things… but hundreds of empty tubes of Fix-O-Dent? Really? I am stumped to think of a reason to save those.

The empty tubes are every where! I have found Zip Lock bags in dresser drawers with about 10 tubes neatly tucked inside each bag. A bedside table held a few dozen more… along with her desk drawers. In the living room she squirreled them away in the end tables, and in the dining room I found them in the china cabinet. I have nightmares of being smothered by empty Fix-O-Dent tubes… (just kidding). My mind is running wild trying to figure out what she was thinking.

Mom was persnickety about her dentures. When ever she was hospitalized, needed surgery, or had an exploratory procedure I was in charge of her dentures. My marching orders were to hold on to them in a special bag, and make sure I was the very first visitor in the recovery room to see her so she could put her dentures in as soon as humanly possible. She felt naked and exposed without them. One time, after a simple exploratory procedure the recovery nurse wouldn’t permit mom to have them until she passed a few tests. “Wiggle your right foot”, the nurse instructed. Mom wiggled her right foot. The assessment continued. Mom wasn’t happy. The nurse finally instructed her to raise her left hand. Mom did as she was asked… but with her middle finger extended! The nurse then allowed her to have her dentures.

So… Knowing how important her dentures were to her, I can understand how running out of ‘tooth glue’, as she affectionately called the pink stuff in the tube, would be upsetting. I guess she thought she could always cut the tubes open and scrape out what she could until she had enough; but HUNDREDS of tubes? Huh? Knowing my mom the way I did, I really think she just couldn’t figure out if she should throw them out in the trash can, or recycle bin… so she kept them instead… for me to deal with. I trashed them.

I am sure you have heard the saying… ‘Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes’. My new saying on the same order is, ‘You don’t really know a person until you’ve cleaned out their dresser drawers’. So… What’s lurking in your drawers that others might find strange? If the answer is NOTHING… Perhaps you should throw a little spice into someone’s life and hide some off the wall item. You will certainly get the last laugh!

Estate Settling

I am sad to report I am becoming an expert at settling estates in New Jersey. Our state is one of the ‘lucky’ few which not only has an Estate Tax, but an Inheritance Tax as well. So far I have not had to deal with these taxes head to head… but I am sure many of you will. I urge ALL of you to take a deep breath and start asking yourself and your family members the tough questions no one seems to want to talk about.

I was fortunate enough to have had many open conversations with my husband and mother before they passed about their wishes. Which was so helpful to me in planning their services and carrying out their wills. For example… From the moment I realized my mom had passed, I had only an hour to decide which funeral home to contact to pick up her remains. Had I not had that conversation with her just a month before I would have been totally clueless. As it turned out, mom was torn between two different funeral homes, but made her final decision known to me just weeks prior. Which made my life a lot simpler when a dear friend of my mom’s suggested I used the wrong one. According to her, mom wanted a different funeral home to be used. I panicked for a slight second until I returned to my senses and asked when that conversation took place. Ah… Over a year ago. I clearly made the correct decision. Phew!

So many other things like that pop up… but I still have my mom guiding me. While cleaning out her desk so I could pay her bills I came across a small spiral notebook. The first page read… Dear Deb. She began, but did not finish, a letter explaining the items in the house and how she would like them to be distributed.

Mom has been known to start things like this, then not finish (apple didn’t fall far from the tree here), but I am certain as I go through the rest of her things I will continue to find more notes like this with more direction. In as much as my brothers and I get along… and we know there will be no squabbling between us… I am happy mom left me some directions.

If mom hadn’t mentioned to me she wanted donations made to a particular organization as opposed to flowers at her funeral… How else would I have known?

She loved her car, Suzy. Nothing was ever written on what was to happen to it upon her death. Many times mom verbally mentioned she wanted my son Scott to have it. A few times she mentioned it should maybe go to my nephew, Tim… however he wasn’t living in the United States at the time. Again I heard her mention Scott should get the car. When she passed I was a little confused as to who it should go to… Tim had moved back to the US. During mom’s service however, many of her friends introduced themselves to my family and upon meeting Scott said, “Oh, you are the grandson she left the car too. You know she loved that car.” Phew… another bullet dodged, I made the right choice. Because of NJ Inheritance Tax laws, Scott will have to pay a tax, however nothing is in writing on who gets the car, and as a daughter I don’t have to pay Inheritance Tax… so most likely the car will be put in my name. No matter what… It will be included in the Estate Tax.

So… What are you planning to do this week? Nothing much? Might I suggest making things easier for those you will leave behind in this world and start making a list of your wishes? It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, nor does it have to be done with a lawyer. A simple note put in your fire proof box (along with a copy of your will, living will, insurance policies, plot deeds, house deed, car title/s, and other important papers) … And tell everyone it is there!

Trust me… What you do now will make things so much easier for your loved ones when you are gone. They will love you even more knowing they are doing what you wanted.