If you had asked me about ten years ago if I was a retail shopper I might have answered “Well, of course my dear, who isn’t.” Today my answer is…”me, that’s who.”
I wanted to pen this before the holidays to show off my “put an X through retail shopping prowess,” but I was too busy shopping off label, and on label, whichever was cheaper. So, in order to help you refresh your wary credit cards for your 2020 back into budget promise, take these bits from a shopping addict to heart: It doesn’t have to be this way, I promise. You won’t need a New Year, new decade intervention, and you won’t feel like you need one, if you lead yourself into healthier shopping waters.
HOHOHO MEANS NO-NO-NO
Yeah, I’m with you…emotional, pretty purchases are the jam. I love them too. It’s okay to get sucked in if the credit card vacuum has a coupon attached to it. Black Friday deals have now collaborated with Cyber Monday festivities, parlayed into yes, now Green Monday deals.
Holiday means volumes and volumes of purchases for retailers so they can afford to take one for the team. And, take advantage of that. I did all my shopping online, and the best deals are there. Do not shop anyone who isn’t offering something for something. Everyone is competing for your business, so be choosy. See who has what on their Santa list, and go to the website. From November to Dec, 24, deals abound.
The kicker? Black Friday, Cyber Monday and this new shit, Green Monday may have very delicious names, but deals are there until Dec 24, so don’t rush it. Be careful and find the most solvent pathway. I bought NOTHING without a freebie or discount, and I mean nothing. And, unless a store is offering kick-ass mall deals (like Fabletics…how I love you…www.fabletics.com) stay away from the stress and bustle and hot chocolate from Godiva that will incite delirious passion purchases. It’s fun and the rush is ubiquitously pleasing, but when you get home you will crash from the purchase high. NOT worth it.
STAY ON LABEL and OFF GUILT
Year round, “designer” or on label retailers have outlet sites sometimes tagged to their website…take advantage. Whether you want to believe it or not, January-March are those friends you would rather not have hanging around when you are on a diet…they order disco fries and you order a salad at the diner. They are the depressing winter doldrums that never die until the crocuses bloom…but shocker…it’s still winter! You still need winter clothes, and your kid needs long sleeves and snow boots. Or, if you are planning a winter get away, look at last year’s overstock. Yeah, nobody cares.
The best websites for outlet or sale shopping that continue through the current season:
Gap - Although sometimes a boring mainstay, Gap has been tried and true for casual, almost disposable, classic wear for years. I am not a Gap girl, but so many things for my kids are, because the sales can be crazy. If you shop online, you will get an extra percentage off, and when you see what you save at check out, it’s really insane.
Best for: Kids coats, outerwear, pjs and every day “I don’t care wear.”
Gap Factory - Yup, an even cheaper, more frugal sister to it’s bigger website, if you don’t care about this year, last year, you will score big here. Remember, kids get bigger and look good in anything cute. Take advantage and save the big purchases for yourself…hopefully you aren’t getting any bigger.
Best for: anything overstocked, out of season, or last year. Yep…flip sequins, too.
J. Crew Factory - Ok, here is the kids fancy clothes motherload. I am NOT a J Crew girl at all. BOOOORING. I often wonder how pedal pushers and flats could be considered sexy, and I still don’t get it. But, If Marilyn Monroe slept with all the Kennedy’s in her capris (they may have been off at the time), maybe there is something to it. However, I will shop here for my younger kids. A 300.00 searsucker suit cost me 67.00 last year for Gianmarco’s kindergarten graduation. They have great graphic ts, and leftover shorts, and jeans that carried me through summer vacation. Classic chinos, dress shirts, ties are all here. Caviat: sometimes the stock is a little low, and they do tend to run narrow without a lot of give, but keeping that in mind, you should hit a few jackpot deals. And yeah, if you like chinos and ruffles, adults can do that here, too.
Ralph Lauren Sale - Yes, that’s right, stuffy, classic Ralph has it all going on. Make sure it’s the sale link, and sometimes you will get a sale on sale, and the bargains can be great! The best thing about Polo, is my boys, especially have been wearing it for dressy occasions since birth, because it never really goes out of style, and what kid doesn’t need a pony on his chest for Christmas dinner. I have never failed here, and they ship quickly.
Best for: Very classic, polo clothing, shirts, sweatshirts, jeans and sometimes shoes.
Under Armour Outlet - For the boys, some girl stuff, but the sports enthusiast will love the sale game they play here. Shoot for the stars, and the hoops, and you will walk off the court with the seven point winner. Oh yes, men and women will be sprinting down the track to grab grown up deals, too. Even sneakers and work out gear.
Best for : Under armour kids “sets”, sweatshirts, sneakers.
shoes.com - They have really dug their heels in, but this been around the block a few times site does offer the best deals and always with a coupon on top of it. Sometimes their models may be a little long in the tooth, but classics like UGGS, crocs and tons of sneakers are always discounted.
Best for: shoes that don’t need the latest style to be recognized as adorable or pretty or fashion forward. Good selection of name and cheaper brands. Really good for UGGS, although they usually do not discount them on top of the coupon. Who cares snow boots, girls boots, sandals and things that may not have a “name”, but you will save a ton.
Caveat: Unless you go to overnight shipping, they are VERY SLOW. I noticed that sometimes the shoes may come from a third party vendor and not the warehouse.
Ugg Closet - The trick to ugg closet, is just like a kid’s messy closet, you only open and close it a few times a year. But, when it’s open and clean, my God, you start cursing out the retailers who dare to sell this stuff at the gauged prices they do. However, you have to keep your eye open for it. Definitely around the holidays, and the stock can be a bit random, if you find something you have been looking for, it’s well worth it. www.ugg.com/sale can get you a few comfy bargains, but when you see the closet come up in your email, charge like a Pamplona bull. Register for emails on the UGG site, and you will get notices.
Andrew Marc - Holy mother of coats…my favorite. If I could find Andrew Marc, whoever he is, I think I would make out with him. I have purchased over the years the most beautiful, trendy, incredibly put together outerwear I have ever owned, and his sales are in sane! It’s a good time of year now for great discounts…like amazing discounts, but he keeps it going all year long. We tend to forget in July that in four months, we will need a winter coat, but Andrew is just the best, and he knows you will.
Best for: Women’s outerwear.
I used to google website coupons every time I purchased something. Now, I have my new friends, tried and true, never let me down, and who always know when I’m in need of a break. Actually, they anticipate my every buying move, and are there, faithfully every time…words unnecessary. If you download these sites onto your browser, they will automatically search for coupons while you are on the website. Rakuten and Honey will make money for you! So will that cute little Piggy. And, guess what, they pick up the tab and never ask for anything back…ever. Friends with benefits. Free benefits.
Rakuten - Rakuten is the most amazing thing besides a free pair of Sam Edelman heels in the world. Cash back with EVERY PURCHASE on EVERY WEBSITE, and, I am living proof. I get checks back just for shopping. It takes a few months, but “money for nothing and your checks for free” should be their motto. If you don’t download this, you are just retail DUMB. Seriously. Nothing to do. One download, and everywhere you shop it just pops up. AMAZING.
Honey - Another sweet move I can’t live without. I lick my lips every time I get honey points and turn them into gift cards. My last reward was 100.00 at Sephora…yeah, just for shopping everywhere. Honey, when downloaded also automatically searches for coupons for that site, and the retailers must feel the sting, because honey will find a coupon when no one else can. Just check out, and honey will search. Honey saves your honey points and spins them into honey gold so you rack up points FOR FREE and accumulate gift cards. Every website…every time.
Cently - Cently is this cute little dachshund icon that searches for coupons when he’s downloaded. Just like honey, he searches for specific website codes, but no money back. But hey, a coupon is money back.
Piggy - I guess the cute animal theme works well with coupon retailers. From Cently to Piggy, these well behaved little creatures are like truffle hunters, always looking for the best deals. And piggy does that, with cashback too. Download onto your browser and Piggy appears like a faithful piggy pet to save you money.
Remember Sy Simms? “An educated consumer is our best customer?” Get educated and know prices so you know your deal is good, and being educated always takes time, a few lessons, but after you get the hang of it you will spit on retail.
PART TWO: The best places to shop for what, and who thinks they are too hot to participate in the coupon game. Also, how to outsmart expensive, no coupon clothes retailers who don’t know about their cheaper understudies. Coming soon!
Ramen Noodle Chicken Dump Recipe
Thank God is right…this is so simple, and the ramen lovers in your house will be thanking Confucius. It’s very cheap to make, and the time it takes is even cheaper.
One little hint, though. I would use more milk (like ½ cup more), and more cream cheese. I noticed my noodles got a little dry during the cooking process. Watch the chicken too, so it’s not too dry, as you are already using a cooked bird to start. But, if you step up the milk and the cream cheese, it should be ok.
A real cheap dump…every mother’s dream. LOL
Did I ever tell you about the time I pulled out all my lashes because my arm slipped off the sink while I was curling them?
Actually my husband, Al the ophthalmologist, could tell you better how that afternoon went. Another blog post.
In any event, it started my love affair with lash extensions. I am a faithful lash extension wife. Every week without fail we come together as one with my technician, Angela, who speaks very little English, but with her cutest, most delectable Korean accent, tells me every week, for the good and bad of it, “ooooo, Linda, very dry. Ooooo, Linda, too much make up. OOOO, Linda, lashes stuck. OR. Oooo, Linda, very beautiful…..oooo, Linda very easy today.” But, after my hour of someone actually making me shut my eyes and lie still, I emerge like a four year old girl with perfectly symmetric, dark lashes. No mascara, no clumps, and curled like a black Cheeto.
I do not believe in any lash serum developer. I have had this conversation with Al many times, and I stick with my weekly investment. However, as the week goes on, my left eye, especially, can’t seem to hold its own, and the lashes can droop or twist, probably because of the way I sleep or facial soap I use. I usually wear no eye make up, or maybe just a touch, because it detracts from the beauty of the eye falsies.
But, the lash heavens opened, and I discovered two products I so adore to keep up the look, and strengthen the bond, literally between my shorties and my falsies. Enter: Beauty Garde.
So far, I have tried the mascara and the primer, and LOOOOOOVE them. My lashes look like I just got them done. Angela will be so proud…”Oooooo Linda, very nice lash today. No stick.” There is a primer as well.
I am on to the eyeliner, possibly…will let you know.
But, invest in extensions, and if you already have, invest in Beauty Garde and wear those falsies with pride!!!
Every October, we are made vividly aware that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The pink push for mammography quadruples, and the stories of smiling, shield wielding survivors donning pink ribboned paraphernalia decorate social media, TV and billboards throughout the country just like condos popping up on any piece of vacant land in Edgewater, NJ.
But, do we talk about those who didn’t survive? Maybe it’s a harsh reality, but it is certainly a scare booster to get screened. Candy coating the devastating truth that breast cancer can turn you into a mere mortal should be as much of a call to order as survival rates. Granted my mother’s journey started in the early 90s, and we have progressed into another universe as far as detection and treatment, but the fact remains, it’s not all about pink cupcakes and running marathons.
My experience with breast cancer is not a gleeful story of hope and survivorship. It’s a photo album of memories that were cut off when I lost my mother at 28, right after the birth of my first child. Most people think they will live forever, and I am sure my mother did not expect to die, or leave us at 62, but that was her destiny… thank you breast cancer.
I remember her early diagnosis around 55. She had a baseline mammogram that did not detect anything. It was a routine OBGYN exam right after that when her dr., Dr. Richard Levine at what was then Columbia Presbyterian, finished a breast exam, and walked over to the sink to wash his hands. At that moment he turned to her and said, “I need to re-examine you. Something isn’t right.” And, he did, and there was the lump. Later to be identified as a very aggressive malignancy. That moment from God gave my mother another five years with me.
She was baked with radiation and infused with chemo. She lost her beautiful hair…a woman so radiant and fashionista of her time. She was sick and nauseous, battled fevers and infection, but determined to live. She clutched on to the Blessed Mother as her go-to girl, and as she lived healthy, never missed Mass, said her Rosary, and gave her sacrifice of health to the Lord. In return, the Blessed Mother granted her faithful follower health and curly hair during remission. We were doing okay, until the five-year mark hit.
She tried to keep the discovery from me. I was very pregnant with Devin and she was so focused on the arrival of her grandchild, that she put so much effort into masking the reality for me. She told me there was a lump on her lung, which, in the end was a mets to the lung from the breast. Not good.
This time she opted for more heroic, experimental treatment at St. Vincent’s Hospital, where oddly enough my future husband was on staff, under the watch of Dr. William Grace. She loved him and more importantly, trusted him. He coupled up with Dr. Niculae Ciobanu, a hematologist aptly from Transylvania, Romania to execute a new treatment called stem cell. In a nutshell, stem cell extracts stem cells, or fresh cells from your body, and harvests them to recirculate. While all that is going on, your body’s immune system is brought to ground zero, almost death. During that period, stem cells are injected into your body in the hopes they will regenerate and destroy the cancer. And, they did just that. She was cancer free. But somebody didn’t take into account that she had rheumatic heart from childhood, and these harsh drugs are cardio toxic. An avid walker, aerobic participant, diet watcher, non-smoker was no match for these chemicals. She died after falling into a drug induced coma on January 31, 1996.
I was always told to pray to St. Scholastica for snow, because according to her name, she was the patron saint of weather and school closings. I think that’s a big fib, but in any event, she sent the Blizzard of ’96 exactly on the day of Devin’s baptism before she entered the hospital. Her last event.
My heart is in my colon about to escape like a huge hemorrhoid when I go for my yearly mammogram. But I go. I go for my family, because being without my mother and not being able to ever give my kids my mother is the most heartbreaking thing I am reminded of, every day.
So yes, let us support and celebrate the beautiful survivors who are here with us today thanks to the sacrifice and brilliant minds of doctors and scientists who have devoted their lives and talents to a cure. Their hard work is not in vein, especially with so many treatments and earlier detection and technology not even scratching the surface 30 years ago.
But, let’s remember those who tried, but did not make it. Get screened to live, and become a survivor. Early detection makes all the difference, and the choices to aid in that survival are bountiful.
Ok, have a pink cupcake, wear the ribbon, and run the 5k.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, for those of us who love our kitchen, it’s back to school, and that means back to regimen and the age-old question: “What’s for dinner?” Listen, even with my love affair with my pots and olive oil, I find the question itchingly irritating every time it comes up. It evokes the same irritation as “Mom, by tomorrow I need…” and “Can I have money for…”
Every season I struggle with bringing life, enjoyment and appreciation to fall cooking. I find fall depressing because as a true Cancerian, there should be no other freaking season but summer, OK? Messy buns and my grill…we hold hands in a summer romance from May to Labor Day. But, like a typical summer fling, it dries up with the leaves, cooler weather and pumpkin lattes. Bah Humbug until Thanksgiving.
This week marked the second full week of school and everything else, so I wanted to share a recipe or two that was not so bad and might help ease you back to weeknight meals.
If you want to destress yourself before you start stressing about dinner, always remember that something that can be made ahead, has few ingredients or can be made quickly is your best friend.
Last night, I did this, minus the bread bowls:
Easy, quick, and very yummy. Well, let’s face it, anything that has even a partial cream base is going to be good, even if it’s mixed with newspaper and crazy glue.
This is, oddly enough, not a Paula Deen penning, despite the dairy fat and the bacon. However, it was just as yummy. One pot, a side of bread and a salad, and poof…they can all shut up, cause this one is GOOOOOOOOD.
As I have gotten older, the thought of dying has become just a little too real. When I was a kid, I was like, “who dies? Only old people.” As I got older, and after losing my mother at 62, she still seemed old. I was 28, and although the most heinous and horrendous and unthinkable thing happened, I still thought my mother was old. But, now that I am 52 and I actually know people that are my contemporaries who have passed on, the thought becomes a stabbing one at least once a day. And, as a cancer survivor, the bite is an unescapable sting.
So, when I get the death thought in my head, I prepare a list of things that I want my family to bury with me so the congregation at my wake won’t weep, and just say, “Ok, so she was a weirdo after all. She thinks this stuff was important? “Yes, so next to the rosary beads from Mondo Cattolico, and montage of selfies with Al, and a portrait of me, Al, and the kids, I need the following:
PORELESS MATTIFYING PRIMER FROM TARTE:
I know what you’re thinking, but I want my girls to give this to my embalmer before they start the makeup process. It is the best out there. smoothing and spackling my middle-aged skin, still scarred by the war wounds of teenage cystic acne. I use it even without foundation to bring back, way back, the natural radiance of newborn skin. Then, keep the tube tucked to the liner of the box so everyone will know I was the only corpse without a cake face.
JERGENS WET SKIN TANNING MOISTURIZER:
This miracle stuff has saved me hours and dollars in spray tanning. I used to tan once every 10 days to minimize cellulite and varicosities. Now, I don’t even have to put a towel on my body after the shower. It gets slapped on (I slap because they say to pat dry, so I slap first), and then I dry off, and we look like paradise in Ibiza. This means I can wear a mini to the pearly gates. I want the tube tacked next to the floral rosaries that are cemented on the inside satin sheet covering the “hood.”
MY INSTACART ACCOUNT:
Not quite sure you could bury an account, but maybe for this one I’ll take a screenshot to throw on the “board.” Every day, my shopping savior cruises me virtually through the aisles of Wegman’s, Shop Rite, CVS, Petco, Acme, and Uncle Giuseppe’s. If I didn’t die from a heart attack, it’s probably because of Instacart. Out of paper towels? No problem. Razors? Easy. Basil? Sure thing. From the comfort of my car, my kitchen table, the bathroom or wherever…Julia Child! In as much time as it takes to say, “Crushed San Marzano Tomatoes,” my Instashopper is at my door, wrestling with my dogs, and I never had to get out of my workout gear. I mean, really, who can live, or die without that kind of service?
The thought of someone going through my texts and contacts is enough to bring myself back as an apparition and haunt the shit out of you. Not that I have anything to hide, but it’s like my security blanket…even in death. As I take my last breath, make sure my phone is in my left hand (I am a righty) …so when the rigor sets in, it’s in my grasp for all eternity.
MY STARBUCKS APP AND NITRO COLD BREW:
This might actually be a game changer. Nitro Cold Brew has awoken me from the depths of despair and naptime many a day. I only need 1-2 shots of caffeine a day, but this takes the place of any amount of caffeine I could possibly need. It might even counteract embalming.
KAT VON D EVERLASTING LIPSTICK (ANY SHADE) AND THE SHADE + LIGHT FACE CONTOUR BRUSH:
Her lipstick will stay put until a grave rising apocalypse or the next resurrection…whichever comes first. There are so many shades to choose from, and I’m sure Valentina will pick the right one from my collection, which would probably overwhelm even a Sephora sales associate. Her contour brush has two ends to it, one angled for bronzer and contour the other a puff ball for the apple of your cheek. What I will do at the pearly gates with this device I have no idea, but hey, looking good never hurt anyone. At all times.
ELASTIC HAIR TIES:
At 52, I am so lucky to still have good hair, so I am trying not to sound annoyed about this feature which, well, can be annoying at times. In the summer, I never have my hair down…it can be bulky, frizzy, and it’s curly. Whoever invented hair ties (in my day, hair elastics), you are probably dead, but I can’t wait to have a posthumous toast. You have kept me in good style, while just learning to throw up my hair in 15 seconds. I’ll make sure they thrown in a Wet Brush, and we can do up some dos.
Ok, I can’t take a company with me, but please refer to them in my eulogy as my materialistic, fashion mecca. Not much to say here except they have outfitted me now for many years, saving months and money of fashion magazine subscription cash.
MY WEIGHTS AND ELASTIC WORKOUT BANDS:
I can’t ask my trainer to come with me, because that’s selfish and unfair…he’s young and handsome with his whole life ahead of him. What I can ask for, though, are my weights and my bands. They were a major life changer for me during a midlife crisis and have sculpted my body back to a decent mold. I didn’t say Gladys Portuges sculpted, but good enough to show off some biceps, and if you press on my thigh, you can feel my quad. Very exciting for this chubby teenager to rock something at 52 that I couldn’t when I was 20.
I really hope I still have them when I expire. Not for the reasons you think. For the most part, I hated them my whole life. I had a little body, a tiny back, and these disproportionate monsters, that pissed me off every time I wanted to buy a top that may have looked snug, are now my buddies. When I realized God gave them to me to feed and bond with my children and pass that love and dedication of nursing to other moms who may have been more inclined to bottle feed, I knew why they were there. I have learned to love them more than I ever thought I would. It was scary when I was thirteen and the boys in school used to trash me as “Big Linda,” but now, I would be proud to say, “what’s the matter…your wife has ant hills and you are angry?” I hope God gives me the opportunity.
To those people I would like to take with me, it’s very, very simple. Believe me, it’s not going to be because I love you. I can’t wait to start penning that one.
Mr. Rogers: Henrietta Pussycat, can you say LIBEL?
Henrietta: Meow meow.
ODE TO HARRY THE TALKING DOG
I think sometimes, or actually, I know always, that when we choose to love an animal, to knit their little paws, or big ones into the needlework of our family, we put aside the macabre and untouchable thought that they will, with nature’s law intact, go before us.
This past week, my big brother, Steve lost his twelve-year companion, Harry, a snow white Golden Retriever who boxed himself in as an only child. Well, really, he was. Since puppydom, Harry was raised inside the hallowed halls of Perillo Tours, family owned and operated since 1945. So, it would only seem right, that Steve, now CEO, would raise his “dog son” surrounded by marble from Carrrara and authentic wood bannisters from Abruzzi. I mean, shouldn’t every puppy be raised the Italian way?
Harry loved his treats, and his humble and obedient servants always provided. His office traipse always lead him to those snackers who just happen to have dog treats, and he was relentless: don’t leave unless you come back with a treat. Almost like the Wizard demanding the witch’s broomstick. He would sit, and dance on his paws, and his message was clear, without speech…I need a yummie.
I “babysat” Harry for many years when Steve would go on business trips. I loved him because he was my brother’s dog, but with seven kids at the time, and two other dogs, he would come barreling in like “where is my room,” with his virtual suitcase and entourage of doggie supplies. He could care less about incorporating himself in the dog world of then Lello and Blitzen, and more about getting my attention as doggie mom. He reminded me a little of Stewie from Family Guy the way he would bark at me, and then just want me to say “WHAAAAT HARRY?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOLxQGLJouI. He would wait for me at the bottom of my stairs and growl at my own dogs like they had no place there.
Steve and I both have “canine fences” for our dogs since our properties are not hard fenced in. As Harry got older and knew his boundaries, when for whatever reasons his collar wasn’t on, he would appear at my front door, at any hour of the day or night, and just bark. I had to let him in, and he just wanted to hang, and bark. Steve would pick him up on his golf cart, (Harry’s favorite mode of transportation), and go back to doggie palace. Once, I was five months pregnant with Gianmarco, and I had to get Harry across the street at my brother’s house and bring him to mine. I drove the five seconds, because I knew…as predicted, Harry would be temperamental about going on his leash and coming. BINGO! There I was, ready for YouTube reality, pulling the shit out of this full grown Golden Retriever to get him into my car. I lifted him like a Volga boatman pushing cargo onto a ship, and he sat in the passenger’s seat. I felt my uterus dilating by the second. It was a 10 second ride to my house, and he would not exit. Ok, Harry, just sit there…and he did. Until he realized he was not getting chauffeured anywhere. He just came to the door and barked…he was done, now.
Kudos to my brother for walking Harry on every beautiful day to and from the office. He loved to journey back and forth, and was, for sure a faithful friend to my brother, who probably prefers dogs over people.
When a dog starts to deteriorate, there is no mistaking it. Harry survived a knee operation, a hip operation, and was strong like bull until recently. Lello, Blitzen then Stella and Harry used to bark at each other across the street for many years, every morning. At the crack of dawn, the Harry howls and choppy bark of my shepherd used to mimic the IPhone dog bark alarm. But recently, Stella would bark, and there would be no response from across the cul de sac. I knew Harry was slowing down.
So this past week, we said goodbye to Harry, who sadly passed away at the age of 12 after a short bout with pneumonia. The saddest part was that my brother was away with my son when his spirit crossed the rainbow bridge. But, you know, God has a plan, and if Steve had to make hard decisions for his buddy, that would have broken his heart even more. God made the choice, and Harry, a wonderful companion to my brother died in happiness. Steve buried him in the backyard Harry loved so much, with a cherry tree to shade him. He will forever be part of the Apple Ridge scenery, as my sister, Chris said.
I learned from Harry that animals need no voice to communicate. They can get their point across without knowing how to speak your language. But, alas, they have taught you theirs, which is one of the most beautiful to learn.
Here is my favorite tribute to Harry:
This was waaaay too easy. I guess Trisha Yearwood had a gig somewhere. No time to even bake.
I was dubious since it was a no-bake with five ingredients, but go figure. Whip it up fast and bring it to your next play-date or 'what do I bring' event.
Yummy to the end! Keep 'em in the fridge ... even better.
Check out the full recipe on Food Network here.
I often think about how much Catholic school bled into my life especially since I send my kids there, which really punctuates how much how much of those years formed so much of what I think and who I am, on both on a spiritual and indelible, impressionistic level. For those of you who attended Catholic schools. (I went through college), you can relate to the mint or vanilla covered cinder blocks that were the cornerstone of your brick home away from home.
UNIFORMS: Let’s talk plaid. Though very much a fashion statement now, plaid is still the fashion trend of every Catholic teaching institution. It has such an alluring come on that some public schools have adapted the concept as well. It could be tartan plaid with green over and undertones. Grey plaid with red threading. Heavy red with green, or many combinations. Either way, it was a symbol, much like an orange jumpsuit is today. “I am in prison. “ I go to Catholic school.” Not that I equate prison with Catholic school, but the similarity that everyone is equal, and fashion individuality is not allowed in these hallowed halls is evident. I remember my “jumper” in St. Margaret’s, which really could not accommodate my growing boobs, really, but first grade or eighth grade, we all wore the same. The first graders just looked like shrunken version of the eighth graders, with no boobs. I remember my side pocket housed dirty tissues, Halls cough drops, and maybe a pencil. I had these synthetically woven navy blue socks that I used to flick the elastic on my calif for entertainment in seventh grade social studies. I used to watch the dust and dry skin particles exfoliate and fly into the atmosphere. Good times. Our gym uniform was not a uniform. Unlike the sweats and logo paraphernalia of today, we separated into gender appropriate classrooms, and learned how to change our white Peter Pan collared blouses into our chosen gym shirt, using a contortionist movement similar to a Cirque De Soleil trapeze artist, so no one could see your bra. We put our pants on underneath our jumper, took that off and headed to Dodge Ball Mania.
As a parent, I understand now that uniforms are important. Not only for laundry purposes, but in pulling students down to a level playing field. “The clothes make the man,” but not in a Catholic school. They make us equal. Nothing to show off or promote envy. And with five of my eight children being girls, well, need I say more?
OOOOO…THAT SMELL. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but every Catholic school I have been in just smells the same: “Eau d’Rosary.” They say that smell is one of the strongest memories, both bad and fragrant that remain with you from baby to senior citizen. I’m not sure if it’s a combination of 1960 plaster, paint, or the cedar chips they throw on third grade vomit, but it never, ever changes. I visited my grammar school not that long ago, and just the first whiff when I walked in the door brought me back to Sr. T’s first grade classroom. As I perused the hallways, the emanation of the aroma of glossed over paint chips, just brought me back. And the gym always seemed to smell like flan. It must be the same generic hardwood gloss provided by the Archdiocese, because it’s in every Catholic school gym I’ve been in. Our cafeteria was also used for Sunday Mass back then, so in the middle of the cafeteria barracks, (Our lunches then were massive and similar to an army mess hall) was an altar…right..an altar. There was no sacristy or host present, but the combination of extinguished candle, frankincense (especially during Holy Week), peanut butter and jelly with a dash of bologna on Wonder Bread has cemented in my brain. Only occasionally on pizza day, and I could swear Fr. McKenna showed up with a thurible that housed a powdered version of burnt pizza crust, was there a change in cafeteria redolence to promote the next “Pizza Day: 2 slices and a can of Jamaica Cola for a dollar on the cheapest paper plate you can find east of Bethlehem.” Imagine 200 kids at one time drinking cartons of WHOLE milk, then chucking them in massive garbage pails. That was the dessert smell before we headed out on the “blacktop.”
TAKE ME TO HEAVEN: This is the title of one of the first tracks in the musical “SISTER ACT,” but, trust me, from 1974-1981, none of the nuns I had were singing. I think they were so confined in their habits with attachable headpiece that they got nodes on their vocal chords. They could yell, though. I was taught by Dominican nuns, and my aunt was an educator, principal and Franciscan nun, but their get-ups were different. My sisters were still donning penguin-like hues, and if you put them in a line up with their backs turned, well, literally, sorry sister, you are all going down. They seemed ageless…like Sister A.L. She taught third grade, and was actually very sweet with one of those wobbly nun singing voices three octaves above her actual key which sounded like she was crooning while riding a locomotive. She looked like she was about 106, but in retrospect, she was about 50. Sister A. taught the other first grade and was hip rebel of the group…no headgear…just the billowing white polyester a line habit.
She seemed really young to me then, but she could have been 73 for all I know. Unfortunately, having heard my principal, Sr. Anne Connolly just passed away, whom I loved, I realized our sisters must have been waaaay younger than originally predicted in seventh grade. I will say this, they had a devotion to our Lord that remained in me since I was six, and a devotion to Our Blessed Mother, drilling in the Mysteries of the Rosary into our little noggins like one of today’s rap ballads, with a monotonous cadence that sounded like we were marching into battle. But, it was this monotonous cadence that stuck with me my whole life and is glued to my soul as the anthem and gold standard for any Catholic prayer. When in doubt: Always pray the Rosary. And try not to have nightmares about the first sorrowful mystery: The Agony in the Garden.
NO FREE LUNCH…LIKE EVER. My kids have it so easy…the luxury of “ordering in” …in school…Catholic school. We have several lunch options and programs available for even the pickiest eaters, and yes, all with the swipe of Mommy’s credit card. I asked my second grader, Camilla, “What did Federica order you for lunch today?” She just looked at me with those huge brown eyes, with a matter of fact, Mom you are really dumb, look “the special.” The special. The special? Do you know what the “special” was in St. Margarets’s in 1976? Whatever my mother could negotiate shoving into a black Bamberger’s bag with a very neatly sliced orange. I wasn’t allowed crap like Wonder Bread and peanut butter and jelly from my very classy Italian born mother. But, that seemed to be the uniform lunch, just like the plaid uniform to match. Kids had uniform brown bags pulled from the 100 count multipack at Shop Rite …or then, Grand Union or Finast. They would have an old pill bottle filled to the brim with Nestle Quick powder to add to their uniform white milk. I used to drool at the processed foods, especially the bologna sandwiches, when I had a meatball from Sunday on Branola bread or “tonno in olio” on wheat. But no matter what you ate, it seemed to be an uninflected sundry of lunch options prepared by weary Catholic school moms who packed lunch the night before.
A DECORATOR’S WORST NIGHTMARE. I can recall my first grade classroom as clearly as my present bedroom. I think that’s because from first to eighth grade everything looked the same, except larger as the years went on to accommodate larger butts, legs and whatever else grew on you in eight years. Every classroom was equipped with the big wooden crucifix at center stage, with the copper plated Jesus hanging in the middle. The Lord is watching. At every angle…he is there. The Blessed Mother was usually perched on a plainly painted white pedestal to assist her son, and you with day to day tribulations. Her arms were open and giving, with never a sour look. This is why to this day, she is my surrogate mom. Today, it’s a very spiritual, warm concept. Then, it was like “Oh shit,” I better not cheat on this spelling test. There was bulletin board molding that decorated the upper edge of the wall, equipped with thumb tacks to hang up cardboard decorations announcing the seasons. Sometimes if you scored a 100 on a test, that might go up there too, heralding your elementary brilliance. But, that was the end of the glitz, or personality, if you could even call it that. Every room was the same…mint green or vanilla walls, institutional like desks made of probably very toxic metal, with the paint peeling from the book pocket from overuse. There was a very handy pencil holder carved right into the top of the formica topped faux wood finish…for modern convenience. There was a girl in my class who wrote in her notebooks and on her tests with the force of a jackhammer penetrating macadam. She would make holes in anything she could. She found her talent so compelling that she carved S-H-I-T into a fifth grade desk, and of course every kid prayed that would be their assigned seat. The teacher’s desk was a simple block of wood with four legs, and a block of wood called a chair to match, with a skinny cushion for comfort. I mean like how “blah.
SO WHY NOW? Anyone who attended Catholic grammar school can relate to even a modicum of my memories which is exactly why I send my kids to Catholic school…even Catholic college now. I consider most kids who can afford any private education at all, to be quite privileged. This generation as a whole is very privileged and the competition on the best highlight and Instagram posts alone is quite riveting and actually distressing as a parent. So , for the six hours of your learning life, stay simple. Stay equal. Stay fair. We start an end our day with a prayer to the Lord, and I know they are receiving Christ at every moment in those six hours when I’m not beating it into their head. Everyone is God’s masterpiece, and a parent’s masterpiece whether you are an honor student or struggling to stay afloat. Catholic school brings soon to be, burgeoning, judgmental adults to an even playing field, where we hope they see each other for what they are as friends and people before they graduate. The Kumbaya concept and hand holding doesn’t have to be so dramatic. You can’t connect with everyone. You don’t have to like them, but you have to love them as a creature of God.
This is a pretty tough concept when kids are innately cruel. Not that they won’t be cruel or taunting when they get home to their sibling,or make fun of the worst batter on their little league team or the chubby kid who wears a shirt boasting, “Eating pizza is my cardio,” but at least we can give them less to taunt about. We may lack the modern glitz of other educational facilities…but Jesus wasn’t exactly a flamboyant individual. He was as simple as a tunic woven from top to bottom in one piece, and handmade leather sandals. His message was not judgmental, critical, mean, boastful or self-serving. It was about the challenge of accepting one another for the imperfect beings we are, and remembering we were all created in the same image…that’s why we all wore plaid.