party like you were born in 1928

My smallest and most talkative travel buddy and I returned very late last night for a quick trip home for Grandma’s 95th birthday.

It seems like two months ago we were celebrating her 90th birthday; now she’s five years from 100. After her horrible summer in and out of the ICU and months in rehab, we didn’t think she’d make it, but she’s still alive and as funny as ever. She can barely hear which makes conversations even funnier, but she loves to chat and piece together what she can hear. All 6 children, most of the grandchildren, and 6 of the 10 great-grandchildren were in town. She was as thrilled as could be with each new person who came through the door. She told Carol she “didn’t want a party but she did want to be celebrated.” She didn’t know we had planned a surprise gathering with her old lady friends (“the young girls” since they’re mostly in their 80s), cousins she seldom sees, and friends from church. Her little brother planned on coming from Maine but sadly had to cancel the day of due to a cold. She didn’t know he was coming so she wasn’t disappointed. She probably would have forgotten anyway as she has the short-term memory of a gnat. She takes naps every two hours or less, but that extrovert and her walker held court for hours with her guests. She was so happy. It made me so happy to see her surrounded by everyone she loves.

Instead of gifts, Grandma asked for donations to the food pantry she volunteers at. My contribution was the healthy and organic snack she and I like to eat when we play cards.

Nick, Molly, and I left the party to pick up soda. Nick drove us and Molly sat in the passenger seat complaining about applying for college. I never feel so old as when the children I used to babysit are doing adult things. I changed those kids’ diapers and carried them around for hours upon hours. For years, my entire life revolved around when I’d get to play with then babysit them and Zack. Now all three are taller than me. I knew I should have put heavier bricks on their heads to stop the growth!

The night we arrived in Massachusetts, AB went to Grammy’s house and I stayed at a hotel for the night. Alone! A hotel all to myself! No one but me! Elizabeth and Erika orchestrated it for my Christmas gift and it was delightful. I ordered room service and ate pasta and pie on the bed. I had brunch at 11:30 like a rich lady without a care in the world. When she saw I was eating alone, the waitress gave me a 14-page double-sided informational printout about the history of the hotel and restaurant. I learned so much. I never learn anything when I eat at Olive Garden. The Kennedys often stayed at that hotel and I ate at the table where they got engaged. I too got engaged at a restaurant so I can only assume the trajectory of my life will be the same. Vote for me as First Lady in the election of 2032!

We had the briefest Aunt Camp in history- a one-night sleepover on Saturday. Annabelle had a tough time in general when we visited Massachusetts in the summer and that Aunt Camp was not the most successful. I was worried about how she’d do on this trip, but thanks to lots of prayers it went so smoothly. The girls disappeared into the basement and wrote a three-scene play we were all forced invited to attend. Oliver is the cutest little boy you’ve ever seen. He’s so precious. He doesn’t talk much, but that doesn’t stop me from repeatedly asking him, “Can you say Auntie Sarah? Do you remember my name? It’s Auntie Sarah! Can you say it? Don’t you want to try? I’m your favorite aunt! Auntie Sarah!” to which he responds with a firetruck noise and points to whatever food is within sight. We’ll keep working on it for summer Aunt Camp.

visitors here and visitors there

Evidently, this has turned into a once-a-season blog. It’s been so long since I logged in that I’m shocked I got the password correct on the first try.

I can barely remember what has happened in the last few months. School starts in under two weeks which is absurd. It feels like we did nothing but I know we did things. I’ve told Christopher several times that this was the fastest summer and I don’t think we’ve ever had a shorter summer vacation. He tells me that summer is the same length every year. Thank you, Mr. Calendar. Don’t bring up realistic timelines when I’m discussing my sad feelings about lazy summer days being almost over.

The Texas relatives come up for a visit and the cousins went to Winshape camp together. Annabelle didn’t want to hold my hand but she was all about holding Emory’s hand.

Sesame was thrilled that all the cousins came. She talked about it for months and has asked several times when they can come back.

Immediately after that excitement, we went north for our summer visit. No trip home is complete without a stop At the Sign of the Lemon. It’s the best frozen lemonade in all the land.

We went to the beach twice. I hate the taste of salt water with a passion and am perfectly content to not get water on any part of my body above my waist, but I could spend all day at the beach. We found the best purple shells and bits of sea glass. Annabelle found a piece of sea glass the size of my palm that I am fairly certain hasn’t crossed the line from a chunk of broken glass to sea glass, but she’s so proud of it that we brought it home anyway.

Erika’s brother Wesley has reached moderate tiktok “fame” on his account. He recently was at a convention where he was frequently recognized. With a great amount of flair, dramatics, and a dash of exaggeration, he told Erika, “People would come up to me and try telling me they like my work but they’d get flustered being in my presence and stumble over their words. Someone in my shoes needs to reassure them that I too am human. I am happy to share an elevator with them and answer their questions. I’ll spend time with anyone.” That’s how it can feel when I go home. There are so many people to see and I have to spend as much time with as many as I can.

I was reunited with baby Oliver. We hadn’t seen him since Aaron’s wedding in December so I had to make him like me again in the best way I know how: I bribed him with food. It worked great until Grammy asked me to put sunscreen on his face and he was NOT PLEASED. I handed over a lot of crackers to make up for that offense.

All the sibs and grandchildren got together. Daniel missed the bearded brother memo. Last month Grandma fell and broke a few bones. She’s bounced back and forth between rehab and the hospital for the last few weeks. We got to see her once in rehab and I planned several more visits, but they all got canceled when she was rushed back to the ICU. She was there for several days and every time I tried to visit something came up and I couldn’t. I thought she was going to die before I got to see her. After several days Mom and I were able to visit for a few hours. She was far from her normal chipper self. I brushed her hair (she hasn’t been able to see Christine the hairdresser in several weeks and her hair needed some TLC) and lotioned her up. I found out later she didn’t remember we were there, but it’s a sweet memory for me.
We were able to see her back at rehab the day before we left and she looked so much better. She had no recollection of her time in the hospital, but she could remember all the details of the trip she thought she had taken to Africa in that time. She’s always wanted to visit Africa but never made it there. While she was really in a hospital in New England, she was visiting an African village in her head. “They were such nice people. So nice! I wasn’t sure if they’d like me since I have such an Italian last name, but we got along so well! Everyone in Africa is so nice!”

The Single Ladies Club had a get-together to celebrate Joanna’s birthday.

I didn’t know this guy would be my seatmate when I volunteered to sit in the back of Autumn’s car on the way to the restaurant. He didn’t find any of our jokes humerus. What a bonehead.

December recap, vol. 1

I know we’re two days from New Years but I have a personal tradition of recapping December events lo, many days after which they happen so why stop that tradition now.

Welcome to the peaceful oasis that was my backyard a few weeks ago.Can I offer you a cocktail on my deck?Our new roof was being installed (? put on? put up?) and it wreaked havoc on my yard, my deck, and my cat’s nerves. Linus, who has never been described as a chill cat, had never been so high-strung in his entire life. He was squeezing himself into the smallest spots under bookshelves and beds. He got so scared he threw up. I wanted to slip valium in his cat food. Lucille was not bothered by the noise or her brother’s anxiety. The pictures falling off the walls from the constant banging don’t rock her boat at all.

It was at this most HGTV perfect home time that Joanna came to visit. Without fail, she’s been the most consistent friend when it comes to visiting us. She has seen all but two of our eight homes. I like to think I’m a generally good time but a different version of me comes out when I go home or my friends from home come to visit. We call it Massachusetts Sarah. Massachusetts Sarah does things like get a running start on one side of the kitchen in order to slide across the counter like a penguin. I try to be a low-level party bus at all times, but I am more reserved when I’m in mom/wife mode. Joanna came to town and immediately out came a lower energy/post-surgery, Massachusetts Sarah. We laughed until we cried. I’ve known Joanna from the day she was born so she’s only ever known me that way. To be honest, there were several years was a very brief period when I deemed her too young to play with because I am two years her senior, but I came to my senses. I did look on her fondly when she was a baby baby. Look how happy two-year-old Sarah was to be holding little Joanna. I was thrilled! She was less than happy about the arrangement. She insists she was unhappy about the bonnet but I’m sure it was how hard I was squeezing.

There isn’t much to do in our bustling metropolis which is how we ended up at Walmart within 12 hours of her arrival. I took her to the coffee shop and the one non-chain restaurant that’s clean and that about wrapped up our tour of the town. She helped me address Christmas cards and pack for Aaron’s wedding. I like to give my guests a good time when they come to visit, but I’m still recovering from the surgery and my overwhelmed level is about 12/10. She showed up willing to help and I reluctantly accepted.

Sesame had many events that all fell on the weekend Joanna was here. She had her first basketball game and I mean this in all love, but sports are not her thing. She has great sportsmanship and is very good at complimenting her teammates, but is not good at the sports part of sports. She doesn’t like loud noises so playing in an echoing gym with people yelling and shouting isn’t up her alley. She also doesn’t understand how to play the game of basketball which I knew going into the game but I don’t think she realized until she got there. But she gave it her best effort. When she played Tball with the Y in the summer, the coaches often showed up 15 minutes before the end of practice. Things are very different in this league. There’s a man assigned to keeping score and “halftime entertainment” when the little cheerleaders in big bows come out. I’m surprised there isn’t a concession stand and someone selling foam hands.

The next event of the day was a school concert held at the local mall. Nothing like singing of our Saviors birth between Auntie Anne’s and Star Jewelers.

Look at the way she’s staring at Christopher. All that love and adoration towards the person who takes her out for pancakes every Saturday and not one bit for the woman who literally fought tooth and nail, blood, sweat and tears to bring her into this world. The next morning at church, Annabelle sang a song with the children’s choir and our family did the Advent reading and lighting on the candles. I did not do the reading because have you met me? I do not open my mouth in public. I would consider performing a concert in front of six thousand strangers (NO ONE I know would be allowed to attend) after I spent all afternoon with wardrobe, hair, and makeup, but no way in heck do I want to read a passage from the Bible in front of our very nice church congregation. Christopher and AB read while I lit the candles. There was almost a catastrophe when I lost my balance while holding the flame but the building is still standing and Christopher’s hair wasn’t singed after all.

Joanna came to work with me one night. She made a teacher gift I didn’t have time to make and one small sign for herself to take home. I wanted to pick Joanna up and recreate the picture from when we were little in front of the paint but it didn’t seem like the right time. I’m sure my boss wouldn’t have minded, but Jojo wasn’t wearing her bonnet.


visiting log

While we were in Massachusetts, Mom put together a family picnic when we were in town so all the siblings and all the cousins got to visit.I got a “fun aunt” hat specifically so Oliver would know that’s who I am. He needs to understand that I’m the party bus driver right from the beginning. He wore his best Hawaiian shirt so I know he’s onboard the party bus with me.

Aunt Camped 2021 almost didn’t happen this year. AB had a 103* fever and a variety of symptoms the day before Aunt Camp was supposed to start. We were devastated and shed some tears. Aunt Camp is a highlight of our year and it really seemed like we were going to lose the opportunity. She stayed on the couch for a day before the fever broke then we had to wait another 24 hours to be sure it didn’t come back before seeing the cousins. We didn’t get our usual three-night sleepover with long days of playing like normal, but some Aunt Camp was better than none.
I can never decide if I like the mountains or the ocean best. This view puts a lot of points in the ocean category.

I spent an afternoon with Carol, Brian and the kids. Carol could not get over the fact that Molly and Zack chose to visit with me for several hours instead of being on their phones or with their friends. “They don’t do this for just anyone. I don’t think you understand how rare this is.” This is the reward for my seven years of babysitting them. We did Silly Suppers, went to Boston, made endless crafts, had sleepovers, built villages with every toy they owned, and ate popsicles in the blowup pool. We made animals out of egg cartons and set traps for the leprechaun. Molly talked 48 miles an hour which prepared me for parenting AB. There was the time we got lost on the way to the “states best petting zoo.” When we finally got there, all the signs said we weren’t allowed to touch any animals nor were we allowed to stand within a few feet of their fence. This caused much sobbing and sorrow. To top off the day, we got rear-ended on the way home. In summary, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows but of all the memories I have with my many cousins, watching those two crazy cats are some of my favorite memories. ALL THAT TO SAY. Molly got her permit last month. I still think of her as six years old so I’m not sure what the DMV was thinking when they gave it to her.
Zack and I sat in the backseat while Molly drove around the parking lot and attempted to back up. He kept up a running commentary from the backseat of how she could improve. ”You have to turn the wheel the other way when you’re backing up. Why are you so jerky with the steering wheel? I’ve had my license for a year now so I feel confident in handling a vehicle. Molly! Gosh. Chill out. We’re trying to stay alive back here.”

I know what backseat driver to call when I resurrect my babysitting career.

jungle garden party

Two years ago when I turned 25 32, Autumn and Joanna brought me to Bar Harbor for the weekend. It was amazing and I loved every second. Autumn turned 30 last year and Joanna last month, and I really wanted to give them a similar experience. Sadly, no one was doing big travels last year and this year it just didn’t work out to go on a trip. I was determined to do something for them while I was in Massachusetts so I enlisted Elizabeth to help me. She scouted the town and settled on the gazebo in her friend’s garden. I was hesitant to ask a family I didn’t know if I could use their yard for a party. Elizabeth insisted it would be fine. They’re friendly! They like visitors! They homeschool (interesting but irrelevent)! She would do the asking! They’re from church! As the Bible says, “If thou hast a beautiful garden to share with someone thou dost not know, thou shalt share it anyway. For in so doing thou shalt receive fewer mosquitos for thee and thy household.” It’s a very obscure verse. Don’t bother looking it up.

It was rainy and gloomy the day of the party but we had no backup plan so we crossed our fingers and said our prayers that it wouldn’t be raining at 3 o’clock. We packed Elizabeth’s car with Christmas lights, tea candles, snacks, and all manor of table decor and headed over to the garden. The road was close but otherwise the gazebo was in a very secluded part of the property so I didn’t feel quite as much like we were sitting in their backyard. Although when we showed up, the owner of the home did led us to the patio in their backyard and said, “Make yourselves at home. We’ll close all the blinds so you don’t have to worry about anyone spying on you.” I absolutely assume one or more of the friendly, homeschooled, church-going children would have spied on us regardless of the blinds status. I know I would if three strange ladies were picnicking on my patio.

It’s amazing what a few string of lights, a box of tea candles and some zebra plates can do for a space.

In all the hullabaloo of trying to plan a rainy day location, I forgot to bring a dessert. I forgot the birthday dessert at the party to celebrate not one, but two birthday girls! It was a huge oversight. I had put 7 pieces of sea salt covered caramel chocolates on the charcuterie board so we weren’t devoid of sweets, but I’m still kicking myself about it.

I bought an elephant shaped watering can to use as a water pitcher and this was the girls reaction when they saw it. Both of them, but especially Autumn, have never once not had an appropriate or even better than appropriate positive reaction to something fun. I wish I had videoed Autumn opening the Lisa Frank/Morphe eyeshadow pallet. She literally hugged it to her chest before it was fully out of the gift bag. Then she opened it and read off the name of every single color to us as she recounted memories of each and every Lisa Frank character she loved as a child. 

There’s a picture from back in the day of me with a huge smile on my face holding a sobbing baby Joanna. Beyond that I didn’t pay too much attention to them for years. I saw them several times a month, but at 16 and 26 months younger than me, they were basically babies compared to my mature self. It wouldn’t have been good for my image to been seen with people so young. I’m glad I came to my senses and will keep them around for the next fifty or so years. I like being associated with them now.

we’ve be giving Lysol a best friends necklace

Last February AB and I flew to Denver to visit Katie and her family. Things went spectacularly wrong and we spent the first several days of the visit quarantined thanks to Kezia having the flu. Little did we know that quarantine period was just a small taste of the real quarantine that was to come a mere three weeks later. Katie and her children arrived at our house for a visit last Tuesday evening. Katie and I were so excited be reunited after sixteen months apart. We would redeem the visit that had been stolen from us! This would be the visit where everything went well!

Our girls are a few days shy of one month apart in age but their personalities are very different which leads to some bumpy playtime. Their mothers are in their 32nd year of best friendship so the girls have no choice but to follow in our footsteps. We will make them best friends, gosh darn it! (When Katie and I were pregnant at the same time, she said, “Sarah, if we have opposite genders we can’t push them to marry each other so we have the same grandchildren.” It’s almost as if she knew that was EXACTLY what I was planning on.) Katie and I talked before they arrived about the girls having some designated apart time each afternoon. Kezia and Annabelle had been playing for a grand total of 10 minutes before AB got overwhelmed and ran up to me saying, “Kezia doesn’t understand part time! I need part time and she doesn’t want it!” They literally hadn’t set foot in our house and AB was asking for alone time. It did not bode well for the rest of our visit. An hour later, they were having a ball and had come up with a system where Annabelle would put a piece of paper under her door in the morning when she was ready to play. It wasn’t all fun and games from there on out, but AB didn’t ask for ”part time” every hour.

Annabelle, “Are you sure this is safe?”
Kezia, “Yes, I’m sure this is not safe.”

We took them for a walk around the pond where Sesame and Finn both stepped in fire ants. Finn was tired, hot, could barely walk, and had to be carried around the pond. I offered to carry him since a) Katie is recovering from a broken elbow and b) I’m doing my best to become his favorite Auntie Sarah. He has another Auntie Sarah who I love but I need to hold The Spot of Honor in his heart.

When discussing The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Annabelle: “It’s called The Criticals of Narnia.”
Kezia: “No. It’s The Chronicles of Shamarnia.”

We sent the girls to the neighborhood camp for two mornings. They walked across the street like teenagers and it made my heart hurt a little. While they were there, Katie, Finn and I went to the coffee shop, toured a new gym, and went to Kohl’s so she could help me find new sunglasses. I thought I’d branch out and get a new style but no, I ended up with my old faithful style which are so big they need their own zip code.

This is the point of our story where things start to go downhill.

You recall that Finn got bite by fire ants and was tired. He was also irritable, not eating much and had a low fever. I sent a picture of the bites/spots on his feet to Neighbor Doctor Sarah who instantly diagnosed him with hand, foot and mouth. UNWANTED PLOT TWIST. He was covered in spots and sores. He cried all night long and looked like a sad little puppy all day. We did what we could to relieve the pain but there wasn’t much we could do besides wait it out. We wanted to cover some of his worst spots but he cried every time we tried to put ointment on. Preschool worker/hospital volunteer Sarah came out with a flourish. “Do you want a Mickey Mouse bandaid? It’s so fun! I wish I had one! It’s Minnie Mouse! So fun! Do you believe it?! What about a Spiderman bandaid?! That is so cool!” He was tickled and asked for new bandaids every day. I am a great bandaid hypeman. We told the girls not to touch him or share his cups. They were not to be within breathing distance of him. He was to sit on his cushion on the couch and play with the toys on his sheet on the floor. At this point, we had all been together for a number of days so our efforts may have been in vain, but we had to try.

Be not deceived by this sweet face. This picture was taken on one of the worst days while I watched Finn have an Epsom salt bath and Katie dealt with an issue in another room. I told her to never doubt the love I have for her children. I gladly undressed and bathed her son who looked like he had leprosy. I will do whatever necessary to be his favorite Auntie Sarah!

On Saturday Katie and I left Christopher in charge of the one sick and two healthy children for a few hours. We needed some wild time out on the town. Things can get pretty wild in the athleisure wear section of TJMaxx. We got coffee then went to get our nails done. They took our temperature at the door of the nail salon and I was fine. It flashed red alert on Katie. It was barely 100* and I knew she wasn’t sick but they made her sit in the waiting area. I knew without a doubt she did not have the ‘rona. It was a hot day and we had been sitting in the sun in the drive-through line. One nail lady was saying not to worry about it but the owner was saying it had to go down more. I understand that they need to take precautions, but I was also annoyed because we had so little time to do something fun together and we were being told Katie might not be allowed to participate. We didn’t wait more than a year to see each other only to be hit with more sickness and have a false temperature stand in our way of a little self-care time. A few minutes later it went down enough and she was allowed to get her nails done, but my blood pressure was still high.

We did our best for the next two days before HFM took down its next two victims- Katie and Kezi. We came up with new plans of keeping the rest of us from getting sick. We had a two-step process for washing hands and designated eating areas for the sick and healthy. We made a bigger area on the couch for the sick ones. By now Neighbor Doctor Sarah had told us that HFM spreads through the virus that causes the spots not the spots themselves which helped when it came to skin to skin contact, but we still had to be careful. Children are no respecters of space and/or airborne germs. The girls were not happy they couldn’t play together beyond bikes or other parallel play. We spent all day spraying Lysol and disinfecting and washing so many cups to make sure no one used anyone else’s by accident. It took us several nights to get through one movie because someone was always crying and needing motherly love and attention. Eventually, we got into a pattern of giving them all melatonin so they’d sleep and we could have some us time.

Obviously, it wasn’t the ideal trip and we need a redo asap, but I’m so glad they came. No one makes me laugh like Katie. No one somehow instinctively knows that I’m out of rice flour and will bring me a bag of rice flour her sister didn’t need. She convinced me to join a women’s gym and helped me find new workout clothes. She handled both her children being sick while being sick herself AND having a broken elbow with much more patience than I could have. If I have to be in close quarters with a bunch of sick people, I want it to be with her. Her and Lysol, the newest BFF in our group.