It May Have Been Mother’s Day, but there Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked… and the Wicked’s Family

Some mothers would be content with homemade scones & an afternoon relaxing. Not my mother.

Some mothers are content to spend Mother’s Day at brunch followed by an afternoon at the spa. But sitting down and relaxing, even after two hip replacements, are not activities my mother believes in.

When my family and I awoke to a perfect spring morning, I thought I just might be able to trick Mum into spending a leisurely day sunning ourselves in the garden. I baked orange-current scones, cooked-up Spanish-style fava beans, scrambled some farm-fresh eggs with cheese, and the three of us gathered outside under the umbrella to dine in the fresh air.

As she sipped her iced-tea she looked uncharacteristically at ease. “I think we should pull out the Adirondack chairs so we can sit and survey our ‘estate.'”

I was encouraged. Could it be possible that I’d get to spend the rest of the day reading David Sedaris and catching some sun while she sat peacefully and color-coded her calendar?


My mother wanted a new lawn for Mother's Day & I was the landscape gardener of choice

We’d been kicking back not 5 minutes before she turned to me and said:

“By the way, your father and I went to Home Depot yesterday. We have everything we need to till and reseed the lawn. There’s a pile of dirt under the plastic over there.”

“Are you telling me that you want to spend Mother’s Day digging up the yard? Don’t you want to watch the DVD of our summer vacation I made for you?”

“No. I want to dig up the lawn. Ask dad for the shovel. Let’s get to work.”

I felt a gardening glove hit my shoulder. I knew it’d be a long time before I’d be allowed to sit down again.

Over the last 2 years, I may have cultivated a new interest in gardening, but let me tell you, digging up a lawn, hauling dirt up stairs in a wheelbarrow, and spreading peat moss over grass seed is not gardening — it’s back breaking work that should be left to professionals.

At the end of the day, after we had finished the lawn and I finished cooking dinner, my father, the dogs, and I collapsed into heaps on the couch.

“That was a great mother’s day! I got everything I wanted — a new lawn!”

Next year, forget the homemade, thoughtful gifts. I’m buying her a landscape gardener named Carlos so I can spend Mother’s Day at the spa.

Tilling and reseeding a lawn isn't gardening. It's back-breaking work. But Mum got what she wanted. And I got a bottle of Aleve.

Kiss Me Baby On an Easter Sunday

You can call me Godless, but I'm going to have my Easter Bunny and all his friends. And that's that.

Lev accused me of being a Godless-Christian-Pagan who celebrated empty holidays and believed in nothing but Bloomingdales. If I didn’t know this was an attempt at flirtatious fighting, I would have thought attacking me, the Church of Couture, and the Easter Bunny was a terrible way to woo me.

“Do you even go to church on Easter?”


He then launched into a history lesson about Catholicism  — how it usurped Pagan holidays and how modern society has commoditized formerly sacred festivities. I took a sip of wine and prepared myself for battle.

I confessed: I am a terrible Catholic — I dropped out of CCD, I can’t remember the last time I attended mass, and I don’t know the “Hail Mary.”

But I am an devout Easterer. I look forward to the pageantry of the holiday and the togetherness it inspires.

On Easter morning, I would awake to a cartoonishly large chocolate bunny I was never allowed to eat — it was too expensive to devour right away and too bad for my teeth to be eaten period. I still wonder why my mother didn’t just buy a plastic chocolate bunny she could use as a flower planter between Easters.

Hot Cross Buns. Ceramic egg trees. Symbols of spring. There's nothing I don't love about Eater.

Growing up, I enjoyed putting on my floral-print dress and running around the yard with friends on a hunt for eggs I had laboriously bejeweled and speckled the night before with the help of my parents.

Once I got older and the neighborhood kids moved away, I held a 50+ Easter egg hunt. I assembled the adults who had once been the designated “hiders” and turned them into “seekers.” It was a no-holds-barred kind of hunt where there was only one rule for me to follow — no eggs hidden below waist level. Bending/squatting to retrieve something they’d prefer to dress with mayo and serve in a sandwich seemed too hazardous an activity. I obliged.

At the end of the day, I think my family members were grateful for the chance to rekindle their inner-children — that is what Easter is largely about, isn’t it? Renewed life.

“Call me Godless, but I’m going to have my Easter Bunny,” I told him. “And my bonnet. And my tie-dyed eggs. And my Christmas tree. And that’s that.”

Lev popped in with a cheeky remark about behaving like a rabbit and how Easter was interfering. I rolled my eyes and handed him a Cadbury cream egg in my purse.

“Even a Scrooge deserves a little holiday love,” I said as I bid him good-night. It was Good Friday, and I had hot-cross buns to put in the oven 😉

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and Somewhere in there, I’m a Tobin

As I write this, my mother is in the kitchen, listening to Riverdance and banging two wooden spoons together. Her clacking is not in time, but rhythm has never been one of my mother’s strong suits — they took the triangle away from her in grade school. She’s had both hips replaced but that doesn’t stop her from doing her most inspired Michael Flatley impression.  She’s a Tobin after all and it is St. Patrick’s Day.

We take Irish food and music very seriously... we have enough Irish oatmeal to lead the nation through another potato famine

Despite being a conglomerate of Italian, German, Scot, and Irish heritage, we take St. Patrick’s Day fairly seriously in my house. Come to think of it, we take being Irish pretty seriously in my house, even though we’re 2 generations removed from the family homestead in County Clare. Well, we take Irish food and music very seriously. My mother makes a mean boiled potato and there’s enough Irish oatmeal in the pantry to lead the nation through another potato famine. My favorite song growing up was “The Orange and the Green,” I was more interested in playing a reel on my fiddle than Mozart on my violin, and my first concert in New York City was Gaelic Storm at the BB King.

I was more interested in 300 fiddle tunes than a Mozart symphony growing up.

In honor of the holiday, I’ve put two loaves of traditional Irish brown bread baking in the oven. Meanwhile, my mother made green jell-o and we collaborated on cabbage rolls and green Scotch shortbread cookies. My father contributed with a 6-pack of Irish Red in the basement fridge. We’re ready to party in a way our ancestors would be proud of… maybe.

I went to Ireland once, when I was 7. That trip was the first time I’d ever stayed up past 9PM and first time I’d ever been to a bar. My father was on business and my mother used it as an excuse to met up with her favorite Irish cousin and her son. Julie drove us from Shannon into a small town hidden among fields and knolls. It was like the setting of JRR Tolkin book. The sky was black and clear and the only light illuminating the streets was the glow from cottage windows. We stepped out of the car into a informal parking lot outside a pub. Music and laughter filled the air and it was clear we were in for a rolicking good time.

The whole world seemed to be crammed into the small, smokey public house. Pints sloshed as joyous patrons slammed their glasses down in time to the music, which was provided by a group set atop a rickety stage. The tables and chairs had been cleared from a section of the floor, and men and women reeled around in circles, stomping and spinning, pulling in new partners at will. An older gentleman with a white beard and cap, straight off a postcard, threw me into the middle of the floor, determined that I would learn how to step dance before the night was through. As a kid, I had chalk white skin, rose bud cheeks, and thick blond curls. In my cable knit sweater, I looked as local as anyone else there. I would eventually learn that the Tobin farm, tied up in family feuds for a half century (how typically Irish), was but a mile away — I was as local as anyone.

We rolled into our cousin’s B&B at 2AM and slept till late afternoon. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Sometimes I feel like pulling a John Wayne in the Quiet Man and moving to Ireland to reclaim the family homestead

It’s true what they say about Ireland — it gets under your skin, you become part of a family, and you start to pine for it. Sometimes, I feel like pulling a John Wayne in “The Quiet Man” — retire from this fighting life, move back to my people’s farm, fix it up, marry me a nice Irish bloke, and dance a jig to the tune of a happily ever after.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for my home baked bread, a pint, a warm memory, and a toast to my Grandma, Anna Tobin.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Some Might Call it Puppy Love

Two days later and my upper lip is still the swollen byproduct of an overly aggressive display of affection from my Valentine. Rough-housing on the floor with a 3 month old terrier puppy is always risky business, no matter how small the tyke. Don’t let those miniature milk teeth fool you — they pack a mean pinch.

how could you say no to that face? And then came the love bite and my swollen upper lip.

Wrap a red bow around its neck and call it Cupid, my new cairn terrier puppy Casey was my accidental Valentine this year. Accidental, because we almost didn’t pick her, but she wasn’t going to let us go home without her.

Last April, we lost Jessie, our 12-year old,  brighter than a sunbeam cairn terrier. Since then, there’s been a gaping hole in the family. But to be honest, while we desperately wanted another dog in Jessie’s likeness, we weren’t fully committed to the endeavor of finding one. Jessie was survived by 2 other terriers, and we felt we owed them both more attention.

Plus, puppies are huge emotional and physical commitments. Sure, I’ve cooked dinner for hungry boyfriends, but doing so wasn’t a mandated responsibility in the relationship. Puppies have to be fed. They also have to be picked up after, disciplined and loved (maybe they’re not so different from my exes after all). The analogy to children is apt, except that when it comes to puppies, we get to pick what breed, what gender and what disposition enters the family. Our standards were high.

A dog that swallows earrings might develop other bad habits?

Casey wasn’t our first choice. When we visited her litter 4 weeks ago, we came away wanting her sister. Casey’s ears drooped and her blueish, mottled coat made her look more warthog than terrier. Her sister was lighter in color with ears like tea-saucers — we saw her and saw our lost Jessie.

But Casey had other ideas.

On our second visit, Casey came to bat. My mother reached into the pen to examine the pup. Casey looked at my mum, looked at her tournmaline earrings, which matched her pink collar, and dove. Before my mother could ask for assistance, Casey had swallowed the 2 carat stud. Was it a sign? We were doubtful. It took her a day and a half for my mother to have a complete pair of earring again.

Casey has quickly made herself a part of the pack

On Valentine’s Day, we got a phone call to tell us the puppy was ready and that Casey was our only option. We didn’t think we were going to proceed — a puppy that eats gem stones may develop other bad habits. The hour and a half car ride was spent comparing the pup with the pink collar to the one with the white.  By the time we got there, we were on the fence. Casey wasn’t. As I walked into the puppy room, she practically leap over the coral gate and into my arms. I caved and the little pup with the pink collar came home with me.

Cupid’s arrow hit me hard this February 14th, just when I was least expecting it. But then again, that’s what they say about love, puppy or otherwise.

Trying to Remember It’s Not Hallmark’s Fault. It’s Tony and Katie’s.

Every year, I I try not to blame Hallmark for the excessive quantities of pink hearts floating around retail stores come February. I try not to label St. Valentine’s Day a holiday institutionalized by older married women in order to make younger single women feel inadequate. I try not to reduce February 14th to an excuse to eat excessive quantities of dark chocolate and caramel.

I "accidentally" knock Sweethearts off the shelf and "accidentally" step on them. I try not to, but I can't help it.

Most years I fail — I eat thousands of calories worth of heart-shaped truffles, I shoot bitter stares at older couples, and I “accidentally” knock bags of Sweethearts off the drug store shelf and “accidentally” step on them.

I blame Katie and a boy named Tony for my general animosity towards the holiday.

In the 6th grade, a single carnation-gram arrived on my homeroom desk with a note “Love, your secret admirer.” I was appropriately tickled pink. I moved from social studies to earth science on a cloud — what joy!  At dismissal, Katie confessed she had bough carnation-grams for all our girl friends. My little 11 year old balloon was burst.

Many, many, many years later, Tony would burst yet another heart-shaped bubble.

When Tony suggested we spend Valentine's Day together, this is what I envisioned... not a bar on All You Can Eat Wings! night

Of all our friends, we were the only two still single, and I confess that I was somewhat “in love” with him. When he suggested that we spend Valentine’s Day together, I took it as a sign he wanted to be more than friends. We agreed on casual, but when we ended up in a sports bar on “All You Can Eat Wing Night,” I wished I had worn my sports bra instead of the lacy push-up restricting the blood supply to my extremities. Midway through the evening, my toes were numb and a chunk of some frat-boy’s wayward vomit landed on my pink satin motorcycle jacket.

As Tony walked me home, we conversed by screaming, our ears still not adjusted to normal noise levels. We stopped on the stoop of my building and moved close together, our eyes full of  intention and confusion. I don’t know how much time passed, but I’m sure we reached a world record for longest awkward pause.  I eventually broke the stand-off with a kiss on the cheek and a g’night.

My bra had broken a rib, my jacket reeked of regurgitated chicken wings, and my “date” and I had loss our sense of hearing —  it was the most romantic Valentine’s Day I had ever had.

I’m sure one day I’ll be over my February the 14th phobia and once again become lover of Valentine’s Day. But I doubt carnations and men named Tony will have anything to do with my recovery.

I ask you...

Does Bubble Wrap Have a Right Side Up?

The calendar tells me it’s closer to Valentine’s Day than it is to Christmas, and yet until yesterday the stockings were still hung by the chimney with care. There’s no room for Cupid’s arrows and heart-shaped chocolates when your home is still overrun with elves and 8 tiny reindeer.

Traditionally, the family commences de-decorating on the first day of the New Year. It takes all the 12 Days of Christmas and then some to get each turtle dove and leaping lord out of its box, but usually we’ve closed the book on Christmas by January 2nd.

Not this year.

De-Christmasing requires heavy artillery, dogged determination, and a stiff drink.

It’s hard to let go of the holiday spirit when you’re buried under a snow drift. Plus, the 9 dancing ladies find the basement very dreary. My feet were dragging, but eager to begin the march towards robins, daffodils, and bunnies, I finally armed myself for de-Christmasing.

I stood in front of the table and assessed my supplies. It was all there:

A roll of bubble wrap, 4 feet in diameter

3 rolls of scotch tape

2 lbs of tissue paper (acquired for free from an unattended cash register in the menswear department at Bloomingdales)

Empty plastic boxes and large, brown department store bags

2 Sharpies– one red, one black

Bottle of gin

A straw

In the past, stowing away Christmas has been left to my father — which explains why more than one of the reindeer are missing feet. It’s also why I never realized how much more work it is to put away the holiday cheer than it is to spread it. A whole day spent wrapping wreaths in tissue paper and  porcelain evergreens in bubble wrap. A whole day sorting gift wrap into drawers and bells into boxes. A whole day nagged by the question: does bubble wrap have a right side up? I guess I’ll find out in 11 months when I unwrap Mickey Santa.

The glow of LED lightbulbs in the snow -- it's a carnival in ice crystals

One thing I refused to take down and store away are the outdoor lights. The city is swamped in slush. The sidewalks smothered in Mt. Everest-sized snow piles. Winter is growing dreary. Yet, the red, green, and blue lights bring a bit of joy. There’s something about looking out the window at the glow of LED lightblubs playing on the snow that cuts through the gray gloom — it’s a little carnival in ice crystals. The winter promises to be long. Will I be willing to put away the Christmas lights before July?  Here’s hoping.