Preparations for France and Russia

Sunday my vacation begins…

And do I ever need it.

Life has been hectic, and isn’t it always? Daughter spilled water on husband’s laptop and fried it. Husband drove through nasty pot hole and did $1400 worth of damage to the front end of the car.

I can’t find my sunglasses (prescription) and I just got a new crown that the insurance company is fighting. But hey, we’re surviving. 

Then my grandfather died Saturday night. He hasn’t spoken to me in 25 years, but it’s my father’s father and my father is one of the central people in my universe so seeing him struggle is hard.

He had considered not having a funeral, but now we’re having the traditional viewing, funeral and taking Grandpa to the cemetery. It’s going to be a long day, especially since the cemetary isn’t even in this state. 

It will be the first time I’ve ever seen the family plot, as my grandmother died when I was a baby.

And in the midst of this craziness, there’s the upcoming trip to France and Russia. So I’m thrilled to be traveling again, but part of me is simply desperate to escape. 

Day Trip to Hershey

I woke up yesterday frustrated by the freshly fallen snow that had ruined my plans to get out the bikes— daughter has a new bike, a grown-up bike, that she received for Christmas from her grandparents— and go for a long, first-ride-of-spring trip down the rail-to-trail path. 

I didn’t have to work, and that only happens rarely on the weekends, so I wanted to do something with my family. My daughter suggested watching a movie. I wanted something better than sitting on the couch. 

So, at noon yesterday, we hopped in the car and headed to Hershey. I last visited Hershey circa 1991. While I can technically say “I’ve been to Hershey before,” it has changed. It’s crazy amazing now. I think I stumbled upon the right age to take a child, since my daughter is ten-and-a-half and a full-fledged preteen know-it-all. Hershey reverted her to a spastic young ‘un full of wide-eyed awe. 

I had done a quick web search from my phone as we were walking to the car. I knew there were multiple attractions of multiple prices ranging from free to $14.95 per person. I also knew Hersheypark was not yet open for the season. Roller coasters would have to wait for another day (and a bigger budget). It’s a nice 90 minute drive from our home to Hershey. I also viewed this as a way to practice spontaneity. 

I’m very fortunate in a way. My mother is very frugal, knows how to budget, pays off her credit cards every month, and hides a little bit of cash somewhere for a rainy day. My father has a somewhat looser attitude towards money. He spends more generously than my mother, buys a lot of motorcycles and never balances his checkbook. I ended up a healthy blend of the two. I budget. I pay my credit cards every month. I also tend to spend when the occasion calls for it. Like on a good suit. Or, in this case, a family day trip.

We didn’t arrive at Hershey Chocolate World until 2 p.m. They close at 6 p.m. This meant we couldn’t do everything. (And honestly this kept the expense down AND the level of saying “no.”) We worked with the staff member at the ticket desk and booked the Trolley Works tour of Hershey ($14.95/adult; $10.95 child) and the Create-Your-Own-Chocolate-Bar ($14.95/person). 

To be honest, I insisted we do the Create-Your-Own-Chocolate-Bar. My husband and daughter seemed to pick the trolley. The other options were cheaper, the 4D mystery show and the Chocolate Tasting. My daughter originally suggested that, but the staff member pointed out that it was primarily a lecture with a lot of samples of dark chocolate from around the world. I was drooling, but chocolate school did not appeal to her. The staff member was very adapt at timing things so we could move from place to place without rushing but didn’t have too much free time.

I reminded my daughter that this is why she needed to be thankful that she didn’t have siblings because at these prices with more than one child I couldn’t afford to leave the house. 


I insisted we do the Chocolate Tour first. The Chocolate Tour is free, and though I don’t remember singing cows, it is the only part of Hershey Chocolate World that I remember existing from my other visit. The ride itself is like a Tilt-A-Whirl used as a transport device (without the spinning) that explains how Hershey makes chocolate. I thought my preteen would fine this lame. She adored it. We had to ride it twice. (I did make her wait until the end of the day for the second go.)

The trolley tour was an hour and fifteen minutes. I think the child lost interest after about 45. The history is extremely well done and the tour guides appropriately funny. Every time I started to get bored, they passed out chocolate samples. You eat a lot of free chocolate at Hershey.


The trolley tour chocolate samples started with Lancaster Caramels, what Milton Hershey made before chocolate, moved to Hershey Kisses, then flavored Hershey Kisses, then Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. When we disembarked, we received a full-sized Hershey Bar.


But, from a child’s perspective, I imagine the Create-Your-Own-Chocolate-Bar topped everything. They coded your name into your ticket, gave you a paper apron and hat, and sent you to some touch screens to select your options. First the chocolate innards: milk, white or dark chocolate. Then, up to three add-ins: crisped rice, toffee, pretzels, cookies, chocolate chips or butterscotch chips. Finally, whether or not you wanted sprinkles on top. From there, you went into the mini-factory. 


You scanned your ticket and pushed a button and your bar was placed on the production line. A screen displayed your name every time your bar reached that part of the process and you watched your bar receive its guts, its chocolate coating, everything. Eventually, it slid into a chute where a machine inserted it into a box and laser-printed your name on the side of the box. 


While it cooled and hardened, you designed the package. It was printed and a staff member boxed your bar in a Hershey tin and used your package as the outer sleeve. 


We ate a portion of our bars for breakfast today. We hope to make a summer trip to Hershey. 


I posted an entry on my food blog today about creating my own variation of the Somali stew, Maraq.

It shares a lot of my thought process in the kitchen and may even reveal a bit about my family. Don’t mess with us when we’re hungry.

It also includes my recipe… But we have no taste test until later…


My daughter saying farewell

My daughter saying farewell

I apologize if this image offends anyone. But I find it beautiful and I wanted to share.

My husband’s 94-year-old grandmother died last week after a long battle with cancer. For the first year-and-a-half she did well, a round of radiation with my mother-in-law as her live-in caregiver and nurse. After her birthday this year (July 4), she retired to her bed and did not leave her bedroom again.

With the help of hospice nurses, my mother-in-law cared for her as if she were a newborn baby. I wish I could say it was peaceful as her obituary claimed, but the last two weeks were not. I will spare the gruesome details and say only that I now understand how zombie legends started. Apparently, my grandmother-in-law’s heart kept going even when her body had begun serious decomposition.

Nana died at home. This was the third and final great-grandparent that my daughter had. The first passed away when she was five or so and we brought her to the viewing with one brief glance into the casket. The second followed a year or two later, and this time my daughter heard more about the choices that had to be made about end of life care and “pulling the plug.”

This time, my daughter, at nine, helped care for her dying great grandmother and attended the whole funeral– riding in the limo with her grandparents, attending the whole viewing and funeral, and even going graveside. (My daughter sat beside the grave with her grandparents and boisterously asked, “Are they going to drop her into that hole?” The pastor laughed.)

My mother-in-law had asked for three pink roses tucked into Nana’s hand– one for each of her three great-grandchildren (all girls, the other two are in their twenties). The funeral director knew Nana well and slipped a peppermint into her fingers as he remembered her always having a hard candy to share.

I found so much beauty in that day. The sun-drenched October day turned out perfect, sandwiched between cold, rainy days. My daughter did such sweet things, like helping her aunt arrange the blankets around Nana before they closed the casket.

But this photo summarizes it for me: My darling baby, kneeling before her great-grandmother for a farewell, using those quiet moments before the public calling hours. Yes, you can see the body, but it’s almost indistinguishable. Bathed in light with color from the flowers. It was a peaceful moment.

Photography: A Child Says Adieu (Nana’s funeral, 2013)

Feature/Health: Breastfeeding (2004)

I clearly remember leaving the office on my due date to visit the obstetrician. I had been 4 cm dilated and significantly effaced since my birthday, a good three weeks earlier. In the newsroom, at meetings and at interviews, my heavily pregnant self made people nervous. I asked my obstetrician when I should stop working. He looked at me and, once he recovered from the shock that I was still in the office, suggested I not return.

That was June 10. My daughter came into this world on June 23, thanks to some hearty doses of Pitocin to hurry her along. Any first-time parent will tell you, those first six-to-eight weeks are “baby boot camp,” grueling, exhausting and testing your limits. I can’t speak on second babies. I only had one.

As a good reporter, I tried to recycle some of my personal experience into copy. Plus, I learned a lot of information as a new parent that I never knew before, or perhaps thought about things I never thought about before I had a baby.

Breastfeeding was one of these topics. I felt like no one really talked about it. I was born premature and didn’t come out of the hospital for three months so my mother never breastfed. I felt lost and figured if I felt lost, so did others.

My editor allowed me to do a lengthy two-part series on breastfeeding. This is part one.

Breastfeeding, part 1

Breastfeeding, part 1

Breastfeeding, part 2

Breastfeeding, part 2



Surviving Life With Baby

My daughter, photo taken by me

My daughter, photo taken by me

A humorous list of survival techniques for parents welcoming their first child.

Surviving Life with Baby

  1. You may think you have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t, but neither does baby. Baby is just as new at this as you are.
  2. The “book” may say not to put baby in the swing for more than 30 minutes at a time, twice a day. Other moms say: If it saves your sanity, do it.
  3. It’s normal to consider selling the baby on eBay. (As my husband says, “SIDS is just an excuse for parents who smother their infants.”)
  4. Rock, swing, swaddle, sing, feed, diaper. Repeat.
  5. Week four is easier than week three, and so on.
  6. For the firsts few weeks, make lists of everything. A “to do” list may include your own basic hygiene.  (Hint: conveniently leave list of chores where friends or relatives, who “want to help” will see it.)
  7. There will be days when you don’t brush your teeth until two in the afternoon.
  8. Sometimes, running the dishwasher makes it a good day. Sometimes, running and emptying the dishwasher constitutes a good week.
  9. Make your own rules, then decide which ones to break. (I said no pacifiers, but rescinded for nap time when my mother-in-law babysat, but I insist on the No TV rule. I like putting the baby to bed at a set time every night, but sometimes my friend keeps her baby up if her husband works late so they can have family time.)
  10. Listen to your heart, not your neighbor’s advice. Same goes for mothers and other relatives. If it doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it.
  11. You will understand Baby’s cries. Suddenly, around eight weeks, you just know what the baby wants. And you’re not sure when it happened.
  12. Your life will start to return to normal—in about six months.
  13. If breastfeeding, remember: It can be uncomfortable for the first four to six weeks. Then, it’s the easiest thing in the world. Even in public. As my friend and peer mom says, “it’s not a breast anymore, it’s like whipping out a bag of potato chips.”
  14. It’s not just poop. It’s a major event. After a while, it requires a Richter scale. “That’s the biggest 10 I’ve ever seen!”
  15. Call your friends. Have a friend or relative who you can call at any hour. Or make sure your spouse has a cell phone on. There will be days when you feel like you’re going crazy and you need someone who has had a baby and understands. These days get fewer as baby grows, but they still happen.
  16. Sleep when the baby is sleeping sounds good but it doesn’t always work. I recommend going to bed at night when the baby goes to bed, even if it is 6:30 or seven o’clock. You may need to do this for a couple months to prevent utter and sheer exhaustion.
  17. If you cook, double the recipe and freeze some. Label well.
  18. Prioritize. I do dishes and laundry every other day. But the toilets—I try to do them once a week. If I make every other week, that’s more realistic. Until baby moves, vacuuming is a low priority. (But a good one if visitors want to be helpful. Just leave the vacuum where friends and family will see it.)
  19. Pace yourself. Even if you feel great, don’t overdo it. Take it as easy as you can until that post-partum check-up. And if your guests/relatives/visitors annoy you—ask for some space or hide. You can take the baby with you or not. Hormones do go crazy. Blame them.
  20. If baby is inconsolable, go for a ride in the car, a walk around the block or try the swing. Motion works wonders.  Sometimes, you need fresh air, too.
  21. MOST IMPORTANTLY: On the very worst days, the baby will do something really cute to remind you why you’re doing this. Don’t forget to watch for it.