Thursday, December 24, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods

Today I took a little drive.

I was on my way to our new house, and instead of staying straight on the highway, I made a very familiar right turn.

A right turn that had been made hundreds of times in the past, but not for 10 years.

A right turn that would always be made on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, in years past.

I stopped by my grandparents' old house.

There was about a foot of snow still left on the ground from last week's blizzard. And as soon as I made that turn, there was no going back.

Over that river, and through those woods.

The neighborhood had barely changed. There were a few tree-forts added, a couple of newer cars in driveways, but that was about it. The same last names appeared on mailboxes. The same fences lined the road. That old cow complete-with-udders mailbox was still there. Rusty, but there.

I finally made it down the long winding road to Grandma & Grandpop's old house. 7521. Same mailbox, just painted differently. I hesitated for a moment. The snow lining the drive was so welcoming. I decided to turn into the drive, to get a better view of the house. I drove about half-way up the drive and just sat and stared.

The boxwoods were still lining the driveway and path to the house. I was grateful, Grandpop worked hard to plant and maintain those. The porch looked the same, just different furniture and perhaps a new railing. It was beautiful. I could practically smell Christmas dinner cooking in Grandma's double oven. A turkey and a ham. I caught myself looking twice swearing that I saw a few of my cousins as children running across the front yard chasing each other. It was then when I felt the warm tears run down my cheeks.

I felt as though I had every right to drive up the rest of that driveway. Why shouldn't I? These were my memories. My grandparents owned this house first. It was my cousins that grew up here. We spent every Christmas here for nearly 20 years. This wasn't someone else's house now. I should just be able to walk right up to the door, ring that familiar doorbell, and give Grandma that apple pie I'm holding. I should be able to go inside and place my gifts underneath of that Christmas tree. I should be able to sit at that childrens' table that is set up in the kitchen.

But I couldn't. It may be the same house, but it is no longer the same home.

Grandma, Grandpop, Uncle Mark...they all lived in that house. And they have all passed on to eternal life. And for some unknown reason that cannot be explained in this lifetime, those days had to end. But I will forever hold their beautiful, sacred memories. The memories of the moments that happened within property boundaries of this house.

And for now, I can drive and visit this sacred spot whenever I desire.

I liked the house better when it was green.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Love Remembers

A dear friend of mine recently asked me:

"When did you first know that you were in love with Jim?"

The question caught me off guard and made me stop and think. When did I first know that it was love? It seemed like love from the very beginning. I took it, ran with it, and never looked back. The question would call for me to retrace my steps.

We met in early September, 2005. We started dating in early November that same year. It was somewhere in between, as I remember, when I first knew that not only did I love him, but he was going to be my husband.

Our dating life took a traditional path early on that continues into our marriage today. We never spent alone time together, we watched movies with friends and sat on opposite sides of the room, and we went out on dates with groups. I was happy at the time (and looking back) that that's the way it was. It gave me a chance to see how he interacted with others. It gave him the opportunity to pursue me.

It was one of these date nights when I realized that I was in love with him. It was rugby date night. Each member of the team asked a girl to escort him to a night of fun in Pittsburgh. We went to an Italian restaurtant in downtown Pitt, and then went ice-skating. It was at dinner that night when my rush of emotions took me completely off guard. There we were, a group of about 60 of us, about to dive into the delicious pastas and mouth-watering chicken that had just been served. At this moment, Jim stood up at the table we were at, and said "Gentlemen, it's time to pray."

I can barely even remember what words he spoke as he asked the Lord for His blessings. I was just sitting there, head bowed and hands folded, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Here I am, in the midst of wonderful, Christian people, with a man who is pursuing little unworthy me, and he just asked everyone to pray. My heart took over what my mind couldn't figure out, and became in-charge from that moment on.

Ever since then, I have often been subtly reminded of that moment through the actions of my now-husband. The corned-beef feast he made for my birthday that same year. The reminders to say my rosary. The insistence that we give to the church each week, even when it's hard. The willingness to drive me 9 hours to Lake George whenever I feel "home-sick". Holding my music for me when I play the violin at special events. Turning our bedroom into a special Christmas-wonderland last year when I was sick. The list goes on and on. It amazes me what one prayer spoken in Pittsburgh several years ago, has foretold.

Merry Christmas, my love. Thank you for that prayer 4 years ago, and thank you for the gift of you.

**Let it be noted that at least 3 other couples who got together that rugby date night have since married, as well. Thank you for that prayer, Jim.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Catherine Estelle.

Today is my grandmother's birthday. She would have been 88 years old.

Grandma passed away in 2005. It was so sudden, she wasn't even sick. It was so shocking, everyone thought she'd live to be well into her 90's like her mother, or at least out-live Grandpop, who was so ill. It was so heart-wrenching, none of us knew how to go on with our lives without her.

On today, her birthday, I cannot help but think back to 88 years ago this very moment, as my great-grandmother, tired from the pangs of labor, proudly held her new baby girl. I can imagine a wooden-floored, musky scented bedroom in a small house in Maryland. There's a nurse straightening up the room and then leaving quickly to give the parents a few moments to themselves with their newest daughter. I wonder if at that moment the thought crossed their minds about what an incredibly wonderful woman this little baby would grow up to be? Did they realize the impact that this little girl would have on the world? All of the lives that she would help bring into it, all of the people she would touch, and the values she would instill so many young people? They probably didn't know it at the time, but they probably know now better than I do, as they watch down from heaven.

Grandma was without a doubt, the most unselfish person I have ever known. During her life, she never did one thing for herself. Even if she was going shopping, it was for a special occasion such as a grandchild's wedding, a baptism, a church function. She knew all 26 of her grandchildren's birthdays, and would recite them to herself each night as she fell asleep. In addition to this, she knew the great-grandchildren's birthdays, and all of her nieces/nephews birthdays. Anniversaries were the same. There was always a card waiting in the mailbox from Grandma if you had a birthday. She spent every waking moment caring about how you were.

Grandma's last words whenever anyone would visit her at her house were always: "Come back and see me!" She adored visitors. What was a monotonous phrase at the time that I thought little about, I would now do anything to hear again.

Grandma had the most amazing house. It was beautiful. Everything was always clean, smelled nice, and decorated for the season. My mind is full of wonderful memories of playing with my cousins in the backyard, sipping iced tea with my aunts in the gazebo, and walking around the orchard with Grandpop. I would give anything to go back to those days. The days of the cousins getting sent to the basement to play...which always turned out to be a game of hide-and-seek in the dark. I want to smell whatever she's cooking in the kitchen. Hear the sound of her telephone. Smell those boxwood bushes. Taste the innocence of our youth.

Grandma was my godmother. She was also my Confirmation sponsor. She was a convert to the Catholic faith after she married Grandpop. She instilled the most important values into me.

When Grandma was 69, she lost her youngest son. I remember it being my 8th birthday and everyone was crying. My mom told me that I couldn't have a birthday party anymore, and that Uncle Mark had died. I didn't believe her because only old people died. But I believed her when I saw Grandma that day. She was sitting in her pink chair in the family room. Her hair and nails were neatly done. She did not say a word to anyone. She sat in her chair as straight as could be, and her eyes were staring blankly ahead. From that moment forward, I understood what it meant to have a piece of you die. Grandma was never the same after that. And because of that, no one was.

For Grandma's 83rd birthday, I flew home for the weekend and surprised her with flowers. She was so happy with the Autumn bouquet that had showed up at her door with grandchild #20 behind them. I remember her smiling so wide and immediately placing them on the coffee table in the family room. I made my visit quick I remember, I had errands to run. As I was leaving, Grandma got a phone call from one of my aunts, who was calling to wish her a happy birthday. As I shut the door behind me, I could hear Grandma bragging about the reds and oranges in her new arrangement. That's when I heard her proudly proclaim,

"Emily will never forget me!"

Those were the last words that I ever heard her speak.

And never have truer words been spoken.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Top 10 Happiest Days

September 29 was "Write a List of the Top 10 Happiest Days of your Life!" day. I wrote my list then, but didn't have a chance to post it on here until now.

So here goes!

1. My wedding day. (May 24, 2008).

2. The day Jim asked me to marry him. (July 5, 2007).

3. The day after Jim asked me to marry him; when I got to call my all my family and friends and share with them the exciting news. (July 6, 2007)

4. My 20th birthday. I was studying abroad in Austria, and my friends made sure it was a day to remember. They decorated the 14th-Century building we were living in with over 30 creative posters, made me brownies, performed a phenomenal skit, and brought me american food (chees-its, fruit roll ups and oreos) which I'd been missing. (December 5, 2002).

5. The day that I found out I'd been accepted to FUS, and that I was really going to the college of my dreams. (January 2001).

6. The day that I'd dreamed about forever: when I got to share with my love (whom I eventually married) my favorite place on earth: Lake George. (August 2006).

7. The day my brother came home from boot camp. (August 1, 2009).

8. Although I wasn't fully aware of the deep joy at the First Holy Communion Day, (May 12, 1991).

9. The day that I played the violin at my first wedding, with Opa, (August, 1996).

10. This day has not happened yet...but the day that we close on our first home, (November 2009).

Sunday, August 30, 2009


How do you tell someone you love goodbye? There's no easy way to do it, and there's no way around it in this life.

I had to say goodbye to my brother tonight. He's deploying to Germany, will most likely be shipped to a war zone, and we don't know when we'll see him next.

My brother, Robert, and I have always been very close, but as we've both "matured" (I use the term loosely) into adulthood over the past few years, we've become closer than ever. We have a similar sense of humor (though mine tends to run a bit more G-rated), we find the same random things funny, we find similar things irritating in life, etc.

Robert always knows how to make me burst out laughing right in the middle of dinner, so much so that I usually need to excuse myself from the table. He's one of the few people in this world who has the power over me to give me the "crazy-eye". (definition: I laugh so hard that one of my eyes shuts half-way, while the other gets very big and wide.) He is just constantly making me laugh.

Robert also has a very sensitive side that often surprises me. I remember that there was a time in my life where I was going through more hardship than I'd ever known. My world had been shattered in my eyes, and I had become so down. One night, as I laid in the top bunk of the bunk-bed that we shared for a year, I was sobbing uncontrollably, dwelling upon my own misery. Without even questioning my pity, he climbed up to the top, rubbed my back and started singing to me. He reassured me that everything would be fine, that "this too would pass", and that he would always be supportive of me.

Less than a year later, I encountered a personal tragedy. My world was once again turned upside down, and I was certain that no one understood what I was going through. I was again shattered, and with this tragedy came a deep fear for being alone, as in physically left alone in a room, for even a second. When night fell and the world was asleep, I was wide awake, frightened. It was then that Robert, without missing a beat, came into my bedroom with a book, pillow and blanket, and made camp on the lumpy love seat in my bedroom. "I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to pull an all-nighter in here tonight," he declared, as if it were normal. And he did. He stayed up all night long, reading his book and occasionally checking to make sure I was comfortable. If I stirred in the middle of the night, he was on his feet within seconds to make sure I was fine. He didn't go to bed himself until 8:30 the next morning.

These two recent memories were thick on my mind as we drove Robert to Dulles Airport today. Anticipating the separation from someone whom you often spend time wondering if he's really your hard. And that car ride, as I tried to take in every second and convince myself that his presence was not imagined, was hard. I looked over at Robert holding his fiance's hand at one point, and couldn't help but smile. The three of us were crammed into the backseat, and our shoulders-hips-knees were all touching. The reality of the situation combined with my dad's unchanging driving immediately took me back.

Back many, many years ago.

Back to the first time that my parents brought Robert home from the hospital. I was so excited, that I sat in the backseat explaining to my baby brother that we had a surprise coconut cake for him at home that I wasn't supposed to tell mom about.

Back to his baptism, and all of our relatives calling him "Baby Bobby", and me, the older, wiser sister explaining that his name was "Robert".

Back to taking car trips, with me buckled next to Robert in his baby car seat, and me making sure that the shadow of my hand over his face shaded his eyes from all times from the bright sun.

Back to me sitting on his bed one night, explaining to the then 4-year old brother that he better enjoy his time with me now, because I was going to be going to college in 10 years.

Back to playing his favorite game "Rosie" in the backyard, and holding hands and spinning so hard and for so long while looking up at the dusk sky- that we eventually fell backwards and tackled each other.

Back to the first Christmas gift he'd ever given to me: a dish sponge that he had drawn eyes and a toothy-grin on and called "Spongebob."

Back to him sending me a CD that he personally burned while I was away at college, appropriately called "Now that's what Robert calls music."

Back to seeing his expression when I showed him that I had a diamond ring on my finger.

Back to riding in the limo on the way to the reception after my wedding Mass, and looking in the back and seeing Robert holding Julia's hand.

Back to me seeing his expression as he showed me that he had put a diamond ring on Julia's finger.

Back to this morning, as I bought a new bible for him and had Father bless it after mass, and handed it to him before we left; all while memories were flooding my mind, and a grapefruit sized lump appeared in my throat.

I never imagined that saying goodbye would be this difficult. The house is empty without him. It's eerily quiet. I wonder if having him here for 4 weeks was a dream or not. Robert, you will probably read this from home when you return, correct all the grammar out loud and then laugh at how sappy I was. But just in case you find a wave of internet before then, know that you are so incredibly missed. And this, too, will pass.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Complete Bliss

Do you ever have one of those days, when you wake up in the morning just knowing that the day is going to be great?

I'm not talking about having an occasional optimistic attitude upon hearing the alarm go off. I'm referring to those mornings, when you just have that deep, in-your-gut feeling that today, something outstanding is going to happen. On those days, I can hardly get out of bed fast enough, rushing through the morning's routine, barely being able to contain excitement- wondering What is it? Where? Could this be it? I find myself looking in pockets of jackets hoping to find a misplaced $5 bill, searching the cabinets to see if there are any hidden 3-muskateers left, asking myself if I should stop by 7-11 and pick up a MegaMillions ticket.

But none of the things that run through my mind could possibly measure up to what today's sheer euphoric moment had offered.

It happened this morning while I was in the cafe room at work, filling up my coffee cup. Disappointed that I hadn't eaten breakfast, I had already decided that I'd settle for a flavored coffee, (sometimes it feels like I've had a donut that way.) As I lifted my freshly brewed cup of macadamia nut off the machine, I was positive I was being stared at. I whirled around to confront the impatient intruder, only to have our eyes lock.

There before me, staring right back into my eyes, with the sweetest smile across his face, I saw it. The reason for my bliss upon getting out of bed this morning. The Eat N Park Smiley cookie, in all its glory, had been delivered to Tysons VA straight from Pittsburgh PA. There was one left in the tray, and it was calling my name. And I gobbled it up.

Not before taking its portrait first, of course!

Was the cookie delicious? Not really. Was it fresh out of the Eat N Park oven? Unfortunately not. But in that corporate office outside of booming DC, after sitting in 2 hours of rush-hour bmw traffic: that cookie represented the best 5 years of my life.

Living in the Ohio Valley, attending at Franciscan University, having the best friends in the world, meeting my all brought back the memories of late nights at Eat N Park. I could hear the oldies mix that they used to play after midnight at Eat N Park as I ate that cookie. I could practically feel my stomach turning inside out from foolishly ordering the "Stickies and Eggs" again. I even had a vision of the "Frownie", the "Smiley's" arch-nemesis, from the dive across the street from good ol' Eat N Park.

I don't make this stuff up, folks.

Could tomorrow somehow top today's euphoria? Only if this guy shows up:

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I don't even know what NCAA stands for.

I probably shouldn't be admitting that right now. I just received an email that I almost deleted, but decided not to for some reason. It was from a guy named Jonathan- which just sounds like a spamalicious name - and he was talking about a pool (swimming, I assumed). I opened it, casually skimmed if seeing if hot tubes were included, and saw my name and the name of my town. Still thinking it was a scam, my eyes caught "$1000 prize winner!" and I read closer. The email read:

Congratulations to North Carolina for winning the tournament, and special congratulations to our Bracket Challenge Winner - Emily C. of Haymarket, VA. Emily won the bracket by scoring 50 points, then claiming 1st place by winning the total cumulative score prediction tie-breaker - and will receive our grand prize of $1,000 Cash!

That's me! And it is true! My bracket...that I entered literally at the last minute on the True Oldies 105.9 fm's website...won out of everyone! All those people who are glued to their ESPN television sets all year long...keeping stats and taking score...memorizing people's last names and how tall they are, etc etc. And then there's me. I think the title of this post says it all. :)

I should mention though, that my husband had designed the bracket, I just entered it in on the website. Just for fun.

Sorry it's hard to see, but that's me up top, out of thousands of sports fanatics!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Happy Easter, Bobby.

These days, my husband and I spend most of our time thinking of ways how we can spoil our nephew next. We weren't sure we could top last year's Christmas present (a Wii)-- until Jim thought of the Ultimate Easter Basket. See below.

I would give anything to see the look on his face come Easter morn' !

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Good Week.

What a great week it was! Here's a recap of all the reasons I'm smiling:

1. The week started out with Jim and I sitting down and having a very serious conversation concerning a potentially life-changing decision: to buy or not to buy. ... Billy Joel/Elton John tickets that is! We decided to go for it! So from now until mid-July I will probably listen to Piano Man and Philadelphia Freedom on repeat until the big day...or until Jim decides to rescind the decision and scalp the tickets at the last minute. Either way - I can't wait!

2. I was half right with my American Idol prediction on Wednesday night...which puts me in 2nd place at the office! (along with 15 other people). Jorge went well as Jasmine.

3. Possibly the most exciting news, # 3 and # 4: We got our federal and state tax returns! They went to:

4. We paid off a credit card! The unfortunate news though is that now that Citi isn't banking off of our ridiculous interest rate each month, The Mighty O has decided to increase their share of the stimulus pack - sorry fellow taxpayers. But it had to be done.

5. And the rest of the tax return (since we had so much of it) went to savings and paying down student loans. Weeee.

6. And last but not least...anticipation. I'm going swimming with George tomorrow! Pictures will definitely be taken!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

American Idol - My First Year

2009 has been a year full of firsts for me, and being that it's only March, that's pretty impressive. I celebrated my first Valentine's Day as a married woman, made my first dinner without needing to pull the smoke detector's batteries out, and will (I hope/better) get my first raise in 2 years. The only thing that was missing was getting addicted to a new TV show. So why not American Idol?

I've been a pretty faithful "AI" watcher this season. I even stay up an hour past my bedtime on Tuesday nights. My husband has even suffered silently on evenings when AI is extended to a 3rd night of the week, when it takes the time slot of "Bones", my husband's second-favorite show next to Obama's weekly speeches. Anyway, here's the big news: At work today, as my boss' boss called me into his office and I started preparing myself for what he would be asking of me...he threw a piece of paper towards me. "You have to join the pool! The American Idol Pool!"

That's right. My office as an American Idol Pool.

This week, we are supposed to predict 2 things: Who will be voted off tonight, as well as who will make it to the final 3.

Each week we predict different things (well, like who will be voted off), get points each week for our accuracy, and at the end of the season whomever has the most points wins some dough.

What better way to pay down debt!

Here they are, my predictions for tonight's elimination round:

Jorge and Megan....adios!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Music to My Heart

Tonight is the first night of the year that I can hear the tree frogs.

They sound absolutely beautiful.

Their song, announcing the upcoming arrival of Spring, reminds me of the new life that is to come at the end of these 40 days of Lent.

I adore this time of year. Only good things to come.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I love love.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a wedding at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. My college roommate, Breah, got married to a wonderful man named Michael. I have not really gotten to know Michael too well, but from stories being told at the wedding, the slideshow during the reception, and the little that you can tell about a person by being their facebook friend, I can tell that these two are a match made in heaven. I don't know if I've ever been to a wedding other than my own where there was so much joy and love, especially between the two families. The Wests and Madsons were so genuinely happy to be gaining a new daughter/son, who they recognized as a God-send to help each other achieve Sainthood.

Aside from being overjoyed at their nuptuals, I was also so excited to really truly give my new camera a test drive! Here are a few of my favorites.

So what do you think I should call my new business? Conrad's Candids or Em's Gems? Or stick with my day job perhaps?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Camera

I got a new camera for Christmas. I haven't really gotten a chance to play around with it much, but I'm learning.

Here are a few shots from the past several weeks:

Nutcrackers on Christmas morning.

New Years Eve, 2008.

My pup George giving me kisses.

One of my favorites, my nephew sleeping during a car ride in Colorado.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Weekend Fun

Oh how I love the feeling of a Friday afternoon. Saturday morning is my favorite day of the week. Which makes Friday almost as good since I spend the entire day anticipating Saturday, and dreaming up plans about what projects I want to work on over the 48-hour break from work.

This weekend's plans include (so far):

1. Help my aunt rearrange some furniture at her house.

2. Get my rear tires replaced at 7:30 am Sat. (No sleeping in this weekend!)

3. Taking George to his swim lesson. This will be his 4th week going. Since we've been taking him, his limp has completely gone away! This saves us the anxiety of worrying about future surgeries, as well as saddness for our pup!

4. HOPEFULLY get up to Chrysallis Winery and pick up my past 2 wines-of-the-month. And maybe take my mom for her first tasting!

5. Work on my 3+ year project...that's almost nephew's scrapbook! I have to add a family tree to the last page, and a letter to him on the first page, and then I'm pretty much done! If I keep it in my possession much longer, I'm going to keep re-doing pages! I guess you can say that I am my Opa's granddaughter - he is notorious for re-writing church music that he's already written.

6. Church Sunday morning at 8:30 am!

I love the weekend! Thank you Lord for 52 of them a year!!