Monthly Archives: November 2015

I have a confession to make…

I’ve been watching a lot of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. There. I said it. Out loud. That dirty, shivery feeling will pass in a moment. In the meantime, Lucy, let me ‘splain.

Frankie D is a romance junkie. No lie. When we were first married, he called his favorite category of movie “sexy comedy.” Now, he’s adopted a new favorite term. Rom-com. Don’t give him world powers and their intrigue, dystopia, or indie films about unlikeable characters doing unlikeable things. He loves a happily-ever-after wherein the problems encountered are either hilarious or of the romantic kind. Preferably both. If any Saturday Night Live alums appear, all the better. Don’t tell him I told you. Actually, you can. He loves his rom-coms and has no problem admitting it.

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone, now, that the Hallmark Channel is his favorite for holiday fare. I’ve formerly refused to watch any of these movies. This year, we both need a bit of over-the-top schmaltz, so I relented. Some of them are cute. Some of them have me rolling my eyes. Some, laughing out loud and not in any way the writers meant for me to. Oy, many are just really, really bad, but having watched a few of these movies now, I’ve learned something. The writers know exactly what they’re doing. They’re giving the public what it wants, what it expects when they turn on a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Such viewers aren’t looking for Alistair Sims’ version of A Christmas Carol, or Bad Santa. They’re looking for a feel-good, over-the-top cute holiday romance complete with adorable kids, puppies, and the darling pair of lovers never angsting over one another for more than thirty seconds before the dilemma of the moment is resolved. They know the villain will get her comeuppance, and the girl’s going to win the guy. Mom’s cancer will go into remission, Dad will get an unexpected leave from the war overseas, and Rover will find his way home. The cheesier the dialog, the better. The acting is akin to the soap-opera kind. And I noticed something else–there is no actual chemistry between the romantic leads. Chemistry equates to sexual tension, and aside from that longed-for kiss, there will be no tension suggesting s-e-x. Deviating from this path is not an option. And it’s all very purposely done.

The writers and producers are marketing not just the movie, but the channel, and they’re doing a bang-up job. Are these movies great? Even memorable? No. They’re not meant to be. Like a fair amount of romance in general, it’s meant to be enjoyed and forgotten. Why? Because if you remembered it, you wouldn’t watch–or read–the next one exactly like it.

Sometimes, I’ll pick up a book and wonder how the hell it sold a gazillion copies. The answer is simple–it fills a need. I get it now. While I believe a steady diet of this sort of thing is frighteningly escapist, we all need a little something sweet once in a while. The part of me that feels dirty and shivery when she sits down with her Frankie D to watch one of these movies will get over her damn self and enjoy it. Thanks Hallmark Channel.

The 12 Dates of Christmas from ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas was really cute. Any favorite Holiday movies you care to share?

Mine? A Christmas Story, Trapped in Paradise, Scrooged, Bad Santa, Christmas Vacation, to name a few. Not a yearly must-watch but memorable movie is The Family Stone.



Filed under Romance

Grandma Grace’s Artichokes

My grandmother made the best stuffed artichokes. It’s a well-known fact. My mother tried for years to get her to share her secret. Gram always told her she’d tell her one day, but that day never came. Grandma Grace died without ever passing her recipe along. Since then, mom’s tried. I’ve tried. We both think we know what it was she did, but neither of us have ever been able to duplicate them. It’s not that our stuffed artichokes aren’t good. They’re just not Grandma’s.

My grandmother was never an amazing cook. Plain and simple was her style. That’s what her artichokes were too. (She did share with me once one of her secrets–Wonderbread. Yes. Wonderbread.) I’m good with flavors, at being able to pick out even the most subtle herb in any dish. Why couldn’t I figure out Gram’s simple recipe? With Thanksgiving coming up, I bought four artichokes to practice on. If I got it right, I would bring them to my brother’s for Turkey Day.

Mulling over past attempts, trying to devise a new strategy, I had an epiphany. At last and finally, I realized I was never going to be able to make Gram’s artichokes. Ever. She’s gone, and she took her secrets with her. I couldn’t duplicate her recipe, only replicate it to the best of my ability.

My best is pretty damn good. Honoring her tradition, I used the ingredients I know she used, but for the first time, I made them my way. I added things I knew would enhance what I’d tried in the past. They were amazing. Dare I say it? Even better than Gram’s. Yes. I dare. I think she would agree. Mine were over-the-top delicious. The only nit I had was that there was too much stuffing. Next time, I’ll stuff them less.

I don’t do measurements, I eyeball everything, but here’s my recipe.

Gracie’s Stuffed Artichokes, Terri-Style

Four large artichokes

1 sixteen inch semolina loaf (has to be semolina)

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup grated romano cheese

2 eggs

1/3 c olive oil

garlic–lots of garlic (I used about a tablespoon and a half of minced, dried garlic. Gives it more of a kick than fresh.)

1 tsp salt (never skip the salt. It’s not like you make artichokes often)

1 c fresh baby kale*

1 c fresh watercress*

(*I threw these in because I had them in the house. It gave the artichokes a nice, earthy flavor. Arugula would have worked really well, too.)

32 oz container chicken stock

1 1/2 c white wine (not too dry, not too sweet)

2 tsp capers

3 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp butter

Cut stems off the artichokes so that the bottoms are flat. Clip the tips (they’re sharp!) off the leaves. Wash thoroughly, opening up the artichoke nice and wide to make stuffing easier (see photo below.) Turn them upside down to dry while you assemble the stuffing.


Steaming liquid: Put the stock, wine, lemon and capers into a large stock pot. Bring it to a simmer while you assemble the rest. NEVER BOIL IT! Boiling kills the flavor of the wine and capers, and makes the lemon bitter.

Stuffing: Chunk up the semolina and put it in the food processor. You want it coarse, not fine. Toss it into a big bowl with the cheeses, eggs, olive oil, garlic, kale, watercress, and salt. Mix it well. I use my hands. It’s the best way to make sure it’s all incorporated. The stuffing will hold together if you press it into a ball. If it doesn’t, add a little olive oil until it does.

Stuff the artichokes between each of the larger, outer leaves. You should be able to get fairly close to the center before they get too small. Shove a good bit into the center. This is messy business. Do it on a cutting board to make re-gathering the stuffing that misses the artichoke easier. Don’t over-stuff it. Yummy as the stuffing is, it gets to be a bit much.

Carefully lower the artichokes into simmering liquid. The liquid will come about halfway up the artichokes. Cover and let simmer 45 minutes to an  hour. When an inside leaf pulls away easily, they’re done. Remove artichokes from the liquid and set them onto a plate. There should be a good couple of cups of simmering liquid left. If there’s more, reduce it by simmering a little while longer. Remember–never boil! Take it from the heat, stir in the butter and pour the sauce back over the artichokes.

Eat them hot or cold, but warm is best.

If you try them, tell me! And send me a picture. This is not an actual pic of mine. I forgot to take one. But this is pretty much what it looked like.artichokes 1




Filed under Cooking

Cover Reveal: Dreaming August

Want to see the cover to the next book in The Bitterly Suite? Dreaming August will release in April, 2016. Here’s the “official” cover reveal.

This never gets old. It really doesn’t.


She should have been off-limits. After all, Benedetta “Benny” Grady is his best friend’s widow. But in the space of a whirlwind week, Daniel Greene went from strong shoulder to lean on to Benny’s ardent lover. Now Dan is determined to make Benny his bride. He hasn’t waited this long for love to let it get away so easily. But first, Benny has a few ghosts to contend with…

When Benny finds herself pregnant with Dan’s child, telling him should be easy. After all, she’s fallen hard for the wise-cracking bachelor. But how can she love another while remaining true to her late husband’s memory? Could the past hold the key to their future happiness?


Filed under Romance

The Grocery Store Is My Bugbear

The day was much like this one. Sunny, blue skies, just gorgeous. It was warmer, though. And Saturday. Great day for a motorcycle ride through Harriman (State Park, NY.) Things hadn’t been going well for us. The stresses of being so young with so much responsibility had taken its toll. But just the week prior, when I offered him an out with an open door when he was ready to come home again, he didn’t take it. He loved me. He loved our kids. He didn’t want to lose us. For the first time in months, we were happy. A solid week happy. Then came that Saturday, and the bike ride he never came home from.

It’s been thirty years.

I’ve always been a person for whom food = love. I loved grocery shopping, making meals, packing lunches. Always have, even when I was a kid helping out a friend’s parents when they threw parties. Food = love. That’s just who I am.

In the grocery store with my sister, in the days after Brian’s death, I came to the soda aisle and spotted A&W cream soda on sale. Gross. I hate cream soda, but I knew someone loved it. Who? Whowhowho?? It was really bugging me, because I knew it wasn’t my brother or sister, my parents. I certainly didn’t give Jamie soda. She wasn’t even three. And then I remembered who loved cream soda. Hit me right between the eyes, sucker-punched me in the heart. I crouched down right there in the soda aisle and cried. Poor Jamie, eating her weekly animal crackers, a treat that had always been her reward for being such a good girl. Maybe it was right there she decided she would never, ever make me cry. My girl. She never has.

The grocery store was my bugbear*. I went every week anyway. My kids needed to eat. It took a while, but it stopped being a testament to my fortitude and went back to being a mundane way to love my children. Frank and I have always done this weekly task together, from day one of our marriage, kids and all. Until they were old enough to stay home by themselves.

The grocery store is again my bugbear. It had shrunk down to a tiny black speck in the back of my brain, all these years since the cream soda crushed me. Now it’s fully-formed again. It loves catching me unaware as I reach for a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch that split moment before I remember the one I always bought it for is gone. It loves to taunt me at the fish counter when I pass over the soft-shell crabs. Gatorade on sale? Who cares? No one here drinks it anymore. Chris was a big guy. He loved to eat and was very specific about his strange tastes. Thus every aisle reminds me, taunts me, pricks tears out of me. I sing in the aisles of the Shop Rite that plays the 70s music my 14-year old hind brain remembers all the words to. Before, it was just fun. Now, it’s more whistling past the graveyard.

Drake’s Funny Bones get me to this day, because they were the one splurge I always made for Brian, when we were so poor there was no splurging on anything. If I see them, I choke up a little, but I smile. What a strange and adorable thing for a man to love. It will happen with soft-shell crabs and Gatorade and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I know. Right now, though, the Bugbear is flexing its muscles. Guess I’m going to have to flex my own whether I want to or not.

*1. a cause of obsessive fear, irritation, or loathing. 2. an imaginary being invoked to frighten children, typically a sort of hobgoblin supposed to devour them.


Filed under Family, Life's honest moments

A better day

I’m just taking a moment to thank you all. Those who commented here, on Facebook, and privately. I am loved. By family. Friends. Strangers. It’s an honor.

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Filed under Uncategorized

It appears I’m angry

One of the emotions I haven’t really felt since Christofer’s death is anger. I have had bouts of it. Short-lived and generally tempered with reason. I don’t like angry. Anger is too close to rash. It makes us say and do things we don’t mean. Or wish we didn’t mean. A lot of truth comes out in those angry bursts we would never spout without unfettered rage. For some, it’s cleansing. For me, for whatever reason, it isn’t. It makes me feel small and mean and, for want of a better word, dumb. No one listens to angry ranting, even if the spewing holds some truth. If you want to be heard, be funny. (An angry comic is always the best teacher, IMO.) If you can’t be funny, be sincere in a gentler way. Your truth will be heard and listened to, and never get brushed off with, “That was the anger talking.”

I live by this. I always have. But it appears I am angrier than I suspect. I keep it in. I don’t admit to it. I don’t give it voice. And thus I dream. Angry, angry dreams that I don’t even acknowledge. And then, last night, Chris was angry for me.

He was here, but only had a day, and he was so angry. He didn’t want to see his friends. He didn’t want to do any of the things he used to love. There were people here, largely ignoring him even when I cried, “But he’s only here for a day and then he’ll be gone again. Don’t you understand?” But no one did. No one cared. Just before I woke for the last time–because I kept waking, going back to sleep and picking up the dream again–he was asking the Dean of WestConn if he could wear a particular orange, sparkly leisure suit for his school picture. He was refused. I pleaded, “Don’t you understand? He’ll be dead again in just a few hours. What does it matter if he wears an orange sparkly leisure suit?”

Gads. I guess you don’t have to be a genius to read that dream accurately. So yes, I am angry, and I guess it’s time to admit it out loud. Ready?

I’m angry that he was so alone in the end.* I’m angry we didn’t comprehend just how bad the depression was. I’m angry that a young man I thought loved us all like family would give Chris the means to destroy us all. I’m angry he didn’t speak up, warn us. I’m angry that, after all Chris had been through, after all the pain and fighting and frustration, he didn’t make it. I’m angry that I wasn’t able to save him. I’m angry that love wasn’t enough. I’m angry that all the good he did for others, all the time and effort he gave out hoping to get even a little of the same back, never materialized. I’m angry that he was forgotten, swept aside like something not worth dealing with. I’m angry that he always felt like he didn’t belong. I’m angry that no matter what persona he adopted, it wasn’t the right fit. I’m angry that he didn’t have it better, that his whole being was destroyed at the age of fifteen, that during those long months recovering, he sat here alone. Friendless. Mourning the death of who he had been, all he’d planned on being. I’m angry with him, for not speaking up. For making that choice. For not being here. That I’m not Turtle anymore. I’m angry because I’m sad. All. The. Time. Even the joys are tempered with grief, and always will be from now on. I’m angry because I have to stay strong even when I want to crumble, because if I crumble, everyone does.

I’m angry. So, so angry. Because I already had more than my fair share of grief in this life. And now this has happened. This is my reality. There is no changing it. I’m angry because the words, “Why me? Again!” come to mind too often, and it makes me feel like a whiner.

Well…do I feel better? In a way, I guess. Reading back over all that, I see the truth in my anger, and I see the other side of every coin I tossed up. Because there is one in every case. I’m stronger than my anger. Way stronger. I’m smarter than it too. But we all have that primitive brain that needs to throw rocks once in a while. Mine just got its chance. Maybe next time I dream of Chris, he won’t feel the need to be angry for me.

*There was one young man who was here almost daily, right up until the end. He knows who he is. So if you’re reading this, or your mom or sister are, know I haven’t forgotten.


Filed under Life's honest moments

I’m probably about to piss some people off

Security theater: The practice of investing in countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually achieve it.

I have been using “Bandaid on a gaping wound” for years, to describe how I feel about a myriad of issues from bullying to equal rights to drug use and beyond. It seems all we do, as a culture, is pretend to fix things. Maybe I’m late to the game, but thanks to Adam Ruins Everything, I’ve learned a term that better describes what I think, and gives the issue itself a somber yet satirical air. Security theater. Exactly.

Here’s where I start pissing people off–when I read in the local paper about all the strides being taken to combat drugs in this town, I scoffed. I’ve seen the signs up all over the place, “Talk to your kids about heroin before it talks to them!” “Parents who host lose the most!” Yes, good messages and something all parents should know without signs all over town. Then how about stepping up the D.A.R.E. program–again. Teach kids from an even earlier age that pot and heroin are equally awful, and be sure to include the hypocrisy that alcohol is okay once you’re a certain age because the government says so. Strike fear into the hearts of kids everywhere with drug-sniffing dogs and mandatory open door policy in bathrooms. Even arresting and prosecuting those who sell drugs, the “little guys” the authorities used to have no interest in, is security theater. How is it no one seems to get that these things don’t stop anyone. Those who abide by these rules weren’t going to break them in any serious way to begin with. Those who don’t aren’t thwarted. By anything. It only makes the populace at large feel like something’s being done. It gives the desperate a straw to cling to. Are these bad things? Yes, because they create bubbles so fragile they will ultimately pop, and by then, the consequences are so much worse.

I’m not blindly raining on society’s “war against drugs” efforts. I was that desperate mother, buying into the security theater of AA and rehab*. Chris did both. Within weeks of getting out of a 30-day program, he was using again…in the parking lot of an AA meeting. I’m not saying these venues don’t work for some. Without going into the full rant detail about statistics, even AA’s own studies show their success rate to be 1:3. That means of every three addicts, one finds recovery through AA**. There are many studies that show the ratio to be even lower. I know many who’ve found success through this method. Yet, I know many more who have spent hundreds of thousands on rehab stint after rehab stint, who attend meetings daily, and still can’t stay sober.

When AA and rehab didn’t work for Chris, we took the more scientific route. He stayed clean for three years. And yet, here we are.

Sometimes AA and rehab does work. Sometimes a more scientific approach works. Sometimes “toughing it out” works. There’s no saying what’s going to work for some and not others. So what do we do? Throw our hands in the air and whoever lives, lives, and whoever dies, dies? Early on, someone said that to me. “You’ll see. You don’t want to believe it now, but you will.”

After Chris died, I’ll be honest. I did feel that way. It feels true. But that optimist in me that cannot buy into all this security theater believes 100% that there is an answer. We just don’t have it yet. We need to stop treating the symptom (drug abuse) as if it were the cause. It’s not the cause. I repeat–It is not the cause. It’s a symptom, and until we root out the real cause, we’re going to keep losing our loved ones.

Smart as he was, Chris was still human. When he felt it all starting again, he tricked us all. He tricked himself, because he didn’t want to be “that person.” The drug addict. The criminal. The mental case. Getting rid of the stigma that goes with the mental issues often leading to drug use is the #1 thing we should be doing, because it’s something we actually can do.

Whatever would have helped Chris, really helped him, is still a mystery. We have an obligation, as a society, to uncover it. We simply don’t know enough. About anything. And we never will if we keep throwing money into the security theater we already know doesn’t work. Right now, the measures taken don’t work nearly as effectively as people want to believe.

*I am truly happy for those who do find peace through these venues. If it worked for you, wonderful. You’re one of the lucky ones. Stay strong! And if ever you find yourself faltering, ask for help. 

**The ratio of success of those going it on their own is also 1:3. Just sayin’.


Filed under Life's honest moments