Category Archives: Family

#37. & #38. father-daughter dates and paying it forward

I have been a daddy’s girl as long as I can remember. Ok, I’m a momma’s girl too (I lucked out with two super awesome parents), but my dad and I are practically the exact same person. He’s the guy who introduced me to Jules Verne and gave me my thirst for adventure and travel. He taught me how to make the perfect pancakes. Because of him, my first word as a baby was AC/DC thanks to continuous replays of Thunderstruck and Back in Black. He’s incredibly smart, creative, idealistic and one hell of a cook. I’m thankful to take after him so much.

As a teenager you go through this transition – from worshiping your parents as kids to not wanting to be in a 500 foot radius of them. Hanging out with your parents is no longer the cool thing to do, and so you replace Sunday morning breakfasts with your dad for Shady Maple trips with your best friends. Instead of staying in and watching a movie with him, you opt for boozy movie and manicure nights with your gals.

Then you hit your twenties, and you move a few states away and you realize how much you miss Sunday morning pancakes. And reciting lines from National Lampoon’s Vacation. Which is why it was so important for me to take my dad out for a father-daughter date this summer. Especially considering that the last one was 12 years ago.

Twelve years ago, I was in sitting in Ms. Lawlor’s history class. I was in 6th grade and it was my 11th birthday. We were doing presentations on the 50 states when my name was called for an early dismissal. I went down to the office and my dad was standing there with a big grin on his face. We went and saw Monsters Inc. at the local movie theater and grabbed some pizza afterwards. To this day, it is still one of my favorite birthdays and memories with my dad.

Always being one for sentimentality, I thought it would be adorable to take him to see the new Monsters University movie, to inject some nostalgia into our date. We bought tickets for a Sunday matinee showing, ordered a giant bucket of buttery popcorn and sat ourselves between dozens of other dads and their young daughters. So young their feet couldn’t even touch the ground. Before the movie started I looked around and watched as one dad fixed his little girl’s bow in her hair. She looked up at him and smiled so wide she looked like she could burst and she quickly gave him a kiss on the cheek. My dad had been watching too and we both looked at each other and smiled, remembering the days when my feet couldn’t touch the ground and he had to fix the bows in my hair too, years and years ago.

The movie was good. We both enjoyed it and even laughed a few times throughout. Afterwards, I treated him to lunch at the Olive Garden across the street and we spent the next hour talking about everything from work to weddings to favorite memories. To wrap up the day, we stopped at Dick’s Sporting Goods because he needed a new pair of work shoes. Because he spends all day making deliveries and driving a truck, a pair of good, durable work shoes always set him back at least $100. My dad is always looking out for others before himself, so I knew I wanted to do something extra nice for him. Before I knew it, I was swiping my card at the register and the look of surprise that came over his face made the dent in my credit card balance completely worth it.

A few hours later I packed up my stuff and was getting ready to leave for the 3 hour drive back to Maryland. Before I got in the car he gave me a big hug, told me how much he loved me and appreciated everything I had done for him that day, from the movie to lunch to his new shoes.

I kissed him on the cheek. And I made him pinky swear it wouldn’t be another 12 years until the next date.

My mom and dad at my recent bridal shower.

My mom and dad at my recent bridal shower.

I only wish I had known when I was 13 what I know now: that spending quality time with your dad is totally one of the “coolest” things you can do.


#29. & #30. go to an expensive restaurant and enjoy a night of jazz

Mike turned 26 the second day into our trip in Texas. It’s crazy to think that we began dating when he was only 19 and now he’s more than half way to 30! I like to tease him about what an old grump he is and how lucky he is to have such a young, radiant 23-year-old as his fiancée.

Mike’s the kind of guy who never makes a big deal out of his own birthday, even though deep down, I know he secretly wishes people would. He’s always been very simple – dinner and a card. I on the other hand, consider myself a birthday fanatic. I love celebrating other people’s birthdays and I love celebrating my own. I think birthdays are awesome (which is why I recently celebrated turning 23 ½) because it’s your own personal holiday. It belongs all to you. Plus there’s always cake, and who doesn’t love cake?

That’s why I knew I wanted to give Mike his best birthday present ever – by letting him celebrate it with his family in Texas, whom he rarely sees.

I couldn't resist snagging a picture on this awesome bench.

I couldn’t resist snagging a picture on this awesome bench.

Mike, his dad and I spent the sweltering afternoon at Kemah Boardwalk, enjoying tropical beverages, novelty candy and laughing at Mike’s unexpected birthday present from a bird. Kemah is full of little shops, carnival rides, an aquarium and a nice view of the water.

Kemah Boardwalk - before the clouds cleared up.

Kemah Boardwalk – before the clouds cleared up.

texas daquiri

Is that not the biggest strawberry you’ve ever seen?

It was a fantastic way to spend the afternoon – relaxing and laughing while sipping on daiquiris and margaritas at noon.  We then spent an hour or so at a nearby Texas version of Dave & Buster’s, playing pool, shooting hoops and playing skee ball.

Boys will be boys.

Boys will be boys.

We went home to get freshened up for dinner, as Mike’s dad and stepmom were taking us to Perry’s Steakhouse, one of the nicest (and expensive) restaurants in the Houston area. I’m talking Mike and I would only be able to afford to SPLIT an appetizer here. And to top it off, it was jazz night at the restaurant. It was perfect.

We were seated in the bar area where the band was playing covers of popular hits, and almost immediately Mike and his dad started an unspoken competition of who could name the song first as they’d sing along with the music. We ordered a round of drinks and some appetizers.

Mike's scallops, which he devoured.

Mike’s scallops, which he devoured.

Beef Carpaccio with arugula salad.

Beef Carpaccio with arugula salad.

True to picky form – the appetizers consisted mostly of seafood (bleh), so I ordered some extra cheesy au gratin potatoes while the others ordered beef carpaccio and bacon wrapped scallops. We also devoured some of the most deliciously warm bread I’ve ever tasted while we sipped on our various libations.

Giant bowls of potatoes are cheese are all I need in life.

Giant bowls of potatoes and cheese are all I need in life.

After getting tired of ordering the same old lemon drop martini, the bartender suggested I try one of their most popular drinks – the blueberry cucumber martini. I hate blueberries and I hate cucumbers even more, so I was skeptical, but figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did because it was easily one of the best tasting drinks I’ve ever ordered. It was crisp, light, refreshing and strong. Everything you’d want in a drink.

My new beverage of choice.

My new beverage of choice.

We all proceeded to order our entrees – from crab topped filet, to scallops and sea bass to lamb. While we waited on our food, we talked about the kids, our upcoming wedding and life as the band continued to play in the background with its gently thumping bass and melodic keyboard. Mike and his dad continued to serenade the table as they correctly identified one song after another. Like father like son.

Horrible lighting - but amazing steak.

Horrible lighting – but amazing steak.

When our food finally arrived, Mike and I clearly savored every single bite as we both knew this was a meal we would have never been able to afford otherwise. Everything was absolutely delicious and unsurprisingly, Mike practically licked his plate clean.

Dinner is never complete without a fire hazard.

Dinner is never complete without a fire hazard.

Four martinis, cheesy potatoes and a steak into the meal, I felt I was ready to burst but we couldn’t leave without Mike enjoying a birthday dessert. A fan for the overly dramatic, Mike ordered a flaming desert, a Mont Beur Blanc (vanilla cake, topped with ice cream, white chocolate sauce and strawberries). The chef came out and prepared it table side as we all watched in awe when the chef lit the dessert on fire with flames that stretched five feet tall.

Mike's birthday dessert.

Mike’s birthday dessert.

After an amazing experience and four hour meal, we managed to pick ourselves up and head home for the evening.

On the way back, Mike whispered to me, “Thank you for the best birthday I’ve ever had. Thank you for giving me my family.”

All I could do was smile.

#27. & #28. visit Texas and meet a new member of Mike’s family

Howdy ya’ll. Sorry for the disappearance – as I mentioned last week, Mike and I went to Texas to visit his family. I bought him the tickets for Christmas and planned the trip to fall during his 26th birthday. Not to toot my own horn, but I thought it was the best gift I’ve given… for now.

I’m going to break our trip down into multiple blog posts, as I was busy crossing things off the list while we were out there. What can I say – I believe in multitasking.

I think we caught a 3 hour nap before taking off.

I think we caught a 3 hour nap before taking off.

Our boarding time was 6:30 am last Wednesday, which meant a wake up call of 3 am. Needless to say, it was a rough morning. However, with the help of an extra cheesy and greasy bagel, our tummies were full and our eyelids were heavy as we napped on the plane ride over to Dallas. After a two hour layover, we were on our way to Houston where we were greeted with the worst humidity I’ve ever experienced.

Necessary Instagrammed airplane picture.

Necessary Instagrammed airplane picture.

I’m talking, feels like you’re pushing your way through the air, drenched in sweat after 30 seconds humidity. I later learned that in Texas, 95 degree weather with 88% humidity is only considered “warm.” I also learned that their news consists of fat men with backwards baseball caps talking about American Idol, their radio stations are almost entirely in Spanish and that all the rumors about things being bigger in Texas are true. Cue my giant martini (it had to be around 16 oz.)

The picture doesn't do the size of this martini justice. This was drink #1 of many - raspberry lemon drop.

The picture doesn’t do the size of this martini justice. This was drink #1 of many – raspberry lemon drop.

Mike, his dad and I quick grabbed some lunch before heading home where we were greeted by the five kids and the newest addition to the family, Tiana. To say she was precious is an understatement. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not a kid person, but Tiana’s smile, the way she danced and laughed and most of all, the way she ran to Mike, clinging to him with her tiny arms, made me remember why I bought these tickets in the first place.

Michael & Tiana ... so precious.

Michael & Tiana … so precious.

The older kids remembered me but the younger ones didn’t, who were just babies the last time I had seen them. So I spent the first hour going through old pictures of Mike and I’s trip to Vegas where I had met them and as I scrolled through they excitedly yelled “That’s me! That’s me!” Before I knew it, I had Bianca curled up in my lap, her beautiful curls brushing against my face as she played with my bracelets and twirled my hair.

Me and my diva-in-training, Bianca.

Me and my diva-in-training, Bianca.

We spent the rest of the first day curled up on the couch with the kids and even went to see them at their Tae Kwon Do practice which was a lot of fun. The best part for me however was seeing how happy Mike was to be surrounded by his family. By the little brothers and sisters who I know he misses on a daily basis. His dad who he admires more than anyone in the world.

It was a heartwarming experience – to be able to give him something so special after he’s given so much to me.

#24. & #25. go paintballing & plan a brother-sister weekend

If your parents are anything like mine, or any other parent on the face of the planet, you’ve probably heard the following at least a hundred times:

“Be nice to your brother and sister. You may hate them now but they’re going to be all you have one day.”

The worst part about it? Realizing like pretty much everything else they’ve ever said to you, from saving money for college to not getting that face tattoo you want, they are always right.

brother sister

Being the oldest of three, I was excited to have a little sister and brother to look after and take care of. Until I realized it meant sharing the precious camcorder spotlight or not getting as many toys or new clothes, or no longer being the cute, little one in the family. No – I was the older sister. I needed to make “sacrifices” and have “responsibilities.”

So I decided to do what any normal older sibling desperate for attention would do. I tried to mail my sister to China. And frame her for stealing books by putting barcode stickers on her. And blame her and my brother for breaking chairs or my dad’s favorite painting or spilling spaghettios. Basically, I was a devil child (in disguise).

But over the years, as the three of us grew up, something weird happened. We started to actually like each other.

And so we began sharing secrets. And making inside jokes our parents wouldn’t understand. And calling one another when we needed help. Things that my parents warned us would eventually happen, even though we swore they were crazy.

The three of us no longer live under the same roof anymore. My sister lives down the street from my parents with her boyfriend. My brother goes to school at Temple in Philly. I live in Maryland. Naptime and playtime and dinnertime have been replaced by full-time jobs, heavy course loads and other adult responsibilities. Which is why when the three of us actually are able to spend time together, I like to take full advantage of it and appreciate every single second.

As you may have already gathered from Monday’s post, my sister, her boyfriend and my brother had made plans to come down this past weekend so the two boys could jump out of a plane with me. I wanted all three of us to participate in something together though, which is why I was excited when Mike made reservations for all of us to go paintballing on Sunday. I couldn’t imagine a better group to go with.

After a very long and exhausting day at the skydiving center, followed by a late (albeit delicious) dinner at Matchbox, we came home, played a few card games and called it a night around 1 as we had a wakeup time of 7.


After groaning at our alarm clocks and throwing on layer after layer of t-shirts and sweats, we made the hour and a half drive to middle-of-nowhere Virginia to get geared up and down and dirty.

We were assigned our teams, given instructions on how to shoot the guns and rules for the game: capture the flag. After a brief strategy meeting, we found our posts and got ready to defend our bunker.

paintball boys

Something you should know about me if you haven’t picked up on it already: I’m a bit of a girly girl. Not necessarily the kind that loves Katherine Heigl movies, wears pink sparkly nail polish (ok guilty) and squeaks every time she talks. I’m talking more along the lines of hating dirt and messes – especially when I am the one getting dirty and messy.

As a kid I was a total tomboy. I climbed trees, made (and sometimes ate) mud pies, organized neighborhood street hockey games – you name it. Somewhere between my pair of denim overalls and my first pair of glitter heels I forgot about the rough and tumble girl from years ago. The one who collected caterpillars and danced in the rain every chance she got.

On the way to the battlefield I tried jumping from place to place in a hopeless attempt to avoid the giant mud piles strewn everywhere. My post itself was behind a fallen over tree in a giant puddle of mud.

Bugs everywhere.

Mud everywhere.

paintball dirty

At first I resisted. I whimpered at the mud that was starting to cover my shoes and I squirmed at the bugs that were crawling in front of me. But before I knew it a paintball when whizzing by my head, nearly hitting me in the face right before I ducked and fell to my knees in the mud puddle in front of me.

I lifted my hands and let the mud squish through my fingers. I looked up and saw my brother and sister ahead of me, both crouched down in the mud, behind trees. I felt a ball form in the back of my throat – the kind of ball that forms when you try to choke back tears. Because I realized that those afternoons making mud pies with my brother and sister and playing hide-and-go-seek in the woods were some of the best days of my life but I didn’t figure that out until now.

paintball girls

For the next two hours or so we crawled through mud, ran from tree to tree, hiding behind barrels and logs as we played a game of full-on war. It was by far one of the best afternoons I’ve ever had. And I’m so lucky I got to experience it with my brother and sister. For a few hours that day we were kids again. Not plagued with prepping for finals or stressing about work. Rather we played for hours, got dirty and loved every minute of it.

We made the long drive home after we were worn out, bruised, and out of paintballs. One by one we washed off our warpaint and filled our rumbling stomachs with a healthy dose of Nando’s Peri-Peri and froyo.

They packed their bags and we said goodbye to each other.

paintball group

It’s funny how parents are always right in the end. Sometimes it takes a couple hundred miles, a few adult responsibilities mixed in with some mud and paint to make you realize that two of your greatest friends have been standing right beside you all along.

you are my sunshine

Late Thursday night I received a call from my mom that my Uncle John had passed. Tomorrow, he is being laid to rest. He was only 50 years old. But those 50 years were filled with more laughter, more happiness and more music than most people I know.

They were also filled with pain, struggle and what sometimes seemed like insurmountable challenges. My uncle John was mentally challenged, and in the last few years of his life, he was diagnosed with severe Alzheimer’s disease. It was debilitating. He spent most of his time confined in a wheelchair and lived at a nursing home as he was unable to take care of himself.

My mom and Uncle John

My mom and Uncle John

However, despite everything life threw at him, the joy in his heart and the smile on his face would light up a room. He’d talk about all the cute girls he liked or would sing his favorite songs with my mom always there to sing right beside him. One of his favorites was “You are my Sunshine.” Little did he know, he was our sunshine. And always will be.

Rest in peace, Uncle John. May angels lead you in.

this is your life – so live it.

live the life of your dreams

All too often, we let life get in the way of living. I know I do. I see dishes that need to be washed, bills that need to be paid, to-do lists that need to be finished. I see paychecks disappearing quicker than they come in as I struggle to pay back my disheartening amount of student debt. To pay for gas and car repairs and groceries and health insurance. These responsibilities can eat you alive… if you let them.

Until the start of this new year, I was being swallowed whole by myself – my stress, my anxiety and my self-doubt. My friends and family didn’t like the person I had become. And to be honest, neither did I. Instead of trying to blame it on my job or not liking my new city or the stresses of post-grad life, I realized I needed to take responsibility for my own unhappiness. I was at the center of it. The one creating it and letting it manifest itself. I was the problem.

So I decided to come up with a solution. The 213 in 2013 Project. A list of things I’ve wanted to do my entire life that I’ve been putting off for years because I was always so full of excuses. Because I was too afraid or told myself I didn’t have the time. That it could wait. Until I realized that it can’t – because this is life. It’s happening right now. And you only get one shot to do it right.

I’m three weeks in to my project and I’ve already crossed 8 things off my list and have a queue of others already planned in the weeks and months ahead. I’m waking up every morning so excited about the potential each day holds. I’m letting the unimportant little messes like a sink full of dishes sit on the sideline while I revel in the messes that will leave a permanent mark on my life like getting paint under my nails or pizza flour all over my clothes. I’m letting my DVR fill up with TV shows I used to watch while I’m out exploring new restaurants in the city or strapping on a pair of skates to go ice skating under the stars instead.

My biggest wish for this project, besides regaining my own passion for life is that others who are experiencing similar ruts will find their passion for life again too.

Stop making excuses.

Stop telling yourself it can wait until tomorrow, or next month, or next year.

Stop letting your fears hold you back. From trying something new, chasing your dreams and achieving greatness.

This is your life and the time is now.

The time to become the best version of yourself.

To challenge, push, fail, and succeed.

To unlock your potential.

To do more of what makes you happy.

To seize the day.

To live exquisitely. Boldly. Fearlessly.

To live.

the friday five: deck the halls

Another week gone, which means Christmas is only getting closer. I can hardly believe that tomorrow marks the first of December… I feel like my birthday was just last week!

I’m keeping today’s Friday Five post short, sweet and to the point. In honor of tomorrow marking the 25 days until Christmas countdown (so excited to finally dig in to my advent calendar!), I’m counting down my five favorite Christmas movies of all-time.

5. Noel. Ok — so many of you probably have never even heard of this movie, but this was a classic in my house growing up. It was actually a TV movie about a cheerful Christmas ornament with a certain “happiness” that rubs off on the family he lives with. Never heard of it? You can actually watch it here.


4. The Year Without a Santa Claus: This is one of my dad’s absolute favorite movies and he knows the words to all of the songs. You can find him humming, “I’m Mister White Christmas, I’m Mister Snow,” all the way up until Christmas Eve. Between the awesome old-fashioned claymation and really catchy tunes, it’s hard for this not to become an instant favorite.


3. The [Original] Grinch: While Jim Carrey is great, to me there is nothing better than the original Grinch. I always loved the big message behind the movie —“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.


2. The Polar Express. When this movie first came out, I wasn’t too interested in seeing it to be honest. I was all about the classics — Frosty, Rudolph, you get the idea. But as someone who’s now nearing her mid-twenties (woah, that’s weird to say), and still believes in the magic of Christmas and Santa, this movie really hit home and always manages to make me tear up.


1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It is a family ritual to watch this movie at least a dozen times in the weeks leading up to Christmas. My family can practically recite the entire movie by heart. There’s nothing I look forward to more every year than putting this on Christmas Eve and laughing with my family until our insides hurt. Even after all these years – it’s still our favorite. Here’s one of my favorite parts of the movie.


While these movies are definitely some of my favorites, there are so many more that I look forward to watching every year. Buddy the Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Claus, A Christmas Story… the list goes on and on. My favorite part of all of them though is spending time with my loved ones during my absolute favorite time of the year.

What are your favorite holiday movies? I’d love to hear them!