We Aren’t All in the Same Boat – Thoughts on the Pandemic

The first time I went out for groceries wearing a mask – my husband keeps some handy to use when he mows our backyard which is mainly a natural area. The first two times I wore one, I felt like I would hyperventilate.

We’re all in this together but…we aren’t all in the same boat. That thought runs through my mind every morning when I head outside to walk my dog, Lucy. I see older couples walking, some young people out for their daily exercise, and a few families walking together with little ones on scooters or bikes and a dog on a leash. We seem to all be on the same schedule every week day. I wonder what they are experiencing during this time and how they are coping.  I know it’s different for everyone.  My husband, Eddie, is able to work from home but I know many don’t have that option.  Today, a lady stopped me while I was walking to tell me about her new sports shoes and kept apologizing for taking my time saying “I think it’s because of the corona virus…”  I knew what she meant…clearly she needed to talk to someone so we chatted for a bit and then I thanked her for telling me about her shoes and said I might have to give them a try.  My husband asked me early on, “how do you think we would have handled this if we had all three kids at home and in school and both of us working from home?” I wonder. The organized and somewhat over-achieving side of me thinks I would have it all under control. Truth is, I have no way of knowing.

I usually don’t watch the late news but I started in late March to keep up with the state’s numbers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone and I’ve read and seen countless articles and posts about what this means and how people are handling it (both funny and serious). I’ve cried watching commercials about the new normal – like the Dove commercial showing the health care workers and their faces scarred from wearing masks. I started wearing a mask to go out for groceries in April for just a few hours and I have huge respect for those that wear these things all day long. I have friends who have the virus which scares me for them and friends who have recovered from it which gives me great relief. I’ve been alarmed at the number of artists, musicians and other essential people who have lost their lives from this virus. I’m always saddened by the memorium part of awards shows and these days it seems we have a memorium run every week. It makes me stop and catch my breath…

So, what worries me personally through all this? I worry about a number of things but my main concern is my husband who is in the high-risk category. He has been working from home since March 17, 2020, setting up an office in his man cave in the basement. Ironically, I see less of him now that he’s working from home than I did when he was going downtown every day! The reality for Eddie is that he was looking forward to his last day in office on April 9. He then planned to take his accumulated vacation and retire on May 31. That hasn’t happened. He decided to stay on to help his staff maneuver through this crazy time and figure out how to work in this new virtual environment.

Reopening the economy too soon also worries me… Reopening the economy is happening this month (May) in our state. And while I understand the importance of this, I also worry about a resurgence of the virus if we don’t continue to shelter in place and remain cautious. I worry that people will get complacent and stop using hand sanitizer, stop social distancing and just go back to “normal” but I don’t think we “should” get back to normal just yet. Eddie and I talked about this a week ago and we both decided we are just going to stay at home except for the weekly trip to the grocery store, drug store and possible curb side pick-up for food. We’ll also be wearing our masks, carrying hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes.

Meanwhile, sheltering in place has been an eye opener for me personally. I retired from corporate life on July 7, 2017 but I never really stopped working in a way. I had several nonprofit commitments and volunteered for others, and then I worked with United Way for two years (4 months each time) during their annual campaign. Home projects took a spot on the back burner and piled up. I wasn’t writing as much for my blog or reading books that piled up – you know, the ones you save for all the time you’ll have one day? I warned everyone around me that 2020 was going to be the year I slowed down and traveled and took back my time! Well, I got part of that sentence right. My time was essentially given back to me through this in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Of course, I’m with everyone else most of the time wondering what day it is. But I’ve done something that made a few of my friends laugh at me. I started taking more photos. Yes, I know…big surprise, Teresa is taking more photos! But it’s been rather helpful to keep up with what day it is and what I did that day! Right now, I’m taking photos of the things I never thought I’d see in my life time, like signs at stores, empty toilet paper and hand sanitizer aisles and wearing a mask to go grocery shopping. The photos are also helping me keep track of where we are with the pandemic and what we’ve missed out on with cancellations and how people have persevered and gotten very creative.

I’ve gone through my photos and my calendar as I’m sure most everyone has done at some point, to see how life has changed in the past 10 weeks. These are some of the things that stick out to me that we’ve missed. But I’ve also added how we have shifted to make the most of them.
• All my annual doctors’ appointments were cancelled the week of March 16th – also because I had traveled outside the US within the last 14 days. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to get all my appointments in one week too! Thankfully, I was able to make it to my wellness doctor’s appointment before all this happened.
• We had a small dinner on March 18 for my son’s 31st birthday, just me, Eddie and Charlie. We had a pot roast and Edgars cupcakes and while the rest of the family couldn’t join us, it was nice to just have the three of us together and celebrate. A sign of things to come.
• My daughter’s baby showers on March 21 and March 22 were postponed when gathering of more than 10 people were banned. Anna Marie was also traveling from Colorado which wasn’t recommended by her doctor. I’ve been so sad that she didn’t get to experience a baby shower for her first child but we do plan to have something later in the year for her AND the baby! Another side note is that I didn’t get to see my daughter along with her growing baby belly. I was been hoping to get out to Colorado to see her in May and go to her graduation – she got her masters, but that didn’t happen.  My biggest hope at this point is to make it to Colorado right before she has the baby so I can see her in full bloom!
• I had an emergency trip to the Callahan Eye Hospital at UAB in Birmingham on March 23. The precautions put in place in order to get to the emergency room and see a doctor were eye-opening and put me at ease having to be there. Luckily, my eye was fine too but I was grateful to be seen quickly to confirm this.
• My husband’s 65th birthday came and went without any fanfare. Pandemic dinner included pizza and Edgars cupcakes, which I ordered ahead of time for pick up. I hope to get something special planned for him later this year and double as a retirement celebration.
• Easter Sunday, April 12 – I ordered one of Ashley Macs dinner offerings and picked up curb side on Saturday to cook at home. Later that day, I packed up some of the food and took it to my 81-year-old mother and had a short social distanced get together with her.
• Found out my mother had fallen and cut her head and blackened her eye the day before! She didn’t tell me about it, probably needed stiches, but instead she bandaged herself up. It was a reminder to her that she needed to be a LOT more careful and also a reminder that if she is admitted to a hospital right now, I won’t be able to go see her or be with her. Of course, this goes for anyone that is admitted to a hospital right now. We owe it to ourselves to be as careful as possible so we don’t have to experience this.
• Weekend in Huntsville with friends April 17-19 was cancelled. Same time last year we were in Huntsville and hoped to do this every year. We’ll do this later in the year, no doubt. Always fun stuff to do in Huntsville and my friend Karen is the hostess with the mostess!
• The Ignite Volunteer Awards got innovative and had a Facebook live event on the actual date, April 23rd. I’m on the host committee for this event and we brainstormed weeks earlier about what to do and how to handle the event. I was very proud of the results and how many people tuned in to see the winner announced. I was also thrilled that my two nominees/finalists won! We will celebrate these winners in person at our event next April 2021.
• Eddie and I have been planning a retirement trip to France – a river cruise – with another our friends The Pruitts. When we saw how bad things were getting in France in early March, we knew the trip would be cancelled so we’ve rescheduled for next year. As my friend Lisa said during all this, maybe by next year Notre Dame will be opened and I told her, maybe I’ll learn a little French before going.

Some things I’m looking forward to:
• First and foremost, the birth of my first grandchild on July 7th! We WILL be traveling to Colorado for this and I certainly pray that things are a little more normal by then. I can’t wait to get my hands on Amelia Faith. (insert tons of heart emojis here)
• Eddie’s new retirement date…which will be sometime in August while his last day to officially work will be mid-June. One thing I can say about having him work from home is that we’ve started adjusting to both being home together! (insert goofy emoji face here.)
• Seeing events resurface and thrive! Fiesta, which is in its 18th year is an event very close to my heart, as you may have noticed if you’ve read my previous posts. It is scheduled for the last Saturday in September, and while we are making plans for a full-on event, we are also making contingency plans in case things need to change. I know a lot of spring events have postponed until the fall which means the landscape will be quite crowded. I’m hopeful that all events will be supported fully – by sponsors and attendees both – because people will be making up for lost time. (insert praying hands emoji here)
• Hugging friends and family – this goes without saying, right? For an extrovert?! (insert smiley face emoji)
• Planning my own get-togethers with friends and family! Of course, I’m looking forward to planning my 20th annual Christmas cookie swap party in December! And I look forward to holidays in general with the addition of Amelia Faith in July. Folks know I like a theme party too and I have a couple of those up my sleeve as well. (insert dancing lady emoji)

Some of the things that I’ve accomplished
• Daily walks with Lucy – unless it’s raining. We have both benefited greatly from this time together, checking out the neighborhood and getting a little exercise in the process.
• Bird watching – I’ve been catching some great photos of birds at our feeder from my kitchen table. I’ve also noticed birds all over the neighborhood. I told Eddie I feel like Snow White and Cinderella all rolled into one at times and keep waiting for a bird to land on me! I’ve even seen squirrels and birds fight – now that’s interesting!
• Home Projects – I’m slowly making my way through home projects. My “she shed” has been used as a dumping ground for over a year, for lack of a better place to put things. I’ve been able to finally get it in working condition and ready for my photography projects that are high up on the list. The biggest project is going to be the basement storage area and I know my husband is VERY anxious for me to get started on that. I told him he just needed to be patient with me. (LOL)
• Communicating with friends and family. In addition to facetiming, I’ve started sending cards and notes to people. I’ve had a pile of things to send to people for some time now, but since I have my desk cleaned off and in working order it’s been a lot easier to do this. I want to continue doing this too. Getting something other than bills and junk mail in your mailbox is nice. It has also been wonderful making the time to facetime and just have a phone conversation with people. I find that I generally text people a lot but these days I have really enjoyed what technology provides.
• Self-care – This has been more mental for me than anything. I had just started going to Pilates in February to physically get myself in shape especially after the physical therapy on my shoulder and neck this past fall. I’m still stretching and walking but that’s all for now. But being able to finally disconnect from the constant list that whirls around in my head has provided me with some clarity. I think I was starting to run on empty as this year started out and I don’t know that I would have been any good to anyone as the year progressed.

I wanted to write this post as a way to remember and look back on some of the feelings and experiences that I’ve had throughout this pandemic while sheltering in place. While I’ve mourned the loss of several experiences and events that would be celebrations for my family, I know that I am still very fortunate and I don’t take that for granted.

I started writing this in mid-April and now almost the end of May. Businesses are starting to open back up with extra precautions and shelter at home orders are being lifted. In Alabama, Covid-19 cases are still on the rise so the thought of people gathering in large groups concerns me. Meanwhile, I’m following the advice of the experts in my area like Dr. Mark Wilson of the Jefferson County Department of Health, and my friend Bertha Hidalgo, PhD, MPH, who is an epidemiologist at University of Alabama at Birmingham…and of course, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Praying you all are staying safe at home and being cautious about venturing out. I know it’s a personal choice, so please pay attention to the science behind this.

Peace to all…

My Senior Prom (Part 2)

Celebrating my Senior Prom birthday with my handsome husband! Cheers to 60 years!!!

This is Part Two of a two part story of my 60th birthday party celebration in 2019.

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Dance floor ready with balloons!

The last week of party prep, Eddie was really able to help with a number of things, including completing our 50s couple look by buying a white tux jacket online! He helped get the wine and beer bought and anything else bar related. One huge item he helped with the day of the event was blowing up gold and black balloons! Boy! That was a dizzying task! We really needed to have those blown up before heading to Miami Café. Then we had to fit them into the car with everything else!!!  These balloons covered the floor in the restaurant and were the last decorations we set up for the party.

I headed down to Miami Café about 4 hours before the party ready to decorate! My prom committee – Denise and Vanessa – and later, Cristina and my daughter, Emily, joined in to help get the restaurant party ready. This included tablecloths, centerpieces and getting the photo backdrop done. We added assorted yearbooks as décor in the restaurants front windows in keeping with the theme.

Eddie arrived a few hours beforehand to set up the bar. We had agreed only to have beer and wine and a signature Tito’s cocktail. But Eddie decided to bring some bourbon from his collection and boy was that a hit! He proceeded to set up the bar displaying everything we had. Eddie played bartender for most of the night and had a blast!

Denise told me back in January she wanted to create a corsage table for my guests to choose from. Being the event planner extraordinaire that she is, she not only created wrist,  lapel corsages and boutonnières, she even put them in plastic containers. They were all so beautiful and I know it took a lot of time to pull together. This was such a special part of the party to me.

Right at 7 p.m. the guests started arriving…and what fun it was to see everyone all dressed up and really getting into the theme of the party! I found out that night, that so many of my guests did not attend their own proms, so they were really doing it up right that night. There were a few who REALLY went over the top, like my friend Chris Miller. I saw him walking in but I didn’t recognize him. In fact, I thought he was walking through the restaurant to see the owner, Luis. As he got closer to me, I realized who it was and I couldn’t stop laughing! He came dressed in full on 70s with a black rock star hair and he even dyed his beard to complete the look! Every time I look at any photo of Chris from my party I literally laugh out loud!

A close second to Chris was my friend Marie.  She made her dress out of orange, white and gray duct tape! I couldn’t tell what she was wearing until I got closer and I was completely floored at how great it looked! In the 2001, Duck Tape brand duct tape started a prom competition awarding scholarships to the best duct tape prom dress. I swear, Marie would have won had she been in high school at that time! She even wore a roll of tape as a bangle bracelet!

Luis brought out his incredible food – jerk chicken, rice and beansas the crowd grew and even added some Cuban sandwiches to the buffet. I was all over those! Everyone took full advantage of the photo backdrop and gave their best cheesy prom poses. Vanessa and Cristina served as official photographers until Cristina’s boyfriend Jerrod (a professional photographer!) arrived. I’m usually the person taking the photos so it was a little strange handing off my camera to someone else. I definitely had fun the next day looking through all the photos!

Once everyone was fed, it was time to crown the prom king and queen. My daughter, Emily, served as the MC during this portion of the party. Eddie was crowned prom king. Then I was crowned prom queen, as a few of my friends commented that the voting was fixed. Of course, there wasn’t any voting so the joke was on them! (Ha-ha…I love my friends and this is so typical!) DJ Rod quickly began playing our first dance song, Ed Sheeran’s, “Perfect.” It was at this point that I really thought I was going to cry. Everything had turned out so perfect and I was just so happy to be celebrating with so many friends and family members. As we danced, Eddie was grinning ear to ear and that made me even happier. We danced a short while together when I called everyone to join us on the dance floor, and they did…

I used my new Designs by Lolita “Sixty is Sassy” wine glass for the evening!

Sadly, my mother couldn’t be at the party because she had been sick all week. We were both disappointed but I felt like she was with me because I was able to wear a rhinestone bracelet she wore to her senior prom in 1956. I also brought along my “60 and Sassy” Lolita wine glass to use at the party because Designs by Lolita creates a wine glass for every occasion – I kid you not!

Louise’s Cake was enjoyed by everyone!  So much so that we didn’t have anything left over!!!  Emily Redmond helped with the cake and making sure everyone got a slice.  You really can’t go wrong with cakes from this great little shop in Hoover.  As I’ve said before, we get all our Zuniga-Odom special occasion cakes from this bakery.

 

I wish I could post all the photos that were taken that night.  Reliving the party through these photos always puts a huge smile on my face and brings back great memories.  My friends and family still talk about this party and I’m so glad they had a memorable time as well.  Here are a few more photos and I dare you not to smile as you go through them!

 

My Senior Prom (Part 1)

This is Part One of a two part story of my 60th birthday party celebration in 2019.

“All of your life you think 60 is ancient, and all of a sudden, you find you’re 60 and you don’t really feel that different. I feel stronger and more engaged. This is the best time of my life.” ~ Glenn Close

Last year I turned 60…

It seemed to happen so quickly too! I mean, wasn’t it just a few years ago that I was being surprised by my husband and kids with a 50th birthday party at La Brisa restaurant in Hoover? Four years prior, I had surprised my husband Eddie with a 60th birthday party at our house. It was James Bond themed but instead of Agent 007, he was Agent 060! I had a tuxedo cake and Eddie’s face superimposed on several James Bond movie posters. We had so much fun! So, as my 60th was approaching, Eddie wasn’t sure what to plan and worried he didn’t have time due to his work schedule either. I told him I would take care of it and he was clearly relieved!!!

I started thinking about a party theme quite a while ago. There was a story about a retirement home having a “senior prom” for their residents and that’s when the idea hit me…why not have a senior prom party??? I mean, when you’re 60, isn’t that when a lot of the senior discounts kick in? And on top of all that, I didn’t go to my own high school senior prom so this was my chance to have one, right?!

I floated the idea to a few friends and they all thought it was terrific! So, now I just needed to get the party planned. I got an early start, as I said. I started looking through Pinterest and trying to think creatively about how to do this. My sweet friend, Denise Koch, an event planner extraordinaire, offered help and ideas and even gave me a book to order supplies and decorations. So, I had a good start on the planning and then I just stopped. I had so much going on during the fall of 2018 and quite a number of event commitments over the first few months of 2019 that I just started running out of time. I also began thinking it was a little weird to throw my own birthday party even though my husband was fully supportive…it just felt a little odd.

That’s when my friends, Denise and Vanessa, lit a fire under me! This was January 17, 2019 and I was doubting whether I had enough time to get it all pulled together. But in true form, they started throwing out suggestions right and left and helped me set things in motion. It was too late to have the party on Saturday, Feb 16th, since my birthday is February 17th, so I decided to have it on Saturday, March 2nd. My “prom committee” agreed this was a good move.

The hardest decision was finding a venue to have my party. I didn’t need anything huge but I did want enough space for about 50 to 60 people to dance and spread out. Vanessa suggested our friend, Luis Delgado’s Miami Fusion Café in downtown Birmingham. I met with Luis and Samantha Delgado to book the date and arranged for Luis to cater the party with his delicious Caribbean style food. The restaurant had the perfect décor for my party colors too with their original black and gold art deco floors!

After securing the venue, I was able to get the invitations created and printed. I decided to do them myself at home and used my senior photo from 1976. In the invitation, I asked everyone to come to the party dressed for prom in the decade of their choice. I toyed with the idea of making it a 1970s prom, since that’s the year I graduated, but decided to leave it up to my guests to choose their preferred decade and it proved to be a good move!

For music, I wanted a DJ so we could have an array of music across the decades and allow people to make requests. Vanessa put me in touch with DJ Rod who played at Fiesta the year before. He was wonderful to work with and really provided the perfect soundtrack for the party. I added a few “prom” songs from the decades which he weaved into his set and it was great for dancing…and my guests DID DANCE!

At this point, it was Feb 20th – a week and a half before the party, and I didn’t have any idea what I was going to wear. While I graduated high school in the 70s, I had more of a 1950s idea in mind for myself. But at this late date, I was going to go with whatever I could find! I got an early start on Feb 20th and figured I would head to a few thrift stores and then a consignment store I had been to years ago when my girls were in high school and college and looking for formal dresses. I just knew I would find something there but when I drove up, the place no longer existed!!! I was shocked and disappointed. So I did a quick google search and found another place nearby, but that place had gone out of business too. Now I was starting to panic. Then I remembered Second Hand Rose in Cahaba Heights and decided to try them. There wasn’t anything spectacular in the formal section. I tried on a few dresses but they just didn’t work. I was starting to give up when I looked through the regular dress rack and found “the dress!” It was a quarter length black and deep blue Terri John dress! It was the perfect fit too! I texted a photo to my daughter Emily, and she loved it!!! She added that I needed some “sparkly” shoes to go with it to complete the look.

So off I went to Belk, which was nearby, to look for shoes. I spotted some Michael Kors sparkly gold shoes with a low heel which got my attention. Then I saw the same pair in silver. The silver ones were 60% off! (Now I was excited!!) As I was admiring them, the sales lady came up to me and said “those are the last ones,” and my heart started to sink a bit. But then she added, “They’re a 9-1/2.” I looked at her in disbelief and actually said, “are you kidding me???!!!” That’s my size!!! She ran off to get the other shoe and when I tried them both on, I felt a little like Cinderella. Seriously, I almost cried when I paid for them. My outfit was complete after a roller coaster day of shopping!

My focus shifted to making sure I had all the right party decorations and the perfect cake. I picked up a number of things from Dollar Tree, Party City and thrift stores. I also ordered from Amazon. I envisioned a simple but elegant venue throughout except for the cheesy photo booth in the background! Our family always gets our special occasion cakes from Louise’s Cakes in Hoover and they always impress. I took a few photos of what I wanted and together we created my perfect elegant cake. I had two layers – the bottom was white and the top gold with the gold on top appearing to drip to the bottom. It was beautiful and chocolaty delicious!!!

Part two – Party setup and the celebration begins!

Around the World in 80 Years! – Mom Turns 80 – Part 2

Mom realizing she was having a surprise party last year on her 80th birthday!

This is Part 2 of Around the World in 80 Years – Mom Turns 80 – sharing the story of my mother’s surprise 80th birthday party last year.  

As with any event being planned, last minute details and unexpected situations pop up and you deal with them the best way you can!  In this case, someone told mom about the surprise party!!!  Here is what happened…

The week of the event, we had a lot going on including my youngest daughters birthday on May 31, her performance in The Little Mermaid in Tuscaloosa and a wedding in Auburn.  It was on our way back from my daughter’s show (June 1) that my mother dropped a bomb on me and my husband.  She told me that a cousin (elderly) had called her to wish her a happy birthday and said “your kids are planning a surprise party for you, but don’t tell them I told you!”  I’m thankful I was sitting in the front seat and mom couldn’t see my face!!!  I could see my husband’s face and he was just as panicked looking as I was right then!  That’s when I went into “spin mode,” aka LYING!!!

Mom was puzzled as to why our cousin would say this to her, of course.  I told mom that I had talked to our elderly cousin’s daughter the week before (this is true – I had texted with her when she told me her mother had mild dementia.) and she revealed her mother had mild dementia.  I went on to spin that I had run into our cousins a few weeks before and mentioned mom’s birthday was coming up.  I actually ran into my elderly cousin and two of her daughters the previous fall. Of course, the reason my cousin knew about the party is because she had received an invitation.  I told mom that maybe she got confused with her birthday and something else.  Mom then admitted she felt something was different when she spoke to her.

Once we dropped mom off, I went into damage control!  I texted my sisters and told them that mom may be “thinking” she was getting a party even after all my “spinning” and I needed their help.  My sister Laurie called her the next day to check in with her and mention she and her husband had out of town guests coming that weekend.  This was to throw mom off if she suspected my sisters were coming into town for a surprise party.  Then, I told mom we would go out to dinner for her birthday on Saturday to give her friend Jenine time to arrive from Colorado so she could join us.  I said it would be just family and she seemed happy about it.  I’m pretty sure mom didn’t think I had time to plan anything elaborate because I had spent the last 8 weeks helping her clean out her house!  So…my sisters and I all crossed our fingers and hoped for the best!

I spent the next few days creating photo collages to display around my house as well as putting finishing touches on the photo slideshow.  I found an old hardbound Atlas at a thrift store many years ago and it definitely came in handy for the theme!  The last party prop created was a hot air balloon.  I mean, I did the best that I could with a tri-fold, brown contact paper, burlap and some burlap bags stuffed with newspaper and some helium balloons.  This was to be the photo prop for the party.  (Oh…and it rained after everyone arrived at the party so we didn’t get to use the prop until Sunday!)

Meanwhile…the weekend of the party, family began arriving.  The last to arrive were my daughter, Anna Marie and my nephew, Adam, both from Colorado.  The plan was for me to pick up mom and Jenine at her house and bring them to my house.  I told mom that we needed to stop back by the house and pick up Charlie because he was driving in from Wetumpka, AL, so he would be riding with us.  I pretended to get a text from Charlie and respond but I was really letting everyone at the house know we were on our way!  Of course, when we pulled up there were cars everywhere!  Mom said something about all the cars and I told her our neighbor was having a party.  I said he let us know earlier that day because cars that were going to be all over the cul de sac.  She seemed to accept that.  I pulled up right in front of the house and suggested we go inside where it was cooler to wait for Charlie to arrive.

I walked into the house first and stepped out of the way.  Mom followed and turned toward the living room where everyone had gathered.   As they shouted all “SURPRISE!”  it took mom a minute before she realized what was happening.  The photos my daughters took say it all and I love that they captured this exact moment!  That’s when my sisters all came up to her for hugs.  Mom was clearly overwhelmed, especially when she saw everyone who had gathered to celebrate her milestone day!  Later we asked about whether she suspected we were throwing her a surprise party and she said she had no idea.  I think if she had, she would have said something to her friend Jenine…and Jenine would have called me!

To say we took a lot of photos would be an understatement.  As I said in Part 1 of this story, it had been four years since we had all been together and we weren’t going to let the chance get away from us.  And while the party was the perfect reason to bring us all together, I loved that my sisters , our husbands, and five of my mother’s eight grandchildren, were able to come back to my house on Sunday and spend the day together.  We had plenty of food left over from the party, thanks to Chef Wendy, and even more to catch up on with one another.

So today, on my mother’s 81st birthday, I will take her to lunch and spend the afternoon with her.  I know we will talk about the party and look at the photos together.  Then on Sunday, I’ll treat her to brunch and a show – Red Mountain Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady.

Happy 81st birthday, mom!  I’m glad we were able to surprise you last year!

Loving her birthday sash sent by cousin Lisa Ramirez for mom to enjoy!

Around the World in 80 Years! – Mom Turns 80 – Part 1

Barbara Anne Zuniga – on her 80th birthday

This is a two part post about my mother’s 80th birthday party last year on June 8, 2018.  Tomorrow she turns 81 and I’ve been reliving the party, photos and memories from the preparations to the actual event.  

My mother has never had a surprise party.  She turned 80 years old last June and I thought it was way past time.  So armed with a great theme – Around the World in 80 Years – I got started surprise party planning!

Months earlier, I’d been talking about how mom had a milestone birthday coming up with my youngest sister, Kanista, and she said wanted to be in Alabama for that.  She lives in North Carolina.  That got the ball rolling and we thought – what if we could get all of “the sisters” together, along with their husbands and kids??!!  I think the last time we were all together – me, my sisters and mom – was when my nephew Adam got married in 2015.  So this became a bit of a mission with that realization!  I contacted my sister Helena who lives in Texas and she was on board, as was my sister Laurie who lives in Illinois.  Helena and Laurie put the word out to their adult kids too.  My mother’s friend, Jenine, visits each year from Colorado so I contacted her to make sure she could make her arrangements for the party.  We set the party date for Saturday, June 8 to make it easier for everyone to travel.  Mom’s actual birthday is June 6.

As the guest list started to grow, I began looking for a cozy venue to host the party.  That was probably the biggest headache.  I couldn’t get the invitations ready until I had a place, right?  And I really didn’t want a restaurant for the party because it didn’t feel cozy enough.  I remember calling one place and the lady who answered got a little snarky with me and said “well, you know it’s wedding season…”  Which translated to, “good luck finding what you want, lady!”  That’s when I decided to just have the party at my house.  Done!  On to the invitation…

Mom’s party invitation – the photo is one I found at her house in a box. She was five years old in this picture.

I’d been working at my mother’s house for several weeks helping her clean out when I found a box of old photos.  Honestly, I don’t even know if mom knew they were there.  So I secretly put the box in my car so I could go through and copy them.  That’s where I found the photo I used for the invitation.  Such a sweet picture of mother when she was five years old.  It was perfect!  I debated on getting the invitations professionally printed and then decided to do them myself at home.  In the invitation, I also requested that people send cards with a special memory about mom to me to compile.  My plan was to have a box of memories on index cards that she could pull and read throughout her 80th year.

With the venue and invitations out of the way, I needed to find a caterer.  Again…wedding season…but then I remembered a friend who had started a food delivery business and had just opened a storefront.  I gave her a call and she put me in touch with her chef – Wendy Bowman.  So, this is probably a good time to talk about the theme I chose – Around the World in 80 Years.  This was a nod to mom’s travels over her lifetime.  Born in Oneonta, Alabama, she moved around a lot growing up and eventually ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio where her parents finally settled for two years so she could complete high school.  After that, they traveled to Cambodia for my grandfather’s work and that’s where she met my dad and eventually they got married.  Throw in living in Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Maryland, Chicago and finally Alabama, you can see why the theme fit so well.  When I explained this all to Chef Wendy, she created a wonderful menu incorporating all mom’s travels.  It was wonderful!

When it came to ordering a cake, I knew it had to be special and I knew it had to come from Louise’s Cakes & Supply in Hoover, AL.  Over the years, this little shop has created some beautiful cakes for my family.  The theme was firming up with maps, suitcases, globes and flags. so I asked about getting a suitcase cake made with decals all over it showing places where mom has lived.  I did find a few examples on Pinterest and we worked together to come up with the perfect design.

I mentioned all the places my mother has lived and I wanted to find a way to showcase those places.  That’s when the idea of a directional sign came up like the one they had on MASH – the tv show!  I found arrows in the Target bargain area for weddings and decided to spray paint them tan and brown and then write the locations in red.  My husband made the stand and then we used a nail gun to attach the arrows.  It was the perfect touch and we placed it in our foyer next to an old suitcase that collected all the cards and well-wishes for mom.  I also added string flags around the foyer, hallway, dining room, family room and kitchen that I had left over from a previous event.

My friend, Sherree, who is a whiz with plants and florals, created four distinct arrangements for the party.  The orchid was for my parent’s wedding photo and was used on the dining room table with the food.  There was also a bright floral arrangement for the living room where guests could share memories for mom.  The one I really loved was a desert scene with cactus next to a globe to represent the Southwest and New Mexico.  She really outdid herself!

The final pieces of the party plan?  I wanted music across the decades that meant something to my mother.  My sisters were wonderful working on this and sent so many suggestions from our time as children living in Puerto Rico.  I created a playlist on Pandora called “Mom’s 80th Bday” and we kept adding to it.  We had songs from Andy Williams, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others.  We also included music from musicals like South Pacific and The King & I.  But the most important song to include – Where or When – was my parents song.  When they were dating in Cambodia and would go out to a particular nightclub to enjoy the band, the band leader would see them walk in and immediately start playing that song for them.  It reminds me of a scene out of a Doris Day movie….  We ended up with several hundred songs on that playlist.  I still love listening to it.

Part Two of Around the World in 80 Years shares how I got my mother to the party after the surprise was almost revealed and her reaction to everything.  

 

 

 

Cascarones for Easter!

Cascarones – shown on a Mexican oil cloth tablecloth. The Easter bunny container is one my mom used in her decorating when I was growing up.

Easter is just a few days away and every few years I try to introduce a new fun aspect to our family Easter gathering.  One year it was a brightly decorated chocolate chip cookie cake instead of the usual brownies, cakes and pies.  It turned out to be a huge hit and still remains a crowd favorite with a few family members (ahem…cough…David and Emily!) who have a hard time waiting until after lunch to dig into this sweet treat! Well this year I’m introducing “cascarones” to the family!

So, what’s a cascaron?  It’s basically a hollowed-out egg filled with confetti!  I’ve known about cascarones for quite awhile but I can’t say that they were something we made or enjoyed when I was growing up.  Doing a little more research I discovered they are a Mexican tradition that gained popularity in the Southwest, in particular, at Easter time for many families.  Some say it was like a merging of Latino traditions and the American tradition of dyeing Easter eggs.  Because of the confetti, they are something also frequently used for other celebrations like carnivals, New Years, Cinco de Mayo and even at weddings…although they can also be filled with rice for that particular event!

Looking even farther back in history, cascarones were said to have originated in China where they were filled with scented powders and given as gifts.  Because of this they were very popular with the wealthy.  Marco Polo is said to have been responsible for bringing the eggs to Europe in the 13th century, and again, enjoyed by the wealthy.  They eventually made it to Mexico in the mid-1800s thanks to Emperor Maximilian’s wife, Carlotta.  The lovely scented powders were eventually replaced with confetti and became known as  “cascarones” since “cascara” in Spanish means “shell.”

Cascarones are made by emptying out an egg through a small hole at one end and cleaning it out thoroughly.  After that, you can decorate the eggs by using Easter egg dyeing kits.  When they are dry you can even take it further with more decorating but the best part is adding the confetti to the eggs.  Make a small funnel with paper to use for the eggs to keep the confetti scattering to a minimum!  You can make your own confetti or you can buy it.  Then you take a small piece of tissue and glue it over the hole to keep the confetti in the egg.  That’s it!  Lucky for me though, I found egg cartons of cascarones at a local Walgreens recently.  I was at the checkout counter and there they were!  I decided to pick up two cartons to enjoy on Easter afternoon with my family, all the while thinking, “this should be interesting!”

You may be wondering how cascarones are used.  I figured there had to be a tradition that goes along with these confetti filled eggshells.  It’s said that if you make a wish before you break it over an unsuspecting person’s head, your wish will come true.  Another school of thought is that the good luck goes to the person who gets the egg cracked on their head!  Of course, it’s best to crack the egg in your hand so the confetti pours out on the person rather than actually hitting them with the egg!!!

The other day, I was photographing the cascarones and I gently opened one of the eggs and let the confetti pour out for a shot.  As I took the photo, I saw something beautiful.  I had put the egg down with the paper covering the opening still somewhat attached.  The confetti was scattered in front of it and in that instant, it reminded me of Jesus’ tomb!  I immediately stopped photographing to look up any religious meaning behind cascarones.  I found that eggs are thought to be a symbol of rebirth.  So when the egg is broken and the confetti pours out, it is representative of the resurrection,  Jesus’ empty tomb.  The confetti then symbolizes a celebration of Jesus’ life and rebirth.  So beautiful…I really love this…

This is the photo I took that made me realize there is religious symbolism to cascarones…

So Felices Pascuas/Happy Easter to everyone!  If you celebrate Easter, I hope you enjoy a wonderful day celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus with your families.  And if you made cascarones or enjoyed them in the past, I would love to hear about it!  Meanwhile… let the cascarones crunching begin…and I do hope since this will be a first for my family that they will observe proper cascaron cracking etiquette!!!

Perry’s Pinot and Pork

Everybody who knows me knows how much I love wine. When I first started trying wines I was a huge Merlot fan and slowly moved to Cabernet Sauvignons and finally Pinot Noir. I’m more of a white wine and rose wine enthusiast these days but the pendulum is starting to swing back to reds for me. That’s why I was excited to get an invitation to try the Perry’s Steakhouse April special – Pinot and Pork!

Let me first say how much I love Perry’s wines! I went to a tasting when they launched their new Private Reserve Cabernet and Chardonnay in 2017 and got to hear how they were created from Perry’s Corporate Sommelier, Susi Zivanovic. I found myself wanted to “be” Susi…I mean, could you think of a more perfect job than bringing fabulous tasting wines to people?! She is a wealth of information and I found myself hanging on her every word, that is, between sips of the wine samples!

Last Sunday, my husband and I arrived for and early supper at Perry’s. The April special is a three course meal consisting of your choice of salad, their legendary slow-roasted, caramelizad pork chop and finally, their decadent dessert trio. Let me just say this…make sure you go hungry!!! This combination is out of this world!

Our server, Todd, was so comfortable to talk to and provided lots of tidbits about the food and wine. He raved about the pork chop and even offered suggestions on how to prepare the leftovers, because there would definitely be leftovers with the size of the pork chop they were about to serve! I suggested that maybe Perry’s should post a left-over pork chop recipe flyer for their guests! At this point I couldn’t wait to try the main course. On a side note, I’ve only had the pork chop one other time and it was thanks to my brother-in-law when he was in town a year ago. So having it hot out of the kitchen and watching it being carved at the table was a treat!

We started with salads, Eddie ordered the wedge salad while I had the warm spinach and bacon salad. We had just finished these when the pork chops were brought out on sizzling platters. The young man carving them explained what he was doing…first slicing the ribs, followed by what Perry’s calls the eyelash – a small portion of dark meat and then the loin along with a side of applesauce. He also suggested sampling everything in that order. Wow! That first warm bite was incredible! The caramel flavor along with spices and garlic butter was so rich I just wanted to savor it for a bit.

After that first bite I reached for the Perry’s Reserve Pinot Noir to complete the pairing and it was heavenly! The Pinot Noir is out of Monterey County California and you can definitely get hints of berries and cherry aromas with a very smooth finish. It was created especially to pair with the pork chop and I can see why! I found myself alternating between bites and sips throughout the rest of my meal!

We were so stuffed we barely made it to the loin! I took a few bites and our server Todd returned and asked if I had given up. I said yes and to box the rest up because we still had the dessert trio to go! Luckily for us, the trio is small bite style so we enjoyed bites of cheesecake, creme brûlée and a tasty crunchy chocolate that was like a Nestle crunch bar!

Perry’s is great about offering specials and the month of April is no exception. You can get a glass of the new Pinot Noir for five dollars off the usual $14 during dinner service if you order the pork chop. Or you can get $20 off a bottle of the Pinot which is usually $56. Get the bottle!!! Trust me on this! On Sundays you can opt to get the three course meal that Eddie and I enjoyed for $34.95 and the wine price applies. Sunday supper is from 4-9 p.m. Head over for a delicious time, especially this month (April) and maybe I’ll see you there!

Oh! Forgot to mention that we ordered a side of the steak truffle fries to go with dinner too because well…truffles!