Thursday, December 31, 2015

Notarnicola New Year's Eve Tradition

(all food & photos by and from BarefootWilley's kitchen)

 "Food should be nutritious and sustain you.
Bring joy and flavors into your life.
Dazzle your palate..." (TSW)

During middle-school my family moved down the road from the Notarnicola's, a family of eight with six kids. Becoming fast friends with their daughter, well, once she and I warmed up to each other, we did whatever 12-year-olds did in those days; gin rummy, bocce ball, rode bikes, played monopoly and talk talked. But NOT until I helped her with Saturday morning chores. Oivey!

The biggest chore was the never ending laundry for this large family. Thank goodness only six people were still living at home, because that meant twelve feet rather than sixteen. I never saw so many mounds of socks in my life. It was a known fact that washing machines ate socks so I asked what their secret was to keeping pairs matched. My friend stated, “Large safety pins.” This was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. Apparently, by the age of twelve I hadn't gotten out much.

During middle school and high school days the Notarnicola's were my surrogate family. Half Italian, half Russian. Mom and Dad N. I called them.

One of the many benefits of having this wonderful family in my life was the heart of their home; a kitchen filled with Italian and Russian heritage. I was introduced to different food's such as pierogi's, blintze's, crepe's, ravioli, prosciutto, homemade sausage, pasta and pizza, spaghetti and acorn squash and eggplant parmesan, to name a few. Basically, homemade anything!
Homemade Sauce -
Botticello tomatoes 
Gismondi garden basil, oregano, garlic
Mr. Gismondi's Garden Basil, Oregano, Garlic

Biscotti Christmas tradition
Biscotti - Christmas Tradition
In addition to what was already a daily feast for the mouth, the Notarnicola's had a New Year's Eve tradition. Surprise of all surprises, food! Their homemade menu displayed the exotic items present at this feast although, liver pate, yuck! There was stuffed pizza bread. Fish eggs. And so much more. However, the piece de resistance, were Mr. N's homemade cannoli's. Not much else to say. The word speaks for itself.

Uncle's, aunt's, grandmother's, and cousins would grab a plate and go downstairs into the family room to warm themselves by the woodstove and watch Saturday Night Live during the 1970s with Rosanna Rosanna Danna and the Cone Heads.

Biscotti Christmas tradition
Biscotti - Christmas Tradition

Let me be clear, they may have had this tradition, but to me, because many foods were new, every meal was like a special holiday!

And like most homes, no matter the heritage or holiday, you had to try food before saying you didn't like it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Dis-ease of Christmas

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that __________"

my reputation won't be ruined by this unplanned pregnancy
that my husband won't divorce me
that my family won't disown me
that my girlfriends' will still want to have coffee with me
that the boys' won't throw stones at me.
Like I don't have enough going on, now we have to pack for a 70 plus mile road trip to our home town because the governor wants a head count.
You're kidding? This couldn't wait till after I gave birth?
I hope we can find an affordable place to take a bath and sleep off the trip.

My husband reports he found us a room. I can't wait, my back is killing me.
What? You're kidding right?
This is all they have?  A manager with hay. We're putting our newborn baby in that?
And where are we going to sleep? Honey, I'm tired, aching and filthy from the dust.
I'm pregnant for God's sake. How do you spell Non-Comfort-Inn? 
Never mind mints, they don't even have a pillow, no bath, no nothing except smelly animals. This isn't exactly the Honey-Moon-Suite.

This wasn't what I pictured as newly weds. I had different dreams...
perhaps a young Bethlehem bride thought.

Does your day, month or year ever look like this?

How did it go for you when you planned; your wedding, graduation, children, guests, wallpaper, a vacation, a party, a job, your dreams? I've had seasons that interrupted what I thought was a great idea . A season like above can take the wind out of my sails, attempting to squash my creativity, soul and strength. Therefore, I must guard my heart.

It occurred to me every event has three stages. BEFORE, DURING and AFTER. 
They bring planning, expectation, anxiety, excitement, avoidance, frustration, giddy, yearning, enthusiasm, celebration, mountain top, valley low, depleted, filled, longing, satisfied, dissatisfied, reflection and more.

Each stage plays out differently for everyone because
 we bring to the event our own expectations built on our 
dreams or reality or our own brokenness.

What about the season of Christmas?
No matter how one celebrates this event, it is an event that is planned.
You make plans to celebrate or plans to avoid.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Truth in Judy's Eyes

Her brown eyes looked absorbed in fear but it was really hard for me to know because I wasn’t the one wearing the drab hospital gown.

The sterile antiseptic smells confused the reality of our family’s new normal.

I’m not sure what I was seeing in her eyes.

Maybe what I was seeing was her thirst. Finally something I could do. The nurse gave me a cup with water and a little stick with a sponge attached to its tip so I could moisten Judy’s dry lips. The morphine minimized the pain throughout her body but didn’t make it go away. Gently I dabbed her lips afraid I was hurting her. A little water dripped down her chin.

When the door of her room opened her eyes became wider and filled with dread, or so it seemed. My cousin directed her gaze from me to her brother who walked into the room full of life.

His entrance ushered in a quip that relegated me back to the sidelines of the aluminum bed rail as he took over and attended to his sister’s dry mouth.

Then someone assured her not to worry, that I would take her children home that night. I didn’t understand why her eyes looked fearful at the thought of me helping. Maybe because when she first learned she had cancer her husband had left her and their two children to figure this mess out. While I’m thinking I just wanted to do something and offer comfort, maybe she felt helpless and vulnerable.

For the longest time I was left with the haunting look of her wide fearful eyes and the quip from her brother. I felt like I had failed at the simple task of moistening her lips and driving her kids home.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Does it really?

Have you experienced a heart growing fonder in the absence of that special someone?

An old friend?
Children who have gone to camp, college or married?
How about when your spouse is away on a trip?
When mine is gone, I get the remote control! LOL
But how I miss him and can't wait for him to return.

Remember when dating two-weeks in high school felt like two years? And if you missed seeing the person one day in the hallway you would die! That one day felt like a lifetime.

Perhaps you had a high school sweetheart or a college fling. Was this real love or infatuation mixed with hormones or both?

Having celebrated 19 years of marriage, I found myself staring at our wedding photo. Rather than a quick glance, I stopped, paused, reflected on the handsome man I married and thought what a great person he is. We celebrated with a blues band, jambalaya, crawfish, wild flowers and people who loved us. Looking at our Kodak moment, it struck me that I love my husband more now than when we married.

I've heard people say love changes over the years and can grow deeper. I wondered in what way because it seems the warm fuzzy-infatuation feeling goes away rather than get stronger. Isn't love suppose to feel like unceasing-warm-fuzzy-socks?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Will You Dance the Fragile Dance with Me?

Celebrating 19 years of marriage August 24, it seemed fitting to share this excerpt from my chapter:


Who are we kidding? When boy meets girl, boy wants sex and girl wants to feel loved. But when the infatuation wears off, we both want the same thing. To be noticed, respected, appreciated. To fix and to help. A companion. Someone to have fun with and grow old with when no one else would have us. 

Perhaps the thing we are seeking is what true love is, but seldom do we recognize what is staring us in the face. Perhaps something deep inside doesn’t want to appear desperate yet we desperately seek to be loved. Rather than share a real part of ourselves, maybe we share a fake part so the infatuated encounter remains a stranger in our mind. But are we hiding or have we exposed that we are seeking? Perhaps we believe if we let our guard down, we will be exposed and vulnerable. Vulnerable, not with the stranger, but with this opportunity placed before us to cultivate real protection, safety and love.

The dance of these decisions is challenging enough when our seed is fostered in a loving home. When it isn’t, it is harder to believe, trust, give of ourselves, and perhaps know the difference. The crossroad of these choices becomes fragile as we dance with two left feet.

Who says Prince Charming has to come on a white horse and kiss me awake to a better life? Sure, a princess dress looks pretty but I’m not a fan of bras, never mind corsets.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Are You a Father?

If you're a man and have children, you're a father.

You help shape and influence how your children begin to view their world.

The role father's play are invaluable and can affect how we parent, see ourselves and navigate life. 

If we are born, we've all had a father. Everyone's Dad has meant something personal to them, good or bad.

Still many people are grieving the loss of what they had, thought they had or never had.

I wish I could say I'm proud of my father, but I can't. But I can be thankful for the role models provided for me. I can also choose to not let the hole in my dad's heart contaminate mine.

If you've read some of my other posts, you've gathered by now that my relationship with Dad wasn't so hot. While his temper was pretty hot, our relationship was pretty cold.

This post isn't about lecturing on parenthood or making someone feel guilty. I'm not in your shoes nor am I a guy.

But I had a father and what I am ... is ... his daughter.
When I was born, mom told me I was the apple of Dad's eye ...
but I never heard it from him.
Amazing how in the midst of our family storms, life went on...

Boyfriends, girlfriends, braces, prom, babysitting, ten speed bike. Listened to music such as the Doors, Lynyrd Skynyard, Simon & Garfunkel, Jim Croce, CCR, Grateful Dead, Carol King. Mom took my brother to Cub Scout father-and-son soap box derbies. Dad challenged me to eat raw clams on the half shell with hot sauce and by god, I determined to like them and did.

Living with Dad was like playing Russian roulette. I never knew what would make him pull the trigger or when his bullet would strike. Was he in a good mood? At least content? Or at least was he in a non-confrontational mood?

Did I fold the laundry wrong? Was it because I folded laundry? Did I let the door slam? Was I on the phone or on too long? Did I look at him wrong? Did I look at him at all? Was it because I watched television? Did I? Did I? Did I? Tip toeing daily around mind games exhausted me.

Somehow, through the insanity of my home life, I received the message that my life wasn’t so bad. It could’ve been worse. Well this is true, something can always be worse, but does that make it okay? If this wasn’t abuse, what was it?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Writing Through the Pain

Memorial Day weekend I decided to participate in a contest titled How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life (in 1000 words or less). Below is my attempt to answer the question.

Journaling, poetry and short stories were haphazard as a child. Expressing myself on paper continued into adulthood. My graceful attempt to write flowed more like me tripping on a threshold, stubbing my toe and slamming into the doorway, only to wonder two days later how I got the huge bruise on my leg.

One by one friends suggested, “You should write about your abusive upbringing.”

“Write a book.”

“Tell your story.”

“Me, write? A writer I am not.”

“And anyway, child abuse isn’t original. Who wants to hear another story about that?”

Besides, I get tense trying to understand a pretense, never mind suppositions, oppositions, I mean, prepositions, thees, thous and those. I mean thou art. Oh God, forgive me and help me at the same time.

Dad was a walking time bomb. Self-pity of his disability didn’t bode well with the bitterness and anger he mixed with Darvon and alcohol. Mom? Well she appeared absent in her presence and didn't defend us. Me, the oldest of three, the lightening rod of his wrath, or so it seemed, was not having a fun childhood.

Growing up I had this sense of feeling stupid. Dad would call us stunods. It was funny then because backwards it spelled donuts. But comments such as those weren't balanced with love, encouragement or support.

By junior high Dad came home drunk more frequently and would send me and my sister to bed without finishing our homework. Mom shared, "I could only come up with so many family crisis," as she sent us to school with another excused-note explaining to the teachers why our homework was incomplete … again.

In 1992 Dad was hospitalized. We hadn’t spoken for six years so I wasn’t sure what to do with the news. In the meantime my sister had the chutzpah to make one last attempt to contact him.

Shortly before he died in 1992, she reported his death-bed blessing for his three children, 
"...You kids are no good and stupid and you can all go to hell."

This was his final answer to who I was in his eyes and who I had to overcome.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fighting the Fight

Do you sometimes feel like you're in a battle?
Do you find yourself asking, "Why do I keep doing the same stupid thing over and over?"
"Why are some days harder than others?"
Maybe you've heard, "Well, change what you're doing and maybe you'll get different results."

Sometimes the battle is: stopping an addiction; food, shopping, eating, TV, drinking, attitude, old habits, etc. Sometimes the battle might be gravitating to the negative rather than thinking positive and thankful thoughts. Sometimes we want to break tradition after 30 years and have the Thanksgiving meal at our home or a restaurant. "Oh my!"

You're response might be:
  • You're not in my shoes
  • It's not my fault 
  • Somebody hurt me
  • How do I change? 
  • Change what? 
  • What battle? It's how our family is.
  • It's part of our family history 
  • Even my grandparents are like this 
  • It's in my DNA 

Maybe you don't think you're in a battle but wonder why you're frustrated.

Often I ask, "Am I getting it?" "Have I changed?" "Why am I going around the same Mountain ... again!"

On a bad-battle day I can feel like I've regressed and nothing has improved. But if I let the battle-dust settle for a minute, stop and pause, the backwards barometer encourages me as I reflect and realize my attitude is changing, my pity parties are getting shorter, I didn't cry this time, or I didn't cry for two-hours, or I didn't stay mad for 6-months, 5-days, 3-hours (well I'm still working on the 3-hours one :-). 

Are you one of those people wanting "something" to be different, but say, "I don't know what to change?" 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Healing with Mom

Through the five plus years of trying to conceive, there’d been many tears and many prayers. During the peak of our infertility process, a time when emotions were raw and tears flowed like rivers, it seemed every time I turned around I was invited to a baby shower.

In addition to these peaks and valleys, Mother’s Day at church became a dreaded man-made holiday for me. During this time of infertility, several proud parents lined the front of the sanctuary eager to have their newborns dedicated on Mother’s Day. One by one, their babies were held up for the congregation to see. The new mothers glowed. I shut down.

Mother’s Day has been awkward for me to celebrate. If this man-made Hallmark occasion put undue pressure on me, who else felt this way? I imagine there is a population of women who, for personal reasons, have emotional scars in need of healing that well up in their heart come the month of May. 

There are some women who:
· lost their mothers
· never knew their mother
· don’t want to know their mother
· their mother’s never knew them
· live far from their mother
· don’t want to be a mother
· could never conceive a child
· had an abortion
· lost their child
· children were taken away
· and the list goes on

My upbringing offered no peace, rather verbal and physical abuse from my father, and neglect of our situation from my mother. I certainly didn’t grow up in a Christian environment regardless of our claimed beliefs. The mother and daughter relationship, Hallmark style, didn’t exist.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Yellow Rose

This winter offered multiple snowstorms with single digits and never ending cold that an engine belt squealed every morning I started the car, announcing to neighbors I was leaving for work. During the month of March, our home was visited by the flu, aches and sore throats as more snow and sleet roared in, adding inches to our back yard already filled with three-feet of snow. In addition to licking our wounds, we nursed a beloved ailing cat of 16 years who died peacefully in front of our woodstove. Now that the snow has melted and spring thaw in New England has begun, we were able to break ground and bury her on April 11, 2015.

My morning quiet time helps ground my heart before I head out to work and to a world that can sometimes bombard me. During the morning of March 25, I forwarded my sister the photo of her yellow rose with a text that said, “Thinking of you.” My phone buzzed her response back, “Yup, we’re related,” because vocally or silently we can’t help but think of each other on this day. Quiet time over, the mad dash begins. After blending my breakfast drink, ready to run out the door, my eyes catch swirling red lights out the kitchen window.

Fire trucks are next door at the green house where a young newlywed family live. I don’t see smoke. I’m sure the husband is already gone because he’s a teacher. Well, what a stupid assumption, maybe that’s why the fire trucks are there. Something is obviously wrong. In milliseconds chills run through me as I say to the kitchen, “Oh no, the baby. I hope it’s not the baby.” I text my co-worker letting her know I’ll be late. My husband and I run next door.

The ambulance unloaded the gurney, wheeling it up the sidewalk in through the front door. I walked around the house and entered through the back door. Two firefighter paramedics were in the kitchen with the young mother who was crying while holding her three-month old baby boy. Making my apologies for being bold to come in I asked if everything was okay. Mom said her baby had stopped breathing for one and half minutes. Fortunately she had called our other neighbor who is a mother and works with prenatal moms. She helped save her baby.

I stroked his little cheeks, kissed and hugged mom and baby. Through tears of joy, she insisted I go to work, that her mother would arrive any minute and she still had the aid of the paramedics.

I walked outside where my husband Curtis waited with other EMT's.

He said, “What’s wrong, what happened?”

“It was her baby. He stopped breathing but he’s okay now. Mom and baby are fine.” Then unexpectedly, I burst into tears.

Befuddled he asked, “What’s the matter, I thought they were okay?”

I blurted, “Today is the anniversary of Sandy’s death.”

Curtis held me in his arms as I cried.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mickey Mantis

Have you ever been told, "Keep calm during the storm?"

Tammy Sue Willey, Storm Albert
Storm Albert October 2011

Tammy Sue Willey, Storm Albert
Storm Albert October 2011

When you're in the middle of something that seems insurmountable, don't you just want to slap the person that said that?

Tammy Sue Willey, Storm Albert
Storm Albert October 2011

Maybe your storm is emotional, health, financial or literally the weather. No matter the storm it will be different for everyone and we will at some point in time need to navigate our storm and God willing, come through it with hope, grace and peace.

Tammy Sue Willey, Storm Albert
October 2011 Freak Storm
January 26, 2015 the North East was hit with storm Colbie. The news said this would be a Nor'easter that would go down in history. My husband and I prepared for the worst. Fortunately the worst didn't come, in our neck of the woods. We only rec'd 19 inches of snow and 2 days off in the school system. My blessing was a day to shovel and make chicken soup, the next day to relax. 
But I couldn't help but reflect on the storm of October 2011.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Keeping It Simple

Regardless of one lay-off after another, for some reason bills, taxes and car repairs don't end. On a bad day I feel enslaved to some of these challenges.  

Is life unfolding in a neat little package like you envisioned, or does it feel like bedlam some days? Do you ever wonder if you're making a difference? Doing "it" right, whatever "it" is? I don't know about you, but I have had all sorts of creative ideas floating in my head and heart. Some have come to fruition, but others feel like a run away dream. As time chips away I get more impatient, scared, frustrated, uncertain. Some days I wonder if I read the wrong road map.

As the dream-wreck piles up, I question, what was "it" suppose to look like? In my head it [life] was suppose to be easy and simple, instead it got complicated. Or so it appears.

Truthfully, the lay-offs, life challenges and broken dreams do create a mess, a loss and upsets the order of "simple". Kind of can't avoid that. However, I am thinking perhaps this is not the same as "complicated."

So I wonder, did my life get complicated or have I put an unrealistic expectation on myself which has made my life feel complicated? Perhaps I need to lighten my emotional load by lightening up on myself [my expectations].

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas Curveball

My husband and I planned to keep Christmas simple this year. It would be nice to spend Christmas with my family; mom, her husband Fred, my sister, brother-in-law, niece/nephew and their towheads who all moved to North Carolina 16 months ago. 
However, a few layoffs have set us back so we will enjoy local gatherings with friends to break-bread and toast as we celebrate the true gift of the season. 

Tammy Sue Willey blogspot
Fred Babe's Bday May 2014

At least we'd seen our family in May when we celebrated Fred's 66th Birthday with carrot cake in Manchester.

While wondering what to offer people during the holiday, we received old fashioned gifts one by one; a live wreath, a box of fruit, sausage and cheese, a Texas pecan pie and a fresh cut Christmas tree! Last time we had a tree was 4 years ago. Working at a school, only 5 more days till winter break and I could recharge my batteries and decorate our tree and prepare for a relaxed simple Christmas!

December 16 I received a call at work, Fred, my step-father in North Carolina died unexpectedly that morning. Mom found him on the couch. We had to change our simple and frugal plans to, "How are we going to get to NC?" A series of car problems made our vehicles unreliable.