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Help IzzyB Get Cancer Free!

My friend Chasity is a Super Hero.  You won’t recognize her among the other super heroes, because like some of the real heroes in the world, Chasity doesn’t wear a cape.  She’s a mom. 

While I admire anyone who can mother a child – because I have three of my own, and there really are days when they make you understand why some species eat their young – Chasity is unique among moms.  Her super hero abilities outshine us all.

This beautiful little girl is Isabella   

IzzyB is Chasity’s daughter – and the twin sister to the incredibly handsome Landon.  Chasity’s children were born at only 24 weeks gestation, and not long after these gorgeous babies arrived in the world, Chasity found herself having to survive as a single mom. 

As anyone who knows anything about babies can tell you, babies born at 24 weeks are going to have many mountains to climb.  Landon and Isabella can vouch for that!  The obstacles these babies have had to jump over in just two short years would be staggering to even the strongest among us.  Landon has gone through two open heart surgeries, has had a pacemaker placed in his tiny chest, aortic stenosis, and cerebral palsy.  He’s a fighter, and is growing and doing well, in spite of the road blocks life has thrown before him.


And this brings us back to the beautiful Miss IzzyB.  After spending nearly the entire first year of her life in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Isabella has made strides that the great runners of the world would be envious of!  She has tackled some big medical giants, and just like David in the Bible, she has triumphed, no matter how big the opponent. 

But now, Isabella needs us.  This darling little girl is facing cancer, and her only option right now for survival is a liver transplant.  As she waits on the transplant list for an organ to become available, Chasity must don her Super Hero attire and fight the biggest foe she may ever fight in order to see to it that her baby girl has a chance at life.  The expenses associated with Isabella’s medical treatment are staggering.  We’re not even talking about doctor visits and band-aids here folks – we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars!  In addition to the actual medical needs, funding is needed for transporting IzzyB to specialists; help for Chasity to keep her head above water while she tries to maintain her full time job and competent child care for Landon when she has to be at the hospital with Isabella.  This goes beyond what health insurance is willing to pay for.  And we’re counting on friends from far and wide to come through for Isabella.
If you can donate ANYTHING, please consider clicking the link – don’t be ashamed it’s too small!  These babies know that small things become great things – they are proof of that themselves!  Go here to help save Isabella’s life – http://cota.donorpages.com/PatientOnlineDonation/COTAforIsabellaG/
Even Super Heroes need help sometimes.  Surely you’ve heard of the Fantastic Four.  Here’s your chance to be part of another Fantastic Four – Chasity, Landon, Isabella, and Us.  Let’s fight together to save IzzyB.

Review: Mary Kent Children’s Boutique

Mary Kent Children’s Boutique

606 N White Horse Pike
Stratford, NJ 08084

This is not my first visit to Mary Kent’s.  If it were, I do not know that I would be back. 

Let me start by saying in previous visits, I’ve been met with nothing but helpful sales staff – ladies who have gone out of their way to make sure my shopping experience was positive.  The shop has been there for decades, and they boast a gorgeous collection of specialty clothing for children, including gorgeous Christening outfits; stunning special occasion dresses; and amazing First Holy Communion dresses.  We bought my oldest daughter’s first Christmas dress here, and her First Holy Communion dress was purchased at Mary Kent.  Even the baby has a few lovely things I picked up there, and the two little ones got matching Christmas dresses there two years ago.

My experience on this visit, with Eilis, was less than perfect.  I phoned a few days before to ask about their selection of plus sized dresses – specifically dresses in Eilis’ size – and was told they had a very good selection.  I was optimistic that we would leave with a dress after our Saturday visit.

Well, when we got there, to begin with, there was no help at all.  No one directed us where to look for plus sized dresses, and no one acknowledged that we had come in.  There were two women waiting on the mother of one of the girls in Eilis’ class, who was there with her cousin.  Another woman was on the phone.  After about 10 minutes, one of the women who was helping the one mother and child that Eilis knew from school asked if I needed help.  I asked her for the plus sized dresses, and she asked me what size I needed.  She pulled three dresses out for me, and hung them on the far wall, away from a fitting room.  Only two of them were the size I told her I thought we needed.  She did not tell me they were for me, so I just assumed.  As the other mom was leaving, she walked over to one of the dresses that this woman pulled for Eilis, and commented on how beautiful it was.  The woman walked over to her and said in a loud whisper “If you are interested in this dress, tell me now, because if this other lady likes it, I can’t sell it to two kids in the same class.”

Despite seeing the two saleswomen helping the other woman and her daughter, Eilis and I were on our own to try dresses on.  After about 30 minutes, the woman who had been on the phone came over and offered the most amount of assistance we had received so far – pulling a few dresses, and informing me that I could order dresses in Eilis’ size if I saw something we liked.

The whole thing put a sour taste in my mouth.  And that’s a shame, because Mary Kent is a wonderful shop.  I cannot say that they were very busy.  After the one little girl and her mom left, it was just Eilis.  Then another little girl came and received the same time and attention that the first kid had been getting.

I will probably look somewhere else first next time I need a special occasion dress.  And that’s a shame.

The Communion Dress!!

I have a bit of a tom boy.  She does not like dresses, tights, nice shoes, fancy hair things, or anything remotely restrictive in her attire.  Shopping for the dress that will be second in importance only to her wedding gown with this child is not going to be fun. 

To make matters worse, this child is not your average sized kid.  She is, after all, my child.  I believe her pediatrician calls her an “efficient absorber” – meaning that what she consumes is absorbed very well, and stored for future use.  She would make an excellent caveman.

We began shopping on Saturday with my ever patient stepmom.  We went to a dress shop I’ve been going to for special occasion dresses for as long as I’ve had children.  I called ahead of time to see how they’re selection of half size dresses was, and was assured they had plenty.  After a frustrating hour or so, we left empty handed, with a disgruntled kid who wanted no part of any more dresses.  She was begging at this point to consider converting to Judaism, and when she found out about Hebrew school and a Bat Mitzvah, I swear the child renounced God altogether and declared herself an atheist.

I took the the little heathen next to David’s Bridal.  They had a ton of white dresses, none of which were Eilis’ size, but some of which could be ordered in her size.  They could not tell me which ones could be ordered in her size, and squeezing her into dresses that were clearly too small was no fun.  At some point, she suffered a complete meltdown, crying in the store and attempting to walk home.  I told her she might get picked up by Baptists, and be forced not only to attend Church AND Sunday school, but also not be allowed to drink or dance or whatever it is that Baptists do and don’t do.  That kept her with me – although still in tears.

At the mall, we found out that Sears had NO Communion dresses, and Penney’s only had regular sizes.  Boscov’s and Macy’s had none, either, much to Eilis’ sheer delight.  We ended the disappointing day with lunch.  How’s that for a fat mentality?

Yesterday, armed with renewed hope and my mom, who was spared the torture of the Saturday experience, we headed into South Philly – which I have been told is the First Holy Communion dress capital of the world.  We went into the St. Jude Shop with such optimism, only to have all hope dashed when they had such a small selection of plus sized dresses, but then again when the size Eilis fit into perfectly on Saturday was not fitting her here.

As we turned to leave the shop, one of the women who worked there recommended we try Edie’s Children’s Corner at 2nd and McKean streets in South Philly.  With nothing to lose but time, we headed over that way.  The shop is jam packed with everything you might need for a child.  Clothes, hats, pajamas, school uniforms are bulging out of every corner and off of every shelf.  The best part was the woman who worked there.  She was so incredible, and so understanding of the difficulties of shopping for a plus sized child.  She made recommendations and reassurances, and she was so prepared for Eilis to be crabby and uncooperative.  They gave us a soft cotton slip to put on Eilis so she didn’t have any itching or scratching going on from the dress.  They put gloves on Eilis so she was free to touch things.  They let her stand up, sit down, twirl in the dresses to make sure they were comfortable.  And best of all, when I said we needed a size 12.5 for Eilis, she didn’t believe it!  And she was right.  We got a 10.5!

So here’s the dress and the veil.  I couldn’t get Eilis to put it on to model it – you’ll have to wait for the actual event to do that. 


He’s Peeing!!

I know, right?  Terrible way to start a post.  Too much information, but at the same time, not enough.  You have to see where I’m going with this to get past the title.

So I have children.  Three of them.  And at one point or another in the 17 years that I have been a parent, all three of them have asked for some sort of pet.  And we have had pets.  I have had dogs that required behavioral therapy and re-homing due to separation anxiety.  We’ve had a hermit crab who died within seconds of leaving his home at the Jersey shore.  We have sat and cried as a tank full of fresh water fish died before our eyes due to a water change being done with a cleaning bucket.  And we have watched in horror as our lobster, affectionately named Papa Smurf for his wise and benevolent appearance (and the fact that he was blue), ate the other innocent fish that swam too close to him for his contentment. 

Every time the subject comes up about adding a pet to our home, the sensible part of me says absolutely no way.  I already have too many things in this house that need time and attention.  There are enough things that need to be fed and bathed.  And as of this year, I feel I have paid my potty training dues and have successfully retired from the business.

To make my children happy in their cruel and pet-less home, a kind and wonderful grandparent decided to buy them a pretend pet.  This dog will not cause Granuaile’s eczema to act up, does not need to be fed, and never needs to go out at 3 AM when it’s 9 degrees outside.  It has none of the charm and charisma of a real pet.

So why are my kids so damned excited when this thing has to pee?  They give it water, and minutes later, it pees on the pee pad they put down.  When we had a real dog that really peed, I don’t recall this level of excitement.  I do not recall the jumping up and down and screaming, “He’s peeing!  He’s peeing!” when a real animal was ruining my carpet.  There was fleeing from the room, all of them acting like no one had seen the offending creature, and there was the creature, staring at me with a look that would always say, “What?  I’m sure it wasn’t me.  You need to teach those furless two legged dogs you’ve got better bladder control.”

It’s lovely they are so excited over a toy.  It’s lovely that they are cleaning up after the offending toy.  But even the sad puppy dog eyes these kids give me won’t convince me that the real thing is in their future – unless a crystal ball shows the same kind of enthusiasm for the real thing when it comes to peeing, too.

How Long Does It Take?

 I do seriously try to stay away from controversy when I blog, but sometimes, you have to hurt some feelings and step on some toes.  I’m sorry to anyone who is offended by the rant I am about to lay on ya, but remember, this is my blog and these are my opinions.  If you want to go somewhere where someone will tell you what you want to hear, your bathroom mirror is a good place to start.

So how long does it take, in the words of my Aussie friend Aramanth, to fall pregnant?  How long did it take you, those of you who are moms, to become pregnant?  And I am of course referring to those of you that actually had to try, as opposed to those of you who were shocked and surprised to find out where babies come from as you were sitting in the obstetrician’s office.

For me, the whole getting pregnant thing was not as easy as they make it look in movies about crack whores with 9 children from 8 different baby daddys.  For me, staying pregnant was also excruciatingly difficult.  So when someone starts whining and pissing and moaning because they’ve been trying for 3 long months to get pregnant and it hasn’t happened, I find a fatal error in my sympathy programming. 

With Brighid, I was definitely one of those women sitting in the ob’s office, having to find out how the hell I got into the situation I was in.  We were in the final stages of planning our wedding when we decided since we had technically already gone 2+ years without birth control without getting pregnant, we might want to go find out what it would take to actually get pregnant.  Apparently, all it took was a visit to the doctor, because after some testing and poking, I got the call two days into our honeymoon that I was already pregnant.  Who knew?  They estimated I was about 9 weeks along.

After Brighid, things seemed to stop working again.  Five years later, when I finally did get pregnant, our joyous celebration was crushed by the first of many miscarriages.  But it never took us anything less than 2 years to get pregnant.  Eilis came nearly 10 years after Brighid, and Granuaile more than 4 years after that.  My obstetrical history reads like a horror story, and it’s sometimes painful to think about.  5 babies lost.  5 hearts that flickered on that ultrasound screen one visit, and disappeared the next. 

So when someone is complaining that they’ve had to read a book about getting pregnant to figure out how to do it; or they’ve had to take pregnancy test after pregnancy test every month for 3 long months, please forgive me if I can’t participate in the conversation for fear of ripping someone’s head off.

Honey, call me when you have 13 years of negative pregnancy tests in your trash can.  Call me when you’ve done hormone shots, progesterone creams, vitamins, herbs, voodoo – exhausted EVERY damn resource to have a baby.  And it takes longer than 3 months to do that.  For some of us, it takes the better part of our lives.

Facing the Fear, Living the Life

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Two and a half years ago, at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, August 1st, I got behind the wheel of my car.  My husband, who does not see well enough be driving at 4 AM, sat quietly in the passenger seat, holding my hand. 

I took off north on the New Jersey turnpike.  I had an appointment to meet my surgeon, Dr. Michael Nusbaum, at St. Barnabas Hospital in West Orange, NJ for my Roux-en-Y gastric bypass operation.  I thought I had faced the fears intelligently.  I did all the pre-op testing to make sure that my diabetic fat arse could withstand the surgery.  I met with the psychologist to make sure I was mentally prepared.  I met with our lawyer and had my will drawn up.  I talked to Jim so he knew to make the necessary preprations for my funeral in the event that things didn’t go well, and I talked to Brighid, so if Jim was too upset to remember everything I told him to do, someone else would remember.

Even though I thought I had all of my bases covered, I could not possibly have anticipated the emotions.  I started crying at about exit 5, and didn’t stop until we arrived at the hospital.  Through silent tears, I prayed Jim would tell me not to go through with the surgery, turn the car around, and just go home.  But he didn’t.  So I kept driving so I didn’t look like a coward.

They took me back right away when we got to the hospital, and I was soon sitting on a guerney back in a holding area outside the operating suites.  By the time Dr. Nusbaum came over to tell me things were running a little behind due to an unscheduled emergency procedure being done in the OR I was heading for, I was shivering from the fear.  He rested his hand on my knee, was incredibly reassuring, and promptly called for drugs to calm my butt down.

Dr. Michael Nusbaum
Dr. Michael Nusbaum

The next thing I knew, it was over.  I was bypassed.  Gastrically altered.  The fear was over, I faced it, and I conquered it, and in the days to come, would realize it wasn’t as bad as the anticipation of how bad it might have been.  10 days later, I was in Disney World.

But for two and a half years, I have anticipated the next step in the journey.  I’ve had a lot of time for the butterflies in my stomach to multiply and the concerns to mount.  I’ve gone through one other major surgery since my bypass – an emergency due to an intestinal blockage.  The very neat, leaving only small holes surgery that Dr. Nusbaum performed was replaced by a lengthy red scar down the middle of my stomach.  The recovery from that surgery was painful – but after a week in the hospital, I came home ready to get back to the business of living.  But the emotional scars seem to still be there.  I don’t know if I live with the fear of another surgery because I didn’t get to go into that one with my usual mountain of lists and plans and what ifs.  But I’m worried.  So as I think about the next step – the plastic surgery that I hope will return my body to some semblance of normal – the mounting fear has seemed insurmountable.

It took me about six months to work up the courage to call a plastic surgeon.  I read a lot about the type of surgery I think I want, and have decided that the best thing for me is a total body lift.  In doing my research, I have found that the pioneer of this type of surgery is Dr. Dennis Hurwitz, and he’s not that terribly far away – in Pittsburgh.  I did a lot of research before allowing Dr. Nusbaum to do my RNY and had amazing results.  I did no research in allowing the surgeon to do my intestinal blockage repair.  I can’t say the same about my experience.  So going into this next phase of the game plan, I am going in under my own terms, with the doctor I choose.  I made an appointment with Dr. Hurwitz, only to go into panic mode and cancel a few days before.  It was Christmas, after all, and the nervousness was threatening to ruin my holiday mood.

So it’s not Christmas anymore.  And after reading and researching, I decided to face the fear.  In order to live the life I want to live, I have to think about moving forward with the plastic surgery.  Dr. Hurwitz has a practice closer to home, which made me feel a little better, because in my organized mind, if something does go horribly wrong, it’s got to be cheaper to get my body home from Chadds Ford than all the way from Pittsburgh.  If I have to stay in hospital an extended period of time, it’s going to be easier for Jim and the kids if I’m only an hour away as opposed to six hours away.  And the clincher?  Dr. Nestor Veitia. 

Dr. Veitia
Dr. Veitia

When I called to make my appointment, it was Dr. Veitia who called me back.  He scheduled my appointment, and then spent ten minutes on the phone, addressing some fears.  He laughed at my sarcasm, got my jokes, and made me feel like he’s someone who can be trusted.

So I’m going.  January 27th.  And we shall see what happens – like how many kidneys I might have to sell to pay for surgery, and how long I’ll have to live the life of leisure following the procedure.  I mentioned to Dr. Veitia that I was in Disney just 10 days after my gastric bypass.  I asked if I’d be there in 5 after the body lift.  He laughed.  But in a nice way.

Wii Fit – How Far Am I Running?

Those of you who know me may be surprised to find out that I am not an athlete.  I am not a fan of exercise, and believe that the most amount of effort that I should have to exert in a day would be the movement of my hand from the bowl of bon-bons to my mouth as I lay on the sofa watching Oprah (isn’t that what all stay at home moms do?). 

So, I have mentioned my 15 new best friends – the moms and dad on the 2009 Disney Moms Panel. 

To borrow a phrase the wisdom of which was imparted to me by my friends Whitney and Jennifer, bless their hearts (which is Southern, apparently, for are these people bat shit crazy??).  These women – and Doug – are convinced that we can make our presence known at the Expedition Everest 5K in September.  Now, I believe I’d make an excellent water hander outer, but really, I’d love to be able to do this.  It’s 3 miles, and if I survive the heart attack and the stroke I know I’ll suffer at about the end of the first mile, I might be able to crawl the other two miles.

But this brings me to my training regimine.  Right now, I am doing the Wii Fit, because, frankly, it’s cold outside, and I don’t like the cold – not even with a latte in hand.  So yesterday, my first day on the Wii Fit I think since Bush was in the White House (the other one), I ran the short distance.  I felt like I really accomplished something, as I did it without passing out or throwing up.  And it didn’t seem too bad.  So today, I decided to do the Island lap.  As soon I saw the distance bar across the bottom of the screen, I knew I had made a mistake, but I was determined.

After running what seemed like 437 miles, I finished.  I was so proud of myself for not dropping dead on the living room floor, in front of Granuaile!  But even though it gives you all sorts of little stars and happy sunshine and rainbows for your achievement, it doesn’t tell you what you’ve achieved.

Does anyone know – how do you know how far you are running on the Wii Fit?  Did I seriously do 437 miles, or should I keep practicing for that September 5K.  Bless their hearts.

2008 – a Skamarakas Year in Review

Oh my gosh, don’t you hate it when you open up those Christmas cards, and people have felt some obligation to send you those lengthy notes that tell you how much better their lives were this past year than your life was?  And their kids are all smarter than yours are?  And their husbands cook, clean, change diapers, and won the Nobel Peace Prize?? 

Well, lucky you!  Not only am I not organized enough to get my end of the year family report into our Christmas cards, my kids are amazingly average and my husband, who is only typically here on the weekends anyway, acts as if housework might be linked to an immediately deadly form of some God awful disease.  So you have to come to the right place to avoid all those sunshine and rainbow end of year newsletters.

Having said that, though, it’s been one amazing year at our house!  By far, the biggest news of the year is NO MORE DIAPERS!!  Granuaile, the hardest of my three girls to potty train, is house broken!  We tried everything, but the thing that finally kicked in for her was something my friend Bec from OMOM (hi, Bec!!) used for her son, Thane.  We did a kitchen timer – you know, the ones you wind up to the time you want, and then they ring?  At one point during the training process, she was coming in and setting the clock so she could go to the potty – it was cute!  She is dry, day and night, and we’re out of diapers and pull-ups.  It’s a little bittersweet.  My last baby, potty trained 🙁  Okay, I’m over it 😉

Brighid decided to be a Marine, not be a Marine, go to boot camp and field operations training, be a Marine, then not be a Marine this year.  Whew, am I relieved!  She actually did phenomenally well at boot camp, and won the award of Overall Outstanding Cadet out of 180 kids – mostly boys. 

Then she went to San Luis Obispo, CA for field ops, where she got dehydrated to the point that her veins collapsed and they couldn’t start an IV for rehydration fluids.  That pretty much convinced her she might rather be a lawyer than a Marine.  Semper Fi, y’all.

Eilis had a great time with two weeks at SeaWorld camp.  She loves the place, and after a day there, feels much like she owns the joint.  She spent one week with the theme Red, White, and Shamu, but it was the next week – What’s For Lunch? that she really enjoyed. 

She’ll be making First Holy Communion in a few months, and made her first confession in early December.  Of course, the day after her first Confession, she asked me to steal Cinderella’s nail polish from my stay at the castle suite.  I guess she figured she should have something to confess the next time she went.  Or is that my crime??  Wait a minute……

Jim continued working in the midwest, and he participated in both of the summer trainings Brighid did.  He served as an instructor both at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and at Field Ops.  And he’s still got those dimples to die for.  Swoon.

We took an amazing trip that included a few days in Rome – thank you very much to our driver friend Manilo Tranquili for his wonderful guided tour of the city and of Castel Gandolfo.  We had a terrific time.  Isn’t he a cutie??  Dark hair, piercing eyes, chiseled good looks… you have to love Italian men!

After a few days in Italy, we toured the British Isles.  I blogged about the trip.  Look back, you’ll see it.  I don’t want to over-use the word amazing, but it was.  Amazing.  Oh my gosh, this is turning into one of those family holiday letters, isn’t it???

I continued to puruse my career goal as a professional – as in people give me money for it!! – writer.  I did well this year!  In addition to work for my brother-in-law (maybe soon to be ex-brother-in-law, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post) and the Virginia National Guard, I’ve written speeches for a former US Ambassador and helped build too many websites to count.  So if you’re surfing the web for information on theme weddings; surrealist art; Clark Gable; Lowell, MA; or any number of other topics, chances are, you will come across articles I’ve written. 

My big news of the year comes as a result of both my abilities as a writer and my love of all things Disney.  After submitting essays to Disney as an application for the 2009 Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I was surprised to get an email telling me I had been elevated to the second round.  They needed 3 more essays, but they needed them right in the middle of me having to do a 10 minute speech for someone on the financial future of Ireland.  I knew I blew it – my answers were a little smart ass-y and sarcastic – definitely NOT Disney-like.  I was floored when I was asked to schedule a telephone interview, and was in such a panic doing the interview, I thought I bombed.  When they asked me how I might explain to people how they could make Disney affordable in this economic climate, I suggested not buying the way over priced Disney souvenirs.  Way to endear myself to the Mouse House, no?  I waited one long, agonizing week before being called and told I was on the panel!  I had an awesome training weekend (yeah, I blogged it, go read), have 14 new best girlfriends, and a guy friend who is almost as sarcastic as I am 🙂  And now, for a year, I’m answering vacation planning questions at www.disneyworldmoms.com .  Go visit me, ask me questions, and PLEASE give me good feedback 🙂

We closed the year out with another cruise to the Caribbean.  It was just what I hoped it would be – quiet and relaxing, no rushing to tour anything, just casual walks off the ship and through Cozumel and Key West.  I’d like to go away again next year the same week.  It was a nice way to kick off the holiday season.

So that’s it – our year in review. 

From Jim and I, along with Brighid, Eilis, and Granuaile, we wish you a healthy, prosperous New Year.  To my Irish friends, Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh.  And to my Italian friends (did I mention I took Italian classes for a little while this year?) Felice Anno Nuovo.