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Please Help – In Honor of Bean

I want to start this blog by telling you my goal. In honor of my sister Bean, I am collecting books – new and gently used – that will be donated to various children’s charities in Bean’s memory. I would absolutely LOVE to have 100 books to donate by the end of March. That means if just 10% of my Twitter Followers sent me a book, I’d be at my goal. If just a fraction of my Facebook friends sent me a book, I’d be at my goal. I think I’ve set a modest goal, and your donation would help me not only honor the memory of this incredible person, but it would also help put books in the hands of children.

Brand new books will be donated to Project Night Night, which helps provide bedtime necessities for children in homeless shelters. Each child is given a brand new book, a security blanket, and a brand new stuffed animal in a tote bag of their own. Gently used books will be donated to two schools in Camden, NJ – one of the poorest cities in the United States. Bean donated quite a bit to Sacred Heart School in Camden in terms of toys and books, and I know she would be happy to see that there were books going to the children at the school there.

If you need help to cover the cost of shipping books to me, just let me know. EMAIL ME at anna@skamarakas.com for information on how to get the books to me!

Below is the eulogy I wrote when my sister Bean died. She passed away on Friday, March 7th, 2003, having battled most of her life with the affects of a tumor on her pituitary gland when she was young.

But before you get to the words I wrote to be spoken about my sister nearly 7 years ago, I want to talk about something that’s important to me now where Bean is concerned. There is some stuff that in the midst of the agony and grief I didn’t mention in detail.

Bean loved children. I have to admit that while Brighid was growing up, Bean was as much a mother to her as I was a lot of times. She played the games, colored in the coloring books, watched the cartoons – all the stuff I passed on to do things like go to work, make dinner, clean a bathroom. Bean was the kind of mom every kid wishes they had – the kind who would give you chocolate cake and soda for breakfast; take you to see the movies your real mom thought might be too scary; and buy you the toys your own mother told you were crappy.

But she wasn’t just good with Brighid. Bean was always doing something for someone’s child. She moved from NJ to FL to help her friend raise her two boys when they moved away due to a job relocation, and she was forever making smiley faces at babies to make them laugh or helping someone else’s kid on the playground. Kids were attracted to Bean, because Bean never lost the excitement about life that most kids have. Bean’s heart never grew up or grew old, and I think kids just naturally related to her because of that. As a frequent volunteer at Brighid’s school, when she died, of the over 400 people who came to say their last goodbyes, many were kids that Bean took into her heart, the teachers and faculty of the school where she volunteered, even the priest from the parish came to pray with us and offer his condolences, as he recognized that losing Bean caused a void that went way beyond our family.

So here are the words I wrote that were read in Church on our final day with Bean. She is today loved as much as she was on the day we lost her, missed more than I could ever put into words, and her kindness and generosity appreciated even now.

March, 2003

If you met Bean once, you would never have forgotten her. It wasn’t the fact that due to her medical problems, she had an unusual appearance. Bean managed to touch your heart in the first few seconds you knew her. No matter how brief your encounter with her, by the time you finished your first conversation with her, you probably knew everything you ever wanted to know about the Bilbrough and Holak families – and more. But whatever else you took away from your first meeting with Bean, somehow you knew that no matter what, Bean would be your friend for life.

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When someone dies, you are supposed to say only good things about them – like they would give you their last dime, or the shirt off of their back. Well, Bean was that person. Whenever she volunteered for lunch duty at Brighid’s school, she would turn her purse inside out looking for spare change in case one of the kids forgot their lunch money. If Brighid was selling something to support Girl Scouts or the Church, Bean was in line with the biggest order. Just before she died, she won $50 in the Church calendar raffle, then turned around and spent $90 on Easter candy to support Annunciation School. If she was invited out for a holiday meal, she made sure to go with a flower for all the ladies or a toy or candy for all the children. Her heart held more goodness than her purse held change, but if she had one dime to her name, she was looking to spend it on someone else.

Despite the numerous aches and pains she often had, whenever you asked Bean how she was, she would say she was “Great!” If she went to see a movie or a play, no matter how bad, when you asked Bean how it was, she would say, “Fantastic!” And if you took her out for a bite to eat – whether it was a cheese steak or a prime rib dinner, when you asked Bean how the meal was, she would say it was, “Fabulous!” She lived her life loving everything she did and everyone around her. She was never disappointed in anything or anyone. She loved it all.

So whether you knew Bean for a short time, or if you knew her all of her life, we know you are here today because she touched your heart. She had a way of doing that so that the mark she made on you would be permanent. Somehow, she must have known that her time with us would be much too short. She managed to leave behind something in all of us so that she will never be forgotten.

Hot Pockets – Oh This Should Be Interesting

Let’s start by saying I did not purchase the Hot Pockets.  And were it not for Jim Gaffigan and his comedy routine, I doubt Jim would have purchased Hot Pockets.  But there they were.  And here I was.  Friday night, no offer of take away pizza from the husband, and facing a cupboard with the same old boring pasta.  The Hot Pockets I have successfully avoided since Jim threw them in my shopping cart three weeks ago are on the menu.  This should be interesting.

Oh come on, who does a food review on Hot Pockets?  Well, damn it, I’m someone’s mom, and it’s my obligation to warn other moms who will spend their hard earned money on these things.  Other moms want to know before they let their husbands throw them into the cart, echoing Jim Gaffigan, what they are getting themselves into.

But this will not be your typical food review.  Because in a typical food review, you can find SOMETHING to say that isn’t all bad.  Not so with the Hot Pockets.

To begin with, to microwave them so you can eat even faster than boiling water, you have to put them in these sleeves meant to keep them from getting soggy or chewy or something.  I think the purpose is to have them come out of the microwave in a minute with a crispy exterior.  Umm hmm.  Once you have finished the 60 seconds or so it takes to prepare this gourmet delight, you have to shove the steaming hot Hot Pocket half way up into the sleeve so you can close the bottom of the sleeve, thus turning the sleeve into a handy dandy Hot Pocket serving tray.  Oh yes.  A set of these much sought after bad boys will set ya back a chewed piece of gum and some pocket lint, I’m sure.

Okay, but literally, I had dinner on the table for the family in under 7 minutes.  Damn.  That’s fast.

Have you ever heard that fast is not necessarily good?  I am reminded of the phrase “There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.”  And over is what I will probably have to do with dinner in just a while. 

So, they come out of the microwave, and you shove them into the sleeves, and you fold in the bottom flap to make the handy dandy serving tray.  Be careful how you now lay them, because I laid at least one of them so that it hung off the edge of the plate, and it suffered a debilitating deformity as a result. 

I have to say, they didn’t smell too bad.  I expected a plasticy type of smell, but I actually smelled something pizza-like.  We had the sausage and meatball varieties, and after just a few minutes in the microwave, there was a familiar sort of pizza odor in the kitchen.  Not good pizza, mind you, but the kind of pizza I remember growing up in the 70s that my mom would buy frozen in rectangular slices, and heat up for Bean and I if the grown ups were eating something like liver or bean soup.

So, once I waited the required two minutes before serving, I served them to the girls.  They honestly didn’t seem to mind them, so I figured they couldn’t be all bad, and helped myself to the last remaining Hot Pocket.

I may go to my grave with only this one regret.  I should never have touched the Hot Pocket.

It did firm up on the outside, although crispy is still a far cry away.  I gingerly took my first bite, expecting it to be steaming hot inside.  It wasn’t.  It was hot, but not so hot you couldn’t bite it.

It’s doughy.  Like you can taste flour and it should have cooked longer.  Or something.  And the tomato sauce is barely there, just a little tease of something that may have at one point stood next to a tomato.  Then you get the cheese, which is, for lack of a better and more eloquent term, YUCKY.  It’s not normal cheese tasting cheese, it’s sort of plasticy, artificial tasting. 

But wait, there’s more.  Every now and again, I get a bite of sausage.  Or something who may have an ancestor in the sausage family. 

This is way too much time to dedicate to this dinner, but I felt an obligation to warn the corner cutting, short cut taking, get out of cooking real dinner moms in the world. 

Call Dominos.  Yes, even Dominos beats a Hot Pocket.

Oh – and the inspiration behind our feast can be seen here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xlN_ltZ3Ug&NR=1

Awesome Valentine’s Weekend Offers at McCormick & Schmick

There is nothing more convenient on Valentine’s Day than one stop shopping – and if it’s one stop shopping that causes your Valentine to swoon, even better (honey, are you paying attention?).  Your wife is over the uncomfortable lingerie you have purchased every year since the dawn of time, and your husband does not know what to do with one more pair of satin boxer shorts covered in hearts. 

The incredible McCormick & Schmick Restaurant has a phenomenal Valentine’s Weekend offer that will put all other Valentine offers to shame.  How beautiful would it be to walk in with your sweetie, sit down at your table, and have a beautiful bouquet of roses delivered right to the table?  Or even better – when your Valentine takes their first glance at the menu, they see your personalized message right on the menu!

The best part of the whole Valentine’s offer is that it’s available the entire weekend, so for those of you who don’t want to do the whole Valentine’s crunch on Sunday night, you have the whole rest of the weekend to show your best Valentine just how much you love them!

McCormick & Schmick has an amazing regular menu, but check out their special Valentine menu.  You might find something like this on the special menu at your local McCormick & Schmick –

Set the Mood

Pan Fried Oysters Rockefeller-Style

 On a bed of anise-flavored creamy spinach, glazed with hollandaise



Create The Perfect Pair

Soup or Mixed Green Salad


Choose Filet Mignon or Lobster Tail


Choose a Crab Cake, Grilled Filet of Salmon or Skewer of Shrimp


Seasonal Vegetables



Delectable Desserts

Sweetheart’s Crème Brulée

Chocolate Silk Pie

6.95 each


If this is a deal you’d like to take advantage of – and who wouldn’t want to? – call your local McCormick & Schmick restaurant to make your reservations.  Let them know when you call that you’d like the roses delivered to your table, and the restaurant can be sure to have a dozen, half dozen, or single rose presented to your Valentine (PLEASE check with your McCormick & Schmick about the availability of the flowers – the local one for me in Cherry Hill, NJ has seen such a wonderful response that as of Friday evening, they have only half dozen and single rose presentations available). 

This is a really wonderful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Delicious food, romantic setting, and stress free – sounds like a perfect celebration anytime!

Find your New Jersey area McCormick & Schmick location here http://www.mccormickandschmicks.com/locationmap.aspx?state=NJ

10 Best Last Minute – and not so expensive – things to do on Valentine’s Day

We’re not big on Valentine’s Day in my house.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten a Valentine’s gift from my husband, and one of those gifts was delivered to the hospital as I was in labor with my middle daughter, Eilis.  It was a barefoot and pregnant bear from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.  Ummm hmmm.  Maybe it’s better he doesn’t send gifts.

But here it is, Valentine’s Day is upon us, the economy sucks, but you still want to do something for your Sweetie.  Here are some great ideas that won’t break the bank – some are even free – and they are really the kind of gifts your honey will appreciate.

1 – Coupon Books – Homemade coupon books can be GREAT gifts.  Make them at home on your printer, or even handwrite them.  You can include romantic coupons for a bubble bath for two, a candlelit dinner you make your tired wife, or a nice massage.  You might want to go with practical gifts like you’ll go with your husband to the boat show or play World of Warcraft with him (you know he’d love spending the time with you); or offer to bathe the little ones and put them to bed for your wife while she watches Project Runway.  That might even get you something extra!

2 – Parlor Picnic – Not only are the restaurants going to be packed, it’s expensive to go out and eat.  Whether or not you have children, a parlor picnic (or a bedroom picnic) can be a beautiful, romantic, and less expensive way to celebrate Valentine’s day.  To make it easy on yourself, you can pick up some prepared foods at your local grocery store.  Our store also has things like a Mediterranean bar, where you can get freshly made hummus, olives, mozzarella cheese, and toppings for bruschetta.  If your grocery doesn’t have those types of things, a picnic of cheese and crackers with pepperoni; fresh fruit; and other snack type foods works well.  Spread out a blanket on the floor, dim the lights, put on some music or a romantic movie, and enjoy each other’s company, crowd free and stress free.

3 – Hit a Museam – While the maddening crowds are headed out to the restaurants, head to the museum.  Especially because Valentine’s Day is on a weekend, you can take your sweetie to your local art museum, natural history museum, or whatever type of museum you guys might enjoy.  It’s less expensive than heading out to a fancy dinner, and you can stop on the way home at your favorite coffee shop for a sandwich and a hot cocoa.  We all know chocolate has aphrodisiac properties, so this might really be a good thing!

4 – Let’s Do Lunch – Forget competing with the crowds for dinner.  Take your Valentine to lunch!  Because the big day is a Sunday, you’ll find that many restaurants not normally open for lunch just might be.  Lunch is typically a less expensive meal than dinner also, so check your local newspaper or look online to see what restaurants in your area are offering Valentine lunch specials.

5 – Sunday Valentine’s Brunch – This is another great way to celebrate and save a little money.  Instead of waiting to share s romantic dinner with your Honey, check out some of the places in your area that offer a Sunday brunch.  We have one near us that offers an enormous brunch selection for $14.95 per person, and you can start your day early with the one you love.  If you do brunch, you can take a walk together afterwards, holding hands, at a local park or lake, then grab a hot chocolate to warm up together.

6 – Scenes from the Movie Ghost – You remember it – the steamy scene where Demi Moore is making something on the pottery wheel and Patrick Swayze comes up behind her and the two of them play with the melting because it’s so hot in their clay.  Okay, so you don’t have to get that hot and bothered, but there are plenty of ceramics studios around, and this can be a really fun date.  The price varies, depending on the piece you choose to paint, and I know the pottery places around our house allow you to bring in a bottle of wine, something to snack on, even a pizza.  It’s fun to do something crafty together, and how nice will it be to have the memories come flooding back everytime you see the finished pieces you created on display at your home.  You don’t have to have artistic ability, just a desire to have a little Valentine’s Day Fun.  If you are in the South Jersey area, definitely check out http://www.paintatallfiredup.com/ in Collingswood – it’s one of our favorite places!

7 – Make Something Delicious – I don’t know about you, but when Jim helps me in the kitchen, I love it.  I love working together, we have fun, we talk about stuff, and it takes some of the burden off of me to rush and get a meal prepared, watching three pots at a time while I load the dishwasher.  Take the kitchen thing to the next level!  Check and see if your area has someplace like Super Suppers, a kitchen where you go and assemble your meals, then take them home and cook them.  This place has everything for you – all the veggies are sliced and diced, the sauces are prepared, and the meat and fish portioned out.  For about what it would cost one of you to eat at a chain restaurant, you can make a meal that will feed both of you, and add in an appetizer and a decadent dessert to round out the experience.  It’s fun to work together and assemble the meal, and then while it cooks, you can open a bottle of wine and get ready for some Valentine’s Day romance.  Our local Super Suppers is not open on Sunday, but check them out for Saturday – http://www.supersuppers.com/index.php .  Our Super Suppers also has Rosie’s Lunch on the Go, so after you’ve worked hard (okay, it’s really easy) at putting your meals together, grab a sandwich.  I’ve personally had the grilled veggie sandwich and the turkey and asparagus – DELISH!

8 – Ice Skating – It may be something you did as kids, and have long since forgotten about, but this can be fun, romantic, and when you’re finished and cold, it guarantees some snuggling to warm yourselves up!  You can find ice skating rinks in your area, which are much safer than taking a chance on a lake or pond, and the fees are very reasonable.  Bundle up, hit the ice, and hold hands as you skate around the rink.  You can impress her with your wicked mad skills that you learned playing ice hockey as a tween, and you can laugh at him when he lands on his behind after realizing those wicked mad skills stop working once you hit 40something.  When you’re finished, grab some hot cocoa and cuddle up against each other to get warm.

9 – Play Wii – Sounds like it’s got your guy written all over it, doesn’t it?  But honestly, it’s FUN!  Grab a controller and choose a game that you would enjoy – like Wii Bowling.  It never fails that my husband and I end up in fits of laughter when we play Wii together, and that always leads to more romantic things – more cuddling, more kissing, more hugging.  Throw out some chips and dips and you’ve got a great way to spend Valentine’s Day!

10 – The Mix Tape – Of course, it’s not a mix tape anymore, but you can download some of his or her’s favorite songs and make a CD or load up her iPod.  Everytime he or she listens, they’ll think of you.  And when you give the mix to your Valentine, front load it with a romantic number or two, and dance together in the privacy of your living room.  I still have a mix tape my husband made for me after we had been dating about 5 months.  I love it.

To Be Blind is Not Miserable…

not to be able to bear blindness, that is miserable. – John Milton

Well, as many of you know, Jim has been struggling with his eyesight for a number of years.  It started back in 2002, and has alternated between some good days, some bad days, some awful days.  We have finally hit a point where we are seeing more awful days, and Jim has filed for disability.

We’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks going over forms he’s had to fill out for disability, and with each form, I’ve gotten more and more sad for him, realizing that while there are things I’ve MADE him do over the years, there are a lot of things he CAN’T do, no matter how hard I try to make him feel like he’s normal. 

So over the past two weeks, I’ve cried a lot.  I’ve cried over the fact that things are up in the air and I can’t control them.  I like to have a plan.  I’m a list maker by nature – I like to have a list of things that have to be done, things I want to do, things I should do.  If situation A changes, I like to know there’s a plan for situation B to occur.  We don’t have that now, and it’s been very difficult for me. 

But more difficult has been going over these forms to list all the things Jim can’t do.  Can he drive?  Well, he has a drivers’ license, so the answer is yes, right?  No.  Because he can’t drive if it’s dark.  he can’t drive if it’s raining.  He can’t drive if it’s foggy, or snowing, or maybe Tuesday.  There’s little rhyme or reason, but some days, he just can’t drive.  Can he walk around the block?  Well, of course he can, can’t he?  Well, no.  Somedays he can’t.  We have a lot of uneven sidewalk where we live, and he trips because he can’t tell it’s uneven sidewalk. 

So filling the forms out has been sad for me.  It’s sad after 7 years of pushing him to do things and go places to see that I failed to recognize the limitations of his condition.

And then, right in the face of his condition, I laughed today.  Because we went out for coffee, and Jim wore his gloves.  Only, he wore different gloves.  Not only did the left glove not match the right glove, it wasn’t even the same color.  And Jim didn’t recognize this. 

It was damn funny.  The undertone was still sad.  We answered a question on one of the forms that asked “Do you need help getting dressed?”, and my initial reaction to that was, “Well of course you don’t, you’re a fine, strapping man!”  Truth is he does sometimes.  Evidently, except on opposite day.