Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Recipe For Love

I have read on more than one occasion that we shouldn't use food to socialize. I have read about the "dangers" of teaching our children that food equals love. Self help books say that we shouldn't give food such a big role in our lives. Food is sustenance, nothing more. We should eat to live, not live to eat. It's not healthy to find comfort in food, or so we are told.

Well, as an Italian girl from Brooklyn, I say, "What a load of bologna!" (See what I did there? I used food as a METAPHOR!!)

I am proud to use food as an expression of love and I have yet to have anyone object to it. When a friend is sick or has had surgery or a baby - I get straight to work pulling out my big pots and making soup. Chicken Noodle, Pasta Fajioli (we say Fazool), Minestrone, Chick Pea Soup....they all do a body good. In the process, I feel better too. I feel useful.

Last year, I delivered a pot of minestrone to a friend of mine with a nice, crusty loaf of bread. You could see her mood brighten as she sat up a little taller. She made her way to the table, took a deep breath to enjoy the delicious smell of it and started eating. She dipped her bread and cleaned her plate and smiled. Now tell me again how that's not "Mmmm, mmmm, good!"

I highly doubt that rice cakes and tofu or some other "sustenance" would have inspired the same reaction.

I watched my Mom make a week's worth of meals for her dear friend who had undergone brain surgery and I never forgot it. She labeled the containers and even included instructions and serving suggestions. Although things were uncertain at the time, Mom could always be certain of her baked ziti. She was also certain that her friends would get hungry, and if you're going to eat, shouldn't it great?

I will also add this: If snow days and sick days don't make you think of tomato soup and grilled cheese, there was something severely wrong with your childhood.

When my friends and I gather for a dinner party, we all have fun getting together and tasting the various creations each couple has made for that night's theme. We've done Cuban, Indian, Chocolate, Steakhouse, My Big Fat Italian Wedding...many more than I can even remember. It's exciting when we all get the notice of the theme and then our imagination take us on a journey as we take on a culinary challenge. The day of the party, I find I am anticipating with great delight what everyone will make. How nice it is to know we are all thinking of each other as we cook our assigned dishes! How sweet to experience the thoughtful preparation! Yes, being thought of, being cooked for, going the extra mile for someone, this IS love. Let's stop apologizing for it.

What else should we do when we gather? Play cards? Sure! But not without snacks!
Watch the game? Yes! But not without a beer and chicken wings! We can finally see that movie? Absolutely! Pass the popcorn!

My Great-Aunt used to set an extra place in her dining room every Sunday before serving up a macaroni feast. Every week that unexpected (or should I say "expected"?) guest arrived. Why? Because they knew they were always welcome.

There's always a place for you at my table my friend. Have a seat. Let me fix you a plate. Later we'll talk - over coffee.

Taste that? It's love.


Recipe: Minestrone Soup

More of an ingredient list than a recipe, here are the basics of my minestrone soup. The beauty of it is that you use whatever veggies you have handy. Don't worry if you don't have them all, but Olive Oil, Onion and Garlic are required.

3 TBS Olive Oil
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 medium onion - diced
1 basket of sliced mushrooms
2 Zucchini quartered and diced
2 carrots diced
1/2-1 pkg of frozen chopped spinach (thawed)
2 cans of cannelini beans
2 qts of chicken or vegetable broth or stock
Salt and Pepper
2 TBS tomato paste (optional)
2-3 leaves leaves of basil (never hurts!)
1/2 lb of small sized pasta (elbows, mini-shells, mini-farfalle)

Saute garlic and onion in olive oil. Be careful not to burn.
Add sliced mushrooms. Salt and pepper to taste.
When mushrooms have softened and begin to brown, add 1 qt of broth.
Add zucchini and carrots. Add second qt of broth.
Simmer under vegetables are tender.
Add chopped spinach.
Add 2 cans of beans with liquid. Cooke until tender.
Add paste if desired or to thicken soup. Add Basil.
Boil water for pasta.
Cook pasta as directed. I don't add the cooked pasta to the soup as it absorbs the soup and makes the pasta mushy. Put a serving of pasta in each bowl and then add the soup.
Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy!!

Other veggies you can use - squash, diced tomatoes, grean beans, potatoes, cabbage, anything! Be creative!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Catchphrase Crazies

Last weekend brought me to Chicago and a wonderful visit with my father's cousin Josephine, her husband Tony and family on the occasion of their 50th Anniversary.

I love everything about this trip. I love that my Mom and my Aunt Maria were there. I love my Chicago Casale Cousins. I love how loving and silly and familar we all are with each other - even family I was meeting for the first time. I love Chicago: the people, the food,the city itself - there's no place like it.

And I love this trip's catchphrase.

Whenever we go on vacation, we seem to invent and latch onto a catchphrase and repeat it at every turn. It's an exercise in comic timing that never fails. We find ourselves laughing all day long, everyday, for a week.

This time around it was when Aunt Maria inadvertently responded to one of us with this question, "Are you serious?"

My Mom then relayed the story of a girl who works with my brother. She says this all the time, only like this, "Are you seer-vee-ous?" Say it with me: "Seerveeous."

So here's how it goes: Sunlight is peeking through the curtains and Aunt Maria tells us we have to get up if we want to make the free breakfast.

"What time is it?"
"Are you seerveeous?"

We drive to downtown Chicago where the parking is not cheap. How much?

"$25 for two hours."
"Are you seeveeous?"

We order a stuffed pizza from Giordano's. The menu says it serves 3-4 people. It weighs about 9 pounds.

"Are they seerveeous?"

We ask a couple of Chicagoans how to get to the Randolph Street parking garage from where we were in Dale Plaza.

"You have to walk up that ramp and then walk 2 blocks in that direction."
We ask simultaneously, "ARE YOU SEERVEEOUS?"
Then we all bust out laughing like only we can.

And we don't care if anyone else gets it. In fact, it's probably funnier if they don't.

I'm not sure why we do this. Perhaps it's just the burning desire of all of us to inject a little funny into everything. It's the beauty of the inside joke. The joy of the callback. I know I am throwing the scenarios at you at a rapid-fire pace, but we sprinkled them throughout the day as perfectly timed gems and we laughed just as hard each time.

So this catchphrase will go down in history with all the rest, and we will take it out and dust it off and perhaps use it the next time we are together.

I dare you not to say it today. I'm seerveeous.

Monday, September 05, 2011

A Place of No

I am sitting here watching "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," one of my many, many reality show guilty pleasures. I am going to set aside the tragic events of the summer (a divorce of one couple leads to the suicide of the ex-husband). What I want to talk about (at first) is dogs at the dinner table.

Yes my friends, dogs at the dinner table.

I'll set the scene. Big, fancy, multi-multi-multi-million dollar house. It doesn't even matter whose. She's serving a bottle of $2,200 champagne. The idea of this is digusting to me. They are drinking somebody else's mortgage.

Now The British Couple walk in with their ever present mini-dogs. The dogs are dressed to the nines. Eh. Who cares? A dog in a tuxedo is still a dog. Walking in with them is one thing. Sitting down with them is another.

But no one says a word. No one says, "Hey, that's kind of gross," or, "What lovely manners that your elbows are off the table. Unfortnately, your dog's paws are on it."

I understand that there are some cultural differences that may seperate people, but I'm pretty sure that this is bad form that crosses all socio-economic boudaries. I think this is something that everyone can agree on. Because let's be clear, I don't care kind of house you live in - or if you serve champagne or RC Cola - the rules is the rules! But somehow, this couple has thinks that they are sitting on enough money that not only don't the rules of the world apply to them. and they are pretty damn sure that no one will challenge them on it.

And so here we have a problem that runs rampant through the rich in famous: They have no one in their lives to tell them, "No."

"No Ms. Lohan, you can't snort that in the VIP lounge."

"No Michael, you shouldn't put a carousel in the front yard, or buy the Elephant Man Bones, or have a sleepover with children who are not your own."

"No Lady Gaga, I don't think the meat dress is a good idea."

"I'm sorry Elvis, I can't write you a prescription."

"No Charlie. I don't think living with porn stars is a good environment for your kids...No, I don't think that tiger's blood is for consumption. And one other thing...No. You are definitely NOT winning."

I am not saying that dogs at the dinner table = drug use = death. I'm just saying that in many ways, big and small, the world would be a better place if sometimes we came from a place of "No."

Friday, September 02, 2011

Hello...Yeah...It's Been A While.....

....Not much. How 'bout you?

OK - I'm lying. A LOT has been going on, but let's ease into it.

The blog is back baby. It's back with a new look, some new features (please vote in my weekly poll!), and a lot of catching up to do. But we'll get there, I mean it.

I feel really energized when September rolls around. It just feels like it's time to hit the reset button.

School has started and my mind goes back to my favorite teacher, Miss Carvo, who told me on more than one occaision, "A writer writes." She also would listen to whatever I said I wanted to do and would say two words, "Get going."

So here I am.

Like most of the world, a couple of years ago I began a love affair with Facebook which has been wonderful for so many reasons. But it seems that my desire to comment on my FB friends' snappy statuses and write my own, coupled with me churning out more and more stand up comedy, kept me from here.

But that's only part of the story.

The other part is that these past 2 years have been difficult and filled with a lot of sad, life-changing events. (Wait, wait, wait!!! Don't leave!) And while I always pride myself on finding humor in times of stress, times of deep sorrow are completely different. While I have a desire to share my thoughts and emotions with you my dear reader, I wonder if all the tough stuff is really what you are looking for when you come here.

Plus, there's certain things I just wasn't ready to talk about. I may never be ready to talk about them. Sometimes this makes me feel dishonest. Life is full of lots of things happening at once, but how does it look to put out a cute story for the masses about something adorable my daughter said, when at the same time my uncle was dying? Can my content still be personal without being so personal?

When something deep is happening, can I still swim in the shallow end of the pool? Will you meet me there?

I think I am learning that the answer is yes. I think I am realizing that I need to trust my readers more. If you know something big is happening in the world and it doesn't show up in the blog, I have to trust that you won't judge me. I'll talk about it when I'm ready. Or I won't.

And if I don't address the elephant that some of you know is in the room, that OK too, right? After all, it's my elephant and this is my room.

I write all of this knowing full well that I am breaking a blogging rule - Don't talk about how you have been remiss in blogging on your blog. Well, sorry. I guess I'm just a rule breaker.

I will keep writing and adding elements and making changes to keep things fresh. I'll fill in the gaps and keep you up to date. I hope you will comment so I know that you are here. I hope you will share posts you like with your friends.

I want to get back on this train and see where it takes me. When I started blogging 6 years ago, it took me to the stage as a stand up comic. Who knows where it will go next?

Who's with me?

Google Stole My Brain

I know a lot of stuff. Just ask my husband. He will tell you I said so.

Just ask my kids. I force them to watch "Jeopardy" every night just so I can show off. While I probably shouldn't be so proud to know so much about "Potent Potables" (Cleared the category!), nothing gives me more pleasure than amazing them with my rapid-fire answers (in the form of questions of course). Let's face it, it's no fun shouting, "What is the Guggenheim?" to an empty room.

There are times that I don't always know what I thought I knew, or used to know. Back in the day, I had to call my mother for this type of information.

"What was the name of the actor in "Rebel Without a Cause" - not James Dean."

"Sal Mineo."

Ah! Thanks Mom! I feel better now!

Mom was the original Google.

Here's the only problem with Mom-as-Google: I can't call just to get the tidbit of info I need. I have to also have an actual conversation. Now, don't get me wrong, I love talking to my mother, but my trivia needs are many and varied. We are talking a lot of calls. At any given hour it could go like this:

"Hey Mom, what's that gum paste candy called?"

"Tony Curtis's real name?"
"Bernie Schwartz."

"That ship that sank? Not the Titanic."
"The Andrea..."
"...Doria. Got it."

That's just rude!

Also, it's not always convenient to call Mom anyway. So, I'd have to save up my queries and remember them later.

Then one day, God gave us Google, and it was good.

Now, I don't have to remain curious about anything for long. In addition, my questions are usually answered with words and pictures and video clips.

Wiki-pedia has replaced the encyclopedia (remember THOSE?). Never mind accuracy or truth. It's INSTANT ANSWERS! The day I can walk over to a bookshelf and shout, "Why does my cat purr?" and a book comes flying off and opens itself up the relevant page, reads itself to me and shows me adorable kitten videos, well, then I would give up Google. But that's not going to happen.

One of my favorite things is to Google part of a song lyric that I sort-of-kind-of heard half of and .25 seconds later - there it is. Wow!

I'm quite certain there is an epedemic of web self-diagnosing going on. On more than one occaision, I've walked into the doctor with the name of the medication I was sure I needed. Let those who have not Googled a symptom cast the first stone.

I have spent many a sleepless night researching whatever is worrying me within an inch of its life. In theory, knowledge is power. In reality, I wish I could Google my problem and have Google answer with, "Don't worry Joanne. Everything's going to be OK."

On some level, I'm sure there are synapes dying because Google. The stuff I used to have to reach way back into my brain to remember is now literally at my fingertips.

The beauty of the search engine - that nothing is unknowable - it also the thing that makes me uneasy. While I love Google, Google Earth creeps me out. The camera swooping down from outer-space until it gets to my driveway is disconcerting(is that me in the window??). No more naked pilates!

We also love to Google because if ever there is a debate about a correct answer, we have an uninterested 3rd party to resolve the issue. And by the way, women are correct 73% more often than their husbands.

I know it's true because I Googled it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Reunions are funny things. I had two this summer that were very different from each other. One was my 25th (!) High School Reunion and the other was the reunion with family and friends in Lake George, NY.

A lot of my High School reunion seemed to be about how I was presenting myself. It was one night. One dress. One shot at my hair being "right." What image was I going to project?

My niece called me on the day of the party to ask, "Are you walking in alone or are you meeting a friend before? Do you at least have friends holding a seat for you at a table?" I hadn't even thought about these things. I will walk into anywhere by myself. I have never been intimidated by social situations of any kind, and I wasn't this time either. But, how do you sum up 25 years over the course of a few sentences:

I graduated from St. John's with a degree in Communications.
I got married to my college sweetheart.
I worked in radio in NY.
I moved to Ohio and worked in radio there.
I have two children.
I am a stand up comic.
I am a substitute teacher.

Great. What does that really say about me? Am I the same girl they knew from High School or am I changed? You know the answer dear reader, I am both.

My true friends from way back when, they know this. The acquaintances were perhaps intrigued by a couple of the facts and maybe surprised that I wasn't an awkward 16 year old any more. To quote a classmate on my Facebook page, "I have to say, you look great." This is a perfectly lovely compliment that I cannot help but think implies that I am something other than what she expected based on the girl she knew back then.

And that's great. 16 is not fully grown. Not physically, not emotionally. Sometimes I don't think I really came into my own until 20 years later.

Geez, the more I write, the more narcissistic I sound.

The second reunion of the summer - the Lake George/Casale/DiBella/Leo reunion - was easier. Let's spend some real time together. Let's feed each other. Let's meet each other's kids. Let's play cards. Let's be ourselves and laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

You would think there would be a moment of awkwardness or times of stilted formality with people you haven't seen in decades.

You would think that my brother Paul would think twice before bursting into our "cousin" Diane's cabin saying, "Who said something about coffee?" in his typical funny way. No. There isn't a second thought. Instead it's just Diane laughing that laugh she's always laughed as she puts up a pot of espresso. Cabin G (for Graziosi?) quickly became the coffee house all week.

Charlie DiBella has suggested that the whole thing is genetic. Casales love DiBellas and Leos and back and forth and sideways because our fathers love each other. It's on our DNA. Because they are comari - an Italian word that means they are closer than friends - we are all bound. It's scientific! He might be right. It makes as much sense as anything. Thank you Science!

I think about my Dad and the relationships that he has had with Sal and Uncle Frankie since he was 10. How remarkable that is. How rare. And I wonder - What kept these relationships as a constant through his life and ours? What is the tie that binds these men and these families together? And one word comes back: Love.

I love my uncles and aunts and cousins and friends of our family because my parents have. In turn, we, "the kids" are bonded and want to know each other's spouses and children. We don't worry about what we are wearing. This is a true reunion. These are the times where I see my brothers and sisters for who they are. These will be the strongest memories my nieces and nephews will have of me. This is the kind of experience you build on. But you have to continue to make the effort. The vacations of our childhoods have brought us here. In so many ways it's due to my father.

My father. My relationship with my father has gone through many stages. He was my first love. My definition of a man. He was my adversary even as he was the one I tried to please. He was my harshest critic at times and completely in my corner at others. I think I confused him sometimes. I'm not sure I'm what he expected. He yelled a lot and was, it can be argued, unreasonably strict, but he has the softest heart. He worries even as he beams when he sees my children. He puzzles me. I graduated from college and got a medal from the University's President, but when does he tell me he's proud of me? When I pump my own gas at the BP.

But now Daddy is mellow. At 75 he is sometimes not himself. But his love for all of us is always there.

And I wonder what I don't know about him. What has inspired the love and loyalty that his friends convey? Why is it that Sally DiBella tried to explain how he felt about my Dad to Frank's parents and got so choked up that he couldn't speak.

It's back to love again I suppose. Both of my parents have given me the gifts of their families and their friends because they decided to. They loved through the years, over the miles, in spite of the faults. They extended grace because they needed grace. They made the time. The gave in times of need. They held on to the people they loved through trying times and shared each other's joys literally, in sickness and in health.

And years ago my parents said to the family and to their friends, "Come with us to Lake George. It's beautiful. You'll love it. We'll have such a good time."

And we did.

Here are some photos my brother Louis took that I wanted to share. More to come....

Angelo and Diane Graziosi with my Mom. Diane is in her natural state: mid laugh.
My little cousin Cristina, SIL Doreen, Diane and Aunt Maria at our community lunch, lakeside.

Brother Louis, Aunt Maria, Rosemary and Sal DiBella, Dad and Mom

"The Boys" - My brother Louis Casale, Joe DiBella, my brother Paul, Charlie DiBella

Another family lunch poolside. My niece Jessica, Niece Megan, and Frankie. (More on the reunion and the importance of food soon.)

Will post HS reunion pics another time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

In finishing the previous post that I started in June, I came across a quote that struck me as fitting in with my feelings of Lake George (stories of which I have just begun to tell). I have said that when we were in Lake George, I felt like our family was at it's best. It was our home away from home. This is the feeling Lake George gave me then and still gives me now. It is also the kind of home I hope I am raising my children in:

Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other. It is the place of confidence. It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts. It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule. ~Frederick W. Robertson

I think it's a beautiful quote. What do you think?

Upon Returning Home from Home

Written in June and finally finished. Some thoughts on home....

As I sit on my front porch, I am struggling with how to describe the scene without sounding cliche. It is nearly impossible.

Right now, the sky is blue but for a few white clouds. The sun is starting its descent but still hangs above the roof across the street. There is the most pleasant of breezes. I hear the sounds of birds, kids playing basketball, and a conversation between mother and child as they walk their dog. The lawns are green. The flowers are in bloom. My neighbor is teaching his son to ride a two-wheeler.

My daughter and her friends just made a plan to play "baby dolls" in our yard. My son is so excited about summer camp that he can't wait for tomorrow. A police cruiser does its nightly roll down our street. My cat just jumped up on my lap.

See what I mean? Sounds cliche.

This is not a cliche though, this is my home. When we built this house 9 years ago, we imagined the very life we have now. It's a neighborhood filled with families whose children have become my children's friends and playmates and whose parents are our friends and adopted family. My husband works from home and I'm home with the kids except when I am subbing or doing the comedy thing. We live a happy, peaceful life that is ordinary and extraordinary all at the same time.

600 miles away is my other home. New York City. Brooklyn is where I grew up and Brooklyn/Staten Island/New Jersey is where most of my family remains. Besides my parents, sister and brothers, I have aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and even great-nieces and nephews now. Not to mention my life-long friends.

I just got back from a long visit that included a reunion with my college sorority and my 25th High School reunion. I always feel melancholy when I return from NY, but more so this time.

When I drive along the streets of NY, or walk through The City, I find myself pining for the life I might have had. I look at the houses in S.I. or in my brother's town in NJ, and in their shadows I can almost see my own family. For all the happiness we have found in Ohio, I know we could have been happy in NY too. I can see weekends filled with family gatherings, really being a part of everyone's lives instead of being the missing link or the special visitor that has to try to see everyone I love and miss in the span of a week (which is impossible). I know I would be watching the new babies of my nieces and nephews. My children would be part of their cousins' and aunts' and uncles' and grandparents' lives.

I can see myself at my sister's house, watching the American Idol finale. Frank could play golf with my brothers. I would take advantage of everything The City has to offer. We'd be in the center of it all and I would take the kids to the best museums, concerts and parks. We'd explore and learn. We would go to the beach.

My career was just getting off the ground when we left. Sometimes I think that I could have been producing or writing for TV. I took my passion for broadcasting and left the center of it all. It's hard not to say "what if?" It's easy to speculate.

But I have to be honest and say that at the time of our decision to move to Ohio, I was very disillusioned with what Radio had become, and Frank was extremely unhappy with work. We were married a few years and didn't really have a lot of time together with our crazy, opposite schedules, never mind having time with our family and friends. The reality was work, traffic, expensive tolls and parking, and stress. The dream was having kids and me staying home with them. The dream was owning our own home and having time to enjoy it. The dream was my husband working but not feeling trapped. And so we moved.

What I realize now is that when I imagine life in NY, essentially my life here transplanted there,I am not really being honest with myself. Everything would be different. I might have had kids, but they wouldn't be these kids, especially considering the medical intervention it took to have them and that the doctors were in Ohio. I would have friends, but would I trade the friends I have made here or the experiences I've had? No. Would I trade the time I had with my grandparents or Aunt El and Uncle Stan who all lived here? No. It seems that I have traded all of that for my family back home, but in some ways I have the best of both worlds. When my parents see my kids, it's special and meaningful. I've vacationed with my siblings and their families, something we may not have done if we lived around the corner.
If I'm going to try to imagine life there, I have to imagine it completely different than here.

Seeing my Sorority friends after 20 years was amazing. They are beautiful and smart. They lawyers and teachers, parents and volunteers. And after all these years, still dear friends. As a sorority we are "sisters" which also sounds cliche but is true. I loved those girls and still do.

I am so proud of who they are and amazed with how much we all have in common.

The same can be said for my High School friends, who, honestly, actually started as my Junior High School friends. What do you say about the bonds that you form with the girls with whom you shared your deepest secrets and went through your firsts with: First crush. First kiss. First boyfriend? These are forever bonds. Bonds that are inexplicably there after all this time.

Although moving to Ohio meant I couldn't have these friends in my daily life, I took them with me. Because of them, I knew what a friend looked like when I saw one. I have been blessed with the most wonderful, interesting, funny, loyal and dependable friends here.

So maybe the answer really is that I have the best of both worlds. Instead of thinking of what I have subtracted, I should think of what and who I have added.

My "new" friends in Ohio are fast becoming my old friends and my old friends are new again. (Thanks to the reunions and the miracle that is Facebook!) My family will always be my family.

There are so many sayings about HOME:
Home is a shelter from storms - all sorts of storms. ~William J. Bennett

Where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Homesick in Heaven

Where thou art - that - is Home. ~Emily Dickinson

To me, what Emily Dickinson has written makes sense, but I cannot limit my "thou" to one person (though she might have been). "Thou" to me is plural and includes everyone I love, here and there.

So I will decide to consider myself lucky, and call both places "home."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Arrivals - Lake George Part 3

Frank and the kids and I left for Lake George on Friday, stopping a few hours south and spending the night as to break up the 736 mile drive. We had friends and family coming from NYC, New Jersey, and Florida, and we were all meeting at The Twin Birches.

Quick road story: On 71 North I see a large billboard that read, "Next Exit: Grandpa's Cheesebarn." I poke Frank and point at the sign. "Oh, we are totally stopping there," he says, "I was going to stop at 150 miles for a break anyway." When we get out of the car, they kids are confused. It's not a Flying J Travel Center or a McDonald's, "Are we really stopping here?" Lindsey asks.

"Yes!" I answer, "It's a local attraction!"

"Yeah," says Frankie, "It's like The Statue of Liberty, only it's a cheesebarn."

The barn is large and full of rooms. Frankie points out that the music playing sounds like "a hillbilly Octoberfest." Damn, my kids are clever.

There are arrows everywhere directing us to the cheese. It is written on the carpet in yellow tape, C-H-E-E-S-E. These people are excited about their cheese. They have weird cheese flavors like Strawberry Shortcake Cheese and Pickle Cheese. I hold up one of the products and Frankie whispers it's name, "Cheese Bag." We start imagining the family that owns the place. We think that they probably make jokes like, "Grandpa, stop being so cheesy!" and "Hey, who cut the cheese."

We don't buy any cheese. But this whole thing is now in my stand up act. So, it was worth it.

Back to Twin Birches....

Years after our time our children in the housekeeping cottages my mother found on the mountain, my brother Paul found Twin Birches and started the going up with his wife Andrea and her sisters and their families and friends, as well as my brother Louis and his family. We joined them a couple of times, although Lindsey was not old enough to remember.

On the road Saturday, Frank and I stopped at a McDonald's just south of Saratoga Springs. Lindsey wass hungry, we all needed a pit stop and I needed coffee. As we pulled in to the parking lot, I had a strange feeling and thought, "Wouldn't it be funny if we ran into someone from our family here?" I didn't say anything to Frank, because it seemed like a silly thought, but as we head inside, he says to me, "Look! It's your father and Uncle Sal!"

So, before the official reunion, we had a mini-reunion right there in McDonald's with my Mom and Dad and my Aunt and Uncle. My mother was very excited and wanting me to tell stories right then and there and I was like, "Mom! We have all week! We have to pace ourselves. Plus, between me, Paul, Uncle Sal and Sally DiBella, someone's head it going to explode!"

We all head back to the thruway and as we get off the exit I don't need the directions anymore. We make the left on Route 9 at the house that I have always called "The Castle" and head to our home for the week. I look at my window and catch my first glimpse of the lake. My stomach does a little jump and I clap to myself.

Route 9 is lined with motels and housekeeping cottages. Some are kitchy and stuck in the 50's with their neon signs that read "Capri Village," "Melody Manor," and "Surfside on the Lake." Others evoke a Native American Spirit, although "Mohican Motel" would make
Hawkeye roll over in his grave.

As we pull into the driveway of Twin Birches, we see Frank's father, already comfortable in an Adirondack chair. My in-laws came up for the night to hang with us. They used to vacation up here too. We approach the office to check it and it seems we've all arrived at once, my sister and Peter, Andrea and the kids, Louis and his family.

It's tradition for us to check in, check out our cabins, and then make the rounds to everyone else and check out their cabins. Our unit is Lake View 1, more of an apartment than a cabin. The accomodations are very nice. At Twin Birches they keep up with everything. It's almost too perfect. I miss the creaky door of the cabin on Trout Lake Road, the bannister made out of a tree branch, the funny little latches on the bedroom doors, the mismatched furniture. We even have cable TV and a telephone here! (Although honestly, I didn't watch anything all week.)

I go upstairs to say hi to my sister-in-law Doreen and somehow, yet not suprisingly, her "cabin" smells like food. My sister's place is a few doors down, but I have to step over a large, smelly dog that belongs to our neighbor. (More on that later.) We can see the gameroom from our front porch and are a short walk to the pool. As my Mom and I stand on porch, a lady begins to wave at us. The lady turns out to be my "cousin" Diane, my Uncle Frankie's daughter. I think the last time I saw her was on my wedding day almost 19 years ago. She looks exactly the same.

I am pretty amazed by how little everyone's changed.

We all start to congregate on the driveway near my parents' cabin. There I see Sally DiBella and his wife Rosemary and Sal's son Joe, who I would know anywhere though I haven't seem him in 25 years. The hugs continue as Sally's other son, Charlie, comes walking down the hill. He is wearing the same smile he always wore, like the Cheshire Cat. Joe comments on how he thinks he saw Louis' daughter and Paul's son earlier. He's never met them, but somehow he saw the faces of his friends in them. I love that. Joe and Charlie are the same ages as my brothers. I am the little sister so this means the boys shifted between teasing me, ignoring me, and occaisionally letting me hang with them. The last time we were all here together, we were kids. Now we are all parents.

I am excited to see how our kids will get along. As we continue to get reaquainted and smile and laugh, I know it is going to be a great week.

...Part 4 soon....