Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Take Out Mexican

You know me well enough by now to know that there’s no way I could make this story up…welcome to my life!

Not too long ago I found myself running ahead of schedule by 15 minutes, so I decided to take my mini-van to a car wash in Englewood where they wash, vacuum and Windex your car in under 10 minutes while you wait outside. As I handed the man my keys I asked if he could pay special attention to collage of 4-Piece Chicken Nugget Happy Meal fingerprints that graffitied the interior windows.

As my van slid off the track of the car wash I noted that I had 9 minutes to pick up the kids from school. No Problem. Five men descended upon my white Dodge Caravan with their dollar-store "Sham-Wow's" and went to work making my van sparkle. The man sitting in the driver's seat jumped out, and gave my window one last swipe. I tipped him, jumped into my car, and sped off to get the kids.

As I drove down the street I heard a strange noise coming from the rear of the van. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw a man climbing out of my mini-van trunk and coming towards me with a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels in his hands. I screamed bloody murder; he screamed louder. I stopped short, causing him to fall and come sliding towards me through the space between the roomy bucket seats. At that exact moment an Englewood cop was driving past me and heard my scream. He put his car in reverse, rolled up to my open window and asked, "Lady, are you all right?"

Now, I'm pretty sure that the man in my car was Mexican, but I wasn't sure if he was documented so I leaned down and whispered to him, "Don't say anything! Just keep quiet and stay down!" which only served to terrify him, but I didn't want the cop to see him and check him for his working papers. I assured the cop I was fine and that a bee was in the car. Satisfied, he drove off.

As I calmed down it occurred to me that this poor man awoke this morning intending only to put in a full day of work; he never expected to be kidnapped (intentionally or not) by some rabid stressed-out mother desperately in need of Xanax. However, my sympathy quickly turned to annoyance when I saw that I had only five minutes to get to the school before the kids were sent to the Main Office to wait. If I took the Mexican with me, I could still make it. What's the proper protocol for unintended kidnapping? Would he like a break in his day? (Don't judge me--crazy thoughts enter the crazed mom trying to beat the clock and fit everything she needs to do into her day!) This poor man, having limited English, was near tears saying, "Lady, Lady, No Lady..." To put this poor man at ease, I employed my best Dora and Diego Spanish skills and essentially sung to him, "Come vamanos, everybody let's go…" His look of terror became mixed with panic as his breathing became labored and rivulets of sweat poured from his forehead. Frankly, I don't blame him. So I decided to return my pequito Mexican amigo to his trabajo.

I drove around the block and delivered him safely back to the car wash where his friends stood with arms crossed, clearly worried. I parked the car, opened the automatic side door, and out he jumped to the cheers of his friends, "Juan! Como esta??" I profusely apologized to all of them, most especially to Juan, and gave him $5 dollars for his trouble. He kindly placed the $5 back into my hand and whispered, "Vamanos."

The moral of the story--when you get your car washed, check your trunk for Mexicans before you drive away, and know that it's okay if your kids have to wait in the Main Office for you to pick them up.

Next Week: A Father’s Story

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Favorite Places to Shop

In this economy, who doesn’t like a bargain? Here are my FAVORITE places and all of them are really cheap! Which is great when you’re outfitting your children, or yourself, for just a growth spurt or a season?

West New York, NJ: I’m sure that many of you who grew up in southern Bergen County spent many Saturdays shopping with your mother in West New York. Why? Block for block West New York had the most (to put it into the South Bergen vernacular of the 1970’s) junk stores—meaning they carried a little bit of everything. And if you’re looking for those front-snap house-dresses—the ones my Auntie Anna always wore—West New York is probably the only place you can still find them. All these stores are located on Bergenline Avenue between 55th and 60th Street.

ABC Superstore: Here’s one of my family’s favorite “junk” stores. ABC carries everything from pots to underwear to curtains to tan and navy blue school uniforms (all under $10) to sweats. Kids pajamas are $3.99 and a large selection of Auntie Anna’s front-snap house dresses are priced at $3.99. They also have some children’s clothes that have Wal-Mart tags for $2.99.

$5 Shoe Warehouse: Okay, you know my sick obsession with shoes. I’ve been lost since Valley Fair closed, but this store is my new shoe Mecca. $5 shoes, really? Really. No, they’re not Nordstrom quality, but they’re season-worthy and have great designer knock-off’s for $5. If you like trendy, but don’t want to pay a fortune, this is the place. I bought a pair of pink satin heels with a rhinestone ankle wrap and a knock-off pair of Nine West platforms for $5. The shoes I get the most compliments on come from this store. Also, for the most trendy summer sandals—this place is fantastic. The store is floor to ceiling shoes and gets REALLY crowded on Saturdays, but it’s so worth the trip.

Easy Pickins: I can hear my friends now, “They’re still around?” Yes, they are, and they’re still one of the best designer knock-off stores around. The clothes are really geared for the twenty-something set and younger, unless you’re going on a “Cougar Cruise”—in which case Go Wild, Ladies! They have trendy sequined tops and dresses, jeans, halter tops, club wear, and SHOES. Next to the $5 Warehouse, this is my favorite place for shoes—heels, platforms, sandals, boots, open-toe shoe boots, sneakers. Most of their items are priced under $20.

Kid City: This is THE place to shop for kids clothes, from infants to size 14. They have the most adorable selection of baby clothes priced under $10—great place for baby gifts. And the quality is very, very good. They also carry good quality tan and navy blue uniforms—slacks, jumpers, skirts, shirts—all under $8.99. Winter coats are priced under $20 and most clothes under $10. For those hard to please ‘tweens who are just getting trendy they have a good-sized selection of clothes that are both trendy and appropriate.

I have a favorite store in Ridgewood:

Fox’s, 230 E. Ridgewood Avenue, Ridgewood: This small two-floor store is one of kind. Top quality discounted designer clothes! You’ll think you died and went to boutique heaven. In Ridgewood? Yes. Visit once and you’ll never go to a mall again. They have casual clothes, dresses, jeans, and great costume jewelry on the first floor. The basement has more formal dresses and designer shoes for a fraction of retail cost. They have annual parties for customers on their mailing list. Check out their website:

Before you buy anything, check on eBay. I almost always buy items that are "new with tags" and for what I paid I think they must have fallen off a truck:

eBay: I saw a great pair of Guess shoes in Nordstrom for $100. I bought the same exact pair NEW in box on eBay for $19.99. My son was in a wedding and needed a tuxedo. I went on eBay and bought a brand new black fully lined tux (jacket, shirt, bow tie and slacks) for $19.99. I saw a beautiful communion dress for my daughter in Macy’s for over $100. I found the exact brand-name dress new on eBay for $14.99. All bought with the “Buy Now” function.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


For a long time I've been considering getting back into shape because while my children have lost all their baby-fat, I haven’t lost mine. Let me be real--I just didn't feel like expending all that energy when there's so much good, bad food to be had! However, I have lost all ability to "suck-it-in" so I was at the "considering" stage of joining a gym. Imagine my surprise as I surfed "Craigslist" for freelance writing gigs when I came upon this listing: Looking for writer to do PR/fitness articles in exchange for personal training 3x's a week. "Wow!" I thought as I took another white-trash sip of beer from my long-neck bottle of Bud and shoved a handful of Lays potato chips into my mouth, "That's just what I'm looking for!" (BELCH!) So I responded.

The next morning as I over-buttered my ginormous "flagel" and poured waves of half & half into my soup-bowl-sized coffee mug, I checked my email and there it was— It essentially read, "You’re the one." Then it occurred to me. Of course I was “the one.” In fact, I was probably the only writer to respond because most of the writers I know are notoriously lazy and quite content to sit in front of a computer all day eating whatever the candy machine has to offer. However, I decided to give it a shot.

I used to be incredibly active. I ran competitively throughout high school and college; ran road races anywhere I could find one. Then came kids. And their tasty little salty snacks. I think it was the "Goldfish" Crackers that pushed me over the edge. Those smiling orange fish are notoriously deceiving -- they look tiny and harmless, but they're really sharks and I hold them responsible for at least 10 pounds! (God they’re great with chilled white wine!)

I didn't know what to wear to my first class. I searched the trunk in the attic that held my old workout and maternity clothes. I pulled out enough spandex pieces to start my own '80's rock band! And then came the question--does anyone wear spandex shorts anymore? Even if they have a Nike swoop on them? I didn't have much of a choice--it was either that or a maternity dress. So I stuffed my torso into the black tubular hell that was now strangulating my small intestines and made the best of it.

At the gym I was greeted by Tony, an extremely fit and muscular boy. (I can't help it; it's really hard to refer to someone who could be your son -- if you drank one too many Jell-O shots in college -- as a man.) Needless to say, he kicked my black spandex butt. I did more things with a yoga ball than any human should have to do; we ran; we kick-boxed; we squatted; we weight-lifted; I think I even hauled a Chevy pick-up, but that might have been what it felt like right before I became delirious.
Seriously, when the burn of a "good workout" turns to cold flashes, 9-1-1 should be called. When I felt as if I could take no more Tony shouted, "Keep pushing, I can already see some definition in your abs." Now, when a sculpted boy-man tells a gelatinous baby-mama that he can see definition in her abs, Baby-mama wills herself not to faint! I hated to tell him that the "definition in my abs" was actually the Big Mac I ate for lunch making its anticipated ascent up my esophagus. When he declared our session over I took my bottle of water and, like a bizarro-world scene from the movie Flashdance, poured the water over my head before collapsing to the floor.

But you know something? When I felt like the need for a defibrillator was lessening, I actually felt great. Really Great! Even though I can’t walk without wincing. Or drive sitting down. Oh, and my 7 year old has to tie my shoelaces because I can’t bend down.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Happy Anniversary!!! This week’s column marks “Mom to Mom’s” one year anniversary. Wow, 52 weeks of my musings, stories, recommendations, and you’ve stuck with me.

I wish I could tell you that when Jill Cohen gave me the unbelievable opportunity to write a weekly column I had a clear plan in mind, but I didn’t. The only thought in my head as I left her office on the second floor of The Bergen News Building was, “Oh **** now I have to think of something to write!” But she did give me a wonderful bottle of white wine as a thoughtful welcoming gesture. It offered me my first sip of inspiration -- 750ml of glorious pale, dry inspiration, but having spent her life around writers, I suppose Jill knew precisely what she was doing.

My family responded to my wonderful news by giving me the collective, yet traditional, hairy eyeball. I was summarily warned to vault the family secrets. I assured them they had nothing to worry about -- I’m saving all that dysfunction for my book.

Shortly after I broke the news to my husband, he awoke in the middle of the night with an attack of cold sweats begging me to never mention his name in print. I assured Jim Piccirillo I never would. However, I think my son purposely provokes me knowing I might get some good material out of it. For example, as he was stomping up to his bedroom after having been punished he said, “Sure, I get punished and you get a great column!”

The only thing I wanted from this column was readers. I initially envisioned myself riding my 35-year old forest-green ten-speed Schwinn bicycle (weaseled from my brother in 1979 for 20 bucks when he was desperate for gas money) hurtling papers onto everyone’s front lawns from Edgewater to Alpine screaming from beneath my fuchsia crash helmet, “Read Mom to Mom!”

I’m always amazed when someone recognizes me from my picture—mostly because my hair is usually piled on top of my head and stationed to my scalp with the biggest, most obnoxious, banana clip that the dollar store sells. But one day while shopping at Shop Rite in Palisades Park an older gentleman introduced himself to me and started to laugh recounting one of my columns. He laughed so hard his upper dentures fell out and landed on top of my package of boneless chicken breast. As he re-positioned his teeth back onto his naked baby gums he told me that I could use what just happened in a column. I am.

Then there was the text message I recently received that read, “Enough with the texting! Do you know how much this costs?”
“Well, who the **** is monitoring my texting?” I fumed! So I dialed the number from whence the text came and yelled into the phone “Who the **** is this?” and began spewing venom until, too late, I realized it was my very lovely next door neighbor. Completely unaware of what she had done, and utterly mortified, she explained that the text was intended for her teen-aged daughter, but in the midst of matricidal rage she accidentally sent the text to my phone. She nervously laughed about me writing the incident into my column. I hope she’s still laughing.

In all seriousness, it’s really hard to know how each column will be received. I hesitated writing the Father’s Day column about my dad who passed away over 20 years ago thinking, “Who really cares?” To date, that column has received the most responses.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to share with you my penny observations and stories from my life. Thank you for continuing to turn the pages of this paper every week and taking the time to read my column. I hope I can continue to make you laugh, make you reflect upon the memories of your own life, and keep connecting. After all, that’s what life is all about—connecting with each other one story at a time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


People often stop to ask me, “How do you find the places you write about?” Believe it or not, most times I drive aimlessly around Bergen County, Hudson County, New York, wherever, in search of discovering something new and fun. If you’re ever behind a slow moving white Dodge Caravan and want to scream, “Hey lady, what’re you sightseeing???” I can almost guarantee it’s probably me.

Sometimes during the course of conversation someone will plant the seed for a column, like my friend Laura’s husband who originally hails from New York and told me at a 4th of July party, “I can’t find a decent jelly donut in New Jersey!” P.S.: Since his comment, I’ve eaten more jelly donuts than I can tell you in search of that perfectly constructed jelly donut that we all remember eating when we were young. I’m still doing research so stay tuned for that column.

I am continually amazed when in my wanderings I find a new great place because it serves to remind me that you don’t need to venture far from home to find great out-of-the-ordinary places to visit. Recently my family and I decided to take a ride to the historic seafaring village of City Island which is an island right off of mainland Bronx; it’s surrounded by the Long Island Sound and the Eastchester Bay. If you’ve never been to City Island you must, must, must go. It’s less than 20 miles from the GW Bridge and feels like you’ve entered a small New England whaling village.

Admittedly, Friday and Saturdays during the summer brings a lot of traffic to the island, but if you can manage to escape on a weekday, or late Sunday afternoon you won’t be disappointed. Aside from the beautiful old Victorian houses and quaint shops that populate City Island Avenue, the reason you come to City Island is for the fresh seafood. And let me tell you—you don’t have to spend a fortune to eat incredible seafood. All the restaurants are located on City Island Avenue so you don’t have to go searching.

My family’s favorite spot is at the very southern tip of the island—Johnny’s Reef Restaurant located at 2 City Island Ave. Johnny’s Reef is like being on the boardwalk down the shore. The restaurant itself is a huge open-air restaurant with many counters. One counter is dedicated to people not particularly fond of seafood—it offers hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets… The rest of the many counters are devoted entirely to seafood. Johnny’s Reef will steam or deep fry any piece of fish they have, just look for the sign above each counter to find what you want.

One counter is just for clams—a dozen clams (cherrystone or littleneck) is $10. You have to see how fast these guys shuck clams. If you like shrimp this is the place to be. A huge plate of freshly steamed shrimp in a scampi sauce is $12; an enormous container of fried shrimp is $12; the fried calamari is so fresh and delicious and only costs $10 for a humongous serving. They will also steam a whole salmon, lobster, scallops, whatever fresh fish has arrived that day and so much more. The most expensive item on the menu is $22. They also have a full bar and the drinks are reasonably priced considering you’re in New York. We went to Johhny’s Reef Restaurant with five adults and two children and ordered a few dishes so we could share. The total came to a little over $70 for seven of us and there were leftovers. There’s seating inside the restaurant, but sit outside by the water where you can watch the boats sail by.

After dinner we took the kids to “Lickety-Split” an ice cream shop on City Island Avenue. It’s housed in a small colorful playhouse and has outdoor seating.
Visit my website “Bergen County Mom to Mom” and click on “Links” to find information on other City Island restaurants.

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