Congratulations, Mom

I’ve been thinking of this post for weeks, and I truly can’t believe it is happening: Rose is retiring from Investors Bank. Yes, it’s actually happening people! After 24 total years with Investors, she’s taking her spiky gray hair and cubicle crayons and sailing away into retirement (and by sailing, she’s driving her Ford Fusion out of 101 Wood Avenue forever, likely shouting ‘peace out bitches!’ with a tear in her eye.) tumblr_ni3npkVrjY1ql5yr7o1_500My mom’s career at Investors began after an unsuccessful attempt at convincing my grandparents to send her to beauty school. As you can see from the photos below, banking was definitely a better career path for her.

what was this hair.

What is this hair?

horrible haircuts

My mother tried so hard to discover her beauty school dreams in cutting our hair. Poor Angelique…

In 1966, she began her career at Camptown Savings & Loan with two women whom I’ve come to known as aunts in my life: Rose & Lorraine. When Rose went to Investors she said “Hey, come here” (direct quote from my mother), and in 1971, my mom (also named Rose) joined Rose (this is getting confusing now…) at Investors.

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Rose, Michelle, Mom, and Frannie – BFFs

When Investors took over Camptown, my mom was promoted and went back as Assistant Manager but she left in 1977 to welcome THE MOST AWESOME DAUGHTER IN THE UNIVERSE (that would be me). Then in 1980, she welcomed the second most awesome daughter in the universe, Angelique.

Rose's Angels...

My mom’s two best accomplishments.

In her years as a stay-at-home mom she did an amazingly kick-ass job raising my sister & I, while my dad traveled extensively for work. What you may not know about Rose is that she’s an AMAZINGLY TALENTED artist. Almost all of my elementary school friends had her hand-painted t-shirts or tote bags. She was hot on the art fair and flea market circuit and was very profitable in her art endeavors (more on that later). I really look forward to her returning to her art during her retirement.

During my 5th grade year in 1987-1988, she proudly served as Girl Scout Troop 500 “Cookie Mom”, something I had wanted her to do all the years I was in Girl Scouts. Wanna know what else she did that year? SHE BEAT CANCER. I was only 10, my sister was 7. Our army of angels (Debbie Toth, Debbie Nigro, my aunts & cousins) helped my parents get my family through that really difficult year. She was only 40. In the 18 months prior to her diagnosis, she lost both of her parents. THEN SHE BEAT CANCER. Seriously, this woman is my hero. The summer of 1988 was a great one for our family, celebrating my mom’s remission and the purchase of our first home computer, our Apple IIc. My dad and I bought it at Egghead Software without my mom knowing. The “Ugh, Tommy, what the hell did you guys buy?” look on her face when we showed up back home with it is one deeply etched in my memory. This was also my dad’s gateway drug into his addiction to iPads and tablets.

Rose & THE GREEK. How could you not love these two??

Rose & THE GREEK. How could you not love these two??

When I was in middle school, a weeknight trip to the Dairy Queen on East Second Street resulted in her spotting a “FOR RENT” sign at a small shop across the street, and a few months later Kaleidoscope was born. She sold her hand-painted wares and other adorable gifts, but closed her shop 3 years later. That’s when she joined our dear friends Paula & Henri at their shop a few storefronts down, Beautiful Things Factory.

Celebrating her birthday at Beautiful Things (I'm going to guess this is 1994 or 1995, judging by Ange's short hair).

Celebrating her birthday at Beautiful Things (I’m going to guess this is 1994 or 1995, judging by Ange’s short hair).

Her years at Beautiful Things provided our family with lasting, loving friendship with the Goodwin family. My sister and I have great memories of helping out during summers & holidays with Nell, Austin, Susan, Staci, Sue, Susan, Jeff, and Charlie. They truly became family to us, and still are. In 1997, my mother left Beautiful Things to go back to life at Investors. She rejoined as a part-time teller and shortly after was recruited to join their corporate office in Short Hills

“They needed someone in corporate, they knew me from back in the day, and the rest is history. Get the story right, Bitch!”

(direct quote from my mother in asking her to help fill in her biographical gaps in my memory).

Since 1997, my mother has been the primary source of entertainment (?? Maybe agita?!) to her friends in the Operations department. Between *actual* operations (my dad’s several heart procedures, my few crazy surgeries, the birth of Angelique’s two little girls), building doors on her cubicle with cardboard (I’ve been trying to find that photo everywhere, mom), the crayons she kept at her desk, happy hours, the non-book club, and their move from Short Hills to Metro Park, my mother has undoubtedly been the hurricane force-strength hair glue that has kept her crew together.

Getting down to Earth, Wind, and Fire at Angelique's wedding in 2009.

Getting down to Earth, Wind, and Fire at Angelique’s wedding in 2009.

To my mother’s colleagues at Investors: Thank you all for caring so deeply for our Rose. Your love for her and the rest of our family has been deeply felt, and we are truly grateful for everything you’ve done for her over the years. We will miss her crazy Investors stories as much as we know you’ll miss her crazy stories about me, Angelique, Olivia & Regan, and THE GREEK. To my mother: CONGRATULATIONS on a long, crazy, wonderful, rewarding career. Enjoy this summer with Ange & the girls. Go clean the basement. Please finish my favorite painting ever, your “dreaded women.” Don’t annoy Daddy (I know it’s hard sometimes). Catch up on some TV. Have lunches with your girlfriends. And mostly, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF and enjoy your well-deserved, hard-earned retirement. We love you. xoxo E

Sweetly & Softly

Dolce

dol-ce adv. & adj. In a gentle and sweet manner. Used chiefly as a direction. (Classical Music) music (to be performed) gently and sweetly. [Italian: sweet]

Dolce was my grandmother’s maiden name: Angelina Dolce Runfolo. Growing up, I played violin and flute, and always smiled whenever I would see dolce as a notation/direction in whatever piece I was playing. The direction being to play sweetly & softly.

Today marks 28 years since my grandmother passed. I was only 9, and had lost my grandfather nearly two years prior. I remember my older cousins taking great care of us during those times, especially remembering a rousing game of Monopoly with Nina & Vincent in my parents’ kitchen, while my mom and Aunt Lil were out shopping for a funeral dress for my Nanny.

I can still remember how it felt to hug her. I still remember how she always kept a tissue in the pocket of her house dress. She was always in a house dress, her honey blonde hair perfectly coiffed. She never had a driver’s license. My grandfather always drove in his big-ass green Ford (which my dad once dubbed The Titanic, because that car was unsinkable.) When he couldn’t anymore, my mom helped out. I remember the small, pink turtle-shaped pincushion she kept on her dresser. The head bobbed around, and it scared the everloving shit out of me. The turtle came to our home and was kept in a curio cabinet my mom had in our den, with other mementos of my grandparents’: my grandfather’s license plate that read EMR 1; a pack of his unfiltered camel cigarettes; a straight razor; and that damn turtle.

I VIVIDLY remember going with my mom to take her to the beauty parlor, Act II in Clark, NJ on Saturday mornings. After her appointment, we’d go to the bakery next door where she’d buy us Italian cookies. There were three distinct kinds: red and green shaped leaves that were sandwiched with chocolate in the middle, and a pretzel-shape cookie also with chocolate in the middle. I often find these at the Kings by my house and almost always bring a few home. And every single night, my mom would call my grandparents, and Angelique and I would grab the phone from my mom to say “g’night, g’night, g’night, g’bye, g’bye, g’bye.” Every. Single. Night.

PopPop's girls

My mom told me my grandfather took this photo, saying he wanted a “picture of his girls.”

On Sundays we would go over for dinner (dinner was always in the middle of the afternoon). I can just see that black and blue pot simmering on the stove, filled with sausage and meatballs. A box of torrone candy on the credenza in the dining room, and the Tarantella (pronounced, da-don-dell) playing on the record player in the living room. Their carpet was a lush forest green color, and their furniture was beautiful. That furniture is in my parents’ home now, reupholstered and utterly gorgeous.

After dinner, my sister and I thought it was really FUN to get under the table and poke everyone’s feet. We were complete pains in the ass, and I can just hear my mother “Angelique! Elena! Get out of there!” My mom always tells me how “ahead of her time” my grandmother was. I think about how much of my life I’ve done things that I know she’d be so proud of. I know that she would have LOVED to have met my dad’s mother, who came over from Greece to visit us three years after she passed away.

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My parents’ house (NICE MURAL) in 1979 after my baptism. Back row: Aunt Eleni (my godmother/dad’s sister), my grandmother, grandfather, Aunt Aliki (my other godmother/bff of my family in Greece). Front Row: Me, mom, Aunt Lil (mom’s sister).

I know she loved my father fiercely. In fact, I don’t think in my nine years I ever heard my dad call her anything other than Miss Ellie, after the matriarch of the Ewing family from the TV show Dallas. [Mom, what did he ever call her before then!?!?] I also never heard her call my grandfather anything other than “Hon.” Ever.

I know she’s with me every day. I know she’s with my mom and my Aunt Lil. She’s been reunited in heaven with her oldest, her son Peter, for nearly 11 years. She has 12 great-grandchildren. Her youngest, Regan, has her smile and her strawberry blond hair.

If she were still here, I think this is what she’d have to say to all six of her grandkids:

To Maria, she’d remind her that she’s a strong woman whose sons are also strong young men. She’d be proud of Maria for her long teaching career. She would do puzzles and play cards with Ian. She’d watch Nick impress us with his sports skills and remark about how tall he was, like his grandfather.

To Angela, she would spend hours on the phone with her as she drove from trunk show to trunk show, and she’d be excited to hear about her career in fashion. She would play dress-up with her other red head great granddaughter Christina, and give Peter a run for his money playing Monopoly or teaching him Pokeno.

To Vincent, she would tell him she’s proud of the dad he has become to his three kids. She would encourage him, and give him great advice, her only grandson in this crew of crazy ladies. She and PopPop would watch endless Wheel of Fortune with Dom, and have the twins Gino & Gemma helping out in the kitchen, rolling meatballs.

To Nina, I think she would be constantly laughing at Nina’s humor and quick wit. She would remark how much like her mother Nina is, and she would be so proud of that. She would take Bianca, Angelina, and Tommy for a sleepover weekend where the three of them would learn how to make Sicilian pizza in her big red lasagna pan (which my mother still has). She would cut that pizza with a pair of scissors, too.

To Angelique, she would continue to marvel in the fact she is a mom of two little girls. She would continue to treat Angelique as the ‘baby’ of the family, with constant nurturing. Every family only has one baby, and Angelique is her baby’s baby. The three of them would have a special bond. She would watch cartoons with Olivia, and watch her run around the living room dancing to the Tarantella just as Ange and I did when we were Olivia’s age. Regan would be dancing too, but that would look a lot more like her jumping up and down and smiling her gigantic, cheeky smile. She would play babies with Regan & Olivia, and teach them how to make her Italian butter cookies. She would agree that little Regan looks just like her, and she’d softly sing her songs as she’d fall asleep in her arms.

To me, she’d admire how I just do things on my terms, by my own rules (just like her baby, my mom). She’d tell me that she worries about me the most and the least: the most because she knows how sensitive I am; the least because she knows that I am a tough broad, and I am perfectly fine on my own (just like her baby, my mom). She’d remind me that “it’s all OK,” and she would tell me to not worry all of the time. All of the damn time. She wouldn’t bug me about having kids. She’d be fascinated by my career, she would have sent me care packages and little notes in college with her beautiful handwriting. We would share knitting needles, and she’d show me how to knit hats and sweaters (for me and for my nieces’ dolls, too.) She would call me saying “Where are you this week, Elena? California? Ireland? Colorado?” and I would have sent a postcard to 23 Chester Lang Place from every damn city I ever visited. She would have those postcards on her fridge. She’d admonish me when I reached for a piece of Juicy Fruit in her kitchen drawer, because she knows I shouldn’t chew gum with all of my dental work, but she’d let me anyway. She’d be impressed that all these years later I’m a damn good cook. She’d ask how my Irish husband is such a damn good cook, and she’d laugh. She’d love Brian.

I miss you, Nanny. I love you. Thank you for being my #1 fan.

Go State. Beat Cancer.

One day we’ll dance in celebration. Until then, we dance for a cure.

Photo courtesy of THON.org /Ana Elmasllari

Photo courtesy of THON.org /Ana Elmasllari — this is what THON looks like in its final hours (2014, Bryce Jordan Center)

It’s so hard to put how I feel about THON into words, but I’m going to try. It won’t be short, but I promise you it will be important. Thanks for reading.

WHAT IS THON?

The Penn State University IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (or THON, as it is referred to) is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. I’m going to say that again: largest student-run philanthropy IN THE WORLD. Over 15,000 Penn State Students are working hard at this very moment to put on a 46-hour dance marathon this coming weekend (February 20-22), and raise funds to help end childhood cancer.

THON began in 1973 and became affiliated with Four Diamonds in 1977. And since 1977 (the year I was born!), THON has raised more than $114 MILLION for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

THE FOUR DIAMONDS FUND/PENN STATE HERSHEY

“Four Diamonds’ mission is to conquer childhood cancer by assisting children treated at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital and their families through superior care, comprehensive support, and innovative research. Each year, Four Diamonds provides direct support to approximately 600 children with cancer – 100 who are newly diagnosed and 500 who are continuing their fight.”

Similar to St. Jude, money from Four Diamonds goes *directly* to the patients’ cancer treatments, and other expenditures that may not be covered by insurance (housing for out-of-area families, medical treatments, wigs, etc.). Imagine getting the news your child has cancer, and then a short time later learning that because of Four Diamonds, you do not need to worry about a dime. That the only thing you need to focus on is your child’s care. You don’t have to write a single check to pay a single bill. Four Diamonds will take care of all of that.

In 1996, The Four Diamonds Pediatric Cancer Research Center was founded, staffing a team of physicians and scientists to focus on learning about cancer, how it forms, and how treatments can be made more effective. This is the research needed to find a CURE for cancer – not just for patients at Hershey, but for pediatric cancer patients all across the globe.

 WHAT THON IS FOR ME

My first THON was in the spring of 1998 inside of the White Building. I came up to school to participate in the weekend, since I was home on an internship that semester. I remember standing on the bleachers with my Gamma Sigma Sigma sisters and the brothers of Kappa Phi Sigma, cheering on our girls and waiting for the grand total to be flashed on the cards held up at the end after all of the dancers sat. In 1998, THON broke a record raising over $2M for Four Diamonds.

At the end of the summer of ’98, I moved into an apartment with 5 other sorority sisters. One afternoon, my roommate J and I were outside soaking up the sun, catching up on all sorts of things and talking about life. THON came up, and each of us talked about our own experience with cancer, and I will never forget this (and I know she doesn’t either), but by the end, we were fogging up our sunglasses with tears, talking about how damn important it was for the two of us that we could possibly live in a world where cancer doesn’t exist. I still want to live in that world, and I know damn well she wants to live in that world, too.

Early hours of THON 1999 with my roommates.

In 1999, THON was moved to Rec Hall, because the White Building was just too small. What a great problem to have, right? I was a moraler for our sorority, working in 4 hour shifts, but I was there way more than just during my shifts. I remember being out on the floor with our dancers (three of whom were my roommates, and one was a captain), my friends in other organizations, and our THON family. I still remember almost the entire dance (including key lines like “fleece vests, black pants, always the best dressed.” And “the loop! The loop! The loop is on fire!”) and I remember the feeling of rounding that tough corner in the middle of Sunday morning knowing we only had a few hours left. That was about the time my girlfriend S was fading fast. All she wanted was to find the blow-up globe beach ball she had earlier. Completely lost for it, M and I got in the car and searched every WalMart/Dollar Store/Party Store in State College for one. Sidenote: it’s virtually impossible to find a beach ball in the middle of Central Pennsylvania in dead ass winter.

The last hour kicks off with one of the Overall Committee member shouting ONE MORE HOUR, and Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer,” blasts from DJ Larry Moore’s speakers. It’s as if THON just started. The energy was electric.

The final countdown to sit down is met with laughter, tears, and anticipation. A few minutes of announcing top fundraisers by organization and commonwealth campus, and we just get more excited. Finally, Overall comes out with their huge signs, and it’s revealed: $2,530,142.48. In one year. By students. For kids. Over $2.5 MILLION. Thousands of people in Rec Hall and not a single dry eye.

I haven’t been back for THON since 2001 (when I was still living in State College, and my girlfriends were still dancing in it), but I watch every year on the live broadcast (and you can too, at www.thon.org).

THON has come a long way since I last stood in Rec Hall. It very quickly outgrew the gym there, and moved to the 15,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center where last year over 700 dancers took to their feet and raised over $13,000,000 FOR THE CURE. That’s 13 MILLION DOLLARS. In one year. By students.

I implore you to visit www.thon.org for more information on what THON is.

One Word Wednesday – Fistbump

A blogger whom I admire and have come to know because of FitBloggin, Alan at Sweating Until Happy (who is seriously the coolest, most inspiring guy ever) had received a suggestion from a Facebook friend of his to summarize his year in “a series of awesome words.” I jumped in with “I think One Word Wednesday was just born.”

I know a few friends/bloggers who select one word to embrace/live by each year (like Carla and Meghan), and I’ll post about my word in a later entry.

But for today, I hereby introduce “One Word Wednesday.” This week’s word is Fistbump. This fistbump is directly dedicated to Leah Still & her awesome dad and fellow Penn Stater, Devon Still. #prayforleah #leahstrong

Fistbump for Leah #leahstrong

Fistbump for Leah
#leahstrong

Happy Birthday, Pop

December 2009 at our engagement party.

Me & Pop – December 2009

Today would have been my father-in-law’s 65th birthday. I wish I had more time with him. Brian and I were engaged a year and a half after we started dating, and a week after that, we found out that Pop had lung cancer and COPD. It was the worst happy time in my life, ever. We were supposed to be excited about getting married, but it was hard. Our main focus was Pop’s treatment and well-being, and praying so hard that he would somehow overcome this.

Chemotherapy was not an option (as the first treatment was too much for him), nor was surgery (as his COPD-affected lung was too diseased to allow him to have the cancer removed from the other lung), so we found a blessing in the drug Tarceva, a cancer-suppressing drug that kept the cancer from growing/spreading, and gave us 16 more months with him. At one point we planned a backup wedding should he have been called home to the Lord before December 4, 2010.

The wedding itself was unimportant; being married was. Being married with Pop there was the ultimate goal. And God is good, and he was there, at our wedding on December 4, 2010. My one wish was to be able to dance with him, but he couldn’t stand for very long. But he was there, and he had a good night, and he was able to see a bunch of our photos, as they arrived the week before he passed away.

I will never, ever forget his stories, his love for delicious food and good wine, his humor, his love of ice cream cake, the way he loved his sisters and his family, and most importantly, the way he loved Brian. I wish he was here so we could share our travel adventures with him, but we know he’s always here with us.

And if I couldn’t have Pop in my life for more than 3 years and 4 months, I have the next very best thing: his son. Brian reminds me of his dad in so many ways, and I know he would be so proud of him and who he is becoming.

I love you, Pop. Happy birthday.