Sunday is my Dad’s birthday. I have my birthday card to him sitting right beside me. I remember picking out the perfect card, along with some cute little cat stickers to affix to the envelope. I also remember telling myself “Oh, I have at least two weeks before I need to send this out!” Anyone want to tell me exactly where the two weeks went?!

So, in light of my forgetfulness that I will blame on my kids, school, and setbacks, I wanted to write about my dad. A virtual birthday card perhaps?

Tonight my parents had to take my brother to the airport for yet another goodbye. Anthony, my brother, just got home from an eight-month deployment where there was very limited communication.

Upon his homecoming, he was able to spend a nice long week with my parents, before heading back to his base in San Diego. Tonight, at the Ortolano household, things are, melancholy perhaps? We are all such a close-knit family, these goodbyes do not come easily, especially to my Dad.

And then you have Me, never one to hold my emotions in, good or bad, would be a sobbing mess. No matter the age. I would cry at the airport, I would cry in the car to the airport, I would cry after the damn plane takes off. Dad, he was the more stoic one, or so we thought.

It would be years later when he would say goodbye to us kids in the grey cloudy skies of Seattle while wearing sunglasses, that everything fit together. The sunglasses! They were a ruse! The making of tears was happening behind the dark sunglasses. Tears of sadness for having to say good-bye, coupled with tears of gratefulness that we were able to spend this time together. It just took us kids, an exceptionally long time to figure the whole sunglasses thing out.


My Dad is one of if not the greatest person I know. For those of you that know him, you will agree with me (well, most of you anyway.) For those of you that do not know him, you should, you will not regret it. Funny, educated, caring, empathetic, giving, animal lover, believer, with a dash of stubborness are a few adjectives that describe him.

One of my favorite yet comical  “Dad” stories take us back, oh, about, well, let’s just say it takes us back to the late 80’s. It is a Sunday morning. We all pile in the car ready to make the twenty-five-minute drive to church. Us kids are sitting comfortably in the backseat. I am directly behind Dad who is driving, Anthony is in the middle, and Carolyn is on the right. We are driving, talking about where we wanted to go eat after church. “Bennigan’s” it is!

I remember I had a crush on a boy at church. The only thing I cared about at this point was wondering if he would be there or not. Dad was fiddling around with his new Bob Dylan cassette that just came out. If memory serves me correctly, it was in that car that Dad took off the shiny plastic wrapper of the new cassette, excitedly pushing it into the tape deck waiting for it to play.

At this time Dad and I struggled with music. He did not like mine (Skid Row!) I did not like his (The Rolling Stones) Dad, being a huge fan of Dylan was excited to listen to the new cassette while trying to convert me to be a fan. Well, something went wrong. The cassette was not playing. As soon as he put it in, nothing. He would try to fast forward, nothing other than muffled noises. This went on for a good two miles. I believe at this point all of us were praying “Dear God please make this cassette play.” It never did. Dad, still driving, “calmly” took the cassette, rolled down his window, and as the car exited the ramp off the highway through the tape outside, while perhaps muttering something about a “piece of crap tape.” I remember this because as soon as he rolled his window down, I was worried my hair would mess up from the wind. I looked out my window, while shielding my 80’s style big hair, and saw good ol Bob Dylan safely hit the grassy area of the exit ramp, never to be heard from again. Silence took over the car. Dad, still driving, claps his hands once, put on a smile and asked: “So, we are we going to eat after church?”

“Wherever you want Daddy!”


A few months after “The Car Incident” found Dad and me in the kitchen late one night. It was a Wednesday night. We had just gotten home from church. Everyone else was getting ready for bed. Not Dad and I. You see, the new Motley Crue album had just come out. (This is the point where Dad is now rolling his eyes while reading this because I KNOW he remembers this one!) I earned enough allowance to buy their “Dr. Feelgood” album. I was so excited to come home and continue to listen to the title track on repeat. Let the record show, this was a very important album for the guys that made up Motley Crue. It was their first album they recorded sober.

While Dad was making a sandwich, I pushed “play” on the boombox that sat on top of the refridgerator. “Just listen it is SO good!” I was hoping that Dad would stop making his sandwich and loudly proclaim “Jen, you are right, I should have listened to you a long time ago, where have I been?!”

Hmmm. Dad was not impressed.

“Are you kidding me, Jen, this is not music! You cannot even hear what they are saying. You want good music, I will give you good music The Stones, Dylan, The Dead, Sinatra, Cash, THAT is good music. Come to me in twenty years and let’s see where they are at!”

Oh, it was on! I believe Dad and I argued about whether or not “Motley Crue would still be around in twenty years” for an hour straight. Eventually, sleep got the best of us and we called a truce. However, let the record show, that twenty years later, yes, Motley Crue was still around, Yes, Dad became a fan, and even though it took me a little longer, I became a fan of The Rolling Stones, who quite frankly, will outlive us all.

Oh, I miss those debates. Now a days we have the same taste in music, and collectively agree that the crap played nowadays is anything but music! Grandchildren, take note!!


I could go on and on about music, specifically music with Dad.

Okay, one more, and I do not think even Dad will remember this one. AJ was about three years old. I remmebr I taught AJ the words to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.” Little AJ would be running around my tiny one bedroom apartment singing:

Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home

It was freakin adorable, although probably not the best of lyrics to teach to a toddler. Dad called one day, and low and behold Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecelia” was playing in the background, with little AJ on accompaying vocals. Dad was impressed, as he should be, I learned from the best.


These small snippets of memories I am sharing are only a speck of the kind of person my dad is. But, these memories are mine. I do not have to compete with any of my siblings, because they have their own memories, which is usually how it works. Then, there are memories, huge memories that all of us siblings share together.

Anytime we are driving, or eating at a resturant, if Dad sees a homeless person on the side of the road, holding a sign that says “Hungry” Dad will stop whatever it is he is doing (driving or eating) and go give the person money. I remember a few times where Dad left the table before we even ordered. “I will be right back” just to make the treck outside, cross the street to the busy intersection, and give. He would come back to the table “I cannot enjoy my meal seeing someone else is hungry.”


We all had an amazing childhood filled with the magic of Santa Claus, Easter Bunny footprints, half eaten carrots, homemade Halloween costumes, circus, ice capades, the beach, salt water taffy, chruch, and pets. Sometimes I wonder why it is that I am so messed up? I shouldn’t be. I had a wonderful childhood all the way around. When I let my insecurities get the best of me, I feel like I could have been a better daughter. They desrve a better daughter. I am at the age where I should be helping my parents out. I am at the age where, for my dad’s birthday, instead of writing a blog post about memories, I should be able to afford to send a pretty kick ass gift, and with my dad, it would be a gift certificate to get yet another tattoo.

I am not at the place. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will be.

Last weeked my Dad and I had a text exchange that went a little something like this.

Dad~ We are sending you money for the car.
Me~ No thank you!
Dad~ We are sending it.
Dad~ We want to!
Me~ No thank you, I can fix it.
Dad~ We are sending it!

Five days later I had a check in the mail because clearly he does not listen.
My Dad has struggled just like us all. He has his own demons that he fights, we all do. Some of his demons I am privy to, some I am not. I take comfort in the fact that everyone, even the good ones, we all strugle trying to find our way. Hoping that we can do some sort of good despite our demons. My dad, he is one of the good ones.

So Dad, if you made it this far in the post. Thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for loving me in times when it may not have been so easy to. Thank you for seeing the best in me when I could not see it in myself, thank you for unwavering support.

I hope you have a great birthday, and one day, I hope to be celebrating your birthday with you, sitting on your deck under the humid Texas sun, watching Owen in the backyard, sharing a drink while listening to Johnny Cash’s “September When it Comes”















Jen’s Three-Course Meal

After we dropped Gracie off at school this morning, Vinnie, Sofia and I headed to Dutch Brother’s  Coffee for a treat. We had just enough time to grab a sugar-laced coffee before Vinnie and Sofia were off to enjoy their school day. (Sarcasm)

The plan was, I was going to drop Sofia off in the carpool line. A new ritual that she loves by the way. Typically I walk in with her, only because I have my own commitments to attend to, but the god awful state testing is going on, and I am not allowed to be there when that happens. Also, just so you know, anyone can opt their child out of the ridiculous state testing. No one wants this to be common knowledge, but you can.

After dropping Sofia off, I was going to head to the grocery store. I needed a loaf of bread, testing snacks for Sofia, and something for dinner. Well, in a matter of seconds, I felt like I was going to throw up. I blame the iced 24-ounce sugar-laced coffee. It was too much for that early in the morning. I told myself I will just go to the store after I pick Vinnie up because right now I do not feel too good.

I came home, responded to some emails and just took it easy.

Now, it is time to get Vinnie. I am still not feeling quite 100%, so I told myself I will go to the store after I pick up Gracie.

Well, because my children have no conception of my time, plans quickly changed. I had to take Vinnie to AJ’s job so he could give Vinnie a key to his apartment. After picking up Gracie I would then drop Vinnie off at Aj’s “crib” (not my word, theirs) so Vinnie could walk the dog and AJ could get in some extra work hours. I would then pick up Sofia, and from there, we would pick up Vinnie. When the hell am I going to find the time to go to the store?

As soon as Vinnie and I grabbed Gracie, he is all like “Mom, I am hungry, can we go to the gas station.” Once again, my trip to the store is going to be pushed back. You have to understand I only have an hour between each kid before the next needs to be picked up.

So now, Vinnie, Gracie and I are in the 7-11 parking lot that just so happens to have a Pappa Johns next door to it. Remember, I still have to drop Vinnie off at Aj’s, and take Gracie home, then turn back around to get Sofia. “That’s it, problem solved, we will do pizza for dinner and Vinnie, grab me a loaf of bread while you get your snacks.”

Vinnie goes into 7-11, Gracie and I go into Pappa Johns. Except, I somehow confused Pappa Johns and Pappa Murpheys. I thought I would able to pick up an extra large thin crust pizza to take home and make Joe cook. Wrong. Dylan from Pappa Johns made it VERY clear to me that they make their pizza fresh, they are not allowed to “make ahead” and it would be twenty minutes to cook a pizza.


Feeling defeated, Gracie and I meet Vinnie next door at 7-11. As soon as I walk in, I notice the one cashier is eyeing Vinnie. I mean I get it. The cashier, who most likely was the manager, was not from here, a foreigner and here is a young kid who looks to be mixed (Vinnie says he is white with an afro and gets a lot of looks and reversed racism. More about that in a different blog)

Once the cashier saw Gracie and me, and just so you know we can totally pass as Iranian, he seemed to relax a bit. Kind of. I mean once I started complaining to Vinnie that I confused Pappa Johns with Pappa Murphy’s, his guard went back up. As it should because I kinda sounded like a crazy person.

Now you have to get the full visual. Vinnie is in 7-11 chomping down on doughnuts that he already paid for. He is by the bread trying to decide which kind I want. Gracie and I bustle through the doors, well, actually, I bustled through the doors, Gracie was mortified. “Vinnie, I confused the pizza places, what do I do now? I need something for dinner and I do not have time to go to the store and I really do not want to go after I pick up Sofia, what do I do?”

Vinnie, still enjoying the doughnuts, Gracie, pretending she is not with us, and I am complaining about pizza joints. Also, we are the only ones in the store. The cashier quickly made his way back behind the counter, most likely ready to push some sort of “emergency alarm” that is hidden.

“Gracie, stop pretending you are not with me, go pick out a healthy snack.”

She makes her way to the very small deli section and decides on strawberries.

“Mom, just order pizza and stop stressing out!”

I am keeping an eye on Gracie while explaining to Vinnie I do not want to order pizza, because, by the time I finally get home with Sofia, dinner will be later that I usually prefer, not to mention we are on a budget.

“Whatever Mom.”

Gracie has her strawberries in hand, Vinnie is on his third doughnut. The cashier is wondering when we are going to leave, and all of a sudden I see it. Right below the strawberries, Gracie picked up, a glorious sign.

“5.00 Any Pizza!”

I push Vinnie and his mouthful of doughnuts out of the way.

“That’s it!”

I make my way over to Gracie. There before my eyes, for 5.00 each I have my choice of meat, cheese, or pepperoni.

“Okay guys, I just found dinner!”

Quickly, I grabbed one meat and one pepperoni.

“Oh great, dinner from 7-11, that’s not weird or anything.”

Gracie laughs at Vinnie’s smart ass remark.

“Vinnie, go grab a bag of chips, Gracie, grab five bananas.”

For once, they do what they are told.

We take our purchases up to the cashier who may have been checking his watch wondering how much longer he has to deal with us.

“Is this all for you?”

“Yes, this is it, thank you.”

“Do you want me to cook pizza or you take home to cook?”

I looked up from my wallet at the cashier who was pointing to a pizza oven. A pizza oven in 7-11!!!

“You do that? Like, you can cook it here?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I can cook here.”

“Damn! I need to come to 7-11 more often.”

“Sorry, not understand what English you say.”

“Oh, no thank you, I will take it home to cook, thank you so much though.”

At this point, Vinnie had grabbed Gracie and left the store. I think my excitement over the pizza oven put them over the edge.

However, none of that matters.

The takeaway from this post,

I was able to come up with a three-course meal from 7-11!!

Appetizer: Sour cream & Onion Chips
Entre: Pizza
Desert: Bananas

You are welcome.



“Castle on the Hill”

As most of you, I have four kids, three of which I have to get to three different schools daily. You know this because I complain about it enough.

Drop off order is as follows.

Gracie (middle school)
Vinnie (college)
Sofia (elementary)

It is a lot of driving five days a week, and of course, these kids also need to be picked up. I kinda think all of the driving is what made my car mess up, but I am no car expert. Do not listen to me. Anyway….where was I?

Okay, so every morning, just like clockwork, the girls and I are situated in the car waiting for Vinnie. I have no idea what it is with him, but he is always the last one to come out. It’s annoying. Based off on how long it takes him to blowdry his hair, determines if Gracie will be late to school. Gracie, God bless her and her autism, has a very strict yet odd ritual. She will get out of the car at 7:55. No sooner, no later. It’s like juggling a three-ring-circus to make this happen., and, it all depends on Vinnie coming out to the car. Follow?

Friday. Gracie stayed home with Joe because she was not feeling too good. She was most likely faking, but that is another blog. Friday morning at 7:00 am I went into Vinnie”s room and said as clearly as I can “Gracie is staying home with Dad, we are leaving at 8:00. I cannot be late, have to be at Sofia’s school.” I assure you I was not speaking a foreign language. I know this because Vinnie said, “OKAY MOM, WHY DO YOU HAVE TO YELL FIRST THING IN THE MORNING?” Vinnie is not a morning person, although he will never admit this.

Sofia and I are in the car at 7:55. We are listing to Bender & Molly on the radio, complaining about how they never play good music. I do not even know what it is that is being played nowadays but I hate it. However, I do love Bender & Molly, so there is that.

8:00 comes around. There is no Vinnie.

I text my usual “Let’s go.”

No response.

Time is clicking away.

A text comes in.

It is not from Vinnie. It is from Sofia’s school. “Jen, I have two parents here waiting for you.”


I am going to have to bullshit my way out of this one, or speed and get another ticket.

“I am on my way!”

I grab my phone. It is now 8:08. I am mad. I text Vinnie.

Let’s go.
You are making us late.
That’s not fair.
I gave you plenty of warning.

Finally, he texts me back.

“Just go, I will call an Uber, I do not want to be in the car with you!”

Oh really? He does not want to be in the car with me. Did we just meet?

You bet your ass Sofia and I left.

Minutes later, I get a text.

“All you care about is coffee. I was on my way down!”

Calmly, with my armor fully in place, I texted him back.

“Vinnie, you told me to leave, so I did. I told you what time we needed to leave, you did not respect that, perhaps we need a lesson in time management.”

Ten minutes past. I get another text.

“Do not pick me up from school.”

I ignored the text, then, when it was close to him getting off, I texted.

“Do you need me to pick you up?”


So, I did not pick him up.

Now, I was able to take a break in my commitments at the school, come home, check on Gracie and Joe. As soon as I made sure everyone was still alive, I left the apartment, heading back to the school to finish up.

As I am making my way to my car, I see a car pull up. It’s Vinnie and one of his friends. Immediately I go over to the car. I can hear Vinnie, “That’s my mom, do not talk to her.”

I went up to the driver’s side window.

“Hi! Thank you so much for dropping him off!”

Vinnie’s friend is smiling. “Oh, no problem!”

Vinnie is getting his backpack from the backseat. “No, do not talk to her. She left me this morning.”

I look at the friend, who is probably regretting taking Vinnie home. “No, do not listen to him, I have the text message that proves Vinnie told me to leave!”

Vinnie and I are going back and forth, by means of his poor friend as the “middle man.”

The friend looks at me, shakes his head and says “Man, he sounds just like my cousin!”

I look at Vinnie. “See!”

Vinnie laughs while trying to pretend he is still mad. He tells his friend he will be right back, as he makes his way up the stairs to our apartment.

Before I get in my car, Vinnie calls to me “Mom, are you taking me to work or are you going to make me Uber it?”

Not missing a beat, I say “I can take you to work, just hope I am not late getting home to take you to said work.”

He looks at me and smiles his big goofy smile while shaking his head. I get in my car and know that we are fine. And for what is worth, you know damn well Vinnie will never be late again, because, I will leave.


I talked to Christin tonight. As you guys know by now we talk every day on the phone. Tonight was no different. She calls, and, immediately I know something is wrong. She is frustrated and stressed out by her teenage daughter. Something that rarely happens with Christin.

I know Christin’s daughter. I have spoken to her on the phone a few times. Mostly she lectures me about doing low carb. This coming from a vegetarian. Christin’s daughter is a strong-willed, stubborn, convicted by her beliefs, wonderful young lady. I have told Christin many many times “You are going to have your work cut out for you with that one!”

Christin was feeling frustrated. She and her daughter went toe-to-toe tonight and the end result left Christin feeling unappreciated, feeling as if she was being taken advantage of. Now, remember, my kids are older than hers, well, the boys are. I have been down this road many many times.

I knew exactly what needed to be said.

“So here is the thing. Remember when you were a single mom? Remember having a newborn? Remember the toddler years? Well, that was the easy part. No one ever tells you that, but yeah, those are the easy years. The teenage years, you need to shift your mind frame, you need to put on your “big girl” pants, and get tough! This right now, this is the hardest part, because you are dealing with hormones, and the little bastards wanting to come into their own, and they all feel they are grown up when we all know none of them know the first thing about being an adult. You be tough, and fair. You stand your ground while letting them know you will always be there for them, and you gotta tell yourself, you are teaching them life lessons. You are teaching them the art of respect, of feeling valued. You can do this, do not allow your guilt to get the best of you! Actually, I have a story for you…”

I then proceeded to tell her the story you guys just read.

Christin listened, she laughed, she understood.

“Okay, I can do this for five more years, I can do this!”

I had to hold back my laughter.

“Christin, AJ is like twenty-four and I am still dealing with it! It does not get easier. I was not kidding when I said THIS IS THE HARDEST PART!”

I can tell she is still not convinced, or, she still feels guilty. I feel bad for her because let me tell you, she has given her kids everything. So, when she does not feel appreciated, it makes me feel sad. If her children understood the sacrifices she has made and continues to make for them, well, then things may be a little different. However, it does not work that way.

“Jen, does it ever get easier?”

I laugh.

“Christin, I am like forty-something years old and my parents just sent me money for my car, even after I told them not to. NO, it does not get easier, we never stop being a parent, we just have to change the plan of attack.”

I have said it before and I will say it again. I had a wonderful childhood. A childhood filled with magic and adventures. I was taught about family loyalty and how important it is to have God in your life. I had hands-on parents all the way around, and yet somehow, I still gave my parents a hard time.

*I want to marry the lead singer of Skid Row
*I am not going back to school
*I want to get married at the age of 17
*I want to be an actress
* I want to hang out in the trailer park
*I want to move to Seattle
*I lost my job
*My power is shut off
*I am pregnant
*I am pregnant again
*I am getting married
*I am pregnant

You see, it is never-ending.

This whole parenting thing, we are the castle, and well, the kids, they are always finding their way up the hill.

Side Hustle

Christin told me about the “Swifter.” Apparently, she swears by it. So much so that she has two. I decided to bite the bullet, fork over the eleven bucks and buy one from Walmart.

I am standing there, looking at all five thousand knockoffs that they have of the Swifter. What the hell? This is turning in to quite the task. And the refills? Wet, dry, wet and dry, it is just too much for me to comprehend this early on a Saturday.

“Excuse me.”

A grumpy muffled voice man was standing behind me. I turn around, see that I am in his way, and move. The grumpy man walks right to the original Swifter, picks it up along with one refill packet. Okay, problem solved! I throw the same contents in my cart assuming that the grumpy man and Christin know what they are talking about.

Once home, I break out my Swifter and the instruction pack. I mean it looks that a five-year-old can operate it, but you know me, I just have too many questions. “How do you know when to use the wet and dry?” “Are they interchangeable?” That sort of thing. I am reading the instructions and none of my questions are answered.

My phone alerts me that I have a text message. A text message from Vinnie. Vinnie is in the other room so I do not quite understand why the need to text.

“Mom, can we pick up some sweets before work? I have money.”

I ignore his text because, Swifter, and all.

Shortly thereafter, I decided that the Swifter can wait until tomorrow. I go to Vinnie’s room. “Vinnie, what kind of sweets do you want? I have a whole bag of chocolate.”

Vinnie looks at me, shaking his head.

“Not that kind of sweets mom, do I have to explain everything to you?”

It took me a minute.

Okay, it took me a few minutes.

“Oh geez, you mean those Swisher Sweet cigar things?”

“Yes. Plus, we all know where you hide your chocolate.”

He is grabbing his work attire, which tells me it is time to go, and, we are stopping at the gas station.

We are now in the car.

“Vinnie, before I take you anywhere, you need to tell me what you are up to. I know you do not smoke, so why do you need the Swisher cigar things?”

I find a song on the radio while waiting for his reply.

In his goofy, a little too confident voice, he says:

“Do not worry about it, it’s my side hustle, I know what I am doing. I am business smart.”

“Your side hustle? What kind of side hustle? You better not be doing anything stupid!”

We pull out of the complex. Vinnie informs me we are going to the “Asian Corner Store” and not my little familiar gas station.

“So what you want to do, is at the light take a left, then get all the way in your right-hand lane, then two blocks up you take a quick right.”

We end up in one of the seediest places in my town, which just so happens to be right up the road from where I live.

“Just park in front of the store.”

I have no idea what is happening now.

“Vinnie, there is no front of the store, there is a sidewalk and Pac Hwy. This does not look like a good neighborhood.”

“Yeah, there, park there.”

He points to the sidewalk.

I “park” the car, look around, making sure there are not any questionable looking happenings going on in what to me looks like a perfect place to do a drug deal.

“Okay, let’s go!”

“I am going to wait here, you go, it will be fine!”


“Mom, you worry too much.”

He gets out of the car with me. I lock the doors and have 911 ready to go on speed dial. I am not exaggerating. When I find myself in questionable situations, which seems to happen a lot, I always have 911 ready to go. #LifeHack

We enter the tiny little Asian corner store, and I only say Asian because, well, it is. The corner store is in a strip mall surrounded by other questionable looking Asian places. I know this because I cannot read any of the signs, although I did see a “massage” place and some window had a picture of chicken teriyaki on it.

Vinnie and I enter the store. It’s cute and big, and they had all sorts of coffee there, cheaper than my gas station. Vinnie goes straight to the counter, I grab a diet coke.

“Vino, how you doing? The usual?”

A cute little old lady who had to be pushing 80 comes to the counter. Vinnie greets her in the same way that one would greet a friend they see every few days or so.

“Yes please, and these.”

He places two bottles of water on the counter. The cute little old lady grabs three packs of the Swisher cigar things.

“Two dollars.”

I still cannot believe these prices.

The cute lady looks at me, then back at Vinnie as she is ringing up my diet coke.

“Who this?”

I lay a dollar bill on the counter while waiting for “Vino” to do some sort of introductions.

“This is my mom, she is dropping me off at work.”

The cute old lady looks at me, smiles, and takes my dollar without putting it through the register.

“Ah, Vino’s mother. I not know you had mother.”

I grab my diet coke while giving “Vino” a “WHAT THE HELL” look! She did not know he had a mom? What is happening here? And why does it seems like I spent a good part of my afternoon asking myself that question?

Vinnie laughs, I politely and awkwardly smile and say good-bye.

As we leave, two questionable looking guys are waiting outside. They are dirty, looks like they have not showered in some time, and they each have large backpacks. They are not directly near our car, but close enough to make me put 911 back on speed dial.

“Vinnie, do not make eye contact and just get in the car.”

“It’s cool mom, I got this.”

Yeah, famous last words.

Instead of getting in the car like I told him to, he goes over to them.

“Vino, what up?”

Vinnie grabs the two bottles of water, and hands one to each guy while putting the Swisher cigar things in his backpack. I have never been more confused.

The two guys look at me, and kind of give me a nod of the head. I wave back as I quickly get into the car. Vinnie tells them “Catch you later!” I drive off with confusion and, more confusion.

“Mom, before you say a word, they are homeless. They live in the back of our apartment complex, they cool, just going through a hard time.”


“They never ask for anything, so if I have water or something then I give it to them.”


“The cops are trying to get them to move their camp.”

“They have a camp?!?!?!”

Vinnie takes a swig out of my diet coke.

“You should really learn about the town where you live.”

“Why did the Asian lady not know you had a mom?!?!”

“I am not about telling my business to others. Vino is a private person.”

I have no idea how I feel about any of this. I mean up until like ten minutes ago, I never set foot in that Asian strip mall, and now it seems like Vinnie is more in the know than I am. Also, the fact that he refers to himself in the third person is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

“Okay Vinnie, one more question. What are the Swisher cigars for? You do not smoke, you are on some weird health kick, what is going on?”

He looks at me. He looks at me in a way that tells me he is asking himself if he should really tell me or not.

“I flip them.”
“I do not even know what that means.”
“I sell them, and make a dollar back.”
“They are three for a dollar at the corner store.”
“I turn around and sell them for two dollars.”
“But why?”
“My homies cannot find them for that cheap.”
“I do not even know what to say.”
“That’s cool you do not have to say anything.”
“I mean doesn’t every single corner store sell these?”
“Yeah, my place is the cheapest.”
“Okay, so how come your “homies” do not buy them there?”
“Because they live on the other side of town.”

I am kinda worried that all of this makes some sort of sense to me. I mean I have to really look, but I can see the logic.

“So, let me get this straight, you sell the cigar things to people and make a dollar profit?”
“And your “homies” are too stupid, I mean busy to catch on to what you are doing?”
“Nah, they know I make a profit, that’s why they buy from me.”
“And this is where you lost me.”
“Mom, pay attention, most of my homies do not have a car, the corner store they go to will charge twice as much, my Asian store is the cheapest around but too far for them to come to. So even though I make a one dollar profit, it is still cheaper for them to buy it from me than it is their own store.”

Okay, I mean I get it, but I just had one, maybe two more questions.

“But why the cigar things? I mean if things are cheaper at the Asian store couldn’t you do candy, or coffee or something? Ya know, kinda like a Costco?”

“Now you’re asking too many questions. Let’s just say there is a need for the Sweets. No one wants a Snickers.”

“Hello, did we just meet?”

“I mean no one other than you.”

“Okay, but you cannot make that much of a profit, what like 10 bucks or something?”

“About twenty a week.”

“What do you do with the profit? Why do you need an extra twenty a week?”

I can tell he is getting annoyed. I am pushing my limits with him.

“Because Mom, I do not get tips every night. This puts cash in my pocket.”

“And what it the cash for? I mean usually, you do extra chores if you want some cash?”

I pull in to his work parking lot. He grabs his belongings and looks at me.

“The homeless mom, a few bottles of water goes a long way.”

And with that, he leaves the car and heads into work.

I am more confused than ever. I mean is he doing a good thing or should I be concerned?

I come home, call Christin, and give her the entire rundown I just gave you guys.

She listens intently, and at the very end when I ask her “So what do you think, is this legit or what?”

“Well, I mean my kids sell slime and make a profit, so I say whatever works!”

I took this in. Slime. Very popular with the kids nowadays. Glue, detergent, and some sort of food coloring. Apparently, kids will pay “big bucks” for the perfect slime consistency.


“Hello, Jen, you there, what are you thinking?”

“Hmmm. I am thinking Vinnie’s little side hustle is going to expand to Slime.”






Mia is a friend of mine from my daughter’s school. We do not see each other outside of school, just for the fact we are both so busy. On occasion, we will talk on the phone, although the conversation mostly pertains to school activities.

Mia is the only person that witnessed my encounter with what I like to call “a crazy person.” Our kids are close in age, Mia’s husband is Mexican, and everyone always thinks Joe is Mexican, so there is that.

Strong, traditional, attractive, fair, stubborn, trustworthy, private, honest to the core, are just a few adjectives I would use to describe Mia.

In June of last year, Mia was at the school helping out and had to leave for a regularly scheduled doctors appointment. “No worries, we will be here when you get back!”

An hour later she calls me. “Hey, I can’t come back. I lost the baby. I am in the hospital and have to deliver.”

Mia was 19 weeks pregnant.

Her son was cremated and brought home to lay to rest.

I told you she was strong.


Mia recovered as much as one can from going through a traumatic event like that. She powered through, took her time to mourn, and found her safe, familiar place back at the school.

At the end of April, early May, no one had seen Mia. There were rumors going around, but no one knew for sure. I had a phone call from her. “Sorry I have not been around, there’s a lot going on. I am in the hospital, we will talk later.”

I did not know any details other than Mia was coughing up blood and the doctors did not know why.

Another week goes by and I call Mia.

“I just got out of the hospital, I lost the baby. It was a girl, the cord was wrapped around her neck.”

I had no words. No one even knew she was pregnant.

Mia told me she did not know when she would be back. I tried to assure her. “Do not even worry about the school, you take care of you.”


Today, I saw Mia for the first time. She came in to help me with some fundraiser orders. It was quiet. Mia and I are sitting across from each other at a table, waiting for the delivery man. Mia is fiddling with her phone, and she just starts to talk. She talks about her baby girl who was born at twenty weeks with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. She talks about how they had to name her, and sign the death certificate, and contact funeral homes. She talked about her children, and how they do not quite understand what is going on. She talked about all the medical test she had to go through and she still does not understand why this happened.

I was taken back to fourteen years ago when I had a miscarriage at the beginning of my second trimester. I was taken back to the same kind of test. I was taken back to the testing they did on the “fetus” and I was taken back to me cursing the Lab out for referring to my baby as a “fetus.” I was taken back to the phone call “This is just one of those things, we will never know why it happened.” I was taken back to it all, but, as much as I am sure Mia would have appreciated having something that connected us in a way that we would never want to be connected to, this was not about me. This was about Mia, and Mia just needed to talk. Mia needed to tell her story without any interruptions. Mia needed to be heard, so, I listened.

“Here, look at this.” Mia handed me her phone. There, on the screen was her baby girl. At twenty weeks, this was definitely a baby. A beautiful baby girl who did not have a chance. Mia’s baby girl was seven inches long, and fit perfectly in Mia’s hand.

I had no words. It took everything in me to not cry. I continued to listen.

Mia continued to show me pictures of her baby girl. They were able to spend twenty-four hours with her before the funeral home came in and took her.

Mia scrolls some more on her phone. “See, this is my son. We waited too long to take pictures of him, that’s why his ribs are showing, and the blood already went to the head.”

Again, I had no words. Mia did not need any words, she was a proud, grieving mamma who wanted to show her babies to someone.

This woman before me has the strength of 100 giants. I am humbled.

My voice is a bit shaky, but I ask her “How are you doing? How are you really doing?”

Mia cannot take her eyes off of her babies. “Me? I do not know. I am okay. I have good days, I have bad days. I don’t know, it’s hard.”

She paused. Almost wanting to say something more, yet didn’t.

“Mia, it is hard. You will have good days, you will have bad days, and that is okay. How about your husband? How is he doing?”

Mia still has not taken her eyes off of her phone. I have not taken my eyes off of Mia.

She looks up, her eyes have the makings of fresh tears. I do everything I can to not mirror her.

“My husband, he does not understand. He wants me to be okay, but it’s hard. Some days I just do not want to do anything. He wants me to get out of the house, but, I do not know, it’s just hard.”

Before we knew it, I was being paged to come deal with the delivery guy. I think the timing on this one was spot on. Mia just needed to tell her story, and she did. That is part of the grieving process.

It will not be easy for Mia, but she will be okay. The same, but different.


Mia does not read my blog. I do not even think Mia knows I have a blog. I wanted to write about her because she is strong. She will continue to be strong in her own way. She will dig herself out of these horrible dirty trenches, and a new day will come.

In the meantime, she has two beautiful children in heaven watching over her and their siblings.

Rest in love babies, rest in love.




The Sound of Silence

I have been in a funk lately. I am not sure why, although I am sure Dr. Phil would have a field day analyzing why.

I mean, yeah, I am sure the fact that we had to fork over eleven hundred dollars to fix our car did not help, but it is more than that.

I called my sister today. It’s like close to impossible to ever get her on the phone, and when I do, it’s short. “Well, let me go, I am cooking dinner.” Or… “Well, I need to go sleep, early day tomorrow!” I found myself wondering if we would ever talk if not for me calling her. So, today, I called her. Just as I was ready to hang up, she answers the phone.

“Hi! What are you doing?”
“What’s wrong?”

She knew. Just by those five words, she knew something was wrong. So we talked.

I am still not exactly sure what this funk I am in is all about, but my sister helped me to realize that sometimes it is not about anyone else, just me.

Everything is changing. I do not do well with change. We are about seventeen days out before the end of summer. The end of my presence at a school who has been a huge part of my identity over the last seven years. And yes, even though I have put in my application to work in the district, everything is still changing.

I am the type of person who values quality over quantity. Know what I mean? I do not have many friends, but the ones I do have, they are pretty amazing. I am not able to talk to certain members of my family as much as I would like. Hell, I am not able to see them as often as I would like, but when I do, it’s amazing. I guess, I just wish for more.

More heartfelt conversations.

“Jen, how did you do on your test?”
“Jen, I am not going to be available for the next week, let’s talk, how are you?”

But, I do not know, it’s weird now. It’s different, and I knew it would be. Hell, if I had the damn energy I would link the post where I predicted that things would be different, and no one wanted to listen to me.

It could just be simple dynamics and all. One thing for certain, I know it is my issue, not anyone else’s. We all have so much going on. I need to be mindful of that. What may be important to me, may not be on anyone’s radar. I have to learn to not take it personally….and I am, it’s a slow work in progress, but I am getting better at it.


Vinnie woke Joe and me up at 5:30 this morning.

“My check was deposited, I got paid, I got eight hundred dollars!”

Aside from the fact that I wanted to kill him before my alarm went off, it was very humbling to see him so excited over a paycheck. Let me tell you, he works his ass off. And, after he works his ass off he has to take the bus home, and after he takes the bus to the transit center, he has to walk about two miles home. Vinnie is killing it. He is my diamond in a rough. He “Ubered It” home today because he wanted me to rest. I could have picked him up, I wanted to pick him up, but instead, he pays twenty dollars for a ten-minute cab ride.


Vinnie has been waiting for some Air Force One shoes he ordered online. Every day he checks his phone notifications hoping that this will be the day the shoes are delivered. He paid good money, money he worked his ass for, to buy these shoes. They came in yesterday. You guys, he was so excited. Like a little kid on Christmas morning. Aside from the fact that his shoe habits excel that of a female, he wanted these shoes to wear on a very important field trip he had today to the Courthouse. I found myself wishing I was the one who was able to afford to buy these shoes for him. I mean, do you guys remember the Nelly song “Air Force Ones?” Here, take a look!

They were a thing “back in the day” and apparently, still are.

However, I put my big girl pants on and realized “Screw That!” First of all, the song is stupid. This is where I failed as a mother, Vinnie and his taste in music, and apparently shoes. Through lessons learned, I know by Vinnie paying a stupid amount of money for these shoes, well, he will appreciate them more. He will take care of them and respect them because he worked his ass off for those, and that kind of lesson, well, you only learn that by living it. So, you good for you Vinnie! You wear your Air Force Ones and take pride in the fact that you worked your ass for them. I am proud of you kid!


Me~ “Vinnie, your shoes look so good! Are you going to wear them tomorrow for court?”

Vinie~ “Can you please word that better?”

Joe ~ “Ummmm, what the hell is going on? Court?”

Me~ “It’s a field trip!!”

Vinnie’s field trip is to the Kent courthouse, where they will be following a domestic violence dispute.


Apparently, Vinnie and Joe are going to work on a comic book together. Joe will do the sketches, Vinnie will write the story.

Some sort of story that involves a realm, and armor, but not your typical armor. Joe and Vinnie are equally excited. They feel that their creative “spark” has been ignited. Vinnie is at the kitchen counter, notepad in hand, writing. Joe is on the sofa, sketch pad in hand, and he is, well, sketching.

Joe ~ “This is great Vinnie, I am so excited, I know we can do this!”

Vinie~ “Me too, I just do not know how to draw, but I think I can write, if not then I can ask my teacher for help with the plot.”

Me~ “Ummmm, HELLO!!!! Allow me to introduce myself, I am your mother, I am your wife, I have ten years experience writing this thing called Vodka Calling, it’s called a blog!

Joe~ “Huh?”

Vinnie~ “Mom, this is different.”


I have a busy day tomorrow. As I am closing in on my last days at the school, I have “Cookie Day” and a fundraiser delivery. I asked Vinnie…

“Vinnie, who is your friend, the Mexican one, what is his name?”

“Why do you want to know his name?”

“Well, because you get mad at me when I refer to him as “your Mexican friend.”

“Axel. Mom, his name is Axel.”

“Oh! That’s a cool name, like Axel Rose, from Guns N Roses.”


“Axel Rose. Guns N Roses. “Welcome to the Jungle.” “Sweet Child of Mine.” Axel Rose, the front man to one of the greatest groups of all time.”

Vinnie looked at me with a “deer in headlights” look.

“Never mind, go listen to your music. Drake, Kendrick, whoever it is.”


I picked Sofia up from school. I secretly hid in the small brush making sure no one else would see me other than Sofia. It had been a long day. I had yet to take a shower, I was wearing a cat-hair skirt, no makeup, I was tore up. It was very important for me to not be seen. Naturally, of course, Sofia did not see me.

I had to get out of the car, trying to make my cat hair skirt look appropriate for the schoolyard. I am literally yelling “SOFIA” across the parking lot, trying with all my might to get her attention.

Finally, one of her friends, okay, her only friend, saw me before Sofia did.

“Sofia, look there is your Mom, she looks weird.”

Sofia sees me, makes a mad dash across the carpool line without looking for cars. I mean I am lucky she did not get hit by a car because I was in no position to be on the evening news in my cat hair skirt.

“How was school?”

“Good! Why do you look weird?”

“I do not look weird, this is how I usually look!”

“Whatever. Do you know who Jackie Robinson is?”

“I do, why?”

“We are learning about him in school, who is he?”

“He was a baseball player!”

“Oh Mom, you are smarter than I thought.”


“So tell me, what do you know about him?”

“Ummm. Okay. So he played baseball, and Oh!!! I think there was a song written about him. Hmmm. Let me think…”

(I start humming)

Heres to you Jackie Robinson, no one loves you more than I do….woo-hooo– hoo.

So I start telling Sofia about the Jackie Robinson song. She is impressed. I am all like “Well, yeah, I am the cool mom. Tell your teacher about the song, I bet he does not know……”



“I Suck!!!”

“Sofia, do not listen to me.”

“What did you do now Mom?”

“It’s the wrong song!!!”

Do you guys see what I did? I totally messed up Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” and put my own “Jackie Robinson” spin on it.

God help me.


So, I am going to close on this note. Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”

Which seems to fit with this entire blog post.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence









“Bad Day”


“Where is the moment when we needed the most?
You kick up the leaves, and the magic is lost
They tell me your blue sky’s faded to gray
They tell me your passion’s gone away
And I don’t need no carrying on”


The day started off just like any other. The kids and I are running late, I am silently cursing out the people in Gracie’s carpool line at school. It takes fifteen minutes just to get out of the school parking lot. As I said, a typical start to our day.

Things took a turn for the worse when I was driving down Redondo, one of my favorite places here in my little suburb of Seattle. If you remember in a past post, I had always wanted to walk the boardwalk, just never had the opportunity. Until today that is.

See, the thing is, God has a crazy sense of humor. I fully believe he will put obstacles in our way at what may seem like the worst possible time ever, yet, it is something we need, unbeknownst to us at the time. Just as we were hitting the glorious Puget Sound, my car starts to “beep.” I remained calm. Shocker I know. I checked my dash, the temperature was quickly rising. By the time we hit the one and only stop sign on the strip, full-blown smoke was coming from the hood of my car.

“Vinnie! Something is wrong with the car!”

“Ya think?!?!?!”

I quickly pulled over into the parking lot right across from Salty’s seafood restaurant. I turn off the car, pull the latch to open the hood and get out thinking I actually know what it is I am looking for. There is smoke. Lots of smoke. In this same parking lot is what I would describe as a rundown shack that says “Seafood Joint” on it. Out comes this bald-headed gentleman who took a seat, lit up a smoke and watched the show that entailed “Crazy woman thinks she knows what she is doing.”

Sofia is mortified, hiding in the backseat. She just wanted to get to school. Vinnie is on his phone, and I call Joe, who is at work. I give Joe the rundown, while secretly enjoying the salt water air, wondering when the little coffee stand will open up that is across the street.

I get off the phone with Joe. “Vinnie, I am sorry, you may not be able to make it to school today.”

“Mom, I called an uber, I have to make it to school.”

Vinnie and I have a quick exchange that went from “Aww, I am so proud of you for taking charge.” To “Wait a minute, how much is the Uber going to cost you?”

FYI. It cost eleven dollars from Redondo to Highline. I am sure this information will come in handy for no one.

The uber pulls up next to my smoking car, and Vinnie jumps in the front seat.

“Peace out Mom, I am doing the college thing!”

Uber drives away as I yell to Vinnie “You are not supposed to sit in the front seat!”

I mean am I wrong about this?

Joe makes it to my smoking car, has a bunch of bottles in hand and does his thing. Sofia is on the brink of tears because she just wants to make it to school. I am on the brink of tears because I just want a coffee, and the coffee stand is not yet open. My friend the bald headed guy is like on his fifth cigarette. He may have even called one of his friends to “take a seat and watch the show.”

Hours later…

Our car is in the shop. We are out 1,140.00.

Joe and I are driving in his old gross beater car to pick up mine. It’s bright outside. I pull down the billfold and open up the compact mirror.

“I look horrible, I am breaking out again.”

Joe looks at me while driving his gross beater car.

“I know, what happened, your skin was looking so much better.”


I just look at him.

“Ya know, after eleven years of marriage you think you would have learned by now.”

I chalk it up to stress. Every time I am stressed out, you can tell by my appearance, which explains a lot, right?


Apparently, it will cost us another 500.00 to get the brakes fixed as well.

And 300.00 for the water pump.

Now, again, I am keeping it real here on Vodka Calling, even though I know there are many different opinions and I heard them all tonight.

I honestly thought I was doing okay. I mean do not get me wrong, it sucks to be out of that money, money that was in our savings. We had no choice. We need two cars., but at least I had it, right?

“That’s what savings are for. Not fancy vacations or designer dress, a savings is for something just like this.”

“What happened to the budget? The numbers are not adding up?”

“Are you sure you did not get taken advantage of?”

“I am worried about you.”

“Just buckle down, you can make the money back.”

I feel, well, I feel like a disappointment.

“You need to learn about cars.”

“Joe needs to take charge.”

Today sucked. Having to cough up that much money, well, it took a toll on our finances. I am sure 1,140. is not much to some people. We are not one of those people.

Everybody is right. I am sorry to all. Yes, I need to become better versed in cars. This is our family car, the car that I drive to get the kids to and from school. The car I run errands in. The car where I get annoyed at Joe when he drives it on a rare occasion and messes up my radio station. This is my car and I need to know it.

I mean think about it. I know the ingredients of every single skin care product that touches my face. I know the carb count in every single piece of food that Gracie consumes. I know whether the cat food I feed my cats has been recalled or not. There is absolutely no reason why I should not know about my car as well.

So, in pure Jen form, challenge accepted. I will learn about my car. I will become familiar with oil changes and antifreeze. I will learn the mileage and take it in for tire rotations. Eventually, I will blow your mind with how well I know about cars, well, at least my car.

This was a speed bump for us, not a dead end. I will come out of it, because, that is what I do best.

bad day