Me, Sher, and Ad

Me, Sher, and Ad
Bro Adam and sis Sher, my rocks!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

RSVP and the Host Gift

This is dedicated to all my friends and family who have lamented over the fact that people don't RSVP, not too mention my own issue with people who do not bring a host gift to a party.

I went to a cocktail party about a month or two ago. It was an informal thing. Great wine, even better conversation, and some first class food. I had a really nice time and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was shocked though by the amount of food served and I asked the hostess about it. She stated that she wasn't sure how much to make since people hadn't RSVP'd her invitations. She figured she would rather be safe than sorry with the amount of food, so she over cooked. And boy did she ever. I went home with a nice doggy bag which became lunch the next day. I could sense her annoyance though at the fact that certain people could not even call to let her know they weren't coming.

When I arrived there, I brought a bottle of wine. It wasn't a high end wine, just a $10.00 bottle of French Bordeaux as a thank you for having the affair. I was shocked again by the fact that some people did not bring anything as a host gift to the cocktail party. Now, I was taught by my parents that you bring something when someone puts out money to throw a party, BBQ, or really any private social event. You don't need to be extravagant. Cliche as it sounds, it is the thought that counts. It can be a set of cocktail napkins for their bar, a dessert, a bottle of wine, an after dinner drink such as Kahlua or Sambuca, or a six pack of imported beer or microbrews. The reason is not to offset the costs of the party for the host or hostess but to recognize that they have gone out of their way to spend money on friends. It shows thanks and appreciation as soon as you arrive!

I  never bring candles as a host gift because I am frightfully afraid of someone's house burning down because of me. I can just here them saying to a friend, "Well the reason the house burnt down was because of that candle that MARC gave me as a host gift!"  Ugh! I can feel the guilt already and I just made that up! 

So a little etiquette lesson is in order. If someone sends you an invitation, make sure you RSVP to it in a timely manner. For those that don't know what that means, that is fine and I will tell you. It is French for "répondez s'il vous plaît" which means "reply please" in plain English. Even if you think they know that you aren't going ... OFFICIALLY RESPOND ANYWAY!  I have seen friends and family stress out when someone does not respond to a simple e-vite. And that it the simplest one to respond to of all! It will save questions and stress and let's be honest, it only take a couple minutes of your time to respond via letter, phone, or email. And do not have someone RSVP for you! How embarrassing! We are adults. You are old enough to make a phone call yourself, trust me. As a host, it is much appreciated. And one more thing to do it in a timely manner:  if someone is having a party, don't RSVP 5 minutes before the party begins! Duh!  Proper etiquette says at least 1 week prior to the event should suffice. 

My next issue is with the host or hostess themselves. If someone gives you a host gift for your party, send them a thank you. (Gee, didn't I write about this before?) It is not only proper but welcomed by the person that brings you the gift. And even if you don't like white wine, orange dish towels, or (god forbid) a potentially house-burning candle, still send a thank you! At the very least, an email. Although a phone call or thank you note is preferred.

So that is my social rant for the week. If you don't agree with me, let me know and I will assume that if I invite you to something, you may not RSVP. But be forewarned, if you do show up, don't be surprised if I seat you in the kitchen with the cook.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

An Unlikely Friend

Writer's Note:
I will be entering this piece in the Real Simple Magazine blog contest about surprising friendships.

Back in December of 2010, my housemate John’s 92 year old father, Joe Verno, suffered an abdominal aneurysm. Joe ended up going into the hospital and miraculously, survived the surgery with flying colors. John’s parents have lived in the same home since the 1950’s. Both were able to live together but one of them living alone was a safety issue. Therefore, his 89 year old mother, Ann, had to come live with two middle aged guys. Now I lovingly refer to Ann as my second Mom, but never in a million years would I dream that she would be our new roommate while Joe was recuperating in the hospital!

Mom Verno moved in soon after New Year’s Day. We arranged the guest bedroom for her to stay in. I made sure she had a night light by the bedside for her as she frequently got up in the middle of the night. I cleaned up and cleaned out my bathroom for her personal items as well as emptied out drawers for her clothes.

As John is a police officer, his schedule is all over the place. Since I am a 9 – 5 domestic relations officer, the burden of the getting Mom Verno onto a set schedule was left to me. I didn’t mind helping though as John was there for me when my own mother became sick and passed away two years prior.

After a week of settling into a schedule, Mom Verno began to relax. By the time I would get up for work, she would already be up, coffee made, asking me what I wanted for breakfast. I am more of a coffee, piece of toast guy, always on the run, so we kind of kept clashing on the idea of breakfast. She would ask me repeatedly “Why aren’t you hungry? You need to gain weight and eat!” Ah, such a mother!

I would make sure she had taken all of her daily pills. I showed her what John and I had made for lunch for her that day. Sometimes soup, sometimes sandwiches. She wasn’t picky. I would also leave out snacks and dessert for her. Around noontime, I would give a call to check up on here and then would call her on my way home. When I got home, I would prepare dinner for us. For the next couple months, I would actually sit at a table and eat dinner without a TV on! The shock! The craziness! I enjoyed my food and enjoyed the company.

Mom Verno and I formed an unlikely friendship. She asked me about my day, I asked about hers. “How was work today, Marc? Be careful driving. Lock your car door. Be careful walking to work, there are crazy people out there.” “How was your day Mom Verno? Who was on Oprah? Did you watch your soaps? Did you eat the brownies I left for you? Can you take out the chicken to defrost for dinner?” Mom Verno also gained back a sense of independence she had forgotten about.

Of course our conversations revolved around other things as well. She asked after John. She lamented she felt she couldn’t get “through to him” some days. I assured her that I would make sure he got whatever  message she wanted me to pass on. Usually the info was along the lines of “Make sure he takes his vitamins.” or "Does he eat enough? He looks thin." I asked her about her childhood and growing up. She would talk to me about my Mom and how much she missed her. Ours was a relationship which went from necessity to one of friendship.

I never thought at age 40 that I would gain such a good friend in this 89 year old woman. I looked forward to dinner with her, as I knew it would be relaxing. Sometimes routine, but always relaxing. Afterwards we watched TV together, movies. She loved watching "Dancing with the Stars." She surprised me by watching some of the crazy action shows and movies that I like. We talked about world events and how things are different today than when she grew up.

When John’s father, Joe, came to live with us to finish his recuperation after the surgery, things understandably changed. All priorites focused on getting him better and rehabilitated while making the house more handicapable for him. We had nurses and therapists in and out at all hours of the day. Mom Verno doted lovingly on him. We still had dinners together, now with Dad Verno, but it was different. Her new found independence took a back seat to helping her husband of over 60 years get better. She watched him like a mother over a sick child. Part of me misses those dinners with my friend Ann. Every so often though, she and I talk about those couple months when she was an independent single woman again and we laugh.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Endorsement: The documentary "Restrepo"


Ever wonder what our men and women in the Armed Forces are going through over in Afghanistan? Can we even comprehend what they are dealing with? This incredible 2010 documentary shows you exactly what they go through. It follows a tour of duty timeline of deployment to stateside return in the lives of the the Second Platoon Bravo Company of the US Army in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan as directed by filmmakers/journalists Sebastian Junger (of The Perfect Storm fame) and Tim Hetherington.

The name of the movie comes from the platoon medic PFC Juan Restrepo who was killed by the insurgency while over there with his Company. They named their advanced outpost OP Restrepo in his honor. This documentary showed the attempts of our Armed Forces to clear the dangerous Korengal Valley of the Afghan insurgency while working with the local Afghan civilians to gain their trust.

Before watching this powerful documentary, I admit that I had never put much time into thinking what the men and women go through while serving our country. It really showed me the day to day operations, sometimes hours of boredom, physical and emotional hardships, gun battles, and constant threats which they face while defending our liberties and the liberties of other countries. You see the emotional anguish and anger that is delt with on a daily basis as well as remorse, guilt, and regret for fallen fellow soldiers when they return back to the United States.

Restrepo was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for best documentary. I wish it had won. It also received the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. Don't see if for that reason though. See it to fully understand the sacrifice that men and women in the Armed Forces go through for your freedom.  I am glad I watched it as I am so honored to have these soldiers fight for our country.

Wisdom From My Father

Serious blog time. I have been going through some issues with certain people in my life and have realized after talking with my father that sometimes you have to "put things on a shelf" and deal with them later. As I get older, I find that you can't always deal with the issues at hand immediately. You have to table them until they can be delt with later. This is hard but necessary so the issue does not consume your every waking thought. It also helps in thinking more clearly about the problem.

Case in point: Someone does something to you and you just wanna strike out. Yet striking out will create more crazy drama that your life doesn't need. Instead, you have to table it or put it on that shelf until later. Take time to breathe. If there is more than one issue in the controversy, deal with the important issue first.

It sucks though. We know this. You wanna deal with it NOW! But you can't, simple as that. You need to continue on with other things in your life before confronting the controversy at hand. You can thank my wise Dad for that one. His advice to me was basically work on the main issue at hand. When that is resolved, tackle the other issues.

Did I mention it sucks? I guess that argumentative 20 something kid still lurks inside me. I saw glimpses of it this weekend and it shocked me that I can sometimes still get so angry it is hard to think clearly.  Thankfully, I have my wise father to rein me back in and show me the choices we have besides resorting to anger at particularly difficult confrontations.

Thanks Dad.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I grew up in a family that did not have a lot, but we always had everything that we ever needed. My mother was the ultimate scrimper, saver, and coupon clipper. I really feel so much like her when I try and save money. Her legacy lives on in me in more ways that I discover every year. Some ideas below are her’s and some are mine. Others I have heard about hear and there. Some of the ideas are laughably quirky but they really do work. There is a little bit of everything for everyone. And they are in no particular order.

Obvious! Reuse gift bags and bows. My Nana used to iron and reuse wrapping paper, she was the Queen of Thriftiness! Sorry, Nana, but that was a little overboard.

Every year, I donate my old magazines to the local hospital where Mom was. She always complained that they had a horrible selection in the waiting rooms.  I clean out my living room of the old mags and let others enjoy them.

If you do find you want to save magazines but tend to get overwhelmed by them, clip just the article and then put it into an expandable file under an appropriate section. I then always go through the file once a year and if I haven't reread the article, I toss it.

Buy birdseed and winter rock salt in bulk. The upcharge is absolutely ridiculous.

I am one of those people that reuses Ziploc storage bags! They are pretty expensive, even the cheap no-name ones. I wash them, air dry, and then use them again (but usually the second time around is for nonfood use, like storing rubberbands or pens or something like that.)

Plan ahead and buy that case of beer and stick it it in the fridge. The upcharge from a 6 pack bought in a bar in Pennsylvania compared to a case of beer bought at a distributor is once again, absolutely ridiculous. And beer drinkers love more beer for the money!

Unless your college age kids are planning on starting their own liberal arts library, encourage them to buy used text books as much as possible. They are so much cheaper. When it comes down to it, when was the last time you looked at the text books you bought back in college? … I thought so.

Along the same lines, always check the sale racks for used books at Barnes and Nobles. Also, try and buy used books on It is an excellent resource for used books where you can compare and contrast sellers. Just make sure you read the seller’s reviews! Buyer beware!

Pay parking tickets immediately! The amount of upcharge on the fine after the first fine period has ended is usually at least double! I speak from experience. I could have bought a new car with all the parking ticket fines I had while working at my old job in Montgomery County.

Donate your old car to the Salvation Army, Habitat for HumanityPurple Heart, or another organization. Most of the time, they will come and pick it up for you and you will not have to stare at that rusting hulk in your driveway ever again!

Don’t skimp on dog or cat food. You may think you are saving money, but you aren't and in the long run, you will end up putting years on your furry companion’s life.

When shopping for fruit and veggies, they now sell reusable mesh bags you can take with you instead of using the plastic bags at the supermarket produce area. You reduce your consumption of plastic bags by reusing these mesh bags and they also won’t rip or tear like the flimsy plastic ones.

Instead of storing leftovers in plastic storage containers, which start breaking down in your microwave, possible leaching chemicals and plastics into your food, I store in glass containers made by Pyrex, Rubbermade, and Anchor Hocking. Instead, I just use the plastic containers for taking lunch to work.

I do spend money on good quality clothes. I like Banana Republic and Kenneth Cole clothes because they are made well and have classic looks. I know they will last too. If I want to have something fun or trendy, I shop at a hip reasonable store such as H & M. I know I won’t spend a fortune there! Spend on the classics, go cheap on trendy stuff.

Put coupons in an envelope in the car so you really use them. Too many times I clip coupons only to forget about them on my desk at home or on the fridge and then they expire. Also, only use what your need. It is so easy to buy stuff you don’t normally use because you have that coupon!

Keep an expired drivers license in your car. If you lose yours when you are out, at least you have an expired on in the vehicle. It’s better to have an expired drivers license than no drivers license at all.

Stop spending $10 or more just on candle stands from home design stores! Use old antique saucers for candles or teacups for tealights and votives.  Something vintage becomes something chic.

If you are going to use plastic storage containers to store veggies and fruit in your fridge, the ones that are formulated to make the produce last. They really do work.

I rarely buy retail. Search first for sales and cheaper items on Amazon,, Craigslist, Ebay, consignment shops, thrift stores, flea markets, and yardsales. There are also great websites these days to comparison shop:,, .

To save money and guarantee fresh foods, rotate your dry goods items and perishable items regularly. Date frozen items so you know when to use them. You will waste less and save more!

I also try and clean out my food pantry every 6 months of items I haven’t used. I donate them to people who will use them.

Hey guys, take a trip down memory lane and start going to the old fashioned barber shops on the corner in town. You will save a bundle and get some great conversation! I go to the barber shop at Rennigers Antiques and Farmers Market in Kutztown, PA, and only pay $11 for a buzz cut.

Unless you are the Octomom, buy perishables in only amounts that you truly need. Is it really necessary to buy a bushel of apples or 24 ears of corn just because they are on sale? I can’t tell you how much fruits and veggies I used to throw out because I was roped in on “what’s on sale”. Now I only pick up what I will use for the week. I don’t waste as much and save money in the long run.

Be like the kids! Why buy an entire CD of an artist you may or may not like just for one song? Download the Mp3 file of the song, save it on your computer, and when you get 10 of them, burn it to a CD. The technology is so easy these days.  I also have sold off most of my CDs. I just burn the songs I want to my computer creating an Mp3 file of the song. If you have trouble figuring this out, ask someone at least 20 years younger than you and they can do it almost instantly. Gee, it sucks getting older.

Recycle your electronics at Best Buy. If there is a charge, they usually offset the charge with a gift card in the same amount good towards a purchase in their stores. (You should be recycling electronics these days anyway!) Check out their website for details.

Recycle your old cell phones to organizations helping the military and women in need. Just remember to entirely delete your information from it or destroy the sim card if the phone has one.

Use those old toothbrushes for cleaning in hard to reach places in the bathroom and kitchen. They make awesome little scrubbers. I prefer the soft bristle type though to prevent scratching of porcelain tiles and chrome fixtures.

Obvious! Start using cloth or reusable grocery bags to cut down on consumption of plastic bags! They make them in such cool designs and patterns now. Buy several for 99 cents and throw ‘em in the back of your car for next time you are at the store. I used to feel awkward carrying them in. I am not exactly “eco” crazy, but trying to do my part. So many people are doing this now!

Donate old towels to your local ASPCA, veternarian’s office, or animal shelter. They could really use them for the animals!

Once a month, I go over to the Hillside ASPCA in Pottsville on a Saturday afternoon and bring over a case of catfood to donate. I get to play with about 100 healthy cats and give them different names every time. Odd, yes ... but relaxing and fun.

I had all of these left-over tea bags and I really don’t drink hot tea so during the summer, I take about 6 bags per quart and make iced tea with them! Steep the tea bags for 5 minutes and remove them. Then chill the tea in the fridge. Sure it’s unsweetened but you can make iced tea with some kick ass flavors from flavored tea bags for a fraction of the cost of buying the gallons of iced tea.

Boxed wine is good and cheaper! It lasts longer. There are a myriad of articles showing this online. So get over the wine snobbery and try a boxed wine. Some good brands are: Rabbit Ridge, Black Box, and Fish Eye.

Keep your tires inflated to their proper levels because you will get better gas mileage. I read this somewhere and figured I'd try it. I inflated the tires to the correct pressure and then monitored my gas mileage two weeks. I found I was going further on each tank!

I stretch my meat sauces for pasta with olives or mushrooms. Their meatiness lends themselves well to meat. Or just use olives and mushrooms and go for a “meaty” vegetarian tomato sauce!

Don’t skimp on dishwashing or laundry detergent. From my experience, the cheaper dollar store brands are usually thinner and don’t suds as well.

I love Redbox and the new Blockbuster blue boxes! You save so much money on rentals. I haven’t tried Netflix, but my sister and friends love it!

I love and endorse Priceline for hotel rooms! I have never been disappointed with the hotels they have picked for me at my low bids. I always go for the 3 star hotels.

Stop paying ATM fees! If you need money under $50.00, stop into your favorite supermarket, buy a pack of gum or something you will always need like a $1.00 box of tissues, and take money out fee free when you check out! If you are going to spend $1.00 or $2.00 on fees, why not actually get something for that buck or two?

During the summer, I recycle the water from my dehumidifier in the basement and the water dripping out of the air conditioner from condensation on the outside of my house. It is an economical source of water for your outside plants. Just make sure you cover whatever container you are using outside with wire mesh so know animals fall in!

Instead of paying all that extra money for the 100 calorie bags of snacks, by a large bag of chips or pretzels and doll out 100 calorie portions yourself. Zip up the correct 100 calorie portion into a Ziploc and you are ready to go!

These little tricks have helped me get through some tough financial periods through my life.  Luckily, I am not as obsessive as I once was but I wanted to pass on some tricks of the trade. With the economy still rather sluggish, I felt we need all the help we can get. What are your own hints and ideas?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Some of my Favorite Modern Sculptures

These are some of my favorite modern sculptures. This is not an inclusive list by any means, just some which I have always admired during my studies. I have not seen all of these, just studied them during my years getting my Art History minor at Rutgers U in New Brunswick. The ones in Philadelphia I have seen. I also saw the Calder sculpture below in Seattle.

The pictures shown are for educational purposes only. I do not own the rights.

Andy Warhol "Brillo Boxes" 1964 Philadelphia Museum of Art

I have always been such a huge Andy Warhol fan!  I am fascinated by the concept of taking everyday objects and creating art. Andy Warhol took popular objects and did the same.

Claes Oldenburg "Clothespin" 1976 Philadelphia

I remember seeing this even as a young child. There is something so wonderful about the simplest of objects made so large!

Constantin Brancusi "Mademoiselle Pogany" 1912 Philadelphia Museum of Art

Alien, so smooth, a beautiful work of art.

Jeff Koons "Yellow Balloon Dog" Metropolitan Museum of Art 1994-2000

I love how toy-like it looks. It is deceiving in size and in material. It is actually stainless steel.

Alexander Calder "Eagle" 1971 Seattle

For some reason, Calder's "Eagle" always frightened me.

Meret Oppenheim "Fur-Lined Tea Cup" 1936 Museum of Modern Art, NYC

This always freaked me out. I wasn't frightened by it, just freaked out by its perversity. It is something that should not be made of fur and yet is! It evokes unsettling and disturbing feelings. I like it, haha, but I am also freaked out by it.

My Imaginary Friend

Baboon Beanie Baby from my sister Sheryl

There is no dancing around it.  Those family members who know me closest already know my secret. I will tell you but please do not judge. I have no idea why I picked this to be my imaginary friend but I did. When I was three or four, my imaginary friend ... was a baboon. You can tell I was just the beacon of creativity as I named him ... Baboon. For a period of my young life, Baboon was my best friend.

Baboon would play games with me when my brother would not. He was VERY good at hide and seek. I always found him, although my family members never did. I used to leave Baboon gifts. I would make him cards and leave them for him in obvious places so my family would no they were not the only ones in my life! I had another friend and although he was a primate, he meant the world to me.

Baboon would also leave me gifts. Usually it was just a card with a banana drawn on the inside and signed Love, Baboon. I also gave him gifts. I would leave Baboon bananas in the piano, under the couch, and under my bed.  Baboon must have been on a diet as he never got around to eating them.  My mother would scream at the top of her lungs at the moldy bananas under the furniture.  She eventually would hide the bananas from me.

My sister Sheryl had Boo Boo, a bear, possible named after Yogi Bear's best friend. Boo Boo would play with my sister and often sit next to her. She stated that when Adam and I were infants, she, my Mom, my brother Adam, and I drove to the South Jersey Pine Barrens to release Boo Boo into the woods because it was time to move on from her imaginary friend. 

My sister and I wondered if my brother Adam ever had an imaginary friend. I know he had a stuffed frog. We don't think my brother had an imaginary friend though. For you see, at the young age of 3 to 5, Adam was already the epitome of confidence and a winner with the preschool/kindergarten ladies. My sister and I laughingly suffered from insecurities and a lack of self confidence during our childhood which forced us to seek solace in our imaginary friends.

So if your kids have imaginary friends, embrace them and allow them to play with your son or daughter. One day, the Boo Boo's or Baboon's of the imaginary world will get the hint and take off themselves, or be dropped off deep in the Pine Barrens in the middle of nowhere by well meaning parents.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Stressed and Frazzled

Stress.  What an ugly 6 letter word. For these last two weeks, I have been particularly stressed over home construction projects and work ... well mostly work. I also feel like I am living in a constant construction zone. With everything happening in my life I have been feeling completely overwhelmed as of late. I know it shows in my mannerisms, how I behave, and how I look. I feel exhausted and not on focus with many aspects of my life.  Side projects such as my blog, my house, and my garden tend to fall by the wayside. I come home and just want to vegetate until bed. I don't want to do ANYTHING.

My health tends to be affected by stressful times in my life. My allergies are worse, especially my asthma. I don't sleep as well and am always tired. I tend to drink more to relax. I have also had another recent health issue crop up these past two weeks which is definitely stress related.  And the exhaustion! I am just so lacking of energy. 

What to do, what to do.

Yes I know there are coping skills. I am trying to prioritize what's important, make a list of these priorities, and stick with it. Some stressors such as work, are not so easily fixed. That's a long term issue.  These days one just doesn't get up and leave their job, not in this economy. You try and make it work.

I am going to exercise more again. That seemed to help back in the Winter and Spring. Luckily the little yardwork that I am doing has been sustaining the Adonis physique (yeah right) through the beginning of the summer. Unfortunately, increased consumption of my favorite beer has been negating any positive effects against my burgeoning little beer belly.

I know I have to cut down on caffeine too. My blood pressure is sky high again and even on my blood pressure medication, it is way too high. 

So I guess my goal for the second half of the summer is to try and get healthier yet again and work on my stress management. What sucks is that sometimes I feel like I am on a roller coaster and just want to get off. Stability is what I am looking for and I have yet to find it.  I think I need to simplify as well. As I am getting older, I feel for the first time that my overall health and well being depends on it.