My Brother, My Friend

My daughter had an English assignment recently. She wrote it following a specific format they were told to use. She concisely summarized 18 years of her brother’s life in relation to hers. Towards the end she extrapolates to when her brother will go off to college next year. When she says, “ Mom is crying”, I sure was when I read this. It also reflects the deep friendship that she has with her brother. In her words she mourns the natural loss of childhood and the departure of her brother to college but with her parting comment she leaves the reader with a sense of hope that life goes on and that all will be well. I hope you enjoy it.

My Brother, My Friend

By Clara Petrucelli

Mom and Dad moved to Brussels, Belgium. You were born Christmas Eve of 1997. You were the first child, everything was new. You were so small they didn’t know what to do. You had big blue eyes. You were always laughing. You learned how to walk. You were told you were getting a baby sister. You ate spaghetti with your hands. You played with your Playmobiles and Legos. Connor with Custom Car - Jun, 2000_new

I was born on August 16th, 1999. You were an older brother. You always squeezed my chubby cheeks. I always cried. You always laughed and wanted to hold me. You were playing with your toys. I wanted to play, too. I grabbed your toys. You grabbed it from me and said, “not baby’s toy”. You were still little. You were expected to act like an adult.

C&C - March 24, 2000_new

We moved to Connecticut. You learned how to ride a bike. I learned how to ride a bike. You learned how to “swing” a baseball bat. I learned how to “swing” a baseball bat. You started preschool. We went trick-or-treating. C&C posing in Halloween costumes - 6 We played pretend secret spy agents. I started preschool. We made snow angels in the several feet of New England snow. We looked for the hidden Easter eggs. You always found the most. You started your first day of kindergarten. I saw you get on the big yellow bus and disappear. I stayed at home and played with my dolls. We learned how to ski.

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The lucky dogs, Paris and Tokyo, who were fed broccoli.

We played hide and seek. You tied my shoelaces for me. We secretly fed our broccoli to our dogs. 

I started my first day of kindergarten. I came to your bedroom, even though the door had a drawing that said, “No girls allowed, only Dad”.  We woke up when it was still dark out on Christmas day. We ran down the stairs to see the gifts. We walked around town following the pattern of stones on the ground. You led, and I followed your steps. DSCN1650_newYou went to karate class. I went to ballet class. You started reading chapter books. I was still reading picture books. I looked up to you. We were best friends.

We moved to Pennsylvania. We played in the pool for hours. DSCN0748_newYou tried to teach me basketball. We played Garageband everyday. We bought a Wii together. We played Mario Kart. You told me Santa wasn’t real. You started middle school. You started to have “homework” after school. I rode my bike outside after school. We broke the wishbone together on Thanksgiving. You started reading bigger books. You started to grow out your hair. I got my hair cut. You got your first cell phone.  I started middle school. I got my first cell phone.

We moved to London.

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We went to Rome. We went to Prague. We went to Paris. We went to Vietnam. We went to Spain. We went to Austria. You started high school in 2012. I could not believe you were already in high school. I thought that 9th grade sounded scary. You warned me about different teachers and who gave harder tests or more homework.

Here we aren’t, so quickly. We move back to Pennsylvania. We both start attending the Episcopal Academy. I start high school.

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With Maya our Chocolate Lab

 We no longer have time to play pretend secret spy agents. I am shocked at how much schoolwork there is. Every year you tell me, that the next year is more work than the last. I don’t believe you, but you are right. We sleep in on Christmas day. We don’t run down the stairs to see the gifts, we walk. We go skiing.DSCN1954_new

We don’t look for Easter eggs anymore. We don’t go trick-or-treating. You drive us to school everyday.

We start visiting colleges.

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Picked up new member of the family, Jessie, at the end of our New England College Trip

You start filling out college applications. You get accepted to college. You graduate high school. You start packing for college. It is move-in day and your dorm is all ready. Mom and Dad hug you goodbye. Mom is crying. I say goodbye to my best friend.

I will see you soon.

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The Story of the Funeral Home, Coca-Cola, and the Buñuelo

When I look back at my life I have to laugh at some of my quirky memories. One in particular comes to mind. As a child, my parents would send me to Medellin, Colombia every summer to spend it with my relatives. One of the things I would do often during my visits was to spend time at my grandfather’s business. There is where the quirkiness begins. You see the family business was and still is a funeral home. Imagine their dinner conversations. Although today the family business still performs funeral services, it has evolved into a very successful international funeral services insurance company. However, back in the 1960’s it was a modest family business helping to support a very large family.

The year was 1969. The funeral home consisted of industrial garage premises located in downtown Medellin. The front office was completely open to the sidewalk filled with people passing by and the street bustled with circa 1950’s cars and trucks. In the front room there was a desk with a receptionist, a black rotary phone, and a couple of metal chairs. In the backspace there was an office for my grandfather, the laboratory where the bodies were prepared, and what seemed like rooms and rooms of casket storage.

To my relatives, bringing me to visit my grandfather at his “office” was a very natural thing to do. I have no recollection of who would bring me or how we got to the funeral home. What I do remember is that once we arrived I would have a grand ole time. One of the employees would ask me if I wanted a snack and undoubtedly I would always say yes, because the snack du jour was and still is one of my all time favorites. The employee would go to the corner coffee shop and buy me a glass bottle of Coca-Cola (this is pre-aluminum can days) and a freshly deep-fried cheesy batter dough ball about the size of an orange called a buñuelo. Yummylicious!!!!! My mouth waters as I reminisce savoring a hot buñuelo and chasing it down with an ice-cold 1969 Colombian-formulation of Coca-Cola. There was also a method to buñuelo eating. First, I would slowly peel the hot golden crispy outside of the dough ball, and then I would eat the warm moist cheesy inside by carefully tearing small pieces at a time. (Note: Colombian buñuelos are different to Mexican buñuelos. I have included a recipe at the end of the story). I would sit at the front desk and eat my exquisite snack. But the excitement of the afternoon would not end there. At some point I would get up and skip away into the back rooms. I remember seeing the white-tiled sink body prep area. The truth is that I was probably only allowed in there when it was not in use. But where I got the most entertainment from was spending time observing the rows and rows of hand-carved heavily varnished wooden caskets lined with what seemed to me like beautiful padded velvety soft plush fabrics of jewel-toned colors. There were deep blues, royal purples, emerald greens, and burgundy reds. I actually remember saying, “When I die, this is the one I want” with amazing certainty and pointing to a casket with a deep red velvet interior. How crazy was that! So now you realize why it’s a quirky memory. I don’t know of many children aged 8 getting a tour of the back room operations of a funeral home and picking out favorite casket lining colors.

Medellin, Colombia 2006 My children with one of my favorite aunts. Teaching the next generation to enjoy Coca-Cola with Buñuelos!

Medellin, Colombia 2006 My children with one of my favorite aunts. Teaching the next generation to enjoy Coca-Cola with Buñuelos!

As a teen and young adult, and obviously as part of the family, it was only natural that in time I would be exposed to all of the operations of the business. Although I have always felt funny and weird saying, “My grandfather owns a funeral home”, the reality is that the business fulfills an important need. It has also given me a collection of light-hearted childhood memories.  And yes “red” is still my favorite color, and yes I still love to eat freshly made buñuelos and chase them down with an ice-cold Coca-Cola, although it’s Coca-Cola Light now. The family business has also made me acutely aware that my existence on this planet is temporary, so why not try to live the best life I can and eat my buñuelos too!!

For a buñuelo recipe go to:

http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/bunuelos-colombianos-colombian-bunuelos

 

Facing One of My Fears

Pre-Black Trail Oblivious to what lay ahead!

Pre-Black Trail
Oblivious to what lay ahead!

We all have different types of fears. Some are big and some are small. Some are petty and some are significant. The important thing in life is to face these fears. Facing our fears removes barricades and allows us to move forward in life. This all sounds so straight forward, but it can be so difficult to implement.

I never planned to be facing some of my own fears on the last day of 2013. Our family was in Deer Valley, Utah on our annual ski trip. I thought it would be beneficial to take a family ski lesson, mostly to have the instructor show my husband and two children some advanced techniques and some of the black diamond trails. For the non-skiers out there, ski trails are categorized into categories based on level of difficulty: green circle (easy), blue square (intermediate), double blue square (advanced intermediate), black diamond (advanced), double black diamond (expert). The level of difficulty of some of the blue and black trails can be enhanced by the existence of “moguls” of snow that you have to learn to ski around. As much as I enjoy skiing, I am very happy in the world of green and blue trails and I avoid steepness and moguls. I skied black trails a long time ago but over the years I convinced myself that I did not want to do them anymore. Perhaps it was the fear of doing something difficult, the fear of falling, the fear of breaking something, the fear of looking goofy on the mountain, or just the plain old fear of feeling scared. So back to the family ski lesson, my plan was to stay with them for maybe the first hour to pick up some pointers and then let them go do their black trails by themselves. And by the way, the rest of the family is fine with black trails.

I’m not quite sure when I decided to stick around longer in the lesson. Maybe I was just trying to get my money’s worth. Suddenly I opened up myself to the possibility of doing a black trail again. In the picture above, we had just asked the instructor to take our family picture. Notice my smile, I was oblivious to the emotional and physical commitment I was about to make. I guess sometimes it’s best not to over think these situations.

I found myself at the top of a black trail that was both STEEP and full of MOGULS! My two worst things combined. But there was no turning back. The instructor showed more techniques and went down, and the rest of my family followed without a problem. Then it was my turn. My anxiety level was so high. I had to talk myself into making turns on this crazy steep mountain full of moguls and making it down to where my family was. Once I started going down I made sure not to look up, because then I would panic at seeing the sheer steepness behind me. All I really wanted to do was sit on the mountain, cry, and wait for someone to come get me. But these were not options. I was sweating bullets by now and my heart rate was going crazy. I had to convince myself that I could do this. I would see these fearless expert skiers pass me and wonder why it was so easy for them and not for me. And slowly I continued making my way down one mogul at a time. I finally caught up with my patient supportive family. Of course, the instructor took off again and there were more mogul adventures to be had. I thought to myself, “That’s it, once I get to the bottom, I’ll just go in the lodge and let them continue on…”, but then I heard a strange new brave voice say, “I have to do this a second time”.

So I braved the black trails again. I can’t say that I swished down the second time, as a matter of fact, I’m not quite sure I improved, but what counts is that I did it a second time. I was so proud of myself. I felt a weight lifted as I faced my fear of black trails. By facing this fear I opened myself up to new experiences. I felt it was so significant to take on this challenge on the last day of 2013. I felt it was a metaphor for what may lay ahead in 2014. Sometimes, it’s best to just take action rather than talk about it in personal resolutions. Remember, we are the only ones that can stand in our own way. Remove the fears, the obstacles, and embrace the possibilities and adventures ahead. Happy 2014.

Eating Around the World in London

With both children away on week-long school trips, I decided to take a break from the kitchen, and set forth with my husband on an international cuisine adventure through the neighborhoods of London.

Day #1

  • Type of Cuisine: Lebanese
  • Restaurant: Maroush I
  • Neighborhood: W2 2JE (Paddington)

Since arriving in London nine months ago, my husband had been wanting to try one of the many Lebanese restaurants along Edgware Road. And since I have a claim to Lebanese descendants, (a great great grandfather who made his way to Colombia), it was befitting to make our trek to Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant recommended by friends. After researching on-line and discovering that Maroush is a 30-year-old, very successful, family owned business with 14 different restaurants and eateries to pick from, we chose Maroush I, located at 21 Edgware Road. We shared two delicious appetizers, one was a warm chick pea dish with yogurt, lemon, garlic, and pieces of bread mixed in; the other was a baked pastry filled with spinach, pine nuts and flavored with sumac (a middle eastern seasoning). Then for the main course we had the Mixed Grill consisting of charcoal-grilled skewers of seasoned minced lamb and cubes of marinated lamb and chicken served with garlic sauce, cooked so beautifully they melted in our mouths. After our wonderful and filling meal we were just expecting to get our bill when the waitress surprised us with a complimentary plate of Lebanese Baklawa, a mouth-watering selection of miniature traditional phyllo dough pastries filled with honey, nuts, and butter. We plan to return to bring our children and have them experience Lebanese cuisine. We also plan to go later in the evening since Maroush has live music and belly dancing every night beginning at 9:30. For more information go to:

http://www.maroush.com/

Day #2

  • Type of Cuisine: Latin American
  • Restaurant: Las Iguanas
  • Neighborhood:  SE1 8XX (Southbank, London Borough of Lambeth)

For our second day we decided to honor the Latin American heritage in the family by going to a Latin American restaurant, Las Iguanas. Las Iguanas is a chain of restaurants with locations throughout all of England and four in London. We visited the restaurant located in South Bank across from the Southbank Centre near the London Eye.

Las Iguanas Across from Southbank Centre and near the London Eye

Las Iguanas with its lively atmosphere was hopping with young people enjoying after work drinks and dinners. It offered a blend of Mexican, Caribbean, and South American food. We started out with refreshing Caipirinhas; the Brazilian drink made with cachaca (sugarcane rum), sugar, and muddled lime. We accompanied our drinks with tasty Mexican poppadoms, a cross between Indian poppadoms and Mexican tostadas seasoned with chili powder and paprika. For the main course we shared a Cuban sandwich and a chorizo salad. Their version of a Cuban sandwich resembled more of a pulled pork sandwich and was bland and boring. The chorizo salad with spinach and sweet potatoes was more interesting and tasty. We concluded we did not have to return to Las Iguanas for the food. We were also surprised by the lack of Spanish-speaking waiters/waitresses. Although they do have a children’s menu, we felt the atmosphere was more for adults than for families. It is definitely a fun place for drinks. For more information visit:

http://www.iguanas.co.uk/

Day #3

  • Type of Cuisine: Korean
  • Restaurant: Koba
  • Neighborhood: W1T 1NA (Fitzrovia)

It was time to try something Asian, so we decided to go to a Korean BBQ restaurant. Korean barbeque consists of grilling your food at your table. Koba is a small and cozy restaurant in the Fitzrovia part of London not far from Oxford Circus and Soho Square.

Koba Restaurant

This restaurant gets very good reviews and our experience there certainly matched the reviews. It is wise to make a reservation ahead of time either directly through them or through Top Table, http://www.toptable.co.uk/london-restaurants?m=72. The tables in the restaurant all have built-in gas grills. First we enjoyed appetizers that came fully cooked from the kitchen. We had pajeon, a Korean pancake that looks more like Spanish Tortilla. We also tried a very tasty fried chicken appetizer. For the main course we ordered a mix of marinated beef and chicken that was brought raw to the table, which we then grilled on our grill station. Alternatively, you can have the chef cook the food in the kitchen but half the fun is cooking it yourself. We ordered lettuce leaves and other vegetables to assemble lettuce wraps with the cooked meat. We really enjoyed the youthful and casual atmosphere, and hope to return with our children to Koba and have them experience Korean barbeque first hand. For more information look up:

http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/venue/2%3A27138/koba

Spring Break in the Maldives

…I am walking towards my villa which sits over the water. I am surrounded by turquoise and blue colored waters with white sandy bottoms. In some areas the sand banks appear glittery white like sugar sprinkles. Off the back of my villa I descend down the steps and I find myself in two feet of water with colorful fish swimming around my legs. The blue hues of the sky blend into those of the water. The warm weather permeates my being. I don’t want to wake up from this dream…”

Before we moved to London we had no idea what the Maldives were. We had heard of Mauritius and Seychelles but the Maldives? After getting a very positive recommendation from a friend we decided to visit.

Interesting Facts

Male, Maldives

Sea plane view of some of the atolls.

The Republic of the Maldives is an island nation located in the Indian ocean southwest of India and Sri Lanka. It is a 10 hour flight from London to the capital of Male. It is made up of 1,192 coral islands forming a double chain of atolls. Atolls are coral reef islands surrounding lagoons.

Only 185 of these islands are inhabited. The Maldives has the lowest average altitude on the planet, of about 1.5 meters (3-4 ft). Scientists fear that Global Warming will lead to the disappearance of the country by 2050. The government of the Maldives has started buying land in Australia with the eventual plan of a massive migration when needed.

Getting There and Where to Stay

There are approximately 100 resorts. Most resorts occupy their own island. With a variety of resort options there is something for everyone. Once you arrive in Male you take either a car, boat or seaplane transfer to your resort.

Boarding the Sea Plane

In our case, we boarded a sea plane and flew 30 minutes to the Lux Resort on the island Dhidhoofinolhu in the South Ari Atoll. We worked closely with a travel agent and did a lot of research on-line before making our choice of lodging.

We stayed in one of only three family villas over the water in the resort and selected the all-inclusive package. Beach bungalows, B&B, and half-board were also available.

The Front of the Family Villa

The family villa consisted of 2 interconnecting villas over the water, one with an American size king bed and the other with 2 single beds. In addition, each room had its own bathroom and an additional day bed/sofa. Our deck had a table and lounge chairs, an outdoor shower, and steps descending into the water.

The Back Deck

I highly recommend the all-inclusive package. Menu choices for food and drink were very good and it’s probably the best way to go since you are a captured audience on the island. The resort offered 2 buffet restaurants open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 3 a la carte dinner restaurants, and 3 snack/ bar restaurants open all day long. There was also a a very popular ice-cream stand. At first we thought we would be bored staying in the confines of the island for a whole week. But instead we found ourselves very busy swimming, snorkeling, diving, riding bicycles, jet-skiing, kayaking, working out, and visiting the spa. The resort provided snorkeling equipment free of charge and operated complimentary daily boat trips to the coral reefs in the vicinity. Available also free of charge were kayaks and paddle boats. They also operated a PADI Dive center. In addition to the pristine white beaches the resort had two infinity swimming pools and children’s and teen’s clubs. And the piece de resistance was complimentary Wi-Fi in the rooms and premises for those of us who need to be connected.

A View from the Front of Our Villa

You always know you’ve had a wonderful vacation when you are sad to leave and you start planning the return trip. This vacation was enjoyed by all of our family members and received the Official Teen-Approval of my children.

Sunset Over the Indian Ocean