And…Pandas.

We celebrated Favorite Niece’s birthday on Monday night with a small, last minute dinner party at my brother IT Guy’s house.  I was in charge of some vegetables, and a cake. I was crunched for time, but managed to find a cute little vanilla butter-cream cake at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown. It would have to do, and, knew it would be delicious, just like everything else there.

But I couldn’t BEAR (har har) how impersonal it was. So I decided to decorate it myself.

I didn’t have much time, like I said, so I got all MacGyver-ey about the task at hand. I decided to hit up the weird “five and dime” store near my brother’s house for supplies and inspiration. After much consideration, I purchased the following:

1. One package of Oreo Cakesters (new to me – basically a pack of 3 small whoopie pies)
2. One tube of Necco wafers, assorted flavors
3. One 16oz bag of Toll-House chocolate chips

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All those years as a pastry chef finally paid off!

I should probably mention that my niece is not a 4 year old child going through a panda phase. She is a 29 year old woman going through a panda phase.

“Panda” is the nickname we gave a guy whose real name kept eluding us last Friday night. His t-shirt had an abstract illustration of a panda. Thank goodness for that, or he’d now be “blue shirt guy”, which I’m guessing would not have inspired the cornucopia of jokes that calling him “Panda” did.

Favorite Niece boldly flirted with him that night, and then again the following night, making me a very, very proud Auntie. Jokes about sexy Pandas and the shiny things they collect in their panda dens didn’t stop for days. I don’t know why we are so weird. But we crack ourselves up.

I think the Panda jokes reached their pinnacle Monday night with the cake. When FN saw the cake, she laughed and laughed some more, and said it was the best birthday cake ever.

More Pandas, Less Pain,

xo-L

 

Her reaction. I rock.
Not the first Panda she’s smiled at lately
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A Summer Night, As It Should Be

 

Last Saturday was one of the most memorable summer nights of my life. I know – that’s a bold, sweeping statement – so unlike me! But it was. It was filled with truly magical moments, whose spells were inevitably broken by the hilarity that occurs when all my blog characters get together.

We were celebrating the Welshman’s birthday, as well as his new status as an American citizen. The citizenship is a surprising development, as I’ve never met anyone with such a dramatic allegiance to their homeland. And though we’re pretty sure that if we ever went to war with the UK that he’d break his oath to defend the USA, we’re still glad to have him as one of us.

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We’d kick their asses. Again.

In his honor, Weather Girl purchased – I kid you not – SEVEN Flintstone-esque racks of ribs for a party of 15 guests. When I arrived at the house, aka The Buoy Street Country Club, I was shocked to find her in the kitchen, um, COOKING!! This was the night’s first magical moment.

I may as well have walked in to find a unicorn in the kitchen – albeit a messy, angry one questioning why she has to measure!? spices for the dry rub. When Weather Girl was a bachelorette renovating her house, she pushed for a kitchen with no stove because she just couldn’t fathom ever using it. (“PowerBars don’t need cooking!”) Thank goodness for the First-World building codes that forced her to install a range.

As we cooked, Weather Girl and I enjoyed the view out her kitchen window: a few handsome, shirtless men working together to get a boat sea-worthy for the morning. These were co-worker friends she invited to the party. Did I mention that they were shirtless? And handsome? Also, it was hot out. So they were sweaty. It was kind of awesome. One of them even remained shirtless the entire night, earning himself the nickname “Matthew McConaughey.”

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Our Matthew was taller

I forgot to take pictures of the food. I don’t have a food blog or anything, so why would I? Whatever. You see enough food porn every day on the internet. And you know how I roll, so you know you can trust me when I tell you that the food was GOOD. With the ribs, we had some first of the season corn and tomatoes, a cucumber salad, and a classic American potato salad (thanks to Weather Girl’s mum). There were even pigs in a blanket, brought by a friend along with some domestic beers, in honor of the new citizen among us.

The magic and laughter continued in other moments:

Like when the sky lantern  was set adrift from the roof deck at the BSCC just after sunset. It was a beautiful sight to see it lift and float away on the breeze. In theory, it is supposed to keep rising. But it didn’t. Nervous laughter quickly turned into “abject panic” (the Welshman’s words) as it landed in the neighbors yard. Thankfully, no fire trucks had to visit Buoy Street that evening.

While on the roof deck, talk turned to celestial events. It was reported that it might be possible to see the Northern Lights from our location in the Northeast that night. This might be why a group of us laid on our backs on the roof deck for hours, looking up at the sky. Shooting stars were witnessed, and the Welshman even took an unintentional nap among us, but no Northern Lights were seen. Can’t have it all, right?

Then there was the swimming at the nearby beach. I swam 3 times in 8 hours, but the best of these was the midnight swim with the whole group of us. There was phosphorescence occurring in the water – something I’d seen, but not taken a swim in before. Each swoosh of an arm or a leg in the water leaves a trail of sparkling light, which is caused by bio-luminescent microorganisms that give off a quick flash when disturbed. It’s like swimming with fireflies.

I mentioned the phosphorescence to a few people in the days that followed. Some of them had no idea what I was talking about, and looked at me as though I’d been taking LSD. I felt kind of bad for them, because it was one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced. Even my extreme fear of sharks left me for the hour that we swam among the sparkles. I think that’s because I felt that if I died in that moment, that I would have zero regrets. I was just that happy.

This experience in the ocean even caused my brother, IT Guy, to run over and embrace me and our niece. This is a rare event, as none of us Ruggeri’s are really “huggers” – but I knew exactly how he felt. It was just one of those times where you could only be happy to be alive in world with such wonders.

But of course, the magic was broken into silliness with the shout of the words “CHICKEN FIGHT!” Favorite Niece partnered up with Matthew McConaughey, and I challenged her from my perch on another set of man-shoulders. And so we fought in the style of the chicken, whilst giggling until we lost our breath. I felt pure elation in having this much fun with my niece. (Full disclosure: some of the elation may have been due to the fact that my bare legs were wrapped around the bare torso of a hot guy.)

I don’t know how to explain it, but something in our world was righted in that moment. Just three weeks earlier we were crying on the floor of a veterinarians office, watching her beloved dog Ollie drift away. For months she worried while he wagged his way through chemo like a champ. But when the chemo stopped, the cancer took over.

Those thoughts flashed through my mind when I saw her laughing in the moonlight. I thought of my own life too, and how it took me two years to feel completely free of the joy-robbing anxiety and depression I developed after the Big Breakup. One rotten summer, followed by last year’s so-so summer, brought me here, to this amazing one. And then it was back to the moment, there in the water, giggling and splashing. We deserved that moment, and those shoulders.

The party ended as the first, faint light of dawn arrived. I said goodbye to the few who made it with me to 4:30am, and walked out to my car. I looked up at the sky and saw the bright crescent moon, accompanied by Venus, and Jupiter. They formed a triangle, and I didn’t know this then, but  it turns out this only happens once a year, and THIS was THE moment to see it. It was literally breathtaking, so I walked back to the stragglers and insisted they come have a look.

We stood there and ooh-ed and aah-ed for a few moments. And then, of course, as it should be, the obligatory mention of Uranus occurred. More magic, broken by hilarity – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

More Food, Less Pain,
xo-L