Made (and Remembered) With Love

On Tuesday, I found out that a good friend of mine – someone I’d known since middle school, who I’d skiied with, gone to school with, laughed with, learned with – was killed by a predatory bear while doing field work in Alaska.

Every day, I open Facebook and another one of Erin’s many friends or family members has written something beautiful about her. They’ve shared happy memories, amazing pictures of her adventures… and it’s at once so sad and so comforting to know that she was so well-loved.

She brightened so many lives and it’s just effing awful that she’s gone because the world is missing out on the incredible person she was and had yet to become.

Erin was always cooler than all of us.

Tuesday evening, I needed to do something with my hands so I could think about something else for just a little while. Tuesdays in the summer are also traditionally pancake nights in our house, so I pulled out my sourdough starter and got to work.

This starter is special to me for a couple of reasons. One, it was a gift from my mom for my wedding. Two, it’s starter she made in Alaska and feels like home. I needed a little bit of home this week. 

Along with the starter, my mom gave me a few of her sourdough recipes: brownies (omg), biscuits (below), and pancakes. The biscuits might be my favorites, but they’re all delicious. 
The sourdough pancake recipe as become my go-to this summer, though. One batch makes a huge stack of the most delicious ‘cakes ever. Clay likes his with chocolate chips, I take mine plain, and lately, my mom has tried making them with slices of apple baked in. As is the case with most pancakes, the possibilities are nearly endless.

My mom’s pancake recipe is as follows, for anyone interested in trying for themselves. If you want to try your hand at making sourdough (if you don’t have some already), it’s actually pretty simple. King Arthur Flour has a great post about how to do it.

I usually add a little flour (around 1/4 cup, maybe less) to the batter, because I like my pancakes a little thicker, but the recipe as-written is generally perfect. Seriously. Look at these.

Mom’s pancakes this week became comfort food – and I’m okay with that. They reminded me of home and home is where I want to be right now, to be close to the community I grew up in, and to give hugs to those who need them.

Erin was a little spark of magic on earth.

This weekend, Clay and I are going to go climb some mountains I think – feels like an appropriate way to honor Erin and remember her adventurous spirit. <3



2016 has been one helluva year to date.

My father passed away after a 10-month battle with leukemia. My business moved to a brand-new office building, uprooting me from my home-away-from-home for the last 14 years. And the biggest life change – my husband and I are expecting our first child.

I know this post is long overdue, but where to start?

My dad, an Ecuadorian who moved to United States in the 1950s to attend university, had a spectacular life. A mapmaker by trade, he lived 85 years and remained positive throughout his last year, despite his terminal diagnosis. He died in February, and I was fortunate enough to spend several days with him and my mother the week before he died. At that time, I shared our news – that he would have a grandchild.

My dad was thrilled. He couldn’t get over it, as I’m the youngest of his four children and I’m what the medical community politely refers to being of advanced maternal age…a geriatric pregnancy.

You see, my dad and my pregnancy are linked. I don’t like to talk about it and hesitate to share even here, but it’s time to take a leap of faith.

The day I found out dad was sick, I also learned I was pregnant.

The day I helped tell my father he was dying, I learned that my pregnancy wasn’t viable.

The day I learned dad’s chemotherapy had stopped working I also learned I was again expecting.

Less than two months later, he passed away in my parents’ Pennsylvania home.

Dad was what I’d call a true gentleman and an incredible storyteller. He was quirky (who isn’t?) and intelligent, but lived for his loves – most importantly my mother. He was dedicated to his job and would have been honored to see dozens of former co-workers from across the country lovingly share stories as they attended his memorial service.

I know he is still with me, as I can feel his love and guidance regularly. I am heartbroken that he will not be able to hold his grandson.

As for me, I’m nearly done with the second trimester.

The first trimester was physically exhausting. The second was mentally draining with all the changes and adjustments, but I’ve been blessed with a wonderful network of family and friends who have simply been incredible.

Since just before dad passed, I’ve felt good – the energy returned when I most needed it and I’ve slowly realized I need to slow down a bit –  and I have.

Vic at nearly 25 weeks. Almost to the third trimester!

Vic at nearly 25 weeks. Almost to the third trimester!

In mid-April I outed myself at work, as I could not longer hide my rapidly-expanding waist. I also launched a new series about prenatal fitness, starting with yoga.

Now, I’m looking forward as my husband and I prepare for the birth of our son. I’m blessed to be able to share the journey with my cousin Keith and his wife Laura, who are expecting their first child (a girl!) in July, and my brother-in-law Andy and his wife Diane, who are due in September.

We’ve been purging the house of unneeded items. We’ve been preparing the nursery. We’ve been spending time together, relishing our last months as a couple.

It’s a whole new world.

Good bye, sweet girl

One month ago, my husband and I unexpectedly lost our 13-year-old cat to cancer.

mishkaOne of my fave pics of our girl, taken in 2010 by the talented Jen Rynda

Her departure was sudden, swift and left a huge hole in our lives.

Sure, we have another cat, one who came to live with us earlier this year. And we love her, but she’s not our old cat, let’s call her Murr.

For the first two weeks, anytime a friend or relative offered condolences or a hug, I dissolved into tears. My face was constantly tear-stained and the skin under my eyes became so raw it peeled. Every one meant well as they offered love and support. To all of you, THANK YOU. I cannot begin to tell you how much your kind words and support and notes meant to my husband and me.

Murr was with me through two jobs, two cities. We were single girls together in Ithaca, NY and were homebodies together in Rochester, NY.

oldMLittle Murr, circa 2003, explores our old apartment.

I met our Ithacat in the newsroom of my last paper, The Ithaca Journal, where I spent three years as a suburban reporter. Each week, the local SPCA brought in a pet to be photographed and featured in the paper. I regularly squealed when I saw the animals. We fell in love straight away. By the time her photo ran in the paper, she was already exploring my then-apartment.

She lived with me well before I started dating my now-husband. (and she instantly preferred him to me once he entered the picture. Humph.)  He taught her to drink straight from the faucet and trained her to let him wear her as a “coonskin cat hat” on his head.

She was an incredible mouse-hunter, even dumped a bloody carcass on my chest while I slept one night. She purred proudly nearby until I discovered her “gift.”

She was tiny, sweet, silly, and beautiful. And she knew it.

mishCat kisses

We constantly told incredibly lame cat jokes and penned silly cat songs about our girl. Her name morphed into our pet name for one another. And trust me, that got confusing!

As Murr grew older, she became far more interested in snuggling. She slept with me every night and snuggled with us both every chance she got, particularly in the winter months, as she grew chilly.

She also loved to sleep on my hubs as he napped or worked.

jmThese two were peas in a pod

In her last months, Murr had started pooping outside the litter box around the house. We thought she was mad about the new furbaby and that the landmines were payback.


Turned out she was sick. Really sick.

One month ago, she threw up repeatedly around the house. She was extra snuggly. She had grown smaller. She was clearly weak.  She had just started coming downstairs again (she had banished herself to our second floor months earlier when the new cat came to live with us).

M3Watching a bug on the ceiling in her last few days

We called the vet. Hubs took her in on June 13, after I went to work.

She never came home.

Hubs called me, his voice wavering, and told me the news. I spoke with the vet, who explained the prognosis. She was in a lot of pain and had only weeks left. We made the excruciating decision to put her to sleep.

My brave husband was with her in her final minutes and said she went peacefully. I bawled in the bathroom at work. Later, we bawled together at home and told stories about her.

New cat snuggled up to me that night, she knew I needed extra love.

I wanted to write this sooner, but couldn’t do it. I miss her. A lot.  I’m crying as I type and I repeatedly remind myself that she’s no longer suffering, and in a better place.

She loved us as much as we loved her. And she will always be with us.

Good bye, sweet girl.

 M1My parting shot the day she died

Have you lost a cherished furbaby? Please share a memory of your pet with me.

Junior – a brave, loving and kind man

I meant to write an entirely different post today, then life happened.

On Thursday, a childhood friend died following an 11-month-long courageous and painful battle with gastric cancer. My heart is broken for his family – as he was only 37 years old and the father of three young girls, ages 2, 4 and 7.

I first met Junior in middle school. He whizzed a ball at me in gym class. This is absolutely fitting, as Junior was known for his love of soccer – he played for our high school team and traveling teams around Lancaster.

The last time I saw him, he had convinced me and several others to join him for a midnight swim in the Atlantic Ocean. None of us stopped to think about  sand crabs that emerge when the sun goes to sleep. Ouch!

In the past few days, memories have been flooding to the surface.

Christmas Eve dinner with Barotti family was quite the event. We all gathered around the table to break bread – and felt incredibly luxurious when his mother placed several meaty main dishes on the table. She’s an amazing cook, for the record.

Junior once convinced me it would be great fun to “borrow” my sister’s car and drive around the high school parking lot while waiting for our siblings to emerge. For the record, I had my license and a set of car keys…. and we had been waiting nearly an hour for them. Of course, they walked out the school as I pulled into the parking space. (Sorry Sissy!)

My sister and his brother dated for several years, so we were often thrown together and we’d chat the time away. About what? I have no clue. But those conversations were gold.

His father was from Brazil, where Junior was also born. Mine was from Ecuador, where as I child I had never been. He encouraged me to do so, telling me that our heritage, our family, our roots, were important and to be cherished.

Junior married the love of his life one week after I married mine. We laughed about it, and compared details in planning and shared many “ME TOO’s” – as our wedding receptions were at the same site.

The day I learned his name wasn’t actually Junior was a hoot. I’m named after my father, he said. But your dad’s name is Mario? Your real name is Jose? I questioned. He laughed and shook his head. Right. Jose Mario Barotti, Jr. JUNIOR, silly.

At a time when so many teens are – let’s be realistic here – self-absorbed and difficult, Junior was the opposite. He was kind. He was thoughtful. He was fun-loving. He was genuine.  His older brother Chris was just the same. And as you’d imagine, both brothers grew into incredible men.

I don’t understand why Junior’s time was so short. Why he was only able to know his three daughters briefly and why cancer forced him to leave his incredibly strong and loving wife Alli behind.

Another childhood friend proposed a beautiful, comforting image. Junior, who passed away while in hospice care, with his family by his side, was greeted in heaven by another childhood friend who died in a car accident in 1994, just weeks before Christmas.

The two men – both free of their pain – hugged and were reunited after nearly 20 years apart. And they are now waiting, with open arms and open hearts, for the rest of their loved ones to someday join them.

If you knew Junior, please share a memory of him. (silly or serious) Rest in Peace, my friend.