Things I’ve Learned from a Great Mom

July 28th is an important date.  It’s the date my Grandmother Arky was born in Philadelphia in 1926.

It is also the date that her first born, my mother Donna, was born in West Philadelphia (born and raised, on the playgrounds where she spent most of her days) in 1951. The first grandchild on both sides of the 100% Italian families.

Those who know my mom and grandmom know that they’re always trying to instill knowledge for the younger generation.  Whether it be how to not kill yourself accidentally, or how to seek out the best bargain, these ladies have wisdom.  In honor of their birthday — I’m going to share some of that wisdom with you all.

In true 2015 form, I’ll keep in a list.  10 Things I’ve Learned from my mother, Donna Shuey:

  1. You can’t trust nobody these days!  My great grandmother (Arky’s mother Frances), made it a point to remind all of us, that these were different times.  You have to watch out for robbers, tricksters, and people who try to serve you NOT FRESH coffee. I often think about the span of their lifetime and all of the historical, cultural and technological changes they’ve lived through. She has been around for World War II, Woodstock, JFKs assassination, The Beatles, Atari.  She’s watched overalls and jean jackets go in and out of fashion a few times. Even in our relatively short lifetime, we’ve gone through substantial development.  We’ve gone through 5 presidents, been introduced to the internet, and watched as gay marriage was legalized in all states.  I now look forward to the email chains I receive from Donna with regards to new methods of abduction with perfume samples in the parking lot, escaped local convicts and tornado watches (which I now take seriously after this summer).  I also don’t mind getting tazers and pink portable pepper spray bottles in my Christmas stocking.  Because I know bad things do happen to people, and I’m reducing my changes of them happening to me because my mom has prepared me for the worst case scenario.  For that, I love her.
  2. Don’t take IB Profen on an empty stomach!  If you do this, the medicine will eat a hole in your stomach and you will die.  While I sometimes roll my eyes at her, she was an RN and taught nursing school, so I secretly and respectively obey, just in case.
  3. Don’t use your cruise control in the rain!  I think I probably gave my parents 6 solid years of anxiety when I started driving.  I crashed into 3 day old cars, was in a vehicle that flipped outside of Scranton PA, crashed into the Hershey’s Mill sign around Christmas in a snow storm in my friend Lisa’s car, and hydroplaned/spun off Route 42 on the way back from Atlantic City one summer.  I am now more afraid to drive in the rain, than I am in the snow.  So, hopefully if you didn’t know this already, driving in the rain on cruise control is not a good idea. The reason behind this is because cruise control’s job is to make sure you stay at the same speed (NO MATTER WHAT).  So imagine hydroplaning, and your car is like, stop slowing down, you told me stay at 60 MPH so let’s do this.  Be safe!
  4. Don’t buy ANYTHING without doing online research for 2 months prior! And then even then, you’ll likely find a better deal after you purchase it, so keep that receipt or be prepared to hate yourself.  Everyone knows Donna worked at QVC for 13 years and now has a lifetime discount.  She loves good jewelry, a good gadget, and a good bargain.  She had the selfie stick 2 years before it was all the rage, and the entire extended family depends on her for present ideas. If you don’t check with her before making a major purchase decision, you will regret it.  She will say “oh that’s super nice, I bet QVC sells it for cheaper.”  So save yourself the post-purchase dissonance and just ask mama D before you press submit order.
  5. Don’t point out that flaw, they probably know it’s there!  In line at the post office as a child, I noticed a woman with a mustache.  I stared and stared at her and finally turned to my mom and said, “that lady has a mustache.”  On this day, I learned a serious life lesson.  Don’t point out physical differences or “flaws” on others, because it’s likely something the person already knows exists.  From that day forward, I made a point to look past any differences, because the person probably does enough self-analysis and self-depricating evaluations of themselves. And if they don’t, then good for them!  Who am I to bring attention to it?
  6. Be generous and be kind! My friend Gillian Ryan loves to tell the story of how we met when she first moved to West Chester.  We were on the bus, and I was nice to her and immediately asked her to hang out some time.  I remembered being “the new girl” a few years back, and how uncomfortable and awkward it was, so I wanted to eliminate that for her.  She thought I was weird, but came around a week later, and we’ve been friends for nearly 20 years.  My mom always instilled in me that being kind and generous would never come back to bite me in the bum.  It started with my grandparents who would spend what little extra money they had buying toys for single parent families.  My parents often find a Kmart or Walmart layaway with children’s clothing and pay it off anonymously at Christmas time, donate their time and earnings to various causes and I can’t wait to carry on these traditions when I have the means. Life is full of surprises and obstacles, so why not be nice to each other and give what we can to those who need it.
  7. Don’t be afraid to try new things outside of your comfort zone!  My mom used to send me to camp when I was young.  Neighbors would say “oh, who is Ashley going to camp with?” and my mom would say “with herself?”  Because of these experiences, I feel so comfortable trying new things and thrive when meeting new people and having new experiences.  I know I will make friends wherever I go, and make the best of any situation. I value new experiences and value continued learning. So, thanks ma.
  8. Have a good work ethic!  I got a job when I was 15 years old at TCBY in the shopping center about a mile away from our house.  I couldn’t WAIT to get a job.  At an early age, I learned about sacrifice, money management, and work ethic.  Since then, some of my best friends are people I’ve met at these various jobs.  I take work seriously, and always try to excel and be the best.  I attribute a lot of my successes to being exposed to the restaurant industry and work in general at an early age.  Seeing how well respected my parents were in their positions, made me want to excel in any role.
  9. Laugh at yourself! Although my mom and I have a very different sense of humor, she always taught me to laugh it off. If someone is being mean to you, say “are you having a bad day?” and move on.  9 times out of 10 when you ask someone this, their response is “actually, yes, sorry, I am.”  I recently found a card that said on the outside “Laughter is the best medicine” and on the inside it said “Unless you have diarrhea.”  No truer words have ever been spoken.
  10. Travel!  This is my most cherished lesson from my mom.  Both her and my father were wonderful enough to expose me to a variety of places starting at a young age.  We visited my god-parents in London when I was 12 and I was captivated by the history and scenery.  We visited our friends in Texas for passover one year and learned about other religions and traditions.  We visited Costa Rica when I was 15 and saw an impoverished country with happy people living with significantly less than what I had.  Since then, traveling has been one of the true and purist joys of my life.  I’ve now been to 14 different countries and learned so much about other people’s way of life!  The world is a huge place and I can’t wait to see more of it.

Maybe you learned something by reading this blog, maybe you didn’t.  Either way, it doesn’t really matter because it was for my mom.

Love you Donna!  Happy birthday and thanks for being the best support system, caretaker, and cheerleader a girl could ask for!




Iceland, A strange and beautiful place.

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So when we decided to go to Iceland, most people’s reaction was….why?  First — this is why:

Iceland is a ridiculously beautiful place.  With clear ice water, black sand beaches, and volcanic rock, it’s not like any other vacation spot I’ve been to in the past.  You should go to Iceland if you’re looking to hike through waterfalls, climb glaciers, and feel like you’ve time traveled or perhaps are visiting a place that was recently bombed and is rebuilding through the rocky wastelands and landscapes that look like the surface of the moon. You should NOT visit Iceland if you like to be warm, are a foodie, or thrive in over-populated areas.  We took an ATV tour around Lava Beach on our first day.  With the lack of trees and the volcanic hard rock, the surface of the areas surrounding the major cities look like the moon.

Since I know people love lists, here are 16 things I learned on my trip to Iceland:

  1. Prepare to have some alone time.  There are roughly 325,000 people Iceland and it’s rumored that as this point, they’re all basically related. I’m not confident that they’re all 100% human — possible vampire haven. Their history is a relatively boring one, as we discovered in the Icelandic History Museum.  They are basically like “people moved here and … yea some of them had red hair and it’s cold and stuff….we think.  We don’t really know much on the subject.”  Probably because the vampires glamoured all of the residents into forgetting their history, and/or all of their artifacts are buried under the layers of volcanic ash and rock that coat the countryside.
  2. Pack some granola bars.  We had TWO meals at gas stations or awkward rest stops because the restaurants are few and far between.  If you do stumble across a dining establishment in your travels through the country, the food will be expensive and for lack of a better descriptor, not good.
  3. Don’t bring any cash.  Iceland is almost 100% cash-less. We didn’t see a single Icelandic Kroner while we were there.  Credit cards are king – but you must have a credit card with a chip.  No pin is required. 
  4. The gas stations are a little tricky.  You have to guestimate how much you’re going to spend, pre-pay, then pump away.  To give you an idea — we had a Toyota Land Cruiser and it cost us about 7500 Kroner to fill half the tank (That’s about $57). Gas runs close to $8 a gallon (so pipe down with your screams as the summer prices rise over $3.00 here in the states).
  5. Bring a GPS and make sure your car is a 4×4. The Icelandic language is virtually impossible to read, write, or speak.  There are no people to ask for directions. There is no cell phone service, even if you have a portable WIFI hub, so it’s basically like 1990.  Bring a map and bring some mix CDs from the 2000’s and enjoy the ride.  We had no idea we were driving around a $80,000 car otherwise we would have acted way more gangster.  Most of the cars look like this one — so we’ll just pretend ours did too for the purposes of this blog. 
  6. Bring waterproof clothing.  It rained probably 3 of the 5 days we were on the road in June.  Never debilitating rain that caused a cramp in our hiking game, but enough to make you feel kind of damp and a little depressed.  Although we did hear from other tourists in the area that it has been a particularly wet June.  Also there are SEVERAL waterfalls — most are pretty neat and offer stories about Icelandic women threatening to throw themselves into the waterfall, lovers being separated by the waterfall, and/or the waterfalls eroding the rocks into weird shapes like this one.
  7. Biking the ring road is probably a bad idea.  We felt pretty badly for the folks on their cycles as we struggled to stay upright with the whipping winds, unpaved roads, on and off rain storms and 48 degree temps.  Iceland is pretty flat for the most part, which is cool for bikers, but conditions including several unpaved gravel roads, make the trip a pretty big challenge. I wish I had a picture for reference.  Just picture this as two bikers next to each other trying to go straight:  /  /  If you’re a bad ass and love being slightly miserable at a 45 degree angle for 10 days, then by all means, you do you.
  8. There are no animals.  Sure you’ll pass some horses, and some sheep, and some cows, but for the most part, you won’t have to worry about running over squirrels or swerving around deer.  There is in fact, only one “native” animal in Iceland called the Arctic Fox.  Allegedly it turns white in the winter and an auburn red in the summer, but we didn’t encounter any on our travels. Nor did we see any puffins (still mad about it).
  9. In the words of my friend Jesse, no you didn’t just fart.  The hot water in Iceland is provided by several hot springs and geo-thermal plants.  All that means is woof, hope you like the smell of hot rotten eggs in the morning. Expect this smell at the Geyser too! 
  10. Once you get to Reykjavik, you can probably skip the National History Museum and go to Phallus, the penis museum instead.  I know *GASP* SKIP THE MUSEUM!?  I mentioned earlier that it seems that even the Icelandic historians are still not really sure what happened here. Most of the stories are super vague with the occasional “we found this in the ground, we don’t know much about it.”  The highlight of the experience was the kids play room upstairs where you could try on Icelandic garb and look really cool like Tara does below. The Phallus museum however, is a museum of penises.  Elephants, humans, sperm whale – you name it –  this creeper collected it.  There are more than 215 penises and/or penile parts within these four walls.  
  11. If you’re looking for good places to eat in Reykjavik — Try Meze or Grillmarkadurinn — we had really great meals at both spots.  The hotdogs are all the rage, and drinks are about $15 a pop so choose wisely.
  12. Definitely don’t put your hair in the Blue Lagoon (or any hot spring for that matter).  The sulfur will leave your hair feeling stringy and dry for days — possibly weeks. Pack an extra bottle of conditioner just in case. Also get ready to get naked.  They split you up into boys and girls locker rooms, but you’ll dodge more boobies here than a full season of Game of Thrones.
  13. Beer to go is not really a thing in Iceland.  The grocery stores only sell “light” beer, which is 3% alcohol or less.  We tried to take a few beers “to go” at a local restaurant and ended up confusing the service staff as we drove back to the AirBNB with 4 open beer bottles in the cup holders.
  14. If it’s a nice day in Dyrhólaey, lay on the ground (it’s warm) and don’t forget to sign your name in the church guestbook.  There only 8 pages filled out and the first page dated back to 2011 (I’m writing this blog from the future, 2015).  Sort of an interesting experience to be somewhere that most people don’t bother to go.
  15. Walk on a glacier!  We hiked across Vatnajokull. It is forever changing – so we got to see some small ice caves that would be gone in a matter of weeks due to the warming temperatures.  Don’t be scared — if I can do it, you can do it.  They have different levels of difficulty.  You get crampons and an ice pick and you feel like an extreme adventurer. Here is one of the ice caves:
  16. Also make sure you hit up the Glacier Lagoon at Jökulsárlón.  It’s about a 5 hour drive from Reykjavik, but if you’re driving the circle — it’s an easy add-on and well worth the extra miles.  It’s basically a lagoon of bright blue glaciers. We had planned on taking a boat tour and screaming ICEBERG! RIGHT AHEAD! the whole time, but our tour was canceled due to intense wind.  We did get to walk along the edge and take pictures like this one: 

All in all, Iceland is unique, quaint, beautiful, and weird.  As Iceland seems to be increasing in popularity, I would suggest going now before the masses get there and ruin all of the untouched landscapes and peaceful beauty of the country.  Happy Travels!