Tribute to Ernie “Poppop” Cermola

There’s a time that I remember, when I did not know no pain
When I believed in forever, and everything would stay the same
Now my heart feels like December when somebody says your name
‘Cause I can’t reach out to call you, but I know I will one day, yeah…

In Honor of Ernie “Poppop” Cermola

Everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody hurts someday, ayy ayy
But everything gon’ be alright
Go and raise a glass and say, ayy

Here’s to the ones that we got (oh)
Cheers to the wish you were here, but you’re not
‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
Of everything we’ve been through (no, no)
Toast to the ones here today (ayy)
Toast to the ones that we lost on the way
‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories (ayy)
And the memories bring back, memories bring back you…

Thank you Poppop for all your love! We hope to be reunited one day. XOXO Belinda and John

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
– Washington Irving

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Happy Birthday In Heaven Ernie

Today a great guy is celebrating his birthday at his new home in heaven. He is celebrating twice this month. You see he left us April 8th and had quite a crowd celebrating his arrival and today is his earthly birthday when he graced this world with his arrival.

I met Ernie “Poppop” Cermola in 1997, through the eyes and stories of his only son, John Patrick. One of the things that attracted me to John was the love and affection he had for his family, especially his dad and mom.

Ernie was the youngest of 10, he’d been a dedicated high school principal who was always known as kind, generous and loving. He, as well as his family, spent many summers teaching summer school at The Hotchkiss School, where John shared many stories of the great times they had there. Ernie had a great sense of humor and always wore a smile. He was supportive of his children and loved them dearly, as he did his wife, Kathy (affectionately, Geegee).

Ernie was one of those guys that had a great heart. He was a balanced individual, that made his family a priority but also had room for his professional family, his heart was so grand it had room for many.

When I met Ernie I saw him stop to chat with many people wherever we went and I even told John he could be mayor one day. He was accepting and loving and always said he felt better when he heard my voice on the phone every time we had a chance to chat. Ernie had the gift of making everybody feel special. He even made me a day, “Belinda Day,” which is celebrated on March 18th, right after St. Patrick’s Day. Ever since he proclaimed Belinda Day we have celebrated it without fault including his phone call to serenade me with his kazoo.

I will always be grateful to him and Kathy, his wife for bringing up such a remarkable man as John is. He is quiet but once you get to really know him you see what a stand-up man he is. Thank you, Poppop, for my greatest gift, your son. I promise to take care of him and make sure he is as happy as he can be.

I love you Poppop and will miss you so much. Love to you in heaven,

Your one and only, Belinda


At a Gala at the O.A.S. in Washington, D.C. dating before we got married.

Reminiscing about the past, time flies, how did we get here? I was thinking when we met each other if we really thought we would be here one day, 18 years later. John said he knew since the first day. I know today that our marriage has exceeded my expectations. I have learned so much and John has been so loving and caring always. I hope I have also been a good partner for him, that is my wish, that he knows he is my priority always. I am happy that we arrived here today…

So John said we were to take a long weekend trip for our anniversary and so we did. I cleared my schedule and we left our home around 9:30 AM the day before our “real anniversary” and we took it slowly and bought breakfast along the way. I had no clue where we were going, just like for our honeymoon, I left that to him. So we headed north, Route 15, avoiding the major highways, enjoying the views. We saw some fall foliage along the way but not that much to warrant photos.

Have I told you how much we love “field trips”? Just to take off and go? It is blissful. As long as we are together we just enjoy doing this a lot. After an hour and a half or so I dozed off (typical) and then woke up in Lancaster, PA. Our first stop was in the city itself and John went to the visitor’s center to grab some brochures and ask some questions. We then walked to the legendary Lancaster Central Market, the oldest, continuously running public farmers’ market in the country! More than 65 vendors and OMGoodness what a treat. It is very clean, it has areas where you can sit, but quite frankly there is so much to see and enjoy you want to walk every aisle and sample the delish cheeses or meats they give you. We were a little hungry for lunch so after a quick visit to the dutch market we left through a side door and had lunch across the street at the Lancaster Dispensing Company Pub. Small and busy, set in a historic setting, the atmosphere is very nice, waitresses and waiters very congenial and the faire was what is to be expected, fresh and filling. I had chicken quesadillas and J had a club sandwich. Mind you, we have to try club sandwiches wherever we go and see f they measure up to our “club sandwich standard” 😉

We returned to the market after lunch (it closes early) and bought some treats to take back to the hotel. Quite frankly the market was a great place to be, and made me wish we had something like this in Loudoun county where we live. We were able to evidence so much from being there about Lancaster itself. What better place to experience Lancaster than right in the heart of it? We bought meringues and a guava pastry from a Cuban stand – Havana Juice; cheeses, chorizo and other meats from S. Clyde Weaver; bread from Ric’s Bread. At Ric’s Bread they had an assortment of artisanal breads and handmade baked items. One thing I will tell you, don’t doddle in your decision because in a blink of an eye someone else will come and grab what you had eyed a minute ago. John decided to buy Amish butter and try it, we were all excited about our treats. But this market not only has food and vegetables, it has all sort of products and handmade items, it is a must visit when in Lancaster!

After a short nap we went to dinner to Luca, a fairly new, trendy Italian restaurant. If you do not have a reservation be ready to wait and be seated as they see fit. Luca is very busy, always! We sat by the bar and kitchen at a hightop shared table with a lovely mother and daughter. The mom is a foodie herself and recommended us like ten places to visit and also pointed out how Lancaster has been becoming a foodie city. We could not agree more after our visit. We do want to say that at Luca’s we had extraordinary service and our waiter was pleasant, accommodating and filled our glasses with prosecco all night long and even gifted us our first drinks and dessert since we did mention it was our anniversary. Food was fresh, a mix of old-country with a modern twist; and we loved to learn that they have a farm-driven kitchen focusing on vegetables and roasted meats, Neapolitan-inspired pizzas, and handmade pastas. Needless to say the menu was not a mile long but the offerings were amazing and created such an explosion of flavor in our mouths that we made a mental note to return before we went back home.

We drove around the city and were tempted to go have drinks afterward but we were tired and went back to the hotel. We made reservations for our big night on October 26th at another great restaurant, and a staple in Lancaster, The Belvedere Inn.

On Saturday morning we set out to do one of the various covered bridges tours Lancaster has to offer and we had a wonderful time driving through Dutch country. The farmland and the dutch farms were enchanting. We had a lovely time. John has the best ideas of “field trips” to do and I just love spending time with him and visiting new places.

Dinnertime came and we got ready to get to The Belvedere Inn early and sit by the bar. This restaurant is very popular and it’s building is a victorian Italian style mansion built in 1869 by John Rohrer, a tobacco dealer from Strasburg to entertain his guests while visiting the city of Lancaster. Mr. Rohrer incorporated a belvedere, meaning “beautiful view,” on top of the mansion for his guests to view downtown Lancaster. This restaurant has great history and an amazing second floor with a jazz bar and it’s decor is unforgettable. This night was pre-Halloween so the staff was all decked out in costumes and they all did a great job. We were guided to the bar and lo and behold we were greeted by Jesus! Yes, our bartender’s costume was unique. We also saw Bob The Builder, Curious George, a clapper or two, Harry Potter, a few Vampires and other characters, but this one attracted everybody. We had to take pictures in case someone did not believe us! Our table was great, when we sat down we had a card wishing us a happy anniversary, dinner was succulent, the waiters were kind and professional (ours was Curious George) and the champagne and cocktails were generous and tasty. We had a wonderful time and also made note to return when we came back to Lancaster!

Sunday was a stormy day so we decided to cozy up and enjoy our suite and talk about our plans for the future. Nothing like cuddling with a blanket and just being together. We had planned to go to Luca for brunch but opted to go for dinner since the weather was so dreadful earlier. We had to go back after our magnificent experience, and we enjoyed once again the menu and great atmosphere of this unique and phenomenal spot in Lancaster.

We had a great time and it was not really far from home. There are so many things to do in Lancaster I would not mind living and working there at all. The best part is “Just-Us” celebrating our love . Life is short, I am glad we took some time out of our busy schedules to spend time enjoying each other’s company. John is an amazing husband and I am so very blessed to have him. We really complement each other; we take one day at a time and we respect each other above all. I have to thank God for our 18 years together, I know this has been a match made in heaven.

Postcard From Our Veterans: The Reason For Today


Yesterday John and I arrived at 8:30 AM to Constitution Avenue and 21st Street, in Washington, D.C. to camp out until “Rolling Thunder” around noon. This has been our spot for many years and very close to “Thunder Alley” and the perfect spot to hang and enjoy ourselves as we wait for what is called “Freedom Ride.” The strategy is that John drops me off with all our belongings: chairs, cooler, mosquito repellent, suntan lotion, reading material, water and goodies for me to set up camp. He then goes to park the car close by and returns. I found the perfect spot. We were not the first ones to arrive, there were others that had the same idea as we had. As I sat down on my chair I smiled and said “good morning” to our neighbor that had three more chairs next to his and a encampment pretty much like ours. What a treat this introduction lead to… you see, yesterday I had the privilege to meet Larry. He told me he was there with his wife, brother and sister-in-law. We talked about the possibility of it being the last “Rolling Thunder” and he said if money was an issue (which he was certain it was not) he knew all Vets could pony up whatever amount was needed to keep bringing Rolling Thunder to D.C. He came to watch the first “Ride For Freedom” in 1993, and John chimed he had ridden on the first one as well. Larry shared he is a Vietnam Vet and had retired after working at the same dealership in Tysons for 40 years. He has a wife, kids, grandkids, and a swimming pool in his back yard. He also mentioned that this year he is not opening it because his kids don’t visit that often and his grandkids are teenagers and are doing their own thing nowadays. We talked about the traffic driving down and I explained how touching it is to see the children and adults on the overpasses with flags and cheering the bikers as they head on to the Pentagon. This year it made me teary eyed thinking that not too many people take this day as solemnly as they should. He agreed… We changed the subject and he told me that his knees are not what they used to be, but he can’t slow down enough nowadays to schedule his surgery. He knows he needs it but for now he is wearing two braces that help him walk. We happen to live in the same county and we compared notes of places close to home we are both familiar with and enjoy. What a delightful man to hold a conversation with. Suddenly we heard a helicopter and we both looked up into the beautiful and sunny DC sky to find it. Larry then mentioned that back in combat choppers were their lifeline, they brought food, water, everything. Listening to choppers always brings him back and he looks forward to seeing them. He also said that this week is very hard for him. He had tears in his eyes. You see, Larry lost 12 men from his unit at war, their names are on the wall. #YouWillNotBeForgotten


Freedom… sometimes as Americans we take it for granted. Today John and I would like to thank our military service members and their families, for their bravery, risks taken and especially the sacrifices made by them. This weekend we express and convey our respect specifically to those who have given their lives in defense of freedom. This year is Rolling Thunder’s last ride to the city because of lack of funds. This makes us sad. We want to be there this last time to applaud them for the many years of peaceful demonstration and for making all of us aware of the importance of understanding what this day is all about.

Rolling Thunder – Where are They

In case you didn’t know it… Rolling Thunder is an advocacy group that seeks to bring full accountability for prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIA) service members of all U.S. wars. They have been doing this for 31 years, with a slow ride of motorcycles riding into the city, starting at the Pentagon and entering via Memorial Bridge.

John and I rode his motorcycle for many years for Rolling Thunder paying our respect to those that gave it all for our country. John and I started doing this together since 1998, but he rode the very first rally in 1993 and every since with his friends, before we met. For me the most gut wrenching moment is as you enter the city through Memorial Bridge and start seeing all the people still holding signs up of #MIA and #POW with their relatives names. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve done it, it gets me every-single-time… it continues to be heartbreaking. Can you imagine not knowing (even today) what happened to your relatives or friends, those that sacrificed everything for our freedom? Many people do not understand that Rolling Thunder, with their revving motorcycles and slow ride, just wants to create awareness and shed a light on those that said yes to the call, and fought for those at home and our next generations and have not yet been accounted for.

The Last Ride

This Sunday the last “Ride for Freedom,” will take place. This ride leaves the Pentagon parking lot at noon, crossing the Memorial Bridge, and ending at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“the Wall”). Following, at #ThunderAlley, there will be speeches and other events taking place from there, and this is also a #mustvisit place to get memorabilia. We ask that if you are in the area, that you visit DC tomorrow, take your children, and teach them to be proud and pay their respects, because sadly… #Freedom isn’t Free.

We just learned that President Trump said that “Rolling Thunder” is taking place again next year in Washington, D.C. We are elated because this event is such an amazing one every American must experience it one way or the other at one point in their life. See you in D.C. next year!

Long overdue… When in Fayetteville, NC visit Habana Restaurant!

Last year for John’s birthday we headed down to Myrtle Beach, SC. We had never been and were looking forward to our “field trip” to celebrate J’s big day. I had bought a great package and was excited to take John to a completely different place than where we normally go.

We left DC early and stopped at a local place for breakfast on the outskirts of Fredericksburg. We were really excited about taking off on this vacation. I don’t know about you but if I get in a car for more than two hours that calls for a nap. John doesn’t think that is good but he understands LOL. I think my parents used to drive me around when I was a baby and could not go to sleep, so for me, being a passenger in the car equals falling asleep (yep snoring and all.)

After a few hours we we wanted to explore a bit more. We found ourselves in Fayetteville, NC and although I had a couple of friends living in the area and we were left to our own device since they could not hook up with us in such shot notice. But it was all good. We were ad-libbing our trip, as we normally do, except that we needed to get to SC by the next day when our reservations were set for. Ahhhh cute and comfy hotel -Hilton related, and J found an excellent Cuban Restaurant right there. If you stop at Fayetteville please do yourself a favor and visit “Habana Restaurant” you won’t regret it, it is a gem. When we arrived a very nice lady called “China” (pronounced: Cheena) greeted us and explained everything about the menu. She was so sweet and she helped us select from our drinks to appetizers to the entrees. What an amazing culinary experience. Mind you, we consider ourselves a bit savvy on the Latin or Cuban cuisine but this place was amazing. Everything is cooked fresh and the setting is very casual, but don’t let it fool you, the food is absolutely amazing.

Quite frankly we had a very great time, the music was not too loud, the atmosphere was great and lo and behold we even got to meet the owner who graciously took pictures with John. He is a very humble man from Cuba, Miguel, who fancied cooking Cuban food all his life and now is the chef of his own restaurant. What a treat!

Needless to say our stop in Fayetteville was quite a success. We had breakfast at the hotel the following day, went to the pool and then left shortly before lunch down South to Myrtle Beach, our next destination to celebrate John’ birthday.

One year ago… Happy 2nd Birthday to Me!

One year ago I woke up at 4 AM to get ready to have surgery and slay cancer. Of course I was scared but I had given control, even of that, to God (because I am a bit of a control freak LOL.) My husband supportive as ever, scared as I was, was a trooper. We just went about it like a task we have to accomplish and that was that. I showered as they request you to do with that funny colored soap, and wore my grape colored sweat pants, ample and comfortable so I could come back home in them again. I wore a top the same color and a jacket. Prayed before leaving, and prayed in the car as we were leaving. Called my mom and she said she and my sister were on their way as well. The hospital was in a different state which is actually 45 minutes away (on a good day and without traffic, if you know Washington D.C. metropolitan area traffic…) but off we were. When we arrived at the hospital the valet parking was not set up yet because it was well… very early. We found a parking spot (the only one available) in front of the hospital and we went inside. We had never been to the hospital, just spoke on the phone, checked it out on the web and here we were. I asked John to make the for registration line while I waited. I sat down on a bench right outside. My family arrived but I was busy with the paperwork. They sat me on a wheelchair and asked me to wait. I saw them, I gave them a hug but could not really talk that much. I was afraid of cracking. They called me, and John and I went to pre-op. Then John had to leave until further notice, I was not happy but had to be strong. This was it. The moment of truth. The moment of meeting my fears head on.

They did everything, they gave me a lilac gown with matching cap, they gave me an IV and all the million things they do. I went through the motions following instructions. John came back and sat there quietly, strong, and calmed. He definitely was the calm in the middle of the storm. He is my soulmate. He knows me sometimes better than myself and loves me unconditionally. The doctors came to introduce themselves, all of them, the nurses too and it felt very good to meet them and it really felt like they had my back, for real. They also asked questions, like gazillions. The nurses were cracking jokes, I had a dedicated male nurse who was very kind. My anesthesiologist was a nice lady and her supervisor came to meet me. I really think they were really trying to see what was the best concoction to give me. I was given the thumbs up by all my doctors, including the pulmonologist so here I was… wondering why I was attracting so much attention. I took selfies I hugged John, my sister, mom, niece and then my surgeon came by. I was in a high and I told her: “Hey Dr. D let’s slay this!” She smiled and said: “see you in there.”

12 months later today here I am. Today is my second birthday. I am still figuring out my new purpose, but God has laid some new opportunities before us and as we embark on this project I think a lot of the changes that are coming as well. Anyways, still not many people know about this ordeal and some listen to it like it’s nothing… go figure. But it is my personal journey after this scare. So today is a bit of a celebration and time to really set the new coordinates. Happy Second Birthday to me!

The Joy Christmas Brings to Our Hearts

Yes, we have a new tradition since 2017. We take professionally made photos with Santa Claus and we don’t regret it for one minute. Last year even though it was a trial year we did it, we again had a beautiful session with my personal friend and professional photographer, Jess DeLaski. Of course I want to share them because we did not send Christmas cards, instead we took a three week trip to Panama to visit family and visit this wonderful place.

Santa has my heart!

John decided to buy the tickets and fly to Panama for Christmas. Our base was my brother and sister in law’s beautiful home and from there we visited a wonderful resort right next to the Panama Canal on the Pacific ocean. We could not have asked for a better time. Sun, breeze, love and fun.

Here are some of our photos:

Three weeks that went by so fast. It was the best time to be on this tropical country because Summer was setting in, which means warm during the day, sunny and bright, and cooler in the evenings. The perfect time indeed. So many places to see and beaches to be at, and for us, it was a much needed vacation time.

So Christmas was very fun to say the least and warm. But that feeling of wonder was still there and that fun excitement that Santa would come to leave his presents as when we were kids was also there 😉 Life has its ups and downs and we took this high to celebrate that, life.

What a grand time. Thanking my John for all the effort he put into us having a wonderful time together and away from everything. “Just US” as we like to say even before the show appeared. And that is how our year ended!


Kindness rocks painted by my sister and niece and left at our doorsteps with words of encouragement the night before my surgery.

In early 2018 I had a biopsy and was diagnosed with uterine cancer. It was shocking to say the least. At first I could not believe it because other than minor symptoms I had never felt more alive in the past 4 years…

But we grabbed the bull by its horns and prayed, held hands a lot, cried a little bit because of shock and because we were scared. And I say “we” because when you have a partner, like mine, I could not have asked for anyone better. We did this together. I could not have done this without John’s levelhead and love. I am so blessed to have this guy by my side.

Forget the visual board for 2018 I made early in 2017, forget the plans, this was urgent and needed to be taken care of. And together, as a family, John and I, and with the prayers and support of my mom, sister, brothers, and some of my nieces and nephew I was able to come hold my head in its place instead of going crazy.

Trying to be brave…

It was lonely. It was scary. It was quiet. I preferred not to share with anybody because that is how I roll. I am vibrant but when it comes to these things I don’t share, I rather stay with my inner and intimate circle. But God in his love and mercy surrounded me from my husband, my mom, my sister that stood by me day and night.  I’d rather share the news once I knew what was coming so keeping the secret was hard but I had to do it so I could hold it together.

At first I looked for a way to blame why I had cancer. I asked myself if perhaps because I was a big girl and never had children. I searched the internet and tried to find a reason… When I spoke with my great oncologist she said, don’t blame yourself. We still don’t know the root of the cause. Through my doors come women that have been fertile and non-fertile, that have been as healthy conscious as those that have skipped a few rules. Don’t blame yourself, it just happened and you have been great at coming to get checked even if your symptoms did not seem too bad. We may be on time, we don’t know yet. Let that guilt go, and focus on what is to come. Have hope, think positive and get prepared for this journey, because whatever the outcome, you will never be the same. And I believe it is a journey of growth in many areas. Wow! I did not expect that, but I took it and ran with it.

The truth is that during all these years John and I have lived a happy life. We did not have the opportunity of being parents but we both have been the best auntie and uncle we could have been. Then when I received the news I think it hit me, this was the period to that. There it was, the struggle of dealing with the end of that story. In a way dealing with this was tougher than the C word. So that was a situation I would still need to deal with on top of all this… But when time is of the essence you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself because you are fighting for your life.

Live as if this was your last day on earth! Don’t waste time in pettiness, it’s not worth it. Love like you mean it, and yes, love with all your heart!

But everything turned out how it was written in the book of Life. God spared me, he showed me his mercy. I won’t go into details, but I as of today I am okay., and of course there are more tests and appointments to endure but I am grateful and I will show it in my demeanor e-v-e-r-y d-a-y. And yes, while I don’t know what may come after this and I don’t take life for granted, but I do try to live every day to the fullest and slow down when I need to. I do listen to my body, and am trying to change some habits, but I continue loving perhaps more than I loved before, I try to not linger on things that want to rob my peace. I center my happiness in God, my husband and my family and true friends. Along the way I have made new friends and I embrace them and they may think I am a little bit crazy, but it is lie my oncologist said; life has changed and the perspective from where I see it is much more different that where I was coming from.

Together we are invincible!

I’m going to be okay. John and I are going to be okay. And whatever comes we won’t let it rob us of our peace and happiness. Get ready because this year we will be back with a lot more.

Always look at the bright side

Celebrating GeeGee

I don’t know about you but I had a wonderful mother in law. Her name was Kathy (Kathleen) she was born to Irish parents in New England and she was an amazing woman. Tomorrow, a year ago, she left us.

Kathy welcomed me to her family. She did not say it but she did show me with her actions. One of the fondest memories I have about her is that when I got married, John and I had said we would switch at the time of giving the sign of peace, and he would go to my family and I would go to his. So when I did this, my mother in law whispered in my ear” “You look beautiful.” I treasure that moment in my heart.

Field Trip with Geegee and Belinda 2016

She also welcomed my mom into her life from day one and they got along famously and had much fun when they were together. John and I were surprised because since day one they just loved each other. Kathy was easy to get along with she made things better for everybody.

She loved her baby boy (my John) and when I went to say goodbye I promised her I would take care of him always and thanked her for my greatest gift, my husband.

How can I not miss her? How can I not want to honor her? How can I not mention her? She was and is in our hearts forever.

Geegee we love you and we send you hugs to  heaven. Thank you for your love. Forever in our hearts.April 2016 The Gang