Those New Year’s Keep on Changing!

New Year’s Eve is another holiday which has evolved through the years, but the changes don’t bother me as much as Christmas. I think it is because I still think of the New Year as the first day of school. The changes on that day are much more pronounced, but January 1 is still the day of resolutions and new beginnings.

I first turned to my fifth grade diary to see how I rang in the new year as a kid.

Dear Diary,

     Today at midnight Billy shot off some “bombs” with confetti. We watched a little more TV and then went to bed.

     This morning we went to church. We came home and had a turkey dinner. I read a little of the book “In Good Old Colonial Times” and finished my mystery.

     After dinner I fell asleep. Later, we watched movies. Then Janice and I played with the tape recorder.

—–Good Night!

 Clearly, my celebrations were quite uneventful, so when I fast forward 25-30 years when you were all little, you will see a marked difference. We began our celebrations in the driveway around 10:00 when the three of you wished our poor neighbors Happy New Year with the banging of pots and pans. It was a wonderful scam Dad and I pulled on you that ceased once you learned to tell time.

When Aunt Linda visited, you would all spend the afternoon making confetti to toss in the air on our front walkway—probably at midnight. Dad would then travel around town picking up our traditional New Year’s Eve dinner—take-out from an assortment of local restaurants which changed as your pallets became more sophisticated.

In the early years, it may have been a Big Mac from McDonald’s, dumplings from your favorite Chinese restaurant, and chicken from a place in Caldwell (Chicken-N-Stuff?) Later, it was shrimp in green sauce from Don Pepe’s. That was the one day of the year that you each could get whatever you wanted. Dad would call in the order, plan out the most efficient route, and hit the road early.

After moving to Chapel Hill, we returned to New Jersey for two particularly memorable celebrations. The first was our New Year’s Cruise with the Cohen’s. We knew we were in trouble when we arrived at the airport in Florida and saw the men unloading our luggage wearing ski hats. Brrr! It did not warm up until we were south of the Bahamas. We discovered that Rich Cohen was a wonderful cruise companion since he had traveled the world in his youth and could converse with all the employees on the ship about their countries of origin. Not only would he be familiar with their country and hometown, but who can forget his line, “What street did you live on,” and he would know the specific location! How much fun it was to ring in 2005 on a cruise ship whose main street was configured to resemble Times Square, but with more balloons than confetti.

Cruising the Caribbean New Year's 2004
Cruising the Caribbean New Year’s 2004

This brings me to New Year’s Eve 2006. The year before, we celebrated Kelly’s 21st birthday in New York City, and we had so much fun being tourists in the Big Apple around Christmas that we decided to return. You asked if we could celebrate in Times Square, and I said absolutely not. I had read about the need to arrive VERY early, and all my research said there were no bathrooms available. That was the deal breaker for me.

I compromised by agreeing to dinner in the vicinity of Times Square. I found a nice Italian restaurant but then discovered it was on the other side of Broadway from our hotel. My panic was calmed when I learned that  a written confirmation from the restaurant would help. So early in the day, we walked there to scope out the route and secure our written reservation—the golden ticket it turned out.

That evening, we set out on our journey, and as we headed toward Broadway, I recall thinking we were in big trouble when I noticed the barricaded streets manned by the NYPD. When we explained where we were going and presented our reservation, we were magically permitted to continue on our journey. We were ushered past all the revelers penned in like animals at the zoo and were able to literally run past everyone.  Aunt Ar and Uncle Paul were with us, having met us at the hotel earlier.

We had a wonderful dinner followed by dancing in the bar, and then around 11:30, we noticed a steady line of people heading toward the door. We followed and  were shocked to see that we were just a short walk away from the famous New Year’s Eve Ball. The countdown began followed by the tons of confetti. What a wonderful surprise! It was the best party of my life. Unfortunately, Aunt Ar and Uncle Paul left early to beat the traffic. Bad decision, Ar! Sometimes, the best moments are the unexpected!

Happy 2016!

Times Square 2006

Toasting in the New Year Before the Big Surprise


P.S. Dad reminded me to mention that the building in Times Square where the ball drops each year–the building with the electronic billboards and news ticker–was once owned by Allied Chemical, which was Grandpa’s employer for thirty-five years. This is just a piece of family trivia.

Afghans and Sock Monkeys

As I sat on my sofa catching up on “the show,” my head brushed against the blanket draped behind me. Despite being dressed in jeans and sneakers, I thought, “You are Grandma.” While my memories of Grandma’s mother never included pants of any sort, I do associate her with her daily stories. I particularly remember her being an avid fan of “As the World Turns.”

The blanket was one of the many afghans my grandma made. Mine is red, black, gray, and white. I can picture her sitting in her chair, as she adeptly maneuvered the crochet hook to turn a skein of yarn into a beautiful cozy afghan. I wonder how many she made, and how many of her children and grandchildren own one of her creations.

When I was shopping at Mast General Store, my eyes were draw to a monkey which was identical to one of Grandma’s creations. It was called a sock monkey. Maybe now that I am a grandma of almost two, I should learn how to make one.

You know about the sleepovers with the cousins, but that all ended when she sold the house and moved in with Aunt Marian and Uncle Tony in 1967. So while I remember those sleepovers and my room at her house, my more vivid memory is seeing her sitting in her chair in her room at the top of the back stairs in the house down the street rather than in the house next to ours.

She always had a smile on her face, but I don’t ever think of her as someone that took me for walks or got down on the floor to play with me, or read me stories or sing me songs. Will my grandchildren remember that I did this with them?

So I wonder what your strongest memories of Grandma and Grandpa are. Do you remember them playing with you or do you mostly recall them, particularly Grandpa, sitting in a chair in their living room. And girls, do you have any memories of Grandma Rita?

Grandma's Afghan
Grandma’s Afghan

See the USA in Your Chevrolet

My favorite Christmas present from Dad is both extremely geeky and incredibly mind-blowing. It is not much larger than a deck of cards but is capable of holding every photo I have digitally taken, my videos, all my research, the many versions of my two books, and all of my music. And after adding all this data to my new external drive, I have used only one per cent of its capacity. Whoa and Wow! Just try to wrap your mind around that.

While now organizing my digital life, I discovered an additional story about Grandma and Grandpa’s younger days which I’d like to share with you.

Grandma’s family never had a car.  When her dad worked at a local grocery store, he would take the kids for a ride in the country (Boonton Township) in the store’s truck while making deliveries or would borrow it to take the family on an evening drive. That was there entertainment.

Her first car was the Chevrolet Grandpa had when they got married, which was the car they drove to Texas together after their marriage in 1951. As I have mentioned, Grandpa was in the Army reserves, and was recalled to service during the Korean War.

They lived in a two-room apartment, and like Grandpa’s apartment in Russia, they had to share the bathroom with their neighbors—a woman from Texas and her spouse who was also in the army.  Grandma did not like her.  She said she was a typical Texan who thought everything in Texas was bigger and better than every place else.

One day, she told Grandma to come watch a house being moved.  Grandma, as typical of her wry sense of humor, told the woman it was no big deal, because in New Jersey she had seen whole houses, including the basement, being moved.  Furthermore, she claimed that she even watched the Empire State Building being moved to another location.

The town of Killeen, where Fort Hood was located, was very small.  There was nothing to do except go to the one theater located in town.  One evening Grandma went to a show alone and was followed home by someone who even shined a light in the window.  She screamed out as if she were speaking to someone, and the person left.  She immediately called Grandpa, who returned home and brought her back to the base.  She remained in the car until he finished work.

On Sundays, they would sometimes go to the base for dinner in the mess hall at a cost of $0.55.  She would pass her days with the bragger from Texas and another woman from Chicago. That summer was the hottest temperature thus far for that area.  In order to sleep comfortably, Grandma would sometimes put the sheets in the refrigerator to cool down. There were no air conditioners.

Fortunately, Grandpa’s service abruptly ended, and they returned to New Jersey in September after spending five miserable months in Texas. It was not a day too soon for Grandma, who missed her mother and could not wait to get back to Boonton!

See the USA in Your Chevrolet
See the USA in Your Chevrolet
Grandma and Grandpa's First Home- Killeen , Texas 1951
Grandma and Grandpa’s First Home- Killeen , Texas 1951

Happily Mistaken or Mommy’s Retraction

Sometimes, it’s great to be wrong. This year, Casey pulled off the ultimate surprise which is why I must write this retraction to It’s 1983 Again.  I know now that you were all laughing and snickering and talking behind my back as you read my Christmas Eve post.

Daddy can attest to how melancholy I have been feeling during the past few weeks. I don’t know if it was annoying or upsetting to him. I just was sad about the prospect of waking up without any of you in the house. Kelly, thank you for being nearby, but I selfishly wanted one of those movie moments with a house filled with kids returning to the nest on Christmas.

This is not meant to make anyone feel guilty. We started it by moving away, but then Jamie and Casey chose to leave because it made sense to them. Jamie met her prince charming in New Jersey so she will probably stay and Casey is much happier in Maryland. And when your kids are happy and doing well, then as a parent, you know you succeeded in doing your job and you feel good.

It is just a few days out of a whole year that I feel sad that we live in three different states. But as it turned out, I wasted all that dreary emotion for no reason. I knew Casey’s gift was coming on Christmas Eve, but I just thought she chose Christmas Eve delivery so I would not be tempted to open my gift earlier. When the doorbell rang, I truly was looking for a FedEx or UPS truck, not Casey and Chris.

Casey, you pulled off one of the biggest surprise of my life. (I am not counting engagements and birth announcements because those occasions were not about Dad and me while this was intended as a well-kept secret about us.) My apologies to Dad on not being surprised for my bridal shower, but did he really think I would believe we couldn’t leave his place sooner because he suddenly had to defrost the freezer? It was not like he was a neat freak. Casey, you must know I was surprised because if I knew, there would have been more breakfast and beer choices in the fridge.

So thank you for a wonderful Christmas present, Casey and Chris, and to the rest of you, thank you for helping them make me eat my words. And instead of toasting each other with Sweet Baby Jesus Beer (Yes it does exist and I felt awkward asking for it) via Facetime Chat, we toasted each other in front of my palm tree together. What will next Christmas bring?

Surprise Christmas Day Toast- 2015
Surprise Christmas Day Toast- 2015

It’s 1983 Again!

This is the first Christmas since 1983 that Dad and I will be waking up alone. Thirty-two years with our homes filled with babies, little girls, teenagers, and young adults. Last year we spent the night at Kelly and Mark’s house so we could be there to see Bryce put out his cookies for Santa and watch him open his presents. Santa brought a train table, which eclipsed every other present he received. It reminded me of the years all of you wanted nothing but to play with the boxes and wrapping paper. But this year, we’ll go over in the morning, so 2015 is like 1983 again.

Those Christmases were celebrated in five states—New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and now South Carolina. We have seen snow in all of these states. Three states gave us snow around Christmas. The most surprising was the snowstorm for our third Christmas here in South Carolina, which dumped five inches the day after. All of you were with us, so despite being shocked to see snow on my palm trees (should we have moved further south??), it was fun to recreate our northern Christmases. It took creativity to go sledding with nothing more than cardboard boxes, but they did the trick.

I sent very few cards this year despite having the cards and stamps, but we received little as well. My time was filled with babysitting a lot more lately because Kelly needed the help. The new baby is coming any day now! My time was spent reading and writing, and I figured no one would notice the absence of a card from me. Like the handwritten letters, I predict Christmas cards will someday be a thing of the past.

So this year will start like 1983, and then morph into 1984 when we had only one child to spend the day with. We will have to figure out a new tradition or two to fill the emptiness. Casey wants to toast the holiday with Sweet Baby Jesus beer via Facetime, which is so Casey, and Jamie, you need to either join us or figure out our own new thing to do when we are apart. I just can’t stop the changes so I need to adapt.

Merry Christmas!

South Carolina- December 26, 2010
                South Carolina- December 26, 2010

Cookies for Santa and Such

Jamie tried to recreate another family tradition recently, which showed that sometimes a memory is best left a memory. She took Geoff to see the Christmas Ice Caverns at the Fairfield Garden Center, which you all enjoyed visiting each year. For Jamie, it was a disappointment. Was it the fact that the Smurfs are gone, or that the displays were just more magical when you were six? Or could it be that now, a three dollar fee is charged, which made the memory more off putting? Maybe it was a combination of all. I had a similar feeling when I returned to the Gingerbread Castle as a young adult and was disappointed to discover that not only was I not frightened, but Hansel and Gretel were so young.

I pulled out the very thoughtful video you made for Dad’s fiftieth birthday because I remembered it included clips from several Christmases. I learned that you originally set out your cookies for Santa to the sounds of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Those were the days when Kelly carried the milk, Jamie had the plate of cookies, and poor Casey was stuck with the napkin.

It wasn’t until later that we got more sophisticated and changed the music to “March of the Toy Soldiers” from the Nutcracker. Daddy has most, if not all, of your grand entrances from the kitchen into the living room as well as the video of the three of you bounding down the stairs on Christmas morning. The funny thing when watching Christmas morning through the years was that the enthusiasm began to decline as you grew older and clearly wanted to sleep later, particularly Kelly.

You sold Christmas wrapping paper in elementary school, an expensive and kind of annoying fundraiser. I always purchased three rolls, and each of you chose your own pattern to leave for Santa. That way you could look under the tree and know which packages were yours without the need for tags. I wrapped all your presents weeks before, always leaving just enough on the roll to make it appear that it was untouched and ready for Santa.

My proudest year, as you must recall, was when it snowed, and I decided to go outside to make sleigh and reindeer tracks in the driveway. You must admit that it was quite authentic!

Christmas morning was always Dunkin Donuts, which Dad got on Christmas Eve. Sometime during Christmas Day, my Noel ceramic candle holders would get rearranged at least twice.

Now you are all grown up, and I wonder if you will continue any traditions from our Christmases, adopt any from that of your spouses, or create those of your own? Do you hate the new tradition Dad and I started several years ago:  Christmas Day movies followed by Chinese take-out or eat-in? I have lost count of how many changes have occurred through the years. I guess you just can’t stop change.

Elon/Noel/Leon Train
Elon/Noel/Leon Train



It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

When I moved to South Carolina, I became a fan of Publix supermarket. Their customer service was particularly attractive, something that was recently shown to be off the charts for me.

Growing up in New Jersey, I was accustomed to bagging my groceries as the cashier was scanning each item. It’s just what you did. When we first moved to North Carolina, I was actually reprimanded for doing so at the Harris Teeter supermarket in our neighborhood because, “You will have to put the groceries away when you get home, ma’am, so you should let us do it here.” They even offered to bring my groceries to the car.

Like Harris Teeter, Publix also bags my groceries and will bring them to my car, but I have rarely had them do this because it makes me feel lazy. But on nice days, I think the baggers truly want me to say yes just so they can get out in the lovely Carolina sunshine.

I took a video, which I showed to Grandma, when I had multiple people unloading the food from the cart as two people bagged my groceries. I truly felt like a princess on that day.

What makes Publix the best is what they recently did for me. Dad spoke to a manager when they discontinued his favorite variety of Ronzoni pasta after he learned it was still in production. The Publix manager told Dad he would get some for him. Then Dad handed the phone to me because he knew I was disappointed when I could no longer find one of my favorite products in any store. I didn’t want to have the conversation, but Dad thought there was no harm in asking.

There is a particular flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that I love more than any other. It is my guilty pleasure, which is actually quite healthy because it is filled with fruit and yogurt—Raspberry Chocolate Chunk Greek Frozen Yogurt. How can than not be encouraged as a healthy dessert by anyone in the medical field?

I looked for it in New Jersey and I have gone to the B & J’s website looking for where to buy it. The answer is “Nowhere!”  (It is like the kiss of death to any television show I like and then invariably gets cancelled.) So I took the phone from Dad and asked the very nice manager at my local Publix about getting the frozen yogurt.  Not only did he say he would get it for me, he assured me he would keep some in the back freezer so it would always be available. I should have known, after years of writing letters to teachers and even perfect strangers, that there is no harm in asking.

This conversation happened just a few short weeks ago and yesterday, in my grocer freezer was…. Ben and Jerry’s Raspberry Chocolate Chunk Frozen Greek Yogurt! Merry Christmas to me from Publix!

And may I add, their commercials will bring tears to your eyes. There is a certain aunt in our family that will not be able to watch this year’s Christmas commercial without crying big wet sloppy tears. (You know who she is and so does she!)  Publix Christmas 2015

It's Back!
It’s Back!