Another Christmas- Tweaking the Traditions Again

Most of my presents are wrapped, the cards which will be sent are out (so much less than in the early years of my marriage in this digital age of sending greetings via Facebook and email), and today, Dad and I went out to purchase our 2016 hors d’oeuvres. That tradition has been tweaked based upon our audience, and now that we are officially Southerners, we are having a grits-based appetizer prepared by our Louisiana Southern man.

When you were all young, we would pick up Grandma and head to a late-afternoon Christmas Eve mass (except for that year when I forgot her), while Dad remained home to prepare the feast. Afterwards, we would go on the drive to check out the lights and luminaries in Boonton Twp. It was always quite spectacular, and I truly believe that participation in that event must be part of the contract when anyone purchases a home on that street.

This year, we will have our appetizer-feast at lunchtime at our house, so that we can head off to church early to see Bryce sing in the church choir—an event I am anxiously awaiting. I think he will not bolt to his mom and dad, but we will see!

Then they will head home to put out their cookies for Santa. I am wondering if that tradition will be accompanied by music like you all did—“Alvin and the Chipmunks” in the early years followed by the more sophisticated “March of the Toy Soldiers” from the Nutcracker later on. (Check out Cookies for Santa and Such for more details about Christmases in our days of yore.)

Then Dad and I will go home by ourselves this year, and we will settle down to at least one Christmas movie. Will it be one of my favorites (Love Actually or The Holiday), Dad’s Christmas flick (Die Hard), or a classic (The Santa Clause, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life)?

I am not complaining this year. Life is full of changes, and we saw all of you a lot this year. Truly I am good with this. I have nothing to complain about and look forward to another good year and a new hip.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to all of you. See you in 2017. (You can’t deny that this is the perfect card this year based on the publication of my book!)


Ordering the Platinum Card

Well girls, something happened today which caused me to worry—just for a brief time—that I might need to turn in my genealogy-stalking badge. But I am happy to report that it I need not relinquish it. In fact, I am renewing it for another ten years and getting the platinum card this time.

Here is the story:

Last night, Aunt Ar asked me about a particular leaf on our family tree—one of Grandma’s first cousins. Grandma had told Aunt Ar that she was thinking about her long-lost cousin and wanted to send him a Christmas card. So I told her I was on the case.

Using my superior genealogy skills, I checked the tree, determined that he would be only 75 years old if still living, and set off on the hunt. Within a short time I learned that while he had at one time lived in Wildwood, he later moved to Indiana. This was based on a search using

Next, I moved onto a second site,, which provided the names of four towns where my subject had lived, and having tested this search with our name, I concluded that the first city in the list of four was Grandma’s cousin’s current city. also provides associated relatives, so I then proceeded to plop them into Facebook.

And snap, I got a hit—a woman I believed to be his spouse. After observing the spouse having many Facebook friends from the New Jersey area, with one of the towns matching one of the four towns from my search, I concluded with a high level of accuracy that I had located Grandma’s cousin.

So I sent her a Facebook message, and then later, someone posted on the alleged spouse’s wall with a public posting, which allowed me to write a note there. Within an hour, I was talking to a woman who I believed to be the daughter, who was off to see her father that day!

I provided a few pertinent facts such as grandma’s maiden name and the town she grew up in, and the daughter confirmed what I then knew—I had succeeded in finding Grandma’s cousin. I proceeded to send her photos of her father as a little boy—some with his sister, some alone, and one with Grandma.

His daughter told me that he was “sitting there crying with emotion.” I worried that I was upsetting him, but his daughter said he gets emotional sometimes and was just touched that someone had remembered him.

So we all had a good day. Grandma had a thought, and I was able to help her carry out her mission of being able to send a card to a cousin of whom she had lost touch with many years ago. And now I will wait for my platinum ancestry-stalking card!

Grandma & No-Longer-Missing Cousin



Grandma Knew Best

Sometimes, as a parent, you do something that seems like a great idea at first, and then later, you wonder what you were thinking. Such was my decision to purchase an Advent calendar to decorate one of the walls in our old home.

I never photographed it, but I found a similar likeness at Pottery Barn.


As you may remember, it had twenty-five little pockets, each of which was intended to hold a small gift. So each of you were given eight days, and on your assigned date, the gift inside was yours. (I don’t recall who had the extra date. Perhaps it belonged to Kelly, who was born just four days prior to Christmas.)

It became clear to me quite soon after beginning this project what a stupid idea it was, because not only did I have to have presents for each of you to open on Christmas morning, but now I had to come up with twenty-five additional gifts + stocking stuffers.

Who remembers some of the gifts inside the calendar? I am thinking along the lines of Silly Putty, Play-Doh, crayons, and then candy. After a very few years of filling the little pockets, a different calendar appeared. I think Grandma may have found the replacement: the chocolate Advent Calendar. It makes sense that it was her, because we all know the she is a chocolate aficionado.

From that year on, I bought three, and each day, you all opened up your own candy calendar and feasted on a small piece of chocolate. But hey, what can I say! I was still winding my way through parenthood, while Grandma was a pro!

The Million-Dollar Movie and So Much More

Once upon a time, before the availability of an abundance of movie-viewing options via cable television, video streaming, Red Box, and our neighborhood video stores, the only means of watching movies at home was on the handful of stations which existed back in the day. In the dark ages of my New Jersey youth, we had only seven stations: 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), 5 (WNEW), 7 (ABC), 9 (WOR), and 11 (WPIX).

I recall coming home after school to watch movies, which aired each day at 4:30. In the beginning, we could sit down for two hours with your after-school cookies and milk, and then within less than two years, the time was reduced to 90 minutes. The decrease in time was a result of the expansion of Eyewitness News by an additional thirty minutes, which clearly resulted in major portions of films ending up on the editing-room floor.

Usually the weeks were themed: Planet of the Apes Week, Elvis Week, or Beach Movie Week.

I particularly liked the beach movies, many of which had a particular emphasis on bikinis: How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Beach Blanket Bingo, and Bikini Beach—all starring the former Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello.

Teenage girls learned about romance via the Gidget series: Gidget, Gidget Goes to Rome, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, and finally, Gidget Gets Married.

In addition to the afterschool movies, we had evening movies, which eventually aired every day of the week. Dad reminded me of the “Million Dollar Movie” which aired on WOR-channel 9. In the beginning, the same film could be viewed twice each night for the entire week, so you really had to go out of your way to miss a showing of a favorite flick.

Of course, for those nights when you just couldn’t get to sleep, we had the CBS Late-Night movies which were shown in the Seventies until sometime in the Nineties when the David Letterman show replaced it. For anyone around to watch those films, I guarantee you will remember the opening theme song:

  So don’t tell anyone of my generation that there is nothing to watch.


Down Memory Lane on a Tree

I was recently asked if I would consider hiring someone to put up my Christmas tree. After thinking for a moment, I decided that while I dislike assembling our old artificial tree with its two dozen or so pieces, I thoroughly enjoy hanging our ornaments.

You all saw Aunt El’s Star Wars tree last year. It was definitely very unique and very her. I know several people who periodically change the look of their tree, but that’s not for me. The collection of ornaments on our tree tells our story, beginning in 1976 when I was in college. That was the 200th anniversary of the birth of our nation.


Not far away is the ornament commemorating the year Dad and I were married—38 years ago. It is two lovebirds flanking a heart.


I always liked doing crafts although I am not good at it. I need help, so one year, I found wooden Peanuts ornaments which Daddy and I colored with felt-tipped pens. We brought a set with us as a gift to the mother of his friend, Dave, who lived in Salt Lake City and was also a lover of the Peanuts gang. These ornaments are particularly wonderful, because they cannot be broken by the new generation of children wandering around our house now.


I spent many years sanding and painting a plethora of ceramic pieces, beginning when we lived in New York and continuing in New Jersey. Naturally, I own the classic Christmas tree, which was our only tree the year Bryce was living with us and had just learned to walk.


One year when you were all young, I brought home several snowflake ornaments for all of you to decorate. I let you sprinkle on glitter, which I know Kelly hates because it’s s messy. I guess I was a very wonderful mom or just dumb! I saved a few reminders of your entrance into the world of ceramic creativity for myself.


You all brought me home ornaments which you made in art class, such as this elegant beauty by Casey.


Aunt Lorraine truly loved and could do more than just fill in the blanks with paint or crayons, as exemplified by this angel. I look at this and remember her smiling face—happy to the end.


Do you recall the year we went to Hershey Park? I think Casey was afraid of the walking candy kisses. Here is a memory of that trip.


After spending four years touring the Southeast, we finally settled in South Carolina. As our adopted town and home of the college which two of you attended, we now have the loveable Cocky dangling from the branches. Bryce loves playing “where’s Cocky.”


Not to be missed is an ornament to represent the North Carolina college attended by Jamie.


Now we have a new generation of youngins in the family, so there will continue to be new homemade creations added to the tree each year I hope.


So do I want to have a themed tree? No way, no how! This tree represents forty years of memories which can never be replaced by a Star War Tree.


Dollywood, Shopping and Lunch in the Brook

We have all been reading about the tragic wildfires in the Southeast during the past few weeks. Here in my part of South Carolina, we were minorly affected by the fires, which were quite a distance away. I would check out the air quality, and on those few days when it rose to orange and then later to red, we minimized our time outdoors. It amazed me how much our air smelled of the smoke, which made me think about how awful it must be to be in the path of those fires. It happens all too often each year and makes me wonder how our country does not worry about our air quality more. I don’t want to live out my life wearing face masks like they do in China.

Well, I have certainly meandered off the path of my intended posting today, which was meant to be about one of our family road trips, not a subtle dig at our nation’s climate policies. Specifically, I was reminiscing about our drive to Memphis and our stop at Dollywood.

Growing up in the Northeast, we always headed to Florida—Disney World and Universal Studios— when we wanted to vacation in a fun spot with lot of rides. I never heard of Dollywood until I began investigating activities along the way. It turned out to be a hidden jewel.


I recall it being very hot, but the park was filled with a combination of rides which would get us slightly wet, but not enough to be considered bathing-suit worthy. There were also misting stations scattered throughout the park, so we never felt hot for long.

Growing up in the North, we were not lovers of country music, so that turned out to be an advantage as you should all recall. Throughout the day, when a show was announced, the lines at the rides would pleasantly decrease so that we were able to get a lot more accomplished.

Traveling with all girls, we of course could not leave without hitting up the shopping scene, so we headed to Gatlinburg and meandered through the arts and crafts shops. You all probably picked up a few of your favorite souvenirs—magnets, postcards, and key chains.

One of the best adventures in that neck of the woods was our picnic in the Great Smoky Mountain Park. I packed a lunch, and off we went. We found a beautiful babbling brook and carefully maneuvered our way to a rock in the middle of the stream. The three of you thought that was the best place.


Now I watch the news and see the fires spreading through that area. While Dollywood has been spared, I don’t know if the area around our special lunch spot is the same. It’s sad to watch, but seeing this on the news brought back some wonderful memories.



This and That About Dad’s Family

It was recently pointed out to me that I have talked very little about Dad’s family, which is primarily because his history is more vague than mine regarding both sides of his family tree. So I will do my best to fill in a few blanks, beginning with what I was able to find with my ancestry-stalking skills. There are so many mysteries to your father’s family.

Dad’s grandparents were Misha  and Esther (born Jeska). According to their naturalization papers, Misha was born in Russia, while Esther was born in Poland, in cities which were approximately 3500 miles apart. How did they ever meet?

It is interesting to note that they arrived in New York in 1923 on the Berengaria, which (if you read my book), is the same ship that my father sailed on eight years later when his family emigrated to the Soviet Union.  (Cooincidence or foreshowing?) Misha and Esther’s last known residence was Berlin.

They headed to the Boston area, settling in the town where Misha’s mother had come just three months earlier, joining several of her siblings and possibly her mother (Dad’s great-great grandmother). Dad had no idea that he had so much family living in the Boston area. He only knew of his great aunt Sonia, whose daughter Miriam had come to our wedding. He has been surprised to learn that his great-great grandparents and a plethora of aunts, uncles, and cousins lived up there. As someone with a rather big family, most of whom I know, I think this is very fishy!

We always said that the hidden family was because we believed his father was part of the Witness Protection Program. My theory is that Dad’s family was separated from the Boston family because of the mysterious death of his great aunt Carol, whose body was never found after a fire in the house. The only problem with this suspicion is that the dates of her death don’t match with anyone’s move from Boston. Maybe her husband, Uncle Dan, talked in his sleep and said something to someone and word filtered down to Carol who had to be eliminated. (More on that another time.)

Back to Grandpa Misha….

In the old country, Dad’s grandfather had been a musician and his grandmother was an actress. Misha played a Russian string instrument known as a balalaika. Did they ever continue their life of show business here? No one is alive to tell the story. (Hmm… Lots of bodies in this family!)

For some reason, his grandparents, his great grandmother, and two of his grandfather’s brothers moved to New York sometime between the end of 1925 and August of 1927, when Dad’s father was born. Thank goodness for all of you, because I am confident that Dad and I would never have met had he grown up in Massachusetts. I guess it was just destiny.

Eventually, Grandpa Misha abandoned his musical career and moved into something more stable, beginning as an accountant and eventually working as a banker at Merchant’s Bank—the bank which morphed into Valley National Bank of which you are all stockholders.

Well, that’s it for now. There are many sad stories in the family, many of which are related to the Holocaust and Grandma Rita’s family. Stay tuned for more another day.