Sunday, October 31, 2010

What Happened to Thanksgiving?

Halloween is just hours away. And while I head into the holiday completely ready to go, on November 1st, the house is stripped of Halloween decor. Oh, how I hate when the decorations linger past the holiday! It's over. Let's move on.

As I prepare for the next holiday, Thanksgiving, I am shocked at how there is nothing on the shelves in terms of decorations. Okay, not nothing, there are a few lame pilgrims around, but that's about it. I just wanted to find a turkey or two, and not something so generic that everyone else has something similar in their houses.

Those shelves are stocked with something, though. Since mid-October, they've been jam packed with all-things Christmas. I am happy to see those things in November. But mid-October? Have we hopped right over Thanksgiving?

Now, I usually do my shopping at independent establishments in town, and the neighboring town, and when I cannot find stuff there, I go to etsy. I love etsy's homemade shops, as much as I love supporting local businesses. But really, none of them have much to offer. I even tried Home Goods. Nothing.

What's a girl to do?

Maybe I'll make a cornucopia, or just get out my old pine cone garland. I just wish there was something that would make the house really festive. Something very November, you know?

What Happened to Thanksgiving?

Halloween is just hours away. And while I head into the holiday completely ready to go, on November 1st, the house is stripped of Halloween decor. Oh, how I hate when the decorations linger past the holiday! It's over. Let's move on.

As I prepare for the next holiday, Thanksgiving, I am shocked at how there is nothing on the shelves in terms of decorations. Okay, not nothing, there are a few lame pilgrims around, but that's about it. I just wanted to find a turkey or two, and not something so generic that everyone else has something similar in their houses.

Those shelves are stocked with something, though. Since mid-October, they've been jam packed with all-things Christmas. I am happy to see those things in November. But mid-October? Have we hopped right over Thanksgiving?

Now, I usually do my shopping at independent establishments in town, and the neighboring town, and when I cannot find stuff there, I go to etsy. I love etsy's homemade shops, as much as I love supporting local businesses. But really, none of them have much to offer. I even tried Home Goods. Nothing.

What's a girl to do?

Maybe I'll make a cornucopia, or just get out my old pine cone garland. I just wish there was something that would make the house really festive. Something very November, you know?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Beautiful People

I'm still in the throes of my hearing trauma. My ear rings continually, and I miss the silence more than I've ever imagined possible. Should the tinnitus go away, I will celebrate the silence with gratitude.

Deciding that the cause is idiosyncratic and moving forward is daunting, but it must be done. I began hanging the mayor's art show, Visions of Denville, this morning with co-curator, Donna Compton, and will continue tomorrow, and then begin a four-day Halloween celebration. I cannot sit here and pity myself, when people with far more to deal with are getting along just fine -- bootstraps are being pulled.

I need to reflect, publicly, on all of the beautiful people who have appeared on the wing of an angel in these few days, and to thank them. Most of them won't read my blog, no, and they probably don't even know it exists. But you do, and just maybe seeing their wonderfully kind gestures will give you hope for humanity when yours may be waning.

After the bullying deaths of young people all over the country, and all the dirty politicking, and the random other acts of badness we so often hear about, I thought it important to show how everyday people can make everyday life extraordinary for at least one person.

My mail carrier came to drop off mail yesterday, just after I was getting off the phone with the doctor's office. I was frustrated that they didn't have test results, and just sort of fell out with tears. I told him what was going on and he shared a story of his in response, showing his empathy. It was kind. And then today, in my mailbox, was a letter from "Gabi, PO 07046." My name and address were lavishly written on the envelope, with loops and curves that showed great care. Gabi works at the post office, and we speak whenever I go in. Apparently, my mail carrier told her what was going on with me after he'd finished his route. She'd sent me a feel better card, with a really thoughtful note, one that I never in a million years expected. Beautiful.

The ladies at the MRI center were so kind. The stayed with me, patiently, as I cried and cried, bringing me tissues and bestowing me with huge hugs. One woman, Candace, even offered me tea. They told me to take it a step at a time. Beautiful.

I'd reached out to my old high school friend John, and his wife, Shannon, because I'd remembered that John had had a benign brain tumor years ago, and I wanted to know who he saw, what he did, and the depth of his experience. His wife immediately told him that I was waiting for MRI results for a brain tumor, and he called me right away. I see them on occasion around town and always talk to them, but for them to care enough to reach out to me, and for him to call me, with words of encouragement, kindness, and experience, was beyond kind. Beautiful.

My brother, who I don't speak to often, called to remind me of other possible options for my tinnitus (which are now being explored), and reminded me not to worry. He matter-of-factly told me that these other possibilities were more probable than a tumor. My mother walked the tight rope with me, and my father was giving me names at Sloane-Kettering to get second opinions. Just in case. Beautiful.

And then today, I got the good news from my doctor while I was hanging art at the Denville Municipal building. Kathy, the mayor's secretary, knew I was waiting to hear back from my doctor, and when she heard me burst into tears and say, "Oh my God, thank you. Oh, thank God. Oh, such great news," she came into the hall to give me a giant, teary hug. Beautiful.

My boyfriend, my rock, who I've gotten so close to (especially) over the past year that he knows what I am thinking before I say it, both said and did everything that I needed, exactly as I needed it, every moment that I needed it, and needed him. He has my heart. Beautiful.

Every single one of my friends who only heard about this after the news was good, sent me loving messages full of support. One friend who knew before, lit a candle to St. Jude and said a prayer for me. Betty, my angel. Beautiful.

Artist Katy Keuter's painting arrived at my house -- so auspicious -- after traveling all the way from Italy, just in time to lift my spirits when they were on the floor. Beautiful.

I don't know much about life, and sometimes I think that the more I begin to think I know, the quicker I realize that I know less than ever. Right now, I believe that life is unpredictable, and that random things happen for unexplained reasons. It's unnerving, but it's outside of my control.

But the fact that there are people who care, and who aren't necessarily the people closest to me, gives me hope and make the unpredictability a little more manageable.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Waiting for Godot

I am sitting here shaking. I am waiting for test results that were promised to be in last night. After five weeks of ear related issues, including vertigo, tinnitus, and partial hearing loss, I was sent for an MRI of my brain to R/O (rule out) an acoustic neuroma.

A tumor.

There are a couple of other reasons I may have these hearing issues. No, I am not congested and allergies have been ruled out. I have no ear infection, no wax in my ears. My inner ear has been damaged. I did not hit my head, stand near loud noise, or anything.

But I do have hypothyroidism (treated) that may have changed, requiring stronger medication, which could cause tinnitus. I was also on a steroid for my eye, in drop form, called Lotemax. Though my symptoms aren't listed as a side effect, I have read stories from many people who had this problem from Lotemax. My symptoms started while I was using this steroid. (Thanks to my brother for putting the two together and suggesting I look into it.)

The waiting is rough. My boyfriend has been very supportive, telling me to take it a step at a time and not get ahead of myself, to just breathe through it. I'm trying, but it's a challenge.

My old high school friend, John, called me last night. I'd told his wife what was going on, and John had a brain tumor removed about 6 years ago. His first words to me, "It's okay. You're going to be just fine. Whatever the results are, you are going to be okay."

I am writing as I wait to take my mind off everything. I can't leave the house and start hanging the mayor's art show yet, because I need to know what's going on. But I can address thank you notes from my son's Halloween party, and I can write this blog. I can't review it before I post it, can't think that straight right now, so please excuse any typos, misspelled words, and sentences that might not make sense.

Why isn't the doctor calling me back?

I called at 9 a.m., as they suggested, and got the medical assistant's voicemail. I know that they are busy and it's just routine for them, but for me, it's the world. Maybe I will try calling again in a few minutes.

God, I wish there were a way to predict the future, to know what's going to happen. Or maybe that would just make things worse. I'm going to publish this now, then try some deep breathing. Please say a little prayer for me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Server Does Double Duty

My house isn't large. It fits my family well enough, has a beautiful brick fireplace, and enough of a wooded backyard to make me never want to move. It's been feeling a little tight, though, mostly due to a couple pieces of furniture that were too big for the space, and weren't serving enough of a purpose to justify that space.

One piece held my television. I only have one big television downstairs (a small one is in the kitchen to watch cooking shows) and though it's large, it's a flat screen. The bulky, black piece from Pier 1 was fine looking, but it's size and dark color overpowered the room.

I decided a while ago to begin the hunt for something smaller and white to take it's place. I love all the pieces at Savannah Hope Vintage; they are old and beautiful. They have great lines, and were built at a time when people took pride in their work and did things right. Solid wood, dovetailed drawers, and since the furniture is used, it's a very green choice to buy vintage.

After peeking around a couple of times, I finally asked the owner, Andrea, if she had anything that might work. She mentioned a sideboard, and when I looked, it was exactly perfect. Great lines, and amazing attention to detail. I took pictures with my cell, and they aren't great, but they drive the point home.  (I promise to take better pics for you to see, soon.)

The empty black piece, and corner of the Savannah sideboard.
I unwired the t.v., cable, and dvd player. Then I took everything out of the black piece. I moved everything into the Savannah piece (which has tons of storage space, and is Hallelujah! on wheels), then I rewired everything, moved the piece into place. Ward would have been the one to do this, but he is newly on crutches with a broken ankle, so I thought I'd give it a try. It amazed me that it was so easy to do, and I learned that the biggest hurdle for me was thinking that rewiring and moving furniture was a man's job. 

After. My beautiful sideboard with cable and t.v.
I wish the pic were better so you could see the amazing detail.
Later, my ex-husband came to pick up my son and was kind enough to take the giant piece to the basement. I did need help with that, since it's so bulky. My son loved seeing his father help, too, which was a very nice thing.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mi casa, La mia casa, Ma maison. (Non pulire la mia casa.)

For years, I had people clean my house. It started just after my son was born. Though I cannot tell you how I found Elizabeth - I just can't remember - I can say that she was a blessing. Elizabeth was a woman who moved to New Jersey from Poland, and started her own cleaning company. At first, she cleaned with one other woman. Later, as her business grew, she hired other Polish women to clean her clients' houses for her. She would drop off and pick up the cleaning girls, say hello, and take the check. There would be one or two girls for a few months, who would inevitably leave Elizabeth and get replaced by someone else. Maggie was our favorite. Still, I miss Maggie.

They were great. They would knock first, then use the key to open the front door. When my son was little, we called the cleaning ladies "Ding ding boom boom" because they would ring the bell twice, knock twice, then yell "hello?" I would reply to them, "Hello" then look to my son and say, quietly, "Ding ding boom boom." I could leave dirty socks on the floor and they would pick them up. They washed dishes and also floors. They put my son's toys away. I could leave my diamond ring out, or even cash, and nothing was touched. They were completely trustworthy, and always showed up.

Two houses and nine years later, however, I started noticing that they didn't really clean, they just tidied up. They mopped, yes, and vacuumed, but not under things. The couch had a family of dust bunnies living under it, and the space between the cushions and the base were full of a year's worth of crumbs. The shelves weren't dusted; things were just moved around and out of place, which drove me nuts. And the house stunk of bleach and toxic cleaning products. (They blew through and hated my natural products, and asked, no Begged!, "Windex, please... and bleach!" until I submitted.)

The method of cleaning hadn't actually changed. I had. I wanted my house to really be mine. I wanted to know where everything went, and wanted my photos and prized items to remain where I'd left them. Week after week, I would rip though the house complaining about the fact that my grandmother's photos had moved, or the blankets weren't where they were supposed to be. My son couldn't find his guitar picks, or the sketches he'd left on his table. 

It was clear that I needed to start cleaning my house. My soul needed to know every nook and cranny of it. I called Elizabeth to tell her I no longer needed her services, and then I began to clean my own house. I was fearful that I wouldn't be able to keep up, so I was constantly cleaning. After about six months (when I thought the phase would wane), I got more into it. And now, after about a year, I cannot believe that I ever chose to let somebody else have the pleasure of cleaning my house.

It's so strange to me. What once seemed like a luxury later became an issue to be resolved. Now, when I look around and see a clean, well-organized house, I take great pride in my job well done. 

My house. It's my house.

Why I Love Art

Art is so relative. There are great works of art that are loved by many, and we can view them and respect them without necessarily knowing why, exactly, we love them. The Mona Lisa, Petite Fleurs, The David.

For me, choosing art is very personal. It's not as much about design, or use of color, space. It's something else entirely. I know the minute I see something if I love it or don't. I have all sorts of art in my house. Old framed paintings from the late 1800s that were my maternal grandparent's pieces that I think came from Italy. Black and white photographs of loved ones in garage sale frames, including a photo of an unknown (rather than taking it out and just using the frame) mother and her kids.  Beautiful photographs taken by my friend, Nelson Chan, and my boyfriend, Ward Vogt. Drawings that my son did, in gilded ornate frames around the house. And my wall of collected images, that make no sense except that all of the frames are silver or gold painted wood. One is small, about 2" x 3" that I got at a second hand store for $2. Many are from garage sales. A handful are expensive pieces from artists I discovered in my travels.

Most recently, I fell madly in love with a piece of art called, "The house was very beautiful/ la casa era molto bella" by Katy Keuter. It actually had these words painted on it, "The house was very beautiful / la casa era molto bella. I had never seen such a beautiful view before / non avevo visto mai prima d'ora un panorama cosi bello." I loved it, but couldn't figure out where to put it, and so I waited. And waited. And then the painting sold. I was devastated. After that, I kept returning to the artist's etsy store, looking at other paintings. I kept getting hung up on a few that I loved (I love them all), and couldn't make a decision. I realized that I needed to just go with my heart, and pick the painting that most captured me. Here it is: 

As it is sold (to me), I don't think the listing will still show. But here is what the painter wrote about it (beautiful):

"deciding to stay" (an original painting) by Katy Keuter

"This painting changed so many times. The first layer was 'express yourself' painted across the canvas. The next layer was my little dog, Cubana, running next to a house. The third layer was an angel with golden wings that slowly turned into a big white flower. Finally this woman with some wrinkles and little bits of color in her hair showed up and decided to stay."

Currently, the painting is on it's way from Italy (yay, Italia!) and I am just so excited to get it. In the process of hunting, I've been writing back and forth to the artist and I just love her, which makes the painting all the more valuable to me. You need to check out her store. She sells paintings, and little bags and a great belt. She also sells a scarf called "red plaid i love you so (a quilted scarf)" that I love so very much (esp. the photo, which is heartwarming).   Click here to see her shop: kt40

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

So much for First Mom

I pride myself on being First Mom. First mom means that I am the first mom to get to school and wait for my son.

It started in kindergarten. I didn't want my son to ever have to wait for me, but there was a lot of traffic in the kindergarten circle and I was worried I'd be late. I decided to just get there really early for a prime spot, sit in my car, and read a book while waiting. It made life easy.

In first grade, I'd get out of the car and stand by the classroom and wave. It wasn't planned. One day, I was just peeking in, seeing what I can see. My son saw me, loved that I was there, and asked me to do it again, and again. In rain, in snow, in chilling weather, I'd stand outside. No matter what.

Second grade was easier. I could park right in front of the classroom and he'd see me. I read, talked to moms who walked by, and in nicer weather, I'd park then walk the Boulevard.  Third grade was the same, and by then, I started walking with other moms. The Wildwood walkers, we called ourselves.

Fourth grade (this year), I am back in the kindergarten circle. It's the main pick-up and drop off area for the front door. I am not sure why they call it the kindergarten circle, actually.

Today, for the first time ever, I was not only late, but 45 minutes late. Here's what happened. Apparently, the kids had early dismissal. I wasn't aware of it, didn't get the email in our virtual backpack, and didn't see anything about half days in October on the calendar. I did see early dismissal the day before Thanksgiving, though, so I made the assumption that the calendar I saw would have marked all half days.

Having not been to the gym in nearly eight months, Ward and I decided to go back today. The gym does not have cell service, and we walked in at 12:45 p.m. When we left an hour later, I saw I'd had a number of missed calls from the school. I called back and the secretary said, "Johnny's here." Of course he was. School was in session, I believed. I asked, "Is he okay?" And they said, "Yes, he's just waiting for you." I asked why, and they said school was dismissed at 1 p.m.

1 p.m.  Oh my. What must he have been thinking?

He told me how he'd run happily out of school looking for me, and I wasn't there. He searched and searched, and no mom. After 15 minutes, he went into the school to tell them I never came to pick him up, and the secretaries began calling me. Another 30 minutes later, I saw the missed calls, and called back. Ultimately, he waited 45 minutes and I failed at being there for him.

He thought I'd forgotten about him.

So much for first mom.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Into The Heart of Italy Dot Com (Mi auguro buona fortuna)

Is this a trick?

I just saw a commerical featuring Marisa Tomei, Dan Cortese, and Rocco DiSpirito. It says something about them cooking Italian foods and experiencing Italy, and yada yada yada Into the Heart of Italy Dot Com.

If you've been reading, and paying attention, you will know that I have all-of-a-sudden gotten deeply inspired to root back to the Italian percentage of my heritage, and learn the language. I've been listening to Italian lessons in song form, targeted at school aged Americans, attempting to understand and remember that "c" sounds like "chee." Reading "Keeping the Feast" only added fuel to (find my Italian roots) fire.

As I was logging into the website, my computer locked up, went blank, shut down, and will not reboot,  so I have yet to see what it's all about. I did see that it's a Bertoli website, however, and that there is a video with the Tomei, Cortese, and DiSpirito in it (random). They are in Tuscany, sitting outdoors drinking coffee. I am not sure what's next, as I have been forced to bogart my son's computer just to finish this blog.

However, I can say that I hope it's all shot in Italy, with cooking lessons from real Italian chefs. I hope that it offers tips I didn't know, in accents I long to hear. I hope it takes us to street vendors in Rome, and Venice, that it truly takes me into the heart of Italy.

And that it's more than just a plug for Bertoli products.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Countdown

Tomorrow is my son's Halloween party. I've been planning (sort of) for weeks. I've been thinking about what needed to be done, gathering supplies, and decorating. Yesterday, I rolled the marshmallows on sticks into melted chocolate and then sprinkles. They sat on parchment until the chocolate hardened, and then were individually bagged. Today, I tied these adorable little tags around them that say "Happy Halloween."

Tags by Little Pumpkin Papers on

Next, I gathered all the items that I will be putting out for our scavenger hunt, including masks, a wig, pixie sticks, colored fangs, rings, bones sunglasses, candy in little plastic heads, the list goes on... I put them in bags and boxes to make it easier to trek them out to the backyard tomorrow morning. I cannot set the hunt up too early, because animals and, perhaps, children might make their way into the backyard for early picking.

Just some of the party stash

I got the plates and napkins out, made lists for what I will need to get tomorrow (ice, "Caution" tape) before the party. I have to be well planned, because the party is at 4:30 p.m., and Ward and I are going to hang his art at his exhibit space at 2 p.m. The day has to run like a well-oiled machine, or it's gonna be trouble.

I've made the games list: scavenger hunt, bobbing for apples, mummy contest, three-legged race, and musical chairs. The food has been ordered. I'm ready to go.

Sleep won't come, though, because Round 3 of my endless course of steroids (for my unbearably clogged and ringing ear) is keeping me blasted awake. Oh dear.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Beeswax Candle Trick

Are beeswax candles magic? Probably not, but they may work some magic in the kitchen.

After reading my blog post about my eyes welling up with tears while cutting onions, a reader and friend, Debbie Z., commented something worth sharing. She read, or maybe heard, that Martha Stewart says that burning a beeswax candle while cutting onions will keep your eyes from tearing. Though Miss Debbie never tried it, it sure sounds like it's worth a shot.

Today, at Grassroots Natural Market in Denville, I saw a display of Big Dipper Wax Works Beeswax candles and remembered what Debbie Z. says. I was delighted at my find, and the Big Dipper candles are just plain gorgeous to have on the counter (pictured above in my kitchen - see?) so I got one.

Now, during my most recent cutting extravaganza, I was wise enough to cut and freeze a bunch of onions and I won't need to be cutting for a week or two. I didn't want you to wait for the tip, though, and I wanted to send a hearty thanks to Debbie for passing it along.  The next time I'm dicing onions, I will give it a try and let you all know how it goes.

Thanks again, Debbie Z., and everyone please keep the tips coming!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Mother's Heirloom Stocking (and mine, and perhaps, yours too)

I've always been crazy jealous over my mother's childhood Christmas stocking. A friend of her mother's had knit it for her when she was just a kid. Her name is knitted on it, and there are various little plastic Christmas charms sewed on. She still has it. I always wanted one just like it.

For the past ten years, I've searched high and low for someone to make a stocking as special for my son. And for me, too. Just months after I'd given up hope, I was visiting Savannah Hope Vintage, looking at the EmmySox they sell. The topic of stockings came up, and Andrea (the shop's owner) told me that Emmy could make stockings for Christmas.

What? What's that I heard?

I can have my very own hand-knit stocking like the one my mother had. And my son can, too. And Ward, and the girls. Well, I am in hog heaven. I've ordered five, and I have scoured etsy for the best  little plastic charms to sew onto them. Good luck horseshoes, mini telephones (you know, like people used to use), cool donkeys, fish. I couldn't be more excited.

EmmyStockings ($25) will be available at Savannah Hope Vintage soon. I highly suggest you call or visit right away if you'd like to order one. My guess is that they will fly out the door.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Trucks and Stockings

My day started off with the oil man. At somewhere around 7:30 a.m., the Dixon Oil truck pulled up to refill my oil. This is a blessing to many, but especially to me. In the past, I've run out of oil at least twice annually, only on the coldest days of the year. My oil tank is tilted or piped improperly, I'm not sure, but that means that the last 8" of oil are untappable. Essentially, this means I run out of heat before I run out of oil, so the oil truck idling outside my home is always a really good thing.

As I was leaving to take my son to school, a second truck pulled up. A white work truck. My Italians are back, to put a window in my garage, and to paint my recently repaired shed. More good news.

Finally, after returning from school drop off, a third truck appeared. A teal blue Knight Electric truck was parked in my driveway. The electricians are here to move around some exterior lights, and to install my vintage pendant light from my favorite shop, Savannah Hope Vintage

Vintage light from Savannah Hope Vintage. The photo doesn't do it justice; you have to come see it for yourself.
Which reminds me, they are offering hand-knit Christmas stockings called EmmyStockings (great story, about Emmy - go to her page and read about it by clicking here). I ordered five for me, Ward, and the kids, and if you have any sense of sentimentality and want stockings for your family to treasure forever, I suggest you go order yours! See my blog on stockings tomorrow.

What a morning!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Best Day Is Today

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.  -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I remember when I first heard, "Live each day as if it were your last." I was a rebellious teenager, and my response was something to the effect of, 'Okay, so live hard, party, smoke, and eat whatever I want then?' Of course, that isn't at all what it means. Essentially, it means that all we have is this moment. 

No one needed to tell me to live like this. I live each day with the knowledge that death can come at any moment, and that anything can happen to any single one of us. People sometimes see this as being morbid, and perhaps it is to some degree. It's true, though, and it helps me to live each day as fully as possible.

This means that I tell everyone that I love how much I love them, often, and with passion. I don't like to leave in the middle of any fight; it leaves me regretful. I do everything that I can to share joy and be joyful with loved ones, and I rarely spend time with people that I don't absolutely enjoy being with. I never sacrifice my time with family and close friends for something or someone that is not very important to me. 

There are days that are tough - rainy, depressing days that don't urge on any degree of positivity. It's those days that are most challenging to embrace. Focusing on what's important and the good that exists, is where I find salvation. Being thankful for life, for living, and for the people that I love.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Day of Tears

I stood in my kitchen, blinking away tears. My son walked in from the next room and asked, "Mom? What's wrong?" Pointing at the counter I gestured at the white pile before me and blurted, "Onions."

Cutting onions, tear-free, is a task I have yet to master. I've been told that you just breathe through your mouth, but that technique hasn't worked for me. I've put my t-shirt over my mouth and nose, worn glasses, just about anything imaginable, and every time, tears.

Tomorrow, I will be making slow-cooker beef chili, and so I prepped today by chopping the onions. I put them in my mini food processor to let it do the work. I am great at chopping garlic, and herbs, veggies, too. Onions, though, just leave my face wet with tears. Still, to get them in the mini I have to quarter them, at the very least, and usually I cut them into bite size chunks before I process them.

Instead of doing this every time I have to use onions for a meal, I've decided to process a couple of onions and freeze them, limiting the tears down to just one day per week.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Costume Party #6

For the past six years, I have been hosting a costume party for my son and his friends. It began when I first moved to Mountain Lakes, just after my son had entered his first and only year of preschool, at Smoke Rise Cooperative. We moved into a place called the Village, known first as G.I. Village (the homes were originally built to be affordable for G.I.s returning from the war), and later as Diaper Village. Now it's just the Village. In my town of enormous multimillion dollar homes, the village is a five block collection of Capes, sitting close together, that range for somewhere around a half million dollars. Actually, they were Capes, but many people have built additions or just plain ripped them down and rebuilt. They still have a better price tag than many of the other homes in town.

On Halloween, the Village reigns supreme. Our neighborhood is set up in such a way that kids can easily get from house to house, without dealing with sloping lawns or two lane streets to cross. Our town closes off certain areas made exclusive to trick-or-treaters, and the village is one of them. They don't allow cars to drive though, and police monitor everything on bicycles. Homes have parties of all sorts, and tailgate, offering trick-or-treaters and friends food like chili, sandwiches, and bagels. Some pass out cups of sangria, bottles of beer. In years past, I made Cuban sandwiches, and pressed Italian sandwiches. Trick or treating officially begins at 4 p.m. and goes until 8 p.m.  and we get between 500 - 700 kids in that time, depending on the weather.

In celebration of Halloween, I stared hosting an outdoor costume party. My house can't comfortably fit 30 kids, but my yard sure can. I had it catered, and since the kids were so young, the parents stayed. The party was a hit, and continued year after year. I do it a few weeks before Halloween, both to kick off the holiday season, and to have plenty of time for a rain date option.

Walt Disney World used to have an Easter egg hunt annually that was basically a grassy yard full of yummy candy and big, swirly lollipops.  I so looked forward to that every year (we spent every Easter break in WDW). Giant lollipops sticking out of the ground, just waiting to be grabbed. Of course, those same lollipops were also available in the WDW Village Market for a few dollars, but it was far more fun to claim them on the festive, green lawn.
The Disney Easter hunt made such an impression on me that I decided to try and replicate it at my house, but on a smaller scale. The first year I did the hunt, it was every one's favorite part of the party. It beat out the entertainment, the games, everything. And so, it continued. This year, (spoiler alert) I went shopping for hunt items and got skulls, giant pencils, masks, candy, fangs, spider rings, and those big giant lollipops. On the day of the hunt, we put the goodies out just an hour or two before the party starts, so that animals - bears, especially - don't come for a picnic. And so that nothing melts. (One year, I put out 20 giant Hershey's bars, all of which melted in the early afternoon sun, all over the lawn.)

The pile of party stuff. The skull is 2' high and the cat is a beanbag toss.

Our party this year is set to start in the late afternoon, so that it ends just around dusk. The kids are older now, fourth graders, and it's time to tween things up. In lieu of kiddie entertainment, as I was hard pressed to find anything suitable for kids my son's age, I decided to do an old fashioned Halloween party, sans formal entertainment. We are going to have three legged race, do bobbing for apples, and mummifying each other. Fun stuff, for kids who aren't so little anymore.

I have a giant, green glittery skull, about 2" high, for the table, and I am going to go get pumpkins tomorrow with the kids and Ward. The party comes up slow but is over quickly, so its important that we make the most of it, both in advance and on the day of the party.

Because if you blink, you just might miss it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Where Are You Going?

I've said this before, but in a less compact way. Thanks to Mr. Cohen for this brillant Op-Ed piece.

Please read the Op-Ed I've linked to below (ironically, online) and then go buy a book at the bookstore, preferably an independent one; or write a letter, stamp and mail it. Always, always hand-write your thank you notes and mail them. Make some dinner tonight, from scratch, or at least almost scratch. Call a friend, from a land line (please say you have one) instead of radiating your brain on the cell. Stop playing Farmville and go to a real farm. Go pumpkin picking or apple picking, and then make a pie. Bring it to a neighbor.

Start living in the real world instead of the virtual one. 

Here's that Op Ed. Print and save this. Maybe, even, make copies and send them to your friends, scribbling a note at the top with your thoughts. Change or Perish by Roger Cohen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Small Town, Big Market. Or Small Market?

I sometimes forget how small Mountain Lakes really is. Living here, it seems larger than life, yet everywhere I go, I know everybody.

Walking on the Boulevard, I pass familiar faces walking in both directions. Cars honk. Neighborhood dogs sneak a lick of my passing hand. At the supermarket, I cannot make it through the store without seeing someone I know, who's child goes to school with mine, or who works out at my gym. The good news is that it is very much like Main Street U.S.A. But it's for sure that I cannot go incognito anywhere.

After school on Monday, my son wanted to stop at a place called the Mountain Lakes Market for an egg sandwich. The Market is a gourmet deli type market that sells cold and hot foods, soups, coffee, and the like. They also do lots of catering. It's a nearly freestanding dark wood space, with a fireplace, bookshelves, and a wall of windows. It's beautiful.

While walking in to pick up his sandwich, I noticed that there is a new section of shelves carrying dry goods like pasta, and gourmet olive oil, pasta sauce, steak sauce, and more. They already sell gallons of milk, and eggs. Bread, too. Now, when I need some gourmet pasta, or a bottle of hot sauce, I can go to the market. Not the big, corporate chain, but the small, local favorite.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Welcome to Moutain Lakes. Here's Some Garbage Bags.

I found myself rushing from school drop off this morning to Anchor True Value Hardware this morning to buy some garbage bags. The waste truck comes once a week, sometime around 10 a.m., which means if I miss it, I have a week with my pails full of rotting food and other nonsense.

If it were just plain old garbage bags, it wouldn't be a worry, and I'd have been okay. But here in Mountain Lakes, we have to put our garbage bags into green bags marked "Mountain Lakes" or they won't be picked up. Years ago, when I first moved to town, my friend Pete told me they did this because back when Lakers paid for garbage annually, people would get pissed because they may only have one bag whereas their neighbors (with four kids, two dogs, and a nanny) had ten. Instead of having the garbage paid as a fee, it's now done per bag. It does make sense, though logistically it can be rough (unless you plan it out properly).

At the hardware store, I was telling the man who helped me (the receipt says Russ Price, I think, but I'm not sure if that's who it was) that all I ever ask for for Christmas are Mountain Lakes garbage bags and fire logs. Necessities that I never seem to have when I need them most. He said that people have come in to get a case of bags for new home owners as housewarming gifts. How smart is that?

I got to thinking that a lovely Mountain Lakes holiday gift would be a couple rolls of garbage bags ($12.50 for smalls, $25.00 for larges), accompanied by a Mountain Lakes holiday ornament (sold at Surprises in Store), and a pack of Celebrate Mountain Lakes note cards (available on etsy).

Mountain Lakes garbage bags are available for sale at Anchor True Value Hardware on Route 46 in Denville, and at the Mountain Lakes Market on Midvale Road in Mountain Lakes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lap Dog

I just met the sweetest dog in the world. I won't say her name, to keep things private, but let me tell you, she made quite an impression.

She is human like in her ability to communicate, following me around and looking up at me with her long-lashed eyes. She kept nudging me when I was talking to her owner, my friend, who explained that she just likes a hand on her. Apparently, it gives her comfort which I totally get. Frankly, I'm the same way. 

While all that is adorable, the thing that prompted me to write was what happened during the last five minutes of my time shared with her. My friend was driving me to my car, and was then going to take her dog on a walk, so we all got in the car together. It seems that this pup routinely rides in the front seat of the car. After I got in and she got in the back, she began literally nudging her nose forward, across my lap, and then shimmied her body along. It was both hysterical and adorable. Within ten seconds, she was laying across my lap with her nose on my knee. Mind you, she is not actually a lap dog. She's like, 75 lbs of dog. And boy, was she adorable. My friend offered to send her into the backseat, and after I said no thanks, she apologized until we both started laughing.

There is simply no way one could have a bad day with a sugar like this around.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Building A Domestic Goddess Army

I had a conversation today with an old friend who's in a fairly new relationship. I always love to listen to people who are in the throes of new love, as they are still in discovery mode, learning new things about each other. It was great to hear how happy he is. As he was talking about her, you could sense the joy and relief he feels from being oh! so in love. His girlfriend is a modern, beautiful young girl who is wonderfully independent. And domestic.

He was telling me how she decorated his house so perfectly, making it feel like home, and that she cooks often and really well. I agreed that being able to cook and care for the home is very important (stay with me, ladies) because it's what makes a house a home. (Don't agree? Think about the things that bring you comfort: a special meal a hand-knit blanket; a clean, organized space to put your feet up.) We were talking about how it's so tough nowadays to find a woman who actually enjoys doing all that. It's unfortunate. If it were up to me, I'd build a domestic goddess army.

I marvel at how I get joy from doing the simplest of domestic tasks. Baking cookies, for example, or scrubbing down the countertops. There is an immediate reward (cookies; a clean countertop) which we don't often get to experience. I especially love folding my boyfriend's laundry. I get a feeling of satisfaction, like I've done something good for him, and it's great to see a pile of clothes and towels get sorted down into t-shirts, towels, socks, etc. 

I don't, however, love vacuuming. I do love a freshly vacuumed floor, but I hate lugging the giant barrel around the house, dealing with the cord as it gets wrapped around furniture, caught on table legs. Then there are the gobs of dust and hair gathered on the bristles of the wood floor attachment, that I have to pull off, along with the attachment, so that the pipe has room to suck it all up (though it does make a helluva sound).

Currently, I am learning the art of starting a fire. The base of kindling and balled up paper, the twigs unevenly placed, and then the wood stacked at the very top, leaving room for air. While I've had quite a time trying to master this, when I see the flames in my fireplace, it's a total gift.

A friend recently wrote to me, "Who knew you were Martha Stewart?" It just doesn't get much better.