Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Want... (and what I am ready to burn)

Dear Baby New Year (and for my dearest friend (you know who you are), I am referring to the real one, not the bad one).
Okay, let's begin again...

Dear Baby New Year,

I am in dire need of your grace. This past year has been shtty shtty bang bang for sure. I could write volumes on all the bad stuff that happened to me and my loved ones, but since privacy is important, I will only speak about my year.

Baby New Year, last year started off with nearly all of the people that I love getting the vomit virus, and though I didn't get it, it was six weeks of wondering who would get it next, how I could help care for them, and when it would all be over.

All was well for a while after that, a couple bumps in the road here and there, but nothing to worry my pretty little head about, until August came. And then there I was, the girl who never gets hurt or sick, in rolling months of agonizing ailments and injuries. First, as I was heading out to a long anticipated weekend at Daddy-O's in LBI, I scratched my eyeball (corneal abrasion). A handful of patches, a bottle of Advil, W tending to my every need, three weeks of antibiotics, and two weeks of steroid drops later, my vision was back to normal. My ear, however, became clogged.

Five weeks of a clogged ear, four rounds of Methylprednisolone six packs and a super specialist who put me on 60 mg of Prednisone ran my body down so much that I ended up getting an ER diagnosis of shingles on the Saturday that followed Thanksgiving.

And, Baby New Year, that's just the physical stuff. There was so much more. God, so much more. I won't bring you down with the rest of it. Thankfully, I have my boyfriend, who is my rock, and my happy-go-lucky son to keep me going. And the girls, who always cheer me up. And family, and my good friends.

If you would please help me to have a better 2011, I am leaving you an offering in return. A fat loaf of crusty Italian bread, some cold hard cash, and a bottle of booze. Wait, a good bottle of booze. For you (and for my sanity), I will be burning a small Mr. Old Year, to get rid of all the toxicity that existed in my life in 2010.

Suddenly, in the past week, life has taken a turn for the better, which has offered me some degree of hope. Baby New Year, please keep it going. For the past year's problems, please give us some sort of positive reinforcement.

If I could ask for anything, this is what I'd want: Privacy, and protection from all the unkind that exists. Bring lots of sunshine, green grass, and new growth on my trees. (No need to send grubs.) Continue to allow me the support of my good friends, and of course, my man. Health for my family, and everyone we love, would be key. And if you wouldn't mind, get me back into those size 4 jeans that are piled high in my closet.

Getting out my yellow underwear and riding a wing of hope. Help me out here, man.

Yours truly,
the Domestic Goddess

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bird's Nest (Christmas tree graveyard)

I am following in the ecologically sound footsteps of W's parents, and starting my very own Christmas tree graveyard today.

I visited their Christmas tree graveyard last Easter, as part of a property large Easter Egg hunt. Their land is vast and wooded, and far in the back, behind the fence that contains the pool and the yard's proper area, is a wealth of past years' Christmas trees. Each year, after the holiday has passed, and the Christmas tree's needles start to drop off in clumps, W's parents take their tree and drag it an acre or two out, to a spot where all the other previous trees have been laid to rest. The idea is that animals can use the remains for nests and houses.

Knowing that the tree won't be made into wood chips, or trashed, but instead will return to the woods gives me a peaceful feeling.

Last summer, after a particularly bad storm that caused trees to fall en mass, damaging and destroying houses and taking out power lines across the state, I decided to have some of my larger trees cleaned up. No trees were sacrificed entirely, but I did have some large, dying branches removed. Later that day, as W and I were barbecuing dinner for the kids (who were playing in the backyard), we saw a giant hawk swoop overhead and go to a nest in the tree. The nest was made entirely of large branches and old leaves. We thought that it was the hawk's nest, that the hawk lived in my very tree, and I got excited at the prospect and continued to watch.

The hawk perched gently on the nest, leaned it's head in, and pecked at something with it's beak. Was she feeding her baby? After a moment or two, we saw the hawk pick up a baby squirrel with it's talons, then swoop back overhead (about 15 feet above us) to a tree nearby on the other side of my yard.

I always wondered if things would have been different if I hadn't cut those branches. One was large and had served as visual protection for the squirrel. The removal of that branch allowed a clear (bird's eye) view of the nest, sealing the baby squirrel's fate.

Today, I will bring my Christmas tree back into the woods behind my house, to give back to nature. Perhaps it will serve as a nest for a different squirrel, or many a family of birds. It is the first of many to find its resting place in my backyard, the newest addition of Christmas tree graveyards.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Inspiration (cleaning house)

What do you want your life to look like? Do you want it to be easy and peaceful, or do want drama (excitement)? Deciding what you want your life to look like is most important before you figure out the things you'll need to do to implement change.

I always get to this point right after Christmas. The Christmas tree, the very one that was beloved until the 26th of December, begins to look outdated and dreary. In fact, it's almost as if I need to pull the colors through to make them richer, HDR them. Add to that the fact that it's cold, and today, well, it's snowing. I long for green grass, open windows, and flowers in bloom. Though I cannot change the season or the weather, and have no desire to pack and travel away, I can start changing the inside of my house. I want it to feel fresher, more open.

I start with removing the Christmas items that warmed my house up just after Thanksgiving. Warm now feels suffocating. I've taken most bits down and stored them away. In addition, I am debating whether or not to take down my Christmas tree before New Year's Day. I will be hosting a joint birthday party for Ward and his mom, so I want more space in the house for our guests. At the same time, I know that keeping the tree up through the New Year is a good rule. I am not sure what to do.

I've been reorganizing my office (I haven't used it to see clients for nearly eight months) to make it more functional on a day to day basis. I'd love to turn my desk around so that it faces the door, instead of the current wall facing position, but all the wires... hey wait, I just got an idea (thank you blogger). I will put a smaller table behind the desk to hold the phone and printer, so that my work space can face out. Hurray!

I have created a new (again) filing system, and I'm preparing my annual bill binder. I am getting rid of old clothes and unwanted home items, games, movies, and thinking much harder about the new items I'd be bringing into the house (and not buying them). However, I did buy new bedding. It's Cynthia Rowley Chandeliere Floral, and it's colors are so springlike. Greens, blues, yellows, and white. Hopeful. Speaking of which, Rowley once made me a small silk bag, and sent it to me after an interview I did with her. Where did I put that bag? It was so cute. She'd hand-sewn it, seemingly from scrap fabric. I put it somewhere safe so as not to lose it...

Any magazines that are more than a month old will be taken to the gym (to be read by members) or recycled.* Otherwise, looking at them everyday, trying to decide what to do with them, will begin to weigh on my mind. I hate recycling magazines unless they've, literally, been read to shreds. Knowing that a magazine was only read once before being recycled kills me. It's like throwing out eleven eggs that have just expired, and knowing that only one was enjoyed. Why didn't we eat more of them?

I am currently reading the January issue of Real Simple magazine, and they mention National Letter Writing Week, which begins on January 9th, the day of Ward's opening at Drip Cafe in Madison. I am excited about this, since I love writing letters more than pretty much anything. (The opening is going to be amazing, BTW, and you all should come and get WVD note cards to use for that special week.) The magazine also has articles on being happy, what happiness is, and how we can recognize it. It's those little moments, they say. Tonight, I had a ton of those moments. Happiness in looking at my son, laughing with the girls, and a private moment in the kitchen while I was making dinner. Those are just a few of a hundred I've had today. Holding onto those moments, and treasuring them is the key to happiness, or so they say.

I recently received a pack of hand painted, handmade note cards from my friend, the immensely talented writer, Hilary Thayer Hamann. Receiving the package, and then seeing the beautiful note cards inside (frame worthy artwork) brought me to tears. It's these moments that are to be coveted. Her books -- one written so far, though I am anxiously anticipating her next novel -- are sure to be be read for generations, and studied at universities. If you haven't read her book yet, Anthropology of An American Girl, you should go treat yourself to it today. When I saw the book in the bookstore, I loved the cover, read the back, and thought it seemed interesting. I opened to the first page, and started reading to see if her writing held my attention. Ten minutes later, I decided to sit down, and after twenty more minutes of reading, I thought it best to just buy the book and take it home. I've read the new edition, and the first edition, and I have collected two signed copies of the first edition (hard- and softcover, and bid on and won a signed copy of the current hardcover). I completely connect to the character Edie, in a way that deepens my experience on this earth. This is a book that I will read again and again, for years to come. I even have a lending copy to share with friends.

I posed a question at the beginning of this post, "What do you want your life to look like?" Let me share my answer with you.

I want my life to be quiet and easy. I want simple, good meals. I want health, for me and my loved ones. I want a clean house with well-manicured but relaxed property, beautiful art and photography, and rich, vintage furniture from Savannah Hope Vintage (my grandparents bedroom furniture is currently being resuscitated, piece by piece, by Andrea at Savannah Hope). I want to spend quality time alone with my boyfriend, and with Johnny, and the girls. Family time, too. I want culture, for myself and my son. Art, music. And of course, fun moments with friends (and I am plotting and planning a champagne party in celebration of Valentine's Day, that will most probably coincide with the Love Is. art show). I want to keep learning, growing; I want to read lots of books. I want to go to the beach in summer, and have a fire lit in the fireplace on most chilly nights. I want to kiss W meaningfully, and as often as possible. Even now.

I am going to shut down here, and get to reading the book, Great House, a signed copy, graciously gifted to me by my ex-husband's wonderful new wife. Thank you, Melissa, for such a thoughtful gift. Reading allows me to experience the world from the eyes of others. It's such a blessing. Little E just started reading the Twilight series. Seeing her walk around with that thick book gives me such joy. She loves reading at such a young age. Oh, my heart.

I ask you again, What do you want your life to look like? Knowing how you'd like it to look is the first step. Start this new year with a plan to have the life you've always wanted. Then live it.

*Anyone who is interested in reading my magazines after I am done with them, please let me know, and I will happily send them to you. I have a subscription to Rolling Stone, House Beautiful, New Jersey Monthly, and Nylon, and then I usually buy lots of randoms, like New York, Real Simple, and others.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Feelin' So Fly Like A G6

I just got back from the most wonderful pre-holiday celebration. My boyfriend's parents hosted a Christmas Eve One Day Early party at their house. I wanted to tell you all about it, so I wrote a few paragraphs about how the night went, who was there, and what we did, but then I deleted it. It's impossible for me to write about the night in a way that would honor it, and also, I want to keep it personal. It was that good.

I had the most fantastic night. I've been complaining about all that's wrong lately, and tonight reminded me of all that's right. Love, family, celebrations. Everything was right. Everything. Nine children under the age of ten ran around the house, laughing. I was totally in the moment, and very thankful.

I am keeping this short, because I am still high from the happiness of the night and I want to go to sleep encompassed by this feeling. I just thought that since I've shared all my problems with you, I should also share the good stuff.

Life can be pretty damn amazing.

Newton's Third Law

"To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions."  
-- Sir Isaac Newton

Tonight, as I rolled my hot dogs up in pizza dough to make Dogs in a Sleeping Bag (aka: big pigs in a blanket) for a get together tomorrow, I kept getting visits from my son. He was hungry and asking for snacks. First, a bagel. Then, a hot dog, right off my baking tray. Next, a bowl of strawberries, with lots of wheat germ and a little chocolate syrup. He came back again, for more strawberries. The wheat germ was plentiful, but the chocolate syrup was pushing hard for it's last sputter. It made the most grotesque sounds as it attempted to clear itself of it's last drops of syrup. As I stood in my kitchen, rolling the dogs, then cleaning the kitchen, loading the dishwasher, and receiving visits time and again from my son, I realized how lucky I am.

Quietly, in the warm kitchen, I stood thinking of how quickly life goes by. 

All the things that I thought mattered, didn't. What mattered in that moment was the baking, the cleaning, and those sweet little moments with my son. Things that I may have been pondering, examining, or projecting were irrelevant. Life is ever-changing and the only constant I have is the moment that I am experiencing. Life is short. I've learned that banking on a future, however optimistically practical, can throw you for a loop. Expecting nothing and being in the moment, experiencing what's happening as it's happening, and feeling what you are feeling, is enough.

After my son went to sleep, I spoke with my friend Carly, who is currently living in Florida. We spoke for over an hour, reminiscing over the past, and updating each other on our current lives. The last time we really spent any good amount of time together was about five years ago. We were both single, and she spent her weekends sleeping at my house. I hate sleeping alone, so when my son would go to his dad's, she would sleep over. We would talk all night, 'til the sun came up most nights, and I honestly couldn't imagine wanting life to change. We talked until we were hoarse, after a night of dancing, scantily clad, regardless of the fact that it was 21* outside. 

Life did change, though. Slowly. The change crept in, and by the time it was complete, neither she nor I had realized it. We hadn't felt the jutting thrust of a new direction. It eased its way in. I imagine that the neighbors, who I am sure believed that she was my girlfriend, figured we'd broken up. A new car was in the driveway on weekends, my (then) boyfriend, and the transition felt seamless. I never expected things to change, but they did, and surprisingly, it was okay.

Tonight, she reminded me of those carefree times, and also of all the reasons I love her. She told me how special she thinks I am. I needed to hear it. And even though she is miles away, a 24 hour drive, she's still as close to me as she was 5 years ago.

As the New Year approaches, as I begin to rid myself of the old, unnerving crap that has kept me feeling blue, I am hopeful that I will notice more and more of those moments. I want to allow it all to unfold, slowly. I am hopeful that I will cherish the moments I experience for what they are, without expectation.

Feliz Navidad. Prospero Año y Felicidad.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pillow Talk

I'm about to start sewing some pillows. I am making what I call 'Love Pillows' for, aptly enough, my loved ones. I haven't made a pillow in 20 years, so my sewing is a little rough, and I don't use a sewing machine.

I paid someone to make me a quilt a couple of years ago. It was made with squares from my son's clothing. 72 pieces for a full sized quilt for $450. The backing is chenille. It was totally worth it; it's our favorite blanket. It gave me this idea to make something a bit easier, but just as thoughtful.

The Love Pillow.

Love Pillows are made from old clothing. I am making the girls Love Pillows by using one of their old shirts and one of their dad's. Their shirts will make the actual pillow, and then I will cut and sew a heart onto the center, with material from his shirt. I will be making one for my mom, from my son's old shirts.

My next project will be heart shaped sachets for Valentine's Day, filled with dried lavender. For friends, I will stamp their names on fabric ribbon and sew them across the center. But that's for another blog post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh, To Fill Those Stockings (Hey, Santa Claus)

The countdown to Christmas can now be done on one hand. While Santa does do most of the gifting, I do get some gifts for the family. I am most excited, however, to fill our brand new hand knit stockings with goodies. I ordered five stockings, hand knit, that have our names, birth years, and more, knit into the stocking pattern. In addition, I sewed on vintage plastic charms, different mostly for each stocking, save for the good luck clovers, fish, donkeys, and telephones. 

The woman I bought them from is an etsy seller, and her shop is called Nana's Knits. I ordered them well before Thanksgiving, so that I could have them in time for this holiday. They are great, and between me and the jolly one, those stockings will be packed with both practical things (like socks, and hand warmers) and fun things (like nail polish and hair bands). They are pretty fat, I must say, and may stretch quite a bit, so we need to be prepared with lots of little fun gifts.

Pam, the knitter and shop owner at Nana's Knits has had to turn away nine orders for Christmas stockings since my last blog post, because she doesn't have time to get them done for Christmas. Here is where planning, domesticity, and organization come into play. 

Order them now, for next year. Seriously. If you order them now, you can talk with the knitter about what you'd like in terms of color and design elements, and you can personalize them, as I have, with fun little charms.

Store them nicely with your Christmas decorations until next year, and -- Oh! The Joy! -- next year, when you take them out, you will be so proud of yourself for being so clever. I love sitting by the fire, reading my book, and catching those hanging stockings from the corner of my eye.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yellow Underwear and New Year's Eve

I know that it's 12 days until New Year's Eve. The Christmas spirit is in full swing, and rightly so. My outdoor lights will remain on 'round the clock, as will the lights inside the house. While I leave most of the gift giving to Santa, I did buy a couple of things for the kids, my Secret Santa, and the love of my life. With all the pre-Christmas sales, though, I thought it would be a good time to tell you about the yellow underwear tradition, so that you can get yours now (Laura, Deb & Shannon, I already got you yours...).  Preparation is the key to a relaxed holiday celebration, as you know.

"But yellow underwear," you ask. "Whatever for?"

The women I am spending New Year's Eve with this year are getting a gift from me. Yellow underwear. Yes, you read that right. I am buying my girlfriends yellow underwear. Actually, I've already ordered them.

Though it sounds strange, wearing yellow underwear at midnight on New Year's Eve is a tradition in many Spanish speaking countries. Putting on a pair of new (very important), yellow underwear before midnight is said to bring good luck. Better if the underwear is gifted to you. While this doesn't apply to men (I am not sure why), it does apply to women. It's been said that the color yellow was used to represent gold, which equals money. So in today's time, shouldn't it be green? Or perhaps they should be made of plastic. As you know, I am a traditionalist first and foremost, so we are sticking with yellow. See the explanation here, from the New Internationalist magazine article, The Future's Bright... the Future's Yellow?!:

"Peruvians take this crazy tradition very seriously. When the clock strikes midnight, you have to be out of your old underwear and inside your new yellow pair. To be lucky, the underpants must always be brand new. If you get them as a present, it is supposed to bring you extra luck. And what you do exactly at midnight, I was told as a child, offers a snapshot representation of what you will do in the New Year. So if you want to travel in the New Year, you take your suitcase around the block. If you want wealth, you count your money. If you want to keep your lover, you better have him or her nearby at midnight. And if you want to overcome the bad things that happened in the previous year, you burn Mr. Old Year."

This year was rough, riddled with endless issues, one piggybacking off the next, for months on end. As I update this post, I've just survived another harrowing encounter, and I can say with my whole damn heart, that I have had it with this year.

To be fair, we also had good times worth celebrating, private moments that I will always treasure. Still, I do plan to throw my yellow skivvies on just before midnight, and on burning Mr. Old Year. Seriously, good riddance. I imagine that my friends Deb, Laura, Shannon, and I will be running to the bathroom, or an unoccupied bedroom, at five 'til midnight to change into our new underwear (you can't wear it all night), which I think will be funny in itself. 

They say that if you want love, you should wear red underwear. If you've already found love, a kiss at midnight will be the way we celebrate that. All of the women that I will be celebrating with have found good love. No red undies required.

Burning Mr. Old year is a Columbian tradition. Families make giant dolls, stuffed with different materials that may have brought sadness or incite bad memories. They also sometimes add fireworks, to spice things up. They burn him at midnight to symbolize getting rid of the past; to start the new year without those bad memories. I don't think that the large doll is going to work for me, but I may make a small paper doll, and write all our bad experiences on it, then burn him over the sink or outside at midnight. It's worth a shot.

In regards to drinks, I do the obvious champagne at midnight, and this year, I may also have a little before midnight (it's light, lower calories than beer). For the kids, I will be bringing some sparkling cider. We are just doing appetizers and finger foods, since previous years we did meals that no one cared to eat (like my Stuffed Tomatoes - heh, heh).

To be safe, we all stay at the warm, inviting home of the person who is hosting. That way, we don't have to be out on the cold, dark roads with people who are driving home late and may not be paying attention. This has always been my biggest concern, so not having to drive is fabulous.

I remember learning from my son's grandmother, Mumzie Palisi, that the house should be clean, spotless if possible, on New Year's Eve, because the condition the house is in at midnight predicts how the house will be the entire year that follows. In addition, she left a fresh loaf of bread on the table, and some cash. Food and prosperity.

I don't wish to write resolutions that I won't be comfortable sticking with. Instead, I am going to write a Want List with all the good things that I want to add to my life, the experiences, the moments, the visions. That way, I can aspire to and focus on positive things.  Love, a healthy life, and good food.

Kissing your loved one at midnight means that you will be happily together the following year. Traditions have lasted as long as they have, for good reason. They offer comfort and have staying power. Why mess with what works?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

For kt40 and KT PITA

I have met two amazing kt's or KT's lately. Both have made my Christmas so wonderfully special, and I cannot say enough about them.

First, kt40. Katy. I met her when I started buying things that she makes from her etsy shop. As you know, I am very interested in anything Italian, and anything homemade, so when I found her shop  which is located in Italy, I was intrigued. I loved everything that she sold and, one by one, began collecting them. In the process, I blogged a bit about her, got to know her through emails, and in the end, will be having her paintings sent over here for a February art show

I recently bought a beautiful handmade belt from her. (kt, thank you! I've been meaning to write you to tell you I got it, earlier this week, but it's been so busy. I've worn it everyday since I received it.) Well, the belt arrived in the most beautiful sacchetto along with a bunch of other fun Christmas goodies. A handmade star with "Buon Festa" on it; she had made them for a big craft fair she'd sold at the week previous. How auspicious. I was delighted. I love stars (and again, Italian), and it's a beautiful, plump star with a hanging loop. I immediately hung it in my hallway. I adore it.

She also sent three (I suppose one for each of the kids) handmade mini hobby horses, but where the wood stick would be, there are candy canes.  When my son ate the candy cane out from under the horse's head, I took it (the head) and hung it on the tree. I collect ornaments, so now I have Katy Keuter originals on my tree! And her Christmas card is hanging on my card ribbon in the front hall of my house.

The package from Katy has kept my spirits up in true Christmas style. Thank you, Katy, for being so amazing.

Now, as for KT (in caps, per her request), aka KT PITA, or Karen. Karen read my blog post about Christmas cards, and immediately bedecked me with cards. The post went up on a Sunday, I believe, and that night KT went to the PO in my town to mail me her card, from like 2006! So funny. She wanted to send me a card, but since her cards from this year weren't ready yet, she sent me an old one. A pink flamingo covered in snow. It was my first Christmas card of the season, and I decided to display it before Thanksgiving. Even I break my own rules from time to time.

Since that first card, I've gotten about a half dozen more from her, from different years, and it's such fun to see past year's pictures of her (with her longtime* (yes, Russ, I said it) boyfriend). The more recent year's photos are ones that she took, landscapes, but don't include a photo of her. Her reasoning was funny, and she wrote it out, but it may be too personal to tell so I will refrain from doing so. 

Karen's cards decked my halls long before anyone else's did, and I will always remember that!

Ironically, both kt40 and KT PITA are both in the same art show in February. kt40 is a painter, KT PITA is a photographer. Regardless, they have been my special Santa spirits this year and I will forever be grateful to them for the Christmas they've already given me.

*I call W my "longtime boyfriend," for lack of a better word. We agree that there needs to be a word between girlfriend and wife that symbolizes the level of commitment we have, and so I came up with longtime girlfriend. Our friend Russell laughs at it, which is why I made mention of him in this post.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Extravaganza

It's just after 7 p.m. and I am sitting with my son in front of the fire. On the television is the classic, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. We had cups of hot cocoa, and now, I am taking a minute to document our day, before I forget the details.

I picked my son up at school, and told him that we were going to visit the Christmas Caverns, at Fairfield Garden Center, to see the festive Christmas tunnel, look at lit trees, and check out all the ornaments. I'd almost forgotten about the place, that I'd gone to year after year as a child, and if it weren't for Debbie Z. sharing her photos of the place, I might never have remembered. On the way, we stopped at Carvel for ice cream and a chat. We sat on the indoor bench, and talked about life while eating our scoops. It was a great blessing, because we bonded in ways that I don't imagine we might have had we not decided to sit there with our ice cream. It was a special experience, and as I looked at him and talked to him, I felt very thankful.

As we headed from Carvel to the Christmas Caverns, I showed my son places that I used to visit, and we listened to Christmas carols and laughed. We were having lots of fun; my stomach hurt from laughing so much. Arriving at the Caverns was wild. It's heavily lit and decked with tons of decorations. Outside, we saw a Vegas style Santa sign that was so cool, I pulled out my cell phone to take a photo.

My son, outside the Christmas Caverns
Inside, the place was decorated with reindeer, stockings, and a giant sleigh (for sale, at just $599). There was a room full of candy, bags of coal, and room after room of ornaments and nutcrackers.

Inside one of Christmas Caverns many festive rooms
We walked through, picking ornaments for people. Johnny picked his favorites for his dad and stepmom, and one for himself. I bought one for his guitar teacher, and for the White Elephant gift exchange and ornament swap that I will be attending this weekend. I also got one little adorable ornament for myself -- a glass, glittery hammer.

We walked through the tunnel (which is full of little rooms, not unlike the ride at "It's A Small World" in Disney) much to my son's chagrin, and as I giggled at all the adorable scenes, my son complained. It was then that I realized he is really growing up. The walk through brought up fun, old memories.  Like the time we walked through when I was a cool-teenage-16 and my brother was a getting-too-old-11. My friend, Lonn, happened to be in the reindeer costume, unbeknownst to me, and when we stopped to look at those reindeer, who moved and talked, one of the reindeer said playfully, "Hi Mrs. Klabin..." to my mother. She burst out laughing, in shock. It was too funny.

My favorite part was this "North Pole Post Office" sign, which was surely donated to the place from the real North Pole. I think that KT needs to have this sign outside her house, right Karen?

Oh come, oh Ye faithful. Mail your letters of devotion to Santa here.

We stayed about an hour, all in all. My son spent half the time doing goofy things to get a laugh out of me, like riding the display reindeer. As the lady was checking us out, I leaned into him, gave him a squeeze, and kissed his forehead. He didn't pull away, or complain. It was, most certainly, a Christmas miracle :)

Life-Saving Smile

There are many reasons to be kind to strangers. Here's two. Hopefully, they will inspire you to go out and do something nice for someone, just because you can.

Year ago, maybe 15, I was listening to Wayne Dyer speak at a conference. I cannot remember what his main theme was, but I remember this story. It stuck with me like gum on the bottom of my sneaker.

There was a man, we will call him Keith, who'd decided that he'd had it with life. He decided to kill himself, and sat at his desk writing a suicide note. He left his apartment, went to a skyscraper, and proceeded to get in the elevator. His plan was to go to the top and then jump off. As he was riding up, someone called the elevator and it stopped. This other man got in, looked at our suicidal subject and smiled. "Hey, how's it going?" the man asked. Keith nodded, not saying much. The elevator climbed a few more stories, and then the elevator stopped. It was time for the man to exit. As he was getting out, he turned back to Keith and said, "You have a great day now." The elevator doors closed.

Keith's heart warmed. He wasn't sure what had happened but something had. At that moment, Keith realized that he didn't want to die after all. Once again, he had hope. The general offering, Have a Great Day, from this man was enough to change Keith's perspective. He decided not to jump after all, and later shared his story with Wayne Dyer. Eventually, he became a motivational speaker. The random man on the elevator saved his life. 

Tonight, while I was having my groceries checked out at the market, the cashier asked, "How's it going?" I replied, "Pretty good," to which he responded, "That's good to hear." I was surprised. It's rare that people actually care, or pay that much attention. I mentioned this to the boy - he must have been 17 - and then proceeded to tell him the story that I just shared above. He agreed that kindness counts, and told me another story that shows the power of a smile.

There was a man in San Francisco who decided he was going to kill himself. He wrote a note and left it behind in his apartment. The note said something to the effect of 'I am going to kill myself by jumping off of the Golden Gate bridge. I will choose not to jump if just one person smiles at me along the way.'

Not one person smiled, and the man jumped to his death.

Project PDA, the same one that I wrote about in my blog post "Share the Love. PDA Today" seeks to brighten the day of any random person who might find a note, a tag, a photograph. It seems so unimportant until you are the person in need of that smile, or note, or free cup of coffee, and then, it almost seems like divine intervention.

I just made some postcards, 100 of them were free on Vistaprint. (I did have to pay the cost of shipping, about $6.) On the front, I put "You Are Awesome (Yes, you!)" and on the back, I wrote the Etta Turner quote that says, "In a world where you can be anything, be yourself." I plan on mailing these to people, leaving them on tables with tips, inserting them into fashion magazines. 

Front view of the postcards I made, as part of my guerrilla marketing for Project PDA.

The people closest to me know how special they are. I tell them all the time. Some people, though, don't have people in their lives reminding them of how awesome they are. Wouldn't it be nice for them to hear it from you? 

We are all living in this world together, and while we cannot be expected to change everyone's lives, doing something as simple as smiling at someone, or saying hello, might save theirs. I hold doors open for people, let someone that seems to be in a hurry go ahead of me on line at the store. I smile knowingly at harried mothers who seem to be at their wits end. I do my best to be kind. 

Last week, on the way to my doctor's appointment, I saw a woman who'd just had a car accident. Her airbag had gone off and she was struggling to get herself and her baby out of their minivan. I pulled over, told her I was calling 911, and waiting for the police to arrive. During that time, I told her that she could sit with her baby in my car. It was probably 30* out, if that, so they were freezing, scared and crying. We sat in the car together until the police came and wrote the police report. It was about 45 minutes. She was worried about getting home to her four year old daughter (she is the mother of three) who was going to be getting off the bus at noon. I know that feeling, so I offered to drive her home. I got her baby seat out of the minivan before they towed it, and then drove her, and her baby, home in time to meet the bus.

It wasn't a big deal for me. I missed my doctor's appointment, but in the process helped a very scared mother and her baby. She was so thankful, and through her tears kept thanking me over and over again. I just kept saying, "It's okay. It's no big deal. Anyone would do it." 

Anyone would, right? Wouldn't you?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Miss Parenthood

I'm not much of a t.v. watcher. It's not that I don't like television, it's that I am not really home much to watch. When I am home, I'm cleaning, cooking, working, reading, or writing. Tonight, after dinner I spent the evening decorating my Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo Pops ("Hidey-ho!"). Each pop stick has three unevenly stacked marshmallows, dipped in chocolate that is imperfect in color and texture (purposely) to look natural, and has eyes and a mouth painted on with cookie frosting. They are then bagged and topped with felt Santa hats I've made for each one. Gross? Perhaps. But fun nonetheless.

There is, however, one show on one night that will get me running to the television the way that Knots Landing used to grab my old sorority sister, Natasha. That show, my friends, is Parenthood.

The last time I felt this strongly about a television show was probably when I watched Northern Exposure. It's been that long. Parenthood is a complex show that is a snapshot into the every day lives of a large, extended family. Headed up by Zeek and Camille Braverman, played by Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia respectively, we get an inside look at three generations of family. I love that the characters don't have it easy, that things don't always have happy endings. It's like real life, but with really beautiful people and homes. On the show is Max, a child with Asperger's Syndrome, a single (divorced) mother raising two teenagers, and an immature guy who just recently found out he is the father of a five year old boy. Zeek and Camille even become separated and then work towards saving their marriage. 

Trying to explain why Parenthood is so worth watching is nearly impossible. There are many reasons, and they aren't easily put into words. I think the best way for me to explain is that when I am watching, I am completely absorbed and feel like I am part of the Braverman family. I feel their struggles and joys (and loved seeing them have their Thanksgiving meal together).

Dax Sheppard is on the show playing Crosby Braverman, and in my eyes it's reason enough to tune in. His girlfriend, Jasmine, is played by Joy Bryant, who I also love to watch. Can I even start singling them out? Why do I even try? There's the lovely and talented (I had to) Monica Potter, whose character I love so much that when I saw her on the cover of some random magazine while waiting in the doctor's office, I had to take it. There's Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, and Mae Whitman. And someone I'd never seen before but have grown to adore is Sarah Ramos. Her character struggles with being the good girl while growing up her own way. She is amazing.  

Airing Tuesday nights at 10 p.m., the show's been easy to catch and I've burned into my schedule.  But then, out of what seemed to be nowhere, the show stopped airing. No f'ing way. 

I've read that the show will be returning in January, and frankly, the wait is embarrassingly difficult. I've been watching little clips on the Internet from past shows, and stalking the NBC page waiting to see that they will be back. I miss this show like I miss an old friend on Christmas. Tuesdays just aren't the same without the Bravermans.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Son, New Jersey Day, and Red Mascara

Last week, my son Johnny jumped into the car after school with a brightly decorated t-shirt over his button down plaid. 

"What is that?" I asked him, pointing. 

"It's my New Jersey shirt," he replied.

Apparently, the school, or at least his grade, celebrated New Jersey day. I had (and still have) no idea what New Jersey day is all about. Do I keep missing the bulletins? Anyhow, each child designed shirts that had the Garden State drawn on it, along with the capitol, and our town. It was drawn with different colored Sharpies. It has the state flower, state fish, and other things we are known for like blueberries and horses. And then, it has a drawing of a music note with our state song.

Our state song?

My son explained that we have a state song called, "I'm From New Jersey" written by Red Mascara and published in 1961. Who is Red Mascara? A new band? My son took me right home, opened YouTube, and showed me who Red Mascara is, and what the song is all about (click here to see the video - it's wonderful). Johnny was so impressed. He told me that he watched it on the Smart Board at school with his class. He thoroughly enjoyed it. 

After just reading the entire December 2010 issue of New Jersey Monthly, which is all about state pride, I was super excited and wanted to download a copy. I couldn't find it on iTunes, though someone else (John Gorka) has a song with the same name, and it's horrible and degrades New Jersey. I went to Red Mascara's page and found the song, but could only play it, not download it. I clicked a link that gave me Mascara's email address, and I wrote him asking if I could please buy a copy of his song. He wrote me back within an hour, giving me details on how to download it. He is happy to share his song, and it's not for sale - it's free.

In addition, he makes sheet music with words for varying towns, so that we can play our own town pride version. He also makes sheet music for bands to play, so if your town is having a celebration, they will have the music they need for their marching band to perform the song. He even sent me the Mountain Lakes version. Our town's Centennial begins in January and it seems like the perfect addition to the celebration. He offered to give it all to us for free, and is offering the Centennial committee the opportunity to even sell copies as a fundraiser. He does this completely out of the good of his heart, and a desire to make the song more widespread. He has yet to hear back from the Centennial committee, so if anyone on the committee is reading this, you can contact Mascara at This is a great opportunities for music teachers, too, and is available for any two or three syllable town.

"I'm From New Jersey" Laker style, Courtesy of Red Mascara

Mascara made the song shortly after hearing from then Governor Robert B. Meyner (1960) that he was disappointed that New Jersey didn't have a song. The following year, Phillipsburg (where both the governor and songwriter Mascara were from) was celebrating it's Centennial and they decided to incorporate "I'm From New Jersey" into the festivities, and it became the official song for the Phillipsburg Centennial celebration. The song made it's way across the state, and nearly 50 years later, it's still making an impact.

I love the song, the idea, and the state pride (as you may have read in last night's blog post). I encourage you to download your own version and share it with friends. If you can't figure it out, get in touch with me and I will burn it for you. Thank you to Red Mascara, who is now 88 years old, for creating this wonderful state song that will live on and grow with our beautiful Garden State.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jersey Pride?

I just finished reading through the December 2010 edition of New Jersey Monthly magazine. I am a subscriber, but happened to buy the magazine off the rack at the supermarket the minute I saw it because I believe in having pride in your state, and just couldn't wait to read it.

We are a state that has been mocked due to the smells that are said to emanate from the landscape surrounding the New Jersey Turnpike (though I have never smelled a thing); we've been filed as the classless adjunct of New York City. We've been mocked senselessly due to shows like Jersey Shore (I've never watched the show but heard that none of the cast is from New Jersey), yet my shore experiences have always been relaxed, with beautiful views and great food. Our football teams, the Giants and the Jets, go by "New York" but play in New Jersey. The Jets even practice at Fairleigh Dickenson University and players spend much of their off time in the Florham Park/Morristown/Madison area. In season, they live here in New Jersey.

Having been raised here, after moving from Long Island back in the 70s, I can say with complete assurance, that our state deserves much more credit. I don't say "Joisey", I say "Jersey"; we don't all have big hair, and we don't (at least most of us) fist pump. Look, there are idiots everywhere, and while we may have a few to speak of, let's face it. All states do. On the contrary, the Garden State produced actors, scholars, artists, writers, scientists, doctors, even astronauts. NASA's Buzz Aldrin was born in Glen Ridge and grew up in Montclair. Count Basie was from Red Bank, the Jonas Brothers are from Wykoff, Beastie Boys Adam Horovitz was from South Orange. Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Fountains of Wayne. Comedian Artie Lange is from Union. Poet Allen Ginsberg was from Paterson, author Fran Lebowitz was from Morristown. Actors like Zach Braff (South Orange), Sandra Dee (Bayonne), Danny DeVito (Livingston), James Gandolfini (Westwood), Ed Harris (Englewood then Tenafly), Tea Leoni (Leonia), Nathan Lane (Jersey City), Jay Mohr (Verona), Laura San Giacomo (Denville), Peter Onorati (Boonton).  I remember when I used to see actress Jane Krakowski all over town. She was raised in a neighboring town -- Parsippany -- and got discovered at The Barn Theatre in Montville. Martha Stewart was born in Jersey City and raised in Nutley. And that's just the beginning of a very, long list.

We have urban, suburban, and rural spaces. Our cities and towns, like Montclair, Princeton, Madison, and Main Street in Boonton, is the stuff that movies are made of. In fact, Boonton has been used countless times as television backdrops -- not only for the Sopranos, but MTV has shot here, and the Boonton Diner has been used for a commercial. Madison's corner of Main Street and Waverly Place was used for the kissing scene between characters Julie Morton (played by Clare Danes) and Everett Stone (played by Dermot Mulroney), and it's train station was where Simon Green (played by Ashton Kutcher) gets off the train in the movie, Guess Who. 

We are surrounded by beautiful lakes, and our beach communities still have that relaxed, home away from home feel. We have hiking trails, and beautiful public gardens. The Ringwood State Park is amazing. When I worked in that area, I'd often pack my lunch and go eat it amongst the statues and trees. (The Skylands New Jersey Botanical Garden is about a mile from there, and quite a place.) Montclair's Presby Memorial Iris Gardens is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Sites and each year, as the irises bloom, people come out in droves to see (and photograph, and paint) them.

Our diners and eateries are top notch. I can tell you that in Denville, you must visit Sergio & Co. for Italian specialties and gourmet sandwiches, and the Denville Diner makes such great food that you'll want to move in (I know I do). Princeton has P.J.s Pancake House. You'll have to wait in line most days, just to get a seat, and I have, in 4" heels and 25* and I never once regretted it, not even for a minute. In LBI's Beach Haven, there is Uncle Will's Pancake House that makes the best, freshest food I've had since my visit to Crazy Burger in Rhode Island. At Uncle Willie's, I've gotten an egg white omelet with fresh spinach and goat cheese that was so good, I nearly cried. The soft, salty cheese just melted into the egg. Gorgeous. In Montclair, I am always thrilled to go to Raymond's. Love their burgers, their egg creams, and their retro atmosphere. In season, their Mexican Hot Cocoa is to die for (and the homemade marshmallows, which are now available, are light and heavenly). 

In my backyard is the town of Boonton, and there I pretty much live at Roma Pizzeria and Restaurant. The pizza, calzones, all the food, really, is perfecto! Everyone there is like family (and they are their own family), and the dining room, on any given weekend, is full of familiar, happy faces. We were just there today, and the Christmas tree is up, surrounded by wreaths and bows, and all sorts of festive decorations. For Valentine's Day, they make heart shaped pizzas. Can you believe it? Across the street is my favorite Mexican food, Chili Willie's, and though I can no longer eat anything on the menu, you can (and you should, please, for me). They even have a vegetarian burrito - Popeye's - that people drive from everywhere just to try. God, I miss that place.

New Jersey is home to Princeton University, Einstein's stomping grounds. Toni Morrison. Cornell West. Need I say more?

There are farms, organic markets, tattoo shops. Art galleries, libraries, museums. We have a wealth of historic homes and landmarks. Bakeries. Vintage stores. We've got it all.

I urge each and every one of you to keep your Jersey pride strong, and with that, your town pride. Boonton has some of the best town pride I've ever seen. Residents shop locally, eat locally, and support their neighbors. Support your town, your schools, and the towns that surround yours. Shop and eat locally whenever possible. Keep your property well-tended, so that your house will accurately represent the pride you feel about your town, and your state.

Tell me what you love most about New Jersey. I am excited and curious to know. Oh, and check out Zach Braff's New Jersey pride monologue on SNL (click here). The Jersey native was recently on "Late Night" where he said, "Now I feel like I have to defend New Jersey all the time, all over the place -- no thanks to Snooki...She's really bad for Jersey, Snooki! ... America, you can go to the Jersey Shore and you will not get punched in the face."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weekend Plan(ning ahead)

I have a plan. This weekend, I am planning for the new year. Not New Year's Eve, but the whole new year. No joke.

After hearing Howard Stern's (stay with me) fake announcement that he wasn't signing a new contract, and listening to Sal the Limo Driver drowning in blubbering tears over the loss of his job (and no money saved to speak of), it reminded me that planning matters.

I have a list of things I'd like to do over the next few weeks, months, years, and I want to start planning financially. First, I will have Andrea at Savannah Hope Vintage continue refinishing my grandparents furniture, until it's all done. It's good solid furniture that's been in the family for over 50 years. I have it in my possession, in my bedroom, and it's in need of some serious help. She's redone my grandfather's desk, and is in the process of doing one of two dressers. Last will be two side tables. I will be preserving something special, upcycling (sort of), and saving money while having a beautiful new(ish) furniture set. Finally, I want to find a bed to go with the whole thing.

I want to put new counter tops in my kitchen. Right now they are some chintzy thing, plastic perhaps, and the face part just sort of peels off. I want to put in wood, or something sturdy and white. Maybe marble. But then I may need to get new cabinet doors, as the veneer is coming off of those, too. Oh boy. At least I put in new hardwood floors. Hardwood floors make everything better. The kitchen will move along in pieces, as afforded.

Outside of that, I will be having my neighbor K cut my lawn (he's 14, I think, and saving for a car) in lieu of the lawn service. The lawn service currently mows, fertilizes, weeds, leaf blows, and so on. Canceling all that will save me a small fortune, and will give my neighbor a nice start on his savings. Hopefully, my son will follow in his footsteps in a few years when K is off to college, and I hope the neighbors will be as kind and hire my son.

I will do the weeding, the fertilizing (if need be), the mulching, and all the planting. I love doing that sort of stuff anyhow. It's good, honest work.

I want to start increasing my mortgage payments and get this little thunder buster paid off. I am close, so close, that it makes perfect sense to get 'er done. And after that, I will be saving for a beach house. What beach you ask? Who knows? The world is my oyster!

I will be crunching the numbers this weekend, so that I will know exactly what I'm working with. I am excited. It's going to be a great year, a year of saving, planning, and making what's good even better.