Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Thoughtful Christmas

Christmas was exceedingly satisfying this year and I think that had a lot to do with the recession: more thought and less money.

Family members noticed our bird feeders and provided seed. A sister-in-law remembered a comment about us needing a large towel to go to the pool at the YMCA and scored a great price at the Linens and Things Going Out of Business sale. Money went into the kids’ college funds. Knowing we still have to finish some work on our latest project our nephew and niece got us a gift certificate for a local home improvement store.

A visit from a high school friend and her mother, a fire in the fireplace, trying some new recipes, reading Christmas cards and admiring the photographs stuck inside them. Spending a few hours looking at old family postcards as far back as 1918, reading the notes and then passing them along to the next generation. Great homemade cookies from friends, family, and customers.

This Christmas we returned to “it’s the thought that counts.” It was a great thought that I hope we don’t lose when the economy improves.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Gift of Tradition

In the 1950s and 1960s, Christmas morning started with our Christmas stockings, which, since we didn’t have a fireplace, were laid on top of the presents and contained just enough stuff to keep us busy while our parents made breakfast – an orange in the toe topped with some candy and small toys.

After breakfast we all got comfortable in the living room and started the gift opening ritual. One of us kids played Santa, picking out one present at a time, reading who it was “to” and “from”, and ceremoniously giving it to the recipient.

We would all admire the wrapping and then it would be carefully opened without ripping the paper, which would be put aside for future use. Finally the actual gift was uncovered and passed around the room to be admired by all and the giver was thanked before moving on to the next gift.

Each child received one “big” present and maybe two smaller ones. A “big” could be a bike or a wagon or a piece of real jewelry or a doll or a science kit or, when we were in high school approaching college, our own suitcase. The smaller gifts were such items as toys, books, clothes, or board games.

When we were sure that all the presents were opened – none hidden behind the tree - we would spend some time playing with them until it was time to get dressed up and start setting the table for the big turkey dinner in our small dining room.

After lunch we could check in with our cousins who lived next door and go outside and play with our friends. Most of that play consisted of comparing our haul and the older kids elbowing each other and laughing while asking the younger ones what “Santa” brought.

By evening we were ready to eat leftovers.

Before bedtime our presents would be put back under the tree displayed in their boxes to be admired for the next few days, completing another exceedingly satisfying and most important, traditional, Christmas Day.

"A love for tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril." - Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree

Christmas in the 1950s was a crowded time in our small Cape Cod house. Looking at the holiday photographs, it’s a miracle that my parents were able to make room for the tree.

The tree apparently arrived on Christmas Eve; I say apparently because there was no tree when I went to bed to wait for Santa and when I woke up and went downstairs Christmas morning a fully decorated tree was in place.

Looking back, I realize that the late arrival of our tree was directly related to my brother’s high school job at a local nursery. It’s amazing how spectacular our trees were since they were chosen from the Christmas Eve leftovers.

My sweetheart’s family tree also arrived late Christmas Eve at their various New York apartments. Being a recent immigrant family they didn’t have extra money for such luxuries as Christmas trees, so my father-in-law would go to the closing Christmas tree stands, get two leftovers, and by drilling holes into the trunk of one of them and filling the holes with branches from the second one, construct one beautiful tree.

And I can verify that both of us remember that our families had the most perfect trees ever.
O Tannenbaum -

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us.
They're green when summer days are bright;
They're green when winter snow is white...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's Christmas All Year

Our Christmas decorations were all in place early this year, for once.

Really early. Okay, I confess, they have been up all year…we never took them down. But there was a reason.

In January we thought that we were going to start some construction on our house, maybe by February or March which would require completely emptying our garage, including the upstairs attic where we store our Christmas trees and swags and ornaments, so it wasn’t worth putting them right away. We moved the tabletop Christmas trees into the dining room and the office and kept the fireplace mantle decorations in place. The little knick-knacks either stayed where they were or just moved out of sight.

We did take the porch lights down and put them in a box in the office, but the little outside Charlie Brown tree kept its lights…which we stopped turning on in April [when the neighbors who were trying to sell their house started "kidding" us about it].

Now, as often happens with construction, it didn’t exactly start when we expected. It kept being put back a few weeks at a time. In fact it didn’t start until August and was still going in September and we were putting in the finishing touches in October and, well, you can understand that by the end of October it’s hardly worth putting the Christmas decorations away.

All you have to do is dust them off.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Weather Cocooning

With this weekend's snowy/sleety weather, the nostalgia of the holidays, the economy, and our attempts to eat a healthier diet, we did a lot of home cooking today.

Added in the freezer (with the container of Mom's Turkey Carcass Soup) is now Corn and Ham Chowder, Shelby's Hamburger Stroganoff (just defrost, add sour cream, serve over noodles), and some loaves of Amish Friendship Bread.

Tomorrow we will bake more Amish Friendship Bread. Monday we will bake more AFB..and maybe Tuesday. And Wednesday...

We had two friends who have never baked this sweet loaf who were ready to take two bags of AFB starter on Friday, but our meeting was canceled due to weather. Anyone who has ever had this starter realizes that I now have enough to make at least a dozen loaves of AFB.

If you live close enough you will get a loaf as a holiday present. And if you are really lucky we will give you your own bag of starter.


If you have never had Amish Friendship Bread, just Google it...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of Love and Avarice

A few months ago I had a conversation with a friend about a not-so-great-guy that she had recently dumped. She related that a few friends had realized - while she was still captivated by him - that he wasn't so great, but hadn't said anything.

When she asked them why they hadn't warned her, they replied:

"Because you wouldn't have listened."

This past week I heard and read all kinds of comments about the Madoff securities fraud and many of them were variations of my friend's question about her lost love: "Why didn't someone warn me?"

Would the answer have been the same?

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, in their eagerness to get rich, have wandered away from the faith and caused themselves a lot of pain." -1 Timothy 6:10 [International Standard Version, 2008]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Of History and Development

The three Levittowns in the tri-state area have always fascinated me: one on Long Island, a second near Philadelphia, and a third in New Jersey about 17 miles from Philadelphia [now returned to its previous name of Willingboro].

A major study published about the development of the New Jersey town – The Levittowners, by sociologist Herbert J. Gans - is worth rereading every year or so. Most of the book covers the years 1958 to 1962 during the New Jersey construction, which was to contain at least 12,000 houses

During my most recent reread the following paragraphs caught my attention:

“…The public officials who had to approve the Levitt building plans could, of course, have asked for better or more expensive facilities. In some instances, however, they had no legal basis for such requests, since the township and county both lacked modern building and other codes. Yet even when they had effective veto power over Levitt’s operations, they did not often think to exercise it, because they felt Levitt was trying to do a good job and would make the township the best in the county. Cooperation with the builder would be far more pleasant than conflict, they concluded, particularly since they had little chance of winning such conflict.

“Most of the old residents were farmers, without the knowledge and skills to stand up against the builder. For example, the ablest member of the Planning Board thought that the township would do better if Levitt were required to build on 75-foot lots rather that the 60-foot lots he wanted to allow for in the subdivision ordinance. He could not, however, make his argument stick, and after Levitt promised that he would never build on less than 65-foot lots, he gave in.

“The Levitt firm itself was not passive in the face of opposition. Its officials had had two decades of experience in dealing with local opposition, and they had a reputation for brilliant tactics as well as the application of campaign funds in the right place at the right time. When Levitt first arrived on the scene, the firm engaged some prominent county figures to buy land, and before the planning was over, it had hired, for one reason or another, most of the politically influential lawyers in the county and many who had influence in the state capitol as well, principally for the alteration of township boundaries. Although the firm never interfered officially in county or township politics, and usually sent campaign contributions to both parties, it gave more to defeat candidates it thought could cause trouble for the firm. Every new community is flooded with rumors that some local officials are on the builder’s payroll, and Levittown is no exception, but one Levitt executive indicated that the township’s leaders were so willing to go along with the firm’s wishes that such distasteful tactics were not necessary.” *

If you can get a copy of this important book, it is worth studying. I don’t know if it is still in print, but you can get it through the Hillsborough Library.

* The Levittowners by Herbert J. Gans, Vintage Books Edition, February 1969, pp 17-18

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana (1863 - 1952)

"If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience." - George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

"There's an old saying about those who forget history. I don't remember it, but it's good." - Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, March 10, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

General Washington Stranded on Riverbank?

Despite all his planning, General George Washington and his troops were unable to cross the Delaware River this afternoon due to high water, a swift current, and brisk wind gusts. It's a good thing it was 2008 and not 1776.

Although his boats remained moored on the Pennsylvania side of the river, thousands of Washington Crossing Historic Park visitors still enjoyed all the activities.

The General will be back on Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

George Washington Rehearsed?

Tomorrow is the rehearsal day for the Christmas Day Re-enactment of George Washington Crossing the Delaware.

You can meet General Washington and his officers...

And those patriots whose names we may never know...

A lot of locals - even those who have lived here for decades - have never seen this great re-enactment due to GW being inconsiderate of our social calendars 200+ years later and planning his attack on the Hessians in Trenton on Christmas Day when most of us have family obligations.

I have attended a Christmas crossing and two rehearsals over the years, but, unless you are an historical purist [which would also mean going there in the middle of the night..which, in this litigious age, isn't going to happen], you are better off going to the rehearsal when they not only re-enact the actual crossing, but have all kinds of activities on the Pennsylvania side - inside and out:

And if you haven't finished your holiday shopping yet, be sure to stop in at the Taylorsville Store near the Park Entrance on the Pennsylvania side:

The year we attended the actual Christmas Day crossing, we were stunned by how many foreign visitors were there. There is a story in that, but we'll talk about it another time.
There is a $6 entry fee on the Pennsylvania side, but it's a great activity for everyone with some education thrown in. Be sure to take your camera. Dress warmly. Runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Birdseed Investment

Last week, when the Weather Channel forecast cold temperatures over the weekend, we made a trip to The Belle-Mead Co-op to purchase birdseed.

As we buy in bulk it ran over $100, but will last for months and next summer, when we are growing our Recession Garden [or Depression Garden?], the birds will return the favor by eating the bugs attacking our vegetable plants.

We also purchase Pappy's Wildlife Feed, which is inexpensive compared to the regular seed. If you put it on a tray feeder it keeps the messy big bullies (such as blue jays) away from the feeders with the expensive stuff in them.

Of course, within days the weather warmed up, but that's okay. We like having the birds around.

We put birdseed on our Christmas list last year to help our family members who never know what to get the "older relatives who don't need anything that we can afford", but this year - the economy being what it is - we are trying to cut back on the list.

The picture was taken with a digital SLR held up to a telescope.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hillsborough's Christmas Tree

On Friday Night Hillsborough's Womens Club sponsored the township's Christmas Tree Lighting.

Santa arrived on a Flagtown fire truck:

...and then he helped to light the tree:

..and he sat in his house and listened to Christmas requests [this view was taken through his window. You can see two of his fireman helpers in the background]...

Meanwhile, inside the warm municipal building, the High School Band played holiday music, and local dance school students gave a performance, and the Women's Club dispensed cookies, and cocoa and coffee...

Someone asked me who Santa was, but I don't understand the question: Santa is Santa. Right?

Friday, December 5, 2008


While a substantial number of Americans are struggling to get by during the current recession, sometimes you see something that can only make you realize that there are significant numbers of people that either just don’t get it or are having absolutely no financial problems.

This week I noticed the following poll question on the Women on the Web site: “We know that times are tough, but what will you still treat yourself to?” I scrolled down to read the choices and found they were: having your roots colored, wine, dry cleaning, dinner out, the cleaning lady, and other.


No one at our house has had anything colored and we have a few bottles of wine that we received as presents. I can’t remember the last time we had dry cleaning done as we deliberately don’t buy “dry clean only” clothing. We did go out for dinner in October to celebrate our anniversary and we go to the Chinese buffet about once every 4 to 6 weeks. We also get a pizza about once every two months. We have never had anyone else clean our house besides us, which you would know if you saw our dust-bunnies.

I thought the poll’s “other” choice, which invites comments, would stir up some realistic observations or indignant remarks. Instead I found readers giving up [or refusing to give up] their masseuse, gardener, CDs, and concert tickets. They are cutting back from dinner out three times a week to one and stretching out the time between manicures.

Several respondents agreed that they would absolutely not give up the special coffee beans they buy and grind for their morning cup of coffee.

Again, at our house, no masseuse, gardener, or manicures. We attend free concerts and the last CDs we bought were some second-hand Christmas ones about a year ago at a church flea market. Our morning coffee is whatever is on sale or has a good coupon at ShopRite.

Obviously I was on the wrong website [for more reasons than one], but it did make me think: Is America not in as bad a shape as we’ve been led to believe or is their a large number of Americans who are in denial about the economy?

Or, maybe the people who visit the WOW website are all related to the heads of such corporations as Ford, GM, AIG, Halliburton, Enron, and the oil companies…

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another NaBloPoMo Completed

Here it is the last day of November and the last day of Thanksgiving weekend, cold and dreary and wet.

Early this morning it was icy and sleeting when the dog had to go out and the newspaper fetched [That is, fetched by me, not the dog. Alas, I have never been able to train any of my dogs to bring in the newspaper].

Now it is cold and raining, so we lit a fire in the fireplace and snuggled in for the day. We had homemade turkey soup with fresh baked rolls for lunch and, having been the recipient of Amish Friendship Bread starter, we baked two loaves with raisins added and they are cooling in the kitchen.

If you aren’t familiar with Amish Friendship Bread, I’ll write about it some day.

Last but not least, it being the last day of November, I am celebrating the end of another successful November - National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo).

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a writer writes and no one reads it, then does what he has written matter?

Thank you, readers.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mom's Turkey Carcass Soup, Part 2

When we last visited Mom's Turkey Carcass Soup, I had not yet scored the requisite turkey carcass, but my niece was a willing donor after Thanksgiving dinner, so we moved on.

Friday morning we got everything out of the fridge and ran into our first glitch: the pot. We couldn't find anything big enough and had just decided to split everything between two pots, when my sweetheart remembered some camping equipment that we bought at a Girl Scout garage sale a few months ago.

Sure enough, there was the perfect pot! [See you can count on the Girl Sccouts!]

Now for the actual recipe. We crushed in the carcass, topped it with water, added onion, celery, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns, and...something still wasn't right. As the concoction started to simmer, I reviewed the four recipes that I had printed from various online sources and noticed they all had thyme in them.

Okay, some digging in the spice cupboard produced dried thyme leaves which I added a scant 1/8 teaspoon at a time. As the leaves began to mix in the boiling water a familiar scent began to fill the air - Mom's Soup!

Aha! As of today I have about 12 cups of Mom's turkey stock in the refrigerator waiting to be skimmed and made into real soup.

Still working on reproducing Mom's recipe, we made a trip over to the produce store this morning to get celery, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and...and...turnips?

I'm not really sure about the turnips, but I have one on hand just in case.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Not Your Black Friday

Today is Black Friday, named for the day of the year that America’s businesses financially go “into the black” as holiday shoppers open their wallets and spend themselves into oblivion.

It’s also the day that I will point out that it is not your very own personal job to help these businesses with their finances. Your first obligation is to you and your family.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Thanks

Today, for Thanksgiving, I have decided to be thankful that I am frugal. Especially this year.

I am thankful that, years ago, we decided not to get a larger house. We stayed with our original house and put extra money into insulation, upgrading the heat and air conditioning, replacing the windows, and installing low water use faucets and toilets. And, except for one refinance to lower our interest rate, we didn’t mess with our mortgage, but put every dime we could into paying it off early.

I am thankful that we made our cars last 15 or more years and bought small ones with the best gas mileage we could find. We only bought cars that we could afford; the amount of money saved dictated the choices. We got easily maintained cars; could we change the oil ourselves? How expensive were the tires and what was its insurance rate?

I am thankful we kept track of the little things. My dogs have never cared if I was walking them while wearing $9.95 jeans and sweatshirts that I buy at church rummage sales for 50-cents. Speaking of our dogs, all our purebreds have been rescues.

I am thankful that we have only one credit card that we use carefully and pay off every month. And that we ignored all the credit offers and upgrades that were offered to us.

I am thankful that Somerset and Hunterdon Counties have Raritan Valley Community College, top-notch education at affordable prices.

Most of my cookbook collection came via garage sales and fiction I get at the library. Our Internet is $9.95 a month, we have no cell phone, no special cable channels, and a tree always seems to give up a nice-sized limb just about the time we need to beef-up our firewood pile. Our leaves serve as mulch and vegetables are interplanted with our landscaping.

The last few months, as I have watched American’s panic as they realize the outcome of their often careless spending, watched as people are unable to divide their wants from their needs, watched the USA slide into recession, this is definitely the year that I’m thankful for the gift of thrift.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Traditional Thanksgiving?

Being the hostess for Thanksgiving dinner has gotten harder over the last few decades.

Traditionally the cook served a dinner whose menu was established by family mores and American customs that were not to be tampered with: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, rolls, and several pies. This was the meal where real butter was used and the after dinner coffee service had real cream (or at least half-and-half).

The first incursions into this meal were made, probably, in the 1980s when the health of the guests began interfering with the recipes. The use of salt was one of the first things to go as more Americans began fighting high blood pressure and then there were the cholesterol problems that began to plague the guests.

Then there was just plain old dieting; calorie cutting came to the Thanksgiving table. Gone were eggnog, custard pies, and homemade cookies with extra colored sugar sprinkled on top.

Today, on top of all those regular old health considerations, the hostess has to figure out who is allergic to what: peanuts, lactose intolerance, soy sensitivity, and gluten problems. And alternative diet lifestyles such as vegetarianism of various stripes can even do in the turkey and the Aunt Martha’s Jell-O mold.

So what’s left on the holiday table? Cranberry sauce, plain steamed vegetables, and, for dessert, …an apple?

And we haven’t even gotten to how today’s tactful hostess decides the seating chart with the various family combinations…

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Television Holidays

Now that so many of my favorite oldies television shows are on DVD, I have a real opportunity to enjoy entire seasons at a time. The same way that football aficionados watch games for hours, I can spend an entire afternoon with the Andersons or the Cleavers or Lucy or the residents of Mayberry.

And amongst my favorite episodes are the ones that show those familiar TV families celebrating the traditional Thanksgivings and Christmases of their eras. Bewitched had them every year and some of the most memorable Father Knows Best’s were holiday tearjerkers. Of course no one could throw a holiday party like Mary Tyler Moore, although Rhoda didn’t seem to do much celebrating of Hanukkah.

It seems as though I have a vague memory of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson having some holiday episodes, but I’m not sure, and I don’t remember any on I love Lucy, even after Little Ricky came along.

What is really strange is the shows that didn’t celebrate holidays. I don’t remember Mayberry decorating Main Street or Andy and the family around a Christmas tree or carving a Thanksgiving turkey. With Leave It To Beaver being the story of a boy growing up in Middle America, there should have been some major Christmas storylines.

Although I enjoy the holiday stories, as I get older I find myself watching the backgrounds – the sets. I look for familiar clothes, all the dads and sons in suits and ties, the visiting ladies in hats, the Christmas tree ornaments that I remember, the old big-light sets, the traditional Thanksgiving table settings, old kitchens and old telephones.

So, in the end it may not be about the shows, but rekindling memories of my own childhood.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Twice Pink Kitchen

When I was quite young, maybe around 6 or 7 years old, my mother painted the kitchen in our late 1940s Cape Cod glossy pink. A bright clear happy pink, not Pepto-Bismal pink or girl-baby-room pink.

The remainder of the house was more...hmm, I don't want to say dull...more neutral. Why this pink was chosen for the kitchen, I don't know.

Well, anyway, it was a big job that took days. None of today's "dries in an hour."

A day or so after the paint job was complete and the kitchen re-assembled, my older brother was sitting on a stool in the kitchen with an open bottle of Coke. He put his thumb over the bottle top and shook it. He took his thumb off the top and jet-propelled Coca Cola erupted all over the kitchen. Everywhere.

There was shocked silence. I don't even remember any yelling. Maybe my parents couldn't comprehend having a child in high school who would do such a stupid thing.

I do remember the entire sticky kitchen was cleaned and repainted the same color pink. I think my brother was the painter.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Raritan Valley Symphonic Band Concert

Attending the Raritan Valley Symphonic Band concert his afternoon brightened everything. For an hour-and-a-half there was no recession, no work deadlines, no politics, no wars, not even any waiting housework...nothing negative.

There was the joy and serenity of joining a few hundred audience members listening to a band made up of over 70 of our neighbors, neighbors who volunteer their time and their talents and hours of practice to bring us a break from the real world.

There was the music celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, the all-American marches, and a dose of classics just to keep us on our toes.

And when it was over, we were all ready to go back out there, restored, into the real world.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Where Was I...

Forty-five years ago, on November 22, 1963, I was in junior high school. Halfway through the school day, at lunchtime, we were outside for recess.

I don’t remember why, but we went back inside. What I mean is, I don’t remember if it was just time to go back in or if it was the wrong time to go in but someone told us to.

I do know that we were told to go to our homerooms, not to our regular after-lunch class. When I got to my homeroom there was a radio on and the teacher was sitting on the corner of his desk, leaning into the radio, listening to the announcer who, we finally understood, was talking about the shooting of President Kennedy.

For some reason the teacher sent me to the classroom next door, I don’t remember why: to deliver a note or ask a question? While I was there the radio channel they had on announced that the president had died.

When I returned to my own homeroom seconds later, everyone was still quiet, listening, and it suddenly struck me that I was the only one in the room who actually knew that President Kennedy had died. I didn’t say anything…I was dumbstruck. Then they announced it on the radio station in my homeroom.

I’m sure it was only for fifteen or thirty seconds, but it was the one moment of that day that has always frozen in time for me, that brief interval when no one else in the room knew except me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Music Soothes

With all the current unsettling events, it is uplifting to receive a postcard announcing this weekend's free Raritan Valley Symphonic Band concert on Sunday November 23 at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, 600 Garretson Road, Brodgewater, at 3p.m.

For more information go to their website:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Where's the Paperboy?

When did newspaper delivery change?

Growing up, the newspaper was delivered by breakfast time by a neighborhood boy on a bicycle [I understand that some places had afternoon papers, but I am not personally familiar with such foreign customs.]

He had a large canvas bag imprinted with the name of the newspaper looped around his handlebars filled with papers folded in thirds with one end tucked inside the other. As he bicycled down your block he threw a newspaper generally toward each customer’s front porch. Many comics and TV shows had funny bits based on the misplacement of the thrown newspapers.

Somewhere along the way women’s lib hit the ranks of newspaper boys when girls also became newspaper carriers. “Leave It to Beaver” even had a show based on the Cleavers having a girl delivering their newspaper.

Every Saturday your carrier would collect the week’s bill; either you put the money outside in a special envelop or he came to the door and collected in person: “Mom, the paperboy’s here for his money!”

I don’t remember when our newspaper carrier morphed into an adult using a car – a rather nice car – to deliver our paper to the foot of our driveway before dawn. It had to do with newspaper delivery becoming too dangerous for children and children being too busy for the job.


I went online looking for the paperboy and found that, according to Wikipedia, in 1984 he became an Atari arcade game where "...The players take on the role of a paperboy who delivers newspapers along a suburban street on his bicycle...".

Another Wikipedia entry also states that: "Today, with the latest child labor laws, paperboys are sometimes referred to as "independent businessmen.'"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mom's Turkey Carcass Soup

Thanksgiving is next week and we have spent almost enough at the grocery store to get our free turkey.

My mother-in-law already got a turkey breast which is being stored in our freezer and we have a large turkey in there from my sister-in-law. Since we are going out to our niece's for the actual big day, it is imperative that we use our free turkey.

My mother, who died in 2007, made a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, followed up the day after by her turkey soup using the picked-over turkey carcass. Mom probably cooked this not only for financial reasons and because we all loved it, but because we did not waste food in our house!

In the past I have felt guilty throwing out the picked over turkey carcass knowing that I should be making soup with it. About 10 years ago I felt so guilty that I even tried making the soup...unsuccessfully. It was really awful. And what's with the really disgusting scum that developes when you start boiling the carcass? And do I even have a big-enough pot?

With today's recession and us being semi-retired, I have decided that it is time to try again. I have combed through her recipes that I inherited, but to no avail. There is no written Mom's Turkey Carcass Soup instructions.

I went on line, entering "turkey carcass soup", and printed out four recipes whose ingredients sound vaguely familiar.

My sweetheart remembers the last time we tried this and has advised me that although I am welcome to try again, I am on my own.

I'll let you know how it turns out this time...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Type A and T'ai Chi

Due to a recent blood pressure problem, I investigated different ways to keep it under control including diet, exercise, breathing, aromatherapy,and T'ai Chi.

It's the T'ai Chi that has been a source of amusement for my family and my doctor. I had already purchased a beginning practice DVD some time ago, so this week I dusted it off and gave it a try.

Shortly after, a family member stuck his head around the corner after hearing me raising my voice to the TV - "Geez, will you just hurry up and show me the next movement!" He commented that he didn't think that the idea was to hurry.

Today he laughingly repeated the story to the doctor who said that T'Ai Chi was a slow form of meditation and suggested that perhaps that wasn't the best way for me to go.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Saving Money?

Sunday afternoon we made a run over to Beach Camera in Greenbrook to buy a new lens.

On the way we looked for a good price for gas and ended up at Raceway on Route 22 East in Greenbrook: $1.87/ regular unleaded. Even though I'm passing along this great price if you are in that area, it's so important to remember this summer's $4.00+/gallon prices and continue to conserve.

At least the price of the gasoline made me feel better about the price of the new lens.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Explaining Your Insurance Bill

Today's Courier News Police Blotter items included 10 car burglaries in Bridgewater, most of them at the offices of a national insurance company.

The cars involved were late model: a BMW, some Infinities, two Jaguars, a Lincoln Navigator, a Lexus, and an Explorer. The items taken included a pair of $150.00 sunglasses, some navigation units worth $200-and-up, and a $215 roasting pan.

A $215 roasting pan?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No Newspaper?!?

The general consensus in the business world is that paper newspapers are going the way of the dodo bird; that they no longer have a place in the modern world.

And I find that sad.

I don’t remember a time that there weren’t newspapers in my life, even before I could read. Mysteriously, each day, the newspaper would arrive at our house. The adults would all peruse the headlines then divvy up the sections - dad the sports, grandma the obits, mom the ladies section, the older kids the comics.

Then began the tsk-tsking over the day’s events – the local, the state, the national, and the world. Soon they would be exchanging bits and pieces of stories and then the sections would begin to rotate around, person-to-person, as each family member finished their first choice.

My father always got first crack at the crossword and soon we would look over the television offerings on channels 2 through 13 for that night. Monday through Saturday the kids could take out their crayons, using the daily comics as coloring books.

On Sunday, except for a quick glance at the headlines, the paper had to wait until after church. While my mother and grandmother finished fixing Sunday dinner, the paper kept us busy. After lunch my father would stretch out on the couch, begin reading the paper, and fall asleep with it resting on his chest.

Within a day-or-so of its arrival the paper would be cut apart: the Wednesday paper always had food coupons and good recipes, an idea from the sewing column would be set aside, an obituary or wedding or birth announcement would be tucked into the Bible, an article saved to mail out to a distant relative or a college student.

Sometimes there would be news so earthshaking – the starting and ending of wars, the deaths of presidents, local disasters - that whole newspapers would be put aside in a safe place for future generations to read and understand what had happened in the context of our daily lives.

And this wasn’t the end of the paper. It lined the bottom of the parakeet’s cage, insulated casseroles en route to church suppers, and protected the kitchen table from seasonal projects such as pumpkin carving, Easter egg dying, and fish-cleaning. Our dogs were paper-trained. Newspapers and cardboard boxes were the two things one saved when a move was in the offing.

We spread newspapers on the floor while we emptied the vacuum cleaner’s cloth bag and we crumpled a few in the fireplace under the wood to start the fire going. Ladies could copy or share patterns using newspapers and quilters sometimes used them for paper piecing.

Every gardener knew old newspapers could be used as mulch or as a tent over tender plants in case of frost. They could be used to clean windows.

Commuters use them as umbrellas during sudden rainstorms.

Now that I’m semi-retired I finally have time to peruse the paper from front-to-back over breakfast then start the crossword. This is the way that I pictured retirement and I don’t want to give it up.

Suddenly I want to go find my crayons, the big 64-color box.

"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." - Thomas Jefferson

Friday, November 14, 2008

Investing in Food

After considering all our investment possibilities, we have decided to put our extra cash into food.

We started this investment plan a few months ago when we got our $1200 economic stimulus check that we were supposed to spend in order to boost the economy.

We took our check to Shop Rite. In exchange for our $1200 check we got four $330 gift cards – a 10% return. We didn’t know where else we could get a guaranteed 10% return, so that was great.

As the price of gas soared and the cost-of-living sky rocketed, food as an investment looked better and better. We already owned several food stocks and bought one more as the market tanked.

We started to stockpile additional food on sale, increasing our savings with the judicious use of double coupons. When Smucker’s Strawberry Jam went on half-price sale and we had a coupon, we bought two jars to store in the pantry. As the weeks passed, we added half-price pickles, ice-tea mix, frozen meatballs, and soap.

These investments have done much better than any others we have, so we’ll just continue on.

And we don’t have to buy toilet paper all winter.

The Wall Street Journal apparently had the same idea in April:

"I don't want to alarm anybody, but maybe it's time for Americans to start stockpiling food..." - WSJ, April 21, 2008, by Brett Arends

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Tomatoes of Autumn

In all the decades of Central Jersey vegetable gardens I have known, there have always been tomato plants and part of the tomato tradition was the neighborly contest to produce the first tomato of the season - preferably before July 4th.

But I can never remember a last tomato of the season competition. It seems as though, in years past, by mid-September gardeners were trying to save a final few green tomatoes before ripping out the plants, but now I find myself brushing aside the fallen leaves of autumn to uncover ripe tomatoes for salads and sandwiches.

We consider this a positive event - but odd.

On the other hand, I also don't remember cutting the lawn as one of the jobs to be done while preparing for Thanksgiving guests.

I'll know that this has become a common phenomena when seed catalogues offer such tomato names as "Late Girl" or "Autumn Red" or "Halloween Special."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ESP or Conspiracy

I borrowed a Saturday Evening Post from the library this week and one of the first articles I read started with this:

"Okay, so the nation is stuck in the quicksand of a subprime crises, millions are driving away from their split levels, banks are hemorrhaging red ink, the battered stock market is teetering on a free fall, and President Obama's first day as Commander-in-Chief will be focused on declaring war on a full-blown recession." *

I later realized that this was the September/October issue which had arrived at the Library on August 29th.


* The Saturday Evening Post, Sept./Oct. 2008, P. 10

No Wars, No Veterans?

Veteran's Day marks the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 - 90 years ago today.

World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars.

Whenever the United States has a political race [like the one we just went through], any contenders who have been in the armed services - especially those having war experience - bring it up.

Can you imagine a time when we had peace for so long that there were no politicians with wartime experience? Would that be good or bad?

Other people have tried to imagine this:

"More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginning of all wars - yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between governments." - President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)

"I have seen enough of one war never to wish to see another." - Thomas Jefferson

"It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it." - Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)

Monday, November 10, 2008

DJIA = Zero?

Watching the American stock market drift further and further down brings up and interesting question: What happens if a major market indicator - for example the Dow Jones Industrial Average - drops down to zero?

Would that mean that buyers would offer to take stock for free? That owners/sellers would offer to give away stock they own for free? That the companies in the index would now be worth nothing?

We recently purchased a food stock that had dropped sufficiently low to get our attention; we had been following it for a long time and people have to eat. But why are the sellers selling? The company is still a good one. Some market pundits have suggested that sellers are panicking. The only reason I can come up with is the sellers owe money - such as a mortgage payment - and have to sell stock to pay their bills

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Extra! Extra!

A newspaper anomaly sprang up again this week when Senator Barack Obama won the presidential race. People all over the world snatched up all the major newspapers they could find with headlines declaring Obama's victory.

A line of people looking for Wednesday's New York Times formed around their building. The NYTs printed more copies. Within hours the election edition appeared on eBay with a $200 price.

Why, when newspaper publishers across the United States are downsizing or even closing due to the lack of readers, does the public demand a solid print copy of the news when there is a major headline?

"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." - Thomas Jefferson, 1787

“Newspapers cannot be defined by the second word -- paper. They’ve got to be defined by the first word -- news.” - New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberg, Jr.

“Here is the living disproof of the old adage that nothing is as dead as yesterday’s newspaper...This is what really happened, reported by a free press to a free people. It is the raw material of history; it is the story of our own times.” - Henry Steel Commager, historian, 1951

Quotes located at - The World Association of Newspapers

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Baby's Friend in Washington?

Now that Barack Obama has won the White House, his family is ready to look for a family dog, but they haven’t decided on a breed.

It just so happens that last week I finished a book borrowed from the library, A Rare Breed of Love by Jana Kohl, a book about her dog Baby who was a rescue from a puppy mill.

Since adopting Baby, Kohl has made it her mission to enact legislation that would control puppy mills. As part of that undertaking, Kohl and her little three-legged survivor have traveled around the United States meeting with legislators, asking for their support. The book has many pictures of Baby posing with politicians, judges, actors, and anyone else who might help.

And…one of those posing with Baby is Senator Barack Obama.

I hope that he remembers the few minutes he took to meet with this little dog when his family is choosing their companion.

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” – attributed to Harry Truman (1884-1972)

“I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons.” – Will Rogers (1879-1935)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Improved MPG - Guaranteed

I have come up with a sure-fire way for many Hillsborough residents to save money and to increase the miles-per-gallon they get with their current vehicles.

There is a local habit that I have observed repeatedly. Homeowners arrive home, stop at the end of their usually 40-foot driveways, get out of their still-running cars, retrieve the mail from their roadside mailboxes, get back into the still-running cars, sift through the mail while sitting in their still- running cars, and put the car in gear and drive the remaining 25 or 35 feet to their garage where they finally turn off the car.

Now, my radical idea is to drive up the entire length of the driveway. Yes, I am talking about the entire 40 feet. Maybe even into the garage. Then park the car and turn it off. Walk back the entire length of the driveway to the mailbox, get the mail, and walk the entire length of the driveway back to the house.

Voila! Gas saved! Plus the health benefits of the walk up-and-down the driveway and less exhaust fumes.

And if your driveway is longer, even more health benefits and less exhaust fumes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The "Just Say No" Mortgage

Everyone is acting as though the mortgage mess is something new, something recent, but I personally know that it was decades in the making.

About 20 years ago, when we were house-hunting, we had a pair of mortgage brokers come to our home to review all our finances and assist us with our mortgage application.

We sat down at the dining room table covered with our bills, savings passbooks, checkbooks, income statements, and any other thing that a company offering to lend us mortgage money might like to see.

They opened their attaché cases and pulled out stacks of forms and a pair of calculators. After about an hour they came up with their recommendation.

They proposed that we go for a “no doc” [no documentation for those of you who haven’t been through this agony] loan, tell the mortgage company that we earned $94,000 annually, and – swish –there was an easy loan.

We weren’t happy.

First, they were asking us to lie about our income on forms that were ultimately legal papers; with a “no doc” the mortgage company wouldn’t see our income. If our lies were discovered the mortgage company could call the loan, that is, they could declare that the entire loan amount was due immediately.

Second, there was no reason to lie. We were putting about 60% down on the house and had more than enough income to justify the mortgage we needed.

Third, a “no doc” loan had an interest rate ¼% higher than a documented one. One little thing they neglected to mention.

And one other consideration: did we want to do business with brokers who were proposing – nay, recommending - that we lie?

We “just said no”, sent them on their way, and had no problem getting a mortgage at a good rate which was paid off long ago.

mortgage: Word History:
"The great jurist Sir Edward Coke, who lived from 1552 to 1634, has explained why the term mortgage comes from the Old French words mort, “dead,” and gage, “pledge.” It seemed to him that it had to do with the doubtfulness of whether or not the mortgagor will pay the debt." - American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama.

For the last few months I was afraid for America as I watched the McCain-Palin ticket open the Pandora's Box that released racism, religious prejudice, taunts and cutting comments about education, condemnation of the importance of a free press in a democracy, and the idea that anyone who didn't support the Republican ticket was anti-American.

Despite Senator McCain's gracious concession speech last night, trying to stuff these hateful, divisive, and un-American opinions back into the box is not easily done. All you have to do is read today's nasty and negative comments about Obama's win and consider the mindset of those who are so bent on wishing him ill that they hope that their own United States will not prosper under his administration.

Good luck to President-elect Obama and the United States of America.

One of my earliest memories of Presidential politics involves what was supposed to be be a scary comment about Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy in (I think) 1960: If Kennedy won the Pope would run America. Today I mentioned that memory to someone who is Catholic and she nodded; she could remember believing that a Catholic would never be president.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Presidential Consolation

A few months ago when I met President Abraham Lincoln at South Bound Brook's Staats House, the current presidential race was very much on my mind. Discussing the dirty politicking going on, I told President Lincoln that I feared for our country.

He said not to worry, that it was always that way - even in his day.

After weeks of stories about the millions of new voters, the number of citizens expected at the polls, and the potential for voting machine problems, I didn't know what to expect. Television news stories showed lines of voters extending for blocks at numerous polling places around the country. People told about long waits.

After all this anticipation, voting today was a real letdown. No parking problem. There was one person in front of me in line and two behind me. I voted. I left.


"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 3, 2008

Deja Vu: The Economy

While cleaning out an old desk I came across this 1992 editorial cartoon that I had ripped out of the newspaper:

The more things change the more they stay the same.

On the back of the cartoon is an article about Johnny Carson's final appearance as host of The Tonight Show - May, 22, 1992.

"It's like deja vu all over again." - Yogi Berra (B. 1925)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Marathon Time

The New York City Marathon was run today and many commentators said that a lot of runners have been motivated to race while watching past marathons.

I have talked to marathoners and even people who compete in Ironman competitions and I don’t wonder how they do it physically. They have assured me that with enough training and incentive one can accomplish just about anything.

What I wonder is how they get the time, the hours needed, to practice and the time to actually travel to the races.

Today I was going to try to go over to the YMCA and swim laps for an hour, but the obligations of day-to-day life intruded and I never got to do it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A FunTest

I spotted this "little exercise" yesterday on the Time Goes By blog by Ronni Bennett and had so much fun with it that I'm passing it along:

"While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand. Your foot will change direction and there's nothing you can do about it."

So far three of us have tried it at our house. It's a fun thing for adults and kids.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Now and Then

The number of trick-or-treaters this year was down significantly in our neighborhood. Just a few years ago we planned for about 200 kids, but this year there were only about 50 to 70. That’s fine with me, because we now have leftover candy.

When I was thinking about this post, I tried to remember the Halloween’s of my youth – mainly in the 1950s. None of my costumes stick out in my memory and I can’t remember any store-bought ones. There are no pictures of any of us in our costumes in the family photo albums, so it apparently wasn’t a major holiday. Older siblings and cousins were put in charge of the younger kids.

There were a number of us who dressed as hobos; this mainly consisted of old clothes, pants held up with rope, and a bundle made from an old piece of cloth. Our faces were smeared with something black to represent beards. I understand that this costume is no longer politically correct as it might be perceived as making fun of the poor and/or homeless.

Then there were cowgirls and cowboys. This involved wearing Stetsons, handkerchiefs, vests, and our cap guns. Now that I think about it, there may have been cowboy or Indian costumes that could be purchased, but I don’t think I knew anyone who bought a costume. Nowadays Westerns are no longer popular and cap guns are forbidden, so I didn’t see any Roy Rogers or Dale Evans.

The only other costume that I remember was the one where you dressed up like an adult. Boys would wear shirts and ties, hats, and jackets and carry an attaché case, just like on Mad Men. Girls wore dresses, and hats and actual makeup. Now that the grownups and the kids all dress the same it wouldn’t even be recognized as a costume.

The only memories I have involve being out after dark, shuffling the fall leaves (which are cleaned up these days even as they land on the ground), and traveling in groups of friends. We would arrive on a front porch and then altogether call out in a singsong “Any-thing-for-Hall-o-ween?” or chant a chorus of “Trick or Treat.”

And the candy collected was special as we didn’t have candy every day. In fact I can remember that even soda was a special treat. My mother saved pennies for weeks and would throw a few pennies into each bag. There were also the kids collecting for UNICEF carrying a little box that resembled the school cafeteria milk containers.

Not that many years ago the local morning kindergartners used to stroll by in the early afternoon, but now their parents are still at work as are the neighbors who give out the candy. And I’m not sure the kids still have half-days in kindergarten as even pre-school has gotten more serious. Maybe our neighborhood has just gotten older. The first kids at our house arrived about 5:30 p.m.

Now they just ring the doorbell and stick out a container. Or they take the candy in their hands and then give it to the adults who accompany them to check it over before it goes in with the rest of the stash and remind them to say “thank you.”

Sigh. Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sarah and the Supremes

As today is the first Monday in October, it seems like a good time to consider Sarah Palin’s recent Katie Couric interview where she was asked about Supreme Court decisions, specifically, the one’s with which she might disagree

As Palin received a lot of flack for only being able to remember one case, the Roe decision, I tested myself by taking a piece of scrap paper and jotting down any other cases that I could remember.

Involving the rights of persons under arrest, I recalled Miranda v. Ohio [1961 – the Miranda rights that need to be read to certain arrested persons], the Gideon decision [1963 – poor defendants deserve a lawyer], and Mapp v. Ohio [1961 – search warrants and the admissibility of illegally obtained evidence].

From my school days several decades ago I still remembered the Dred Scott decision, which was always on exams [1857 – Dred Scott v. Sandford – black persons are not citizens under the Constitution].

Then there were the related decisions Plessy v. Ferguson [1896 – separate but equal is okay] and Brown V. the Board of Education that overturned Plessy [1954 – separate but equal is not okay].

Regarding education, there was the Bakke case [1978 – UC v. Bakke – affirmative action – some special admissions policies unconstitutional].

Now, these were the ones I immediately remembered, but after reflection others came to mind, even if not completely.

Here’s one that Palin should be aware of, BOE Island Trees School District v. Pico [1982 – regarding book banning, ”…schools may not control their libraries in a manner that results in a narrow partisan view of certain matters of opinion…”]. Then there is Wallace v. Jaffree [1985 – moment of silence not constitutional in Alabama law as it was to endorse religion and return prayer to public schools]. She may want to review Lee v. Weisman [1992 – prayers as part of a school program not allowed].

I won’t go on, but I will suggest she take a Constitutional Law course. She really needs it – even as governor. And some legal studies may help her in that pesky Troopergate investigation.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did look up the years of most of the decisions and I was required to take a fair number of law courses in college and worked in the legal field.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Wiz's Castle

Apparently a miracle worker has arrived in town. A real wizard. For the sake of brevity, lets just call him “the Wiz."

The Wiz recently made a presentation explaining various miracles he wants to perform in conjunction with a massive castle he would like to make appear. The audience at this meeting included the Department for Assessing Magical Proposals (DAMP) that oversees proposed castle construction in this area, various professionals and politicians, a large contingent of local citizens, and a bunch of people who have exactly no stake whatsoever in whether these miracles occur or not, but apparently are friends of the Wiz.

Now, what exactly are these miracles?

Let’s start with the Low Income Persons (LIP) obligation that the DAMP’s jurisdiction would incur as a result of the Wiz’s activities. Although the initial LIP service was about 214 units and the Wiz had offered to build 264 units [out of the goodness of his heart], and although the even stronger NJ State Wizards had recently waved their wand and increased these numbers…Well, the Wiz is going to get a waiver so that he only has to make 45 LIP units appear. It wasn’t clear how the Wiz was going to accomplish this enchantment, but apparently it is such a hard spell that the town would have to help him with this magic.

Another miracle that the Wiz is going to perform involves various aspects of water – wastewater, stormwater, floodwater, and drinking water.

Starting with wastewater, the Wiz is going to get yet another division of the aforementioned very powerful State Wizards to let the castle have sewers without delay even though it took the apparently weak local magicians 28 years to get their sewers to appear. It isn’t exactly clear what spell is going to make his castle’s wastewater disappear, but it better not involve a really big moat and a lot of pump trucks.

Stormwater and floodwater can be handled as one in this particular area, as rain and floods go hand-in-hand. Apparently the Wiz feels he has stronger magic and better spells than Mother Nature, the NJ DEP wizards, and the Federal Wizards. It appears that the Wiz had his local friendly ghost (who currently haunts the fields where the Wiz wants to put his castle) send in some information to the DEP wizard to assist with his magic spell.

The Wiz apparently felt that Mother Nature had provided sufficient potable water for everyone to share; therefore no magic would be needed to protect existing local wells.

Traffic spells appear to be a specialty of the Wiz. Despite their castle having up to 2,200 residents, at least 1,400 employees, delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and visitors, it is enchanted and will produce no extra traffic problems in the area. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget the extra vehicles from their 214…or 264…or 45 LIP service units…which also won’t have any effect on traffic.

There is also some money magic involved, apparently related to the ability of the castle residents to be in two places at once. The residents of this enchanted project will all stay on site because it is gated and they perceive it to be safer than the surrounding areas - except for the LIPs who will be located in the apparently risky area outside the gates. The Wiz will provide the residents every form of business they will need to live – food, drink, medical care and medicine, beauty salons, pools and gyms, and all manner of activities. But, and here is the magic, these same residents will also appear outside the castle walls, spreading their largess in the nearby village which is selling the same products that the Wiz is already providing inside the walls so that the residents never have to leave…oh, never mind.

Since magic needs no explanation, just understand that the Wiz’s new castle will have no effect on local schools, roads, emergency services, hospitals, or any form of infrastructure. The local mortals who will live within a few hundred feet of the moat have nothing to worry about.

Additionally, the Wiz is going to give the local town millions in taxes every year without costing the town a dime. Just like magic.

Regarding the Department Assessing Magical Proposals (DAMP): they do not always approve castles. Although they only handle applications where the magic would happen within their own jurisdiction, they do consider the negative affect on neighboring DAMP areas.

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” – Chiffon Margarine advertisements (1971-1979)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Race and Racism

During this Presidential race many Americans thought that we had put racism and sexism behind us. I don’t know about the sexism, but today it became apparent that the racism is still rampant.

This morning’s newspaper printed an article headlined “Supremacists spread anti-Obama fliers.” Apparently a white supremacist group headquartered in northwest New Jersey had dropped off fliers in driveways in Roxbury suggesting that voters should not elect Senator Obama because he is black.

This week a family member told me that an acquaintance of his was shocked that he might vote for a black man.

Now before any of us pat ourselves on the back, assuring ourselves that we are above all that, too cosmopolitan and diverse, take a look at the posts on a local Hillsborough forum. Look for the ones that refer to Senator Obama as “Hussein.” While that may in fact be the senator’s middle name, the posters do not use any other candidates’ middle names. Look for the ones that call him Barack bin Obama. Look for the ones that refer to the Muslim religion.

There are those who may argue that these aren’t racist comments, but in our hearts we all know better. Especially those making the comments.

"The parallel between antifeminism and race prejudice is striking. The same underlying motives appear to be at work, namely fear, jealousy, feelings of insecurity, fear of economic competition, guilt feelings, and the like." - Ashley Montagu (1905 - 1999), American anthropoligist, social biologist.

Monday, September 22, 2008

NOW It's Fall

After my rant about retailers pushing the season by putting out Halloween candy in August, I was going to post that I was now willing to see Trick or Treat stuff...

Unfortunately I was in a store today and saw a pile of boxes of fake Christmas trees. Kind of ruined the whole thing.

Happy First Day of Autumn.

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying. " - poet Robert Herrick (1648)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Palin Because...

While American's wonder why McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, the answer seems obvious: Comedy writers needed fresh material.

This is how it came about.

With presidential campaigns being so expensive, the comedy writers all pooled their money and came up with the highest bid - uh, I mean contribution - to McCain's election fund. Since they won, they got to pick the vice-presidential candidate.

Okay, so do you have a better explanation?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Palin: Because....

When presidential candidate McCain announced that his running mate would be Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, there was a collective ”Who?” heard across 49 of the 50 United States.

Then everyone asked “why?”- including the citizens of Alaska. I’m not even sure McCain could answer the question in depth.

But then I heard one of the night show hosts talking about President Bush’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Georgia. According to this comedian, upon hearing about the invasion, Bush sent warplanes to Atlanta. [I’m pretty sure the comedian was joking.]

Then it occurred to me why McCain chose Palin: he thought that it would be an election coup if he could develop an alliance with a foreign country with oil reserves.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Messing with My Moment of Zen

When Michael Phelps won all those medals at this summer’s Olympic Games, my heart sank.

This could only mean that suddenly Americans would rush to their local pools with their children in tow.

Americans are like that. When gymnast Olga Korbut competed in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics and Kurt Thomas in 1978 and Mary Lou Retton in 1984, gymnastics schools popped up all over the United States. Ice-skating’s popularity soared in 1968 with Peggy Fleming, in 1976 with Dorothy Hamill [who also contributed a haircut], and Scott Hamilton in 1984. More ice-rinks appeared and public ice-time became a rare commodity as private lessons increased.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. I happen to own a circa 1950s wooden tennis racket still in its press.

So why did Phelps’ recent achievements distress me? I happen to enjoy swimming at a local pool, as do a fair number of Hillsborough adults. Our moments of Zen occur during the calming hours spent swimming quiet laps with only other grownups in the pool. Those soothing moments may well diminish as more and more young swimmers decide they want to compete and swim teams become more popular.

Please, please don’t make swimming this year’s craze.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's Still Summer

Okay, retailers, listen up. It’s still summer.

I am determined not to give up summer until its last day - September 21st, but you have been trying to force fall on me since the first week of August when you started advertising school supplies in the local sales circulars.

It could be that you are trying to earn some income in this slow economy or that you have central Jersey mixed up with other states where school actually starts mid-August or that cash-strapped families are trying to spread out the cost of school supplies. Be that as it may, I was not in the school supply mode.

Your advertising marched on with school clothes, dorm supplies, “fall is for planting” nursery campaigns, turkey platters, fall linens, and dire warnings about the upcoming price of heating oil.

But the straw that broke this camel’s back this week was watching the Shop Rite stockers putting up shelves of Halloween candy. Initially I thought I must have misunderstood…it was some packaging that just happened to be orange and black. I actually walked over to the mounting displays to check and it was then that I saw that the wrappings were, in fact, decorated with pumpkins and witches.

Who the heck are these people buying their Halloween candy in August and once they have purchased it, how do they resist the temptation to eat it and then have to buy more to give out to the kids…uh-oh. I think I now understand the retailer’s strategy.

My fight to preserve summer has apparently been futile except in my little corner of the universe where I am still weeding the garden, bringing in little bouquets of zinnias and real vine-ripened tomatoes, watching momma birds feed their almost grown babies, enjoying this summer’s still-spotted fawns, and trying to buy a new bathing suit.

I will never again worry that if I purchase Halloween candy at the beginning of October, it will be stale by October 31st.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mom's Air Conditioning

With the afternoon heat of the last few days and the higher and higher electric bills, I find myself using 1950’s techniques to cool my house.

Growing up we didn’t have air-conditioning except at the local movie theaters. Remember the banners they used to hang every summer to entice moviegoers in with the promise of coolness? They didn’t even mention what the show was – just that they were “air-conditioned”, written in ice-blue with edging suggesting a dripping ice block.

At home all the windows and doors were wide-open overnight. If you lived in a “troubled” area you kept the first floor windows shut at night and opened them about 5 a.m. As the sun rose, my mother would close the shades on the east side of the house and then the windows. By about 11 a.m. the house would be closed up, keeping in the cool night air. Sometimes the cellar door in the kitchen would be open, letting the mysteriously cool underground air float up.

We would occasionally have lunch in the shade of a big tree in the back yard and for a treat blow up the kiddie pool for an early afternoon splash. Moms would sometimes open aluminum chairs around the edge of the pool and dangle their feet in the cool water while they watched the kids and visited with each other.

Babies lay on a blanket in the shade with their damp hair stuck to their foreheads.

By 2 p.m. it was naptime with a fan in the hall to stir around the by-then warmish air. My mother would do quiet cool work – no baking or ironing. By four, with the temperature having maxed out, it was time to start stirring again.

Dinner would be cooking on top of the stove – no roasts this time of the year. As a treat we might cook hamburgers outside or actually be decadent and have cold-cuts with sliced tomatoes from the garden and homemade potato salad out of the fridge.

By nine p.m. it was time to start the cooling cycle again, opening the windows for the night. A large box fan sat on a desk in my room all night – the room at the far end of the second floor - exhausting the day’s heat out the window and pulling in the cooler night air from downstairs.

"It was luxuries like air conditioning that brought down the Roman Empire. With air conditioning their windows were shut, they couldn’t hear the barbarians coming."
- Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days


When an acquaintance lost their air-conditioning for almost two weeks this July, I went in on hot days to check on their pets. I pulled down the unused rolled-up shades on the sunny-side of the house to block the sun’s heat and turned off window fans pulling the early afternoon humidity into the house.

They seemed surprised.

I guess no one teaches simple home-based climate control anymore. It’s just easier to switch on the air conditioner, use up the environment, and be shocked when the electric bill arrives.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Men and women shop for their bathing suits in completely different ways.

When a woman needs a new bathing suit she corrals a trusted friend - who probably also needs a suit - and begins making the rounds to the local clothing stores. Each suit is vetted by color and size, each shopper picks out several they like in a few different sizes, and only then do they begin the serious work.

As the prospective purchaser tries on each candidate, she makes all the moves that she might make in a pool to make sure the suit doesn’t ride up, cut into her shoulders, cause rolls of fat to appear, or display any part or her body that she does not wish to display. It is the job of her confidant to point out any problems that she may have missed in the three-way mirror and to be honest about how flattering the suit is.

Finally one or two suits are chosen and purchased.

It doesn’t take long at the local pool to determine that a significant number of men buy their bathing suits by going into a sports equipment store – alone - and finding the pool supplies and bathing trunks section. There they locate a pile of Speedos and buy the size they wore in high school several decades earlier. They do not look in any mirror. The first time they put it on is when they go to the pool.

One can only assume the men wearing comfortable bathing trunks that flatter them are married and their wives go with them when they shop. Or the ladies just buy the trunks and present them to their husbands as a fait accompli . Or they have very understanding - or bossy - sisters.

Whatever. Thanks, ladies.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Good-bye, Little Guy

Our 12-year-old Yorkie is gone.

About two weeks ago Little Guy began throwing up in the middle of the night. After a few sleepless nights, when it became obvious that it was more than something he ate, we took him to the veterinarian.

The vet checked him over, he reminded us that Little Guy was getting older and had had other medical problems. Finally the vet suggested that they do some blood tests just to check for anything that wasn’t obvious and the vet’s office would call us by the next afternoon with the results.

At 7:25 the next morning as I was working at my desk with Little Guy resting on the floor nearby, the telephone rang. It was the vet with the test results. Anytime a doctor calls you with test results that quickly, it isn’t good news.

Little Guy’s results showed that he was suffering from advanced kidney failure. The doctor wouldn’t be specific about how much time he had left and suggested actions that would make him more comfortable – special food, vitamins, making sure he drank water and went out to pee. There was no talk of treatment.

Little Guy liked the food and a few days later, when I took him outside, he rolled on his back on the sun-warmed lawn and wiggled around – all four paws in the air – in pure joy. It was just enough to convince me that he was improving, just enough to make me hopeful. I had gone online and researched canine kidney failure, I knew the odds, but at that moment I was perfectly willing to believe that he would be the one-in-a-thousand that lasted for years, the one that beat the odds.

Within days his appetite faded and he resumed getting sick in the middle of the night. Old towels covered every spot where he liked to rest to make cleanups easier.

When I finally accepted that he wasn’t going to get better, I hoped that he would lie down for a nap and just quietly and comfortably die in his sleep. But not too soon. Later. When I was ready.

But, as anyone who has ever loved knows, love comes with responsibilities you would rather not have, times that aren’t fun, decisions that break your heart.

And so, finally, we had to make the ultimate decision, ready or not. We still miss him.

The Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…

– Author Unknown

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Survivor: The Tomato Tale Continues

When we last saw the half-flat of tomato plants, they were settling into their new homes scattered throughout the yard – except for a few that had migrated to my mother-in-law’s yard.

Within 48-hours of their starting to put down roots they were visited by the neighborhood welcome wagon – doe-a-deer and her twin fawns and numerous rabbits large and small.

The plants in the fenced garden and the patio plants remained untouched, but the four next to the pots were each left with a stalk sticking up and one pair of leaves. The three on the far side of the house had their tops cleanly clipped off.

Some welcome!

It appears that all the plants have survived their premature pruning.

Meanwhile I have noticed that friends’ plants are setting fruit already. In a state whose gardeners pride themselves on having the first red, ripe, edible, garden-grown Jersey tomato preferably by July 4th…well, this is not a good thing.

Trying to remain an incurable optimist, I will continue to read the all-tomato cookbook and will remain uncharacteristically silent when other gardeners brag about their tomatoes.

"...But deer sometimes do get a penchant for eating tomato plants, especially the new growth, and can cause extensive damage..." - Lawrence Davis-Hollander, "The Tomato Festival Cookbook", P. 48.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Half-Flat of Tomatoes

Last week I stopped at Shop Rite and there in the middle of the Horticulture section [that’s the plants on the sidewalk in front of the store] was a bunch of tomato plants with a sign: “1/2 flat $5.99 with Price Plus card”.

Well, this year - with the price of food and the nationwide tomato-salmonella scare - buying the half-flat seemed reasonable. Just a few extra plants to supplement the vegetable garden.

Now, for the uninitiated, a half-flat is 24 plants - which didn’t seem like a lot…at the time.

Early the next morning seven of them went directly into the vegetable patch. That was simple and it was only about 9 a.m. As the flat contained assorted varieties, there were three patio tomatoes that went into three large containers near the patio and swing. Ten down, fourteen to go. Easy. Four more go into the ground next to the containers.

Darn, there are still ten left and the temperature is going up.

The basically unused far side of the house is always sunny; so three more tomato plants join the pachysandra groundcover and the Rose of Sharon plants along the chimney. I will have to carry buckets of water over there for the rest of the hot summer, but that’s no problem, right? Right? [Okay, this is where you are supposed to say “Right!” Geez, do I have to tell you everything?]

There are now seven left. Oh, wait! Six! Happily one of the little cells is missing a live plant! [It’s not often that I am happy to see that I didn’t get what I paid for.]

My significant other is now thoroughly sick-and-tired of tomato plants and steals away with four of them as a gift for my mother-in-law. Somehow two of them are unaccounted for, but I’m not looking too hard.

Google "too many tomatoes" and you get about 14,300 hits. This can't be good.

Planning ahead, I went to the Hillsborough Library and took out a book containing only tomato recipes.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Patriot is...?

For far too long this presidential political year the question of what makes an American – and a candidate - a “true” patriot has been bandied about from the national press to local forums.

As I listened to the arguments that patriotism was based on the displaying of American flag lapel pins and flags hanging off houses, I knew that something was wrong with this line of reasoning.

I began to vaguely remember a Sunday-school story about a poor widow sneaking into the temple to make an offering of a few pennies that she could ill-afford to donate and then quietly leaving. At the same time a rich man marched into the temple, probably accompanied by his retinue and the clanging of cymbals, to make a large donation and to make sure that everyone within earshot knew he was making the donation.

The whole moral of the story had to do with who was more blessed – the poor woman who quietly gave what she could or the rich man who gave lots of money and expected lots of recognition in return. [You’re all grownups. We shouldn't need to go further with this particular story. If we do, you can stop reading now. You are excused. Go away.]

Now, transposing this parable to patriotism let’s see where we go. There is the citizen who keeps track of what goes on in their town, their county, and their country and they vote - intelligently. They quietly volunteer where they are needed and can contribute. They obey the laws and regulations and they speak up when they believe the rules need some tweaking. When they serve on committees, they serve not as political appointees getting rewarded for their support of a certain party, but as citizens not expecting pay or recognition.

Then there is the other patriot, the one who lets you know that he is a patriot with the clanging of cymbals and the displaying of flags. He proclaims himself a patriot – over and over and over – and declares he is the only person who knows the true path of patriotism. And when he does something he considers patriotic he is sure that everyone knows about it.

Which one is the patriot?

Patriot: The person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about. - Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Somerville Cruisin...

With the rising cost of gas I was afraid that Somerville's Friday night cruises would peter out - after all those old cars weren't the most fuel efficient vehicles around and who could justify just riding up and down Main Street as though it were the late 50s or early 60s?

But, as you can see, it's as big as ever with cars for older cruisers...

and motorcycle enthusiasts...

and people who want to enjoy dining al fresco...

And don't forget that each Friday cruise is accompanied by an outdoor concert like this one on June 6 by the Raritan Valley Symphonic Band...

Enjoy!! Close to home - family friendly - free!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Let the Spin Begin

This morning, a month after Erickson Retirement Communities made it first local presentation about a high-rise development it would like to build in Hillsborough, the Star-Ledger has weighed in.

This morning's article is, well, interesting.

First ERCs projected job number has increased since the meeting and become more specific. At ERC's presentation there were 750 jobs - which did seem a little low for the services they said they were going to offer. This morning it's "800 full time jobs."

As far as the claim that the community "would not bring in schoolchildren" - that is true as far as it goes; no schoolchildren would live in the projects. But the nice lady mentioned in the article who would like to move into the project will sell her house. Most of the houses in Claremont are three or four bedroom so it is not unreasonable to think that a family with children will be the most likely purchasers.

Consider the experience of Hingham, Connecticut with ERC's Linden Ponds development as reported in The Hartford Courant of July 16, 2007:
"...A majority of Linden Ponds residents moved to the community from houses in Hingham, which led to rapid turnover in the neighborhoods. There was already growth in the number of schoolchildren, but Town Administrator Charles Cristello said it has accelerated somewhat since Linden Ponds opened..."

ERC also believes these units are affordable. With a buy-in price of $150,000 to $400,000, monthly fees ranging from $1400 to over $2000 for a single resident, an assets requirement, and monthly income requirements, the affordability argument seems to weaken. Even the full refund of the buy-in money apparently has its caveats. Again referring to the Courant article:"...A resident who runs out of money can use part of the entrance deposit to cover costs. If that is fully depleted, Erickson maintains a "Benevolent Care Fund..."

But what really got my attention was the assertion in the Star-Ledger article by the Erickson representative that the "reaction among the 100 or so [Hillsborough residents] who turned out was mixed." We were apparently not at the same meeting. The reaction I saw was hostile.

Except for those citizens who felt helpless, powerless, and unprotected.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Erickson: The NJ Developments

Erickson Retirement Communities has two developments already up-and-running in New Jersey.

Cedar Crest in Pompton Plains (Morris County) is described as located "up the mountain."

and Seabrook in Tinton Falls (Monmouth County) is described by a Tinton Falls resident as "off by itself near the outskirts of town...Mostly woods around it."

These two developments are similar in size to the one that Erickson is hoping to propose in Hillsborough, but unlike these two the Hillsborough development would have 4-or-5-story buildings as close as a few hundred feet from the nearest homes.

Okay all you real estate moguls, what are the three most important things about a property? Location, location, location.

And the location can be good. Or really, really bad.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Claremont - Royce Brook - Erickson: Skirmish #1

Last Wednesday evening representatives of Erickson Retirement Communities welcomed over 100 residents from the Claremont development area of Hillsborough to an informational meeting at Days Inn. Every chair was filled, extra chairs were set up, and even more locals stood around the edges – interspersed with Erickson employees holding microphones and notebooks.

Erickson had invited the Claremont residents to this private get-together through a letter on Royce Brook Golf Club stationary to hear about a “development proposal...currently under consideration” for Royce Brook’s easternmost golf course – the one directly behind the homes on Anne Street.

Erickson’s representative, Scott, opened his corporate power point with slides showing the history of Erickson, how revered Erickson was on Wall Street and in their niche of the market, what a great person Erickson’s founder was, how many other outstanding developments Erickson had...yada, yada, yada.

It was the kind of pitch you hear when you are invited for a free dinner and a free gift if you will just sit through a one-hour presentation with your spouse about our wonderful [fill in the blank: financial services, vacation community, time-share].

Suddenly an audience member interrupted the carefully scripted spiel, firing the first shot across the corporate bow, calling out from the middle of the room, “Don’t sell us, we’re not moving in! Just show us what you want to do!”

There was a moment’s hesitation and then a slide came up of an Erickson property in Massachusetts. A sea of high-rise buildings filled the screen.

An unbelieving hush fell over the room for a split second, a quiet collective gasp, as the residents took in the huge development: “Whoa!”

Then the yelling started, most of it centered on some variation of “You have got to be kidding!” At that point the pretty corporate power point as good as got flushed (maybe down Claremont’s newly approved sewer line) as the hostile SRO crowd confronted Erickson’s reps, yelling out questions, negative comments, and accusations against Erickson, the township, Royce Brook Golf Club, and the local press.

To give Scott credit, he soldiered on and using public-relations-speak he continued to discuss the three 500-unit “neighborhoods” that would be located on the self-contained “campus”, the 2,200 residents, the 750 employees, and numerous commercial businesses – restaurants, medical facilities, beauty salon, convenience store, etc.

He claimed that other townships loved having them there, that they paid lots of taxes...but the crowd was having none of that.

They repeatedly demanded to know why Hillsborough’s representatives and administrator weren’t there [Erickson did have a “meet-and-greet” with the township, but they weren’t at the stage where they were making formal filings], why didn’t Erickson use Royce Brook’s western course near the railroad tracks and the high-tension wires [Because Billy Casper Golf/Royce Brook wanted to sell the east course], why wasn’t the press there [Erickson didn’t answer this one, but rumor has it that the press was deliberately excluded], what about emergency medical services [we have doctors and private ambulance services on call and trained security], what about firefighting at high-rises [we pay so much in taxes that they can get what they need], what about traffic [our developments only have one exit – which would be on Hamilton Road], what about flooding, wastewater, wells, property values, zoning changes, lowering the heights of the buildings, finding property elsewhere – questions yelled so loud and so fast that it became difficult to follow what was happening. There were allegations that Erickson’s timing was designed to take advantage of the upcoming sewer line construction in the Claremont area [They claimed they weren’t even aware of it].

And as the disgusted residents filed out, one looked at the screen and murmured to his neighbor, “Well, say goodbye to watching sunsets.”