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…