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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Santa Visits through the Years

Organizing my external hard drive filled with 7 years worth of photographs has encouraged me to create another "through the years" blog. This one is of visits with Santa. In most cases, the visit was with the true Santa, as agreed upon by my friend, Heidi.


2002



I was a new mom to a 7-month old baby. I thought the only place to see Santa was at the mall. Fortunately the line was not very long.















2003


When Ashley was a year old we stumbled upon Santa while touring Kuser Mansion in Hamilton, NJ. It took us a couple of years to discover the pattern and to make it a habit to see him.




2004


Looking back I must have been crazy, but at the time it seemed sane. Ashley and I went into NYC with Debbi and Christopher to see the Christmas decorations, and take a picture with Santa at Macy's Santaland. It was an ambitious day with two small kids and mass transit.



2005



We had a nice visit with Santa at Hershey Park the year Ashley was 3.





2006



When Ashley was 4 we returned to to Kuser Mansion to visit Santa. Over the years we've been able to have long chats with Santa.













2007


When Ashley was 5 we took her to Kale's Nursery, a local florist, to see "the best Santa," according to an acquaintance. He was closer to home, and was available more hours, but he was not the true Santa.










2008


Back to Kuser Mansion to see the true Santa. Ashley and Baby, her doll, dressed like Santa for the picture.

My mom's other grandchildren could not make it to Kuser to meet Santa, so we met up at Marketfair Mall instead. Ashley was in first grade, but I was homeschooling her that year, so our schedule was flexible. We were the first ones at the mall. While waiting, a photographer from the US 1 Newspaper asked if Ashley was afraid of Santa. I said no. He asked Ashley and Santa to do a small photo shoot together. It was on the cover of the US 1 newspaper the following week.










2009


When Ashley was 7 years old, she asked Santa for a pair of spats. From here on out, Santa calls Ashley "Spats." 









2010




8-year old Ashley showing Santa the spats he brought her the year before. She then asked him for a sewing machine.





2011


At 9 Ashley asked Santa for a bearded dragon. Yeah, right, like that stands a chance of happening! There is no way I was going to allow a reptile to live in our house. 






2012

This year 10-year old Ashley brought Sandy Claws to meet Santa Claus.







2013 

Visiting Santa a Desiree Daniels annual open house. They asked about Sandy.



2014 

Back at Desiree Daniel's Open House. They asked again about Sandy. He has been pooping too much to take him out in public. This year our 12 year old asked for a trip to Europe. Amazing how the ante keeps getting upped.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Running

The day before I fell and twisted my ankle I saw this running shirt.


In that instant I realized just how far I have come as a runner. I no longer hate running. I no longer spend any minute during any race (even one with a twisted ankle) thinking "why am I doing this?" or "I can't do this." or "I thought this was a good idea 3 months ago..." implying, I no longer think this is a good idea.

Instead I tell myself "you can do it!" (yes, I sometimes talk to myself in the third person, reminds me of a teacher I had in middle school) or "keep it up!" It is a completely different mindset.

I also find if I don't lace up my sneakers for a few days, I actually miss it. *gasp*

I'll never break a 10-minute mile pace during a race (still working on a sub-11 minute mile pace). I have not lost a bunch a weight because of running (if anything, I'm probably up a few pounds since starting nearly five years ago). 

Meanwhile, I've made running friends, and running librarian friends. I've raced in 8 different states, plus one international race. I've toned my legs. I've bought more pairs of sneakers in the past five years than in the 20 before that. I've learned to dress in layers. I've learned to feel good about my accomplishments and not compare myself with my running friends. 

I've also amassed a medal collection. I know there is a huge debate about giving kids medals and awards for "trying," but even though thousands of people received the same medals, I still feel as if I earned my hardware.

Note: not all of them are for half marathons. I have other medals from smaller races.



Ashley's Art Adventures

A few weeks ago we receive a letter in the mail that was destined to change our lives. Ashley was invited to participate in the People to People Student Ambassador program July 1-20, 2015. She will be visiting 7 countries in 3 weeks. 

Has that sunk in yet? 

Our middle school aged daughter will be bopping around Europe next summer with 39 other middle school aged students and chaperons. How cool is that?

My first reaction when I learned about this was "is this legit?" I emailed a friend whose daughter went to Australia two summers ago and asked if it was with the same program. It was. Not only that, but her son was planning to go on the same trip as Ashley. That was the best endorsement we could ever ask for.

My next reaction was "how expensive is this?" Let's just say it is not cheap, but considering it covers all transportation and sleeping expenses, plus chaperons, plus three meals a day, it is priced fairly. They also set up a parent FB page so we can follow them virtually for the three weeks. I only hope I can convince her to blog about her experiences next summer. 

To help pay for the experience, Ashley has decided to sell commissioned artwork. The going rate (subject to change) is $25 per character, fancy lettering and other requests are extra. Here are some samples already delivered to happy customers.






Contact me, or leave a message here, to order your own Ashley masterpiece.

New Adventures - Memoir Writing

Two years ago I answered an ad on Craig's List that changed my life for the better. The ad was for a memoir writer. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive applying for a job on Craig's List, but I gave it a try anyway.

The position was being advertised by the son of a WW II vet. His father, Andy, was in an assisted living facility in Princeton. I met with him a few times and tried to parse out his story. John, his son, and I met a few times in local restaurants for updates, and to pass along information. John provided me with treasures, otherwise known as photo albums and the book his mother kept while "her soldier" was serving in Italy towards the end of the war to end all wars.

The challenge during this project as that Andy suffered from short term memory loss. Our visits would include him asking repeatedly "are you married? What does your husband do? Do you have any children? You're good looking." I'd get a couple of thoughts out of him from his past, before he would ask me again the same questions, as if he had not asked them only moments earlier.

Even with the interruptions, we were making progress. It helped to have a few photos to spur conversations. The son's biggest regret was that he did not start the project sooner, especially when his mother was still alive. We had plans to meet one of Andy's friends from the war once the weather turned nicer. Unfortunately, time was not on our side. Andy developed pneumonia only a few weeks into our project, and died in January 2013. 

As I was writing his memoir I thought this would make the perfect career for me. My mom often tells us we are a combination of our life experiences. No one can take that away from us. In this case, Andy's son was drawn to my resume over the other dozen or so he received because I had experience as a pre-school assistant teacher. He felt dad was very childlike as his short-term memory deteriorated, and it would take someone with a lot of patience to extract his story.

In addition to my pre-school teaching experience, I have an undergraduate degree in history, a graduate degree in library science, and a career as a freelance writer (i.e., interviewing and writing skills). My hobbies include blogging and photography. 

Here is where I put myself out on that proverbial ledge ... I'd like to start a professional memoir writing business. One of my biggest challenges has been deciding on a fair rate. I know, it is icky to talk about money, but if I want this to become a career and not a hobby, I need to charge for my services.

Open to negotiations, I'm charging $25 an hour for my services, plus expenses related to publishing the memoir. An hour is an hour is an hour. An hour is interviewing, writing, traveling (especially longer distances), transcribing, taking pictures, coordinating our schedules (unless this is super easy), and anything else related to writing a memoir. My research shows rates vary widely for this service, but this is a fair rate for someone starting out in the memoir business. 

Everyone has a story. Hire me to help preserve your story, or that of a loved one.

As for Andy and his story, we were reaching the end of what I could learn from him and his son could not find the letters his parents wrote to each other during the war. I met the entire family for a memorial luncheon at Jasna Polena where it was decided I would continue best as I could. I wrote what I could. He family made copies of it and distributed it at Andy's memorial service in South Carolina. It is something they treasure. 

You're US

I first met Emile B. Klein three years ago while writing a story for the Lawrenceville Patch. Through the Rutgers SCILS email distribution list I learned about an artist traveling around the country on his bicycle, living with strangers as he recorded their stories and drew pictures of them in the classic Renaissance style. I pitched the story to my editor, who gratefully said yes, thus launching me on one of my all-time favorite stories to both research and write.

Emile and I met at Fedora's on Main Street in Lawrenceville -- already my go-to place when meeting a friend for lunch. He was so much fun to interview. He is a natural storyteller. His goal was to find someone to paint in every state, to learn their stories, to live with them, to get to know people at their core roots. His travels have taken him from the seediest of motels to a mansion -- in the same day. The name of his organization, which includes a team of support, is called You're U.S. It is a play on words that expresses many different thoughts into one larger message.

As he meets people he learns their stories. Some of these stories have been turned into segments on NPRs Snap Judgement. 

As the months continue to pass I'd bump into him at odd places. I saw him in Princeton University's art museum, where he gave me an impromptu lesson in art history. I heard him speak at Adath Israel. One time I saw his bicycle parked in front of the Village Bakery and popped inside only to learn that was one of his headquarters, as he had befriended Bo and Karen, the owners, with his charm and openness.

This is a long introduction to say his art is now part of a traveling exhibit called A Hobo's America with Renaissance Roots. We saw it in Bedminster, NJ at the Center for Contemporary Art on our way to the Steampunk Festival.

When we first walked in, I saw his bicycle. It brought back a flood of memories. Walking around the exhibit I could practically hear his voice sharing the stories. 

This picture is of Ken, and is the one he was working on in October 2011 when we met. Ken had cognitive loss as a result of cancer. He could no longer work. They were barely making ends meet. Today Ken is one of Emile's biggest supporters. 

The exhibit included many small snapshots into the life Emile has led over the past few years. He lives simply -- often crashing on couches, or camping in his tent. His presence is huge. As someone commented on my story "the world needs more people like Emile B. Klein." Emile's exhibit is heading next to the Biggs Museum in Dover, DE (December 5-January 6). From there it is traveling up and down the East Coast. Click HERE for the tour schedule.

Our timing was such I thought the artist would be on site recording more histories. Unfortunately, he had a scheduling conflict and could not be there. I hope our paths do cross again.

Now that three years have past since our meeting, I wonder if his story is what placed the tiny spark in my what I hope turns into a career for me. Though I am not a trained artist in the Renaissance style, I do enjoy listening to people's stories. Nearly two years ago I wrote my first memoir, about a man named Andy who was a WWII vet. Andy had short-term memory loss that was so accute he would ask me several times in the same interview session "are you married? Do you have kids? What does your husband do? You're good looking." That conversation would repeat again between snippets of conversations. He died during the project. The idea, though, has remained with me. I want to become a professional memoir writer. After all, as Emile figured out long before I did, everyone has a story.




Monday, November 24, 2014

Halloween through the years

I decided to scan Ashley's first few Halloweens into the computer so the collection could be complete.


2002

 Ashley's first Halloween she was 5 1/2 months old. The half is important when you are so small. At that stage she didn't get a vote. Since I always called her my princess, I dressed her up as a princess that year.








2003

 At one year's old, Ashley was still my princess. I dressed her as Belle, my favorite Disney princess. I love Belle because she reads a lot, and because she doesn't put up with a lot of nonsense from the men in her life. She is strong and independent. More interested in adventure than in dating. This was the first year I took her to the pumpkin patch at Little Acres.
 This was also the first year we took her to the Fire House Halloween Parade on Gordon Avenue. She won for the Kookiest costume in her age category. I think it was her white beaded "pock" (pocketbook) that put her over the edge in voting. Personally, I thought she was a shoe-in for Cutest costume. 





2004


By two, Ashley had more definite opinions. We celebrated Halloween at Disney World, where after much effort I was able to take a picture of Ashley dressed as Pooh with Pooh. Our Disney costume highlight pictures would make another good blog thread. The tradition of taking a Halloween pumpkin patch picture continued.


This was Ashley's first year trick or treating with a friend. Prior to this year, I just took her to a few friends' homes long before regular trick or treating began. 

We went to a few hours in our neighborhood with Sophie and her dog, Gigi. The girls are still good friends years later.

2005




Three-year old Cinderella searching the pumpkin patch for just the right pumpkin to turn into a coach for the ball.









Trick or treating with her best friend, Sophie. We only hit a few houses that year.












2006



 















Four-year old Pocahontas / Tiger Lilly (from Peter Pan). With her hair down, Ashley is Pocahontas. With her hair in braids, she is really Tiger Lilly. Same costume. Yes, it can be a bit confusing at times.

We went trick or treating in Allentown with my parents that year.


2007

Five-year old fairy (Ranie --before Disney decided to do away with the fairies by Gail Carson Levine and create their own knock-offs) flying through the pumpkin patch at Little Acres.

















This was the first year Ashley had a last minute idea -- she wanted to dress up as Mary Poppins. I was stumped, but Ashley wasn't. She went to her dress up collection and pulled together a few pieces -- including the dress she wore in Aunt Becca and Uncle Bill's wedding, a leotard, a hat, some netting and she was set to go for the firehouse Halloween parade, always held on Mischief Night. 

She was not yet done, though, she wanted Don and I to dress up as Mary Poppins and Burt, while she dressed up as Jane Banks, while we trick or treated through Allentown. 


2008




Six-year old Ashley dressed up as Iridessa, one of Disney's official fairies. 


This was also one of two years we were homeschooling Ashley. We decided to go to Disneyland. Halloween lasts for about 6 weeks at Disneyland. However on October 31st, the Mad Hatter ("Sweet") took Ashley trick or treating through Fantasyland. Yes, it was a slow day in the parks as it was mid-week that year. This is one of my favorite memories of Disneyland.






2009


Seven-year old Ashley wanted to be a 50s girl, and I found a costume on eBay. Probably the simplest Halloween costume ever.













This was the first year she trick or treated with Emily on the other side of our neighborhood. They had a lot of fun canvassing the neighborhood together.








2010



Eight-year old Ashley was being very indecisive about what she wanted to be for Halloween, yet I wanted to take the annual pumpkin patch picture. She decided to dress as a Chinese girl, and have her doll dress in a similar attire. (The dress was a hand-me-down from Krissy, and part of her dress up collection.)

The day before the parade at school, she decided she wanted to be the Pillsbury Doughboy, a character Don and I have both been over the years (I went as the Pillsbury Doughboy when I had a "bun in the oven.")

Once again I asked Ashley, how do you see this happening? She went into her dress-up collection and her dresser, added the chef's hat Don wore with his costume over 20 years ago, and came up with a Pillsbury Doughboy costume. The kids in the older grades all got the inside joke and thought it was great!

She wasn't done yet. She decided for the firehouse parade, Don should be the doughboy and I should be Poppie Fresh, the female counterpart to the the Pillsbury Doughboy (otherwise known as Poppin' Fresh) and Ashley wanted to go as their child (Poppette Fresh?). Don had a costume. Ashley had a blue baby doll dress in her dress-up collection. I went to Red, White and Blue to find the right dress for my costume and added some white sweat pants and a mob cap. We took first prize for group costume at the firehouse. (Pictured at the Purple Cow.)

Trick or treating with Emily and Sofia.


2011



 Another year without purchasing a costume because nine-year old Ashley decides to dive into her dress up collection to become a hippie. In fact, she and her friend, Emily, both decide to dress as hippies that year. They did Trunk or Treat together at school, and trick or treated around Emily's neighborhood with Sofia and their siblings.

For us, though, Halloween 2011 will be marked by the first time Don or I remember it snowing in New Jersey before Halloween. Fortunately, it was the only time it snowed that "winter."




2012



Ten-year old Ashley decided to be a witch and put together her own costume. She also mastered the art of "flying" for the camera.

For the first time since Ashley was 3 she trick or treated in our neighborhood. It was fun being able to ring our own doorbell, and to see our neighbors. She loved trick or treating with Emily the past few years, and going to Allentown with my parents, but there is nothing like going door to door and seeing your neighbors, and having them see you in your costume. 

A bigger story about 2012 Halloween. We'll see what 2013 brings. I'm just hoping for no natural disasters!

2013

A beautiful night for trick or treating -- mid-60s. No snow storms or natural disasters. Perfect! Trick or treating with Emily -- hit both our side of the neighborhood and hers.






















2014

Ashley made her own Steampunk costume using hand-me-downs, thrift store finds, and crafts to create the costume. The goggles were purchased at a Steampunk festival.