Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Best of Pillsbury Press

This is a good time to post the PillsPress Best of 2013 list. The Best of 2012 list shows the Pillsbury Press is slowly creating a following.

Top articles (based solely on number of clicks):

Tokyo DisneySea (124)
Princeton Half Marathon (108)
Japanese Immersion Day (107)
Bialashu the Panda (90)
Sparkle Skirts vs. Team Sparkle (83)
Princess Half Marathon (82)
Boston Marathon (82)
2013 Beauty and the Beach (81)

Other than the stories about the Japanese Immersion Day and Bialashu the Panda, the other posts were ones I shared with a wider group of people -- FB running groups, or Disney fans. I'm still searching for my voice and what I want to immortalize about our lives in cyberspace.

Only a couple of people read about more mundane things, but I'll still continue to write about them because this blog is more for me to write my feelings, than it is for amassing a following. I love that people read it since it often leads to fun conversations, but that is not the primary purpose.

I strive to keep the words of my blog as words I would not be embarrassed to say to someone in person. As anyone who has ever read a blog, you know this is not always the case. As with life, there are times I'd love to spout out into the void of cyberspace, but don't you know it that would be the time that my post went viral and feelings would be hurt, and friendships damaged beyond repair. That is just not me.

I welcome people pointing out mistakes in my writing. As I posted this, I realized the title of the Beauty and the Beach race was 2014 Beauty and the Beach instead of 2013. 81 people read it and not one of them pointed out that glaring mistake. Oh well. It is fixed now.

The all-time most read article remains A Tribute to Pine Valley (138). Seeing this reminds me that All My Children did return in 2013 for a brief bit. I hope either Prospect Park or ABC can find a way to bring it back again.

I'm looking forward to 2014 and all of the new adventures we'll have, and that I will share with cyberspace.

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 O Christmas Trees

Each year since we decided to use a fake tree, we have added a tree. In 2012, we had three trees. In 2013 we now have four. My feeling is rather than have the ornaments collect dust in the basement, we need to either get rid of them, or display them. We opted to display them.

Our new one this year is in the dining room. As you can guess from the Snow White tree topper, this tree is dedicated to all ornaments Disney. It is amazing it has taken us this long to have an all-Disney tree.

The idea of having themed Christmas trees began when Debbi gave us a fake tree to use for our Coca Cola ornaments in the Coke room.

That was followed by a tree dedicated to food in the kitchen featuring mostly Pillsbury, Campbell and Hershey ornaments.

Our main tree is in the living room. It has ornaments from my childhood, photo ornaments, ornaments commemorating firsts in our lives as well as trips and plays and special times in our lives. If we only set up one tree, or we went back to having a live tree, it would include these ornaments. 

At Christmas I always display my grandmother's nativity set. Back in 2001 and 2002 we were on a quest for a nativity set. I wanted something durable, since we knew we were going to have a baby, yet not too cheap. Those years we only found super expensive sets (think Lenox) or super cheap ones (think Dollar Store) but nothing that we liked in-between. Then my grandmother passed away and my mom passed her nativity set onto us. I think of her every time I set it up.

I also bring up pictures of Ashley at Christmas and display them in the living room. The collection keeps growing. 

Merry Christmas everyone!

Update: we just bought a 5th tree for Ashley's room. :)


Traditions take place all year round. Think about how we celebrate birthdays, the end of the school year, the beginning of another year, Valentine's Day and other special days. No time of year seems as steeped in traditions, though, than Christmastime. 

Christmas is a magical time, or at least it should be. The days are rapidly becoming shorter. They are also becoming colder. If it wasn't for Christmas and its traditions, we might just not leave the house until Spring, or at least not leave after dark.

Our traditions have changed over the years. They used to begin Thanksgiving weekend with buying a tree from the same cut your own tree place. When you cut your own tree, you know it is fresh, and taken care of it lasts about two months. Unfortunately that tradition came to an end when the owner sold his tree farm to the township to use as open space, and when I broke our tree stand and three tries later still did not find an adequate replacement. The tree farm is a nice park, with nice trails, but we miss going there. Two years of problems encouraged us to go with a fake tree. The fake tree led to two more in 2012, a fourth one in 2013, and thoughts of a fifth one for 2014 (one in Ashley's bedroom with ornaments special to her).

Traditions come and go. I miss the real tree, but I don't miss the dropped needles, and the panic each year as we put it to the curb (are you sure you got EVERY single ornament?). 

Thanksgiving weekend used to be when we mailed out our Christmas cards, complete with the Pillsbury Press, print version. I also don't miss obsessing over the wording, and squeezing everything onto two sides of an 8.5x11 inch piece of paper, complete with one picture in the center column. The Pillsbury Press blog allows me a lot of freedom -- especially the freedom to edit after publication when people point out my errors.

The following weekend was typically when we saw Santa. Things changed here, too, when Santa moved. He still visits New Jersey from the North Pole every November, a bit earlier than our old schedule.

Another week I would often spend baking. That is a tradition I am happy to pass along to Ashley, or at least share with her. She really has the Pillsbury gene and is a much better baker than I am. I'm better at cooking, which is not as obsessive with measurements and is less of a science than baking. This year she has taken to baking chocolate chip cookies and sharing them with friends.

We try to always attend a play or two during the Christmas season, or even act in one. It started when my we took Ashley to see "The Nutcracker," which the following year because my mom taking Ashley to see "The Nutcracker." This year Ashley saw "Twas the Night Before Christmas" starring Melissa, Hayden and Aimee (to us, our relatives and friends are the stars, no matter how big their part). Ashley was the Char Woman and the Artful Dodger in her school's production of "A Christmas Carol." This weekend we went to Somerset Valley Players to see "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Another tradition is catching Santa and the fire department as they breeze through our neighborhood. He was fast this year, and I wasn't quite ready. Other years we have stood outside off and on for hours looking for him. Oh well. 

Church services are a very important part of our lives, and Christmas is no exception. Ashley's school puts on a pageant each year, led by the 8th graders. The sixth and seventh grade girls are invited to be angels. The pageant is the culmination of the school's Christmas program. 

Our favorite Christmas service is the Carol of Many Nations at Princeton Theological Seminary. It is always humbling to hear the word of God spoken in so many different languages, some of which I am hearing for the first time each year. 

Christmas Eve we typically attend two to three services, plus another one on Christmas Day, all at different churches. Christmas Eve includes the family-friendly service at the Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church, and the 11 PM candlelight service at the First Presbyterian Church of Hamilton Square. Santa comes to our house while we are at the late service (at least that's what we see on NORAD). We open presents on Christmas morning around 12:30 AM and sleep in the following morning.

Try another stocking, Ashley
Christmas Eve we have dinner with the Pillsbury side of the family, and Christmas Day we celebrate with the Koetting side.

We love seeing friends throughout the holiday season. A highlight is always Debbi and Mike's party, and the counting of the trees. For the past two years a new tradition seems to be forming -- going caroling with Ashley's friend, Maia, and her her family the Sunday before Christmas.

Most years we also go into New York City to see "the tree" and the displays. We are hoping to go to New York next Sunday to see the displays. Unfortunately Santa won't be hanging out at Macy's then since his work will be done for the year. We know it will be crazy, but I consider myself lucky to be living close enough that we can pop in for a few hours to enjoy it.

I take all the photos you send us and put them on the back of the front door. In the New Year, I take the pictures and put them in a book, along with a description of how we spent the Christmas season. Though we have done away with our own newsletter, I enjoy reading about everyone's adventures. I try to encourage friends to read ours throughout the year online.

I'm sure as Ashley grows up there will be new traditions. As long as we keep Christ in Christmas, Christmas will continue to be a magical time of year.

What is your favorite tradition?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ohio visit

We love visiting family and friends in Ohio. We only wish the drive was not as long. 

To make the best use of time, I picked Don up from work and we drove out to Ohio. This trip included a stop in Delaware for dinner and another one in Maryland for some Fat Tire Framboozen beer. It was either that, or hit the Schuylkill Expressway during rush hour, when it is impossible to rush on it.

Our Ohio trip included a stop at the Unofficial LEGO Museum in Bellaire, OH. Later that day I made my annual trip to the Eddie Bauer Salvage Store in Columbus. I struck out at the "salvage" side, but hit pay dirt in the warehouse side. My main goal was to buy new blue jeans. The $60 jeans were on sale for $10 each. I bought 3 pairs. Best of all, I could try them on. In the past I have bought them for $5 each on the salvage side, but they do not allow for trying on. I've come home with jeans having holes in bad spots and missing buttons. Hey, they turned into painting pants for $5.

We headed to German Village for dinner with Heidi. While we waited for her to come home from work, we walked over to The Book Loft -- one of the last, classic independent bookstores I know. The place is amazing. We did our best to support them.

After Heidi came home from work and had a chance to relax, we headed for dinner around the corner from her home. We had a great time catching up, and even made plans to meet next time in New Jersey later this month. :) Unfortunately, though, the snow was getting pretty heavy by this point, so we had to continue out journey to Cleveland.

After running the Christmas Story 10K and visiting the Christmas Story House. we drove back to Columbus. Thankfully the storm was over by this point.

When we started talking about this trip I was most excited about having some time to spend with my Ohio family. My Aunt Debra made a delicious bean soup for dinner. Unfortunately here is where Don and I parted. He drove home and I was lucky enough to be able to spend the night and then take Frontier Airlines back home from Columbus Airport (10 minutes from their house) to Trenton Mercer Airport (10 miles from our house) the next day.

Meanwhile, Laura had a concert (which sadly, I missed). Allie had a gig (which sadly, we all missed because it was too cold to walk far, and we did not score close parking). Debra, Tom and I stayed in and watched the OSU-MSU game. Okay, they watched the game and I got caught up on social media. Cousin David was upstairs studying hard.

The next morning, Cousin Laura picked me up and took me to church with her. We came back to their weekly bagel party. By this point, Davo was at work. Next time, Davo. I did get a chance to visit Jersey girl-Marge (Tom's mom).


It was a treat to have a quiet day with family. 

Unfortunately, by then it was time to head to the airport for an unanticipated 45 minute delay. At least the Columbus Airport has a vending machine selling Jeni's ice cream, since that was the only thing that I did not do on my quick trip to Columbus that I really wanted to do.

Christmas Story House

Included in my swag bag from the 2013 Christmas Story 5K/10K race was a ticket to the refurbished Ralphie's House in Cleveland. In December 2004, Brian Jones (a fan of the movie) bought the house on eBay for $150,000. He spent another $240,000 to fully restore the house to look like it did in the movie. The house and museum opened in June 2005.

Over 30 years ago the search was on to find just the right location to film the movie "A Christmas Story." They wanted a home where the industrial section was visible from the back yard. For filming purposes, they wanted a home with an empty lot next door, and located at the end of a T-street.

The house has been restored to how it would have looked during filming. In reality, the interior scenes were filmed in Canada.

We were allowed to and ENCOURAGED to touch everything and pose with things. 

The whole house was a trip down memory lane.

The museum is open year-round for tours. It is a fun little local site. Across the street is a museum that holds original props from the movie.

Given that 7,000 people received a free ticket to attend the museum that day, we had a 20 minute line to get into it. The line was much longer when we were finished.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Afternoon in Philly

Thanksgiving weekend Don, Ashley dashed to Philadelphia to run a quick errand. We had a two hour lag between when we dropped off the items, and when we would return to pick them up. Then we had another gap of time before going to Kev's apartment for a party.

The errand took us near Independence Hall. 

I thought about going in for a tour, especially since Ashley has never been there, but the tickets were gone for the day. We looked at the long line of people trying to see the Liberty Bell (something Ashley has done) and decided to skip that.

We walked into the Bourse expecting a bunch of shops and restaurants and, well, life. They did have some gift shops and fast food places, but nothing captured our interest.

We walked across the street and saw this sign. 

Well, actually we saw a sign on the other side of the building that was not quite as polished saying (paraphrasing): Come inside to meet a Free Quaker. Free Quaker? As opposed to a Slave Quaker? It was a bit brisk outside, and warm inside, plus it was a free program, so we went inside this National Park Service building where we met this gentleman.

During the Revolutionary War, the Free Quakers could not justify maintaining a status of pacifism while the country was fighting for independence. Between 30 and 50 men and women, including Betsy Ross, split from the other Quakers to attend meetings on 5th and Arch. After the war, the two sides merged together and by 1834 the "fighting" Quakers stopped meeting, and the building became a free library.

The gentleman at the table is part of the Once Upon a Nation storytellers that appear in Philadelphia and Valley Forge to bring history to life. Each first person storyteller we have met over the years (including Oney Judge (Martha Washington's personal servant) and Betsy Ross have been phenomenal. They are both extremely knowledgeable, have engaging personalities and make you believe you have traveled back in time with them. 

A few years ago we visiting Philly on a summer day and toured all 13 storytelling benches in 2 hours. I highly recommend a slower pace so you can enjoy each 5-minute story. We were on a mission that day.

Another time we went to Valley Forge and took their tour of 4 benches at a more relaxed pace.

The items were ready to be picked up, but it was still too early to go to the party. As we drove down Kennedy, Don realized the holiday spectacular was taking place in the Comcast Headquarters. It runs on the hour for 15 minutes. It is a lighthearted, fun show appropriate for all ages. It is shown on one of the world's highest resolution LED screens. Considering we don't even have an HD television set, this is leaps and bounds above anything we'll ever see in our home.

It is a treat when you can find high quality free entertainment in a city. To top it off, the meters were free for Thanksgiving weekend.

What free things have you found to do lately?

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Unofficial LEGO(r) Museum

A couple of years ago Don learned about a museum dedicated to LEGOs(R) that was located on the Ohio-West Virginia border -- a place we drive by once a year to visit family and friends in Columbus. Past trips, though, have had us passing this area very late at night.

Technically the museum is called the Plastic Brick Museum, since they cannot use the name LEGO(R). It is also known as The Unofficial Lego Museum. It is located in Bellaire, OH, less than 10 minutes from Wheeling, WV.

My first surprise about the museum, is that it is located in an old school. The Gravel Hill School (built in 1930) to be more precise. The owner, Dan Brown, bought the building and turned it into a place for his ever growing collection of Legos, with room for others to add to the collection. It is in a neighborhood. Just not quite what I was expecting based on what Don told me. Just walking around the old school was a trip down memory lane as it reminded me of George W. Hodgins School in Paramus,NJ. They just don't build buildings like that anymore.

According to Ohio Traveler

Dan Brown, founder of the Bellaire Historical Society and Toy Museum, boasts to have the world’s largest private Lego collection. Although that may be true, there is one distinction officially proclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records that cannot be denied – The Bellaire Historic Society and Toy Museum is home of the World’s Largest Lego brick image. 
 Dan Brown and the museum boast several Guinness Book of World Records including the largest Lego brick image:

The Lego musicians perform. It used to be part of a display in a department store in NYC. 

and the world's tallest Lego tower (it is shorter now, but used to start in this closet and extend above the roof):

The museum houses a wide assortment of Lego pieces. Here is a giant Lego "painting" of Mt. Rushmore and the Mona Lisa.

Over the years he has acquired pieces from corporations. He has a giant Darth Vader and Scooby Do, but they were loaded on the truck heading to a trade show in Pittsburgh, so we missed them. Some things are donated to him (such as a life-sized Pooh Bear that was from a soldier on his way to Iraq) other items are purchased through eBay and other online sources.

I imagine this private collection (and others) were from kids kids who put them together, but then outgrew Legos or moved out of the house and couldn't take them with them, or didn't have the heart to take apart again.

One of the old classrooms housed a private collection of lions -- from cute stuffed animals to Penn State Lions to toys from The Lion King. There must have been over a thousand lions in this room.

Looked like there was at least one room where kids could build, but many more places where they were told not to touch. That's really hard to do when it all looks so cool! 

Overall it is a fun hidden treasure. They are open on weekends. With advanced notice, they will also open midweek. We went on a Friday morning and had the place to ourselves.

To read more about it, check out the story in Roadside America.

It is $8 for adults, $6 for senior citizens, and $5 for kids. Well worth it if you happen to be in the area.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Christmas Story 5K/10K

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of the holiday classic, "A Christmas Story," the museum / house used for filming decided to host a 5k/10k race through the streets of Cleveland as a fundraiser for the newly restored home.

The premise was simple: we would start at the Higbee department store (now a casino) where Ralphie met Santa, and run for about 3.2 miles to his house. You then had the option of staying at the house and taking a shuttle bus back, or looping back to the department store. Either way, you get the same medal: "a major award."

The starting area had lots of entertainment, unfortunately it was so bitterly cold most people huddled inside the mall and casino.

This is an example of an inaugural race doing everything right. They did massive publicity. I saw it referenced on Disney running boards, Sharon had a group of friends from Team McGraw running this event, Don had a co-worker from Philly post he was heading to Chicago for the race. In addition to the 5k and 10k options, they also had a virtual option. I read people received their awards and shirts before the actual race took place.

Packet pick up had many slots -- including up to an hour before the start (a real bonus for me since that meant I could hang out in Columbus in the night before with Heidi),

The race started exactly on time. They also had pacers lined up with signs so you knew where you should be. In theory, the walkers were supposed to be in the very back, but some walkers did not get that memo.

The bibs were absolutely adorable. They had a timing chip in them, which recorded each person's start and end time no matter when they crossed the start line. 

A couple of weeks before the event they capped registration to 7,000 runners, plus as many virtual runners as wanted to participate. Yes, 7,000 people willingly went to Cleveland on a December day during the busy holiday crunch season to run a race, including Sandy, Gabrielle, Sharon and I. As you can gather from our group photo, many wore costumes. The most popular were bunny suits, and leg laps. I also saw Santa, and several people with their tongues "stuck" to a pole. As a fan of Disney races, I love a race with costumes. This one had a lot of creative costumes. Not sure how many made it to the finish line intact, though.

Periodically, at each mile marker and other spots, there was a sign with trivia from the movie.

The race was very walker and family friendly. The only complaint I heard (besides my complaint that it dropped 35 degrees between Thursday and Saturday, from 56 to 21 degrees, and was bitterly cold), was that the shuttle buses ran late as more runners wanted to take the shuttle back. Some gave up the wait and walked back. By this point it was getting colder out.

Looking for Gabrielle near the 11:00 pacer (she is much faster, but we are not) at the start. Very congested start, but wide roads helped us to thin out quickly. The roads were nicely paved, the shoulders were not, though. Don rode his bike in the shoulder taking pictures and having fun.

A glint of sunlight at the start of the race.

Of course the highlight was passing Ralphie's house, which we did visit later. Everyone was given a free ticket just for participating in the race. We also got a nice long sleeved shirt and an awesome "major award" medal.

My only regret is leaving my super-duper warm running pants at home.