Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Twenty years ago we started house hunting.
Fifteen years ago (in two weeks) we bought this house -- a lovely four-bedroom Colonial on a third of an acre in a suburban neighborhood.

At the time we did not have any children, but we knew we wanted at least one.

Fast forward a decade and a half. We have one child. We are almost always in the same room of the house. We have a yard we hardly use -- except to mow and to rake. We have a lot of stuff.

We are toying with a massive purge and a smaller home. A smaller home with a smaller yard a smaller price tag and a smaller tax bill. A smaller home in our same town so the only change is address.

The purge is necessary no matter what.

The smaller house? How much smaller? I'm thinking we want to live closer to Ashley's high school so she can walk home from activities. She is in 7th grade. Where will she go to high school? Do we move to where we think she'll go or wait until she has been accepted and start the hunt? 

I want to be walking distance to shopping, and other activities.

We've already looked at a couple of house. They were SOOOO small. SOOO small as in the master bedroom at 13x11 was too small to fit the furniture that fit in our 12x12 bedroom when we lived in Trenton. SOOOO small as in major pieces of furniture would need to be discarded. Plus the laundry room was in the basement and the garage was detached. Other than that, they are nice hundred year old houses on a nice street in town.

Yes, there are other houses. This brings back memories of house hunting in the late 1990s -- houses were either doll house sized, or enormous. Where is the middle ground? Where are the houses in the 1750 square foot range, instead of either 1000 or 2500 square foot ranges? 

I don't want this search to last five years.


Happy Festivus, one and all.

I was never a fan of Seinfeld. I never found the writing or the acting to be entertaining. I did once meet Jerry Seinfeld. I was a reporter in college and interviewed him when he was on campus during a comedy tour just before Seinfeld began airing (yes, I am that old). 

I also interviewed Tim Allen that night. We got some good entertainment at TSC, but didn't appreciate it at the time.

The one thing I remember Jerry Seinfeld saying to me was "Beware of creeping asshole-ism." Shockingly, my editor would not let me use that as the headline, or in the story. It was back in the 20th century.

This week a friend has been posting Festivus quotes, such as:

Frank Costanza: Welcome, newcomers. The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you're gonna hear about it!

My griefs this year are not with particular people. They are with situations. The close friend starting chemo treatments. Don's former boss (and mentor) struggling with cancer treatments that have been going on for well over a year now, and don't seem to be making a difference. The FB friend whose mom died yesterday. The teacher whose FIL is expected to die before Christmas. The friend's FIL who died over the weekend. My father needing surgery. The friend posting Cancer Sucks and promising to provide a larger update later. The list seems to grow longer and longer, without much really good news to balance it.

On second thought, perhaps I do have some grievances about specific people. The relative who didn't say hi to me after church, but instead dashed out of the room before I could say hi to her first. The out of town family members who didn't even ask if we wanted to get together while they were in town. The local family who is avoiding us as Christmas nears, and breaking traditions in the process. There are other perceived slights, intentional or otherwise.

Before I had Ashley I envisioned ensconcing her with so much family she didn't know how the family tree really worked, only that everyone loved her and loved each other. That's how I grew up. My dad's side of the family would be at my mom's aunt's house for vacation. And vice versa. As much as I try, I can't provide her with that because the family members are not cooperating. They even all live in the same county. It hurts. I have to let go of that dream. As much as I say I have, I haven't.

I'm finding myself a bit sad this Christmas. I enjoyed our church's Blue Christmas service, and the reminder that it is not always happy, God loves us. I have an overall feeling of I can't fix what is wrong, and the what's wrong list keeps growing. I can't complain because it is not about me. I should just be grateful for all the good in my life. Nice thoughts, but not solutions.

Share with me some good news. As the days begin to lengthen again, remind me the sun will come out again and I'll even be complaining about being too hot.

Hugs and love.

Friday, November 28, 2014


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.


 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.


 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. 


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.


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.



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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


 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."


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!


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.


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.


This year Ashley is going as Galinda from "Wicked." We lucked into finding a pink prom dress at Red, White, and Blue. This was the first year she went out without me. I'll admit I was a little sad. They went with a Broadway-theme and all looked awesome.


Another year another Broadway musical. This year Ashley went at Alexander Hamilton from "Hamilton: The American Musical" and her school best friend went as Aaron Burr (same show). As Don was having open heart surgery that day, they trick or treated together and I did not see them. The next picture is from Maia's Halloween party. The last one was taken at Aaron Burr's grave in Princeton (his father was a president of the United States, so the former U.S. Vice President was buried near his parents). I think the weather was nice enough for trick or treating.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The ALS ice bucket challenge

I'm sure you have heard about the ALS ice bucket challenge. You may have even been challenged yourself. I know I was, but I opted out of it since I had just donated to ALS in memory of our next door neighbor, Tom, about a week before it became the "in" charity to donate money. 

To date (November 13, 2015) the ALS ice bucket challenge has received $115 million dollars in support. Money they were surprised to receive. On October 2, 2014 ALS announced $21.7 million (plus a $12.5 million matching donation) will be used "to support six programs and initiatives to expedite the search for treatments and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)"

While that is awesome, that is not the story I want to write about. I want to tell you about my awesome neighbor, Tom, and his family. I'm not going to share any secrets about them, only stories already published in the newspaper, and a couple of personal anecdotes.

Two years ago Tom saw us struggling with taking down our willow tree following Superstorm Sandy and offered us use of a tool. We both took one look at him and knew something was different about Tom, but could not place it. Turns out, he did not know what was wrong and would not know for another two months, though he was aggressively undergoing testing at the time.

Fast forward a few months. His wife, Karolina saw us doing yard work together (yes, again). Her first words were "oh, good, I wanted to talk to you together." We knew this was not going to be good news. I had already seen her talking to other neighbors, followed by tears and hugs. 

The diagnosis was official: Tom had ALS.

Other than hearing the name "Lou Gherig's disease," and knowing the mother of a friend from college had it, we knew nothing about it. We certainly did not know it was a death sentence. We certainly did not know how quickly it would take over their lives.

Every single day ALS made his life harder.

Every single time we saw them, we saw their love for each other grow.

The Lawrence Gazette ran this story about them in January 2014, highlighting the fund raising his daughters Emma (8) and Sophie (10) were doing for their father at school.

Inspired by them, Ashley organized a Dress-Down Day fundraiser at her school. Those dollars added up to over $200, we chipped in some, and sent ALS a check in honor of Tom.

When we stopped by to see them and to find out the right contact information at ALS, Tom was where he always was -- in the middle of their lives. He couldn't eat or communicate without a fancy computer, but he was with his family. He "typed" a message to me using his eyes. The timing was a bit off and his answer of "yes" to an earlier question came out when I asked his three-year old son Zach "Lulu (their tiny, cuddly dog) isn't afraid of me, is she?" We had a chuckle over that.

Ashley commented the family is full of life and love. They do not sit around feeling sorry for themselves, but instead embrace their love for each other.

Tom's brain was fully functioning up until the end, but nothing below his eyebrows worked. It is hard to imagine a worse fate than being trapped inside your own body.

Friends and neighbors tried to fill in best as we could -- shoveling snow, raking leaves, hugs, hanging Christmas lights, more hugs. We all felt so helpless we wanted to do anything we could to ease their burdens since we could not do the one thing they wanted most: cure Tom.

In June 2014, word came that Tom was nearing the end of his life. It happened while we were in California. The memorial service came a month later. His daughters played the piano. Karolina and his brother spoke with such eloquence. Just as they had been during Tom's illness, they showed a grace that is too rarely seen in our lives. It was an uplifting and inspirational service.

Again we donated to ALS, this time in Tom's memory.

Then ALS became huge news through the ice bucket challenge.

When we saw Karolina she told us about her experiences with the ice bucket challenge. She spread the challenge from the president of her alma mater at MIT to the president of the school where she is now teaching, and where Tom had been a faculty member years ago, The Hun School. They helped raise more money so that others may have a better outcome than Tom.

The family is such an inspiration for how to live in the face of the impossible.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The New Rossi's

We finally made it to the new Rossi's, nearly four months after they relocated to their new location in Hamilton next to the Golden Dawn Diner. I guess we forgot all about them (not what the Rossi family would want to hear). Then we went a different way to my parents' house and drove right by the new location. I decided that would be the perfect place to celebrate finishing the Princeton Half Marathon.

We last went to the former/original site of Rossi's in May to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary, and to introduce Ashley to a Rossi Burger. Within a month, they closed their doors to their Trenton location and reopened in the suburbs. 

The new menu prominently features the Rossi Burger -- a 12-14 ounce ball of meat (about the size of a baseball) then flattened and cooked. You can even get a veggie burger on the new menu. 

The new menu has more options, including non-carnivorous ones. It has a larger bar, a much larger dining area, and a much larger suburban parking lot. The restaurant has several large pictures from their old place.

There is nothing wrong with the new location, but it didn't seem the same to us. The burgers were the same, but in the new location I didn't feel as compelled to order one (though I did for our first visit). Our lackluster appreciation for the new place could be because we were seated near the kitchen and the server seemed to ignore us. 

The new location is just enough off of our path that we probably won't visit it any more often than we visited the old location. I didn't even bother taking a picture of the outside. It lost its spark for us, which is too bad. 

They are now open 7 days a week from 11-11, which means no more trying to remember what time they shut down between lunch and dinner, and being disappointed on Sundays when we show up and they are closed. 

I wish them much success in their new location.