Monday, December 31, 2018


Don and I have a lot to learn about how to set up our luminaria. For the past three years (see 2017 and 2016 pictures) our luminaria look drunk, while everyone else's look perky and upright and shine the path for Santa. If we weren't already on Santa's good list I might be more worried.

Our candles:

No, it shouldn't catch on fire

See the gaps?

The thought is we'll put more sand in each bag next year. Maybe then the candles will stay upright and not blow over? We have the largest amount of curb, and order a small and large packet each year (40 candles, using about 32). We have 12 cobblestones between each bag, and always set on the curb instead of the street. Maybe one of these days a neighbor will stop by and kindly offer us some guidance to do it right in the future.

2019 will bring our fourth attempt. Fourth time is the charm?

City Sidewalks - 2018

Most years we find a chance to go into New York City to see the window displays with millions of our new best friends. Mommy Poppins, a New York City blogger I tend to enjoy, liked the windows a lot more than I did. The pictures featured on the New York Post's site are better than mine (as in less crowded). I wasn't feeling the magic in the windows this year. Possibly because my perennial favorite, Lord & Taylor's, had store closing signs instead of classic holiday scenes.

And this cheesy electronic in another window.

Over the years the window displays have become more interactive and technology-driven than imagination-driven. Makes me almost miss the quaint window displays I saw in Paris department stores in 1990 where the strings were visible -- a technology the windows in NYC had long abandoned by that point.

We were already in New York seeing Head Over Heels, and hoping to get reasonably priced tickets for an evening show, so in-between we walked past windows.

We started with Macy's, which seemed to be the first department store window to become interactive. 

I later read I was supposed to notice all the details in each window. I will admit the ones inside the burrow were cute, and filled with too many details to notice as I tried to stay out of the way of people taking pictures, while also trying to snap a picture without strangers in it.

That's when we turned the corner and faced the disappointment in front of Lord & Taylors. *Sniff sniff* In 1989 Don first told me he loved me in front of B. Altmann's when they were having their last holiday windows (the same as the ones they had the year before). Bitter, not sweet.

The tour continued with a horde of people in front of Saks 5th Avenue. I didn't appreciate the grown-up theme of "women who love to shop." I yearned for the nostalgia of 2017's theme celebrating Snow White. To me the windows looked like advertisements for overpriced wares for sale inside. I suppose the windows are really supposed to be advertisements to buy their merchandise and not free entertainment for people like me who will never go inside their store.

Our "tree picture" took place the day before Thanksgiving when it was much less crowded, but (alas) also unlit.

A view of "the tree" from the crowded other side of 5th Avenue.

Here we parted. Ashley went to see Kinky Boots. Don went to our seats at King Kong. I raced around to see more windows since I knew we'd all be too tired to make the trek after our shows.

Up to Lexington and 59th to see the Grinch-themed windows at Bloomingdale's. These were probably the closest to what I wanted in windows, but the mention of Whoville Karaoke and take your picture here inter-activeness discouraged me from loving them.

By now I had to hoof it if I wanted to be in my seat before King Kong started. I was loving walking in the City alone and being able to enjoy the sights at my own pace without constantly counting 1..2..3 to make sure the three of us were near each other. Cell phones do help allay my fear of being separated.

On 60th I saw a building advertising French Book Arts. Must look into that another time. Good thing they were closed for the night.

Keep going. Keep going.

Made it back to 5th Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman's windows. There is a lot of detail in each window. Hard to absorb it all.

Tiffany's I saw the month earlier.

And into my seat with five minutes to spare.

Colonial Ball Through the Years

Nearly each day during the week between Christmas and New Year's Facebook's memory of the day was of the three of us attending the Colonial Ball during Patriot's Week in Trenton. I was actually surprised by how long this has been a tradition for our family.

Patriot's Week started about a decade ago now. That hardly seems possible. I think it took until the second year of the ball for me to bring it up to Don. He surprised me by enthusiastically saying he wanted to go. At that point none of us had Colonial attire, but he wore a tux he bought in 2000 when we had several events in a year where black tie was encouraged. 

The ball is designed as a chance for the reenactors gathering to wear their finery and hang out with each other. The public is invited for a nominal fee (this year it was $17.76 in advance, or $20 at the door). In exchange we were fed sandwiches and salads, and were given dance lessons so we had a shot of understanding what we are doing. The same caller also leads barn dances at Howell Living History farm. The steps are often similar. The barn dances, held three times a year, ask for $3 donation and are extremely kid-friendly.

In 2008 I wore a black dress and pearls. Ashley dressed up, too, as did Elizabeth, her American Girl Doll. Look how tiny Ashley is! 

In 2009, a year later two of us dressed in Colonial attire. Don dusted off his tux. Elizabeth also wore Colonial attire, but she does that most of the time. I cannot find the picture from 2010 or 2011, but I did blog about the 2011 ball.
 In 2012 we decided to go modern again.
In 2013 we wizened up and brought Maia for Ashley. This is around the time Cousin Hayden started to join us, too. My parents have been attending the ball since 2009. For each dance you need a partner. Everyone is friendly, and it is very easy to find a dance partner (especially if you are willing to learn the man's part), but both of us prefer dancing with Don. Fortunately he prefers dancing most of the dances. Note, Ashley is wearing the same dress she wore in 2009 (which she received the day after the ball in 2008), but with a skirt under it to lengthen the dress.

Patti and Neil also often join us at these dances. Patti loves dressing up.

 Last year the ball was held at the Marriott hotel instead of at the Masonic Temple. It didn't feel the same. Again, Maia, my parents, and Hayden joined us. I also visited with Doreen, a classmate from high school, and saw other people interested in Trenton's history. 

This year the ball returned to the Masonic Temple. For the first time my sister Melissa and her daughter, Aimee, joined us. This is the first year we have to place ourselves so Ashley is not blocking our faces. This was also the first year Ashley wore heels to the event.

In 2017 we did not purchase our ball tickets in time. In previous years we showed up at the door and paid $20 each (could have paid $17.76 plus fees had we purchased them in advance) and partied. That year they instituted a cap. 

In 2018 I made sure to purchase our tickets the day they went on sale. Good thing as it did sell out. The ticket price was raised to $25 each. Still a bargain for a night of dancing and light food while wearing period attire. Patti, Neil, my parents, Melissa, Hayden, and Aimee skipped it this year. It was odd just going as the four of us (three of us, plus Ashley's friend, Maia). The biggest challenge was keeping the camera safe and still dancing. Heidi (Maia's mom) has a friend (Jean) who loaned the girls their period attire. Heidi used her seamstress skills to adjust them to their tiny frames. They felt wearing the Colonial dresses would make their evening more fun. As they danced every dance (we sat out one to take pictures), alternating the man and the woman's sides, they looked like they were having fun. I brought my Colonial gown out of retirement for the event. It felt a little big on me. I remember the sleeves and bodice feeling tighter. The waist is a drawstring, and I had to bring that in further, too. The best part was we remembered many of the steps. Maybe this will be the year we go more often than the ball (there are monthly gatherings in Princeton of English Country Dancers).

2019 Resolutions / Goals

For the past couple of weeks I have been struggling with creating my list of resolutions / goals for 2019. Looking back at my 2018 Resolutions, seems I had three holdovers from 2017, and then added six more. I reserve the right to add more over the next few days.

With the exception of trying new low-carb recipes and hosting an exchange student (a goal Ashley did not support, and it had to be a family effort), I was successful with all my goals.

First, the holdover from the past two years. If it wasn't so important to me, I'd give up on it. Truth is, I'm bored with what I am eating and need to eat low carb in order to keep my A1C numbers low enough to continue without medicine. 

1) Try new low-carb recipes. I had great success when I made add a vegetarian recipe a week to my repertoire. "Try new low-carb recipes" was too vague.

2) Visit a new (to me) city. Other years I've said I wanted to go to a new (to me) country, but international travel is far from glamorous these days, so I'll amend that to any new city,with Charleston and New Orleans currently in the lead.

3) Make a new friend, or make stronger an existing friendship. I miss my daily back and forth messages with Carin.

4) Keeping to races between 4 and 10 miles, though I am toying with the Rocky Run (3.1 mile race immediately followed by a 10-mile race). Strongly considering the Paris to Versailles 16.1 km race in late September (10 miles). Shorter distances are too much hurry-up-and-wait. Longer races take too much training.

5) Do some public speaking. I am already signed up to talk about Honey Bunny's art work in Hopewell (February 27) and Ewing (March 10). I'd like to talk to a networking group about my experiences with job hunting after a long gap in employment.

6) Spending more time with friends and having photo proof it happened.

Shall I keep the list short, or add to it? Time will tell.

What are your goals?

Top 10 Posts of 2018

Happy New Year's Eve! Each year I enjoy doing a final tally to see which of my posts garnered the most interest. Typical posts are seen by about ten to fifty of my friends. When something goes "viral" it is because it was shared on a more public site. If you look at last year's list, this year I had a lot less clicks on most posts, and A LOT more on one in particular. None of the posts about our 25th anniversary cruise made the list, but if I combined them they would have. 

Based solely on clicks, here is my Top 10 List of most popular Pillsbury Press posts in 2017:

10. Mandir: a Place of Paramount Peace (150)
9. Knoebels Amusement Park (158)
(tie) Gun Violence Hitting Close to Home (158)
7. What Hidden Talents do Each of Us Have? (176)
6. Community Conversations (205)
5. Pet Update (269)
4. 30 Plus 1 (365)
3. Art All Night Turned into Barely Art 12 Hours (392)
2. Best Friends are Hard to Find (533)
1. Wedding Dresses at Howell Farm (1434)

Many of the top posts are ones I know were shared, or are political in nature. Notable exceptions are the Pet Update and writing about Carin's death and what it means to me. The irony is, I nearly did not write about Carin because it was so personal. On the other hand, the words were bubbling up inside me and had to come out. Each day I have a new reminder of something I want to tell her about. Miss her every day.

As always this started as a way to share our family news with our friends. It started as a Christmas newsletter and has grown into a way to communicate throughout the year, not just in December.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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. 


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


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


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.


Back to Desiree Daniel's house again for a quick sneak visit before dashing to school to be aged 60 years from 13 to mid-70s to turn into Scrooge. Santa noted she has grown again. Ashley has been too busy to think about what she wants for Christmas this year. Does this mean Santa gets off easy this year?


For the first time I did not take a picture of just Ashley with Santa. A sign the times are changing and that I was more excited to see Santa than she was? Heidi also started a new tradition -- she invited Santa to her holiday party. We also saw him at Desiree Daniels' house (timed well so we arrived at a lull). For the second year in a row, Ashley didn't tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas. 


It is so nice having Santa living back in New Jersey again! This year Santa had a regular gig at Kale's Nursery in Lawrenceville. We also saw him at the Heidi's caroling party.


Two trips to see Santa at Kale's because the first time I forgot to take a picture of Ashley alone with Santa. So out of habit. So glad he is close. Ashley knitted the cap she is wearing. We caught him quickly at Heidi's caroling party. Santa was very busy this year, but always makes time for those on his "Good List." 

Merry Christmas!