Friday, December 31, 2010


While everyone else is busy reading this year-end top-10 list and that year-end top-10 list, I’m dishing with my friends about all those inappropriate holiday gifts we got from our parents and in-laws! While God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, (don’t worry gentlemen, rest! We women will take care of handling all things holiday. FYI we’d be merry too if we were resting!) I like to dish the dirt with my girls (and a few boys).  Now, although my friends and I have performed this ritual for many years now, I’ve been reluctant to actually put any of it into print because, simply put, I fear the wrath of my mother. However, this year is just too priceless and I have to share! (By the way, if I go missing look for my remains in Hackensack near the jail—my mother knows all the back roads around there.) Okay, here goes.
          Does something happen to our parents once they reach a certain age? For the past few holidays, my mother has surrendered getting books and dress shirts for my husband and has opted for more, je nais se quoi, intimate gifts like socks and under-shirts. This year as Jim sat upon her quilted couch unwrapping his gift I could see his face begin to pale and a cold nervous sweat begin to bead his forehead.
          “What is it hon?” I queried. “Show us.”
          Reluctantly, he pulled a package of underwear from the thin cardboard of the decorated dollar store box. Not just any package of underwear, but tiny briefs. Size small. (Jim is 6’4”.) Now this is bad enough, but when I got home and took them out of the bag they had no opening that briefs are supposed to have, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. The stitching on the front alluded to an opening, but it was just decorative, like crown molding around your ceiling. Based on this gift, I’ve come to the conclusion that my mother thinks that my husband is either a) a Ken doll or, b) ball-less. Considering he said “Thank you so much, Mom!” and kissed her, I’m inclined to go with “b”.
          However, it is a step up from last year when she re-gifted a gift my brother’s girlfriend gave to her and, forgetting who gave it to her, wrapped it and gave it back to said girlfriend. (P.S. said girlfriend was not around this year. I’m just saying.)
          But stories abound, dear friends, that are better than mine. One friend told me that her mother-in-law sent her an X-rated Christmas card. She didn’t realize it was X-rated until she gave the envelope to her eight-year old to open. After all, it was from “Nana!” It wasn’t until she saw the porno snowman that she fell over herself ripping it out of her daughter’s hand. Let’s just say this snowman had a carrot, but it wasn’t on his nose. Also included with the porno card was a bag of water balloons because, as my friend says, “Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without water balloons!?!” My friend didn’t know if her mother-in-law intended her to fill the balloons and throw them at passer-bys, or fill them and wear them under her sweater.
          Then there’s my friend whose mother-in-law knitted her “His” and “Hers” potholders. It wasn’t until she removed them from the box and held them up for her family to see and take pictures of that she realized they were anatomically correct “His” and “Hers.” M-I-L even knitted little fig-leaf flaps. Very considerate.
          Then there’s my man friend whose mother-in-law got him the DVD of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” He’s Jewish.  
          Another friend who has six children, got a package of condoms from her mother-in-law. Along with a flannel nightgown and Dr. Scholl’s Foot Soak. Meahwhile, her mother gave her lingerie from Victoria’s Secret that resembles a French maid uniform along with Isotoner slippers and scratch-off lottery tickets. She thinks there’s a message in there somewhere, but it hurts her brain to think about it.
          Sharing all of these stories, I just hope I never do this to my kids or their significant others when I get older. Then again, one has to get their kicks somehow, right? And I suppose we all reach that point where we really don’t care what people think about what we say or do. And being passive-aggressive can be so much fun as long as you’re the one passing the aggression. So I guess I should never say never. Because you just never know.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


"That's when he turned his hat into a bucket..."

So dear readers here we are at the end of another year. And you know what that means--just one more holiday to get through and then we can breathe a collective sigh of relief knowing that as soon as that ball drops and the cork pops at midnight we can avoid the germ-manic mass gathering of people until Memorial Day! Well, that is if you haven’t already spent this holiday season (and by holiday season I mean the endless 62 days between Halloween and New Year’s Day) nursing sick children, avoiding other sick children at the pediatrician’s office, and administering shots of liquid Motrin like a bartender at happy hour. (Minus the happy!)
There’s one thing every mother wishes for during the holidays--that her family gets through them healthy. There’s no greater emotional balancing act than trying to prepare for the festivities, entertain relatives, and care for sick children. And God forbid El Husbando gets sick at the same time…that’s a special kind of hell that will propel you into immediate sainthood.
The story I share with you today is inspired by real events that occurred at a New Year’s Eve party a few years ago. It’s also a story, I’ve discovered, that’s familiar to many of you as well.   
But before our story begins, I want to thank each and every one of you for reading me every week. All of your emails, letters, kind comments when you see me, and phone calls mean more to me than you’ll ever know. Mom to Mom, Dad to Dad, Person to Person, we’re all in this crazy life together. Even if mine seems more crazy at times.
On behalf of my husband (the most patient man and best sport in the world), my children Jack and Katie (who in the future can just hand my columns over to their therapists and save a few years’ of explanation), Bad Dog (the most faithful misbehaved canine companion ever who I'm determined to spend the eternity of my afterlife with), and myself, may this New Year bring you much happiness, good health, and an abundance of humor to see you through the rest! 

 ‘Twas the Night Before New Year’s

‘Twas the night before New Year and as we ventured out
Our family was all hearty, healthy and stout.

Our lungs were all clear, our noses mucous free
As we awayed to our friend’s party all giddy with glee.

I with my bag of antibacterial wipes readied the kids for the trip,
To drive across town to eat chips and dip.

The hostess was smiling as we all hugged and kissed her,
After which I noticed on her lip was a blister!

I wanted to run, I wanted to hide,
But Jim still had not found his way in from outside.

So I entered the house with great trepidation and fear,
And tried not to cringe as all the other sniffling guests appeared.

A runny nose here, a croupy cough there,
I wondered how not to breathe in the air.

I sat on a chair trying hard not to worry,
Resisting the urge to leave in a hurry.

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear? A sickly looking teenager,
Fevered, ‘twas clear.

So next to me he did sit, black plastic hat on his head,
To ring in the New Year on the couch, not in bed.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2…

When suddenly I heard the rumble from deep down below,
The rising sound of vomit before it started to flow.

That’s when he converted his hat into a bucket,
As everyone cheered “Happy New Year!” I screamed---
MOTHER (fill in blank)!!!!!!

It gushed from his mouth, his nose and his ears,
And all I could think was, “Let’s all get out of here!”

Why did we leave our sweet nest that ‘twas clean
To sit here and wade in this germ-infested scene?”

Bubbles from his nose continued to pour
Round the brim of the hat and onto the floor.

Finally he stopped, the rest seems so vague,
As I grabbed hold of my family and escaped that black plague.

And so we were home in three minutes fast,
Scrubbing and rubbing the germs from our…

Everybody sing:
Should Old Acquaintance get the flu and throw up on the floor,
Just get the hell out of there, but climb out the window there’s germs on the door!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Come on 2011--Bring it on!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


On the road to a lifetime of therapy, my 5th grade class at Holy Trinity 1975 with the little nun who broke us all.

She paced before us, her black orthopedic shoes screeching against the institutional black-and-white speckled tiled floor. We were four months into our nine months sentence with Sister Lawrence in the fifth grade of Holy Trinity School in Fort Lee. There was still a brutal six months ahead of us. If we survived tonight.
 “Where is it?” she commanded. Her four-foot eight-inch frame striking terror into us. “Where. Is. Baby. Jesus?” her clenched jaw deployed the lever that made her fists curl into dangerous balls. She stopped in front of Rosemary costumed in a long dress, her head veiled by a beautifully hand-embroidered sheet.
          How could Sister Lawrence be yelling at Rosemary? Rosie was the ideal Catholic! She was on the “A” string for Team Jesus! She was chosen from all the other girls to play the role of Mary in the Nativity Scene for the annual Christmas Concert, but she had forgotten her Baby Jesus, a.k.a. Tippy Tumbles, at home. We held our breath as Sister Lawrence rained insults down upon Rosie. No one could strip you of your dignity with such skilled precision like Sister Lawrence. Her meticulous dissection of the ego is still studied in some convents far, far, away.
“Did Mary forget to bring Baby Jesus to Bethlehem? NO! But YOU apparently think it’s okay to forget our Lord and Savior and deny us the pleasure of his blessed birth! Do you think that Baby Jesus grew up to die on that cross (our eyes automatically turned towards the crucifix she was pointing at) just so you could forget him at home?! Your sister didn’t forget him last year when she was the Virgin Mary!”
I felt dizzy with faint. I’m pretty sure the boy next to me wet his pants. For the last half-hour as we waited for our class to go on stage and perform for our parents, Rosie had been holding her arms to her chest as if she was cradling a baby hoping that Sister Lawrence wouldn’t find out she left Baby Jesus home. Now I could hear her sniffles and knew that Sister Lawrence had reduced her to tears. Like all my other classmates, I thanked God it was her and not me. Sister Lawrence already got her licks in with me earlier in the day.
That morning, she chose me, Mary Lutz, Helena Toledo, and Lia Bizzaro to stay behind at recess to wrap Christmas gifts for the retired nuns at Convent Station. (I always pictured Convent Station as a town with train-fuls of old nuns waiting to go to Heaven.) Feeling privileged to be hand-picked by her, she directed us on how to wrap presents. My euphoria of having been chosen quickly faded when, upon wrapping my first gift, she jerked it out of my hands and intentionally ripped the paper from the box, her face a blooming shade of apoplectic red.
“Look at this!” she bellowed. “What is this?”
I did look at it. It was a ripped open present. My sarcasm, being in its nascent stages, I kept to myself.  
“Look at all this paper you wasted to wrap this gift! You didn’t need all this paper! Are you so rich that you can afford to use all this paper on one tiny gift? Look at the size of your side-triangles! You only need enough paper to barely cover the box and no more. These nuns have NOTHING and you’re going to show them how little they have by wrapping their gift with all that paper! Go sit down. You disgust me with your waste! You’re going to grow up to be a waste!” As instructed, I sat down wondering if these wounds would ever heal enough to have scars.
Despite Sister Lawrence’s wrath, we appeared on stage and sang to an empty manger while our Mary fought back her tears.  Whenever I hear “What Child is This?” I think of 29 ten-year olds singing to an empty cradle while our parents snapped pictures capturing a moment we would spend years in therapy trying to forget.
But despite the long divide of years, each Christmas I can't help but think of Sister Lawrence and the legacy she left behind: Rosie’s anxiety attacks whenever she sees a nativity scene, my strong feelings of inadequacy whenever I see beautifully wrapped presents, and knowing that somewhere there’s a boy who just wants to wet his pants.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It’s the time of year when many young children are being professionally photographed for their holiday portraits. This annual ritual of sending pictures to grandparents, relatives, and close friends is a big deal, and I never cease to marvel at the confidence of new moms as their faces glow with the unmitigated joy of anticipation that accompanies that first holiday photo shoot. No visions of vomit or hanging globules of mucous ever dance through their heads.  
I had their confidence once -- until December 2003. That was when my husband and I took our two-year-old daughter Katie, and our one-year-old son Jack, to Sears for professional Christmas portraits. Katie had engineered the “terrible twos” into high art, and my son had uncontrollable reflux. While she threw props aimlessly around the room, he would projectile vomit.  It was a game of “Watch out for the flying….get me a wipe!”  
Looking back from where I stand now, five years later, I can say with great certainty that that Christmas photo shoot at Sears irreparably broke us. We would never again be the same optimistic people we thought we were. We became unsettled and jumpy; Tums became a menu staple; and, perhaps worse of all, we never again doubted the destructive power of little people.
          I remember being so upset when we left Sears without having had any photos taken. I felt a failure as a mother. However, the next morning after my husband left for work, I glue-gunned the diapers of both my children to the kitchen chairs, took a grainy photo of them screaming, and then sat down to scribble a holiday poem to accompany the picture. That poem appears below.  
I’ve since learned that no matter how bad things get, time, good humor, and the fact that my children have broken me in greater, more imaginative, ways has made me laugh and appreciate the memory of that night at Sears. Had the photos been taken without a glitch, all I’d have is a perfect picture in a frame, and that moment of madness would have been lost to time.  After all, life’s not picture perfect—only our perception of what it ought to look like is. 

Our Christmas Story

'Twas the night before Christmas and as in past years,
We ran with our coupon for portraits at Sears.
The children were dressed in their holiday clothes,
And nothing was running from anyone’s nose.
In the waiting room we hung with our children so quiet,
While all those around us created a riot.
Then what to my deafening ears should I hear?
But our names being called as the photographer appeared.
So into the studio we all merrily walked,
And it was then that our little Katie started to balk.
Slowly it rose like boiling steam in a heater,
And I shuddered as the photographer knelt down to greet her.
For it was then that Katie pulled at her hair,
Knocked down the props, jumped on a chair.
Running and reaching and try as we might,
The whole sordid scene turned into a fright.
And still as a church mouse baby Jack sat and stared,
I could tell from his face, he appeared very scared.
And Daddy in his sneakers, and I in my hose,
Tried hard to grab Katie to sit for a pose.
She sat for a second then jumped up and yelled,
As I screamed ‘cross the room, “Oh, damn it to hell!”
But the photographer stood, immobile, unable to act,
Looking at me as though I was whacked!
I finally agreed that it was not very wise,
To subject all at Sears to Katie’s loud cries.
So kicking and screaming we left that good store,
Not through the front, but out the back door.
Agreeing that it wasn’t a very good idea,
And so there are no portraits to send you this year,
So here are our children as best as they’d sit,
And to tell you the truth, I don’t give a _____(hoot!)


Thursday, December 16, 2010


Biff, still with me 40 years later.

Christmas in my house was a lot different than Christmas in your house, unless you were related to me in which case you were hostage to the madness. Christmas 1968 was memorable for so many reasons, but that was also the year that my grandmother decided to buy everyone artificial Christmas trees.
I remember pulling into the snowy parking lot of a dilapidated warehouse on River Road in Hackensack one cold Saturday morning to pick up the trees. There we were shoved into Auntie Anna’s C&C Ford station wagon—Auntie Anna and mom in the front, Grandma behind them, and me, my brother and cousin Ronald bouncing around the back of the station wagon making faces at all the cars that had the misfortune to follow us. We tried to let our mirth extinguish the thought that on the ride home we’d have to sit with Grandma so the trees could fit in the trunk. There was no fooling around when you sat next to Grandma in the car. If you acted up she’d pile-drive her elbow into your head and make you say “Thank you.”
Dad worked Saturdays, so my brother and I waited excitedly for the Old Man to come home so we could set up the tree. Old Man was our term of endearment for dad and one that he adored. It’s also the only way he referred to himself when he told us stories from the old days. “Did I ever tell you about the time your Old Man ran a craps game in Cuba?…Did your Old Man ever tell you about his stint as a boxer in the army? ”Did your Old Man ever tell you about the time…” All those amazing stories he told about the adventures of his life in the third person would grip our imaginations and hold us captive.
When we heard the screeching wail of our screen door, followed by a turn of the key in the front door’s knob and a comically deep voice announcing, “Your Old Man’s home!”  We raced to meet him.  Without giving him a chance to get settled we pulled him into the kitchen where we ceremoniously began to remove all the envelopes he had stuffed inside his coat. Envelopes filled with cash from the people he delivered mail to.
Grabbing letter openers my brother and I went to work at the kitchen table slicing open envelope after envelope; shards of torn paper flying like confetti, as my Old Man, merry with joy, interrupted his whistling to raise his hands in the air and caution, “Okay you two, slow down.” But that just made us move faster, ripping fives, tens, twenties from inside the hold of holiday cards to the rhythm of Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters singing “Mele Kalikimaka.
Then it was time for dinner—steak dinner. Saturday’s were always steak night in our house. I can still smell the aroma of butter and Worcestershire  sauce floating above us in the kitchen as the broiler spit and bubbled behind us. But this night we rushed through dinner because we wanted to put our new tree together. We couldn’t wait. Even the promise of  Jiffy Pop couldn’t slow us down.
As “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” played on our black-and white TV, my brother and I trudged the boxes of ornaments, lights, and gold garland up from the basement. Meanwhile the Old Man methodically removed the pieces of our new tree from the box. There was a green wooden pole with little colored holes. The idea was to match the color on the wire tip of each branch to the color of the hole. Easy to do, but as the years went by and time faded the colors on both the pole and the branches you had to be Houdini and guess where the branches went.  And we also had to plug the stretched holes with matchsticks so the branches wouldn’t fall out. For many, many years our tree looked like it was put together by the criminally insane. But tonight it was new; it was perfect.
          The following Monday my mother took us to see Santa downstairs at the Bergen Mall. Impatiently I waited on line, craning my neck to send the hairy-eyeball to each kid who sat on Santa’s lap wasting his time and mine with drivel. Finally, when it was my turn I was unexpectedly overcome with the need to use the bathroom. Badly.  
          “And what do you want for Christmas?” Santa asked. As his breath fell upon me it resonated with the scent of juniper berries and olives.
          I was afraid to speak. Not because he intimidated me, but because I thought if I made a move I’d pee all over his leg. That wouldn’t get me Biff. 
          “How about a Dolly that wets?”
          Oh dear God, Man! Please, let’s not talk about water! Let’s stay on dry land, okay?
          Finally I held my breath and somehow managed to say, “Biff. I want Biff!”
          “A mitt? No. Every little girl is asking for a Dolly that wets this year! Ho, Ho, Ho!”
          And that’s when I rained Christmas all over Santa’s knee. Ha! Ha! Ha!
          Christmas morning began at 4:30 a.m. I tip-toed to my brother’s bed and woke him up. As we headed toward the stairs I pushed him in front of me to be my beard just in case Santa was still there. He felt the hall wall like he was reading Braille looking for the light switch.
“How the hell long have you been living here?” I whispered to him. “Don’t you know where the switch is?”
Finally, he found it—or more likely, it found him. The hall light illuminated the living room just enough to see that Santa wasn’t there so I ran across the fringed green area rug and turned the lamp on. The living room had been magically transformed into Toy Land. All those toys shiny and new sitting beneath the tree. (Our Santa didn’t wrap.) I ran over my brother like road kill and indiscriminately waded through the G.I. Joes, Creepy Crawlers, Barbie dolls, a View Master Projector, and Colorforms until I found him waiting for me inside his cellophane box—Biff Bear! Finally, he was home.
Four decades later, Biff is still with me. He’s worn, torn, and a little bit ragged, but so am I. Regardless, he’s always, always my Biff Bear; my reminder of the best Christmas ever…Atlas Five and Ten’s windows overflowing with toys, a family gathered around a small kitchen table laughing and opening cards stuffed with cash, a new fake Christmas tree, and a Santa who smelled of juniper.
 A Christmas that was undisturbed by the touch of sickness, death, and the great divide of years that gives birth to memory, regret, and longing. 

Friday, December 10, 2010


Why cut your own when someone else can cut your own for you?

So, the idea of cutting down your own tree has either lost its allure, or you never seriously considered it in the first place. You’re in luck. Here are some places in Bergen County where you can get the perfect tree already cut. Some of them even deliver! I’ve listed all places that over the years I’ve bought trees from and highly recommend.

Willow Run, One County Road, Cresskill

I visit Willow Run year round, but it’s this time of year when they really outdo themselves. They're one of the last (what I would call) Christmas stores. Not only do they have a large assortment of trees, but it’s a magical place to take the kids. There’s a large interior room lined with beautifully decorated trees. And every ornament that appears on the tree is for sale in boxes beneath it. There’s also a room with every imaginable kind of stringed light (including bubble lights), Christmas balls, decorations for outside the house, nativity sets, stockings, smaller Christmas trees, and so much more. If you like the light up Christmas villages then you’ll love the displays they have. If you like to collect these villages, Willow Run has a great selection and some great discounts, especially on discontinued pieces.
The most beautiful ornaments in those boxes and they're all 50% off the day after Christmas!
In addition to the freshly cut trees outside there’s live animals the kids can feed.
It isn't really Christmas until you've fed a llama.
A barn that has all kinds of mechanical Santas, elves, reindeer, and more.
A complete throwback to when you were young.
A child-sized Christmas village that has three houses where the kids can peer into the windows and watch life-sized Santas, Mrs. Claus, Mickey Mouse and more. 

Kids will love what they see when they look inside the windows of these Christmas Cottages!
You know what I love MOST about Willow Run? The day after Christmas almost everything is 50% off including the artificial trees. I wait all year for that sale.

Hirams, 1345 Palisade Avenue, Fort Lee:  
Hiram's has the most perfect and full trees. Also, they deliver!

Okay, so Hiram’s isn’t actually selling Christmas Trees with their hot dogs, but they are allowing trees to be sold in their lot. This is the first time that trees are being sold at Hiram’s, but if you remember the Christmas Tree lot by Bridge Plaza back in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, then you know the trees because the same guys are selling them. Disclaimer: I’m very partial because the guys selling the trees are local boys I grew up with in Fort Lee--Vinny & John. They have a nice selection of trees to choose from and they DELIVER. They also have a collection box for toy donations that will be delivered to needy children for Christmas. And, once you pick your tree you can go into Hiram’s and have one or two of their famous hot dogs (and a beer)!

Leonia Sports Boosters, Broad Ave (across from Rec Center), Leonia
Nothing better than supporting a good cause.

Not only can you buy a tree here, but the proceeds are going to support Leonia’s sports teams. What a great way to give! All of the people working there are volunteers who every year give so much of their time so that the kids can benefit. This is the first year that Sports Boosters are selling on Broad Avenue; for years they sold in Wood Park. Again, since I now live in Leonia, my son is active in sports, and I know most of the volunteers, I’m really partial to this group! I also don’t mind spending money when I know who’s benefitting. And I can think of nothing better—buying a great tree and donating money to such a great program!

Metropolitan Plants, 2125 Fletcher Ave, Fort Lee:
Go to their Facebook Page and print a $10 off coupon!

Metropolitan has been selling fresh Christmas Trees for almost as long as I can remember. They have a very large selection of trees from which to choose from and no doubt, their price for a standard Douglas Fir is unbelievable. Metro has been running coupons for $10 off in the local newspapers so check them before you go.
The Farm, 515 Piermont Road, Closter
The wood burning fire will put you in the Christmas Spirit as you look for a tree!
One of the last of the “real” farms in our end of Bergen County. Compared to other places, The Farm doesn’t have a huge selection of trees, but what they do have is fresh and healthy. They also offer wreaths, poinsettias, and some decorations. Also, you can go inside the farm stand and choose from whatever is in season, and they have a bakery that is so good! Home-made cider donuts, pies, cakes, cookies…you can’t possibly leave there without buying something from their bakery.  
Matera’s: 514 Broad Ave, Ridgefield
Right off Broad Avenue in Ridgefield is a great little secret: Matera’s. I love Matera’s year-round for their flowers and mulch, but at Christmas they offer great deals. For instance, Douglas Firs for only $29.95. And I went to grammar school with the lovely Matera sisters, so we’ve known about this great little secret for a long time. Not that I’m dating myself.
Al D’s, 174 Sedore Ave, Fairview

Another great little spot is Al D’s. In addition to Christmas Trees, Al D’s has a beautiful selection of grave blankets that can be custom made. It seems that almost everyone I know gets their Christmas grave blankets from Al D.

 Here are some more places in Bergen County recommended by moms:
Karadontes Nurseries, 48 Grand Ave, Palisade Park
Old Hook Farm, 650 Old Hook Road, Emerson

Goffle Brook Farm & Garden Center, 425 Goffle Road, Ridgewood

Demarest Farms, 244 Werimus Road, Hillsdale

Abma’s Farm, 700 Lawlins Road, Wyckoff

DePiero’s Farm, 300 Grand Ave, Montvale

Secor Farms, 168 Airmont Ave, Mahwah

Rousseau’s Nursery, 765 Wyckoff Ave, Wyckoff

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Photo Courtesy of Mary Lutz Alexander

I stood motionless before the window of the Atlas Five and Ten on Main Street in Fort Lee. Exhausts of steam were puffed out from between the space of my chapped, shivering lips. My heart was pining. Sitting high upon a glass shelf of the display case sat Biff Bear. My eyeballs almost climbed out of their sockets so far above the reach of my eyes did he sit. I looked up until my corneas felt like they would disappear into my brain and the bottoms of my lids stretched further down my cheeks as my eyes tried to reach his.
I came to know Biff as we all came to know our toys in 1968—through the power of television. Seeing him before me, I felt like Dorothy when she stepped out of her black-and-white Kansas farmhouse and onto the Technicolor streets of Oz. You see, we had a black-and-white 19” portable television set that sat on a slightly dented stand with wobbly wheels against the only wall without windows in our colonial cape on Fifth Street. But here he was before me as I stood on the broken sidewalk of Main Street -- real and colorful. His yellow shirt with red and blue stripes, his tan pantless legs (the white circular pull-ring that would make him talk protruding from his right hip), his milk chocolate rubber face, his small triangular black bear nose, his mitten-shaped hands.  
Trapped inside the web of the mob I used my adrenaline to push my way through bodies back to my parents who were standing somewhere behind me on Main Street. They had to see Biff. They had to know how much he meant to me. They had to get him for me now. I couldn’t possibly leave him in the window! What if some other little girl took him home? After all, there was only one Biff Bear! I pushed my way through the corduroy, polyester, and wool of coats, my mittens getting snagged on zippers, toggles, and the garters with the sharp silver clips that the over-mothered kids’ mothers had clipped to the sleeves of their jackets so they wouldn’t lose their gloves.
Standing across the street leaning against the wall of Schweitzer’s Department Store was my father talking to a group of other fathers who would much rather have been leaning against the bar inside a smoky tavern raising glasses than children, but here they stood guarding the night while their wives stood on the layaway lines inside the Five and Ten.
Pulling on the sharp crease of my father’s serge pants I abruptly interrupted, “Daddy, Daddy! Biff Bear’s in the window! I want him! I want him!”
My father released a laugh that was meant more as a contemplative pause than a release of mirth before saying, “I don’t like stuffed animals. They’ll suffocate you when you’re sleeping.” All the men agreed and “Pete the Greek” threw in, “Yeah and they is a magnet for germs.”
“Son of a bitch…” I thought. I ran back across the street to look for my mother who was buried somewhere inside the Five and Ten. I walked through dozens of pairs of well-heeled nyloned-stockinged legs looking for the two that belonged to my mother. It wasn’t easy because during the holiday season Mr. Feiler added an extra cash register to handle the overflow of shoppers. After searching and searching I finally found her in the make-up aisle.
“Mommy! Mommy!” I cried excitedly, “I found Biff Bear. I want him!”
“Ask Santa,” she casually replied as her fingers grazed over the lipsticks, eyeliners, and powders that sat in ordered rows inside the wooden display cases.
“Santa?” I cried in desperation. “Where’s he?”
“We’re going to the Garden State Plaza to see him next week,” she responded.
Sunk by the thought that Biff wasn’t coming home with me that night I resigned myself to the fact that I had to wait to tell the Big Man that I needed Biff Bear.    
As I walked outside something wet fell upon my nose. I bent my neck back and looked up into the sky and watched as the snow swirled in a chain dance of confusion beneath the yellow glow of the street light. As snowflakes fell upon my face they were melted by the warmth of my desperate tears.  
Next Week Conclusion…

Biff Bear

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Christmas Morning, 1968

Dressed for winter, I elbowed my way through the hard outer crust of the crowd of kids determined to make my way to the front of the pack. I dug my padded elbows deep into corduroyed knee caps and thighs causing bodies to grind and scrape against each other allowing me to pass through the tremors of all their constrained energy. Using my older brother as body armor by pushing him forward, and then pushing him aside, I finally made my way to the front. And there I stood, finally, before the altar of Santa’s Workshop as it appeared in the windows of The Atlas Five and Ten Store on lower Main Street in Fort Lee 1968.
          The sidewalk-to-ceiling windows sparkled so brightly that at first all I could see was my own reflection staring back at me as the full moon began its slow ascent in the early evening sky behind me. Nestled between all of the toys were Santas who moved, Mrs. Clauses who nodded, and mechanical carolers holding their electric candlesticks in gloved hands while their singing mouths formed a perfectly round “O.” And then there were the toys. The toys. Nothing beat Sears’ Christmas Wish Book except the Christmas windows of The Atlas Five and Ten. Here, in all their three-dimensional glory, the toys danced before me on the stage of their display shelves. Some peered down from atop shelves, some dangled and twirled in mid-air, some sat upon the floor beckoning to all of us from behind the angular glass panes.
I pressed my nose as hard as I possibly could into cold translucent glass in an effort to visually inhale all of the toys at once. I succeeded only in crossing my eyes to the point that I started to get dizzy as all of the toys became a blur that burst into kaleidoscopic fragments of colors. My breath released clouds of fog that steamed the window with condensation. I used the wool of my red mittens that Grandma had knitted the winter before to clear a path for my eyes to see.  
This moment didn’t just arrive. We had just arrived in this moment. You see, anticipation for the big reveal began right after Thanksgiving when all the kids in town began to stalk lower Main Street waiting for Mr. Feiler to begin his yearly ritual of covering the store windows with white sheets so that Santa’s Workshop could be created in secret. That was always the week that I wanted to move in with the Paolina’s who lived in an upstairs apartment adjacent to the Five and Ten. I had this fantasy that somehow there was a secret door in the floor of their apartment that would lead directly to the Five and Ten. I didn’t think that Mr. and Mrs. Paolina would have minded having an unschooled, but street-wise, three-year old bunk in with them for a week considering their daughters Patty and Barbara were my babysitters, but somehow I could never talk my parents into it.
Then it happened. While driving down Main Street to Grandma’s house one Sunday afternoon on the first of December, my heart stopped as our cavernous 1950-something black Chevy drove past the Five and Ten and I saw for myself the shrouds that draped the windows in secrecy. I wanted to jump from the moving car and run across Main Street to peer behind the curtains to get an early glimpse of Christmas. Instead, I had to suffer through Sunday dinner with about 50 relatives where I had to surreptitiously remove the pignoli nuts and raisins that Grandma shoved into her meatballs and hide them inside my socks until I could get a chance to get into the bathroom and flush them down the toilet. Yuck!
But now here I stood. Alone in a sea of kids; aware of nothing but the stale smell of steam rising from our mingled bodies and the toys. My eyes wandered up, down, and around the window before which I stood casting a visual blessing upon all that appeared before me.  Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Colorforms, View Masters, Aurora Monster Models, Barbie and her swank blue vinyl carrying case, Remco’s Baby Glad & Sad, portable record players, and…and…there he was. At last I had found him. All brown and shiny staring only at me…For the very first time my heart pined…Biff Bear. I had to have him.

To be continued…

Biff Bear. The LOVE of my life.

Saturday, November 27, 2010



The turkey leftovers are gone, the pumpkins are starting to cave in on themselves with rot, and the decorative bales of hay have been completely picked apart by DIY squirrels and birds looking for building materials for their winter homes.
Alas, it’s time to get your Christmas tree. I'm a true believer in driving half-way across the state to cut down our own tree in an attempt to create a scene from Currier and Ives that we can paste in the family photo album. Admittedly, all I’ve been able to capture with my digital camera with built-in video recorder are Kodak moments such as my husband slicing his finger open with a rusted saw as he made his first attempt at cutting the trunk of a tree, a family photo where his lips are pursed not in preparation to blow me a kiss, but to release the most hellacious curse words that mankind has ever invented, a WWF wrestling match between me and a woman who tried to cut down the tree I had tagged for cutting, and my son’s coat sleeve going up in flames as he roasted marshmallows over an open fire. Ah, holiday memories. It's why therapy was invented.
          Yes, cutting our own Christmas tree has become a family tradition. Why not make it a family tradition for your family too? Rest assured. Almost all cut-your-own Christmas tree farms will cut them for you. They frown on bleeders--it's bad for business. Advice: if you're cutting the tree yourself bring sturdy gardening gloves to wear because the needles will puncture your skin and cause your partner to release words that no child should ever hear. Also, keep in mind that most farms accept cash only. 
I've also attached a list of the different types of Christmas trees available for chopping. I love Blue Spruce Trees, but I learned the hard way that when it's time to dispose of them their needles will leave track marks causing all sorts of office gossip Monday morning. 
So, here's my list of "cut-your-own" Christmas Tree Farms. If you have a farm that your family visits that's not on the list, please let me know so we can add it.

Dixiedale Farms, 347 Hillside Ave & River Road, Chatham, NJ  Family owned and operated since 1911, Dixiedale farms is a short ride from Bergen County. My family has cut Christmas trees from Dixiedale and we’ve never been disappointed. We’ve always gone in the late afternoon when there are no crowds. The town of Chatham is also a great place to grab a bite to eat or a cup of hot chocolate. Open Saturday & Sunday 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. November 27-December 19.

Hidden Pond Tree Farm, 4 West Field Road, Mendham, NJ
Last year my family went to Hidden Pond Tree Farm to cut down our tree. Despite the fact that we went in the late afternoon, we still waited about 45 minutes to get into the farm, but once we were admitted it was a wonderful experience. Aside from roaming the farm looking for the perfect tree, they offer free hot chocolate and marshmallows that the children can roast over an open fire. We watched the sun set as we roasted marshmallows. It was pretty magical.The people who work the farm couldn’t be more helpful or nice. It was a great and memorable day out! Open daily November 26 – December 24 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Jack on his way to find the perfect tree at Hidden Pond Tree Farm
Fleming Farms, 55 Kings Highway, Long Valley, NJ
Fleming Farms has a limited amount of Douglas Fir and Blue Spruce between 4’ and 8’. Open weekends December 4- December 19. Saturdays 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Village Tree Farm, 8 Meyersville Road, Green Village, NJ Open weekends November 28, 29, December 5, 6, 12, 13, 19. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. To make the day even more fun for the kids The Village Farm is offering hay rides pulled by an antique tractor, cookies, candy canes and while supplies last a free coloring book! This year they will also be offering photography service where your pets and children can have their picture taken with two of Santa's Reindeer!

Bunker Hill Christmas Tree Farm, 118 Bunker Hill Rd, Griggstown, NJ Weekends 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Cut your own Christmas Tree at Bunker Hill. Choose from a wide variety of trees.

Shale Hill Christmas Tree Farm, 98 Pond School Road, Sussex, NJ Open weekends Thanksgiving to Christmas from 9:30 a.m. to dark. All trees are $75. Cut Your Own Pines, Spruces and Firs, NJ State Fair Award Winning Trees. Adorable farm animals, Tasty Refreshments, The “REAL” Santa Claus. Christmas movies in the hayloft!

Evergreen Valley Christmas Tree Farm, 71 Jackson Valley Rd. Washington, NJ  Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. November 26 –December 23. 10,000 trees to choose from. Douglas-fir, Canaan fir, Frasier fir, Blue Spruce, Norway Spruce, White pine, Scotch pine.  Refreshments on Weekends, Wagon Rides, Tree Gift Wrapping, Wreaths and Roping.

Plut’s Christmas Tree Farm, Rt 31, Washington, NJ (2-1/2 miles south of the intersection of Routes 57 and 31) Family-owned and operated since 2000, Plut’s is open Wednesday and Thursday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Trees start at $35. After cutting your tree visit the gift shop.

Wyckoff’s Tree Farm, 249 Country Road, Belvidere, NJ  Family owned since 1839, Wyckoff’s Tree Farm has been featured in the NY Times. Open daily beginning November 27th 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. You will find an ample supply of both cut-your-own and fresh cut trees available. Wyckoff’s Farm starts the season with approximately 5,000 trees available including: Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Blue Spruce, Norway Spruce & Concolor Fir. Wyckoff’s also has a gift shop that features wreaths and ornaments.

Glenview Farm, 2 Glenview Lane, Blairstown, NJ
Located atop the picturesque Kittatiny Mountain Range, come and cut your perfect tree. Open daily beginning November 26th  9 a.m. to dark. Large assortment of Spruce, pine and fir trees. Refreshments are available.

Jolly Holly Christmas Tree Farm, 56 Maple Lane, Blairstown, NJ
All trees $48 no matter what size. Open weekends beginning Thanksgiving weekend through December 19th 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Santa comes to visit!

Stonerow Tree Farm, 242 Wykertown Road, Branchville, NJ
All trees $50. Open weekends November 27th -December 12th. Stonerow also has the Merry Moose Gift Shop where you can find all kinds of holiday decorations and gift ideas.

Holiday Tree Farm, 44 Augusta Hill Road, Augusta, NJ
Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday beginning November 26th from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. All trees $59 regardless of type or size. The Christmas Shoppe offers holiday decorations, gifts, and refreshments.

Edwards’ Christmas Tree Farm, 338 Jacobstown-Cookstown Road, Wrightstown, NJ 
Open seven days a week beginning November 26th from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Wreaths and ornaments are also available for sale. Trees vary in price according to size from $40 for a 3 to 5 foot tree to $70 for a tree 9 foot and taller.

Anne Ellen Tree Farm & Shoppe, 114 Daum Road, Manalapan, NJ
Open daily from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thanksgiving weekend to December 23rd.  Over 100 acres of trees to choose from and Santa visits on the weekends! Anne Ellen Tree Farm is also an ideal place to grab a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie and have a picnic. Anne Ellen’s also has a holiday shoppe that will personalize your ornaments while you wait.

Simonson Farm, 118 Dey Road, Cranbury, NJ
Open weekends beginning November 26th 10 a.m. – 3:30pm. Featured on CNBC, Simonson Farm has two fields with over 50 acres of trees to choose from. Wagon rides and horse-drawn carriage rides available.   Simonson Farm has a Holiday Shoppe that features wreaths and other holiday gifts.

Barclay’s Christmas Tree Farm, 35 Orchardside Drive, Cranbury, NJ
Open weekends Thanksgiving through Christmas 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. All trees up to 9 feet are just $45. Over 9 feet just $70. Dogs ok on leashes.

Cherryville Farms, 352 Quakertown Road, Pittstown, NJ  
Open weekends beginning Thanksgiving 9 a.m. to dark. Cherryville Farms is a family-run farm that offers the best in cut your own trees. They also offer handmade wreaths and crafts for sale. Hot chocolate provided with a tree purchase.

Wintergreen Christmas Tree Farm, 14 Gorney Road, Lafayette, NJ  
Open weekends beginning Thanksgiving to December 19th 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Wintergreen Christmas Tree Farm is a family-run farm that offers a large selection of Christmas trees to choose from. Leashed pets o.k.

Perfect Christmas Tree Farm, 999 U.S. 22, Phillipsburg, NJ
Perfect Christmas Tree Farm is owned and run by John and Cynthia Curtis, the farmer and his wife. You can take a hayride out to the fields or walk across the covered bridge to find the perfect tree. Watch wreaths being made and decorated in the barn and then come inside & warm up by the fire in the Gift Shop. Children find Santa’s Box – a special trunk filled with small toys for good boys and girls, irresistible.

Spruce Goose Farm, 194 Bordentown-Georgetown Road(Rt 545) 
Chesterfield, NJ
Open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Spruce Goose Farm is a family-owned farm. Ride the wagon into the fields to cut your tree and then visit the gift shop.

The Evergreen Farm, 4 Bass Lane, Lebanon, NJ
Open weekends beginning Thanksgiving through Christmas 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Family-owned and operated, The Evergreen Farm has a number of different types of Christmas trees all in the 6 to 9 foot range.

Types of Christmas Trees:

Douglas Fir

- The most popular Choose-n-Cut tree in NJ
- Outstanding needle retention and fragrance
- Soft needles about one inch in length

Canaan Fir (a Balsam variety)

- Closely resembles a Frazer Fir
- Needle retention is excellent
- Branches are somewhat stiffer than Douglas Fir
- Excellent fragrance

Norway Spruce

- Rich dark green color
- Stiff branches to hold heavy ornaments
- Needles are prickly
- To maximize needle retention, Norway’s should be
kept in a cool spot, and regularly watered. Don’t let it
run out of water!
- Use of a tree preservative is recommended

Blue Spruce

- Indigo Blue to dark green in color
- Stiff branches hold heavy ornaments
- Needles are prickly
- Good needle retention
- The premier ornamental evergreen

Concolor Fir (also White Fir)

- Silver-blue foliage with flattened needles about two to
three inches long.
- Branches are stiffer than Douglas Fir
- Excellent needle retention
- Unique fragrance