Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I love being so evolved!

A few years ago, one of my children’s teachers sent a note home to thank me for being so involved. However, the kids must have really gotten to her that day (most likely my kid did) because the note read, “Thank you for being so evolved.” Now, I must admit that there are times at the dinner table when I sometimes question the level of my family’s evolvement. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to be publicly acknowledged for having operable thumbs and the ability to walk upright. Well, sometimes. Clearly, however, this teacher has never seen us at an all-you-can-eat buffet or she would definitely reconsider her sentiments and never commit them to writing.
I saved the note not only because it’s hilarious, but it’s a reminder of how grateful I am that I did not become an elementary, middle school, or high school teacher as I had once envisioned myself as I walked across campus to Freshman orientation at Rutgers. I have a third and fourth grader and through the years I have watched their teachers and I am in continual awe. I could never do what they do day after day after day. The truth is, my own two children rattle my brain in a way that makes me think that Alzheimer’s is less a neurological disease, and more a disorder brought on by my offspring’s incessant verbal proddings that slowly erode the pathways that send signals to my brain, turning my brain into farina at the very time when I’m free to reclaim my life because my kids are finally out of the house. 
I get hives just imagining having to deal with twenty-two kids, all of whom have competing needs for attention. I can’t imagine how rattled a teacher’s brain gets dealing with the same personalities every single day and having to smile through it. They have to always be “on” whether they feel like it or not. And, (cue horror music) they have to deal with neurotic parents like me.
I’m always amazed at the harsh criticism tossed at great teachers. “They only teach five classes a day;” “Their bosses rarely bother them;”  “They get winter and spring breaks, and they have summers off.” I think those people should have to teach for a week because they would find after one day that those five classes include no bathroom breaks, no personal phone calls, no games of Bejeweled, and no gossiping with their office mate. They’ll also find that those twenty-plus students are the bosses. Not only are they silently (and not so silently) critiquing your performance, they tell their parents every move you make and repeat every word you say. If you’re not careful you’ll be called before the Board of Education to answer for an incident that you don’t even recall happening. And let’s be real, most offices don’t have twenty people working in the same room elbow to elbow, swimming in the sneezing, coughing, runny noses, feverish cesspool of the classroom. Teaching may be a calling, but if someone is sneezing all over me for five consecutive classes, I’m calling their parents. The breaks and summers off are necessary for a teacher’s body to recover from “the assault of the classroom germs.” 
True, I teach preschool to fund my writing, but that’s completely different, and no comparison to teaching older kids. Teaching two and three-year olds is almost like working in a nursing home. There’s no filter between brain and mouth; they’re always chasing the next meal; they love to talk about bowel movements; there are diapers and accidents, and they love to let you know exactly how they feel about you, “I don’t like you. You’re not coming to my birthday party.” And there are no pre-pubescent/pubescent/post-pubescent hormonal imbalances to deal with. Preschoolers are either over-the-moon happy or cranky because they’re missing their teeth or haven’t pooped for two days.
And they tell you everything, I mean everything, that they hear at home. My all-time favorite was a little three-year old girl who confided in me during snack, “My daddy has to go to Target and get more balls because Grandma told Grandpa that Mommy took his when they got married.”
What can I say? Working with the little people is fun. I love being evolved with them.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


A dog in a pig costume?  A pog? And they wonder why I run away?

When our children no longer need us as often as they once did, do we transfer our feelings to our pets? I pose this question because while conversing with a group of parents at a recent eight-year-old’s birthday party, after the obligatory, “Who did your child get for a teacher?” and “Is your son playing soccer, football, and hockey?” the conversation immediately turned to our pets.
          Actually, a visible sign of relief registered across the faces of every parent in the conversation circle. Talking about your children can be extremely stressful. Aside from the obvious fact that you wonder if you’re being a good enough parent compared to Johnny’s parents (Johnny has been on a plane six times already; your child has only been on a plane that either requires a carnival ticket or a quarter to board) most parents don’t want to get tagged as a bragger—it’s the schoolyard equivalent to the Scarlet “A.”
A parental bragger’s questions about your child are pre-scripted and loaded, especially the “what level is your child reading at?” question. Seemingly harmless, but in reality lethal to your family’s reputation. Okay, okay, lethal to your reputation. I firmly believe that the question is asked for one of two reasons: 1) it’s an opportunity for that parent to tell you that their second-grader is reading Homer; or, 2) it’s an opportunity for them to whisper around the schoolyard, “Ann was more interested in reading the proof percentage on the alcohol labels than reading Dick and Jane to her kids.”
So, needless to say, there was a collective sigh when Chris told us that she was very concerned about her son’s hamster, Oreo. Oreo was inexplicably losing his hair. We all resounded in a heartfelt “tsk, tsk, tsk,” because without hair, what good is a hamster? They’re only cute because they're fluffy. Take away the fluff, and they become hairless monsters. The vet prescribed meds for Oreo, but it was too costly to do further tests. I pondered if just a small dose of Rogaine would help.
Chris continued that while sitting in the vet’s waiting room, there was a woman holding a guinea pig wearing a visor around its neck. The owner reported that “Muffy” was diagnosed with breast cancer and had recently undergone a lumpectomy. The visor was to keep her from biting at the incision. Also, she was undergoing chemo. Silence fell upon the group, and I unexpectedly became verklempt. My throat ached from trying to restrain a sob. At that moment there was no greater tragedy than knowing that somewhere out there was a guinea pig with breast cancer wearing a lampshade visor.
I finally broke the silence. “We need to walk for Muffy! We need to get a sponsor, like Purina, to organize a breast cancer walk for animals with breast cancer!”
Morbid thoughts of Muffy led me to thoughts of my “Bad Dog,” being afflicted with breast cancer. I mean, I already check her body for lumps at least three times a week. I could be walking around with horns protruding from my exterior for all I check my body, but next to the possibility of my children or family getting cancer, the idea of my dog getting cancer puts me right over the edge.
Oreo’s family had just lost their dog, Tee Gee, after 17years, followed by a carnival fish, so Chris was eager to do all she could to restore Oreo to good health. My son took the death of his carnival fish, “Carny,” hard. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that after a “CSI” (Carny Suicide Investigation) it was discovered that his sister murdered the fish.  She thought Carny would like a morning cup of coffee, and poured the dregs from my cup into the unfiltered bowl. I thought the water looked particularly cloudy, but decided to let my husband deal with it. A few hours later, Carny was floating like a pool toy.
Unfortunately, Oreo didn’t make it, but I’m hoping Muffy does. One thing I can always count on—no matter what I say or do, “Bad Dog” will always greet me with a wagging tail and a sloppy tongue. That’s more than I can say for my kids who are more likely to greet me with a wagging tongue and a sloppy tail.  

Sunday, September 19, 2010


You've read about BAD DOG, now you can see her. Here's a canine cartoon. Another Wonton Women Production, filmed and animated by Donna Brennan.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Mortgage Apple Company

Please watch and share my video interview for of Angela Logan. Angela is a Bergen County mom who turned a horrific situation into a thriving business. She is one of the most inspirational women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She falls into the category of a person you'll never forget.

Beautifully filmed by Donna Brennan for Wonton Women Productions LLC

Thursday, September 16, 2010


The other night in a rare moment of solitude for me and Jim, and an even rarer moment of being in control of the remote control, he felt compelled to tell me (during a commercial break for Mythbusters) that no matter what happened, nothing could ever separate us. “Not even death,” he proudly announced. Jim explained that he firmly believes that no matter which one of us leaves this earth first, we will be reunited in heaven, and our marriage will resume. I didn’t know what to say. This sweet, sweet man had done the impossible. He rendered me absolutely speechless.   
          “Hon,” I answered cautiously as my brain raced to find the appropriate response, “You know our vows cover us only until death. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, and I don’t think that I am, but our vows specifically said ‘until death do us part.’”
          “What exactly are you saying?” he asked as he adjusted himself on the couch so that he could look me directly in the eye.
          “Well, I was just assuming that when I fulfilled my earthly obligations of the marriage contract, I have free agent status once I hit heaven.”
          “A free agent?” he asked in disbelief. “You mean that you want to marry someone else when you get to heaven?”
          I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by the tenor of his response, and any other woman might have dropped the whole subject at this point, but we’re talking about me here, so I kept on going. Besides, we’ve never really talked about the afterlife. How can we? We barely have time to fit in a conversation about this life!
          Marry someone else?” I responded incredulously. “No. Never. Absolutely Not. Read my lips--I’d never marry again. Trust me, I’ve been cured of that bug. I was just thinking about dating my way through heaven. No commitments, just an eternity of dinner, dancing, and an occasional movie sounds pretty blessed to me. And a pretty good reward for mortally suffering through loads of dirty laundry, car pools of screaming kids, and years of colicky all-nighters.”
          “So you’re telling me that your idea of heaven is just dating, dancing, eating, and a movie?”
          “What’s your idea of heaven?” I asked, totally curious.
          “Me, you, the kids, their friends running in and out of the house, my family, your family, the craziness, the constant mess…you know I love all this! If I could take all of this into eternity with me, I would know I was in heaven.”
          Listening to him, I momentarily thought about taking my life right on the couch, but what if the heaven he was describing really exists? I’d be paddling in the same boat I am now except, like Sisyphus pushing that same boulder up that same mountain, I’d be paddling throughout all of eternity with the promise of no end in sight.
          “What?” he inquired as I tried to recover from the shock his words induced. “That doesn’t sound like the perfect heaven to you?”
          “To be honest with you,” I replied, “you just described the perfect hell.”
          “So you want to, what? Live alone in heaven? Without me, the kids, or our family?”
          “No, I don’t want to live alone. Well, not exactly alone. Of course, the dog will be with me. And I’d love to have a live-in cook and cleaning lady. Maybe you can buy a house a town or two over from my condo and visit me. Just make sure you call first. My heaven also has no pop-ins.”
          “You know,” he said as he got up from the couch. “If somebody heard you talking like this, they would think you weren’t kidding.”  
           I didn’t have the heart to tell him that part of me wasn’t kidding. This unanticipated conversation made me think about our marriage and how long we’ve been together. Jim and I dated eight years before we got married, and we’ve been married for 17 years. That’s a total of 25 years. I should be eligible for retirement and a pension already. 
          “You want something to drink?” he called from the kitchen.
          “Yeah, whiskey. Forget a glass; just bring me the whole bottle. I’m going to need it if I’m going to your heaven!” I commanded.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Big Wave

The Tsunami in my back yard

I’m one of those delusional moms who think it’s much more special to have birthday parties at home rather than at one of the many over-crowded, over-priced, germ-laden, impersonal birthday “factories.” I’m not necessarily correct in this assumption; remember I began the sentence by referring to myself as ‘delusional.’
          Parties at the house never end well for anybody. First, if it rains you have kids running from outside to inside traipsing mud everywhere. Second, there’s a high likelihood that the parents will stay, and then you have to worry what to feed them, too. Third, it leaves the door open for additional people to show up without warning--siblings, cousins, neighbors, strangers walking by.
“After all,” people will whisper, “it’s only a house party—it’s not like they’re paying for extra people.”
Fourth something will get broken—one of the new gifts, your t.v., couch, refrigerator, lamp…you name it. Fifth, something will get broken—arm, ankle, wrist, finger, your nerves…you name it.  Sixth, your mother will be the Greek Chorus behind your shoulder continually refraining, “You must be crazy having all these people in your house! And did you see what those kids did to your living room?” Seventh, tell me when to stop because I can keep on going!
          So, this year when Jack suggested he take some of his friends to the movies for his eighth birthday you would think I would have hopped on that train. But no. Something possessed me to interject, “But honey, why don’t we have it at the house again so you can invite your whole class and no one will be left out?”  Last year we had rented a humongous water slide for the back yard. I had milked the pirate theme for all it was worth the previous four years so I had to come up with a new theme. And what kid wouldn’t love a water slide? And boy did they love it! They stayed on that slide for four hours straight getting off only to eat cake and go home. Perfect!
          This year the slide company offered me an extra discount if I agreed to be the first customer to test their new “The Big Wave” slide. Did somebody say discount? I jumped on it.
           So, on the morning August 26th “The Big Wave” arrived and was inflated in my backyard. It was the size of a small skyscraper. I learned that “The Big Wave” referred to the bottom of the slide that curved like the foot of Santa’s sleigh. The science behind it was that the slickness of the water increased the velocity of the slider’s descent, and as their body hydroplaned up the ramp, or wave, they were briefly propelled into the air. To give you a visual, a child would slide and the next thing you’d see was eight-year old after eight-year old careening 10 feet into the air ready to give you an in-the-sky high-five before gravity threw them back to earth.   
          Now, eight-year olds being fearless eight-year olds, no one waited patiently—how could they? They were strung out on sugar! So, there were the expected body checks, head bangings, belly crashes, his foot in my eye, his elbow in my chest, and double-trouble suspension which is best described as being the closest thing that has ever sent my husband, Jim, into coronary distress.
Feeling the onset of a migraine, I escaped to the sanctuary of my mini-van, opened the first aid kit where I keep my stash of Motrin, and pack of cigarettes. As I washed the pain relieving pills down with the three day old coffee sitting in the cup holder, I lit a crushed cigarette and inhaled only to be interrupted by Jim banging on the window.
Apparently, the triple-boy-backflip caused Jim to temporarily close The Big Wave slide. Like Chief Brody in “JAWS” he told me he scared everyone off the slide, but instead of yelling “Shark” he ordered, “Everyone inside for a time-out!” I ran from the car to the porch windows where I could see twenty-something dripping wet, over-sugared, water-pistol packing eight-year olds doing backflips off my couch and riding the dog like a horse while engaging in a water pistol war. When I knocked on the window to get their attention they all gave me the big wave and laughed. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Jack looking to make that hole in one!

The day my air conditioner got fixed was the day yet another oppressive heat wave ended. So, since it was too cool to go to the pool, we decided to take the kids to the mini golf course in Paramus that’s run by the County. The Paramus Mini Golf Course happens to be one of my family’s favorite courses because it’s close to home, it’s a really fun course to play, even when there’s a lot of people it doesn’t seem crowded, it has a lot of water traps, but there are nets for the kids’ to fish their golf balls out with, and every hole has a different, incredibly built, iconic homage to New Jersey. 

Come on, what would a Jersey themed mini golf course be without Frank and Bruce driving by in their sporty convertibles?
Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra

The thing to understand about my kids and mini golf is that Jack plays to win, and Katie plays to get Jack mad. In other words, a migraine is always hovering. But it’s hard to let anything upset you when you’re standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder with the Statue of Liberty.

And then there’s a replica of the Old Red Mill that still sits on Paramus Road just before the entrance to Route 4. This is where Jack’s golf ball took the first of many headers into the water.

Perhaps my favorite is the George Washington Bridge hole. You have the option of having your golf ball take the lower level or the upper level. And, there’s no traffic or toll booths!

However, the kids’ favorite is the Jersey Shore hole. There’s sand, a boardwalk, food stand, and a gypsy fortune teller. There are rakes for the sand so the kids can have some fun while they’re waiting to play through. 

And the hole-in-one was made by Jack at the toll booth. He took the EZ Pass lane and got that hole-in-one he was gunning for! Yes, he did go 15 m.p.h.

And what kind of Jersey tribute mini golf course would it be if the 18th hole didn’t have Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on First?”

18 holes of mini golf can work up quite an appetite. If it’s just a quick snack you want, follow the path to the snack bar.

Or, if you want to sit down and have something more substantial like appetizers, or a burger, salad, open sliced steak sandwich, a BEER! then follow the path to the Nine Iron Grill--that's the place to go. It’s so family friendly (and wallet friendly) that it hurts. Many families skip the golf and just come here for dinner. In addition to having a kids’ menu, did I mention that there’s a fully stocked bar? 

And it's really casual! See? Oh, and the walls are lined with flat screen T.V.'s so you can catch every game that's playing. I'm just saying...

If you want a real treat, skip dessert at the Nine Iron and take a short drive to Van Dyk’s in Ridgewood. Van Dyk's has been making homemade ice cream for a hundred years and they don’t advertise, so if you've never been there, it may be tricky to find it. Easiest way to go: Rt 17 to Ridgewood Ave, go past Ridgewood High School and turn left onto South Maple, and take South Maple to Ackerman Ave. Turn right onto Ackerman and after a few miles (on your right) you’ll see the weathered white wooden sign welcoming you to Van Dyk’s.   

Van Dyk’s is set back pretty far from the street so be on the lookout for the sign. The ice cream parlor itself is a small yellow building with no bells or whistles—just great ice cream! 

But don’t take my word for it—just take a look at Jack. That’s one mighty big cone and one mighty happy customer!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Don’t think of Labor Day as Summer’s unofficial end, think of it as the beginning of Apple picking season. Pack the swim suits and the sunscreen away and get into harvest mode. Picking apples is a fun way to spend time with your children, although it can prove to be a great test to your marriage. (“What do you mean you won’t climb that tree to shake loose those apples for your children? I thought I married a man!”) But I digress.
Apple picking is great fun and a great way to get you into Fall baking mode. However, if you’re anything like me, and I hope to God you’re not, you’ll pick way too many apples with the greatest intentions of making home baked pies, tarts, muffins, cakes, fritters, apple sauce, caramel apples, you name it, as a way of bowing to your inner-Martha Stewart and to fill your house with the aroma of baked apples and cinnamon only to have those overflowing bags sit in your kitchen and rot. Although, decomposing apples do give off a terrific apple scent if you can stand the invasion of the fruit flies that comes with it.
Living in Bergen County gives us so many options of where we can go to pick apples. We have the option of taking a long day trip to an orchard and enjoy the changing colors of the leaves, or we can just go to an orchard minutes from our homes. Here’s my listing of apple orchards near and not-so-far. I’ve been to almost all of these orchards, so I can tell you that you really can’t go wrong. Also, I’ve included orchards in New Jersey and New York State. Most, if not all, of these orchards are family run (some in the same family for centuries) and all offer more than just apples. So take one last breath of summer and then get into the orchards and start picking!


Demarest Farms, 244 Wierimus Rd., Hillsdale
 Located minutes away in Hillsdale, this is one of my family’s favorite farms. No matter what the season, there’s always something going on at Demarest Farms. It’s so close to home that you don’t have to sit through refrains of, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” The kids love riding on the tractor-pulled hayride to the orchards, and there’s a corn maze by the market so that the kids can play while you relax or buy some farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, or freshly baked pies, donuts, cookies, and cakes. Also, I bought a cookbook that contains their family recipes--I swear by this cookbook! 

Longmeadow Farm, 511 Blairstown Rd., 521, Hope
With over a dozen varieties of apples to choose from, Longmeadow Farm is a great place to take the family for a fun day of apple picking. In addition to an abundant orchard, Longmeadow Farm also has freshly grown produce to purchase in their market as well. It’s a great place to spend a beautiful fall day and enjoy the changing colors of the season.

Alstede Farms, 84 Rt. 513, Chester
Located a short drive away in the beautiful town of Chester is Alstede Farms. Take a hayride, pick a few bushels of apples, visit and pet the friendly farm animals, then stop by the farm market for a refreshing ice cream cone or a drink. And don’t forget to take home one of their home baked pies or quiches before you go home!

Pochuck Valley Farms, 962 Rt. 517 
(McAffee Glenwood Rd.), Glenwood
17 varieties of apples to choose from makes Pochuck Valley Farms a great place to pick apples. You can either walk to the orchards or enjoy a wagon ride; either way you’ll enjoy all the colors the season has to offer. Early in the season the apples hang low enough on the branches for a one-year old to pick them. Pochuck Valley Farms also has a farm market where you can buy fresh produce, home baked pies, donuts, breads, muffins and freshly made jams and jellies.

Hillview Farms, 223 Meyersville Rd., Gillette
 Climb the hill to the orchard, but watch out for the chickens and the peacocks that are roaming the orchards. Or, enjoy a scenic hayride into the orchard. Hillview Farms has a great farm market where you can purchase fresh cider, homemade baked goods, and other farm fresh delicacies.

Lee Turkey Farm, 201 Hickory Corner Rd.,
East Windsor
Family owned and operated since 1868, Lee Turkey Farm offers more than just fresh turkeys. There are hundreds of fruit trees, including apple trees, and acres of fresh vegetables. Lee Turkey Farm also raises 5000 turkeys annually so it’s a great place for the kids to see live turkeys. (Just don't tell them where the turkeys are spending their Thanksgiving!) Don’t forget to bring your camera!

Riamede Farm, 122 Oakdale Rd., Chester
 34 varieties of apples—from traditional classic, to heirloom, to more modern varieties. You can take a scenic hayride or get your exercise and walk to the orchards. Riamede Farm has a farm market where you can purchase all types of fresh fruits and vegetables, cider, jams, and jellies. Bring a camera and roam around 50 acres to take pictures of nature at its best.

Wightman’s Farm, Rt. 202, 1111 Mt. Kemble Ave.,
A family tradition since 1922, Wightman’s Farm has been growing fruits and vegetables for a long time. Take a hayride into the orchard and choose from over a dozen varieties of apples. Wightman’s Farm also sells fresh farm dairy products such as milk, butter, and eggs, as well as fruits, vegetables and plants. Wrightman’s has corn mazes and rope mazes to keep the kids entertained after a day of picking apples.


Pennings Orchards, 170 Rt. 94 S., Warwick, NY
 Just a short beautiful ride to Warwick, New York, is Pennings Orchards. Pennings Orchards has over 20 varieties of apples to choose from and the orchards offer breathtaking views of the changing season. Many of the apples are grown on dwarf trees making it easy for the little ones to pick apples all by themselves.  Pennings offers a hayride into the orchard and they have a petting zoo for the kids.

Stone Ridge Orchard, 3012 Rt. 213, Stone Ridge, NY
 With over 30 varieties of apples to choose from, Stone Ridge Orchard knows a little something about apples. And they should. Stone Ridge has been doing it for over 200 years. In addition to an amazing orchard, Stone Ridge has a gourmet farm market that you have to check out!

Masker Orchards, 45 Ball Rd., Warwick, NY
 Farmed since 1913, Maskers Orchards has a terrific apple orchard. And, Masker's is one of the only orchards that allows you to drive right in! You can pack a picnic lunch in the trunk and feast in the orchards while picking apples. Best of all, they allow you to eat all the apples you want while you’re visiting the orchard!

Orchards of Concklin, 2 Mountain Rd., Pomona, NY
 Farming in Rockland County since 1712, the Concklin Family continues to own and operate this amazing farm. Just minutes from Bergen County, Conklin Farm not only has orchards that offer a variety of apples, but their farm market sells homemade pies, cookies, and cakes made from centuries old recipes. I have tasted many varieties of their pies and I can attest that they are delicious beyond compare! When my family just wants a quick place to go on a fall afternoon during the weekend, Concklin Farms is our go-to place. During October, they have a haunted house, inflatable slides, and other exciting offerings to keep the kids entertained.

Dr. Davies Farm, 306 Rt. 304, Congers, NY
 Another orchard located just minutes off the Palisade Interstate Parkway in Rockland County, Dr. Davies Farm has 4000 apple trees on 35 acres. Family owned and operated since 1891, I can personally tell you that when every other orchard has closed for the season, you’ll still be welcomed at Dr. Davies and they will have an abundance of apples still to choose from. A few years ago we went late in the season and every other farm had signs “No More Apples,” but Dr. Davies had more than we could pick off the trees! Also, the house has an amazing history of people who have lived there, so be sure to ask!