Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas Eve

christmas eve

It is the afternoon of Christmas Eve.  My favorite day of the year.   Last minute errands are done.  All the gifts are wrapped.  My sister and I went to my dad’s early to set the table for tomorrow.  Only 18 of us this year.  Side dishes for Christmas Day are cooking right now.  I will get the rest ready tomorrow while we are at my dad’s.  We are lucky to live in the same town as him, so in the morning, after waking up in our own home and opening up gifts, we can head over there to spend the rest of the day with hm and my siblings and the kids.

Tonight, we will go to mass and then over to my grandma’s house where we will all get together for our Italian feast, dessert and gifts.  Santa will arrive around 8 and hand out the first gifts of the evening.  Then the kids will get gifts.  The adults do a grab bag since there are so many of us.  We try to make it fun by not signing who it is from.  Instead, we all list three things most people would not know about us.  Then we try to guess who the giver is.  It makes it so much fun and makes us put a lot of thought into the gift giving.

There will be 25 of us at dinner this year.  My kids are the oldest of the grandchildren and watching the little ones’ eyes light up when Santa arrives, is one of those magical moments of Christmas.  He brings a gift for everyone there.  Over the many, many years, Santa has been “played” by several different people.  When we were really little, it was my Uncle’s good friend, DK – I don’t think I will ever forget the year he fell down the stairs.  We heard a, “Ho, ho, hooooooooooo oh, SHI*” as he landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs surrounded by presents.  Fortunately, he was okay and Christmas went on as usual.

Dad’s cousin Greg played the part for a few years but when the kids got old enough to realize that he was missing in the crowd of party guests, he could not do it any longer.

A good friend, Joel, who is Jewish, was Santa for years.  Since he didn’t celebrate Christmas, he LOVED playing the part of Santa and spending Christmas Eve with us.  There was a year when he could not make it and last minute, we got one of Dave’s best friends from when he was a kid to do it.  Dave had no idea and when Santa started to ask him questions about things that no one else could have known, I think Dave actually might have believed that this may have been the REAL Santa!

Danny, a friend from town was Santa for a few years.  He was great and since he had his own white beard and eyebrows he didn’t even need to use the fake ones!  A good friend of Dale’s has done it for the last few years.  Anita, a woman, played the role spectacularly and I don’t know if the kids ever realized it was not a man playing the part!  This year…we might be in a predicament.  Our last two Santa’s are unavailable!  We are waiting for the word from a last minute friend.  If he can’t do it, Dave is going to dress up.  Our own  boys don’t believe anymore, so they’ll find it funny.  The other kids are going to be so excited just seeing Santa, that they won’t even notice Dave not being in the room.

Every year, we create new memories at Christmas Eve.  Tonight will be no different.  We will miss Francine’s delicious desserts that she’d make every year and it won’t be the same without mom’s booming laughter ringing through the room.  We will still all have fun though.  Being together with our family  is what makes Christmas Eve the best night of the year.

Christmas Eve Prep

christmas eve prep

Every year on December 23, the women of the family get together to cook the Christmas Eve meal.  It is not as “primitive” as it sounds.  That’s just how it has always been done, but this year, since most of the women are “working women,” (no offense to stay at home moms – I was one myself for a few years and it is the hardest job there is,) but since most of us work outside of the house and can’t be there for the prep, it has changed a bit over the years.

It started way back when my dad and his brothers were little boys.  Their grandma would cook with their mom and aunt and prepare the dinner for everyone.  As the boys got married and moved out with families of their own, Gram and Aunt Dee did all of the cooking.  A few years before Aunt Dee passed away, (I was still a teenager,) Aunt Dale and my mom asked to be a part of it so that they’d know how it was done.  They were given the family recipes and helped each year.  After Aunt Dee died, Dale and my mom got more responsibilities and the granddaughters got to help too.

Over the years, as Gram could do less and less, my mom and Dale did most of it and the granddaughters helped.  I have been doing a lot more of it over the last few years.  As mom’s COPD got worse, she could not do as much so we’d give her the jobs of cutting clams and garlic so she could stay sitting down while Dale and I did the rest.  Last year, December 23 fell on a weekend so more of the cousins could help out.  I had asked one of my cousins to photograph the process so that we could turn it into a cookbook for all of us.  Unfortunately that didn’t work out and we decided that we’d do it this year instead, never knowing that mom would not be here for the preparations this year.

This year, my Aunt Ellen is visiting from Utah so she joined in with us today as we cooked, chopped and created the sauces to serve to 25 people tomorrow night!  My dad’s brother Richie was there too.  The master garlic chopper we called him as he chopped up three big bulbs of garlic for the recipes.  Gram sat in her seat directing and calling out orders letting us know what to do.  Dale and I have it down pretty well though.  We make a good team.  This year, Drew came to help too.  He was so helpful.  He helped carry the “kids” table up from the garage, he set the table, got the drink table in order, decorated gingerbread men and helped clean up.

It was a long but productive day.  We made clam sauce, lobster sauce and mussels in red sauce.  They just need to be heated up tomorrow and served over pasta.  Tomorrow, Dale will go up to gram’s earlier, while we go to church and then we will all meet up for dinner.  There was definitely a missing place at the kitchen table today without mom there, but we kept her a part of it all, reminiscing about past years and stories that although I had heard numerous times, were new to Drew.  No tears, which surprised me, since Dale gets as weepy about things as I do.  We know mom was there watching over us as we cooked and what sealed the deal was when Aunt Ellen pulled the very last clam out of the container to cut up.  She made us all look at it because it had the funniest markings on it and it actually looked like a smiley face.  Dale said, “it is like Ellie is smiling at us letting us know she was there.”  I am sure she was.

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Santa’s Workshop

Christmas feelings

It is like Santa’s Workshop in our house right now!  Cookies are baking, presents are being wrapped.  The tree is lit and the outside of the house is decorated in Christmas lights.  The unseasonably warm temperatures make it seem more like Spring and since neither of boys believe in Santa anymore, it seems a bit odd.   Both of the boys are good about keeping this quiet since all of their cousins still believe.  The gifts are under the tree and they are being pretty good about not peeking!!  I am hoping that they are like me….I love surprises so I never look ahead of time.  It takes all the fun away!

Drew and I went out today and he finished his shopping.  Dave has some last minute things to get tomorrow.  This morning, we visited the cemetery to bring ornaments from mom and Francine,   At the cemetery there was a huge tree filled with ornaments from people’s loved ones.  There were some already there for mom and Francine.  This has always been my favorite time of the year, and even without mom and Francine here with us, I think most of us are getting caught up in the holiday spirit.  It is definitely what mom would have wanted.

tree

Santa

polar express

Every year, without fail, I get the same question from my Kindergarteners.  It usually causes great argument!  “Is Santa Claus real?”   My students are five and six years old, there is really only one answer I can give them and I give the same on every year, “I believe.”  I won’t say much more than that.  This year it did not come up until Friday, but it came up with quite a debate and even a few tears!

Each year during the month of December, I introduce the class to different holidays.  I do a bit of Hanukkah, some Christmas and we even touch a bit on Kwanzaa, (although I don’t know a lot about this one – so I do what I can.)  I invite the students’ families to come in and share traditions that their families celebrate.  It is always so much fun and I get to learn about traditions I may not have otherwise known about.

Each year, I try to read them, “The Polar Express.”  If we are able, we also watch the movie.  This year, we had the opportunity to watch it.  Some had seen it before, others had not.  At the end, when the young boy shakes the bell and all of the children can hear it, they hear the words that “only believers can hear it.”  As my students heard the bell, a few of them gasped.  I watched their faces and one asked if I had heard it.  I told them that I had, and one of the girls said, “she told you already that she believes, so of course she hears it!”

I would never be the one to spoil the magic of Christmas for any child.  It is my hope that everyone believes even just a little bit, because truly, I still do.  During the Season of Christmas, seeing others choosing good over bad, spreading good cheer and finding joy in giving rather than receiving, truly is magical.

polare express 2

Thank you to my class

being loved

Today was the last day of school before the holiday break.  It was also Pajama Day.  On this day, we all wear our pajamas to school and we ask that everyone who is able, to donate a new pair of pajamas for a child in need.  This is the fourth Pajama Drive that I have organized and in the four years, we have collected over 1000 pairs of pajamas.  This year, we were able to give away nearly 350 pairs.

At the end of the day, we had a holiday party in my class.  The class was so generous and gave me some very lovely things.  There were several parents at the party helping out, and they gave me a gift from the entire class.  It was such a touching gift, that I cried in front of the class and had to explain to them why people cry even when they are happy!

One of my class parents told me that several of them read my blog.  I knew that a few of them did, but hadn’t realized there were so many! She told me that they knew that this Christmas was going to be a difficult one after the year that our family has been through.  One of the gifts that they presented me with was a charm of an angel’s wing in memory of mom and Francine.  That alone made me emotional, but then, she told me that one of the mom’s made a Plum Pudding for my dad, after hearing that it was going to be the first Christmas without one since my mom made him one every year.  I had written about how I’d need to find a way to make one, and this mom, found a recipe and with the help of her own mom, she made it for my dad.  That’s when I started to cry.  Happy tears, grateful tears, appreciative tears.  My dad was nearly speechless when I told him about it.

The school I teach in is an amazing place, filled with wonderful, compassionate families.  After mom and Francine died, the support and generosity they showed was over and beyond what I could have ever expected.  This year has been no different and I am truly blessed to be a part of the school community.  I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

Happy Birthday Drew

today you are you

12 years ago right now, I was in labor with Drew.  It was a total surprise, as he four weeks early and not due till mid-January!!  He was born at 11:37 in the evening.  It was a whirlwind of a day and Drew hasn’t stopped since!

Drew is a bundle of energy.  Reserved and quiet at school but at home or with friends and family, the complete opposite.  He loves to make people laugh and has a great sense of humor.  He also has a temper!!  (much like his mom.)  He and I are similar in so many ways, it is a bit uncanny!

Drew is an original!  Every time he goes to a sporting event, he finds a way to get on the jumbo tron, or chosen for a contest.  Even last night!  We let him go to a hockey game with my dad since it was the night before his birthday.  My dad has season tickets so we let him go to most weekend games.  A friend sent me an message asking if Drew was there because she was sure she had seen him on the big screen!  Sure enough, it was him dancing around.  He was known as, “the dancing kid” for awhile because he got up on the jumbo tron so many times one season!  This morning, DJ was watching NHL Network and who’s photo pops up on the show but Drew’s.  DJ tweeted it and by the end of the day, it had been retweeted by Ken Daneyko, (a former NJ Devil – now MSG correspondent- but most importantly, my all time favorite Devil) and a few other NHL Newtwork guys! So typical.  He was photo bombing before it became a trend!

Tonight we will head over to my grandma’s.  We do this every year.  All the cousins come and we decorate her tree and celebrate Drew’s birthday.  Drew says it is one of his favorite days of the year.  He always likes to be the life of the party so being the center of attention just makes his day complete!

Drew NHL Network

Family is Family

family and friends

Tonight Dave and I took a drive out to the airport to pick up my Aunt Ellen who is here for the holidays.  Ellen was married to my dad’s oldest brother Keith.  They divorced awhile back but Aunt Ellen has still stayed close with the family, especially my grandma.  Ellen lives in Utah and hasn’t been here for about three years.  Ellen and Keith have four children who are all married with families of their own right now. They all live out west.  Two in Nevada and two in Alaska, where Keith and Ellen raised their family.

The “Westerners” as we call them, come to visit New Jersey now and then.  We usually get to see that part of the family about once a year.  Never all at once, but they come here in shifts.  Unfortunately, we don’t get out there very often. We took a big family cruise to Alaska before any of us had kids of our own and got to all be together for a bit.  When we do get together, we have a great time.  We are all close in age and our children all get along very well.  A few years ago, when my grandma celebrated her 95th birthday, almost all of us were able to get together and celebrate.  We met at a resort not too far from New Jersey and all celebrated her.  There were at least thirty of us all together that time!  We are hoping to do it again when she celebrates her 100th birthday in two years!!

This year having Aunt Ellen with us at Christmas will add some of “The Western” spirit to the holidays.