Monday, October 26, 2009

My 10 Most Favorite Childhood Gifts Ever!

I was in Target the other day when I realized Christmas is sort of approaching slowly, but surely. OK, so blame it on the fact that next to the Halloween costumes were aisles filled with Christmas wrap, cards and ornaments just itching to take over the Halloween section.

I love Christmas, it's one of my favorite holidays to reflect on years past. I could probably write several posts about my holiday memories. One thing we all remember are those three-page Christmas wish lists filled with games and toys which transformed into fancy electronics once we hit our teens.

For me, the "18 and over" Christmas lists became more mature and modest and included boring items like socks, gloves with postage stamps and deodorant as stocking stuffers. Once I hit 30, other than my Wedding Registry, I quit the wish list biz. These days, it's more like a mental note and a hint to Mom or DH, "I'd really like one of those Snuggies" or "Gift cards are nice and maybe a new frying pan."

But thinking back, there are gifts I'll never forget. Though I'm not sure if they were actually Christmas gifts or Birthday gifts - they were gifts I loved so very much I figured I'd share them with you. Maybe some of them were on your list once as well.

1. The Famous Holly Hobbie Oven
Every girl born in the early '70s had to have one. I loved that it was my favorite color, blue! Like most kiddie ovens, it came with the two signature cake mixes, one chocolate and one yellow. Funny thing is, once I ran out of cake mix, I think that oven just sat in my room. But whatever the case, I loved it anyway. It's amazing to think a high powered light bulb could actually bake a cake. Too bad it always took, what felt like, two hours to go from a watered down, sweet liquid to a minuscule cake that took all of two seconds to devour.

2. Barbie Hair Salon
Like most little girls, I loved to style Barbies' hair. A snip here, a snip there. Sometimes, I would get a little wild and color their blond tresses with blue, red or black markers. That kinda sucked since the marker didn't easily wash out and usually stained the hair. All of my little friends had the Barbie head that came with the powdery makeup. I bet I told my parents how much I wanted one and by accident they picked up the Barbie salon, not knowing. To this day, I have never owned a Barbie hair/makeup head and no, that's not a hint that I want one today.

3. Cocoa the Hamster
In third or fourth grade, I became obsessed with the idea of owning a hamster. I must have seen it on an episode of one of my favorite shows, because in Catholic school, I never had a class pet. You know how schools have that class gerbil and every weekend a different kid gets to take it home? I've actually never experienced that. We had plants instead. After weeks of begging, drawing pictures of mouse-like pets in cages and insisting I would feed and take care of it, my parents took me to a pet store and I soon became the proud owner of Cocoa.

4. Run Yourself Ragged
There was something about this game, Run Yourself Ragged, that I adored! I loved the colorful oranges and greens. I could play it for hours, yet when I look at it now, it's the type of game that seems like after ten minutes, I'd put it on a shelf and never play it again. Snooze, right? But in second grade, I loved Running Myself Ragged. I think it may have been a Christmas gift from a relative.

5. Kabangers
Ah, yet another dumb toy that kept me occupied for hours. I don't know what it was about these rock-hard balls that I loved so very much. The sound of that clacking and the agony of the pain I felt if my finger got caught between them. They were a staple amongst my toys for at least a year or two and were probably the dumbest item I ever owned. I remember standing on my lawn Kabangin' like a fool, what was I thinking?

6. Anything ET, Smurfs, Strawberry Shortcake & Cabbage Patch
'Nuff said, a poster, a shirt, sheets, dolls, stuffed toys, if it was one of the above characters, it was heavenly.

7. Atari
Can't create a list of favorite gifts without old school video game platforms now, can we? Thinking back now, I feel like that was a gift my dad may have bought himself and we took it over. I remember hours spent playing Kaboom, Asteroids, Space Invaders and Pac-man and never being able to figure out how to play ET. Years later as we know, ET had a glitch in it.

8. Popcorn Popper
Man, there was something about receiving a popcorn popper Christmas of '83 that was really exciting to me. I'm not quite sure what it was, but I loved it! I remember inserting half of a block of butter into the slot at the top. I especially enjoyed watching the melting madness go down while freshly popped corn would get stuck in greasy pools of butter trying to make its way to the bowl. Fun times!

9. Retro Pink Sharp Boom Box
One hot electronic item will always have a tender place in my heart. My bubblegum pink '50s style SHARP brand retro style tape player/radio. I'm not sure what the occasion was, but I received it from my parents in 7th grade. I absolutely loved blasting my Monkees tapes on that thing, it was the coolest radio ever! I'd bring it by our pool and enjoy fun in the sun while listening to Tears For Fears and Howard Jones.

10. Colors, The Benetton Perfume
This was the first perfume I ever really NEEDED to have. It wasn't cheap by '80s standard and I remember hinting to my folks for months that I needed to have this perfume. I believe it was Christmas of 1988, I received it. Purchased from the Benetton store, it was beautifully packaged and I wore it sparingly for months as not to waste it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Happy Birthday/Halloween/Anniversary

Growing up with a November 4th birthday meant many Halloween/Birthday parties. It's weird, I know. I mean, there are all of four days between October 31 and November 4. That's like almost 100 hours. I guess maybe it made sense to my parents if Halloween fell on a Friday or Saturday, to combine two of my favorite holidays. I certainly don't recall complaining back then.

My mom would decorate the living room with orange and black streamers and hang matching balloons in each corner of the ceiling. She'd set up Jack-O-Lanterns outside or in the front window and hang one of those flat scarecrow cutouts on the door - the kind that had movable arms and legs because of how it was fastened together.

I'd spend a month preparing the perfect costume. Looking through photos, I found three Halloween birthday parties as examples. One, I appear to be in third grade, the other fourth or fifth and another I'm in seventh or eighth. It's hard to tell really. Of course, I think I look pretty darn cute. Who didn't back then? There are cute photos of me surrounded by smiling little girlfriends all crouched around a homemade Duncan Hines® chocolate cake. It's hard to imagine that back then, there wasn't a Costco a few towns away who would take your order and create dee-lish baked goods at an affordable price. Nope, in the '80s, it was all about the boxed cake mixes and sugary canned icing - well unless your mom was Mrs. Cleaver or something.

I remember instead of the usual party bag favors, Mom would stuff those little white Halloween themed goody bags with chocolates, a spider ring, a small super bouncy ball and top it off with a tiny pumpkin eraser. She'd often make a few extras "just in case" a kid showed up who neglected to RSVP. Of course I'd keep the extra booty all for myself. Yup, I'd just combine them with my leftover Halloween stash.

When planning our wedding, I knew I wanted a fall wedding. I had wanted a fall wedding back in college when I was dating a guy who had no intention of ever marrying me, but whatever. I remember wanting the Friday after Thanksgiving even back then (always combining my fall events).

When I mentioned this to my family and then fiance - they were against combining the holiday weekend with a wedding. They insisted people would be away visiting their families, etc. When we sat down with our banquet coordinator, sixteen months before our actual wedding date, we were shocked to hear October was booked solid. Apparently the fall is the new summer for weddings. Then again, maybe it was just this particular hall or maybe there are way more fall weddings on Long Island than in New Jersey since everyone else I know who married in New Jersey had no problem securing their November date of choice.

So going through her datebook, our banquet lady pointed out that she only had one available weekend (other than the Thanksgiving Friday) and it happened to be my "birthday weekend" - November 8th. I thought about it for a few minutes. It's kind of nice to get married near your birthday. A funny thought popped into my mind... if I was sitting at a guest table, I'd "win" the centerpiece - if they did that "the person with the closest birthday wins the centerpiece" thing. Just kidding! So I agreed and she joked that my birthday would officially blend in with my anniversary the way December kids get gypped at Christmas. I knew she was right and that day, I mourned the loss of my November 4th birthday.

This year is our one year anniversary and I am to blame for planning a trip to Florida that has us flying out two days after my birthday and unfortunately my husband has a work event the night after my birthday, which happens to fall on a crappy Wednesday this year anyway. Halloween weekend is booked with a party, so I snatched up the day before Halloween. We're going to Atlantic City basically because DH asked me which steakhouse I wanted as the backdrop for my romantic birthday dinner. When I named our local favorite, he actually said, "Come on, how about something different or better?" My ultimate favorite steakhouse is in Atlantic City. He agreed and we're set to go! I can't wait for him to experience it. I went with my mom over the summer and it was so yummy. Expensive, but yummy!

So, no, I can't complain about my birthday getting lost in the shuffle, but I can agree with our wedding banquet chick. 2008 was probably the last real birthday, which was ironically kind of lost due to last minute wedding arrangements. I mean think about it, who is relaxed and has time to plan a party four days before their wedding? Last year, my mom even warned me... "Don't expect any fanfare this year with your wedding four days away!" I believe she followed that warning similar to banquet lady's meaning, kiss that November 4th date goodbye forever, you only get one day to celebrate and I'm quite alright with that. I just wanted to share my story with you guys.

My former BFF Serena and I as we prepared to party at my parent's house before the birthday/Halloween guests arrived in 1985 or 1986.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm Running As Fast As I Can

Yesterday on my way to meet my husband for lunch, I passed an elementary school during what must have been gym class. I'm guessing it was gym class by the kids jogging together around the school yard. Dressed in a colorful array of t-shirts, shorts and sweats, they trudged along following each other while a male gym teacher held a clipboard observing them.

The sight brought back depressing memories of horrible years of forced Phys Ed. I know, that schools need to include an hour of physical education every other day because without it, some children may never move a muscle. I get that and I support it. It's just that I remember hating it with a passion. I always hated the butchy, bitchy gym teachers. Oh how I despised them, each and every one of those military like a-holes.

I hated changing out of my clothes in the middle of the day. I hated lacing up my sneakers. I'd break a sweat simply in those few moments it took to disrobe. I hated how in grammar school, the gym teachers would allow the kids to pick team members themselves. I was always picked last. My mother was a teacher and would write letters and send Xeroxed articles about how this would reflect negatively on a kid's self esteem and the feelings would remain with them for years to come. Her efforts were to no avail. Until graduating eight grade, I was picked last. Even if my BFF was selected as team captain, I was still chosen last because she would surely have some idiot yelling in her ear, "Pick David!" or "Pick Kathy S." and "Eddie! Pick Eddie! We need Eddie!"

High school was equally shitty. Oh how I hated Ms. Wagner with her short, stocky body stuffed into tight white shorts and a blue polo shirt. Her plastic looking man 'do coupled with "her" deep voice, made me wanna puke. I loathed the mere sight of her and hated Phys Ed with a passion. And there was no way out. If you strategically forgot your clothes, it counted against your grade. Without a passing grade in gym, you were in danger when it came to graduating.

Oh the memories I have of that awful class. The effin Presidential Fitness Exam which I failed religiously each and every damn year. Running that stupid one mile in ten minutes or whatever regulation set forth by the US government. One year, I actually passed out on the track and was escorted to the nurse's office. I had suffered an asthma attack and couldn't breathe. Oh joy! At least I got to go home early.

Then who could forget the trimester where I actually failed volleyball. My mother inquired with the lovely Ms. Wagner as to how one actually receives an "F" in gym class. It turned out I failed the one quiz given each trimester on the activity assigned. Be it "Dodge Ball, Acquiring The Mandatory Skills Needed To Stay Alive" or "Badminton, The Adventure Behind The Racket," they all sucked with their multiple choice answers and fill-in-the-blanks.

In order to make up for the failed volleyball grade, I was given special permission to study one-on-one with a new gym teacher. Though I can't recall her name, I remember her short curly blond hair and deep alto voice telling me to hustle. The two of us would practice basketball every other day during my lunch period and if she was satisfied with my attitude and demonstrated skill set, the "F" would be lifted and I would indeed graduate high school.

So after sweating it out at lunch for what seemed like an eternity, I was granted a
"B" and on my way to finishing high school. The funny thing is I think after all of that, I was then put into "Adapted Gym." Adapted Gym was basically Phys Ed for the physically inept and it was great! I was finally amongst other chubbers or kindhearted nerds who preferred spending their time in the science lab rather than on a track or ball court. We bonded on loathing jocks and sweat socks. Together, we lifted weights at our own pace and weren't pushed beyond our limits. It was heaven for the physically challenged.

Seeing those kids running around that school yard yesterday really bummed me out. From behind the wheel of my car, I watched sadly as the chubbiest boy tried his best to keep up with his classmates. I knew just how much he must have hated every second of that painful 45 minutes. I wanted to leap from my car and rescue him. Maybe whisk him off for a frozen yogurt and tell him to get it together now before it's too late. I'd warn him about what lies ahead in high school and how even college has dumb physical education requirements.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

As a kid, all I ever wanted to do was star on a television show or in movies. I'd put on skits with my younger brother for my parents and grandparents, then again, who didn't do this? In order to make our confirmation, we were interviewed by a teacher from our small Catholic school. Of course, I got stuck with 90-year-old Sister Frances who wasn't my biggest fan. When she asked what I wanted to do career-wise, I told her, "I'm going to be a famous actress and have my own show." She shook her head and said that Hollywood was a sinful place and did nothing to help others. I told her I would help others by making them laugh and would donate money to the poor. She was not convinced.

Well, it's about 25 years later and I'm still not a famous actress and gave up the dream before hitting high school - I didn't even have the courage to join the drama troupe or audition for plays after graduating 8th grade. Ironically I've still managed to successfully nab a few funny on-air moments.

In high school I loved WLIR/WDRE. Depending on when you listened, this station was Long Island's only new wave/alternative rock station. And although the call letters changed every few years, the play list pretty much remained the same. On my fifteenth birthday I called the station in the morning requesting "Little 15" by Depeche Mode - my favorite band at the time. For whatever reason, I always found myself on the air. I called a few months later and requested "Superman" by R.E.M. and this time the DJ demanded that I actually sing the song on the air! Luckily I knew the lyrics, but still - yikes! I did it, I didn't care. I'm not sure if anyone I even knew heard it.

My final year of college required me to complete an internship in media. Thinking I may still want to pursue TV, I interned at CBS working at The Geraldo Show in Columbus Circle. Whenever we were low on audience members, the crew would ask that we fill in. I loved it! I would listen intently using appropriate and often exaggerated facial expressions while teens from Arkansas and Alabama divulged tales of being beaten up by their step dads. Knowing the camera was on me, I'd squeak out a tear watching someone geek become chic. I was a master at what I referred to as "video acting" (think of music videos with people smiling, crying, looking off into the distance, yelling but you hear nothing but the song, etc.)...

About ten years later, commuting to my teen mag job in NYC, I was waiting on the platform listening to my Walkman (before ipods!) and heard the WLIR/WDRE DJs asking listeners a question about the Lion King movie. At that time, we were writing so many stories about this kid, Jonathan Taylor Thomas that I could tell you his birthday, fave color, siblings names and to this day remember he's from Bethlehem, PA. I quickly called in and told them he was indeed the voice of Simba and they demanded to know why I knew that and laughed when I told them I was an editor at SuperTeen magazine. We all laughed and I promised to send them some issues of the mag.

Less than an hour later, I settle in at my desk and my good friend Tarah calls me. Apparently her alarm clock went off and just who did she hear gabbing away on the air? Why me of course! She joked that it was so typical of me to get on the radio, but of all things to wake up to.

About a year later Conan O'Brien decided he was going to do a funny skit on becoming a boy band member. His crew came to our offices and we took it all very seriously. We sat around a conference room table and brought copies of our magazines filled with pinups and centerfolds of Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. We utilized flip charts and markers to share the secret to boy band success. I didn't expect to have a speaking part, but suggested Conan grow some funky facial hair. Conan was intrigued and asked me to elaborate. I did so by showing him a photo of one of the Backstreet Boys and his signature look.

After a long hiatus of radio and TV airtime, I recently had another shot at a few more minutes of fame when a UPN 9 news crew approached me. It's so funny because I spotted them as we pulled into our local diner. We ordered soup and salad and I said, "Watch they come in and try to talk to us about fatties in America or something." Just my luck. Of course, not even ten minutes after I whispered that, the reporter and her camera guy were at our table begging us to talk. My friend refused and told them how she just broke up with her bf and was too upset to go on camera. Instead, she insisted they talk to me. I cringed, but did it since they were so persistent and the diner happened to be empty at the time.

That was two weeks ago. I wonder when my next shot at stardom will take place. Hopefully one day it will be in the literary world since I don't exactly have the look the cameras want to know better.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

... Sittin' In A Tree

So yesterday you learned how Dad was king when it came to fixing cars, he's also an ace at building decks, putting in windows, adding an extension, you name it. He did most of the work on my parents' house himself. One spring he built us a tree house. Looking back at photos today, it was really quite ordinary, but at age 9 it was truly the coolest thing ever.

Most New Jersey folks love the outdoors. Seriously, they love nature! They hike, pick apples in the fall and berries in the summer. They go camping and canoeing and tubing down the Delaware. They ride bikes and spend the day at the park. Not me, I am more of an indoor person, but growing up, I loved being outside.

I loved the feeling of the grass between my bare toes. I caught Fireflies and Lady Bugs in jars with holes poked in the top. In the winter, I really enjoyed sleigh riding down the hill by the parkway. I made the most awesome snow forts with my friend Dawn. We would light candles in the snow fort windows when the sun went down and pretended we were roommates living in our own place somewhere in New England. In the fall, I would use leaves and sticks and piece together the coolest little huts for my Smurfs and Clownaround figures.

Funny as an adult, I don't enjoy being outside at all. It's either too hot, too cold or too windy. I'm not into hiking or boating, etc. I can't imagine climbing a bush, let alone a tree but when I was in 4th grade, I loved climbing trees. One tree in particular was the one in our yard. It was a huge crab apple tree that flourished into the prettiest blossoms in the spring.

After a recent visit to Disney, my brother and I fell in love with the idea of the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. We wanted one of our own! We wanted our own private place to hide out. My dad got on it and in one day he basically constructed a deck within the tree branches, which we called our tree house. The tree house was the only one on the block. All of the kids in our neighborhood were pretty impressed by it as were we!

After school, I would head up to the tree house with my homework or Judy Bloom books and enjoy the privacy that our little hideaway provided. Sprawled out atop the smooth wooden planks, I wrote letters and short stories while little petals from the tree's blossoms fell onto my hair. The warm breeze would whip through the branches as the sun would go down. It was like natures alarm clock sending me back into the house. I'd scale the tree carefully as not to fall and look forward to tomorrow so I could do it all over again.

Today all we need is a van, $400 and quick trip to Toys R Us and we can purchase an easy-to-assemble play house. But it's just not the same. There's something about the old school, unprofessional play house made with Dad's tools.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Teen Steam

I hate to admit this, but I truly believe that I just may have gotten way more "action" in my high school years, than I've ever had in my more adult years. There, I said it. Well, then again, I recall one or two steamy nights in the backseat of my Mazda Protege with my college boyfriend. Stony Brook wasn't too far from some secluded beaches. Well, they were secluded in the fall and winter months that's for sure. But still, I experienced an abundance of true teen steam between 11th and 12th grade which will never be forgotten.

The majority of 10th grade was dull and uneventful. I dated some kid from my homeroom. We honestly had nothing in common other than a shared love of Swatch watches. Our hot moment was a temporary Swatch trade. He wore mine and I wore his. Lucky for him, I didn't own girly Swatch watches. Nope, only bulky Pop Swatches and chunky manly Swatch watches for this broad.

I don't even remember how we got to talking. Believe it or not, I hardly spoke between 1988-1990. My memories of that short-lived fling were enough to fill, hmm, maybe half of a diary page. I once met up with him at our local sports field for some lame high school football game - that was totally NOT my scene, but he was in the marching band I think.

I vaguely recall that day. I went with my friend Eric who kept warning me he wasn't the best choice. Other than having nothing in common, I don't remember this kid being an especially "bad" kid  ... maybe it was just the fact that he wasn't really my type.

I think the only other memory I have of this guy involves him randomly skateboarding to my house and my being shocked the he actually knew how to skateboard. At that time, I was all about skateboarders. Funny, the skateboard fetish lasted for many years. OK, so even today, if my floppy haired husband in his cute baggy jeans and Simple sneakers jumped on a skateboard, my heart would possibly flutter a bit.

So yeah, that 10th grade fall fling lasted a hot ten minutes. I was rehashing that story last night to an old classmate and still can't recall how it ended. I wonder if we left on bad terms, not that it matters now. Just curious. I do know that I never spoke to him ever again and looking at him turned my stomach.

Fast forward to 11th grade. A bushy haired, blue-eyed chubby kid clad in old sweats and flannel shirts began inching near my locker. Each week, it seemed like this kid was moving closer and closer to our lockers. "Our" as in my trusty, nonthreatening BFF, Scott and me. We began to wonder. Who was this little nerdo and why was he moving in on us? I wish I could recall what happened next, knowing me, I probably had Scott confront him to get the scoop. What I do remember from that time frame were lots of heartfelt notes back and forth and within a week I was smitten.

He won me over with his soft-spoken manner and the biggest blue eyes and longest lushest lashes I had ever seen. His clothes were a nightmare, but I knew I could remedy that no problem. He smelled nice. He always wore cologne. He complimented my skirts and sweaters. He liked my makeup, my dangling spiderweb earrings and bleached out hair. He said sweet things to me and held my hand. He made me feel pretty. It was amazing. I was hook, line and sinker gaga over him and he would become my very- first-ever everything.

The tricky part of this hot and steamy affair was that neither of us were legally able to drive. He was a year younger than me and I have the November birthday. Not that the late birthday even mattered since I failed my road test three times (Garden City twice AND Freeport). I didn't pass until the end of my freshman year in college and had to leave the state to do so.

But the no car thing didn't stop us! We were lip locked like 24-7 and being without wheels, called for lots of creativity. We hid behind book shelves at both the town library AND school library. We huddled behind trees and bushes near the train station at night while waiting for our parents to pick us up. Steamy walks in the park behind the school before saying our goodbyes for the day. We once somehow found our way into the high school auditorium. The balcony set the stage for our own private love scene during a school rehearsal of "Our Town." The sun lit up the nook we secured by a window as the dramatic thespians practiced their lines.

High school boyfriend and I remained a couple until about the middle of my freshman year at Fitchburg State. Things fizzled out which is to be expected from a long distance high school student vs. college student relationship. He didn't drive and I was about 4 hours away. His folks were strict and wouldn't "allow" him to visit me by bus in another state. I cheated on him at least three different times with nameless faces by Christmas. It was destined to fail.

Years passed and we grew up and moved on. However, memories of our steamy teen romance will always have a special place in my heart. Somewhere in my mother's basement is a banged up, old shoebox overflowing with his cards, photos, love letters and trinkets. Yes, I have countless cards from my husband dating back to 2002. Though it's hard to compare a few sweet lines sprinkled in a Birthday or Christmas card to the pure adolescent love scribbled on pages of tattered lose leaf.

The many diaries of my youth and letters from my high school love.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Driving Miss Yolanda

I'm on Long Island for a few days cat sitting for my mom who is currently enjoying herself on a cruise to Canada with her gal pals. One of the things on Mom's to-do list was to take my grandma to her day program.

Grandma has been "slipping" since Grandpa passed eighteen months ago. Luckily she's physically healthy, but her memory is failing. This past spring my family had to bravely intervene and take away her car keys after a slight altercation/fender bender in a store parking lot. Gram didn't recall the occurrence and my mom and her four siblings knew they had to step in and forbid her from driving. It's not an easy thing to do to someone. Old folks think they're fine, they're cool, but in some cases, they're really not.

For months now, my mom has sadly pointed out the irony of being on the other side of caring for her mother who always cared for her. Yes, I understand this is that whole circle of life thing, but once you're actually doing it, is when you see it firsthand. I also realize I'm very lucky to even have a grandma at my age. But still, I'm selfish and I want more. I wanted Grandma to remember why I was there to pick her up this morning. I wanted Grandma to be able to tell me how to get to her day program right in the town she's lived in for over fifty years. I wanted Grandma to tell me stories about the other people in her class and what she does each day and what was in her little brown bag lunch. She couldn't.

As I share this entry with you, my eyes are overcome with tears. Thinking about how the tables have turned breaks my heart, Grandma said it herself which was surprising. Though she couldn't recall my tales of her teaching me how to drive in high school, she did acknowledge the irony a bit. "I never would have imagined not only my daughter helping me get somewhere, but my grand daughter." All of us kids had Grandma as a driving instructor from what I remember. I'm not sure what it was about her, but she was always very patient and didn't panic when my breaking was a bit rocky and I'd slightly veer over the yellow line.

On our way to the class this morning, I reminisced about how she drove the little golden Creative Country Day School bus for many years. It was a bonus for my mom, as well as for my brother and me. She was not only babysitting us, but had us in an actual daycare setting with awesome toys and other kids to play with. We called her "Miss Yolanda" while she was at work. Funny how all teachers are "Miss." I guess it's easier for kids to remember.

Behind the steering wheel, Grandma would lead us in cheerful songs like "Wheels on The Bus." I can still smell the leather from the boxy green school bus seats and feel the cold metal of the bulky lap belt. Grandma would buckle each of us in and tug on the belt to make sure we were safe. I remember it was weird seeing my grandma interacting with other kids that didn't belong to her. Yet, at the same time I felt proud. That was my grandma!

Another task Grandma was responsible for at the daycare center was prepaning meals for the school's hot lunch program. She'd throw together heaping portions of baked ziti, mac and cheese, fish sticks, pizza and other '70s and '80s kid friendly foods. My personal favorite grandma meals were her homemade pizza and of course crispy chicken cutlets. I often complained to Mom, "It's not as good as Grandma's!" Gone are the days of Grandma's delicious cooking, something she had a passion for too. Today, she isn't exactly sure how to follow the recipes and tends to confuse the ingredients.

I guess the reason today was very difficult for me, was because here I was driving my grandmother to a daycare program, yet it was my grandma who did the exact same thing for me many years ago. I know my situation isn't special or uncommon. It just helps me to share. Thanks for listening.

First Birthday with Grandma

My little brother, our grandma and her school bus.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Dad And His Cars

Every Father's Day I have the most difficult time selecting a card for Dad. My dad isn't and wasn't into fishing. He's not a golfer. He pretends to care about baseball simply to keep up with current events. He's never been a remote control monopolizer, which rules out those cards with a funny-faced balding man gripping a beer and remote. The cards with a smiling dad wearing a funny hat and apron, manning the grill also wasn't my dad. Nope, my dad was all about fixing up cars.

He ran the auto shop and driver ed classes at his school before becoming a department chairman years later. Most weekends, Dad could be found laying under a random foreign car while Mom cleaned the house and prepared dinner. My job as dinner informant, required me to venture out to the garage and let him know it was time to wash his hands and come in.

"Macaroni and meatballs are ready, Daddy. Did you know that I'm really sick of macaroni?" I'd say to two coverall-clad legs stuck out from under the latest old Porsche or VW he was restoring. Dad's hands would get super greasy from working on cars. He always used this special waxy cleanser to scrub his hands before coming into the house. Mom would point out how Dad always managed to use the "good" towels in the process.

Unless he was working on a friend's car, Dad never seemed to be a fan of American cars. Sure, my mom always drove an American car (before Honda and Nissan were popular) but not Dad. Every few months, he had a different VW, Mercedes or Porsche. There were always different cars in our garage or driveway and I loved investigating them.

I'd open the glove compartment and go through the backseat and trunk, checking to see if the original owners left anything behind. I'd pretend to drive them. Sometimes I'd  just sit in them for a few minutes and wonder about the previous owners.

We once had a VW camper. I don't think we had it for very long. I invited a friend over to spend the night. We were going to camp out in the driveway. We had a blast -- even dined atop the foldout table and played a few rounds of Chutes and Ladders. Once darkness fell, we were convinced a bear would attack us, so we slipped back into the house. My parents laughed at us. They hadn't heard of many bear sightings in our neighborhood, which had more concrete than grass and trees. But hey, I was a kid, what did I know?

I absolutely adored going for rides around town with my family in the summer. Many of Dad's cars were convertibles. He'd proudly show off the results of his latest fixer-upper at a local free summer concert or to go get ice cream. There are so many old photos of me posing in front of his latest car of the month. Typically after a few weeks, we'd have to say goodbye to the vehicles. That was the challenging part for me.

One little red convertible VW Bug was my favorite. I remember my dad showing it to a prospective buyer. He told her how it purred like a kitten and described all of the updates he had made. For the first time ever, I decided not this time. Not this car. I stepped in and said something like, "Listen lady, you don't want this car. It's just not good for you. It stinks. Really." They both laughed and my dad shooed me away, explaining to her how I had become very attached to that particular vehicle. The convertible bug was soon sold.

Going through my mom's photo albums today, there are dozens of pictures of German cars from the '70s and '80s setting the backdrop of our first days of school or a BBQ in the yard. There are pictures of my mom and brother helping wash a car in the driveway and others of my dad happily leaning against his machine of the moment. There's a green bug, an orange bug, a silver Porsche, a yellow Porsche, the list goes on... Today my dad only owns about three cars now and he's promised to let us drive his 1992 convertible Mercedes when we visit him next month in Florida.

My little brother in my fave red convertible Bug.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Whatever Happened To DIY Halloween Costumes?

Three weeks away from October 31st and there are two Halloween Evites sitting in my inbox. Every October we're invited to at least one Halloween party. It's the one party I secretly dread 'cause of that damn, "All guests must wear a costume" crap.

It's difficult for me to believe that there was a time I lived for dressing up. How between the ages of about three to fifteen, it was something I actually enjoyed. Halloween was the only way I'd ever experience being a cheerleader, a beautiful fairy princess, a black cat, a cool cowgirl, an evil devil, an innocent angel and I'm sure a whole bunch of other retarded characters I'm drawing a blank on. Throughout my elementary school years, my career dream was acting. Everyone in school knew I wanted be an actress. I went to drama camp at Hoftra University for two summers and thought I was on my way. My love of pretending went beyond the average kid and having one day a year to be anything I wanted to be was like a dream come true.

So yeah, it took weeks to decide on the perfect costume. I made sure none of the other kids in my trick-or-treating crew would be whatever I was. I counted down the minutes until the transformation. Today, in my 30s, I effin absolutely loathe it. Trying to think of something witty, trendy, cool or cutesy honestly sickens me. Not to mention, my stomach churns at the mere sight of today's costumes. The way Halloween has turned into a legit excuse for chicks to dress half-naked in fetish gear as "slutty school girl," "sexy cop-a-feel cop" or "naughty nurse"... They can even turn a sweet peace-lovin' hippie into "hooker style hippie"!

We're bombarded with countless prefab 'stumes at Target, Old Navy and even your local grocery store. I can't help but think we've come a long way from the plastic costumes of the '70s and '80s. Oh I loved the way those smelled when they were brand new. As a big boned kid, the boxed-up plastic costumes didn't really fit me very well. In fact, I think the only plastic costume I ever experienced was when Mom dressed me up like Raggedy Ann at age 5.

I realize these fancy costumes are a quick, easy fix for on-the-go working moms, but I can't help but feel a bit sad in a way. I recall countless Halloween eve's. Mom would slave all night over her imperfect, yet thoughtful creations after grading her student's papers. A cardboard star attached to wooden spoon and a poster board crown both carefully wrapped in tin foil and viola, I was a princess.

Black felt ears Elmer-glued onto a headband with a stuffed black sock attached to the butt portion of my black leotard and suddenly I was a spooky black cat. Those were the days... Today, a quick trip to our local drug store and we've got an endless selection of cat ears, tail, magic wand, spooky makeup, fangs, you name it! There's no need to think too hard.

Trust me, I'm not judging anyone. I would never take the time to make a costume for myself or the hubs. If I had kids, damn straight I'd be the first online to purchase the $29 Hannah Montana getup from Party City.I'm just missing the old days and wish I enjoyed sportin' a 'stume like everyone else I know.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tea & Toast

Mom and Dad were both teachers and even though everyone thinks teachers are home by the time school ends, they're not. I mean my folks were definitely home before the average office employee, but there was a gap between my dismissal and their arrival. That's where Grandma stepped in.

After school, the bus would drop us off at her house and we'd watch Land of The Lost or whatever was on WPIX and best of all, Grandma would serve us Lipton tea and white toasted Arnold bread. For years this routine lived on. Ironically, although we loved our tea and toast time, if you think about it, that's really just bread and water. A meal fit for prisoners as we were taught to believe growing up. No offense to Grandma, I just couldn't resist the comparison.

Grandma would busily prepare dinner for Grandpa -- usually some Italian-smelling soups or something with Lima beans and other vegetables. Some afternoons she'd let me help her cook by breaking the ends off the string beans or peel the potatoes she was readying to boil.

Although content, we anxiously waited to hear Mom's car pulling into Grandma & Grandmpa's narrow driveway which meant it was only minutes before we could change out of our school uniforms and into play clothes. My brother and I would sip our Lipton tea while arguing over which cartoons to watch. The tea was never Tetley or Salada, it was always Lipton. It's funny how you remember things like that. The white bread was always Arnold's "Brick Oven" is what I think it's called today.

Man how I loved that Lipton tea and Arnold bread back then. If Grandma had busted out Wonder Bread for toast, I'm sure I would have given her a hard time. Advertising agencies understand the importance of branding and the psychology behind it. As consumers, we often cling to particular products we were raised on. Who would you trust more than your mom or grandma? Not to mention, if Mom always bought Dial, you might remember the classic golden scent that hasn't changed in years. There's something comforting about that. Growing up, my mom always gave us Lipton instant noodle soup from the box. Yes, we know it's all salt today, but it was acceptable back in the '70s. I'm not sure how many of us stick with those ideals of the old brands, I'm sure most would agree they buy what's on sale or what they have a coupon for.

With scents it bums me out how companies alter and upgrade the scents over the years to better market their products and obviously to keep up with the times and competitors. For example, I would love to find a bottle of Suave that smelled the way it did when I was 12. You know, long before there was a choice of like 30 different types and scents. Back in the old days, there may have been like three choices: oily hair, dry hair, normal hair. Heck I could be wrong, there may have only been one! I didn't bother to do any research... Fab detergent and Finesse shampoo smells much different today than they did when I was a kid. I know all of these products are filled with harmful chemicals and all of that environmental stuff, so don't get your panties in a bunch. I'm just reminiscing which is the point of this blog...

Anyway, to this day I love a nice cup of tea with milk and a hint of sugar (not the fake stuff!) paired with some lightly toasted bread which today has sadly been replaced with high fiber brown bread. I don't even remember what white bread tastes like.


Share |