Monthly Archives: November 2012

Movie Countdown to Christmas


I’m a sucker for a sappy romantic Christmas movie, and every year I make a list of must-see favorites.  I just don’t feel like Christmas is complete until my list is checked off and I’m settled into the very last one…A Christmas Story…which is always shown as a 24-hour marathon on one of the TV stations on Christmas Eve.

Maybe it’s just habit or another tradition, but I need the reminders of love portrayed in these movies that warm my heart and give me hope that people are basically driven by good and by love.  Love for each other…love for their family…love for their friends.

And so, in case you were wondering, I’ve listed my all-time favorites and why they are just that.

Christmas Vacation – This is my must-see Thanksgiving evening movie that kicks off the whole Christmas movie season.  Yes, it’s corny and kind of goofy, but the way Chevy Chase is driven to give his beloved family the perfect Christmas despite all their dysfunctions is a reminder that no family is perfect, and yet where there is family, there is love.

Bridget Jones’ Diary– This is a love/hate movie which is so typical in most instant-hate meetings that turns into love over time.  Who doesn’t melt when Renee Zellweger chases Colin Firth down the snowy English street, and he wraps his arms and coat around her and kisses her like she’s never been kissed.  She says, “Wait a minute…nice boys don’t kiss like that.”  And he says, “Yes, they f _ _ king do.” Who doesn’t want to be kissed like that?! Besides, he loves her just the way she is.

The Holiday – I want to go to England every time I watch this flick – to the little cottage portrayed in this movie and meet my Judd Law in a little pub in the countryside.  Who doesn’t?!   It’s a movie about people who think they know what’s good for them until they try something totally different.  It makes you just want to fly off for Christmas and find true love. Christmas, that is, in a snowy English countryside in a cozy cottage – is this over the top romantic, or what?!  Plus, Judd’s two little daughters in the movie just charm the socks off me.

Home Alone – A mother’s love will conquer even the mistake of leaving her son behind when the family goes on vacation. She will stop at nothing to make her way back to her son no matter what the cost or difficulty.  I just love this, plus Macaulay Culkin is just so entertaining, and it takes place in a beautiful home that reeks of warm and cozy and family.

Serendipity – This movie confirms for me that all things happen for a reason.  That you are meant to meet that one special person in the right timing…and that if it’s meant to be, it will happen no matter what the wait and what the circumstances. I want John Cusack.  Enough said.

The Family Stone – Another miss-matched couple find true love with other people who happen to be family related. Uptight Sarah Jessica Parker eventually matched with easy-going Ben Wilson instead of his equally uptight, egomaniac brother.  Who can’t resist Ben when he tells Sarah to just relax, let her hair down and let her freak flag fly?!  Of course, this movie also deals with Ben’s mother’s cancer and knowing this will be their last Christmas together with her is sad.  Another tear-jerker, but lots of fun. Plus, I get to look at Craig T. Nelson for two hours…heavy sigh…

When Harry Met Sally – Yes, Harry is annoying and so is Sally with her obsessive/compulsive craziness. This is another love/hate movie, which are my favorites.  You know love is going to win out, and it does despite Harry’s defect of not being able to commit and Sally’s insistence that everything she eats be separate and on the side.  When Billy Crystal takes Meg Ryan into his arms and tells her “when you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want it to begin as soon as possible,” you just have to smile.

While You Were Sleeping – It’s a whirlwind series of misunderstandings that lead Sandra Bullock to the love her life, carpenter Bill Pullman with his tight jeans and work boots. When Sandra saves a man she has a huge crush on from a train wreck, he falls into a coma and somehow she is mistaken for his fiancée.  She lets the story play on only with his family so she could have the experience of a real-life caring family, which she so desperately desires.  It portrays the true loneliness that people feel during the Christmas season and ends with Sandra Bullock finding the love of her life and the family she so desperately needs.

You’ve Got Mail – OK, I can’t resist Tom Hanks, especially when he coyly tries to help Meg Ryan after he inadvertently destroys her cute little book business.  This movie starts out with the couple’s intense dislike, then friendship and eventually love. Plus, he brings her daisies when she’s sick in bed, and who can resist a guy like that?!

The Gathering – This is an old, old, made for TV movie that I have on VHS.  I don’t know how I’m going to play it this year, since the VHS player isn’t working.  I can only hope.  The premise goes like this…A career-driven father, played by Ed Asner, who has put business before family and who has been estranged from his wife and family for some time finds out he is dying and wants to see his family one more time. His ex-wife arranges a Christmas reunion of his children for their sakes, not his. They don’t know he is sick, so it’s about reconnecting with family and finding out that true love never dies.  He sees his newborn grandson, who they have christened on Christmas Day, for the first…and last time. Get out your tissues…

White Christmas – Another corny, sappy musical of all things…but it’s just beautiful, entertaining, sweet and fun.  Christmas can’t happen for me until I see that barn door open to a beautiful Christmas Eve snowfall as Bing Crosby sings.

A Wonderful Life – Yes, this is the ultimate, old-time heart grabber that proves love wins over money every time and family is what is most important in life. And no matter how many times you see it, the message comes through loud and clear and deserves repeating just to remind us.  We get it! Every time you hear a bell ring, an angel gets his wings.

A Christmas Story– This is usually last in line shown on Christmas Eve. Who doesn’t get teary eyed when this little boy has accepted the fact that despite all the hints he’s dropped and even telling Santa,  he’s not going to get his “Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time,” only to watch his father’s excited expression as his son discovers with glee the ultimate gift he’s hidden for him behind the desk. Even though he does, indeed, almost shoot his eye out in the end, you gotta love that Dad who wanted nothing more than to fulfill his son’s Christmas dream. My brother got a BB gun for Christmas one year when he was just about the same age.  Luckily, he never shot his eye out!

Well, these are my favorites. I hope I haven’t forgotten any, although I do like the corniness of ELF as well.  As you can tell, I’ve had crushes on a lot of Christmas movie stars. Colin, Judd,  John, Ben, Billy, Bill, Craig and of course, Tom.  I’ll add each and every one of them to my Christmas wish list again this year. I can dream, can’t I?!?!

Time to get into my jammies, grab a cup of tea and a cozy blanket as I curl up on the couch and get watching – Christmas will be here before I know it!

What are your favorites?



Tradition: A delicate little gravy boat and pretty crystal bowl.

Mom and Dad in their younger years.

I’m missing my Mom this morning as I think about Thanksgiving preparations and what needs to be done. Where’s her gravy boat, I ask myself and then frantically search the kitchen cabinets to find it.  There it is – the delicate hand-painted china boat with saucer attached – so familiar.  Then I find her small crystal bowl in which I serve cole slaw just like she did. Having these two pieces, which belonged to her and graced every Thanksgiving table since I was a kid is important for me.  It’s a tradition. Having these same pieces along with her china makes me feel that in some small way my Mom and Dad are still here with me, even though they passed 16 years ago.

I miss my Aunt Vi, too, my godmother.  She came to every one of our Thanksgiving celebrations.  We would have a rum egg nog together sprinkled with a little nutmeg as we toasted the day.  She always held a napkin around the glass to catch the moisture.  Then she insisted on making the gravy, which came out so thick a spoon could stand up in the concoction.  Someone once wisecracked that Vi’s gravy eats like a meal

I can still picture my Grandpop at the table with that smile that told you he was up to something.  There’s gruff Uncle Henry at the other end taking it all in and telling silly jokes. I see Dad quietly enjoying his meal – shoveling it in and savoring each morsel. Over there my brother and I are kids again, trying not to fight – trying not to open our full mouths to gross each other out when our parents aren’t looking. I see my kids at that same table at each stage of life…first as little babies in high chairs, then picky toddlers, bored teenagers and finally mature, wonderful adults. I don’t know where the time goes. I see their wonderful guys…Matt and Blake. Some years there were my cousin Pat and Ken and their kids Lindsay and Philip, and other years our friends Jane, Jamie and Jill joining us and adding to our precious memories.

My Aunt Vi

I carry on the tradition of the holidays preparing the food the same way my Mom did with her recipes and mine blended together. This year I will teach my daughter Kate how to make the meal, which I’m very excited about. I’ll be wishing Megan and Matt, who live in Florida, could be here with us. I’ll buy some egg nog and drink a toast to Aunt Vi and all the others, although I’ll make my gravy a little thinner. We’ll make turkey apples with an olive head and feathers of marshmellows, raisins and Cheerios. And after it’s done, we’ll cozy up together and watch “Christmas Vacation” to kick off the season.I thank God for the blessings of our family and friends – near and far – present and some now who have passed, and thank Him for the memories and traditions of a holiday that keeps love alive and everyone close in our hearts.

Wishing you and yours a very blessed, Happy Thanksgiving.




I spent most of today washing off the mucky brown soot that coated the windows in our house. It was so thick that a gloomy darkness shaded the rooms – remnants of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I didn’t realize just how badly caked they were until I started scrubbing them first with a heavy-duty cleaner and then with Windex. I changed the filthy water in the bucket numerous times and streams of the gross sludge traveled down the deck, disappearing into the gravel. Paper towel after paper towel was blackened with the deposits. It felt good to be physically scrubbing and ridding the house of the leftovers and debris of the storm. I am grateful to have windows to wash.

Life is getting back to normal…sort of…for some, anyway.  Down the main street that leads to the bay, not so much. Heartbreaking loss and devastation surrounds us. On this unseasonably warm sunny day, it’s easy to get lost in positive thoughts and forget what happened only a few weeks ago.  It’s easy to feel like it’s a carefree summer day as I wash the windows and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.  But then a fire truck comes down the street, and I am jolted by the weird honking of its horn.  It reminds me of Christmas time when my kids were little and the fire truck with Santa perched on top visited our neighborhood, waving to the excited children and throwing out candy for them to catch.  This time, however, it is a woman working for the Red Cross, shouting through a bull horn that hot food, blankets and necessities are available at the local club. I hear her moving on and traveling from street to street, and it brings back all the raw emotions that are hidden just below the surface – the fear I try to cover up and at times forget about. Tears come to my eyes for the loss of so much by so many. Then two police patrol boats make their way up and down the lagoons. I wonder what they are searching for. The seriousness of the situation which I have pushed to the back crevices of my mind resurfaces.

At times I wonder about the picking and choosing of whom this storm affected and how and why.  But it is not for me or for anyone else to know or try to figure out. I join the other volunteers at the food bank and relief center and try to do what I can with what I have, but it doesn’t seem like much. It doesn’t seem to make a dent in all that needs to be done to help our neighbors to get back on their feet. And yet it is happening one day at a time, one helping hand reaching out to a multitude of others, one act of kindness that leads to another and then another. People are so good and genuinely want to help, and it is because of this human spirit that so much progress is being made.

So today I will take a deep breath and wash the grime from the windows and gaze out at the bright blue sky in heavenly gratitude. We can see clearly now; gone are the dark clouds that got in our way.




We’re all tense and already nervously picking at each as we await the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, aka “Frankenstorm.”  The anticipation and fear of the unknown is making us all crazy.  We’ve made all the preparations and are safely stowed away at my daughter’s home in North Jersey.  The ocean is only a mile and a half away, but we feel safe in this sturdy house surrounded by other homes and big, sturdy trees. At least we’re not directly on the water as we are in the house where we live. There are five of us here from three different households, along with three dogs and seven cats.  To say the animals are skittish and out of sorts in their unfamiliar surroundings is a major understatement.

We’ve had our last “hot” meal as I’ve called it. We sense that the power will be going out soon, so we try to relax, but it’s impossible to do so. Night is falling and the winds are kicking up.  The rain starts to sprinkle lightly at first, and then all at once it comes in torrential downpours.  We try to get the dogs outside to do their business one more time, but even they are afraid to step out into this storm.  All of a sudden the lights flicker and everything goes black.  We are in darkness now. We grab flashlights and light candles and decide to play a card game – 500 rummy.  We peer out into the darkness as the storm comes heavily upon us.  In the distance there is what we are calling “blue lightening.”  When it flashes, the sky is a brilliant blue and you can see shadows of trees bent and bowed in the storm. It’s the only time you can see anything.  I’m scared.  I’m praying. I’m hoping everyone stays safe. We drink wine as we play the card game and try to joke around, but our laughter is the nervous kind.  We finally turn to bed when we can’t stay awake any longer.

“Blue Lightening” – picture taken by my daughter Katie.

I am alone in a downstairs room with my three cats.  My dog Bella is staying in my daughter’s room with her dog Lulu because when they are together they are inseparable buddies.  And the cats are so upset that adding Bella to the mix would just make them worse. Two of my cats immediately jump on the bed with me and huddle on either side, sandwiching me for protection while the third peers curiously out the sliding glass window. She is intrigued by the storm. The heat, of course, has gone out in the blackout, and it’s very cold in the room. I huddle under the covers. Although it is not visible high above the storm clouds, the full moon is adding some light to the outside atmosphere. It’s going to be a long night.  I toss and turn as the wind howls and the driving rain smashes against the windows. Bushes blow and make eerie rubbing sounds on the glass of the window.  I worry that the huge tree in the backyard is going to fall right on the part of the house in which I’m sleeping. Will this night never end?!?

I pray, I plead and I beg. Keep us safe, dear Lord, my God.  Please keep us free from harm and deliver us from this horrendous storm.  My stress barometer is off the charts.  Somehow I drift off into a deep sleep, but I am awakened again and again by the howling wind and the loud hammering of the rainfall. I drift off again for the hundredth time, but the next time I awake everything is silent. At some point in the wee small hours of the morning, the storm has moved away. There is no wind, just a slow, even rainfall. It’s gone.  It has passed.  Frankenstorm has left the area.  I am so surprised by the quietness and the fact that it is actually over. I praise God for His goodness and protection. I am so grateful we have all made it through the night. We’re all right!


Outside we go to survey the damage.  Five 6 x 8 fence sections have been pulled from their posts and are strewn around on the ground.  We chase the dogs away from the openings so they won’t run away.  There are tree limbs peppering the backyard.  The neighbor next door had a tree split and fall on their front porch roof and with it took down a power line.  We walk the neighborhood, which is littered with debris and tree limbs. Some huge trees have become uprooted. We are beginning to understand the magnitude of the storm. There are wires down in places, and we decide it really is not safe to be walking through this mess.  I hear humming, like a lawn mower here and there and wonder gullibly why people would be cutting their grass.  I realize they are using generators, the sound of which I’ve never heard before.  As the days pass and more and more are put into use, the humming sound heightens to an almost deafening pitch. Neighbors are out cleaning up debris – chopping fallen trees, raking mounds of leaves and sharing stories with one another.

We’ve gotten the word that we’re not yet allowed back into our neighborhood, so we wait. Days pass. I just want to go home.  My pets want to go home. It frightens us as we wonder what is happening where we live and why we can’t go back and what shape our house is in. The days pass and we’re bored and cold and trying to get along as tempers flare with fear of the unknown.  The pets are the only ones who seem to be adjusting. We turn on the gas burners for heat until we realize we could die from carbon monoxide poisoning.  So we throw on another sweater or sweatshirt and wait.  It’s very cold – in the 30’s at night. We have makeshift meals; we play 500 rummy; we drink wine and try to forget about what is actually happening.

Phone calls to our neighbors also evacuated to other places are shared.  My daughter in Florida is keeping us updated as to what has happened in our own backyard since without the internet or TV; we are living in a world that only we exist in. Megan finds a picture of a bridge that you have to cross to get to our house. It is closed, and police are blocking people from crossing. We are worried.

The next day my daughter’s friend, who lives close by our house, somehow gets to it and takes a picture.  It’s still standing!  The sky in the picture is a brilliant blue, and the house seems to be smiling back at us. We’re not sure what awaits us inside the house, but at first glance, the outside seems untouched.

Picture by Meg’s friend Collette. The seaweed water line shown here came up 4 ft. from the house in the back – still standing!

We get word later in the day that we can go back, but it’s too late to travel now, especially with power outages across the board. In the morning we pack, put our now traumatized cats back into their crates, grab the dog and head south with anxious but hopeful hearts.


The Sunday before the hurricane hit, our priest tried to sooth us in his homily at Mass.  I don’t remember much about what he said that day for my mind wandered in a hundred different directions – none of them good.  His closing, statement, however, stuck with me and helped me through the entire event.  He said: I pray everyone will be safe and that this will be another great survival story that we will tell.

We drive home through a sea of debris. Getting out of North Jersey with no power – street lights, detours, heavy traffic and road blocks is no easy task. Every gas station has lines a mile long.  Some stations even have lines of people with gas cans.  Once we get on the Garden State Parkway, we sail home. We are apprehensive when we pull in our driveway. We can see that the seaweed-marked water line came four feet from the house.  My dog jumps out of the car and is wild with the smells of the sea on the ground and sniffs crazily.  We walk into the house and take a look around.  It is very cold and dark.  Miraculously, by the grace of God, there is no water in the house other than drenched towels we stuffed around the entrance of the sliding glass doors in the back.

The first thing I do is fall to my knees because the fact that we were spared is a gift from almighty God. I pray for those who face devastation, which is all around us. Just three blocks down the street to the bay resembles a war zone. Huge trees are uprooted. Debris is strewn like confetti. Piles of wood lay along the roadside.  The vegetation in the wetlands to the right where I take Bella for her daily walks is uprooted, flattened in places and bent. Some spots are bare. The houses on the bay, of course, are in the worse shape. That part of the street is blocked. There are front-end loaders hauling sand – construction vehicles run amuck up and down the road.  Transformers are destroyed. The loud hum of generators is deafening. You can clearly see the bay, where before the plant life formed a barrier. I look out across the brownish water, which is usually a pale blue, looking for the marker I search for each morning during our walk.  There I see it – The Barnegat Lighthouse, which sits at the north end of Long Beach Island.  It is still standing.  Like a beacon of hope and strength and survival.

Down the street in the other direction a whole neighborhood is devastated.  I hear that houses were uplifted and are not even close to where they used to be. I hear a house was floating in the bay.  No one is allowed in the area without proof of residence. T here is one fatality in this corner of the neighborhood. – an elderly woman who ignored the mandatory evacuation, stayed with her house and drowned.  God rest her soul. Sadness shrouds us like a cloud.

I won’t take pictures of this destruction. Pictures can’t begin to show you the devastation of this quiet little fishing town on the coast of New Jersey. Pictures can’t explain the emptiness in the pit of your stomach that makes you wretch. Pictures can’t show you the broken hearts, the stress and anxiety, the loss of so many, the unstoppable stream of tears.

But then there is the other side of the coin.  The man in the white truck who rides around the neighborhood to see if you’re OK and tells you they are serving hot coffee, hot dogs and hamburgers at the little league field around the corner.  It’s the cavalcade of 20 power company trucks from the state of Alabama making their way up Route 9 to help get power back to us.  It’s the churches taking in the homeless and providing hot food and clothing and a place to unload their frustrations.   It’s the groups of volunteers going house to house in the flood zones to rip up the wet carpeting and throw out the drenched furniture.  It’s the neighbor who gives you a line to his generator so you can have a light and can save what’s left in your refrigerator.  It’s the other neighbor who is keeping watch on everyone’s house on the street because of the two recent burglaries. The outpouring of kindness of people who want to help and give is overwhelming.  People are good – and sometimes it takes something like this to realize just how much.

Yes, personally, we were fortunate to have minimal damage around the house. I write this on our ninth day without power or heat, which is a minor hiccup in comparison to the devastation that surrounds me. I go to bed each night with three blankets, a comforter and my 90 lb. Labrador retriever Bella pressed up against my legs for warmth. Some people don’t have their bed or a roof over their head or a blanket or their pet. I fall asleep thanking God for His goodness and His strength and the hope I feel that we will all be well. I do what I can with what I have where I can.

I read a quote the other day:

             Life is not about what we have and who we know

                        but who we have and what we know.

We here in New Jersey we have each other, and we help each other out. We also have all you good folks from other parts of the country sending your generous supplies and coming to our aid to get us back up and running. The best is coming out of everyone from everywhere.  People are good.

We know that we are tough and strong.  We will rebuild, we will survive and we will live to tell about another great survival.