Santa’s On His Way

Santa and Jessi's little girlBy Judy Berman

Strands of twinkling lights, resembling icicles, dangle from the eves. Christmas trees put on a colorful light show, dance and serenade the neighborhood as I stroll down memory lane.

This time of year, more than any other, is when my mind races back to Christmases past when I was young, and when my children and grandchildren were little. I can’t say for sure who was more excited.

Their countdown to Christmas began before Thanksgiving. Every sighting of Santa only added to their breathless anticipation.

Christmas trees

We’d hit the mall and line up to have their photos taken with the Jolly Old Elf. From a little one’s view, he’s a big guy. Some kids wail. Some squirm to avoid sitting on his lap. Others come prepared with a list, requesting gifts for themselves or someone in their family.

I was reminded of those days when I saw a photo of Abigayle, Sean and Jessi’s girl, sitting on Santa’s lap.

Bright blue eyes full of wonder, Abigayle was in awe as she stared up at the bearded, kindly, grandfatherly gent in the red and white suit.

Her plans to ask for anything for Christmas hit a snag. Maybe, Abigayle was too star-struck to do so. Or, perhaps, the obstacle was: she couldn’t. She’s only 11 months old and her vocabulary is limited to: Mama and Dada.

How I envy her parents and all those who are building memories with their little ones.

This is a season that engages all the senses.

For those now experiencing their own Winter Wonderland, there’s a chill in the air as snow blankets the trees, houses and yards. Logs crackle in the fireplace. The smell of apple pies cooling on the counter is just one of the many tasty temptations this time of year.

Christmas and cookies

My favorite part, when our girls were little, was when we’d bake cookies. They would carefully decorate them with icing. Naturally, they had to sample a few as the cookies cooled. Then, they’d put some cookies on a plate along with a glass of milk for Santa.

They’d leave a short note for Saint Nick and then go to bed. As Nat King Cole sings in “The Christmas Song,” “Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow will find it hard to sleep tonight.”

In the morning, they’d rush to check out the gifts under the tree and they’d pause to read Santa’s note to them.

Our wish for you and yours, like the song: “Although it’s been said many times many ways, Merry Christmas to you.”

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music video: Nat King Cole singing “Christmas Song” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__kQ1PCP6B0 

Main Photo – Santa and Abigayle – Sean and Jessi’s girl, photo permission from her parents,  Dec. 2013

Photo – Christmas trees – taken Dec.9, 2007, by Sjncousin http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6e/Beautiful-christmas-lights-11.jpg/531px-Beautiful-christmas-lights-11.jpg

Photo – Christmas and cookies – taken Dec. 23, 2010, by Till Westermayer from Freiburg, Germany  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9b/Christmas_cookies_%26_decoration.jpg/640px-Christmas_cookies_%26_decoration.jpg

No Place Like Home

The Wizard of Oz - Haley, Bolger, Garland, Lahr - 1939By Judy Berman

Sometimes, you don’t know what you got until it’s gone.

That thought comes to mind when I consider a little girl who’s swept away with her best friend to a very strange land. She spends the bulk of her time trying to return to a place of comfort and love.

I’m talking about the ultimate road trip movie, “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

This movie might seem an odd choice for a Thanksgiving offering. But it has it all: a buddy movie/road trip made up of an odd cast of lovable characters.

Just like many of us gathered around the table this holiday, each has a different personality and a personal quest. For some, it’s the drumstick. For others, it’s something much deeper.

For Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), an orphaned teen, she’s trying to avoid a nasty neighbor, Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton). The cranky woman, upset that Toto bit her, threatens to have Toto put to sleep. Dorothy runs away with Toto to protect him.

She didn’t get far when she ran into a phony fortune-teller, Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan). The Professor tells Dorothy that her Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) has fallen ill worrying about Dorothy.

Dorothy returns home, but the family is hunkered down in the storm cellar trying to avoid a tornado. Dorothy darts into the house with Toto and is knocked unconscious. When she awakes, her home drops right in the middle of the Land of the Munchkins.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy says as she surveys the neighborhood.

Good news. They’re OK and the little people – the Munchkins – are welcoming. Bad news. Her house fell right on top of the Wicked Witch of the East and she’s deader than a doornail.

The Wizard  of Oz - Margaret Hamilton and Judy Garland - 1939

Her mean sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), is not too happy about this. She warns Dorothy: “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!”

Before she can carry out her threat, Glinda (Billie Burke), the Good Witch of the North, comes to Dorothy’s rescue. Glinda quickly transfers the dead witch’s ruby slippers onto Dorothy, telling Dorothy that they have powerful magic and will protect her. Dorothy and Toto go skipping off down the Yellow Brick Road in search of the Wizard of Oz who will surely help her get back to Kansas.

On the road, Dorothy runs into a talking Scarecrow (Ray Bolger). When he finds out where Dorothy is going, he asks if he can go along. He hopes the Wizard will give him a brain. Soon, they spot a rusted out Tin Woodman (Jack Haley) and oil him up. He’s in search of a heart. The last one to join this little group is the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who confides that he’d like the Wizard to give him courage.

Wizard of Oz - 1900

In their travels, they encounter the nightmare that most of us do. Flying monkeys. (Hey! We’ve all been there. Right?) Fatigue. For us, it’s the long road trip and the big meal. For them, the witch casts a spell as they’re running thru a field of flowers.

“Poppies … poppies will put them to sleep,” she cackles.

Eventually, Dorothy turns the tables on the old bat. When the witch tries to set the Scarecrow on fire, Dorothy throws a bucket of water to douse the fire … and drenches the witch … which proves her undoing.

“I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!” the witch screams … and, then, she is no more.

In a road movie, the main character grows as the story progresses. Such is the case with Dorothy and her friends. They find that they had it within them all along to achieve the things they went in search of.

Glinda tells Dorothy that she’s always had the power to return to her family.

Dorothy clicks her heels together three times, repeating the magic phrase that will take her home, “There’s no place like home … There’s no place like home.”

Soon, Dorothy and Toto are back with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. And that curmudgeon, Miss Gulch, is no where to be found.

Now, if only a turkey wishbone had that kind of magic.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie trailer – The Wizard of Oz - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cg8PrPVqCd8 

Main Photo: Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland, Bert Lahr – The Wizard of Oz (1939) – MGM film http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bd/The_Wizard_of_Oz_Haley_Bolger_Garland_Lahr_1939.jpg/635px-The_Wizard_of_Oz_Haley_Bolger_Garland_Lahr_1939.jpg

Photo: Margaret Hamilton and Judy Garland – The Wizard of Oz (1939)  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/The_Wizard_of_Oz_Margaret_Hamilton_Judy_Garland_1939.jpg

Photo: Wizard of Oz – Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first edition. Illustration by W.W. Denslow (d. 1915)  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cb/Cowardly_lion2.jpg/459px-Cowardly_lion2.jpg

The Big Night

Judy - birthday - California Pizza Kitchen - Nov. 2013By Judy Berman

Memories are made of this – family get-togethers. Any misty-eyed moment doesn’t last for long. That’s just our family’s way.

Last weekend, we gathered at Buca di Beppo’s to celebrate my birthday. For me, the kitchen and dining area reminded me of a scene out of the movie, “The Big Night” (1996). My family gave me a memory book of my life in pictures with brief stories attached.

It made me feel like I’d received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars. Before I could blurt out (Sally Field style), “You like me. You really like me,” the jokes began.

Danielle, my eldest, pulled out a copy of a newspaper clip from The Syracuse Post-Standard’s editorial page. In it, my story, “Surviving the Summer With Teens.”

I shudder as I recall the final straw that summer. Our daughter’s car, and the tree in front of our house, is swaddled in toilet paper, and the paper hangers leave cackling loudly and squealing their car’s tires from here to the state line in the dead of night.

That mental snapshot and others emerge. From the moment our children are born, we gasp in amazement and wince with every milestone they pass. Their hesitant first steps across the floor, riding a two-wheeler unassisted for the first time, leaving home and going off on their own.

Buca di Beppo

Then, Danielle handed me a letter I’d written in 1991, just days after she moved to Florida to go to college. Their furniture was sitting somewhere in a moving van that apparently had taken a detour. She told me she’d converted the Faberware box that their electric fry pan came in into a makeshift kitchen table.

So, I did what any loving parent would do. I wrote offering to send her “my empty Faberware box. That way you can have matching tables. Kim (our neighbor) says she may send you some empty boxes, too. You can use one for the end table – one for the nightstand.”

I talked around the edges of things. I didn’t ask if she was homesick. I tried to keep it light. She toughed that out, as well as a number of other hurdles, and did us proud.

Just like our youngest, Jenn, did when she was on her own in Oklahoma in 1999 and an EF5 tornado slammed thru just miles from her apartment. She’d heard from others at college that when there’s a sound like a freight train, head for a closet. She did with her hamster, Thumper, until the danger passed. Dave and I were in Florida interviewing for a job when we saw TV coverage at our hotel of a monster tornado (winds in excess of 260 miles per hour) and a smaller funnel cloud. The tornado pummeled Moore, Oklahoma. It was several days before we could reach her and learn the reassuring news that she was safe.

It turns out that our daughters, however, were more worried about how we’d handle the empty-nest syndrome. In a photo with Dave and I posing next to an SUV I’d flipped in Alaska, Danielle noted that I’d “forced Dave into her mid-life crisis with crazy hair days. Eggplant and violet for Judy, and blue and pink for Dave! Maybe they would be better off with some supervision.” (NOTE: I did not “force” Dave to dye his hair. I URGED him to. Family joke dating back to the movie, “L.A. Story.”)

In the memory book, I saw myself as my children see me. They viewed my early start in life, as a preemie, as an indicator that I was a fighter – as one who considers setbacks as challenges to be overcome and forges ahead.

The Big Night - Stanley Tucci

Fortunately, my Big Night turned out much better than it did for the brothers (restaurant owners) in the movie. They were struggling to make a go of it. Another restaurant owner offers to call a friend, a popular jazz musician, to play a special benefit at their restaurant. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) prepares his specialty, a gourmand’s delight, for the big night. But things don’t go as planned.

Maybe, they turned a negative into a positive. That’s the outcome I hope for – for myself and others. Cheers! Here’s to a wonderful year ahead.

Do you have a favorite family memory? Please share.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video Clip – “The Big Night” (1996) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvDb_OVbju0  

Main Photo: Dessert with the family at California Pizza Kitchen, Orlando

Photo: Buca di Beppo, Orlando – let the party begin! http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=buca+di+beppo+orlando+florida+mall&FORM=HDRSC2#view=detail&id=23E12796091F3014F6EF19A7CAF328F960C58BFA&selectedIndex=48

Photo: “The Big Night” with Stanley Tucci   http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/stanley-tucci/images/34074283/title/big-night-photo

 

Those Are Not My Parents

The "grands" bucket list ...

The “grands” bucket list …

By Judy Berman

Giant muffins and dangerous boardwalks. Just what else would you offer your grandkids on an outing?

They had their bucket list of things to do while visiting us for the weekend: zip lining over alligators at the zoo, rappelling down the side of a mountain and traversing a suspended bridge. Uh, no.

Instead, we searched for a muffin so huge it had its own ZIP code and tentatively walked along a boardwalk with no handrails over deep water in the harbor. Mission accomplished.

When their parents returned, our grandchildren excitedly told them about their mini-vacation with us. The “grands” held nothing back, including the soft-serve ice cream we got them that was five swirls high – not three.

I waited, dreading they would start singing that song Bill Cosby’s kids sang to him around the breakfast table. “Dad is great. He gives us chocolate cake … for breakfast.”

My daughter’s eyes and mouth widened. I knew what was in the back of her mind: “Those are not my parents.”

What their parents envisioned ...

What their parents envisioned …

Growing up, she thought we were strict. There were no sweet treats for breakfast that would send them zinging around the house on a sugar high.

A stroll along an unprotected walkway over water deep enough for manatees to frolic in? No way. We hovered over her and her sister until they were in their late teens like they were unsteady toddlers.

Like Cosby, she’s looking at me and thinking: “This is not the woman I grew up with.”

What can I say? I learned from the best. My Grammy set the gold standard for relaxed ground rules.

What we really did ...

What we really did …

Once our kids were grown, we quickly learned that breaking a few rules was not going to scar them for life. Pizza and wings for breakfast? No problem. Staying up past 10 to watch a nail-biter of a Red Sox game? Fire up the popcorn machine.

OK. Grammy did give my Mom a real scare once when we were late returning from the movies.

We’d been gone for hours. My Mom said she had her hand on the phone ready to dial the police just as we walked in the door.

“Where have you been?” she asked anxiously, fearing the worst.

Grammy, attempting to placate Mom: “We went to a double-feature and sat thru it three times.”

Mom: “What did you do for dinner?”

Grammy: “After the second double-feature, we went out for a hot dog and soda. Then we showed our tickets to the cashier and she let us back in.”

My Mom’s aghast. Aliens must have abducted her mother. That has to explain the odd behavior.

Come to think of it. That’s exactly the look Danielle threw my way as her son – exaggerating now – told her we’d bought them a 32-ounce soft-serve ice cream. (It was only 12 ounces.).

Fortunately, in their excitement, they left out the part about the … Oh, but I’ll save that story for another time.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

* Video – Bill Cosby – Dad is Great – Chocolate Cake for Breakfast  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuamlBQ2aW4 

Photo: zip lining – (What the “grands” might have envisioned for their outing.) Pfc. Jessica Y. Pacheco, an armorer for Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 screams down a zip line in Belize, Sept. 14, 2011. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7c/USMC-110914-M-AF823-091.jpg/512px-USMC-110914-M-AF823-091.jpg

Photo: Child pushing grandmother on tricycle – (What my daughter and son-in-law envisioned about our weekend) Taken Aug. 11, 2008. Author: Catherine Scott http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/dc/Child_pushing_grandmother_on_plastic_tricycle.jpg/640px-Child_pushing_grandmother_on_plastic_tricycle.jpg

Illustration – (what we really did) - Norman Rockwell – Gramps at the Plate -  The cover of the Saturday Evening Post published Aug. 5, 1916 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Gramps_at_the_Plate_Rockwell_Print.jpg

The Repairman Cometh

Oh, dear. This looks bad.

Oh, dear. This looks bad.

By Judy Berman

What is there about the holidays that cause our appliances to go on strike?

As the July 4th weekend approached, I was haunted by memories of past holidays when I scrambled for ice to keep cool when our air conditioner went on the fritz. On the hottest day of the year.

That was unbearable, but far better than the time our fridge refused to cooperate.

That particular July 4th weekend, after our refrigerator broke down, we called a repairman to fix it. Our food was in storage elsewhere – evenly distributed throughout our neighborhood.

As the repairman coolly withdrew his head from our frost-free freezer – that no longer was – he said softly: “Oh dear. This looks bad. My. My. My.”

I wondered what “Oh dear. My. My. My.” meant in terms of actual cash. At the time, I was unsuccessfully trying to pry my white-clenched knuckles away from my wallet.

The repairman then quoted an estimate that I guessed came close to financing his annual visit to money he stashed in the Cayman Islands. I blanched. Then, I reluctantly conceded that at least he made house calls.

At least the repairman made house calls.

At least the repairman made house calls.

My luck was holding steady. The fridge only needed two new parts … and … he’d just used his last one on a repair job just before ours. I was his second stop of the day.

While he checked our fridge, I decided to make some toast on our Sunkist Lemon Toaster. That’s the one that was more at home in the repair shop than in our kitchen. It refused to reject two slices of toast before they became unrecognizable remnants of their former selves.

burnt offerings for breakfast

burnt offerings for breakfast

I managed to salvage a section the size of a silver dollar. As I scraped away the blackened area, I heard this strange beep. I looked questioningly at the repairman. Again. Beep. Again, I looked.

Our daughter, Danielle, could no longer stand the suspense. “What’s that noise?” she asked, referring to what by now was becoming a steady shrill.

“Your smoke detector,” he said.

It mistook our toaster’s burnt offering for an actual emergency. I frantically fanned the smoke detector with a paper to stop the noise.

The repairman slowly shook his head sadly and muttered, “I can tell. It’s just going to be one of those days.”

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Illustrations: Art Explosion and Clip Art

The Streets of Paris (Part 1)

By Judy Berman

Pastries, baguettes, quiche ... oh my!

Pastries, baguettes, quiche … oh my!

We were looking for that Goldilocks’ travel experience – where everything is “just right,” and you don’t wind up in a stranger’s bed.

On our first night in Paris, however, we came uncomfortably close to the latter. Or so a hotel guest thought when he heard us try to unlock our hotel door, which was next to his. He kept saying: “You have the wrong door.”

The confusion was quickly resolved … but, poor guy! I think my husband and I woke him up.

Hotel des Grand Ecoles, Paris

Hotel des Grandes Ecoles, Paris

The next morning, we were ready to do some leche-vitrines (“lick the windows” or “window shop”). We’d bid the merchants “Bonjour” (Good Day) – although, they often were the first to greet us warmly and wish us the same as we entered their shops.

Our French is minimal, but any language barrier we encountered was easily overcome by a little patience. Also, many Parisians we met spoke English as well as French. (At Hotel des Grandes Ecoles, where we stayed, their staff is fluent in six languages.)

Breakfast and lunch was easy, tasty – and inexpensive. We just went to La Parisienne. It is a Boulanger Patissier (a bakery where master craftsmen are inside) down the street. “Café” (coffee) is understood in many languages, and the display case made it easy to point to what we wanted. The problem was we wanted it all – croque monsieur (a grilled ham and cheese, with the cheese outside the bread), quiche, baguette and pain du chocolat (a lighter-than-air croissant with chocolate).

Our dining experiences in the City of Lights have ruined me for all other food – forever. I swear!

It can be a challenge to please the palates of eight people. But our daughters, sons-in-law, and our two grandchildren were each delighted with the menu choices, prices, presentation and service where we ate.

Bon appetite (Enjoy your meal) - We all did.

Bon appetite (Enjoy your meal) – We all did.

We’d no sooner stop swooning over Le Volcan restaurant’s excellent blend of flavors in its Boeuf Bourguignon than we’d be wowed by our next meal at Bistrot l’Epoque. My chicken with carmelized onions and apples was delicious, but I couldn’t wait to try their crème brûlée. The rich custard with its carmelized top was decadently creamy. These were just two of the many excellent restaurants right near our hotel.

That look says it all - dessert was excellent!

That look says it all – dessert was excellent!

After all that scrumptious food, you’d think we’d be ready for a weight-loss program. Parisians have one built right in. It’s called walking, and we did a lot of that. We hoofed it to and from the Metro or just meandered to sites around the city. For miles. Every day.

And, at night, we had an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) from the front of the Pantheon near our hotel. Our six-day stay went by too fast.

Mother and son enjoying a view of the Eiffel Tower at night

Mother and son enjoying a view of the Eiffel Tower at night

“A bientôt,” Paris, which means “see you soon”..  (I hope.)

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Pantheon

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Pantheon

(Coming June 29, Part 2, a photo essay)

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original
content.

Main photo: La Parisienne – is a Boulanger Patissier (a bakery where master craftsmen are inside, there are no premade goods). It is where we got many of our breakfasts, lunches and wonderful desserts

Photo: Hotel des Grandes Ecoles

Photo: Dinner at Bistrot l’Epoque. Every place we ate at was just excellent

Photo: Connor over the moon about dessert at Bistrot l’Epoque

Photo: Danielle and Connor viewing the Eiffel Tower

Photo: View of Eiffel Tower from the Pantheon, near our hotel

Video: Patricia Kaas – Les Moulins de Mon Coeur (The Windmills of Your Mind) – lyrics in French and in English – song is from the 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair.”  

Dear Dad, luv Judy

My Dad in his World War II Army photo

My Dad in his World War II Army photo

By Judy Berman

Flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder are comforting sounds to me. I sleep easily thru a storm, and I have my Dad to thank for that.

It’s one of many things he wrote about when he began writing to me after my Mom died.

His letters covered cautionary tales on my decision to become a teacher, insights about zoning in the Nevada desert and humorous asides. As I reread them, I recall a Greek diner owner once telling me, “No matter how old you get, you’ll still be your parents’ little girl.” So true.

So, electrical storms don’t faze me. Here’s why:

As a kid, when lightning crashed all around, Dad taught me to look at nature’s light show with the cool demeanor of a mathematician in a lab. I’d peer out over the couch into the night sky and gauge how far away it was.

All grown, many years later, I’m reading a book by Patricia Polacco to my grandchildren. The author explains how her grandmother figured the speed of sound. I quickly jot off a note to Dad for his opinion. Dad wrote back that Polacco’s grandmother was way off in her calculations in counting the time between sightings of lightning and the sounds of thunder.

“A rough figure is 1,000 feet per second. So 5 seconds would be a mile. That’s what we did when you were a kid,” he responded.

Dad watching my brother, Hank, play chess.

Dad watching my brother, Hank, play chess.

Whether we were buying a car or switching jobs, Dad was there to offer his advice or share his experiences.

On education, Dad’s view on our schools is echoed by many today. He didn’t think the schools paid enough to its school resource officers or to its teachers.

“The pay is not high enough to attract former metro cops. The same problem applies to teachers. The salaries offered will not allow teachers to buy decent housing,” Dad wrote.

“I’m afraid your world and that of your students are very far apart.”

How true. In this ever-changing world, that is the one constant. Nothing remains the same – except the low pay.

His take on the lighter side of life was a welcome diversion. Even when he was being corny, he was the master of delivery and timing. Mom would gently scold us: “Now, stop laughing. You’ll only encourage him.” Then, she’d turn her head away from us because she was laughing, too.

Once, I wrote Dad asking how the joke went about a worker stealing wheelbarrows. He, ever the skilled raconteur, spun out the following tale.

This “reminds me of a guy who was working at the atomic test site. These atomic blasts involve a good deal of earth-moving equipment before and after the shot.

“In the 1960s, some people did their own home-building, and the lot had to be cleared by a bulldozer. This guy decided to earn extra by clearing lots on the weekend. To do that, he needed a bulldozer.

“He decided to steal one from the test site. Since the test site is very remote, he managed to sneak a trailer in, load it, and haul it home. With so much equipment up there, they didn’t even miss it.

“Things were going beautifully until the hydraulic system failed. So he had another brilliant idea. He would sneak it back on the test site, let them repair it, and then steal it again.

“They caught him when he was bringing it back.”

And Dad had a postscript to my query: “Never precede a joke with an explanation.”

The mailbox no longer holds the appeal for me it once did. My Dad’s letters stopped in 2011, shortly before his passing.

To all Dads on Sunday, June 16th, whether by birth, step, adopted, mentor, Big Brother … Happy Father’s Day. Give yours an extra hug from me.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-13. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or
earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original
content.

Main photo: My Dad, Joseph H. Fiet III, in the Army during World War II

Photo: My Dad watching my brother, Hank, play chess

Dear Mom, luv Judy

Mom listening as I talk about our adventures

Mom listening as I talk about our adventures

By Judy Berman

Any time I get a whiff of a fresh-baked apple pie, it takes me back to my teen years and our home in the country.

The apples for that pie might have been picked only a few hours earlier. As it bakes, my Mom prepares spaghetti sauce made from tomatoes in our garden.

Savoring her dishes, it’s hard to imagine her as a novice in the kitchen. But she was when she first married. Mom would lament, years later, about Dad’s ordeal when he was in the Army during World War II.

She said Dad had three choices: eat her cooking, the food at the Mess Hall, or starve.

Evidently, Mom was a quick learner, because Dad survived. Not wanting me to repeat her mistake, Mom made sure I was better prepared and knew my way around the kitchen.

Her lesson in survival skills didn’t end there.

While I was in high school, she taught me how to type on a manual typewriter in our kitchen. Mom blindfolded me so I wouldn’t focus on the keys. It worked. As a result, my typing speed and accuracy improved.

Mom was most in her element when she was reading by a cozy fireplace. Her constant companions were Alexander Dumas, Charles Dickens and Jane Eyre. She’d take my brother, Hank, and me to the library, where I’d immerse myself in adventure stories, Agatha Christie mysteries and exotic places.

Mom and Dad outside their home in Boulder City, Nevada

Mom and Dad outside their home in Boulder City, Nevada

She hated the cold. So why did she leave her comfort zone? Some moms do just that when their child gets involved in sports. They sit on the bleachers or sidelines for hours to root their child on.  In my case, when I joined the Girl Scouts, Mom became an assistant leader, and encouraged me to learn more while having fun.

Mom would brave the night’s chill to point out the constellations to help me earn one of my many badges. She’d join me on camp-outs, and make s’mores and other treats over an open campfire.

There are so many things that remind me of Mom. I just wish I could share one more day with her to tell her how much I appreciate the time she spent with me and for her love – even when I was being an ornery teenager.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms on Sunday, May 12th.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-13. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video – Alan Parsons Project, “Time” 

Main Photo: My Mom, Milly Fiet, and me in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photo: Mom and Dad outside their home in Boulder City, Nevada

The Greatest Gift

"You've been given a great gift, George! A chance to see what the world would be like without you." (Henry Travers and Jimmy Stewart, "It's a Wonderful Life."

“You’ve been given a great gift, George! A chance to see what the world would be like without you.” (Henry Travers and Jimmy Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”)

By Judy Berman

It was nearly Christmas. For the second year in a row, I searched for the one gift I knew our two daughters would love. But it eluded me.

Finally, I found them in a flea market. The price! It was a black market price – way beyond what the Cabbage Patch dolls sold for when they were available in the stores. Despite that, I bought two. I couldn’t wait to see our daughters’ faces when they opened their presents. It would be the best Christmas ever.

There were a few other times when there was too much month at the end of the money. When I couldn’t afford new shoes for my youngest to wear when she was in a school play. When we had a turkey one year only because it was a gift from my employer. Our girls never complained, but I felt like a failure.

Not on the scale of a George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. The Frank Capra movie, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, was released Christmas 1946.

Based on the short story, “The Greatest Gift,” by Philip Van Doren Stern, it begins with George “leaning over the railing of the iron bridge, staring down moodily at the black water.”

He is having very dark thoughts indeed.

In the movie, there’s an angel’s voice saying it’s a crucial night for George Bailey.

“He’ll be thinking of throwing away God’s greatest gift. Joseph, send for Clarence.”

Clarence’s mission is to convince George that his life is worth living. If Clarence succeeds, he may earn his angel wings. It’s a hard sell. George feels trapped in his job, unable to pay the bills, and that he’s missing out on adventures that others have enjoyed. He’s desperate.

He tells the stranger, “I wish I’d never been born.” That strikes Clarence as an excellent idea, and he grants George’s wish.

“You’ve been given a great gift, George! A chance to see what the world would be like without you,” Clarence said.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around it leaves an awful hole, doesn’t it. You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

It doesn’t take George long to realize he wants to live. In flashbacks, we see that George’s life fits the definition of success: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you lived … “  George begs for Clarence to help him. Despite the bumps and bruises he’s experienced, he wants to be back with his family.

Screenshot of "It's a Wonderful Life" with Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes (as Zuzu).

Screenshot of “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes (as Zuzu).

This movie, that is now a holiday classic, actually lost money at the box office that year. The critics thought it was too sentimental. Its staying power, however, can be attributed to the movie’s optimism.

I smile when I think of that Christmas long ago. My girls were delighted with their dolls. But those presents were overshadowed by a greater gift that we’ve all been given: life.

We touch the lives of so many people. Sometimes, in ways we’re not fully aware of.

Movie Trailer: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Main photo: Henry Travers (as Clarence Odbody) and Jimmy Stewart (as George Bailey) in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Photo: Screenshot of It’s a Wonderful Life with Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes (as Zuzu). http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ab/It%27s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpg/640px-It%27s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpg

Quote on “Success”  – “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.” This quote, often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, actually was written by Bessie Anderson Stanley. http://emerson.tamu.edu/Ephemera/Success.html

Detours On a Holiday Journey

Steve Martin and John Candy in the odd-couple road trip buddy movie, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

By Judy Berman

Crowds jamming the airports and train stations to get home for the holidays. For a real traveler’s nightmare, throw in some snowstorms, flight delays, sleeping on your luggage at the airport, and stress about catching a connecting flight or train.

One year, on our way to see my folks in Vegas, the snow began flying fast and furious. Our flight from New York had an unscheduled layover in Chicago. It looked like we’d be spending an overnight with our two small children at O’Hare International Airport.

Snow plows trying to clear an airport's runways.

Snow plows trying to clear an airport’s runways

Tantalizing thoughts of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie vanished as I considered we might be dining on airport terminal – note the word “terminal” – food. Tasteless burgers, greasy pizza, stale pretzels and watered-down sodas.

Still, our experience pales next to Steve Martin’s plight (as Neal Page) as he tries desperately to find a way home for Thanksgiving in John Hughes’ 1987 movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Neal’s plans are doomed from the start. Missed cabs, a canceled flight and a stranger he just can’t seem to shake: John Candy (as Del Griffith).

Neal, an uptight ad rep, wants to be left alone. Del, a jocular shower curtain salesman, comes off as an annoying blabbermouth. This odd couple’s road trip begins when a storm forces their plane to be rerouted to Wichita, Kansas. They are forced to hunker down in a fly-by-night hotel and are robbed as they sleep.

A few more hitches and Neal decides they should go their separate ways. He  heads to a car-rental parking lot. But his car is not there and he has a meltdown.

After a 3-mile walk back to the terminal, Neal is seething, and rips into the Marathon Car Rental Agent (played by Edie McClurg). His one-minute, profanity-laced tirade and McClurg’s response are hysterical (and earned the movie its “R” rating).

Who comes to Neal’s rescue as he is about to hail a cab? Del.

On the road again, Del gets into the music while Neal sleeps. At one point, his car spins out of control. They wind up driving the wrong way on a highway and into the path of two semis. Miraculously, they escape unscathed … until they set down on their luggage in the road and realize that their car just burst into flames.

It’s not the end of the mishaps or of the hilarity. When they part, Neal begins to laugh about their adventures. He realizes Del is the “real article,” and recognizes a deeper truth.

When Neal does get home for Thanksgiving, he’s not alone when he walks in the door.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Main Photo – Planes, Trains and Automobiles starring Steve Martin and John Candy

Movie Clip – “You’re Going the Wrong Way” scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with Steve Martin and John Candy.   

Photo: Travel – airport – snow removal – Heavy Oshkosh trucks are removing tons of snow from the airfield runways, taxiways and parking ramps after a snow storm dumped 12 to 18 inches of snow in the area. At Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.. Taken Feb. 12, 2010 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/dd/Oshkosh_snow_removal_vehicle.JPG/640px-Oshkosh_snow_removal_vehicle.JPG