Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus

My whole life I have heard that line every Christmas season. The famous Virginia of a Christmas past who wrote to the NY Sun newspaper asking whether there was a Santa Claus. While the response was historic, the line I love is "Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias".

This year, this Virginia is looking at Christmas past, present and future. The past spent in the home of my parents born of another country in simpler times, unaccustomed to the frivolity and commercialism of the Christmas season of today. My brother and I were given one gift each (not one from each person, just one gift) and were forced by my father to wait until 5 pm on Christmas day before we were allowed to open it. I suppose it was to teach us to be patient. It didn't.

The Christmas past with my own family was much different with lots of decorations and new traditions. For years, we would started the season on the Saturday by driving to a farm after Thanksgiving to cut down our own Christmas tree. My husband and I would have this make-believe argument about what size tree we should have (I envisioned one comparable to that of Rock Center while Tony favored the love starved, Charlie Brown tree). Sometime during December, we would invite friends for a traditional white elephant gift exchange holiday party giving me the chance to cook hopefully dazzle my friends with homemade Armenian specialties. It seemed to work because they cam back every year and with the same junky gift they got the year before. Then on Christmas day, the kids would get up at some ungodly early morning hour to open gifts.

Christmas today is with a fake tree that comes out of a box and decorations that are from Crate and Barrel. The Christmas morning sound of kids running through the house with excitement has been replaced by their sleep deprived grunts of dragging them out of bed sometime around 9 am to open gifts. After which, they would go back to bed for another few hours of rest while I cooked. It is different from the past but it is the evolution.

Who knows what the Christmas of the future will be like or where we will be. Every year, the friends who made up our Christmas day either change or relocate to another place. The street I live on is comprised of multi-ethnic families that do not decorate. Our Santa and snowman figurines on the lawn are reminders of Christmases when the kids were little and still believed in miracles. Times have changed and we have too. My mother in law reaching 84 years old this year is not coming Christmas nor does she want anyone to pick her up. She is not upset, just more afraid of travel. I remember as my aunts’ aged, they also passed up holidays to be alone within the quiet comfort of their home rather than in the hustle of the day. It seemed strange to me then, but not anymore.

I hope I always want to be in the hustle of the day, but if I don’t, I hope my kids will understand. I hope I always want to be among friends but if I can’t go to their house, I hope they come to mine. I hope my kids will always be happy throughout their lives and love Christmas. If one year they don't, I hope they remember the Christmas’ of the past and look to make changes for a better one next year.

Merry Christmas, Love, Ginny

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hyasdan katzer em, shoodov geh khoseenk, Sirov

The translation is "Gone to Armenia, talk to you soon, Love". I am leaving Tuesday for a trip to my heritage land. Going to Greece first where I will be with my cousins and then travel to Armenia where my one cousin and I will be staying with her sister in the capital, Yerevan. There are so many things I am afraid of:
  • flying, yet not afraid enough to stop me
  • getting sick, as I hear that I should not drink the water in Armenia
  • leaving my family as I am traveling alone.
  • coming back to find out I have been laid off
  • packing
I can deal with the first two. I love traveling and will have to take a plane if I want to go where I want to go. Getting sick, well I'll try not to. Leaving my family, that's a tough one. When I booked the trip, it seemed easy. My kids are self-sufficient and perfectly able to take care of themselves. What am I worried about? I don't think it is about them missing me. It is more that I will miss them. When I visit my family in Greece, I don't cook, I don't clean and I don't run errands. How do I deal with relaxation? It is so not me. Coming back to find out I have been laid off - well I stressed about that for a while. But after working all this weekend, I am done stressing. If a company is stupid enought to lay someone off that works 10 hours for each of 2 days and 5 hours each on Saturday and Sunday to clean up all her work before vacation, then they do not deserve me. F--- them. Now packing, there is the real challenge. I still don't understand how one can plan their wardrobe for 8 days without knowing what they will encounter in their travels. I can't do this with less than 6 pairs of shoes - can you? There are comfortable shoes, heels, the just-in-case shoes, and the shoes that go with one outfit that you must have. I refuse to look like the American tourist in sneakers, sweatpants and the fanny pack. Ugh, no way! So I am gone from 10/6 through 10/17. I promise to take pictures to post. Sirov,

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Taking Woodstock

In 1969, I looked like this – hip hugger jeans, floral empire waist dresses and long, curly hair that I ironed so I could look like Joan Baez. It is 40 years later, and I am still dressing like that. Same style dresses, still in my hip hugger jeans, and with hair that I sometimes get tempted to pull out the iron along with pulling out the gray hair that gets past my dye. My cousin, in the photo with me, was always the neat and tidy one while I was politely referred to by my aunts as, "the free spirit". In 1969, the news was not all that good - the Manson murders had just taken place, and the evening news reported the daily trauma and death count from the Vietnam War that incited riots in colleges everywhere. I had just graduated high school. I was a shy kid in what seemed at the time to be a big school. I guess I was a non-descript student - not athletic (not that there were so many choices for girls back then), did not go to my prom and had no idea what my future was going to be about. So many girls were either getting married or going to college after high school. I was doing neither. During high school, I worked at a local handbag company and made friends with a girl who was around my age. She told me about this 3 day concert in August in upstate New York called Woodstock. Knowing it would be a stretch to get my parents to let me go to this event, I brought my friend to my home and introduced her to my parents. They liked her and somehow, they let me go. I think my mother might have convinced my father that this would be a good idea. She understood I was lonely and that going up to the mountains of the Catskills with a nice friend to an outdoor concert sounded like a nice, peaceful vacation. Memory doesn't serve me well after 40 years so a lot of what I did or saw isn't all that clear. But, this weekend, I saw the movie "Taking Woodstock". It all came back to me – I sat in the movie theater alone recognizing the Route 17 we took to get there, the grocery store we bought food at, the lake where people swam and the hill that some slid down on that Sunday when the rain came again. It was all there. Not the music, just us and this area in Sullivan County. Someone saw what I saw and brought it all back. At home, I was not the popular one, or the rich one or the going to college one. At Woodstock, while many of us were the shy one or the I-don’t-know-where-I-am-going one, that weekend I was surrounded by my kind. We all met and took this vacation from the reality of the world for just a few days. We helped each other with food, heard some of the concert and somehow, made it through the 3 days without incident. Last week, a friend invited Tony and I to meet his new lady and see his new home in Wurtsboro, NY. We had a lovely day in this town, which is near the Basha Kill, a beautiful nature preserve. It turns out, we are in Sullivan County, home of the Bethel Woods site of the 1969 Woodstock festival. The simplicity of the countryside came back to me. The natural beauty of the area, its undeveloped landscape, and its acceptance of the shy kid who didn’t know where her life was going beyond that August weekend – it all came back to me. For a short time that day, I did not work in corporate America or had responsibilities. It was 1969 again. I learned more about Woodstock in the aftermath than when I was there. I didn’t realize then that it would be this historical event and that my being there would be the thing that made me cool to my kids and interesting to others. I am not that shy kid anymore. I am not lonely, have direction and adult responsibility. But, I will go back to Sullivan County more now because it tugs at my desire to be that free spirit again even for a little while.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Me and Julia

I am a very good cook - maybe a very, very good cook. I enjoy it and love having people over to cook for. I usually prefer up to 6 people at a time as it is easier to manage a recipe for that many people although I have been known to make meals for 20 that haven't turned out too badly either. The larger parties usually mean a less complicated and less expensive menu that consists of pasta and a roast of some kind. On the shelf alongside my favorite cookbooks, I have a 3-ring black binder with recipes I collect from magazines, newspapers and from people who's meals I have enjoyed and are willing to share the formula of their creation. Having said that, I cannot remember if I have ever followed a recipe where I did not alter it to accommodate the likes or dislike of an ingredient, suit my taste more or use up something that has been in the fridge too long. With much anticipation, this weekend, I saw the movie Julie and Julia. The movie was okay - Meryl was great as was her character. I found the Amy Adams role a little dull. Seeing the movie however, spark my interest to pull out my 1971 copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and cook one of the recipes. So I spent most of Saturday shopping for and cooking boeuf bourguignon (page 315). The results were excellent - even if I do say so myself, but not without alteration. The recipe calls for 3 cups of very good red wine and 2 - 3 cups beef stock. a) that is too much liquid as only 3 total cups is needed to cover the meat. b) unless you make the beef stock yourself, the store bought version is either salty or tasteless (low sodium version). c) 3 cups of red wine adds a sharp taste to the sauce that can be unpleasant. 2 cups is enough. d) my frugal personality cannot pour over 1/2 a bottle of good wine into a sauce when I could be pouring it down my throat. Other adjustments included using pancetta as I had a piece in my freezer and I couldn't find a slab of bacon in my hopelessly white-breadish Stop & Shop. The same for not using thyme as I wanted fresh and it was nowhere to be found. As usual, I blame my mother for causing this inability to not follow recipes in its strictest detail. She never owned a measuring spoon, never measured a thing, and used regular cups (not measuring cups) to determine the right amount of flour. Recipes for Armenian foods are not easy to come by, so if I wanted to learn how to cook these foods, I had to sit in front of her taking out what she put into the bowl to measure it and then write it down. She so hated my doing that as it interrupted her thought process. Consequently, it was not quality mother/daughter time. I have found that there are cookbooks meant to cook and others meant to teach. Julia's cookbook is meant to teach you how to cook as stated in her forward which goes, "Our primary purpose in this book is to teach you how to cook, so that you will understand the fundamental techniques and gradually be able to divorce yourself from a dependence on recipes" To summarize, spend quality time with your mother by buying the cookbook and then get a divorce.

Catch up

My daughter asks me every week, "why haven't you blogged". I don't know I say. I have a list of about 5 topics that I want to write about and never do. So I am coming back with pictures of what has been going on in the last few months. And a big thank you to you Christine for bugging me to come back. A lot of this is about Thomas but it was, after all, his last year in high school and a great year too: Thomas' prom - don't they look handsome! Tom's Graduation The Graduation Block Party: Ever see so much testosterone! Having way too much fun And the girl's aren't bad either (they're the ones in the skirts) The "young_old man" at bat. Form is still good, right! And July 4th fireworks in Manhattan pictures: I am posting twice today as some what of a makeup - second post - Julia and me. Still to come, the Paul McCartney concert and more altered recipes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mother's Day 2009

Twenty four years ago, I made the decision to be a parent. At the time, I could not imagine my life without kids and still can't. I'm lucky. I didn't have to struggle much to get them, but it sure has been an adventure having them. I could tell you it was a joy all the way through but the truth is, there were challenges along the way. Last weekend was Mother's Day. I never want gifts, a card - one that expressed their feelings, was all I hoped for. I got what I wanted. I read the card that my eldest son picked that said "I see how you put your needs aside for me" and think that he may have realized that our social life revolved around his schedule and his friends and his enjoyment. The card my daughter picked said "I realize how lucky I was to have someone like you to depend on" and think of the days when she felt alone and needed our presence. And the Snoopy card my youngest chose offering a hug instead of a clean room - yeah that's right. They think so much of me yet, there is so much more that I wish I could do but know that I should not or can not do. I wish there was an easier road for them to take but there isn't. I cannot interfere with their choices in love even when I know the partner is so wrong for them. I can not make their coach pick them for a play even though I know they should be picked because they are that good. I cannot ask their friends not to disappoint them by canceling plans last minute. If I did, that would be the utmost sin a parent can do. These are the facts of life - it isn't always fair and there isn't any other way to learn it except to get through it. Yes, I deserve a lot of credit for doing the hardest thing a parent can do and that is not to parent. I let them fall and I don't sleep that night because I don't want them to feel the pain. I sometimes wonder how my own mother did it. I was not a perfect child. In my young adult years, I stayed out too late, dated the wrong guy and made the wrong choices about my future. I guess the answer is that she let me fall and because of it, things didn't turn out too bad after all. She never seemed to struggle with those decisions. She just seemed to me to be a smart woman who put her needs aside for me and for who I could depend on. I can only hope.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

When there's no time to color the eggs, make deviled eggs

I could never get my arms around Easter. It begins with lent where one has to give up something they love for 40 days to prove to the world that they can suffer. This tradition had to be invented by a man who didn't know what it was like to stay up all night with a sick child. In Armenian culture, it is typical to give up all dairy products, meat, poultry and sweets for lent. My mother would do this and then on the Saturday before Easter she would fast all day, culminating in her taking communion at around 7:30 pm when she could finally eat something. At that point, and due to her weakened and irritable condition, we had already gotten into several fights where she would throw every verbal insult at me that had been hold up inside her all year. Oh well, it was only once a year and I got to understand it as I got older. And in some way, this denial of food made her feel good. My mother loved Easter. I tried to but found it a difficult holiday. Easter is always on a Sunday which means I have to cook for the crowd and then go to work the next day exhausted. Its about making bread which I am terrible at. Its about coloring eggs which, to me, is a waste of a good food product. The colored eggs sits in a basket for decoration, breeding bacteria, making the egg inedible and smelly. So this year, with Thomas on crutches and Anthony working the restaurant, we had a quiet holiday with just us. Tony and I had a meal of cheese, fruit, spinach pies, grapeleaves and ham with a nice pinot noir. I hard-boiled the eggs with intentions of coloring them but decided to make deviled eggs instead. I liked my Easter this year more than any other. Some traditions do not stand the test of time and the world isn't any worse for it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ups and Downs

I don't know why but in March I usually feel out of sorts and become victim to a creative meltdown. It is a month where, much like the weather, life becomes unpredictable. Looking back to last year, the same thing happened around the same time. My thoughts dried up then as now as evident by the fact that I have not written anything in several weeks. It may be writer's block or that an emotional roller coaster is over taking my thought processes. I can't use any of the traditional women hormonal excuses because I am way beyond that. No it is life that is having it's ups and downs and here is why: Good news:
  • I celebrated 5 years free of breast cancer. Doctor gave me a clean bill of health and told me not to come back for a year.
  • I have completed my first 2 years of college to get an associates degree. I am taking a break while I ponder what I will do next.
  • I still have a job, we are not in foreclosure and we can still afford to send my kid to college.
Bad news: My beloved Uncle Paul in Australia died Friday. Having been diagnosed with advanced cancer, he succumbed this past week with his son and daughter at his side. I hate that I will never see him again. I miss him already. Very bad news: Thomas has to have surgery to correct a tumor that has grown larger in his left knee. Scheduled Friday, 4/3. Good news: The tumor is benign, he has a surgeon that is chief of orthopedic surgery at Mt. Sinai and he is on spring break the week after surgery so he can recover without loosing too much school time. (That's probably not good news to him.) Feeling sorry for myself news: I canceled the Whistler trip to be with my son. And with all this, I gave up drinking during the week for Lent. Is it Friday yet?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Young

I came across this blog somewhere and I have been following it for sometime. I think I started reading it because she had some insights into NYC and then the blogger got pregnant. Her last post is about how concerned she is about this breastfeeding thing. It expressed so much of what I felt when I had my first child; confused, concerned and convinced I was doing everything wrong. I wanted to post a comment but she already had 62 comments of people telling her what they did and what she should do. I could not read them all but knowing what I know 23 years later, the kid will survive and probably because we are the kind of mother that posts blogs looking for reassurance. There should be some form of a formal mentoring system where you have an older parent around to help you get through these early years - somewhat like an intern system. In truth, with my first, Anthony, I had a cesarean and my mother came to help me for a week. The day she left, I cried feeling insecure and frightened that I would not be a good mother. Maybe that is the way to go - like birds, throw them out of the nest and let them fly. Somehow they survive and survive they do. I look at my kids now. They are young adults and I am still struggling with trying to stay out of their lives and letting them fly. I remember some of the times that made me feel that I was the worst mother on earth. When Anthony got his legs stuck in the crib bars and couldn't move for what seemed to be forever. I remember when Christine cried one night for longer than I wished but I was so tired I just prayed she would go to sleep. And Thomas who broke his arm one day when the babysitter claimed she was paying attention, and I knew she wasn't. Those memories last in me, but luckily not in them. I wish I could get them to do the things I am sure will get them to their goals faster, but I can't. I wish they would be happy all the time, but they won't be. In my life, I learned by flying alone. It is how they will learn and they will, but in their due time. So my blogger friend, it won't come easy, but it will come. I'm at least grateful that I am not worrying about breastfeeding, diapers and play dates. My kids turned out okay either because of me or in spite of me, but no matter, they are loved and will love. That is all that matters some days.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


For the last 18 months, I have been working towards getting a degree. I am in my last two classes and one of them is algebra. It sucks. What pisses me off is that I will never use this in any part of my life. I will never use symbols to calculate an answer and I will never understand why I need to know this if I will not be an engineer. I am a writer not an engineer. I don't want to know y=mx+b or need to know it. In 3 weeks, if I don't pass algebra, I will not have a degree. I did what I had to. I told my sons that I would be willing to pay them $1,000 each if they will help me get through algebra. When I was in high school, a hundred years ago, I took algebra. I had just as hard of a time then as I do now. So much that the algebra teacher told me that the only way he would pass me is if I promised him I would never take another algebra class again. He's probably dead now so I think I am safe. So after 18 months, I am in the last of my required courses. One ends on March 6 and the last one (algebra) ends on March 20. It is so worth it to me to get through this to get the degree but I will never Y=mx+b in my life. Have you ever? It seems silly but I have illusions of what I plan to do after I get this degree and it has nothing to do with algebra
  1. I want to read something I am not required to read.
  2. I want to clean my house.
  3. I want to make a dress. I use to sew and hope to do so again.
  4. I want to go out for dinner on Friday nights and not worrying about my next assignment.
To celebrate my accomplishment, I booked a weekend in New York City for March 20 (great deal), and my Vancouver ski trip for April 8. So, I have to pass this course. In the meantime, if you know what Y = mx+b means, let me know. Otherwise, pray for me.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Waiting Game

I am sick. Sick with a sore throat that kills when I swallow. I’m also sick of everyone’s complaints of winter. Hubby is in the garage, staring at the snow and at his motorcycle. He listens to the weather - more snow coming, temperatures in the single digits. He waits and dreams of California and waits for winter to be over. Anthony looks at motorcycle magazines planning, plotting and waiting. Christine, maybe the only smart one, booked a vacation to Florida where she has been for the last week. She will return today probably with some awesome tan and look to plan her next trip – and wait till then. Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Thomas will watch the game and then wait till next fall when the football season starts again. He is also waiting for college acceptance letters (particularly one) and hopefully will be playing football for the college of his choice. We all wait. A few weeks ago, Tony and I took off on a Friday and went skiing at Mountain Creek. The conditions there were the best I have ever experienced at this NJ mountain. But, I guess if you don’t ski, winter is just one long wait. So, here’s my response to winter. I booked a trip in April to Whistler, Vancouver to ski with my Houston girlfriend who I went to Banff with last year. To a skier, winter just isn’t long enough. I can’t wait till April.

Monday, January 12, 2009


In the house we had before this one, I had a room I called Val-Kill. I named it after the cottage that Eleanor Roosevelt had in Hyde Park, NY – her place, her things, her sanctuary. I named my room Val-Kill for the same reason. In a house filled with toys, sporting equipment and a 12’ x 30' model train room, this small 10’ x 12’ room was mine. I decorated the window with sheer, white curtains, and the walls with blue painted wainscoting with soft off-white colored walls above it. It was minimally furnished with a desk, single bed, and my computer. On the wall hung an inexpensive, framed poster of the Van Gough painting, “First Steps” where a child takes his first steps towards the outstretched arms of his father. The room stored my hobbies, my memories and my life, past and present. It was the room I had imagined my mother would have when she would visit and hopefully would live in someday. Like Eleanor, my mother was the savior of lost soul. If you didn’t have a place to go at any holiday or would like a nice Armenian meal, you were invited to my mother’s house for dinner. Her charitable contributions consisted of regularly taking 2 buses to Jersey City to visit our elderly, shut-in relative who looked forward to the homemade dish my mother would bring. Like Eleanor’s children, I felt second string to my mother’s business (dressmaking), selfishly wanting just to enjoy her company. When I was younger, her quality time with me was going to a client’s home where I would sit quietly waiting until she finished fitting the dress on her customer. Returning home on the bus, we would talk for a while but inevitably, she would doze off to catch some desperately needed sleep. She seemed to exist on 4 – 5 hours a night and many a time, after I moved out of the house, I would be driving by her house on my way home at some un-Godly hour, seeing the silhouette of my mother in the dimly lit attic window, sewing to finish some customer’s dress. When I think back on it now, I wish I had been more of a help to her and less self-absorbed with the “all-about-me” teenage attitude. I’ll never be as talented as her or as generous as her but I am her daughter so I am lucky to be a product of this great woman. I remember her this week as her birthday, January 14, approaches. She never did get to live in my Val-Kill, just in my heart forever.