This Christmas holiday season was one of the best I have had in years. It was also one of the busiest. It is never easy when you are working three jobs, have a book to edit as well as writing one and have six blog sites to maintain, all while looking for full time work. Squeezing the holidays is interesting when you have a full plate.
After Halloween was behind me, I put ‘MywalkinManhattan’ on hold to concentrate on the holiday season. Halloween kept me really busy with my jobs, volunteer work and community service that I like to perform. I swear that my feet did not touch the ground until January 2nd of the New Year.
Work is my always my first priority and my students dazzled me in class with their final group project presentation, ‘Buscomonzefi.com’, a simulated tech start-up company (See Day- Ninety-Eight-‘MywalkinManhattan’). Working with my students on the project took a lot of my time up as well as my job consulting for the Department of Disability Services and working on my blog, ‘BergenCountyCaregiver’. I am very proud to say we welcomed our 3000th visitor to the site. There were lots of activities and charitable functions that I did supplemented my free time.
First, we had set up for the Annual Christmas Tree Sale for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association right before Thanksgiving. Our set up clashed with the Cornell/Penn football game.
It was a heartbreaking loss at the last second at Penn
Being the dedicated Alumni, I ran down to Philly for the Cornell-Penn Game (and watched us lose in the final second when the ball was intercepted in the end zone, which would have tied the game). It was a heart breaker but was my excuse of not being there for day of set-up.
Christmas Tree Set-Up
So I decided to rake the whole site the Friday before I left for the game. There were not too many leaves on the site and I spent about an hour and a half raking the site and piling leaves. The rest of the guys met and took care of the set-up for the site. The Saturday after Thanksgiving was tree delivery day. With all the members of the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association present, we unloaded 315 Christmas trees (up from 285 the year before.
Me selling trees as it appeared in the Community News Paper
Our Christmas tree sale is the main fundraiser for the Association and last year we gave out ten $650.00 scholarships. We were hoping to sell more this year to give out more this year. I am very proud to say that as a group we sold all 315 trees by December 19th and were able to donate a few to ex-members families and our local church. We even donated a free tree to a local senior resident where we set it up and took it down. This is my 18th year on the organization and I have never seen trees sell so fast (See my commercial on YouTube under ‘Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association below and see the picture above).
Thanksgiving this year had some sad twists to it. My uncle had been very sick and my family had no formal plans for the holidays. Not to burden anyone with me, I went to visit my friend, Lillian (See ‘Day Seventy-Six-MywalkinManhattan’) out on Long Island for the holiday. I knew she would be alone and I thought this might cheer her up. I can’t think of a more magical Thanksgiving I have had in the last several years.
Lillian and I have been friends for 24 years and she has seen me through a lot. She was there for me during job changes and college comings and goings and a shoulder to cry on when my father passed away. Now at 99 and having outlived most of her immediate family, I wanted to be there for her.
Lillian and I
Thanksgiving could not have been nicer. I was able to get to the assisted living facility in an hour and twenty minutes so we were able to spend more time together. The facility had a lovely dinner for us in the formal dining room in the building that is used (I guess) for special occasions. We sat with all the other families and had a nice dinner of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and string bean casserole. For dessert, we had a slice of pumpkin and apple pie.
After the dinner was over, we joined the other family members in the other dining room for entertainment. It was nice because I was able to relax and digest before the long ride home. The singer performed songs from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and I could tell by the humming along most of the residents appreciated something more contemporary.
What I liked was how happy it made Lillian, who liked the afternoon out in her own home. We had a long talk about her life in the facility, her family and friends and at 99, I could not believe how sharp she was about life and everything around her. It just goes to show that people are more observant than they let on and people at nursing homes know exactly what is going on. I would see Lillian later on in the holiday season (See Part Two-This is Christmas).
After Thanksgiving, it was the Christmas Parade in Hasbrouck Heights with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department. This annual tradition has been going on in my town for years and the fire department is usually at the end of the parade with Santa following. There is always a lot of last minute running around at the firehouse before we leave for the parade, including wiping down the truck. My biggest contribution is the double batch of milk chocolate brownies that the guys want me to make every year.
Engine One in the Hasbrouck Heights Holiday Parade
The crowds of people really seem to enjoy the parade although I have to say that the crowds at the Woodstock parade on Christmas Eve when I visit Woodstock, NY have been bigger. The whole downtown is ablaze with lights and at the end of the downtown on the circle in Hasbrouck Heights, we have the annual Christmas Tree lighting at the end of the parade. The funny part is once that tree is lit, everyone scatters and the event is over. Within twenty minutes, you would never know that there was a parade.
After the parade was over, the next morning was Christmas tree delivery for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association. 315 trees were delivered that morning and with a crowd of thirty men and their sons, we got the trees unloaded and tagged for sale for that afternoon. I was surprised we sold a few trees after they had been tagged. Three trees went off the lot within fifteen minutes after we finished the tagging. People really like to make a head start on their holiday decorating.
As the week went on their were other preparations for the holidays, including me hand-writing 90 Christmas cards for members of the fire fighting community (not only am I the Engine One Company Secretary but I am also the Department Secretary as well for a decade and five years respectively). That on top of the ones I have to do for family and friends.
I packed everything up and headed down to Rehoboth Beach, DE that Wednesday for my mother’s 81st birthday. I swear, I don’t think my mom has aged that much since she was in her sixties. She looks terrific and keeps herself super active. I was surprised that she had time on her birthday to see me! It is always nice spending time with her.
My mom and my siblings and I have a favorite meal my mother calls ‘the dinner’ that she makes for us when we are in town. ‘The Dinner’ is breaded veal cutlets, spaghetti with marinara sauce and a salad with lots of oil and vinegar. That is the meal we had on my first night there. We just caught up and laughed. We always have a nice time when I come down to her house.
My brothers and I with our mom
For her birthday, I took her and her partner to the Blue Moon Restaurant at 35 Baltimore Avenue in downtown Rehoboth Beach (See review on TripAdvisor). The food here is always wonderful and the service is excellent. The best part was that even though it was the 30th of November, the whole place was decorated for Christmas. I had the most wonderful beef stroganoff with sauted broccoli and a wonderful tart for dessert. The food and the service here are just excellent and I can tell that the two of them enjoyed themselves as well.
The best part of the two days that I was here was that I got two great nights of sleep and that really helped with the second part of the weekend. I had to leave right after breakfast and drive four hours home to check my emails and change my clothes as I was heading up another two hours to Rhinebeck, NY for the Annual Mills Mansion Christmas fundraising cocktail party and the Sinterklaas Parade on Saturday. After that I had to head home for the Bergen County Firemen’s Home Christmas Party at the Firemen’s Home in Boonton, NJ. I swear I ran all over the place this weekend.
After I arrived home, I quickly went through all of my mail and emails and bills and got everything sent out. I changed my clothes and got in the car for the weekends volunteer events.
I got up to Rhinebeck with an hour to spare before the cocktail party and fundraiser for the Friends of the Mills Mansion. The Mills Mansion in Staatsburgh, right below Rhinebeck was the home of Ruth (nee Livingston) and Ogden Mills until Mrs. Mills death in the 20’s. I remember visiting the house in the early 2000’s for research on my book and it was falling apart then.
Mills Mansion at the holidays
Now there has been a whole series of successful fundraising to continue the restoration of the house and its contents. The Annual Christmas fundraiser is a lot of fun and a way to give back to the house. From 6:00pm to 8:00pm, we had cocktails and hors oeuvres in the main dining room that the Mill’s used to entertain. The food was catered by the Culinary Institute of America and was excellent. Many of the members kids help pass out the food and it was a nice way to get them involved.
There must have been about 150 people at the event and it is always so nice to see people dressed up for an event. Everyone was in either suits or dresses and it fit the mood of an elegant get-together the way the Mills would have had it. The dining room and tables were all decorated for the holidays as was the rest of the house. There were trees and garland all over the house as well as decorations in all the rooms.
Me at the Mills Mansion Christmas fundraiser
I am not sure how often they used the house for the Christmas holidays but there are records of gift giving at the house by the family. We had the house to ourselves to walk around and see the decorations so we felt like invited honored guests. The best was when they put the desserts out. They served the most delicious mini eclairs and chocolate mousse in chocolate shells.
I still think the most beautiful room in the house was the library that was decked out with its own tree and presents around it. The room always seemed so homey to me and a nice place to just relax and look at the view. I highly recommend this fundraiser as now only are you raising money for much needed repairs at an interesting site but it is a night of good food and drink in an elegantly decorated private home. How many people get to be the invited guests of the Mills family at Christmas?
I don’t know if it was the two cocktails I had that evening or just the six hours worth of driving I had to do between mom’s house and the fundraiser but I went back to my hotel and completely conked out. I hit the pillow to just ‘relax’ at 9:00pm and woke up at 1:30am in the morning and then went back to bed and did not wake up until 8:00am and I had to be at the Starr Library by 10:00am for the set up for the Sinterklaas Parade the next morning.
I love participating in the Sinterklaas Parade every Christmas in Rhinebeck, NY. It is so much fun and Rhinebeck, New York is one of the most beautiful places to spend the holidays. The town is straight out of a Currier & Ives wood carving. The town is dominated by buildings are from the late 1800’s and all the stores are so beautifully decorated for the holidays accented all by the white lights on the trees and on the buildings.
When I got there in the morning, we lucked out as the weather was a brisk 48 degrees F and sunny. We unloaded all the puppets and floats from the truck and a group of about twenty of us started to assemble the items. I must be becoming an old-timer because I know at this point how to put everything together. There are some great puppets in the parade and this year’s honorary animal was the Elephant. They had a great surreal, wire-like elephant puppet that someone walked around in at the fundraiser at the Beekman Arms a few weeks earlier.
Previous puppets were put together first such as the bee and penguin puppets on a stick, the hummingbirds and the knights and dragons. We also had the traditional floats such as the dancing ballerina, the four seasons, the nature gods and my float, Mother Nature or as everyone calls her “Big Mama”. New puppets are created every year but like the Macy’s parade, everyone has their traditional favorites.
Sinterklass starting the parade
We zipped right through most of the items because having worked on the parade for the last three years (I have volunteered for the parade for 2010, 2015-2017) and at this point have worked out the kinks to them. We were done by 10:00am and were able to join everyone else at the Beekman Arms Restaurant for the Opening Ceremonies.
The Opening Ceremonies at the Beekman Arms introduces all the mascots of the day’s festivities including Mother Holly (who is always feeling jolly), the Queen Bee, the Pocket Lady, the Wish Lady, the Elephant Lady with her sidekick the Mouse, the Royal Court and the Dancing Bear. This is a big family event and there were people all over the main banquet room of the Beekman Arms to greet everyone. Johnathan Kruk, the famous story teller, was on hand at the end of the ceremony to tell the story of Sinterklaas.
All over the town for the rest of the day there were all sorts of activities. At the churches, there were all sorts of performers from choirs to band combos and singing groups. All the churches had their own activities as well as food for sale. My favorite is at the Third Evangelical Lutheran Church when they sell their hot dogs and drinks. As part of the meal, many of their members bake homemade Christmas cookies and its worth the price of the meal.
In Rhinebeck, the whole downtown is awash with Christmas decorations and groups selling baked goods and other foods to raise money for their charities. You can get the most amazing cookies and other treats as these groups really know how to bake.
All over there are craft workshops, dancers, storytellers bands, children’s performances and shows such as “Into the Light” at the Church of the Messiah, which is sold out every year. The Grumpuses, Sinterklaas’s helpers perform and dance all over the place as well as the Dancing Polar Bear dances along with a song (the guy that wears that costume is exhausted by the end of the day every year).
‘Into the Light’ pageant
I had to get back to the library by 4:00pm for set up and the get my assignment. I decided to give our coordinator a break and I walked with the ‘Mother Earth’ float. I had a nice time as all we had to do is push her down the hill and move her arms around (see YouTube video of the event under ‘Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck NY 2017).
I only get to see it from a distance but from parades past that I have viewed and to see it all on YouTube, it is quite a site when the parade guides down the hill from the Starr Library to Downtown Rhinebeck awash with colors and music. It is such an exciting and festive mood when you see the white lights and puppets all over the place with marching bands performing Christmas songs. The parade is full of lit stars which are one of the symbols of Sinterklaas.
Us holding Mother Earth in the Sinterklaas Parade
I can’t believe how the crowds have grown over the years. There must have been about three thousand people lining the street this year. We have lucked out with the weather being so mild and people were all over the place. Everyone was excited and laughed and singed along with the parade.
At the end of the parade after pushing ‘Mother Nature’ several blocks we ended up at the Grand Finale Pageant in the municipal parking lot where Sinterklaas and his court welcome everyone to the end of the parade. All the floats pass by the stage and are given their sendoff. The parking is getting more mobbed each year.
We dropped ‘Big Mama’ at the truck to be packed up and put away for next year. I left and went to the Reformed Church for the end of their Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser. I swear, these church groups know how to cook. They gave the small group of us who showed up after the parade (I could not believe that they closed it at 8:00pm when that was the end of the parade) a large portion of Spaghetti and homemade meatballs (the three meatballs were huge) along with salad and garlic bread. It hit the spot after a long day of events and the parade.
The whole downtown was quiet after the parade was over. I swear everyone went home and the first wave of people who had gone out to eat had already finished and most of the restaurants started to close after a busy day. It was the opposite of the rest of the day. It is nice to see the town lit up with white lights, quiet and peaceful finally. You could just enjoy the beauty of it.
I was in bed early that night as I had to leave Rhinebeck early to get to Boonton, NJ for the Annual Bergen County Firemen’s Home Christmas Party. I have to tell you I was exhausted having to drive back down to New Jersey and put on the happy face. It was well worth it though.
The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association Christmas Party
We have a band perform on a quarterly basis for the residents, sponsor a barbecue every summer and the holiday party is the last event of the year. I was exhausted so I was falling asleep on the couch in the main meeting room. All that driving was getting to me but it was well worth it. The look on the residents faces when we handed out the gifts on the break from the band was performing. Our organization bought all the guys a new shirt with the Bergen County Firemen’s Home logo on it. I could tell that many of them were touched.
As I handed out refreshments at the break, many of the residents said how much they felt appreciated at the holidays. Some never get to see their families. I am glad that the organization could bring a little holiday cheer to the guys.
The Members of the Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association handing out gifts
After the event was over, we all went out for a late lunch at the Columbia Inn in Montville, NJ (see review on TripAdvisor), as a group which was a nice way to end the weekend.
And to think, this is just ONE weekend at the holidays where I volunteer! This is unusual and a very long and productive holiday weekend. I would not have had it any other way!
I dedicate this blog to my uncle, Donald Snyder, who passed away the Monday night that I came home from Rhinebeck. This is sent with much love and respect to my family who had a lot to deal with during the beginning of the holidays.
Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!!
The Heartbreaker at Penn: Losing at the last second
Events to join in on in the future:
-The Hasbrouck Heights Christmas Parade is the Friday night after Thanksgiving every year.
-The Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association opens its Annual Christmas Tree sale every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We are located on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Terrace Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. (See my commercial on YouTube under the ‘Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association).
The Friends of the Mills Mansion hold their Annual Christmas Fundraiser at the mansion on the first Friday night of December.
-The Sinterklaas Parade is every year the first Saturday of December in downtown Rhinebeck, NY.
Places featured are:
The Staatsburgh State Historic Site
75 Mills Mansion 1 Road
Staatsburgh, NY 12580
My review on TripAdvisor:
My review on VisitingaMuseum.com:
Places to Eat:
*The Blue Moon
35 Baltimore Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
My review on TripAdvisor:
29 Main Avenue
Montville, NJ 07045
My review on TripAdvisor:
*Call the restaurants for their hours during the holiday season as they may differ during the year.
My Christmas Tree Video in Hasbrouck Heights
The Video of me in the Sinterklass Parade in Rhinebeck
The Buscomonzefi.com: If you would like to view the student project, here is the link: