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From Grind to Whine 2013 Year in Review

December 31, 2013

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

2013 Crunchy numbers

2013 Attractions

2013 How did they find you

2013 Where did they come from

2013 Who Were They

see you in 2014

Thanks to all who have visited in 2013!  I hope to bring more fun and interesting stuff in 2014!

Happy New Year, everyone!!


See how this year compares to previous years:

From Grind to Whine 2012 Year in Review

From Grind to Whine 2011 Year in Review

6 Ways to Keep the Kids Believing in Christmas

December 12, 2013


My son and daughter watching Santa arrive at our town's annual Christmas Walk

My son and daughter watching Santa arrive at our town’s annual Christmas Walk

There’s a rumor going around that some of the kids in my son’s 4th grade class are mouthing off that there is no Santa Claus.  Now, I know some of these kids are older than my very young 9-year-old who won’t turn 10 until this summer.  I know that this is the normal age that kids stop believing.  But I am not ready for this milestone.  Especially because he is my oldest and I really don’t want Christmas to be ruined for his two younger siblings.

I still remember the day I stopped believing.  I was 11 years old.  A naive, innocent, sixth grader.  I was sitting at a lunch table with my friends when one of them casually said, “You know Santa’s not real, right?”

Not wanting to seem stupid or uncool, I nodded and said, “Oh yeah, of course,” between bites of my sandwich.  I slowly chewed whatever it was I was eating, not wanting to swallow any food anymore.  On the outside, I was calm and unworried.  But on the inside, I was crushed.  I felt like someone was squeezing my heart and ripping it out of my chest.  I felt stupid; I felt sad.  I felt like someone I loved had died, but I couldn’t show it.  I felt like crying, but didn’t want my friends to think I was a baby.  That 11-year-old memory is so clear that I still feel as heartbroken now, telling the story, as I did then.

My son hasn’t shown any signs of not believing yet.  But I see him watching closely, taking it all in.  He is very much like me in that regard.  Even after that fateful lunch period, I still didn’t go home and tell my parents what I had learned.  I kept it all inside, until I came to terms with it on my own.  I have a feeling that’s how he will handle it, too.  I just hope he believes a little while longer.

Here’s the thing about not believing in Santa and all of the magic of Christmas.  It turns kids from innocents with pure hearts into skeptics.  It transforms them into doubters and makes them question everything in life.  Of course, this would naturally happen anyway, as it’s part of growing up, but what’s the harm in holding off that unpleasant inevitability for another year or two?

So parents, this is what I ask of you.

PLEASE do not rush this discovery.

PLEASE allow them to stay little, for just a little while longer.

Follow these ideas for helping the kids continue to believe.  And, if your child is one who has stopped believing, PLEASE sit them down and tell them NOT to talk to other kids about it.  Your little smarty-pants just might be crushing a classmate from the inside out.

How to Keep the Kids Believing in Christmas:

1.  The Elf on the Shelf — Either do the elf or don’t.  But be sure you’re willing to take on the responsibility. You don’t have to get crazy, but try not to follow some cookie-cutter identical schedule followed by every household either!  And, as with Santa, if your kid doesn’t have an elf, or doesn’t believe, sit them down for a talk about keeping quiet on the subject.

2.  Elfie Joe's potpourri Christmas treeThe Elf Stands Alone, Part 1 —  Please stop sharing pics of your kids hugging your elf.  If my kids see them, they’ll wonder why all elves don’t follow the same rules and will begin to doubt.

3.  Be Tight With Santa — Santa cooperates with parents.  Explain that we tell Santa what we get you to avoid duplicates.  Sometimes Mommy forgets who got what for whom.  We cooperate.  We work together.  Yes, some of what was on Mommy’s Amazon wish list was actually delivered by Santa, not by the post office.

4.  The Elf Stands Alone, Part 2.  Regular toys don’t come to life during the year.  The elf is the only one who moves, hides and plays tricks.  No leprechauns, no birthday fairies, and no mischievous dinosaurs.  Keep the elf special and unique by not doing the exact same thing all year long.

5. Take the credit.  It’s okay to get credit for doing things as parents.  If you want to see that look of awe and magical wonder on your kids’ faces, surprise them as much as you want!  But it’s okay to admit that you, the parents, have done this wonderful thing for them.  Let them experience that amazing special feeling that they are so important to their family, that their parents would do something magical for them.  Santa doesn’t need all of the credit.  He’s very good about sharing.

6.  Watch the movies.  Explain questions as they arise, but keep quiet if they don’t.  And, for the love of God, don’t turn it off halfway through because you’re afraid that the movie may make them question their belief.  Every Christmas movie has a happy ending.  The kids need to see that to know that the doubt gets resolved!

Please help keep kids just a little sweeter and more innocent for just a little while longer.  Talk to older kids about the importance of keeping quiet around their friends and siblings.  And encourage the younger kids to believe.  We all could use a little more Christmas magic.

Christmas Walking in a Small Town

December 12, 2013

Originally published in 2010
Christmas Walk Santa bank roofI am relatively new to the town of New Providence. My family and I moved here a little over three years ago from Charlotte, NC, where we were for six years. For those of you not familiar with Charlotte, it’s a sprawling, mid-size Southern city. It’s usually toward the bottom of the list of Top 25 US cities by population, but it’s there. With New York and Philly as our two closest cities to us here in northern Jersey (both in the top 5 of the population list, by the way), we may not perceive it as a “big” city, but there is no denying that it definitely is a city, not a small town.

Even though I was in Charlotte for so long, I am a true Jersey girl. I grew up in Morris Plains and went to school in Morristown. So when we decided to move back to NJ, I knew that I was coming home. I wanted to make sure we moved back to a small town like the one in which I was raised. A town where you could walk from one end of town to the other if you had to, even though no one really does. A town that had functions like Rotary breakfasts and small-town parades and street fairs. I knew my cousins had grown up in New Providence years ago, and that it fit the good schools and small town bill, so we moved here in the fall of 2006.

The Christmas season came on fast that year for us. With the craziness of moving and settling in, it felt like we barely had time to breathe before we were putting up our tree and lights. We didn’t know many people here then, so when my aunt called to tell me that the New Providence Christmas Walk was the Friday after Thanksgiving and we should go, we went. We wanted to take advantage of the small-town things like this that were the reason for our move.

After six years of living in the city of Charlotte, it was that night, at our first Christmas Walk, that I discovered the true joy of coming home. We were only a family of four then. My oldest son was only two and my youngest had just had his first birthday, so we had the double stroller for them, but soon lifted them out onto our shoulders to enjoy the sights. They pointed and laughed as Santa appeared on the roof of the bank and was brought down in the bucket of the fire truck. They clapped along to the high school marching band playing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” and looked around in wide-eyed fascination at the crowd who walked behind the truck and the band down the streets of their new home town.

We followed the crowd that night to the lawn of the Presbyterian church where we pet the live animals and gathered around to watch the children perform the story of the first Christmas. There were many memorable moments for me that night, but the one that hit me the most was standing there that night when the town started to sing Christmas carols together on the lawn of the church in front of the live nativity. There was something about singing “Silent Night,” along with strangers sandwiched together on a cold night outside of a small-town church that just made me feel like I was home.

I will never forget my feelings from that night. I was almost in tears from being just so happy as we loaded our family back up in the car to head home. After we got back and put the boys to bed, I sat down and emailed all of my friends in Charlotte about this Norman Rockwell experience we had just had. I knew then that this would be a tradition our family would repeat year after year.

Three years and four Christmas Walks later, this small town does not disappoint. I now recognize faces of friends and neighbors as I walk through town and take part in the festivities, though. My sons are now in school and we have our daughter to join in and experience the wonder as well. My parents join us for the Walk every year now, too. In fact, I just learned this year, that they used to come with my aunt and uncle for this experience when they were dating.

I am one of those people who loves music and finds meaning in song lyrics. I had adopted Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Come Home” as my own personal theme song for our move back to NJ in 2006. Every year after we go to the New Providence Christmas Walk, I remember that song and that night. I am able to relive the magic and wonder of feeling a part of a small town again and the absolute joy at realizing that, although this wasn’t my childhood home town, it was our new home town that would give us memories and moments like this to just take in and take with us for the rest of our lives.

As one Jersey boy put it:

“It doesn’t matter where you are; it doesn’t matter where you go

If it’s a million miles away or just a mile up the road

Take it in, take it with you when you go

Who says you can’t go home.”

Kids Christmas 2009









First published by The Alternative Press.

Christmas Rejects

December 4, 2013

IMG_1161My kids are great sports.  Every year, come December, they put up with my alter ego:  Crazy Picture Lady.  They suffer through clothing changes and get shuffled from place to place.  Crazy Picture Lady only comes around once a year, but can stick around for as many as three or four days, depending on how tough it is to get a shot good enough to be deemed “The Christmas Card Photo.”

One year, I counted and took 281 pictures of my kids to get one useable photo for our family Christmas cards. (This year may have come close to that. Good thing I didn’t count!) Thank goodness for digital photography and the “continuous” option on my camera that just keeps the pictures snapping away while I hold down the button to try to get one shot of all three kids looking in the same direction with something resembling smiles on their faces.

As I shuffle through the hundreds of photos on my computer, trying to find the perfect one, I have a great time laughing at some of the rejects. One year, our baby girl’s Santa hat was completely covering her eyes, so all you could see was her little nose and mouth. In another, my younger son had a wide open mouth full of food for the world to see. In yet another, my oldest son was giving his brother bunny ears.  I laugh as I see them looking at each other and laughing at their crazy mommy. So I saved a few of the rejects to share this year, just because they’re so much fun. In fact, a couple of the rejects are now on my computer desktop because they’re my new favorites. They actually show my kids’ true personalities. And they reflect the reality that is our family. Far from perfect, but much more fun.

Putting my album of rejects together made me think of all the misfit toys from my favorite Christmas show, the old-school Rankin-Bass production of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Those cute little misfits were the rejects of their lot, too. A train with square wheels, a Charlie-in-the-box, a bird fish, and a spotted elephant. All deemed too imperfect to be played with. But they’ve ended up as stars of the show now. Even Santa recognizes their value in the end.

IMG_1165 (2)The Christmas season is filled with so much magic and wonder, but so many of us make ourselves crazy trying to get everything perfect. We want our table to look “just so” for our guests, our house decked to perfection in every room, even our landscape twinkling with perfectly spaced lights on every tree or bush. Yes, it’s a magical time, but I think the misfits and rejects are what make it so magical.

Some of my favorite ornaments on my Christmas tree are old and faded and worn. There are threadbare hand-knit ornaments that my grandmother made for my parents’ tree, paint-chipped toy soldiers and snowmen that were gifts to me as a kid, and one little bear ball that my Nana had bought the year she passed away. I collect Christmas angels as my favorite decorations and my three favorite angels are each broken or worn in some way. But I take them out of their boxes every year and remember the time, place and person who gave them to me with warmth and fondness. If I could find brand new versions of the same favorite angels, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. It’s their imperfections that give them character. I suppose I have my own misfit choir of Christmas angels. But I love them.

So I thought I’d send out a misfit version of a Christmas wish for all of you. Instead of wishing that your holiday season be filled with perfection, I actually am wishing that you’re able to find the joy in all of the misfits and rejects you encounter. May your wreaths hang a little crooked, your cookies come out a little crumbly, and your Christmas card photos be crazy. I wish for you that all the imperfections of the season bring you nothing but joy and laughter and fodder for future Christmas stories worth retelling.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!







(First published by The Alternative Press.)

Want more Christmas posts?  If you liked this post, you’ll love

Twelve Ways to Save Your Butt When Your Elf on the Shelf Forgets to Move

Nightmare on Elf Street

The Christmas Tree Tutorial – Perfection in 10 OCD Steps

13 Signs Your Kids Are Rubbing Off On You

Christmas Lessons Learned From My Three Year Old

Three Great Kid Jobs to Actually Help with Christmas Baking

My House of Faceless Angels

Realistic Fitness for the Holidays

“Merry Christmas, My Friend” By Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt, 1986


Realistic Fitness for the Holidays

November 26, 2013

changing-seasons1We are heading into the final turn on 2013, which means Thanksgiving in a few days followed by Christmas and New Year’s, all of which involve lots of eating rich foods and drinking many glasses of wine and egg nog.  The cumulative result is that about ten pounds of excess me will arrive in time to be wrapped in multiple layers of sweaters and fleece for the winter.

The truth is, I’ve discovered that I am a two-season exerciser and a two-season glutton.  It’s a cyclical thing.  In the winter, we cover up our bodies to protect ourselves from the cold, but all of those layers hide the evidence of our indulgence.  Therefore, I continue to eat and stay warm in my house instead of bracing myself against the cold to hit the gym.

Come spring, however, the warmth and fresh air calls to me and I can’t wait to get my running sneakers out from under my piles of sweatshirts to hit the street.  I’m a fair-weather runner, but during the spring, I can’t get enough of it.  And when I’m out running, working so hard to extend my distance or decrease my time, I recognize that healthy eating habits go hand-in-hand with fitness.  So every spring, I tend to lose the added winter weight from a combination of exercise and better diet.

But just as the spring beckons to me to go outside and run, the humidity of summer saps my energy and I find myself skipping more and more runs.  Summer also means a more relaxed lifestyle, with more frequent glasses of wine with friends, too.  Sitting on the beach all day with a book, followed by wine and fresh seafood at night means those pounds creep back on again.  By the end of August, that bathing suit body I was so proud to show off in June is ready to hide under a cover-up.

Thankfully, the crisp air of fall pushing out the smothering heat of summer gets me moving again.  Going for a run, watching the leaves on the trees turn their rainbow of colors and filling my lungs with autumn air brings the second wave of healthy habits for the year.  Back to school, back to routine, and back to my skinny jeans means cutting back on the adult beverages and enjoying soup for lunch instead of guacamole and chips with a margarita.

So here I am again, where the end of fall meets the beginning of winter and I look at my cycle and try to find a way to keep from adding those winter pounds back on.  My first step was to recognize my habits.  But now my second step is doing something about it.  If you find that you are like me and don’t want to bring back the winter weight that comes with the holiday season, join me in a few challenges.

One Mile a Day, No Excuses!!running santa hat

I hate treadmill running.  There is absolutely no pull to do it, and no release that comes from running on the dreadmill like there is with running outdoors.  That said, I’m going to suck it up and do this Holiday Running Streak that I found on RunnersWorld.  No matter how much you hate it, anyone can run one stinkin’ mile per day.  I bring my book down to the basement with me and read for the 10-15 mins it takes to muscle through one mile.  Really, that’s all it takes.  There is NO excuse valid enough that you can’t do 15 mins.


I read once that anything becomes habit if you keep at it for 30 days straight.  It’s why I like 30-day fitness challenges.  This one is 30 days of planks to take you from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  I did a similar push-up challenge one year leading up to Valentine’s Day and it really worked.  Just like running one mile per day, this requires you to adopt a no-excuses attitude.  If you stick to it, you’ll really feel stronger with less neck and back pain.  Those are my goals anyway.




Beat Something Up – Kickboxingkickboxing-1

I have always been a sucker for a great kickboxing class.  Whether it’s cardio kickboxing to music, or sparring with an instructor with impact, I love the movement, the aggression, and high that comes from focused kicks and punches.  After talking about it for ages, we finally found a deal and hung a heavy bag in our basement.  It doesn’t take long to work up a sweat and release stress and anger.  Plus, I’m feeling my core getting stronger every day.  My own routine is pretty simple.  I do reps of 10-20 on each side for arms and legs.

For arms, my favorites include straight jabs, jab-cross combinations, and what I call kidney shots because I don’t know the proper name for them.  If my heavy bag is a person, I’m using an around and up motion where the kidneys would be.  I finish off with some elbows and rear kicks toward the back (imagine you’re fighting more than one person, using your elbows to jab the guy behind you, and your feet to finish him off).  I may be watching too many spy shows and action movies.

For legs, nothing is a better workout than a slew of roundhouse kicks.  Aim them high for greater flexibility or center them to really see how far you can move the bag.  Front kicks, rear kicks and side kicks should all be rotated as well.  For me, it’s not about precision.  If I had an instructor with me in my basement, I’d probably get annoyed from them telling me what I’m doing wrong.  Whatever feels good, do it.  Just be aware of your wrists and ankles and don’t overdo it.  Some slides with pictures of each move are listed here if you don’t know where to start.

Lemon Water!lemon water

Finally, to balance out my poor eating habits during these months of gluttony, I am turning to lemon water once again.  When I first encountered this stuff during a cleanse, I hated it.  But I’ve since learned that drinking it super hot, and with only 2 slices of fresh lemon per cup of hot water, I actually enjoy it.  I drink a cup every morning before my coffee.  Then I have more throughout the day.  If I’m hungry, I drink a cup of lemon water first.  If I’m thirsty, another cup.  If I’m cold, another cup.  If I’m hot, I have it cold over ice.  I don’t know if it’s mind over matter or what, but my appetite and snack cravings are curbed.  And I keep telling myself that the extra fluids plus the vitamin C from the lemons must be helping to keep me healthy while the rest of my family suffers from coughs and colds.

What Works for You?

So those are my newest habits that I’m adopting for the next month or so.  I’ll let you know how I fared, come January.  Tell me, what works for you during this crazy season?  Share in the comments, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

Dear Hershey’s Chocolate Company, Please Update Your Packaging.

November 7, 2013

Robbie Thomas Lego picI am a mom.  I am a chocolate lover.  I am a huge fan of the Hershey Company.  Not just for their products, but also for their values, their history, and their social responsibility as a major corporation.  I had the privilege of doing my student teaching at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA.  I know that their social endeavors stem from a rich heritage of using corporate dollars to help those in need.

However, I see an issue that, as a mom, as a mom who is lucky enough to have allergy-free kids, makes me feel like the Hershey Company is not doing enough.

While my own children are blessed to be free from any allergies, their friends are not.  My oldest son’s best friend has a life-threatening nut allergy.  I have heard that term, “life-threatening nut allergy” many times over the past five years that they have been friends.  I know that this friend’s parents have been very pro-active in teaching their son, their son’s teachers, friends, and friends’ parents about his allergy.  But I didn’t really realize how absolutely terrifying it is to live with the threat that something as simple as a misread label can take a life.  Not until last night.

Last night, I got a call from my son’s friend’s little sister, asking to come to our house so her dad could ride in an ambulance to the hospital with her brother who was having an allergic reaction.  The culprit?  A mini Hershey bar…with almonds.

Hershey vs Hershey with almonds

You see, while his parents have taught him how to read labels, and while they as a family go through his Halloween candy to pick out anything containing nuts, something slipped through.  Instead of tucking into a delicious dessert in the form of a milk chocolate candy bar, he bit into one with almonds, which triggered the events that had him rushed to the hospital.

Because his parents are so diligent, and his mom is a nurse, he is okay.  His dad administered the epi-pen, called the ambulance and got him to the care he needed in time.  But, before being whisked away, he cried out, “Dad, hurry!  I don’t want to die tonight!”

A nine-year-old kid had the terrifying fear that his life might end because of a misread label.

Two days ago, I reached into my kids’ Halloween candy and grabbed what I thought was a plain Hershey bar.  By mistake, I grabbed one with almonds.  I didn’t realize it until I bit into it.  After all, you can see how similar the packaging is.  My reaction was one of surprise because I was tasting something for which I wasn’t prepared.  I like almonds just fine.  I just wasn’t expecting them.  So I ate the rest and went on my merry way.

But this boy had the exact same experience I did, yet it put him in the hospital, fearing for his life.

I know the Hershey Company is a very responsible, ethical, caring corporation.  I know how highly they value the well-being of children.  So I ask for this.

Please, Hershey Chocolate Company.  Please update your packaging to more clearly delineate your plain chocolate from your products that contain nuts.  Especially your iconic Hershey bar…with almonds.

A simple change in print color, background color, something could mean the difference between life and death.  While this was a fortunate outcome with a healthy boy, the very fact that he feared even for a single second for his life is not okay.

I cannot imagine how terrifying it must be to worry about your child’s life in this way on a daily basis.  All I know is that a company as responsible as Hershey’s can take a simple step to relieving one more source of that terror for thousands of parents and children everywhere.

I Trick or Treated at the Ocean’s Door

October 19, 2013


I trick-or-treated
at the ocean’s door.
She gave me this,
Then I asked for some more.

Her thunderous waves told me,
“Walk in the sand,”
With every step,
I had more in my hand.

She continued to give
As I strolled along,
Her rhythmic surf
My accompanying song.

The lapping of waves,
The cries from the gull,
I kept picking up treasures
Till my pockets were full.

Grateful for my treats
I thanked my ocean friend,
Scanned the horizon,
then turned back again.

I trick-or-treated
at the ocean’s door.
She gave me so much
I could not ask for more.



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