Tradition ~ Part One

tra·di·tion ~trəˈdiSH(ə)n/ noun

the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

THEOLOGY ~ a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures, in particular.

We all have them.  Variations on a theme perhaps, but they exist in our hearts and often spill over into our present.  Especially around the holidays.  Memories that we annually duplicate with varying degrees of success.  Like the ice-box cake Emmy used to make every Christmas.  I know I speak glowingly of the woman but quite honestly, Martha Stewart she was not.  Domesticity was not her long suit but she gallantly stepped up to the plate every day as she threw herself into hearth and home.  I remember the time I asked her to help hem a coat dress ~ remember them?  Well, when I put it on one end was at least two inches shorter than the other.  Her solution was to just double fold the offending end.  She giggled and said, “At least it’s the side that goes underneath.”  She had the very best laugh.

Jay and I were walking the other morning with Riley and Harley and I was thinking about how lucky I am even though I have had some really bad stuff happen.  I’ve had some really dark moments as I’ve wandered through this tunnel they call life, but then haven’t we all?  A dear friend recently told his story of going to a shrink years ago, beginning with the opening, “you won’t believe this story.”  The shrink replied, “with all respect, there are really only five stories…the rest are all variations on the theme.”  We all like to think we are unique and individual.  Special snowflakes, and to a certain extent we are.  Yet the basic themes of our experiences are similar.  Abandonment, grief, loss, love, happiness.  There are more, I’m sure, but I’ll stop with the first five that came to mind.  If you’re lucky the good themes outweigh the bad.

I started this blog a couple of years ago with encouragement from my high school BFF, Geri.   When I got stuck, a childhood friend contacted me out of the blue and remembered things about me I had forgotten.  How much I enjoyed writing.   But I had to figure out what to write about.   It is, and will always be, a post-by-post work in progress.

The Knolls

Diane and me ~ The Knolls – reminding me I loved to write

I’ve done some interesting things and had some fascinating experiences but as far as my daily life, I’m really a pretty run of the mill extroverted introvert.  So, as in many other times during my life, I just started.  While I usually have a general idea of what I want to say I never have any idea of how I get there.  Some posts meander more than others.  I have a feeling this is one of them, so please bear with me.

Holiday traditions during my childhood included my cousin, Patty.  Our fathers were the two youngest of four sons and for many years were best friends.  Patty and I visited Santa together.  Patty and Me We spent Christmas Day together ~ and had a one-time holiday tradition of going to Radio City with our paternal grandmother to see the Rockettes.Janet and Patty

Grandma Mafera was not a warm and fuzzy type.  At all.  In hindsight, it’s obvious that life had been unkind to her emotionally but at the time she just seemed cold and more than a bit preoccupied with human tragedy.   Seriously, she kept what we called a “Book of Horrors” ~ a scrapbook containing newspaper clippings about terrible occurrences.  I think that’s all you need to know right now about the skeletons in my familial closet.

Grandma was a great baker and every year on my birthday she would make a most delicious chocolate cake.  We spent most of the summer I was seven in Rocky Point and I remember it and the party very well.  It was my brother’s first summer and Rocky Point was pretty far out on Long Island and required a trek for all concerned. yellow rock I remember my Grandmother attending said event and I also remember saying,  “Look Grandma, I have a birthday cake with my name on it.”  It was not chocolate and she did not bring it.  It came from, gasp ~ a bakery.  Unintentionally, I set off a family catastrophe.  There was never another chocolate cake…for anyone.  Ever.  Honestly, I never really noticed but then I’m not a sweet person, literally.  Years later Patty shared the tale.  “Oh yeah, after that birthday Grandma stopped baking chocolate cakes because ‘Janet wanted a cake with her name on it.'”  From this picture with both my grandmother’s on my brother’s first birthday ~ occurring a few months following mine at Rocky Point ~ I seem to think the cake from the bakery was more Emmy’s idea than mine.  As you can see, Grandma Mafera is about as far as she can get from the offending cake without being out of the picture entirely. Grandma's.jpg  The end of THAT tradition.

Sadly, as happens in many families, a disagreement over something stupid led to estrangement so our holiday tradition began anew with our Locust Valley next door neighbors, the Fitzgibbons.   We had wonderful times that included playing lengthy board games ~ Monopoly and Risk come to mind ~ during holiday breaks.   Christmas fun with the Ouija board.  When we asked what my father did, we expected the word “lawyer.”  It spelled out “attorney.”  We didn’t cheat, really.  But when it spelled out the answer to a question neither Kathleen nor I knew the answer to we decided to move on to another game of Monopoly.


Summer traditions included summer barbeques, games of croquet and badminton in the backyard and kick ball in the circle.  While our parents are gone what remains all these years later is a deep friendship that picks up with love no matter how much time has passed.


Kathleen and me ~ 2014

This holiday season I decided to make a family comfort food favorite.  The recipe comes passed through Grandma Mafera given to my Mom.  Over the years I remember much trial and error on the ingredients, as I think Grandma just might have omitted proper quantities, perhaps as retaliation for the “chocolate cake incident.”  The recipes live in a copper box in a cabinet in the kitchen on the top shelf, along with many cook books I never use.  To be fair, I’m my mother’s daughter.  Not Martha Stewart’s.  Book case

For a reason I cannot logically explain, when I turned around to put the box back in the cabinet a Bible had fallen to the floor.  My mother’s Bible.  I admit it was a little freaky ~ the books sit far back on the shelves and I surely didn’t hear it fall.  Bible

Jay told me to open it and read whatever was there.  I did, and it opened to the first page of a book I’d never heard of, let alone read.  The book of Habakkuk.  So I turned to google for an answer.

The major theme of Habakkuk is trying to grow from a faith of perplexity and doubt to the height of absolute trust in God.

Did I mention this all happened on Emmy’s birthday?

The Spanish Rice was excellent.  Here’s the recipe ~  I promise the quantities on the top card are right! Spanish Rice

There are no accidents!




It’s All About the Tree?

I love Christmas trees.  I love the shape of them, I love the size of them and I really love the smell of them.  When I was little, I remember the tree usually went up just a few days before Christmas.  There were wonderful old ornaments that, carefully wrapped when they were put away, came out of big boxes brought in from the basement.   Our tree was always very traditional.  Big, full and filled with decorations and tinsel.  Oh, I loved the tinsel.  I was inclined to throw huge clumps at the tree which drove my father nuts.  He insisted on the “one strand at a time” method which drove me nuts.  But at the end of the day, the tree was always perfect to me.  Janet and Smokey

Childhood holiday memories are brought back through old black and white photos my Mom usually took.   Visits with Santa were carefully documented and Christmas cards were always prominently displayed. Christmas Dress I remember how much fun I had opening the cards as a little girl.  They were filled with sparkle and glitter and usually oversized.   Everything lead up to the main event.  Christmas morning.  Wrapping paper flying and gifts galore.  I was a very lucky little girl.   A Shirley Temple doll and my Jerry Mahoney puppet were two of my very most favorites!  Right about the time I had figured out Santa wasn’t the real deal, Not so fast Santa my brother was becoming aware of the old gent, so there was an extension to my childlike thoughts.  Waiting for Santa

When I was ten we moved to picturesque Locust Valley.   Christmas there was dreamily perfect in many ways.

Locust Valley - holidaysThe Fire House was decorated then as it is now and was down the hill and around the corner from our house.  Fire House  That came in especially handy the day my “Hot Comet” caught fire in the driveway, but that’s a story for another day.   Unfortunately, sometime during the 1960’s there was a rash of Christmas tree fires on Long Island and that marked the end of “live” trees in many homes, including ours.   The trend went toward aluminum but that brought yet another potential disaster.  ALuminum trees

My mother remained “traditional” and our tree was green, stored in the basement for the annual decking of the halls.  It looked pretty much the same when decorated but there was no wonderful smell and my enthusiasm for participating in decorating dwindled.

Well, not completely.

When I hit my teens my parents were very social and I was their “go to babysitter.”  I remember being particularly bored by that one weekend night and called upon my neighborhood cohort in crime, Kathleen.   She came over and we dragged up the Christmas tree and decorations from the basement and set the tree up in the appropriate spot.  My parents returned home that night to a fully decorated tree and I chortled in my room as I listened to my father’s very vocal consternation.  It was July.

When I moved to California I missed the feel of Christmas on Long Island as well as the reality of it, so I have no memories of trees on my own until 1977.  My Mom had just passed away and my brother, Dad and Great Aunt Alice came to California.  Jody, Aunt Alice and I spent Christmas Eve at Disneyland ~ long before it was a popular holiday destination.  It was quietly deserted and we returned to have Christmas Eve dinner with my father at the Brown Derby in Hollywood.  There is nothing worse than people trying to have a good time when it is just utterly impossible.  I had bought a huge tree for my first grown up apartment complete with corduroy couch from Bullocks charged to my very first credit card and my dark wood laminate dining set. I don’t remember much else other than the harsh reality  ~ the tree did not make the holiday.  

A few years later my father sold our family home.  He was re-marrying and moving farther out on the island.  I came home for a last visit.  He pulled his car into the garage and opened the door to the basement.  Proud as punch he pointed to the vast emptiness and said “Completely clean.”  My first reaction was one of horror.  Where was everything that had resided in that basement?   Everything, including the boxes of Christmas ornaments was gone….all gone.  “I’m starting a new life, Janney,” was his response to my question.  Starting his new life meant throwing out some of the most tangible, wonderful memories of mine.  My stomach still aches when I think of that moment.  There is nothing more to say about it.

When I returned to the tree decorating tradition in the eighties different years meant different things.   Bows, all white lights, even once….gasp, a flocked tree.   I began collecting special ornaments, a few each year.  I drifted toward the traditional.  Christopher Radko and anything old looking I could find.  I also drifted back toward the traditional big colored lights.  I was never consciously thinking that what I was trying to do was replicate my past.

There was the big tree in Seattle ~ followed by the tree falling on our house and knocking out our power for six days the day after we decorated it  ~ in 2006.    Christmas.jpg

tree falls on house.jpg

It gave new meaning to the phrase “decking the halls.”

There was the tree when we returned to Tarzana only to find my favorite “Christmas Store” was no more ~ a casualty of the recession.

Christmas in Tarzana

When we moved to San Diego two years ago there really was no place for a big tree so we downsized.  As I carefully unpacked the ornaments last year, I realized this little tree would be  laden with my very most special ornaments ~ my memories.

I didn’t plan to buy an ornament this year, but found myself in a store I don’t frequent walking down the aisle filled with them.  One caught my eye.  Big time!  A red fox with a fake fur tail.  You may know of my special relationship with the fox thanks to my Mom.  It has been her way of letting me know she’s still around.  So, let’s just say this ornament caught me by surprise….big time.  Of course it was the only one of its’ kind.  It was there waiting for me.  Of course.

Christmas Fox

I bought it for the bargain price of $3.88 and sat in the car laughing and crying at the same time.

I realized something I’d known all along.

It’s not about the tree or the ornaments.

It’s about the memories.
Happy Birthday Mom ~ 12/14/1920

And Merry Christmas one and all.  May your days be merry and bright!

1st Christmas


The World We Live In ~ then and now

Saying this has been a difficult week is an understatement.   The world we live in today is not the world in which I have lived the majority of my life.   I really did grow up in a town with a little white church. Dutch Reformed Church  I also grew up during a time when “duck and cover” and the fear of mass nuclear destruction were very real.  Yet we always felt safe enough to play kickball in the circle on our street.  We always felt safe enough to get excited when we heard the bells on the Good Humor truck and search for lightening bugs when it became dark during the summer.   We lived through the Cuban Missile crisis and the assassination of  JFK but felt safe enough to go to The Valley Tea Shoppe after school, hang out at the library with the cannon out front and the bowling alley in the basement.  LV Library Our mischief was benign ~ confined to sneaking cigarettes at Shu Swamp and in the cemetery before choir practice.   Nothing was perfect, there are always problems, but our environment on a daily basis was very safe and very secure.   Not so today.

I have friends who still live where I grew up.  A girl and boy I went to high school with got married and raised their family in the house I grew up in.  I went to visit them many years ago and they showed me the circuit breaker in the basement still said “Janet’s Room.”  It’s nice to know that once in a while you really can go home again and have something about it be the same.  Even if that something is only a circuit breaker.     our-house

As life went on we all went our separate ways and went through the roller coaster we call life, for the most part, independent of one another.   Yet many of us found each other again here on Facebook and became “friends.”  We weren’t all close friends in high school, but I can honestly say I feel we have become closer friends now and a lot of that is because we share the close connection of our time spent in our idyllic home town.

When the sh*t hit the fan in my life, as I think by this stage of life it has for most of us, I could lose my footing ~ sometimes literally ~ but never my faith.   I came by said faith both logically and ethereally.  Some of you who will read this knew my Mom.  Others know my Mom through Facebook because I post about her. me and Emmy Emmy died in 1977 following a short battle with breast cancer.   The summer before she passed away I was home for my brother’s graduation from college.   We had no idea she was ill but I had an ominous feeling someone close to me was going to die.  Years later an ex would call me “strega”  ~ maybe he truly thought I was a witch, but that’s a whole other story.   My Mom and I were talking about my fear of losing a loved one when she said “when we grieve it’s for us left behind because we will miss the person and not see them but we should be glad for them because they are in a much better place.”  My Mom was a truly faith-filled woman.  As she was going through her brief battle in the Catholic hospital  ~ the same hospital where I was born~ a nun/nurse told me she said “I have my family, my friends and my faith.  I will be fine.”   But I wasn’t.  As I flew home for her funeral I was mad.  This just wasn’t fair. I was in no way prepared to live my life without my emotional lynch pin.

Even though we aren’t Catholic there was a two night wake.  The first evening we returned after dinner to find the room filled with amazing floral arrangements that hadn’t been there that afternoon.  Tributes to a truly wonderful woman and at that very moment a thought entered my mind and a lightness entered my heart.  Someone that good and that full of faith couldn’t possibly get gypped by dying young and not finding the eternal pay off.  The firm foundation of my faith was formed that night and while it has shifted from time to time during the dips and down times it always returns with renewed strength and solidarity.  I am grateful for that gift.

Like most of us, I have had many blessings and adventures but there have been times of adversity.   On a scale of 1 – 10 ~ ten being best ~  I’ve had more 8 & 9’s than 1 &2’s.  For that I am grateful.  I have survived living 2.4 miles from the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake where I very clearly learned the difference between being alone and being lonely.   I have survived causing pain to myself and I hope others have survived any pain I caused them.  I am young enough to still be very mobile but old enough to be very grateful for that fact.   I am young enough to clearly remember my life but old enough to now see very clearly just how much life in general has changed.  I am fortunate to have grown up in a sweet little town with a charming railroad station and fortunate now to live in a sweet little city with a charming railroad station. Locust-Valley_Banner2  Carlsbad

Some things come full circle, or close enough, to sincerely appreciate the proximity.  I feel safe in this small city but it is less than two hours from San Bernadino and I am only two degrees of separation away from a 22 year old survivor of that horror.

I have lived long enough to watch our country go through times of turmoil and strife where we do not all agree.   I don’t know that I’ve ever lived through a time when we, as citizens, have ever been as aware of our individual disagreement as we are today.  That hurts my heart.

These are different and difficult times.  The fear of a devastating nuclear conflict coming to our country has disappeared and has been replaced by the devastation of terrorism on our soil.   Again.  What remains most important to me is the hope we each remember the importance of our freedom and that we believe in the protection of the sanctity and safety of our country.  We may disagree on how to get there but I hope we agree on the fact that we must.  There is no more time to waste.

My faith in the world we are living in right now may be shaken and it is true that much has changed during my lifetime.

It is also true that one thing remains the same.

I still have a schnauzer.

July 3

God Bless America

God Bless America~ Please