April 20, 2011

My Russian Boy

Of the 60,000 Russian orphans who have found families through adoption by Americans, my son is one.

He is seven. He is from Moscow. He lived in an orphanage, and waited for a family.

He may not be unlike the adopted little Russian boy who was sent back to Moscow on a plane by himself with nothing more than a note from his adoptive mother stating he was being returned like some unwanted sweater. “I no longer wish to parent this child,” she wrote in the note according to The New York Times.

But he is not an article of clothing you can discard or a pet you can dump on the street when you deem it to be too much work. He is a person, a little boy without family to love him. A boy traumatized by an overfilled, underfunded orphanage in a poor country. And he was her little boy. He may have had “violent tendencies” and “severe psychopathic issues” as Torry Hansen, the mother, wrote in her note (possibly due to beatings by a broom handle in the orphanage, which is what the boy told his mother after the adoption), but whether you birth a child or adopt one, they are yours; they are a part of you, and that’s forever.

April 20, 2011

I Hate Playdates

I even hate the word playdate. I don’t think any dates should be involved in playing. Kids should just play. Preferably outside or at somebody else’s house.

What ever happened to being locked out of your house by your mother and forced to play with your only sibling on the rusty swing set out back?

Growing up, every Saturday of my life until I left home for college was exactly the same. My sister and I would get up around dawn, watch the “Smurfs” and “The Flintstones” and trash the basement. At a reasonable hour my mom would call us up for breakfast, which signaled the end of our weekend. Breakfast was immediately followed by chores.

We’d be sent downstairs (protesting was not an option) to deconstruct the sprawling Barbie village we had lovingly and painstakingly erected that morning. Then we’d dust and Windex every item of furniture in our rooms, mop and vacuum before we were rewarded by being locked out of the house to play.

Those are memories my children will not share.

September 20, 2015

I Got Schooled

I’d really like to put together a singular post explaining the absurdities of a little thing called the American educational system, but since it would be way too long and take about 2 years to write, I am going to try to break it all down into small, bite-size pieces for the purposes of this blog.

There’s just so much to write, and I’m not quite sure where to begin. I’m not even talking about the the quality of education itself. That would require a whole other blog and a lot of in-depth analysis and probably charts and graphs, and I’m not sure I’m the right one for the job. I have my problems, of course, but I don’t have the answers, and I wouldn’t want to harp away on something without being able to provide adequate solutions or at least suggestions although I’m sure longer school days and a school calendar that’s closer to an actual year rather than 6 months would go a long way in fixing the problem.

But that’s not why I brought you here today. I brought you here to discuss how much the school, and I can only speak of my school district although I’m fairly certain this ridiculousness is going on in school districts across the nation, irritates me. Irritates me like no one has irritated me before (and I’ve been irritated a lot. See: All posts on my children).


When I say irritate, I mean with a flaming, white hot passion that makes me want to punch somebody’s face in. I just don’t know whose. Well, I have an idea. My passion, though, has waned over time due to constant and repeated exposures to the nonsense and a dying hope that anything will ever improve.

Perhaps a little story of the nonsense we parents are expected to not only cheerfully accept (because it’s for the children) but also enjoy (because it’s about the children) will help to illuminate the cause of my intense and persistent irritation.

As I’ve said before in “My Life in One Picture,” the school district doesn’t really feel the need to openly communicate. I suppose they feel communication isn’t helpful. Rather, they like to be intriguing and mysterious. And while the school and attending families are considered a “community of learners,” per the school’s propaganda, the “community” part of the slogan seems to be coming from one side only. That would be the parent side.

The school doesn’t feel the need to communicate with parents unless it’s about a snow storm or some sort of delayed opening or early dismissal. Then, they refuse to stop calling your house or messaging your devices. I receive no less than four, FOUR, messages, usually around 5:00 a.m., that the school is closed due to a snow storm. And that’s just me. My husband receives them on all his devices as well. So at 5:00 in the morning as everyone in the house is silently and blissfully in repose, all the electronic devices erupt into a deafening and heart-arresting cacophony of ringing and buzzing. The school must know I can’t both answer my home phone and my cell phone and check my email messages all at the same time not to mention they also insist upon jerking my husband awake to do the same damn thing. Now they’ve got two people scrambling around in the dark of night trying to silence all their devices.

I understand the importance of disseminating the message, but send one message once, and send it at a more reasonable hour, please. I don’t need a message to wake the entire household up extra early to tell us we can all go back to sleep now because there’s no school today. The thing is if there’s a snow storm, I kind of already know the school may be closed. I’m gonna check. I’m not going to stumble blindly into a blizzard to drop my kid at school without first wondering, Hey there’s five feet of snow on the ground, maybe I should check to see if school’s open. 

The thing is, the school has closed before a flake has even touched the ground. Just a threat of snow can cause a school closure. In that case, it’s perfectly understandable to send a million messages. I would need them because I’d have no reason to think the school was closed primary because there is no reason for it to be closed.

The only other time the school gets in contact with parents is for state-wide testing, the all-important state tests that determine school ranking and funds. Then they contact you not to discuss preparation or material covered or how it is or isn’t relavant to areas typically covered in that grade, but to let you know your child should get a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast in the morning as those things can affect their performance on the test, and we, the community, want to optimize our test scores.

Um, where is that concern on the other 175 days of the school year? No, no need to worry about your child’s ability to function on any other day of the year – those days don’t matter.

Sure, you're all laughing now. Wait until you're failing out of 6th grade.

Sure, you’re all laughing now. Wait until you’re failing out of 6th grade. Photo credit

I’m not saying the school should stop communicating with the parents, but one notice per topic is plenty, and the subjects about which they choose to communicate demonstrate the priorities. This makes it difficult for me to really embrace the whole warm, loving, “community,” team message projected.

What I would really appreciate is a little notification on the schools’ academic programs, school performance, changes in curriculum, homework assignments, any special projects or events occurring in the school, my children’s performance, their preparedness for the next grade, school activities that require my attendance. For some reason the school finds all this unimportant. Stupidly, I thought that’s what they’re there for.

Apparently not because the school openly discourages second-half of the year conferences in the elementary school and all conferences in the middle school. They still maintain the half-day schedule though. Half days will be had whether they are being used for the intended purpose or not. But if the school neglects to send home pertinent academic information and then discourages a whole 15 minute conversation with teachers, in which to glean any glimpses into the academic, social and behavioral progress of the student, how exactly are parents to obtain this information?

It’s been 12 years, and I still haven’t been able to figure it out. Nevertheless we are a strong, dedicated, hard-working community. I mean, it says so right there on the school banner.

This is a continuing series. Look for future pieces on Band Camp, Yearbooks for Minors, Annual 24-Hour Death Battle of the Bands, Weekend at Camp Bernies, The Never Ending Elementary School Graduation Celebration and Fundraising Fever. 

July 19, 2012

Revamped Verona Inn Maintains Traditions

The reinvented Verona Inn celebrates its 65 year in business this month with a completely new look in a brand new space.

Opened in 1947 next to the Annin Flag Company, the restaurant’s new home in the center of town at 642 Bloomfield Ave. may be just down the street from its original location but it’s worlds away in terms of design.

The reimagined restaurant has a contemporary yet comfortable feel with an upscale bar that manages to maintain a warm, pub feel, striking the perfect balance between old and new, family-friendly and free agent. The huge, newly constructed space exudes an air of tradition with red brick façade complimented by a tastefully designed interior full of rich oak paneling, dark wood floors and walls partially lined in subway tile.

June 28, 2012

New Business Sprouts Up in Verona

“The business is multi-faceted,” said Dave Chalek, the man behind Sprout Food and Farm’s mission to bring fresh, local, sustainable produce to the area not just in the summertime but all the time.

This soon-to-be Verona resident plans to operate a produce market in the retail space up front while maintaining a greenhouse in back of the 82 Pine Street property. He’ll also run his current landscape design and organic garden care business out of the location, and he’ll do it all seven days a week 365 days a year.

For local residents and restaurants this means access to fresh, flavorful natural produce all year long. And Chalek’s garden is anything but garden variety.

June 25, 2012

Verona Chef Sliced and Diced, Never “Chopped”

Verona just might be the next hot dining destination thanks to a local chef hitting it big in a nationwide cooking competition.

The town’s claim to culinary fame follows Avenue Bistro and Pub‘s chef Michael Dilonno’s win on the Food Network’s “Chopped” last fall.

As the last chef standing, Dilonno was anointed “Chopped” Champion, proving he’s got the chops to compete against the best in the business. But the title and the $10,000 that came with it might just as easily never have come to pass.

If Dilonno had it his way, that is.

June 21, 2012

School, BOE: Chaperones Allegedly Partied on Fifth-Grade Trip

The Verona School Board said it will tighten its rules about chaperoning class trips after a group of fathers supposedly held a party in a cabin during a fifth grade camping trip.

H.B. Whitehorne Middle School Principal Yvette McNeal emailed details of the incident in a letter to parents of all fifth graders earlier in the week. Additional details were learned at Tuesday night’s meeting, including information the fathers, who were supposed to be chaperoning the 10 boys, left them without a chaperone while they lit fires and drank alcohol at another cabin during a five-hour party.

June 13, 2012

‘Best’ Bridal Boutique in Our Own Backyard

For three years running, one bridal salon in New Jersey has been named Best Bridal Boutique in the state, and more recently in the county, by the magazine that should know.

Park Avenue Bridals in Verona has held the title, awarded by New Jersey Monthly, since 2010. Last year the bridal salon also won Best of Essex County in Suburban Essex magazine’s readers’ choice awards.

“We were thrilled,” owner Andrea Burggraf recently said of the honors. “It’s nice to be recognized,” she acknowledged, “that you’ve done your job right.”

Burggraf, who runs the third-generation family business with her husband Gary, said she and her staff recognize the significance of the event in a woman’s life.

“It’s our mission to make the girls feel special,” said Burggraf. “It the most important time of their lives.”

June 12, 2012

Verona Township and BOE Perfect Together

The Verona Township Council and Verona Board of Education commended each other for their unique working relationship at last night’s joint meeting at the Verona Community Center.

“Most towns do not have the kind of relationship we have in Verona,” stressed board of education President John Quattrocchi, who presented a review of the relationship and the benefits the community receives as a result.

In most towns the council and the board of education operate in complete isolation, he asserted, whereas in Verona the two overlap.

May 23, 2012

The Scoop on Twist

Set off of Pompton Avenue is a little shop you may have missed.

The store, filled with sweet treats, is perched at the end of a long walkway far from the busy street, which while affecting visibility is actually the perfect little spot for this shop.

Twist though, the newly reopened frozen yogurt and Italian ice shop at 492 Pompton Ave., certainly will not go overlooked for long.

Owner Jim Polidoro recently reopened the store after first launching his business last October. Fall he quickly realized was the wrong time of year to open a frozen desert shop. So he closed down and geared up for the high season. He relaunched the store a few weeks ago with a whimsical purple sign and cheery matching trim, bringing a bit of summertime at the shore to Cedar Grove. And, soon Polidoro hopes to fill his front walk-turned-patio with patrons.

May 22, 2012

Community Comes Out To Support a Good Cause

Docent Bernie Farley showed a blue-tongue skink to a delighted audience at the Team Zoey Carnival.

This Saturday the entire town turned out to raise funds for one of their own: A Verona child fighting a rare, fatal disease. Hosted by Calvary Lutheran Church, attended by community members and helped by area businesses, the Team Zoey Carnival had the community’s full support.

Not yet three-years-old Zoey Penny has been battling Progeria, a little-known disease that causes rapid aging in young children at about 7 to 10 times the normal rate, nearly her whole life. She received the diagnosis at just five months of age, and ever since her family has been working to find a cure. They formed Team Zoey and so far have held 30 events to provide funding for the Progeria Research Foundation, an organization seeking to develop treatments and find a cure for the devastating disease.

May 22, 2012

County Unveils New Senior Bus Fleet

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo cuts ribbon with Senior Services Director Jaklyn DeVore.

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. announced the addition of 19 new buses to the county’s Special Transportation System while unveiling the new arrivals at the Essex County Division of Senior Services in Verona Wednesday.

The delivery of more than half the buses, run under the county’s Division of Senior Services, which provides free transportation to the county’s senior citizens and disabled residents, coincided with May’s designation as Older Americans Month. The balance will arrive in June.

According to Jaklyn DeVore, Director of Essex County Division of Senior Services, some of the fleet’s 30 buses were in disrepair when DiVincenzo took office, and DiVincenzo took action.

“His priority is to get the fleet up to date,” DeVore stressed. With the new buses, four of which were awarded to the county through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, the county’s fleet will now number 46.