Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A New York state of Christmas

     The acapella chorus I sing with starts their Christmas program with “You Meet the Nicest People Everywhere Around Christmastime”. This past holiday season, I found that to be so true. It didn’t matter where I was – in the mall, in Hampden, at a concert – those that I met were looking for holiday cheer, just like I was. New York City was no exception. Yes, this year’s big Christmas trip was north instead of south. I got a chance to experience the Christmas decorations in NYC.

     Thanks to my timeshare membership, I had a comfy place to stay. I found that it really doesn’t pay to drive to NYC, since parking at the timeshare would cost me $50 per day. So it was time to book seats to and from on Amtrak. And I made sure to pack some good tennis shoes to walk around the city. You really do make better time by walking around that place. And get ready to be run over. Walking is a means to an end there. Strolling is for Central Park.
Avenue of the Americas and 48th Street
Radio City Music Hall on W. 50th Street
      One of the best events when it’s Christmas in New York is the Rockettes Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall. We finally – and I do mean finally – got a cab over to the hall for our 8 pm show. Once loose on the street, we saw a wonderland of lights. We left the hotel early enough to walk around the area around Radio City and just take in the sights and sounds. The Avenue of the Americas was like a carnival, with street vendors, artists, and musicians all working the crowds at rush hour. The sidewalk was elbow-to-elbow with people.  In spite of the crowded walkways, folks were in a pretty good mood.
Inside the Radio City Lobby - the incredible chandelier
      We found a tavern off West 50th Street, near Rockefeller Center, to have dinner before the show. It didn’t take long before it was time to queue up to go into the Music Hall. The lobby is accessible from both Avenue of the Americas and West 50th St. Either way, you walk into Radio City and you are greeted by the biggest, most magnificent crystal chandelier I’ve ever seen. The ambiance of the theater takes me back to the 1930’s, when ladies rooms were “ladies lounges” with vanity seats to perk up your make up. We also saw the remnants of telephone booths – the ones you sit in and talk on the phone. By gone days, for sure… Then it was time to find our seats, kick back and watch the Christmas Spectacular.
Radio City's main stage - we are ready for show time.

Using the whole theater as a stage
     After the show, we decided to walk back to the hotel. We headed east on 50th Street and found Rockefeller Center and the huge Christmas tree. At 10:30 pm, the plaza was still buzzing with activity. People were ice skating (and it was a very pricey admission, too), walking around and taking pictures, posing by the angels, and watching the Saks Fifth Avenue light show. Everywhere there were crowds and New York’s finest in blue maintaining order. This is one city where I felt really safe even at that time of the night.

The big tree at Rockefeller Center
Skaters in action at the ice rink....
...right in front of Neptune

On Rockefeller Plaza
Walking with the angels

Walking with the angels near the ice rink and tree

View of Saks from Rockefeller Plaza

The Saks light show is about to begin
      The following day, we wanted to make the most of Christmas sight seeing. We took a cab over to Macy’s on the New York 34th Street. The windows were all decorated with the “Yes, Virginia” theme. Of course, Spongebob had to greet us at the door. We took lots of pictures of the windows at Macy’s, gave our regards to old Broadway, were remembered at Herald Square, and then started our walk north, to Times Square. I felt like I was in an old 1940’s movie, walking along Broadway. The architecture looked the same as from that time period. But, as we approached Times Square, more and more neon and holograms began to appear. There were talking billboards every where you turned. I felt like I went from old New York City to Tokyo’s Ginza in a matter of a few blocks.
Yes, Virginia, this is Macy's window
No, we are not in Bikini Bottom anymore

Remembering Herald Square

NYC or Tokyo's Ginza - hard to tell from this shot
     Right in front of several stores, you find a plaza filled with costumed characters for the children. In spite of what they may say, you can get your child’s picture taken with the characters and you do NOT have to pay them or tip them. I did see a few scammers working the crowd, but not enough to dampen my spirits.
Some of the costumed characters at Times Square
     Now it was time to check out a few of the stores. Into and through Sephora… get a gift. Into the M&M store… we are just looking and not eating (right!). Over to the Hershey store across the street from the M&M store… welcome to Chocolate World! What a smell greets you when you enter! Now don’t go hog wild on the chocolate. Ok now I’m REALLY hungry. It’s time to get some more photos outside and find a place to eat.
The ball is ready to welcome in 2015
      One of my chorus friends told me about Ellen’s Stardust Diner on 52nd Street. Let’s find it and check out the menu…

     Hmmmm… till next posting….

     In the meantime… what are my chances of getting into this show?
Oh so close on the same night Sir Paul, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga appeared on the show....

 All photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reproducing or reuse without permission.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Paging... Local Christmas Spirits

     Childhood memories are so crucial to all of us. It’s the yardstick we use to measure the rest of our experiences in life. 
     When I was growing up – back before the earth’s crust cooled – Christmas meant hanging lights on the outside of the house as well as decorating the inside. The warm glow of C-7 and C-9 colored bulbs lit up our windows and doors, and sometimes the bushes in the front. The decorations were just enough to let the world know we were waiting for the Christmas fun to begin.
     Some neighborhoods did more. When we lived in Northeast Philly, St. Vincent Street was the place to go. Half of the houses on the block got together and pooled their light recourses for a super display of Christmas cheer that attracted walkers and drivers alike from all over the city. It was probably visible from outer space.
     Fast forward to now in Baltimore and you have the same thing in a section of town called Hampden. Ride – or better yet walk – down 34th Street in the Hampden neighborhood any night between Thanksgiving and the Epiphany and you see both sides of the street decorated with a real Bawlmer-ese flair. Welcome to the Miracle on 34th Street, Baltimore style.
34th Street, Hampden, Baltimore, MD
      This miracle has a back story to it. Back in the late 1940’s, the Carl Hughes family, in the first house on the block, decided to go hog wild decorating for Christmas. They didn’t want to do it alone, and enlisted their neighbors to get involved. As years passed, the owners of the houses on both sides of the street worked together to light up the winter nights with holiday decorations. It was written into sales agreements for houses on both sides of the street, that participation is mandatory.
     Now it was my turn to experience the miracle. I wondered if it would bring back the memories from PhillyChristmases past.
     The streets near 34th Street were full of people walking around after dark, with no fear at all. Families, groups of friends, couples – all walked around the neighborhood on a chilly December evening that my friend and I chose to visit. 
     As we approached the corner, the familiar smell of hot dogs hit my nose. Where there’s a crowd in Baltimore, there are usually some street vendors, although the city controls the number of vendors to keep traffic flowing. We saw a warm glow in the night sky from all the lights along one block of the street. Traffic crawled, so it was safer to walk down to the street from the “Avenue”, a.k.a., 36th Street.

Turn the corner to the first house on the block...
...and feast your eyes, and ears.
       We turned the corner and the little kid in me jumped up and down. So many light displays! A feast for the eyes and ears too, as many houses included piped in music with their display. Each house took a different theme and decorated to the max. Some houses opened their doors for neighbors to walk through and see the inside decorations. Many themes were truly Baltimore. Some were one of a kind – I mean, where else will you find a Christmas tree made of hub caps and welded angels? Or Nattie Boh in lights? Or Santa greeting children from his Harley? Or the ode to the Maryland Film Commission? Or the Baltimore Ravens?

Nattie Boh - mascot for National Bohemian Beer, a local brew
Guess what gets filmed in Baltimore? Yes, these series.

Can't have Christmas without the Ravens
Drop box for letters to Santa

Doll collections on display only at the holidays

Decorations set on the front porch

And I got a hippopotamus for Christmas!

Houses decorate with themes - this one is "Peace"

Old LP collection put to use - Kids, these are vinyl CD's
Hubcap tree with lots of welded art around it
Marylanders love their crabs and all that goes with it
      Now, 34th Street in Hampden is a tourist destination. The street decorations have been featured on the Travel Channel and HGTV, to name a few. This year, a Japanese production company was filming on 34th Street for Japanese television. Baltimore’s miracle will have international exposure!
     And the miracle happens each year…
Had to add a New Orleans touch, thanks to the last Ravens Super Bowl win
      If you want to see the Hampden lights, check online at http://www.christmasstreet.com/ to see pictures of this year’s displays and get directions. Top your trip to Hampden off with dinner at one of the many great restaurants on the “Avenue”, like CafĂ© Hon.
Front of Cafe` Hon - some great food and atmosphere

Parts of this blog are reprinted from “A View from the Passenger’s Seat”, Arden on the Severn Newsbuoy, January 2015, by Marge McGugan.

Photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse or reprinting without permission.

Monday, January 5, 2015

In Search of... Christmas Spirit

Where are you Christmas
Why can't I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can't I hear music play

     It’s January 5. The New Year is here and Christmas is over – again. Each year I go through the same thing – preparing for the holidays and then BOOM – they are over. Now it’s time to start putting away Christmas lights, trees and other decorations and swan dive head first into the daily grind that is considered “normal”. But that’s not going to happen without thinking back on one big question: Did I really have some Christmas spirit this year, or did I just go through the motions like the past few years?
     “Where are you, Christmas?” sung by Faith Hill, played over and over in my head this past November. The past few holiday seasons were blurs, mainly because of my personal losses. This past summer I made a promise to myself to start getting out of my solitary funk and back into life. That included a few trips alone and a decision to begin dating again. In September, I signed myself up on Match.com. For the most part, the beginning of my Match adventures had me wading in a swamp full of frogs. There were no big expectations, but I thought I could meet someone my own age to hang out with for a while. Singles, beware. There are some really weird people on Match. But you already knew that…
     But at a time when my psyche needed a mega-boost, I met a prince who was in the same predicament I was in. His past few holidays were in the crapper from loss-induced depression. So we both decided to improve each other’s holidays.

My world is changing
I'm rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too

      The uplift began at Thanksgiving. We were both going to visit family members out of state for the holiday, but we both stayed in touch by phone the whole time. Family is what the holidays are all about. Sometimes, it’s the only time we see or hear from some family members. Those pain-in-the-butt Christmas cards and letters are a great example of staying in touch… they do become precious, especially when you look back at the year before and realize who is no longer here.
     Once we got back into town, we did a local Christmas event, called the Miracle on 34th Street. No, Virginia, it does not include Macy’s. It is one full street in the Hampden section of Baltimore that is lit – electrically – for the holiday season. Hampden becomes a tourist destination during this time of the year. And yes, it is the old neighborhood for my new friend. He gave me the tour of his old haunts after we walked around looking at the lights.
     We needed music too. So I found out about a concert by a local barbershop chorus and off we went one cold, Friday evening. The music was spectacular and the chorus got the audience involved… you couldn’t leave without your Christmas spirit. And we were able to help a charitable cause in the process.
     In between, we decorated our houses. He helped me with mine and I helped with his (sort of). He didn’t decorate for the past few years, so it was a positive step that he got his tree out of the shed and put it up!
     I spent some time in New York City with my sister and niece. This is where we did the super-commercial Christmas events. We took in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which was billed appropriately. It was a fantastic show and worthy of its own post, very soon. We walked over to 30 Rock and saw the tree, ice rink and plaza. We walked down 5th Avenue and looked in some of the store windows. We went to Times Square, saw the New Year’s Ball ready to drop, went to Macy’s on the other 34th Street, and the Stardust Diner. We got bumped in the crowds, blown around by the wind, did some shopping and walked until all the calories we ate didn’t count. And through all of that, we had a very festive attitude. Bring on Christmas!
     It was then time to come home from NYC and attend a few Christmas parties, with friends old and new. We can’t forget the church services and concerts, either. We took it all in this year.
     Which way made me merrier for the holiday season? The New York trip was great, no doubt. I saw things there that I only heard about. Now I know where to go IF I ever get tickets to see Jimmy Fallon. But the local celebrations were also fantastic. Spending time with long-time friends and family members meant a lot too. There is something about celebrating as a wider community that gives me a better sense of belonging. The big things are great, too, don’t get me wrong. But this year I think I needed the closer community of friends and family.

Christmas is here everywhere, oh
Christmas is here if you care, oh
If there is love in your heart and your mind
You will feel like Christmas all the time
     And I needed someone special to share in all of it with me. This was a seriously wonderful, incredibly positive, totally calming, not-ready-to-be-over, very good holiday season.

     Maybe that’s it… we just need each other. Now to keep this going throughout the year…

I feel you Christmas
I know I've found you
You never fade away
The joy of Christmas
Stays here in silence
Fills each and every heart with love

Song lyrics - “Christmas, Why Can’t I Find You?” by James Horner and Will Jennings
How the Grinch Stole Christmas - 2000