Tuesday, June 23, 2020

I Wish

The year was 1965 and my husband Keith and I were newly married and decided to move to Washington, DC where Keith worked on a National Science Foundation grant and I worked as a traveling speech improvement teacher in Washington, D.C.'s inner city.

I had grown up in a very segregated suburb of Chicago where the tribal wars were between Jews and non-Jews. With the exception of a friend's cleaning lady, I had never met an African-American. It was a new experience to be in a world I knew nothing about. Sometimes when I was making my rounds of my schools I was often the only white person in the school, a role reversal of sorts.

It had only been twelve years since Brown v. Board of Education had passed and the seven African-American women teachers on my team of ten were still feeling the sting of attending school in segregated times. Often they would share with me how they felt during those years.

Being with these women changed my life as did teaching in some of the poorest black neighborhood schools. I developed a respect for the teachers who had accomplished so much and would go on to  even greater heights after I left for Illinois the following year. It was a joy to learn about scrapple, eye-opening to see six-foot tall teenagers in my seventh grade classroom, and touching to deliver one little black girl to the projects when we completed an after-school activity that she so enjoyed.

I feel privileged to have had my eyes opened to a culture so different than mine. Maybe that's what all of my fellow Americans need to do: put themselves in places other than where they feel most comfortable. Maybe then we would all learn to respect one another.


                                                   COMING IN THE FALL OF 2020:

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

I Saw a Purple Cow

So I'm hearing about young parents trying to figure out how to get through the day during these trying times and I'm remembering my own trials and tribulations.

What comes to mind is:
     Living through brutal Chicago winters with an infant and a toddler. One day, stuck in the house after another blizzard and with my husband downtown and me an hour away in a suburb, throwing the two kids on a sled and pulling them through the snowy terrain to the local merchants' district for a hamburger and fries at Shelton's Grill.  And then pulling the sled back again. It took up most of the day.
     Being stuck in the house for several weeks while all three of us were sick with the flu and dramatizing a book  (I think it was Dr. Seuss) with lifesize posters and dialogue. Our goal was to entertain for an upcoming Thanksgiving.
     Climbing up three flights of stairs at the local YMCA for a kids' class, hauling the umbroller and the two kids and getting to the top and finding out that I had the wrong date for the class.
     Taking my two year old to Moms and Kids swimming lessons in the bitter cold winter even though I hate to swim.

Still I look back at raising my kids as a great time in my life. I bought all the books of activities to do with kids and found the Sesame Street Activities Book and I Saw a Purple Cow to be a great source of ideas. Thank goodness that every afternoon after their naps I could place both kids in front of the television to watch Sesame Street. I actually watched too and that was followed by Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. We made cookies for every occasion always using the basic butter cookie recipe from the Sesame Street Activities Book.

No regrets!



Monday, May 11, 2020

I'm Mrs. America!

Nostalgia set in last Sunday when I was watching a segment on CBS's Sunday Morning that featured entertainment icon Martha Stewart.  There she was with her signature blonde casual haircut, garbed in a sunny yellow sweater and speaking from her shining stainless steel kitchen outlined on the top of the screen by an array of at least twenty-five spotless copper pans and standing behind her counter where an ultra deluxe mixmaster sat next to a bowl of freshly hatched eggs from her nearby chicken coop.

When I was a young mother, Stewart was a fast rising star that used her domestic talents to create an empire that eventually included dozens of cookbooks, several television shows and that still produces a regularly published magazine. Except for her controversial stint in jail for insider trading, Stewart is an ironic example of how she used women's traditional skills to build a wealthy empire.

In the same week that Martha's segment on how to make everything but the kitchen sink cookies during the coronavirus was taking place, I had just finished watching the fifth episode of Mrs. America starring Cate Blanchett, an FX miniseries about the seventies and the women's lib movement, a time during which I was a young wife and mother.

Blanchett stars in the role of Phyllis Schafly, who rose to the top as the spokeswoman against the Equal Rights Amendment. Also featured in the series are the high profile feminists of the time who opposed her: Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, and Bella Abzug.

I recall the times vividly. My peers and I were all struggling to figure out which side of the argument to support. Did we want to be domestic like Martha or did we want the instant equality of opportunity that Gloria and Bella were proposing? Phyllis believed that by diminishing the line between women's and men's roles that society would suffer. She gathered legions of followers that impressed the Republican establishment and made her a power player all while living at home with her lawyer husband and five children.

All of my friends were in favor of the ERA and, though I'm more of a sideline person, I signed the Illinois petition and once joined a protest in Chicago's Grant Park. (Of note: Schafly was from Alton, Illinois and the amendment failed in the state).

Many of us during this time decided to work part-time work while others stayed home and hunkered down as full-time mothers who filled in with book clubs and volunteer work. I personally took a part-time marketing job at a small shopping district near my house and worked for several women merchants, also mothers and wives.

Recently I gave a talk to a group of women some of whom had no knowledge of this time and never had to fight for gender equality. They were professionals and mothers and had never thought about staying home. It was a shock to one that I had any guilt about trying to balance a professional life with being a mother. Her kids were raised in day care and had learned at an early age how to take care of themselves.

This week's television programs on Martha Stewart and Mrs. America revisit women's choices and let us all reevaluate the women's movement. Can a domestic queen like Martha Stewart receive adoration for building an empire based on the tools of a homemaker? Was Phyllis Schafly trying to balance her own ambitions with being a homemaker? Were the feminists all just bitter women who had an axe to grind and made the movement their job? Is it a good fight to specifically legislate that women should have equal opportunities in every sector of American life?

The question of the ERA amendment is currently being revisited and could possibly do better this time. We'll see.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Living with a Pandemic Bird

We live in a beautiful home in the mountains. From every window opening we can see in the near distance the snowcap peaks. Tall imposing evergreens and aspens dot our property. From time to time moose have bunked in our backyard, deer have visited regularly and a friendly fox often has whizzed by our back patio. Every winter my husband puts up bird feeders that attract small wrens, bluebirds, and all types of indigenous birds.

So being quarantined in such a lovely place is not all bad. We make do ordering from Instacart and take regular walks in our neighborhood that is located at the bottom of a national park trail. We are grateful that our family is doing as well as can be expected and that we are regularly able to stay in touch by phone and on Facetime.

It was a surprise to us when an uninvited visitor, an angry bird, began pecking at our tall two- story high hall window from day to night. He was a large red-breasted brown speckled bird and he was relentless. It seemed he didn’t want us to feel that we weren’t being affected by the virus. He wanted us to experience a bit of suffering. Maybe he thought we needed something to do during the countless hours of the day.

From early morning to late dusk, Mr. Angry Bird knocked at the window, only to be deterred momentarily to branches of our front evergreen tree for short periods of time.
It took a while to figure out what we might do to discourage him. (We had no idea if it was a him or a her.) The window is a combination of stained glass and clear glass and on the ledge we have a wildflower arrangement that is surrounded by a glass covering. We decided to hide the glass flower arrangement. That worked for about a half hour.

We turned to the internet for advice. It recommended hanging something with movement and that shines in the window. We up put an old dream catcher and affixed it to the window. Nada.

Then we called the wildlife division of the Parks and Recreation Department. He said birds don’t like raptors and we should try putting an image of one in the window. Two efforts failed. The pounding went on.

Then we called the wildlife company that had gotten rid of the squirrels that were running around in the rafters above our upstairs rooms. She explained the situation was that it was mating season and birds seeing their reflection think what they’re seeing is a prospect. “Block the windows with some covering.” We search around for old posters, newspapers, magazine covers and old calendar cover sheets. Success.

The next day we go downstairs to our family room to do a television yoga session and guess who’s waiting for us at a window in the room? Our visitor, the angry bird. We interrupt the yoga session to put up more paper. We get through the session. Still the bird finds an opening at the bottom. We put up the board and the front cover from our Risk game on the ledge. We can see him sitting on the ground figuring out how to widen his entry. 

This has now been going on for almost two weeks and we’re still not sure that it’s over and that our menacing visitor won’t return again.

If anything, our angry bird has put it all into perspective. An annoyance like him is a pain, but it’s not the end of the world. He’ll go away someday and hopefully so will Corona-19. 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Lee Phillip Bell (My Idol)

In 1970 I was attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I had been teaching speech and English for six years and decided to pursue a master's degree in communication. I was ready for a change from teaching. As part of my program, I accepted the opportunity to become an intern at the local CBS station, a former roller rink, that was located at the edge of downtown Chicago. Until I was nine months pregnant with our first child, every weekday I commuted on the "El" and walked several blocks to CBS.

After a semester of interning, I was hired by the producer of the local talk show to become a secretary in charge of communicating with the show's viewers and of rejecting in a nice manner those people or  companies that my bosses (the producer and the talk show hostess) decided not to have as guests on the show. In addition I was asked to answer the phone and run errands (buying fish for the hostess at Burhop's Fish Store) and picking up the hostess's week of clothes to wear at Saks Fifth Avenue located nearby on Michigan Avenue.

The hostess of the show was a woman named Lee Philip Bell. When I went to work for her, she was already an institution in Chicago. She was married to an ex-advertising executive with whom she wrote soap operas; she was the mother of three children (whom I sometimes baby sat for); she was an able interviewer to every famous person who came to Chicago including Tennessee Williams, Bette Midler, jazz musician Ramsey Lewis, and film director Frank Capra; and she was also a strong advocate and participant in Chicago's community. In addition, during each half hour show, I was situated in the control room as the "assistant director" and watched my boss in action every day.

What a privilege to learn from such an amazing role model. Lee never lost her "cool." Rather every day was fun. She could chat just as easily with Nick, our stage manager as she could with A.C. Neilsen and Mahalia Jackson. Her interest in others included me. On my birthday we would celebrate at the Palmer House's famous Pump Room where we would sit at Table One.

Each day when her noon interview was complete, she would leave the building so she could perform her domestic duties, i.e. running two households and caring for her amazing children.

Here was a woman who did it all and it always seemed that she did it so easily. She could finesse any conflict or disagreement and never seem to mind whatever she was asked to do. She always wanted to know about you. I'll always remember when I invited my parents to visit me at the studio. My father would smile for years when he recalled meeting her. She was as always her charming self.

A few years ago I had a conversation with her. She was already in her late 80s and was a widow, but she remained as perky and positive as ever. Now living in LA she continued to work at the company her children were producing the two long-running soap operas, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. She told me she "liked to keep busy."

Lee Phillip Bell passed away last week at the age of 91, but her influence on me will be everlasting. Of all my mentors, she will always remain at the top of the list.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

I'm Still Learning

Lately I've been looking back at some of the "life lessons" I've experienced since I began a serious writing career many years ago.

I'm reminded of a moment when I was writing about Navajo rugs. I didn't know a thing about the subject, and the man I was interviewing was a revered expert in the field. He said two things that stuck with me. They both had to do with my lack of preparation. He observed that I needed to learn my subject matter before I could intelligently talk to him. The second was that the way I could learn the meaning of "good quality" was to extensively compare rugs on my own. The more I was familiar with the subject, the better I could make a solid judgement.

A few years later, I was writing an article for my city publication on jewelry design, another subject I knew nothing about. My editor was so patient as he ushered me through the process. I struggled with trying to figure out how to focus my article. For me, finding authorities was not the problem. I had been trained well when I worked for a CBS Chicago talk show. What was difficult was synthesizing the theme, making comparisons between designers and still writing an article that would hold the reader's attention.  As a sidelight, I also learned how to control those I was interviewing. One of the designers wanted to read my article before it was published to make sure she was portrayed in a good light. One of the cardinal rules, I learned, was that the article I wrote needed only to have my imprimateur and no-one else's as long as the facts were true.

The joy of writing continues for me to be  the discoveries I make every time I tackle a new subject as well as the unending goal of mine: to educate and entertain with integrity.

I love reading about successful writers who have settled into repeating a prescribed method. Maybe I just haven't achieved that capability yet. I still think that, even if that were miraculously to occur, I would still desire to always keep learning and keep getting better.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Robert Redford and Me

My father always told me that making gains in life would always be a matter of taking two steps forward and one step backward. He had lots of sayings, "Act the part and you'll be the part," Benjamin Franklin's "All that you do, do with your might. Things done by halves are never done right." "I don't like that man. I need to get to know him better." "You're known by your friends as well as your enemies." He was a Dale Carnegie man and was always trying to improve himself. I think he did a pretty good job for a scrapper from the west side of Chicago.

I don't think my dad ever had any hopes for his daughter to become a writer. Actually I don't think he had any aspirations for me at all. They were all for my brother and he was very disappointed when his son took a totally different direction.

I have just completed writing my third book and the first one to be published by a traditional publisher.

I'm feeling very nostalgic about the long road that has led me to what I consider a very important achievement.

One of my favorite steps forward occurred in the seventies when I retired from working first as a teacher and then as a television producer to become a stay at home mom. In quick succession I gave birth to two sons. I believed in laundering my own diapers and I used to call the bathroom "O'Hare Field" where the dirty diapers were lined up before I laundered them. In winter each day it would take me an hour to bundle up the children to go pick up my husband at the train station in the bitter Chicago cold.

I was living in a Chicago North Shore suburb and had become a runner first indoors at the local high school track and in the summer along the streets of the lush suburb in which I lived.

The suburb was so picturesque that several movies were shot in the area. One of the earliest to be filmed was "Ordinary People" starring and produced by Robert Redford and also starring Mary Tyler Moore.

I knew one of the sets was a few blocks away from where I lived and one day I happened to run by the house.

Looky loos surrounded the set and there were trailers all over the place.

After my run, I went home and wrote about it.

Then in a bold move, I called up (in those days it wasn't all about email) a new magazine that covered the North Shore and asked if they might be interested in publishing the article. They said they couldn't pay me but if I wanted to have it published anyway, they would like to publish it.

To see my name in print was enough and the reception was quite pleasing. A lot of people read the article.

That was the beginning of my official writing career.

Through the years there have been many highs and lows and many lessons to be learned.

I have to say that the struggles have made it worth the time it took to get to this point. In the future I hope the path will get easier, but just trying and once in a while succeeding in what I love to do most is a thrill for me.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Reading Through LIfe

Reading has always been a big part of my life and now that I’ve been around for more than seven decades, I’ve been thinking about how my reading life has journeyed.

I can’t remember my first book or having my mother or my father read to me.

I do remember that when I was in fourth grade my teacher Mrs. Beere (very pregnant at the time) read the class “Charlotte’s Web.” And I do remember going to my school library and having Mrs. Petersen suggest a series of orange biographies for me to read. My recollection was that they included biographies about Robert Fulton who invented the steamboat and Jane Adams a well known social worker who started Hull House, a home for poor women. I must have read ten of these biographies. When I had finished those books, Mrs. Petersen handed me a huge volume; it was the biography of Mary Todd Lincoln and it took me months to complete. This was probably my first real introduction to adversity.

Out of the classroom, I began to read stories about Betsy written by Maude Harte Lovelace and went from when Betsy was young in Betsy, Tacy and Tib to the final Betsy’s Wedding written in 1952. Most of my early reading was about living in the idyllic fifties. Ironically I never read Laura Ingalls Wilder. I did read the Sue Barton books about being a nurse and some Cherry Ames books. I have never liked mysteries and only read one Nancy Drew. And
I did love the Bobbsey Twins. 

I probably had a big lapse in reading starting in middle school and only when Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place made its sensational debut in the late fifties did I decide I wanted to take up books very seriously. That paved the way for my further reading of Danielle Steele and Judith Krantz when I was raising my children.

Occasionally I would get serious about literature and read the icons particularly American writers from the twentieth century like Saul Bellow, John Steinbeck, Philip Roth, and eventually even some women like Edith Wharton.

Through the years there’s a thread in my reading. I’ve become more confident about what I choose and to be able to identify it immediately. I’ve learned I like to mirror what society is up to. I’ve always been an idealist and hoping to make things better. For that reason, I’ve gone through periods where all I read about is the Holocaust or African Americans or Women.

Regardless, as I grow older my thirst to read is only increasing. Whether I’m being entertained or educated or made to think, there is no doubt about my love for reading.

Not too long ago a New York Times reporter, Joanne Kaufman talked about her time reading “Malt Shop Novels” and confessed that at the time she was embarrassed that she wasn’t reading more erudite literature. I definitely back up her take and enclose the link to her essay with my own take on how we don't always have to be deep readers!

Something to pass on to our kids and grandkids.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

THE Post

Yesterday I went to see "The Post," Stephen Spielberg's new movie about the Washington Post's decision to publish documents stolen by Daniel Ellsberg from the Defense Department that verified the futility of the Viet Nam War six years prior to Mr. Ellsberg's theft and while the war was continuing to rage and kill hundreds of thousands of American soldiers.  With megastars like Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradley and Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham, the very tentative and new publisher who had just inherited her position when her husband died by suicide, and with John Williams writing the music, there could be no doubt that the movie was Oscar worthy. Right?

Well, it is a winner on many counts.  First the message is so "right on" at the moment and the sets and clothes are fun to watch and there's a lot cute "shticks" that keep the audience entertained.  For example, all during the back and forth that takes place at Mrs. Graham's beautiful Georgetown brownstone, her grandaughter sells lemonade and makes a tidy sum.  And there's another very funny scene where one of the lower members of the editorial staff is asked who had delivered Ellsberg's documents and he goes on and on describing her hippie clothes and finally settles in on "tie-dye" with nobody listening.

It's also a winner because it's written and directed by two women who present the entire tale from a woman's point of view albeit with a very heavy hand.  There's the "touching scene" where Katherine sits next to her daughter in the bedroom where her two granddaughters are sleeping and Katherine relives her feelings at the time of her husband's death when she is asked by the newspaper's board to give a few words of reassurance and her daughter writes the words for her to say.  The words show the strength of the conviction that though she's a woman and she's had no experience except in caring for her children and giving unending cocktail parties, several of which are shown in the movie, she can do the job.

Above all the courage that Mrs. Graham and Ben Bradley cobble together to take the chance that they may go to jail for publishing the papers and risk the profitability of the company against the wishes of all the financiers and professionals that surround them is so mind boggling that whatever other reason for the clumsiness of the movie pales in comparison.

There are many scenes that emphasize women's roles at the time:  Mrs. Graham walks into a boardroom where she is the only female.  She dithers frequently in her demeanor frequently apologizing when she knocks over a chair or when she crosses a street until in the crowning moment she finds her voice and makes her final decision against the majority of men in the room.  At the end of the movie, the message is punctuated by her departure from the Supreme Court where a sea of women step aside as she descends the stairs.  Very symbolic.

I find it interesting that my daughter-in-law thought the movie was boring.  What that says to me is that despite the timely message about the importance of freedom of the press, the minutiae regarding the jigs and jogs that occurred before the Post's win lacks action.  It's just too "talky" for her.  Even I had trouble understanding some of the dialogue and I'm a political wonk.

As for Mr. Hanks and Ms. Streep, they are their amazing selves and just not convincing enough to be sold to me as the larger than life figures of Ben Bradley and Katherine Graham.

Still, I was totally drawn to the retelling of a time in which I was living through the dark days of an unending war that came to no good.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

An Epiphany

I think everybody will agree that 2017 was a tough year.  The election, the me too movement, the usual mass murders and the continuing threats of terrorism.

Personally my life is going through changes and I'm sort of thinking that our country's issues are exacerbating my own crises.

Whatever the reason, I have just come to realize that all these events are coming to a head and that they will make us better in the future.  We're all going to have to look at it that way or we're going to be in a permanent funk.

I do believe that part of America wants to return to the old ways where the white man rules, where money is power, and where the food chain is part of life.  Those on the other side of a more humane way of approaching things have had eight years of reigning and those from the old school don't really care for their approach.

I'm a Libra and I'm in the middle.  I've never been a fervent feminist though I've always wanted to lead an independent life and be an accomplished individual but I've never really blamed anybody else if I didn't succeed.  I have great respect for others and for their struggles and successes but I do believe that initiative and discipline are a part of getting ahead.  

My nephew who has never kept a job for more than six months told me that my late brother, his dad, once told him that it's all a matter of luck as to whether one succeeds or fails.  That to me is a copout.  

So on a grander scale, let's just say that the struggle between the old and the new is current and not etched in stone.  Though we don't have complete control of how things go, we can do our part and maybe have some impact on our future as a country.  I would omit finger pointing and name calling as part of the mix.  There are loftier means of being involved.  

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

I'm Corny

I'm pretty sure it began with all those ballet, piano, and drama lessons that began when I was four, but I love anything that is saccharine and corny.  I was raised on doing the hula and the can can, singing Easter Parade and being Mrs. Darling in Peter Pan.

Especially during the holidays, I am prone to create an Ozzie and Harriet atmosphere just like my mom created for me.  I rarely miss the Macy's Day Parade (though I walked the Turkey Trot this year instead), the Parade of Roses on New Year's Day or a night during the holiday watching "White Christmas."  The day after Thanksgiving, I start to play a collected number of Christmas CD's by Ella, Harry Connick, Jr., Ottmart Leibert,  Neil Diamond and a bunch of the usuals like Bing and Dean. Oh what fun it is!  On Christmas Day with as many kids as I can muster around me or maybe just with my husband, the sounds of Handel's Messiah can be heard throughout the household.

I always top this off by starting a jigsaw puzzle at Thanksgiving and continuing to work on it until I finish it usually around Christmas.  I've done Elvis, presidential buttons and snow scenes. This year's entry:  Movie Posters.  Last year I did 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.

In between I shop, wrap and prepare food if anyone is around to eat it, but even if they aren't, recreating memories associated with all these rituals is something I hope to do for a long time to come.

Corny is good.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Jitters

This week my landscape "designer" fired me.  I have used this service for more than ten years, many years before this young person purchased it from the woman who originally created the business.  She was devoted to personal service.  In fact her entire family worked the business and one sister still works there today.

It is true that I I'm a very meticulous person especially about charges.  I had asked him to explain why my year end bill was so high and queried him about what our contract specified.  Having owned my own retail business for eleven years, I'm certainly aware of customer concerns and handled them regularly in as politic a manner as I could. 

I was hurt by his response.  He said he'd had enough of my questions and he no longer wished to do business with me.  I've actually never been fired by any business and I'm seventy-four years old.

Being a sensitive soul, though few people know this to be true, I was stung.  I had recently had a difficult confrontation with my son and I am still feeling a bit paranoid today.  Am I too demanding?  Am I thinking that others should be more aware of my needs?  Should I just be quiet when things bother me?

Of course this is a matter of judgement in the long run.  It took me years to speak up and now that I do, when something bothers me I get in trouble.

I think everyone is kind of sensitive right now.  The country's climate is so uneasy.  People are fighting all the time for what they believe to be their rights and their privileges.  It's Christmastime right now and there seems to be a lack of joy.  Everybody is on eggshells including me and certainly including my former landscaper.

In response to my malaise, I am trying to put all this into perspective, but it's not coming easily.  If this streak of sadness is coming to me, someone I consider myself a very lucky person, then what are others feeling and thinking?  

I hope we all get over this soon.  It's a time for introspection and for making a strong effort to reverse this collective feeling.  I have no answers, but I'll work on it.  Maybe we all can work on this.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Eight Days of Christmas

Let's get one thing on the table right away.  I am the daughter of two Jewish parents, I married a Jewish man and I raised both of my boys to be Jewish.  I consider myself Jewish, though not particularly observant.  I've always belonged to a temple/synagogue and once in a while I go to services.

I have always lived in America, a primarily Christian country, and I've lived in neighborhoods where I was either in the minority or else among a substantial number of Christians.  Of course, I grew up in the fifties, a time when segregation among different ethnic and religious groups was fairly normal and the word "inclusion" had not been coined.

What I'm really trying to say is that even though I'm Jewish, I LOVE Christmas.  As the child of a German Jewish mother, I had a Christmas tree.  I lived in a suburb where I was the first Jewish member of my fourth grade class and I learned every Christmas carol both religious and seasonal.

When I raised my family we initially had a Christmas tree and only stopped having one when some of our Jewish neighbors complained.

At that point I began a tradition that has continued for at least forty years now and that is still going on even as I am reaching later life.

We try to celebrate the season on Christmas Day with the family members who are around.  I buy eight gifts for each member of the family that symbolize the eight days of Chanukah, a somewhat less significant Jewish holiday that occurs during the Christmas season.  Every year I say I'm going to discontinue the tradition.  It costs too much and it takes too much time.  And every year out of habit I continue to do it.

I buy one gift that has the same theme for everyone.  Last year everyone got earbuds or headphones.  The year before everyone got plaid shirts.  My kids in particular remember one year when they were growing up and my husband and I were scrimping for funds.  Two of their gifts were one sock of a pair and then the other!

Nothing makes me happier than gathering together for brunch or dinner and opening the gifts from number one to eight that range in price from expensive to cheap. That includes dogs and cats (but only one for them!).  I put up the Happy Hanukah sign on the fireplace and we eat bagels for breakfast and prime rib for dinner.  We play the Hallelujah Chorus, but now no other Christmas carols, since my daughter-in-law is more culturally Jewish than our family.

To me traditions run strong.  I'll give my German mother credit for instilling that belief in me.  Every holiday was observed with great panache whether it was Passover, Easter, or a birthday. The memories are strong and the anticipation each year continues to make life richer.