Tag: holidays

Independence Day

For the last 19 years, the first thing I think about on July 4 is not the birth of the country, it is death. In one of the most remarkable coincidences in the history of the country, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day, which happened to be July 4, 1826–the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That was 194 years ago today.

When the first fireworks began cracking last night, my thoughts rolled back to the scene that David McCullough portrayed in his biography of John Adam:

At Quincy the roar of cannon grew louder as the hours passed, and in midafternoon a thunderstorm struck–“The artillery of Heavan,” as would be said–to be followed by a gentle rain… Adams lay peacefully, his mind clear, by all signs. Then late in the afternoon, according to several who were present in the room, he stirred and whispered clearly enough to be understood, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

That scene was powerful enough in my mind to spin a story around it, one in which a time traveler brings Jefferson and Adams together in their final hours to witness the bicentennial celebration from Liberty Island in 1976. The editor to whom I submitted the story liked it, but said there was something wrong with it and he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. I mentioned this to my friend, Michael Burstein, who asked me to send him the story, confidently stating he would figure out what the problem was. He got back to me shortly there after, sheepishly proclaiming that while there was definitely something wrong with the story, he too, couldn’t figure out what it was. I eventually trunked the story, but I think about it every Independence Day.

I have the vaguest memories of the bicentennial celebration in 1976. I was living in New Jersey at the time, four years old, and fascinated, so far I can remember, with the fireworks. A year later that fascination had turned to fear. I don’t remember being afraid of the fireworks, but the reporter and photographer that captured me in this photo which appeared on July 7, 1977 remembered on my behalf:

At some point, I lost my enthusiasm for big fireworks celebration on the Fourth of July. They always seemed crowded, parking was difficult, the weather was often less than conducive to the event, and it was generally more trouble than it was worth. The notable exception to this was our annual summer treks to Maine, where the small coastal town we visited hosted a delightful New England Independence Day celebration. It started early on the town square with a costume parade, hot dogs, cotton candy and lemonade. Later in the afternoon, the town band performed all kinds of patriotic tunes. Finally, when darkness settled, everyone in the small town gathered at the town dock for a fireworks display while another band entertained the crowds and the small ice cream shop kept us cool. I enjoy those celebrations immensely, not the least because I could walk everywhere and not worry about finding a parking space.

Two years ago, on a family road trip, we had a perfect view of the fireworks celebration in Nashville, Tennessee from our hotel room. This was perfect since earlier in the day it had hit nearly 110 degrees in Nashville. I didn’t mind that experience either.

I never got the fireworks bug as a kid. I know quite a few kids my age right now who still have the bug and can’t wait to light off firecrackers, fountains, ground-spinners and sparklers. I prefer to imagine the celebrations in Quincy, Massachusetts 194 years ago, with cannons accompanied by nature’s own fireworks, thunder and lightning. Indeed, I sometimes think that the perfect Independence Day celebration would be a loud, flashing thunderstorm passing through just as night falls over the town, a humbling reminder that despite all of our independence and freedom, we are still at the mercy of the whims of nature.

Some Observations from a Holiday Weekend

I jotted notes throughout the holiday weekend in case I observed anything post-worthy. Looking through my notes, it seems like the notes themselves are enough for one post.


  • It seems like Thanksgiving weekend starts earlier ever years. For our kids, the weekend began Tuesday at around noon after their “Grandparents” show at school.
  • With so many people traveling on the holiday weekend (including us), I’m always surprised that people are traveling to the place that we are leaving. The school has their “Grandparents” show on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, presumably because so many grandparents have traveled to the area.
  • Many grandparents, many being retirees I suppose, and wanting to avoid the holiday travel rush, must decide to come into town much earlier than Thanksgiving. There were quite a few grandparents at the Grandparents show, and that show took place at 9:30 Tuesday morning. I wonder how many calls went out to Grandparents saying, “You better be here to see your grandchild perform in the Grandparents show!” I wonder how many grandparents had to change their travel arrangement to make it to the show?
  • Although I am not a grandparent, I like to avoid the holiday travel rush. We set out for our drive to New York at 5:30 am. We hit no traffic and arrived at my sister’s house at 10 am.
  • E. B. White accompanied me on the drive. I listened to the audiobook version of One Man’s Meat. It was the third time I have read that book, and I never seem to tire of it. Each time I finish it, I think I want to pack it all in and move up to a salt water farm in Maine. I doubt that Harper’s would be pay me the 2019 equivalent of what it paid White for his monthly column, but I could blog about it here, right?
  • The five miles or so leading up to the George Washington bridge are always a little hectic. This time, though, there was no traffic. The signs indicated the faster route was via the lower level. I took it reluctantly. I’ve been crossing the George Washington Bridge my entire life, and the lower level feels a lot less bridge-like than the upper level.
  • Once at my sister’s house, I settled in at her kitchen table and spent the next eight hours working. Thanksgiving weekend–for me at least–didn’t start until about 6 pm.
  • I walked through the main street in my sister’s town after I finished working. The temperatures had been mild, but the winds were picking up. The main street was abuzz with traffic, cars and people. There are dozens of local shops that are fun to look it because they are right there in front of you instead of on a computer screen.
  • The hardware store was my favorite. It was a practical hardware store, with what seemed like hundreds of bins of stuff that is useful around the house.
  • I noted in my notebook about half a dozen barber shops. At 6 pm, not all were all of the seats filled, but the waiting areas were filled as well. It seemed like everyone in town suddenly realized that needed a trim before the holiday.
  • It started to rain while I walked. Passing by the local, family-owned grocery store, I caught of glimpse of what I typically see deep in the City: a street clogged with traffic, and lots of honking horns. Cars double-parked in front of the grocery store while groceries were loaded. I suppose the people were concerned about the rain, but it didn’t bother me.
  • My parents arrived not long after I returned from my walk. We had baked Mac & Cheese for dinner. My sister, knowing that I like notebooks, gave me Rite in the Rain, All-Weather, Universal No. 135 Notebook. I’m not sure what the 135 stands for, but it is a great little notebook with waxed paper that you can write in the rain with. I wish she’d given it to me before my walk. There are smudges on the pages of my Field Notes notebook where I tried counting barber shops.
My Rite in the Rain notebook


  • I took walk early Thursday morning, and the main street in town looked completely different than it had only 12 hours earlier. It was desolate. Everything was closed. There were handwritten signs on many business letting people know that the business was closed. I found these signs completely unnecessary as there was no one out to read them.
Main Street - Thanksgiving Morning
  • A few years back, while reading a biography of Casey Stengel, I learned that Brooklyn Dodgers manager John McGraw bought a house in Pelham, NY. I looked up the news of the purchase in the NY Times, found the address, and since it was only 2 miles from where I happened to be, I decided to walk there.
  • The street on which the house was on was quiet. No one was out. I felt a little strange taking a picture of the house at 7:30 in the morning, but I love this sort of thing. Here was the place that John McGraw came home at night. I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, looking 90 year back into baseball history.
  • John McGraw paid $65,000 for the house in 1930. The house is currently worth about $1.5 million.
  • There is always a lot of snacking on Thanksgiving, but I tried to avoid it because I wanted to be able to sample everything at dinner.
  • “Everything at dinner” included: butternut squash soup w/bacon, a delicious crab dish, orange stuffed with yams and marshmallows, smoked turkey (with my brother-in-law smoked in the backyard), mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans, and rolls. I ate it all.
  • Dessert consisted of grasshopper pie, apple pie, and pecan pie. I was unable to eat any of it. I was too stuffed.
  • In the evening, we watching the first half of White Christmas. Halfway through, stuffed to the gills, everyone was sleepy and we decided to finish the movie the next day. Dozing off that night, I tried to think the last time I watched a movie or TV show straight through without interruption. I think it must have been sometime in the previous decade.
My Thankgiving dinner plate.


  • The day after Thanksgiving is a day designed to be lazy. While everyone is out at Black Friday sales, we just relaxed. Some of us may have shopped online.
  • We watched Home Alone, which I hadn’t seen in years, and which was just as funny as I remembered it.
  • The kids and their cousins went to a nearby park with glider in hand. Five minutes after arriving at the park, the glider was stuck high up in a tree. They spent the next 50 minutes trying various methods to get the glider out of the tree. Eventually, they succeeded.
  • I reprised my Thanksgiving dinner, but this time, for an early lunch.
  • Kelly, along with my sister, my mom, and the older kids went out for a hike. I stayed back in order to make sure our youngest got in her nap. And while she was at it, I decided it would be prudent if I napped, too.
  • I made up for my shameful abstemiousness the previous night, I had a piece of all 3 pies. We then settled in to watch the rest of White Christmas.


  • My brother-in-law ran in a half-marathon Saturday morning. We all cheered him on by racing from one spot to another along the course. At times, we ran. It was cold, but some 800 people ran in the half marathon. We cheered them at each place we stopped.
  • My brother-in-law completed the half marathon in 2:06, better than he had expected. We celebrated by heading back to the house and eating.
  • We debated about when we should head home. Rain and snow was expected on Sunday, and so we finally decided to head home around 4pm on Saturday in order to avoid the holiday traffic with weather.
  • When we started the car, the GPS said we’d be home around 8:50pm. I avoided the George Washington Bridge, and took the Mario Cuomo “Bridge” instead. I put bridge in quotes there, because I thought the old Tappan Zee was more of bridge than the eyesore they call a bridge today.
  • We arrived home at 10:24 pm. I suspect everyone else had the same idea that we had. If it took us 6-1/2 hours to make 4-hour drive in clear weather last night, I can only imagine what the drive today will be like. Besides, it wasn’t a bad drive, I spent the 6-1/2 hours listening to the first 9 hours of Eye of the World by Robert Jordan.


  • Slept in until almost 8 am. Then I went out for a walk despite the light rain.
  • Went grocery shopping, and picked up a copy of the New York Times. Great article on Amazon. First in a series.
  • Made eggs and toast for breakfast. Then I headed up into the attic to play Tetris with the boxes up there in order to locate and remove the box containing half of the Christmas tree.
  • The tree has now been assembled. It will be decorated after lunch.
  • Speaking of lunch, that rumble you hear is my stomach growling.
  • I mentioned last week that I have been growing a beard. Today I’m 4-weeks in. Here’s the result so far:
My beard, at 4-weeks

10 simple steps for creating an annual holiday letter

It’s that time of year again when mailboxes are clogged filled with holiday letters from various friends and family, updating everyone on the various accomplishments of the past year. I seem to received a lot of these letters (I post my own online, for instance here and here) and having read many thousands of such letters, I have come to recognize certain patterns. Since it is still fairly early in December, I thought I would share my insights with you all and give you 10 simple steps for creating a holiday letter that will be the envy of all your friends.

1. Salutation

Most of these letters start off in one of two ways. The decision on which way you start off the letter is crucial because it sets the tone for the rest of your message. In the salutation, you are addressing your audience and in letters like these, your audience is often broad and varied. The two most common variants are as follows:

  1. Dear Friends and Family,
  2. Dear Family and Friends,

I’ve listed these two salutations in order of popularity. This is a tough decision for those afraid of offending anyone. By listing “friends” before “family” you risk offending family members by relegating them to second place in the salutation. However, by listing “family” before “friends” you risk the same with your friends. One could argue that “friends and family” has a more sonorous ring to it, and feels more natural rolling off the tongue, but in these tough diplomatic situations, how something sounds is less important than the meaning it conveys.

A reasoned approach is necessary which is why I recommend addressing your letter to “Friends and Family.” Friends you can lose by offending them. Family is family no matter what. They are stuck with you and you them. In consideration of the fact that friends can be lost when family cannot, in the same sense, be lost, going with “Dear Friends and Family” is the obvious choice.

A more ambiguous (and if you ask me, somewhat cowardly) approach is to leave off the salutation all together and jump right into item #2. In this instance you single no one out so the chances of offending any one group is far less. The chance of offending all groups seems greater, however. As far as anyone can tell, with this approach, you might be addressing the dog or the pet goldfish.

Read more

Happy (Mushy) Valentine’s Day

Today marks the 4th Valentine’s Day that Kelly and I have spent together, and it is worthy of at least a brief mention:

<begin mushy sentiment>

I generally agree that Valentine’s Day has become a Hallmark holiday and a rather sentimental one at that, given its history. We buy cards and flowers and candy. It becomes an obligation, just to save face among one’s peers and family. But it also provides a convenient place on the calendar to take a few minutes respite from the day-to-day routine and consider your lot in life. And for me, I woke up this morning thinking about how lucky I am to have Kelly in my life, how much better she makes my days, how tolerant and patient she is with my many (many!) idiosyncrasies, how supportive and encouraging she is of my dreams. If I believed in reincarnation, that in each subsequent life you are rewarded for the good things you did in the previous life, I’d have to assume that I was saintly indeed in some previous life, given my good fortune in this one to be blessed with such a wonderful companion with whom to live it.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Kelly!

<end mushy sentiment>

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.

Christmas morning

The Little Man has an ear infection and managed to have a bit of a rough night last night. He slept in this morning, however, much to the chagrin of everyone else who wanted him up so that he could open all of his presents. He finally got up about halfway through our gift unwrapping and he seemed to have a wonderful time opening all of his presents.

When he first woke up, he was a bit out of it and not too sure what was going on. But after he opened his first few presents, he got the idea pretty quickly. He got close to a dozen Thomas trains and a track on which to run them. He got some of his favorite Cars cars inlcuding Mater and Lightning McQueen. He got his own laptop computer and a Little People farm set. He got a work helmet and toolbox. The number of toys was nearly overwhelming and he seemed delighted by it all.

He is now sitting on the floor in his Santa Rocks pajamas playing with his trains, exploring and he has a big smile on his face. A very merry Christmas, indeed.

Holiday Letter, 2059

Dear Friends and Family,

We are just back from another trip around the sun and let me say it is good to be home. Virgin Galactic lost our luggage on the way back but I am optimistic that they will pick up its beacon before our bag spirals into the sun. And besides, I’d already uploaded all of the holograms we took so that only real loss is the suede jumpsuit that Marcia’s mom got me for Christmas last year.

And speaking of Christmas, the holiday season is virtually upon us again and I wanted to take this opportunity to update all of you on what has been going with the Rubin clan this last year.  My Dad started this tradition way back in 2009 and I’ve tried to continue it each year because like him, I think it’s important that everyone we know or have ever heard of is made aware of all of the wonderful things that have happened to us over the course of the year.

Alas, this year I must open with some sad news. Dad is no longer with us. We moved him into a special facility on Luna earlier this year because quite frankly, his fame and ego were getting to be too much for us to handle. And besides, the low gravity will do him some good; he’s always complaining about back pain and it should be significantly improved in 1/6th gravity. He took it in stride, I think. He is busy working on his next novel, a science fiction thriller about about a family who tries to get rid of their patriarch by sending him off to the moon. We still tweet with him almost every day. I find he is much easier to take in 140 character chunks. Mom went with him and she apparently loves “their condo in Mare Imbrium” as she refers to it.

It is hard to believe, but I turned the big Five-Oh back in June. Of course, I feel like I’m twenty, but Zoe, who turned twenty this year keeps reminding me that I am not. Zoe is beginning her junior year at Princeton and majoring in “singularity studies” which I have no chance of understanding. (Frankly, I don’t believe she or her professors understand it either, but that’s just my opinion.)  Zane turned 18 this year and has just completed his first semester at Julliard, where he is majoring in virtual musical performances.  (“Rock Band,” I call it.  Kids these days…)

Marcia appears to be following in her father-in-law’s footsteps. Earlier this year, she got a major book deal and the very next day, she did something she’s always talked about doing. She walked into her bosses office and said, “Marty, I’ve been here for nearly twenty years and I’ve really liked working here. The people are wonderful and the job is, for the most part, interesting. But I’m afraid I must give me notice. You see, I can no longer afford to word here. With this latest book deal I simply make too much money as a writer.” So Marcia is now self-employed, or put another way, she’d her own boss. (She’ll claim she’s my boss, too, but don’t let her fool you. We all know who wears the kilt in this family.)

As for me, not much has changed. I’m a year older of course, and I’ve added a few hundred million frequent flier miles to my account. With both the kids away at school and Marcia now her own boss, we are planning on traveling a bit more. We’ve already booked a cruise to Venus in 2060, and some friends are trying to talk us into seeing the ruins of the alien city on Titan in 2061. I really can’t think that far ahead.

I hope that your year has been as blessed as ours and that your holiday season is filled with friends, family, and lots of alcohol holiday cheer.  As you can see in the background, Mom is impatiently waiting for me to finish this hologram so that she can put in her favorite holiday movie, Love, Actually, yet another Rubin holiday tradition. (Can you believe that picture is not even 3-D, let alone interactive!?)  It’s been wonderful seeing you all and I look forward to hearing from you in the new year.  And as Dad used to say…

“With love and kisses,”

Zachary, Marcia, Zoe and Zane

The First Night

So last night was the first night of Hanukkah. It is no secret to anyone who knows me that, while I was brought up Jewish, I am non-practicing. Other Jews have a phrase for this: I’m a bad Jew.

(This reminds me of the man who told a friend that he was getting a divorce from his wife.  The friend said, “But you’re Catholic, how can you do that?” The man said, “Ah, you haven’t heard of the loophole?” to which the friend replied, “I know of no loophole.”  The man smiled and said, “I’m a bad Catholic.”)

In any event, I might not be practicing, but it seemed appropriate to expose the Little Man to the experience, just as we expose him to the Christmas experience. We didn’t light the candles, mainly because I don’t practice and besides, the Little Man would not yet understand what that was all about, but he did open a Hanukkah present sent by his grandparents. I took video and will ultimately put together a video montage of each of the eight nights, starring the Little Man opening his gifts.  One lesson I took away from last night: let him eat dinner before opening the gifts. While he generally enjoys tearing up paper, he was acutely less interested last night because he was hungry and wanted to eat. So we’ll try again tonight, but only after he has a belly full of food.

If you celebrate the holiday, Happy Hanukkah.  Or is it Chappy Chanukah?

My long holiday weekend plan

Since everyone has been posting what they will be doing this Thanksgiving weekend here is my plan:


  • Head home early
  • Clean up the house a bit
  • Work on more fixes for the novel outline
  • Write Chapter 24
  • Arlington Writers Group meetup at 7pm


  • Early morning writing (Chapter 25)
  • Last-minute house-stuff
  • Thanksgiving with friends: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

(Black) Friday

  • Get up very early to… write Chapter 26 while everyone else is shopping
  • Hang out with friends coming into town for the weekend


  • Get up early to write Chapter 27
  • More hanging out with friends


  • Get up early to write Chapter 28
  • A little hanging out with friends before they head home
  • Cleaning up the house
  • Dexter and Boardwalk Empire

What will you be doing for your holiday weekend?

Columbus Day

No work today as it is a federal holiday and that meant I could sleep in late and be lazy all day long. And that’s more or less what happened. Kelly headed home after lunch at TGI Friday’s. I planned to get the house cleaned up a bit, do some laundry, and head to the gym for my upper body workout. Instead, I lay down on the bed to pet Zeke and ended up falling asleep for nearly 3 hours. When I finally work up, it was around 5 PM and the day was mostly used up.

I am looking forward to the Yankees/Indians game tonight. And I may manage to get some laundry done between now and then. Maybe even a few odd chores. I do wonder how I’ll sleep tonight, however, having slept in late and taken a lengthy nap in the afternoon. I guess I’ll find out.

Spoke briefly with Dad today. And had a longer video chat with strausmouse earlier this afternoon. (He had the day off too.)

Now let me see if I can’t get a few things done before this long weekend is all over.

Congratulations Andy and Mandy!

Hannah Riley Owens arrived this morning via c-section, weighing in around 6 pounds, which is only slightly smaller than her mother. Congratulations Andy and Mandy! That’s awesome news. I love days like this. We haven’t seen pictures yet, but Andy described his daughter as having a birthmark that looked strikingly similar to the NY of the New York Yankees. He also said that her gentle cry sounds similar to a crowd shouting, “Jeter! Jeter!”

It’s fitting for Andy and Mandy that Hannah was born on the Jewish New Year. As strausmouse has said, Happy Rosh Hash-Hannah! Even though there is supposed to be no labor on the Jewish New Year, my guess is that not only would rabbis make an exception in this case, they’d probably say it was a sign of good fortune.

So congratulations once again, kids. You have all sorts of amazing things to look forward to. Just read strausmouse‘s blog to see what I mean.

I can’t wait to see her!

To L.A. for Thanksgiving

I just booked my tickets to L.A. for Thanksgiving. This year, we are having Thanksgiving at Mom and Dad’s house. Doug, Rachel, Ruby, Carson, Jen and Jason will all be flying in. I’ve been holding off on buying the tickets because they are pretty expensive right now, but I bought them today for fear that the prices wouldn’t come down any further. Granted, I could have probably bought tickets on another airline, but it makes sense to me to only fly United because that’s where all my miles are, my upgrade credits, my Red Carpet membership, etc. It’s the price I pay for those benefits. This time, that price was $468 round-trip from Dulles to LAX, which is about $100 more than what I paid for essentially the same trip over Labor Day weekend.

In any event, I’ve got my e-tickets. I leave for L.A. at 8 AM on Thursday morning (Thanksgiving Day) and arrive just before 11 AM. I’ll see if Doug can pick me up from the airport in the fashionable minivan he will be renting for his trip. I head home on the red-eye, Saturday night, at 10:20 PM. That means I can drive home Sunday morning and go right to sleep.

Incidentally, this is the trip that will, for the fifth or sixth year in a row, guarantee another full year of United Mileage Plus Premier membership (I’ll likely end the year with somewhere around 30,000 miles flown.)