Sons return home bearing gifts – loads of laundry


Lori Clinch

Ah, it’s Christmas time. The smell is in the air, the music fills our ears and the lights dazzle us with gleaming beauty. Bounties fill the carts, love fills our hearts and if you do it right, quickly from the supercenter, you shall soon depart.

Our little Charlie, who isn’t so little anymore, begins counting down the days to Christmas on or around the first day of spring. For him, it’s not about the presents or the material things, it’s family and joy that makes it the reason for the season.

Just so long as he doesn’t get a lump of coal, Charlie loves every Christmas minute.

At church last Sunday, Charlie looked at me as the congregants lit the third Advent candle and said with the same wild-eyed amazement he has had since he was little, “It’s Christmas.”

And it is. As Charlie marvels at the lights and the joy the season brings, my mind races. I have to purchase this, wrap that, and heaven help me, will I ruin the Christmas brisket for the third time in as many years?

This weekend our three older boys will be returning from their campus homes for Christmas break. Their presence will bring a smile to my heart, joy to my ears and (as I take in their bounty of dirty laundry) it will take my breath away.

I’m so grateful. Yet, I still shake in my snow boots because I know what’s coming. It will be big, it will be smelly and reminiscent of Vernon’s first Christmas break from his college home back in 2007.

Sadly enough, I wasn’t aware at the time that when children come back home, they bring upwards of 18 loads of soiled laundry with them. Is it just me, or do you think this should have been explained in advance at college orientation?

Quite frankly, I had never seen anything like it. I was in the middle of my fa-la-la-la-ing, when I heard a beeping noise in front of the house and thought that perhaps a semi truck had mistakenly taken our front porch for a loading dock.

I ran out the door just in time to see our illustrious Vernon standing on the lawn holding two glow sticks in the air as he helped a buddy navigate his rig up to the front door.

Faster than you can say, “Shout it out!” three young men hopped out of the vehicle, loaded large black bags of soiled laundry on their shoulders like jolly old elves and were making their way to the washing machine post-haste.

It was like a bad Christmas movie with sinister Santas.

“For the love of mistletoe, Vernon!” I screamed as I trailed behind. “What are you doing?”

“Oh,” he said as he turned to greet me with his award-winning smile. “Merry Christmas, Mo-there.” It was then that I noticed he was dressed in his Sunday best and looked as if he were running for Congress.

“Dude,” exclaimed one brother as he changed into in a freshly laundered shirt. “What’s with the suit?”

“Yeah,” said another as he changed his socks. “Are you in a wedding, or attending a Christmas pageant?”

“Nah,” explained Vernon as he pulled his Sunday best off his body and added it to the smelly pile. “These were the only clothes I had that were still clean.”

“Perhaps it was a big misunderstanding on my part,” I said as I clutched an evergreen for strength, “but I could have sworn that university brochure said the dorms had washing machines and matching dryers strategically placed for easy use.”

“Oh, they do,” Vernon said as he pulled off his dress socks. “But I thought I would bring my laundry home anyway.”

Over the years, Vernon’s brothers followed suit. Upon every return from their campus homes, I am gifted with love, hugs and enough dirty laundry to choke a reindeer.

At least they think of me in their absence. They make sure they bring me something and as I ponder their return home this weekend, I know my Christmas stocking won’t be empty because they will be bringing me enough work to make Santa’s workshop look like a day spa.

Quite frankly, I think I would settle for a lump of coal.

Lori Clinch is the mother of four sons and the author of the book “Are We There Yet?” You can reach her by sending an email to

New law will broaden safety options

We at 180 Turning Lives Around Inc. applaud the recent enactment of the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015, which broadens the safety options for a greater number of survivors in New Jersey.

Beginning in May 2016, survivors of this most heinous crime, which includes acts or attempted acts of sexual assault, sexual contact, and lewdness, who are not eligible for a domestic violence restraining order, may apply in state Superior Court for a restraining order against the perpetrator. No criminal charges related to the incident need to be filed for a survivor, or their guardian, to apply.

Sexual assault is any sexual contact that is forced or without consent. It is a crime committed by the perpetrator whose motive is to overpower, control, degrade and humiliate. The survivor is never at fault. Over 80 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone who is known to the survivor. Many survivors may fear retaliation. In Monmouth County there is help available at 180 Turning Lives Around, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault. 180 offers 24/7 confidential hotlines, emergency shelter, family court assistance, safety planning, and trained advocates who accompany survivors at police stations, hospitals and family court.

Information and crisis support are available by calling our sexual violence hotline at 732-264-7273 or 888-264-7273. The domestic violence hotline is 732-264-4111 or 888-843-9262.

Any man, woman or child can be sexually victimized. There is no acceptable reason for violence and abuse. If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to us.

Anna Diaz-White
Executive Director
180 Turning Lives Around Inc.


Anthony Toleno of Allentown, a senior majoring in accounting at King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, participated in the college’s 11th annual McGowan School of Business forum at the Union League Club of Philadelphia.

Sons want their parents to show them ‘love’


Lori Clinch

Christmas shopping. It simply isn’t what it used to be. Back in the day I could “wow” our four young sons with anything from Nike socks to the Batmobile and everything in between.

They were thrilled at the pile of presents on Christmas morning. They would wake up at zero dark thirty with excitement and glee and arrive at the foot of our bed with two cups of freshly prepared coffee as they begged us to get up and let the Christmas celebrating commence.

Of course, Santa would leave his gifts, along with a messy pile of half-consumed cookies, and then get on his merry way with a heartfelt, “Ho ho ho, there you go!”

They loved everything. They didn’t mind that I purchased and wrapped a Charlotte Hornets Tshirt (got that for a mere $4.99 on a doorbuster special) and they could care less that the socks they received did not have a pre-specified left and right foot.

Those were the days. I could go to discount sales and purchase in bulk. Blue light specials and closeouts were the bomb diggity. As long as the size was right, I dressed the kids in whatever I wanted to.

Having four sons, I could start with Vernon and pass the clothing down the line until it got to poor little Charlie, in tatters, with little or no concern for his reputation.

On the Christmas that I purchased Vernon a faux leather jacket and found Lawrence a sports shirt for a team I did not know he despised, I was informed by our sons that my days of purchasing their clothing without prior written authorization had come to an end.

No more random purchases, even if I did have a $10 coupon.

Then, with clothing as the only thing on the Christmas wish lists, my purchasing just wasn’t the same. No more frugal shopping or impulse buying, and I could all but forget the doorbuster specials.

For the last several years, I have been shopping with four sons who all tower over 6 feet in height. I would stand in their midst as they scoured the racks, dug through the piles and dissed each other’s taste in clothing. Yet, I would get it done in one quick night and take the bounty home.

Rather than wrapping their socks in Christmas paper and adorning it with a bow, complete with a tag that says “Mommy loves!” I gathered up four large boxes.

I inserted their carefully selected jeans, along with their woven wools and their foot-specific socks. I simply wrapped those four boxes, placed them under the tree and then I put up my feet and patted myself on the back with a self-indulging, “Well done, my good woman, well done!”

Although it was cheesy, it was easy and once again all was well.

Alas, that season of easy Christmas shopping has come to an end as well. Our beloved Vernon nixed it on Thanksgiving weekend, saying he had enough clothes to get by and sadly enough, his brothers agreed.

This year the lists are short and when I asked our four sons what they want for Christmas, the answer was a unanimous “Love.”

As Norman Rockwell as that sounds, any parent in the know will tell you that statement means they simply want money.

That would be easy enough, but one has to ask one’s self, “How do we wrap it?” Do we put it in a big box and place it under the tree? Stuff it into a foot-specific package? Perhaps we bake it into a Santa cookie and leave it on the tray?

Either way, Christmas is coming and I am grateful our family will be together.

The excitement of a Batmobile won’t be looming on our horizon, the anticipation of what Santa left won’t be hanging in the air, but all will be well. I just hope our sons have the wherewithall to have freshly prepared coffee before they wake us from our Christmas morning slumber.

Lori Clinch is the mother of four sons and the author of the book “Are We There Yet?” You can reach her by sending an email to

Newcomer Shanice Williams shines in NBC’s star-studded live musical

By Lori Acken,

Somewhere over the Rainbow Room marquee that marks the eatery’s shared entrance with NBC Studios at New York City’s legendary 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a brand-new Dorothy prepares to make the “Wizard of Oz” story her own.

During an intense, nationwide audition process this past June, 19-year-old, applecheeked charmer Shanice Williams — a local-theater standout from Rahway, N.J. — warbled her way into the lead role in NBC’s The Wiz Live! (Thursday, Dec. 3), the Peacock’s third theater-meets-smallscreen production. The family-friendly extravaganza puts the bubbly, honey-voiced Williams square in the middle of the Live! franchise’s most star-studded lineup yet, including Queen Latifah as The Wiz, Mary J. Blige as Evillene, David Alan Grier as Cowardly Lion, Elijah Kelly as Scarecrow, Ne-Yo as Tin Man and Stephanie Mills — who originated the Dorothy role in The Wiz’s Broadway debut when she was just Williams’ age — as Auntie Em.

“She is so adorable,” exclaims Williams, who delved into Lincoln Center archives to study Mills’ performance in the Tony-winning 1975 original. “She made me cry, and I made her cry. Her voice still sounds the same from when she was 16. What can you say to that? She’s my inspiration. She started singing, and I just started crying. Her voice, it just touches you!”

Like its predecessors, 2013’s The Sound of Music Live! and 2014’s Peter Pan Live!, The Wiz boasts an impressive theater pedigree — executive-produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, directed by Tony winner Kenny Leon (Broadway’s 2014 A Raisin in the Sun revival) and featuring new written material by the inimitable Harvey Fierstein. Cirque du Soleil performers and jaw-dropping costumes by award-magnet costumer Paul Tazewell amp up the wow factor.

Williams says she was “overcome with gratitude” when Leon himself delivered the news of her big break. Having spent two semesters at a Los Angeles performing arts school, the lifelong music buff wondered if there really was no place like home. She returned to Rahway for the summer and was contemplating her next move when she spied the Wiz audition online and made herself a deal. She’d give it her best shot and resume her school search if it didn’t pan out.

“I was already so comfortable with [the material],” said the longtime fan of the 1978 film (starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as Scarecrow) who played good witch Addaperle in a middleschool production. “I never really dug deep into the role of Dorothy, but I just felt like, ‘OK, I already know this story. I love this show. It’s gonna be fun.”

Suffice it to say those school applications are going to have to wait — likely indefinitely — while Williams eases on down the road to success with the support of her famous “sweet and welcoming and chill” costars.

“I run eight-hour rehearsals, and they go by in five minutes,” Williams says. “I’m living my journey. I’m having fun — and everyone in this cast is amazing. We’re gonna give you guys a great show. You guys are not ready for this show! I’m having the time of my life!”

A knockout performance

In theaters now

Creed is the latest installment of the extremely successful Rocky series of films. While Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is back for this film, the focus is on Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late Apollo Creed.

Adonis never knew his father — Apollo died before he was born — but he has always had a fighter inside. Bouncing around in the system until his grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) took him in, Adonis caused trouble everywhere he went. Now a grown man, he knows fighting is in his blood.

Adonis has been a successful fighter in the Mexican underground boxing scene, but wants more. Leaving his job behind, Adonis decides to dedicate himself to a fighter’s life. When no one on the West Coast will train him, he heads east to Philadelphia and the home of Rocky Balboa.

From the moment he steps foot into Rocky’s restaurant, there is a connection. But Rocky is not ready to get back into the fight game and spurns the attempt Adonis makes to enlist him as his trainer. Adonis doesn’t give up and Rocky feels a personal responsibility to Apollo’s son.

Trying to make it as Adonis Johnson is difficult, but word soon leaks about his true pedigree — he is a Creed. Adonis struggles with the Creed name. He wants to be his own man, judged by his own talents and not his legendary father’s name. This is not an easy task and requires more than just strength in the ring.

Let me be perfectly clear: Although the Rocky franchise once felt tired and a little worn, with Rocky Balboa (2006) and this film, the franchise has risen like a fighter getting up from two knockdowns to knock out the opponent. The franchise is stronger than ever.

Round 1 is the ideal casting of Adonis Johnson — Michael B. Jordan. If he is not a star in the coming years, there is something wrong in Hollywood. He brings his dramatic chops to Creed — the same chops that made him sensational in 2013’s Fruitvale Station. Here he is able to channel the aggression, the loneliness, the internal demons and the life of a kid growing up in foster care into the man on a mission to do the thing he does so well: fight. I can’t imagine anyone better for the role.

Round 2 brings the legendary Sylvester Stallone back to the role that defined much of his career. This chance to become Rocky Balboa once again — not in a fighting role, but a mentoring role — has afforded Stallone the chance to deliver what is arguably his best performance ever onscreen. The interactions between Stallone and Jordan are heartwarming and real.

Round 3 delivers a spot-on story that lingers just enough to allow the boxing sequences to deliver haymakers. There is a love story, but it never overwhelms Creed’s driven nature as he struggles to survive.

And the knockout punch is the boxing action. Director Ryan Coogler delivers believable jabs and uppercuts, creating adrenaline that shoved me to the edge of my seat. I was cheering every punch that landed and feeling the wind knocked from my gut with every body blow Adonis felt.

Creed is a crowd-pleasing journey with great acting, a solid story and intense boxing action that will stand the test of time. It is a pound-for-pound contender with any film released in 2015. A knockout performance that deserves to be seen on the big screen, Creed will thrill boxing fans and film fans.

Rated: PG-13
Stars: Michael B. Jordan,
Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Director: Ryan Coogler
Grade: A

Opt outside on Black Friday



After a day of family and feasting on Thanksgiving, what will you do the next day? You could join the ever-escalating Black Friday shopping madness: malls at midnight, crowds stampeding for bargains and plenty of traffic.

Or you could join a healthier tradition and use Black Friday to burn off calories and brighten up your senses with outdoor exercise.

Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), the outdoor equipment and apparel giant, shocked the retail world this year by announcing plans to close stores and shipping centers on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. REI instead encourages its employees and customers to spend the day outdoors. Check out the company’s Black Friday challenge on its website, The site allows users to find trails near them via ZIP code, then post photos and comments on social media with #optoutside.

Among the New Jersey trails featured on the REI website are the Batona Trail through the Pine Barrens, the Lawrence Hopewell Trail in Mercer County, the Pyramid Mountain Loop in Morris County, the Ridge Trail in the Sourland Mountain Preserve in Somerset County, Smith’s Woods Trails in Burlington County, St. Michael’s Farm Preserve trails in Mercer County, and the Lewis Morris Park trails in Morris County.

Although REI is bucking a huge retail trend by shutting its doors the day after Thanksgiving, it is definitely hopping aboard the good health bandwagon.

In September, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy launched a new program called “Step It Up” to encourage physical activity and promote walking.

“We know that an average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes,” Murthy said. “Increasing people’s physical activity level will significantly reduce their risk of chronic disease and premature death and support positive mental health and healthy aging.”

In his call to action, Dr. Murthy noted that half of all American adults are living with chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. These diseases contribute to disability, premature death and high health care costs.

Research shows that regular exercise promotes good physical and mental health, prolongs life and prevents disease. Murthy identified walking as an ideal exercise, since almost anybody can do it with minimum expense.

So what will you do this Black Friday? Why not ditch the stress of the shopping malls and mobs and go for a walk or hike instead? Opt outside — you’ll be happier and healthier for it.

Here in New Jersey, we can be thankful on Thanksgiving weekend for our many great parks and preserves, in addition to those listed on the OptOutside website.

To find a trail near you, check out the New York New Jersey Trail Conference website at, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s trailhead locator map at, the New Jersey Trails website at or the New Jersey Hiking website at

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.

Redbird band celebrates success at USBands event


ALLENTOWN — Ross Hecht, who directs the Allentown High School Redbird Marching Band, has reason to sing the praises of his student-musicians.

On Nov. 8 the Redbirds placed second with a score of 96.525 in the USBands National Championships in Allentown, Pa. On the road to their second-place finish, the Redbirds earned the Best Music and Best Percussion awards.

The Redbirds were the last band in their group to perform – which is regarded as an honor. The Allentown students were competing against 17 bands from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and New York.

“I am thrilled for the students … I could not be more proud,” Hecht said in the aftermath of his squad’s outstanding performance in Pennsylvania. “The members pushed themselves every day to get better. This was a very difficult field show they performed and maxed it out. I was speechless; speechless because there were no words to describe how proud I was of them and their accomplishments.”

The Redbirds performed their field show “ChronoVariations.” During the show they explored variations of time from time signatures, tempos and pulses while performing classic songs such as “Shenandoah” and “Simple Gifts,” Hecht said.

The drill formations included many clock-based ideas. In addition, the color guard members spun flags that were all clock-themed.

“It was a very timely show!” Hecht said.

The students began rehearsing their fall show in June and practiced almost every day.

“It takes a lot of time to perfect our program,” Hecht said, adding it was a special moment when the Redbirds learned the results at nationals. “The band was very excited. It was an exciting season for everyone and to cap it off with a second-place finish, everybody was happy.”

Two band members shared their thoughts about the unit’s success.

“We had a great run of a season for my final year,” said senior Sam Ramsey, who plays the sousaphone. “Getting second place and being only 0.113 behind first place is such a fantastic feeling. I am extremely proud of our accomplishments this season. We have worked so hard and really enjoyed performing this show. Winning second place with Best Percussion and Best Music was really a dream come true.”

Senior drum major Abby Urban reflected on the experience and said, “It has been a huge honor being the drum major these past two years. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to conduct and lead the band. Conducting at nationals brought tears to my eyes.”

Hecht said there is something special about competing at nationals against bands from other states.

“All of the bands are trying to achieve the same goal. It is difficult. The staff tells the students to focus on doing their best and not to worry about scores or judges. When the students do their best and the judges agree, it is that much more exciting,” he said.

When the students returned to the high school after nationals, family members and friends greeted them with cowbells and signs. The buses were escorted by the Allentown Police Department and the Hope Fire Company.

Hecht said the band rehearses a great deal and he reminds his young musicians it is important to “do your best every time.”

“I spend a lot of time discussing how it is more than a marching band we are perfecting,” he said. “We are working on making the choice to be the best you can be all of the time, no matter what you are doing.”

The students receive support from the Redbird Band Parent Association (RBPA). Parent Tom Lennox said he believes the band’s showing at nationals was an all-time high score for Allentown and was the result of commitment and sacrifice on the part of everyone associated with the unit.

Hecht thanked the RBPA for its support.

Prior to competing at nationals, the Redbirds finished second at the state championships in Piscataway.

As for the future, Hecht said, “We (will) continue to improve and challenge ourselves to be better than ever. Every season, I ask the students to be the best they can be, in school, on the field and at home. Next season will be no different, (we will) strive for greatness every day.”

Hecht said many of the students in the marching band are also in the school’s concert band. The concert band will sponsor a concert and soup dinner on Dec. 10. Soup will be served at 6 p.m., followed by a concert at 7 p.m.