Looking back at Christmas

By Lucie M. Winborne,
ReMIND Magazine

 Child star Shirley Temple and John Agar were happy newlyweds at Christmastime in 1945. Child star Shirley Temple and John Agar were happy newlyweds at Christmastime in 1945. The Puritans banned it. Our Founding Fathers weren’t too crazy about it. And Congress didn’t get around to making it an official celebration until 1870.

But you’d hardly guess it as Christmas approached. We Americans love our holiday and its traditions, most of which we take for granted and some of which emerged from the World War II era and years immediately following.

Take early shopping. Sure, it’s a way to avoid overcrowded malls and the fruitless search for parking, but in wartime, getting packages to soldiers in the Pacific by December was the main priority. Of course, gifts closer to home need a tree, no matter what it’s made of — or even what color. Futuristic aluminum models, sometimes in purple, gold, pink and black, made an appearance in postwar home décor, although their popularity took a hit after being satirized in 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. A decade later, the “back to nature” movement helped restore the real thing to favor.

Americans send over a billion Christmas cards each year, and the first such White House missive debuted in 1953. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an amateur artist, worked personally with the head of Hallmark cards, and many of the cards sent during his office term featured his artwork. Though war-weary Americans at first preferred sentimental messages, by the 1960s, cards had taken on a more sophisticated and humorous bent, sometimes featuring elves with Beatle-inspired haircuts or Santas driving convertibles.

Gifts purchased, tree decorated and cards sent, filling our stomachs is the next priority. Would it really be Christmas without green bean casserole, created by the Campbell Soup Company as part of a promotion? Or a casual get-together without Chex Mix, said to have become a favorite when the wife of a Ralston Purina executive served it at a 1955 holiday function?

Once the goodies have been consumed, it’s time to follow Santa’s journey via the NORAD Tracks Santa service, for which we can thank a 1955 advertising error encouraging kids to call Santa Claus on a special telephone number. No doubt Col. Harry Shoup, of the Continental Air Defense, was dumbfounded to receive inquiries about the jolly old elf’s whereabouts that Christmas Eve, but, good sport that he was, he instructed his operators to give Santa’s current location to any child who called in. Three years later the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was formed, and the NORAD Tracks Santa service continues to this day.

Finally, let’s not forget our holiday soundtrack. Whether you’re bopping to “Jingle Bell Rock” or warbling “White Christmas” this month, truer words were hardly spoken than Rolling Stone magazine’s “What Jesus is to Christmas, Bing Crosby is to Christmas music.” The Irish crooner’s version of the Irving Berlin classic, ranked by Guinness as the best-selling single of all time, still brings a lump to our throats, at home or abroad.

Whatever traditions are on tap at your home this year, may they be filled with the best things the season stands for: peace, love and joy.

Sixth-grader leads letter-writing campaign for Make-A-Wish

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

 More than 10,000 letters from students all over the Old Bridge School District were delivered to the Macy’s department store in East Brunswick as part of Macy’s Make-A-Wish Believe Campaign last week. The letter campaign was spearheaded by 11-year-old A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School. For every letter completed, Macy’s donated $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.  PHOTOS COURTESY OF KERRYANN SILVESTRI More than 10,000 letters from students all over the Old Bridge School District were delivered to the Macy’s department store in East Brunswick as part of Macy’s Make-A-Wish Believe Campaign last week. The letter campaign was spearheaded by 11-year-old A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School. For every letter completed, Macy’s donated $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses. PHOTOS COURTESY OF KERRYANN SILVESTRI OLD BRIDGE — More than 10,000 letters from students all over the Old Bridge School District were delivered to the Macy’s department store in East Brunswick as part of Macy’s Make-A-Wish Believe Campaign last week.

For every letter completed, Macy’s donated $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Spearheading the endeavor was 11-year-old A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School, who had his own wish granted three years ago. A.J. has cystic fibrosis, a chronic and progressive cellular disease affecting the lungs.

 A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School, reads one of the letters with Superintendent of Schools David Cittadino. A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School, reads one of the letters with Superintendent of Schools David Cittadino. “A.J. has problems breathing and ingesting,” said his mom, Kerryann Silvestri, adding that A.J. has had 12 surgeries, takes 19 to 20 pills a day and is fed through a feeding tube.

A.J.’s wish involved traveling to Las Vegas to meet the cast of “Pawn Stars.” A.J. also got to meet the cast of “American Restoration,” a show also on the History Channel.

“The trip was a week after [superstorm] Sandy [in 2012],” Silvestri said.

A.J. said it was two years ago when he watched a commercial about the Macy’s Make-A-Wish Believe Campaign,

“I thought it was something that I wanted to do,” he said.

So A.J. broached the idea with his family and his school principal, who was Suzanne Misckiewicz last year at Leroy Gordon Cooper Elementary School. Misckiewicz has since retired.

The school staff and fellow students rallied behind A.J.’s idea and were able to produce thousands of letters.

This year, Silvestri said her son again wanted to pursue the fundraiser.

“With being at a brand new school, we weren’t sure how well we would do,” she said.

Some 5,300 letters were written by students at Carl Sandburg Middle School, and over 5,000 more letters came from students all over the school district.

“This is the largest amount of letters [collected],” A.J. said, adding that he would like to continue the letter campaign every year.

A.J. and his family delivered the letters to Macy’s on Dec. 19. Representatives of the Make-A-Wish Foundation were on hand to thank A.J. for his efforts.

Silvestri said their family is big on service to others and said A.J., despite his debilitating disease, is strong and always thinks of doing things for others.

“We are so lucky to have so much support,” she said. “Everyone is so caring and supportive, it’s amazing. [Schools Superintendent David] Cittadino was at the Macy’s on Saturday with us.”

The Board of Education recognized A.J. at a meeting on Dec. 15 with a Service Leadership Award.

The district-wide “Pay it Forward” campaign was derived from the district’s theme, “Local Pride, Global Impact,” and was introduced during the staff’s first day of service on Sept. 1.

Students ask school board to declare Diwali a holiday in North Brunswick

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — Six students from North Brunswick Township High School are trying to make Diwali an official school holiday.

Maithreyi Ravula, Sahil Shah, Suraj Sanyal, Sairam Vinjamuri, Swathi Tata and Rashi Bhatt presented a petition with 100 signatures to support the “festival of lights” that is celebrated by four religions of South Asia to the North Brunswick Board of Education on Dec. 16.

“On July 13, 2015, Mayor Mac Womack addressed the recent assaults on Indian- Americans by stating: ‘What’s gotten us together is really a terrible bias crime. It’s not acceptable anywhere in the world, but it’s especially not acceptable here in our home. It’s a home for all of us. We’re a community. We have to stand up as a community and say, “Not acceptable, not tolerated.” We’re one community. That’s all it is,’” Maithrevi said to the board members.

“However, the sole representation of the South Asian community in North Brunswick should not depend on the offchance that a citizen gets assaulted. To truly embrace diversity and be the community our mayor indicated a few months ago, we must take actions that respect the values of the South Asian community as well.”

According to Maithrevi as of June 2014, the Asian population of North Brunswick was the second highest demographic of the township, numbering more than a quarter of the town’s population.

“Under the current excused absence policy, the hundreds of people who wish to celebrate Diwali are forced to miss school on their own time and are punished by falling behind on classwork, assessments and lessons.” Maithrevi said.

“The creation of a school holiday would not only solve this problem but will be a gesture of basic respect that townships such as Passaic and South Brunswick have done since 2005 and 2011 [respectively]. If these townships and many others that observe the same 180 school days requirement can fit in a single day of respect for an overwhelming population of their communities, then it is surely not impossible for North Brunswick, a community lauded as the leader of diversity, to do the same. The time is now to take a stand and make North Brunswick a home to all of its citizens — advocate to make Diwali a holiday in our school district.”

Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski said the board receives many requests for holidays, so the idea will be brought to the Student Services Committee for consideration.

“We appreciate the way the students presented the petition,” he said. “The board will look at a balanced schedule.”

He also said the board would review the way excused absences are being addressed.

The petition can be viewed at tinyurl.com/nbdiwali.

Cops shop with civic-minded students in South Brunswick

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Two sets of local heroes were once again honored for their contributions to the community.

Ten students were chosen from a pool of 9,000 in the South Brunswick school district to be assisted by South Brunswick police officers as they shopped in Target on Route 1 in South Brunswick on Dec. 17.

The second annual Heroes and Helpers event recognized students who help autistic kids in the classroom and on the playground, help kindergarteners learn to read, volunteer to tutor other students, raise money for kids with cancer at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, volunteer in a soup kitchen, help with food drives, promote breast cancer awareness, raise money for the treatment of Ebola patients in Africa and promote the Circle of Sisters.

Eric Robinson of South Brunswick High School was assisted by Detective Jairdullo; Darren Olsen of Crossroads South Middle School was helped by Officer Flanders; Sanjana Kowshik of Crossroads North Middle School walked around with Patrolman Merkler; Jake Graci of Brunswick Acres Elementary shopped with Patrolman Benbow; Madison Bachmann of Greenbrook Elementary was aided by Patrolman Sites; Megan Sidoti of Cambridge Elementary was helped by Patrolman First Class De- Prossimo; Irene Chiotis of Constable Elementary walked around with Patrolman Hallman; Katelyn O’Rourke of Monmouth Junction Elementary was assisted by Detective Shearer; Alan Shivey-Wells of Indian Fields Elementary shopped with Patrolman Gassman; and Gabriella Tuzzolino of Brooks Crossing Elementary was helped by Patrolman Moreira.

“These kids are known to help staff in the schools; provide motivation and guidance to classmates; and to offer kindness, compassion and a cheerful word to all they meet throughout the day,” Police Captain James Ryan said. “These kids are hard workers, striving to improve their grades and attendance. These kids are always working to improve the lives of the people around them, and we’re honored to stand here today and call these kids our personal heroes.”

South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka credited the partnership with the business community and school district for making this day possible. He specifically thanked Target of South Brunswick, the South Brunswick School District’s administrators and supervisors, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Policemen’s Benevolence Association for funding this program; the South Brunswick School District for nominating the students; and all the recipients and their families for attending.

Voters oppose funding two new schools in North Brunswick

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — The township school district will have to decide on an alternate plan to educate its growing population of students.

A special referendum to build two new schools in town was defeated by voters on Dec. 8. The machine count was 1,137 yes to 1,537 no, with an additional 43 yes and 45 no votes by mail, for a total of 1,180 affirmative to 1,582 negative votes for the new schools, according to information provided by the Middlesex County clerk’s office.

“The obvious reason is because of the tax impact on the residents,” Superintendent Brian Zychowski said of why he believes the $87 million referendum failed.

Thirty-two acres outside of the Renaissance development on Route 130 south could have been designated as a fifth and sixth grade school, plus an early education center that would include the Board of Education’s administrative offices.

“There wasn’t a buy-in to how fiscally responsible the board was. We had a lot of fabrication and a lot of miscommunication [by residents],” Zychowski said. “Frankly, we are in a tough economy where people are unemployed and underemployed and people did not want to support it.”

However, Zychowski said the plan was fiscally prudent in the long run, and now the board faces an impact on taxes if children are sent out-of-district or if additions have to be constructed on existing buildings.

In a demographic study offered by the school board, enrollment increased from 4,523 to 6,302 students in the past 20 years, and the New Jersey Department of Education expects a 9 percent growth rate, or about 120 to 150 students each year, over the next five years.

“We have a responsibility to put children somewhere,” Zychowski said. “I think this was the most fiscally sound … way to address our overcrowded schools.”

Zychowski said that the Board of Education will meet to discuss an alternative plan that will “provide the optimum environment for learning.”

Gift drive is key to SBHS holiday concerts

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — The South Brunswick High School Music Department hopes to bring more than cheer through their music.

Inspired by the “Friends of JJ” movement to bring holiday gifts to the children at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and various local hospitals, the Music Department collected three truckloads full of unwrapped toys and games for children and teenagers at each of their concerts.

The concert choir, strings, men’s ensemble and symphonic band performed Dec. 8.

The percussion groups, freshman bands, flute trio, chamber orchestra and symphonic orchestra performed Dec. 9.

The festival choir, freshman orchestra, freshman choir women’s ensemble and wind ensemble performed Dec. 10.

Gift certificates up to $25 were accepted, as well as video game consoles, DVDs, portable DVD players, headphones, toys, LEGO sets, craft kits, Play-Doh, art supplies and activity books.

Opposition to schools was not adversarial

The local newspapers have ordained me as the leader of the group opposing the $88 million school referendum in North Brunswick. Thank you for the compliment, whether deserved or not.

Our group is comprised of North Brunswick residents who have had years of experience in business and industry. We looked at the presentation and the referendum from various views and determined that it did not provide sufficient information to make a wise choice in accepting this debt. We do not know where the Board of Education (BOE) got the information to generate this plan and what studies were performed to justify that level of an investment/ debt.

Were other options considered, such as the return of the Maple Meade School to student use and the relocation of the BOE offices to office trailers on site or an offsite location such as the transit village where the next explosion of the student population is expected to occur? Can the developer of that project contribute to the construction of a new school on that site? A profit and loss statement concerning the current three- and four-year-old program at a leased school and a projected profit and loss and return on investment for a new facility housing that program should have been addressed.

We can sympathize with the BOE regarding their space issues. During our tenure in business and industry we had to constantly face similar problems, although the products were different.

We are not assuming an adversarial position regarding this matter. We would like to see the situation alleviated by a transparent procedure, void of any emotional or partisan brinkmanship.

Richard Pender
North Brunswick

You can go home again

In theaters now

Sisters lets two women we absolutely love bring their comic genius to the screen. Maura (Amy Poehler) and Kate Ellis (Tina Fey) are tasked with the responsibility of cleaning out their room at their childhood home as their parents are moving to a condo. But in rehashing the memories made there, the two decide there is only one thing to do: throw one last party with their old friends.

As the sisters dig through memories, we realize quickly that Maura has always played it safe, while free spirit Kate has always loved to party. Neither can wrap her head around why their parents want to get rid of this house, but both can agree on throwing the party.

So the sisters do all the prep and invite many of their old friends — who in no way resemble the pictures on Facebook or who they can remember them to be. They set out to be the perfect party hosts, only this time Maura gets to be the free spirit while Kate keeps everyone together.

Amy and Tina are funny. At times they are very funny as this is a raw comedy that doesn’t make any apologies. It is a pleasure seeing these amazingly talented women work and they tend to wow viewers with their quick wit and delivery.

The supporting characters, however, are a mixed bag. Some — Ike Barinholtz and John Cena in a bit role — made me laugh and enjoy the addition to the story. But roles for Bobby Moynihan and Maya Rudolph felt tired in Moynihan’s case and misguided and forced for Rudolph’s character.

The unevenness of the supporting characters does NOT take away from the fact that Amy and Tina — yes, I can just use their first names — are the real stars here. Together they are a breath of fresh air on the comic landscape with everything they do. These two sisters prove you can go home again — just be careful if you plan to throw a party there.

Sisters
Rated: R
Stars: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz
Director: Jason Moore

Grade: B

The Big Short
Rated: R
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
Director: Adam McKay

Adam McKay’s peek into the credit and housing bubble collapse shows an industry full of corruption, extravagance and the willingness to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public. A startling discovery by a number of seemingly ordinary individuals sets them up financially as they short the banks during the booming housing market of 2005.

Meredith Baxter and her ‘Family Ties’ husband enjoy reunion as Christmas’ power couple

By Kellie Freeze,

In Lifetime’s holiday original movie Becoming Santa, Holly (Laura Bell Bundy) brings her boyfriend (Jesse Hutch) to meet her family and reveals that not only are her parents Santa and Mrs. Claus, but also whoever she marries will become the next Santa.

There’s no one better to play the quintessential holiday couple than Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross, who played TV’s perfect parents on Family Ties. Baxter offers a little secret about portraying Mrs. Claus. “She may be iconic, but no one knows what she really looks like!” The actress figures, “Whoever we say she is — that’s who she is!”

The actress reveals that she enjoys working on holiday films because of the strong family storylines, but the flick’s biggest draw was the opportunity to work with her good friend.

“As soon as I knew he was attached, I didn’t even bother reading the script,” she jokes.

“The interesting thing about this particular script,” muses Baxter, “is the idea that the women of the Claus family are the ones who determine who is the next Santa.” She adds, “As light as this film is, for my character there’s an undercurrent of, ‘OK, this is serious business.’”

Baxter reveals that her favorite off-set activity was reading, while Gross spent his time with his fans.

“It was very, very hot where we were shooting and Michael was wearing a big fat suit,” she recalls with a laugh. “We had a huge fan in the green room and while we weren’t working, he would just position himself in front of it. He was this large, lumpy personage, just trying to stay cool.”

As for if she remains in touch with her other Family Ties cast members, particularly her TV children, Baxter shares: “Not on a regular basis, no. That’s why I covet those times when we can get together, which is really so sweet to see them. They’re such good people and good parents. I love that we raised good children who are good parents.”

That’s the most common question she gets from fans, too. “They want to know how’s Michael Fox. They want to know if we see each other, we talk to each other. I often hear, ‘I wish you’d been my mother.’ That’s a woman who’s strong and loving and has the time to sit down and spend time with her kids the way many parents don’t have a chance to.

“The fact that all the characters seemed to have some longevity in people’s hearts and minds is just lovely. It’s rare I think that that happens, and when it does it’s really glorious. I think people liked our family because we liked each other so much.”

Lifetime airs an encore performance of Becoming Santa on Dec. 25 at 10 p.m.