New Traditions

Write about a few of your favorite family traditions.

While the term “new traditions” seems like an oxymoron, we arrived at a like-new style of celebrating our holidays. We kept very traditional for a long time: Christmas was taking our new baby to Pennsylvania to see his grandfather and aunt, then on the return to where we live in Florida, we visited the other set of grandparents. We had some cold, snowy Christmas season, traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, complete with a house full of hungry relatives and friends, and Christmas morning was magic. We spent Easter in Florida, going to last Mass on Saturday evening and coming home to dye eggs, wait for Valentino to fall asleep so we could hide them and build his basket, and we spent Sunday hunting eggs in the morning and making ham and potatoes for late lunch.

This all changed somewhat when my father in law died. We would not be going to Pennsylvania any longer in the winter. Christmas might be 78 degrees and humid. Valentino’s aunt flew from Pa to here, and with last-minute shopping and dinner out, we would be done. After a few days, we dropped her at the airport and went to my family’s in Orlando, just a couple hours up the road.

We realized that we could not recreate our old traditions–a houseful of family members all of whom live a 30-minute drive from the Matriarch/Patriarch. We were in Florida, a few hours from some relatives, and nearly 20 hours drive from the rest. What would Valentino’s traditions look like?

We knew that we shouldn’t try to manufacture traditions, but we wanted to maintain some things. My wife makes pizzelle cookies every year, and we still put on a feast of the 7 fishes, even if it’s just the three of us. I am happy to have lobster, shrimp, crab, mussels, scallops, trout, and salmon. Even if Valentino doesn’t eat it, he can grow to put it in his (hopefully fond) memories.

During our first lock-down Covid Christmas, we were fortunate to have kept our jobs and our pay, and we even saved a little because we weren’t spending money on gas and dining out. With a little extra, we decided we wanted to make Christmas for Valentino extra special. He did so well with remote learning, and he lost so much by not playing basketball as he had, by not running the playground with his friends, not goofing off in the cafeteria. So we braved our way into the store, one of our first trips out since the March lockdown except for biweekly grocery trips, and we spied the largest Christmas tree that Lowes had. Twelve feet of pre-lit decadent Christmas celebration.

We talked about it first. In January 2020, we had moved into a new house, completely unaware that we would be locked into it for quite a while in just a few months. One feature that sold us on the house was the vaulted ceiling in the entry room. Anyone who walks through the front door, without exception, stops on the landing, and looks up, rotating their neck clockwise to take in the majestic height of our ceiling. Would it really hold a 12-foot tree? Our measurement showed: yes. So back to Lowes, and we heaved the massive weight of the giant box onto a utility cart, through the checkout line, and into the car. Just a couple weeks later we would be surprised to find the tree on sale, and, taking the receipt back to the story, we would find the tree discounted another $150. Our luck seemed endless.

In addition to the biggest tree, which consequently did excite Valentino and invigorate his Christmas spirit, we decided to allow him to pick out one Christmas house, which would be an annual tradition, and we got “dripping” icicle lights to hang on the eaves. Our outside decorations and inside tree, along with lighted garland that adorned the stair railing and catwalk banister, have become traditions of the best wonderland we can recreate in the tropical Florida climate.

We have other traditions, some of which we hold from the past and others that we let happen organically.

Grieneisen Landing Page!

I continue to build this page. What is going on in my life? I am still falling behind on the Norton publishing project, but I have completed the courses at New Mexico State University–so there are two courses off the books. I opened three new ones at my main college and continue to develop two at the art college. Meanwhile, I am batting down home projects all over: ant infestation in the kitchen, a couple of busted or low-flow sprinkler heads, flat tire on the golf cart, and a dripping kitchen sink. I’m kept on my toes, for sure! Oh, and the latest: termites! Thankfully, they are not the big-eater variety, and with Orkin, we can use a bait system instead of tenting–so thank God for that! Oh, and one more time-saver (for now): got my jury duty postponed until April, so I didn’t have to cancel any classes.

Letter to Manatee County School Board

Appended Letter of Public Comment (see original comment below)

Respectfully submitted to the Manatee County School Board in advance of the Emergency Meeting of Monday, Aug. 9.

We submitted a letter to the School Board of Manatee County as soon as we heard of the emergency meeting, but with recent events feel that we must append this observation as  citizens of Manatee county and parents of a 10-year old who will be attending elementary school. To say that we are concerned about the governor’s appointment of a board member is an understatement. But more concerning than having an un-elected member, in general, are his statements to the media regarding his support of the governor’s priority to refuse mask mandates. We do not believe that new member Choate has any interest in hearing discussion or that he is interested in weighing information from health professionals; he is interested in a partisan role to lockstep support the governor in this misguided and lawfully challenged overreach of his authority. As a financial advisor, he seems ill-equipped to make these profound decisions without such input, but our fear is that he was sent to intimidate the MCSB against following the lead of numerous other districts in the state who are voting to protect their schools by implementing the recommended mask mandates. 

At a meeting last year, I believe it was (much missed) Dr. Hopes’ comment that he does not work for the governor; he works for the community of Manatee County. (Forgive me if this should be attributed to another board member) Please remember his words, and remember his careful guidance as a health professional. Ask yourselves: without politics, with a just examination of the facts and findings, what is in the best interest of serving the current needs of students to be in-person learning and to keep them safe in schools that are open for business? And remember during your discussions that Choate, as an appointed rather than elected member, may find himself working for the governor and not the community. 

In the couple of days since we sent that first letter of comment, pediatric admissions to area hospitals have gone up, again, and more districts are seeing the imperative to implement specific mask mandates. We were pleased to read of the agreement that Superintendent Saunders reached with the union. Among the reported agreement points was listed: “the district agrees to follow current CDC guidelines…” While this refers to distancing measures, it shows promise that the district believes that the CDC is offering credible guidelines, and this, right now, includes mask mandates. Please make the right decision for the health of our entire community and know that the world is watching us (and we all want to be on the right side of history). 


Jeff Grieneisen and Courtney Ruffner Grieneisen

parents of a Stewart Star 

Original letter of public comment: 

Respectfully Submitted to the Manatee County School Board

As concerned parents of an obviously unvaccinated elementary school student (5th grade), we would like to add our voices to the numerous other parents and families concerned about a full-on, unmitigated return to school. Despite the governor’s misguided approach, one that ignores the unanimous recommendations of health and safety professionals, we plead with you to join the growing number of Florida school districts that are creatively implementing measures to ensure the health and safety of the children and families in this community. Our children are affected by your decisions directly. It is important that they experience the benefits of in-person learning while minimizing the risk of serious and long-term illness, and this can be accomplished best by enacting masking and distancing measures.

We appreciate the district’s updating air filtrations systems in the schools; this is an important component that helps prevent airborne transmission, along with masks and distancing. As well, we appreciate the Manatee County mask survey that went forth, but we fear the quick turnaround and relatively low turn-out of responses does not represent a true picture of what the families want. And further, when the opinions of respondents are ill-informed, your capacity is to protect individuals from themselves and from causing injury to others and ensure the safety of all students (and their families insofar as they are affected by school-related decisions). We would no sooner allow majority opinion of parents to dictate that we promote any other dangerous activity; your job here is to stand bravely and make the best decision that aligns with the unanimous calling from all major health professional organizations: the CDC, WHO, AMA, American Nurses Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, and most importantly perhaps for our elementary school students, the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

We cannot protect our child if another is permitted to breathe unmasked contaminated air for hours each day because his or her parents do not understand medical science. We rely upon you to make the right decision. Many parental objections are based on misleading information; we know that masks do not pose a threat to the health or safety of children, and this has been proven in numerous studies. Masks do not cause oxygen depletion, mold or any of the other among the bogus negative health claims (evidenced also by individuals who wear masks for long periods of time without suffering brain damage or loss of lung function, including doctors and nurses, but also many groundskeepers, painters, auto workers and other laborers who need to keep out particulate matter). They are uncomfortable to be sure, but temporary discomfort is certainly worth the long-term health and safety of our children. 

Of course, driving our concern is the staggering increase in hospital admissions that reflect growing numbers of young people, and particularly the unvaccinated. These numbers are spiking even without the close contact of 20+ students in a room for hours each day; imagine what they will look like with unrestricted, maskless close student contact. We wholeheartedly support a return to in-person learning for our child. He has missed his classmates and is enthusiastic to return to school. However, as much as we would like it to be, that return cannot be “normal” right now, as we are not yet back to “normal” times. Just ask any local nurse or doctor who works in one of our area hospitals.  

It is your responsibility as elected officials to make decisions, to keep our children safe, based on the unique conditions of our community. Right now, several of the local nurses that we know personally have reported they are at capacity in their hospitals and with younger and younger patients. The medical ratios of patient to nurse have been increased twice already in emergency orders, making a hospital visit riskier now than ever before, so when our children fall ill, their care will be compromised. And make no mistake, a full return without following best practices in mitigation measures (the low-cost solutions of masking and distancing) will fill those hospitals, and you will find yourself back here making the difficult decision to close in-person learning altogether and return to full time remote learning.

We implore you to do the right thing: Institute safety measures that include mask requirements for all district employees, mask requirements for students (with a demanding and specific opt-out form), and distance measures. These, coupled with cleaning protocols worked last year. Celebrate the success of those measures by following through on your promise from last May to re-impose the mask mandate if the numbers should change. The numbers have changed; therefore, it is your duty now to follow through with a clear and specific mask ordinance.


Jeff Grieneisen and Courtney Ruffner Grieneisen 

parents of a Stewart Star