Santa Greff


One Christmas morning in the 1970s, Greff donned a Santa suit and sat in his older brother’s living room waiting for his niece and nephews to come downstairs.  Greff provided much joy (and confusion) for a couple of Jewish kids that morning.

Today, Greff celebrated Christmas in July and again made a little boy’s dreams come true.  Today, he had a backhoe delivered for Bud.

And even parked it right next to the swingset.

Greff:  Making 4 year-olds happy the world over.


Welcome, Avery!


In honor of the birth of my beautiful niece, Avery, a brief look at Greff’s adoring nicknames.

Greff rarely calls those in his inner circle by their proper names.  For example, family:

Me:  Dood, short for doodle-kazoodle
Lindsay:  Pump, Pumpie, or Pumpkin
Sammy:  Bud
Jack:  Smiley
Avery:  Pocahantas

And, friends:
Walter:  Wa or Dr. Wa
Doug:  Dawg.  (I didn’t even know Dawg’s real name for years.)

And Greff, as coined by his friend Mark:  Bodean.

Most names are pretty self-explanatory or random.  Pocahantas, however, requires a bit of background…

For years, Greff has watched Sammy and/or Jack on Wednesdays. At different times, he’s taken them to their kiddie music, gym, etc. classes. Most recently, Greff met a “friend” of Jack’s at his gym class whose mom always put her in oversized headbands. Large flowers forever adorn this little girl’s tiny  head sort of like this:

Greff affectionately referred to her as “Pocahantas.”

What does this have to do with Avery?

A couple of months back, Lindsay started talking about needing to get elastic baby headbands for the baby so that once she arrived, everyone would know she was a girl. I HATE these headbands and made my recommendation to avoid them at all costs and instead rely on pink clothing well known to Lindsay and Team G&G. From that moment on, the headband requirement and Pocahantas association stuck.

Here’s the Shenk crew welcoming Pocahantas in the only appropriate way.

Only Greff…

Growing up in a Jewish household (and now raising my kids in one), we never got to enjoy the excitement of pulling a daily tab off of an Advent calendar in anticipation of Christmas.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his intent to replace this religious rite for us, but Greff recreated this joy with countdown calendars all our own for birthdays, bat mitzvahs, graduations, and weddings.  It was something my sister and I expected and looked forward to every year.

Now that Sammy can write, this past birthday, he was lucky enough to experience this countdown calendar bliss for himself with his first-ever countdown calendar:  Sammy 2010 Countdown.  He LOVED it.  In fact, he loved it so much that he asked Greff when he could start counting down until his next birthday.  Of course, Greff couldn’t let his Bud wait a whopping 11 months.  Oh no, he created a year-long calendar:  Sammy’s 5th Countdown.  (Turn your head – it’s too big to fit on the scanner the correct direction.)

Jack too earned a calendar this year despite his inability to write (or speak for that matter).  Thank goodness he has a big brother who assisted with the countdown process.

Only Greff…

Team Greffica


Recently, Greff faced a major medical scare.  Whether it was his great health, persistence when he wasn’t feeling right, modern medicine, or divine intervention that kept him with us is of little consequence – he’s here and is going to be a-ok and back on the roof soon enough.  He does, however, have to work to get his physical strength back and walking was prescribed as his main source of exercise.

Earlier this week, I received the following email:

Sunday, September 4, 2011:  Meet at Mahi Mah’s for late afternoon late lunch after completing Half Marathon.
WHY NOT?  It’s five months away and it’s doable    .      .       .      don’t expect to run as “fast” as our 2006 time of 3.03.05 which equals 4.29 miles/hr, but even if I average 2.25 miles/hr I can still break 6 hours.  More than just food for thought   .    .    .    that’s what Mahi Mah’s is for.  I just need to check with Nurse Nancy [Grancy] to see if she wants to train and walk with me!  Even if I have to work on “the project” on Saturday, September 3rd, I can still drive down Saturday night for Sunday’s activities.

I’m fairly certain he’s serious about training.  I’m also fairly certain this is about to become a family adventure.  Thinking we should call the group “Team Greffica” – the name Greff was concerned Lindsay’s soon-to-be-born baby girl would have trouble explaining should he not have had the obviously preferred outcome of the surgery that he did.

As Greff always says – you have to maintain a sense of humor.  Leave it to Greff to make us laugh… and train.

Only Greff…

We roadtripped often as a family.  We went skiing for three days each winter, to the beach many a summer/spring break, and on special longer trips.  There was the visit to Niagara Falls by way of Corning, NY and other fascinating destinations, the even longer trek to Montreal, and the weekend drive roundtrip to/from Chicago (with no disrespect to my Hoosier friend, Caryl, Indiana is SO flat).

Despite Greff’s constant calculations, on one particular voyage, his odometer must have been slightly off…  On this trip, Grancy seemed overly concerned with the falling gas gauge.  Greff ignored her pleas to get off the road and refuel.  In the end, seems Grancy was right.  When the Suburban started sputtering, Greff was forced to reverse down an exit ramp and rely on gravity’s assistance to get us to the gas station to refuel.  Greff found this hilarious.  Grancy, not so much.

Only Greff…



This past December, Greff, Grancy, Sammy, and I embarked on an arguably insane, weather- and kid illness-induced roadtrip from Boston to MD on Christmas night.  I was quickly reminded of many a roadtrip with Greff over the course of my childhood, teenage years, and even adulthood.  To help set the scene, we traveled in the Suburban (both the current and previous 1986 (I think) gray model) along with…

Music:  In the years before built-in DVD players, iPods, even CD players, we traveled to tapes.  Greff’s favorite was Paul Simon’s Graceland – and more specifically, You Can Call Me Al.  How many kids do you know that know all the words to Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, Graceland, and I Know What I Know?  On occasion, we were allowed to also listen to Whitney Houston’s self-named debut album (not to be confused with the follow-up Whitney album which was also in the rotation) and the Les Miserables soundtrack.  In later years, we plugged our Discman into the tape deck to enjoy such classics as the Grease soundtrack and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”

“Famished!:”  More than a state of being, this was an inside (no more) joke in our house.  Literally the second we turned out of the driveway, someone would utter, “I’m famished!  What’s to eat?”  What started out as Grancy’s attempt to keep us girls happy, quickly became known as “bulking up.”  No, we weren’t trying to make weight for an upcoming tournament.  Rather, we as a family made good use of Giant’s now-defunct bulk food aisle.  Gumdrops, gummy anything, M&M trail mix, and pretzels were regulars on our trips and for some reason, french burnt peanuts made frequent appearances as well. 

Stops:  Bathroom and meal breaks (who needed them with all we ate enroute?) were carefully calculated based on the availability of “quality” food options at a given exit or rest stop.  Breezewood was always an exciting stop on the way to skiing and later when I went to Syracuse, Hazelwood and Wilkes-Barre, PA became our main points of interest.

Perhaps it was to help pass the time or maybe it helped keep him awake, but on all trips, Greff helped keep everyone going by calculating the distance to our destination and from home in hours and mileage – constantly re-calculating and recalibrating for traffic (clearly pre-GPS) as needed.

With this as a backdrop, specifically-memorable roadtrips coming soon in another post.

Only Greff…

The Trifecta


By relationship, Greff is my dad.  By definition, he’s a perfectionist.  By trade, he’s a general contractor.  This trifecta presents a double-edged sword for us and Greff. 

We all survived phase 1 of our home renovation without too many calls for disownership… let’s hope we go two for two with phase 2.  To keep up with Greff’s handiwork, visit and subscribe to Nothing Upstairs.

Happy happy!


A note on Greff’s softer side…

For decades, every year at midnight on New Year’s Eve, Greff called his mother, Grandma Kay.  Now, at midnight, we call Greff (and Aunt Lindsay, as well as Scott’s parents and sister – hey, we’re an equal opportunity fam). 

This year, for the first time, Sammy insisted on staying up until midnight to watch the ball drop, and of course, call Greff.  And, like his Greff, Sammy fell asleep in anticipation of the exciting moment only to have to be woken up to make those critical annual calls.  I can only hope that Bud adopts this tradition and one day calls us at midnight.

In yet another example of the far-reaching impact of Greff… Some years back Greff and Grancy spent New Year’s Eve with their friend Cindy and she witnessed this midnight call to Grandma.  After sharing this tradition (and how impactful she found it) with her kids, they now call her at midnight.  Way to go Greff, bringing families everywhere (or at least throughout Maryland) together to ring in the new year.

Tow-Away Zone


With Greff, one situation almost always prompts storytelling of previous adventures.  The Thanksgiving incident prompted revelation of this one.

In Greff’s words… or close enough to them…

Once, when we were doing a job at an apartment building, we needed to ensure our construction vehicles could park in close proximity to the job site.  To help accomplish this, the police tagged the block in front of the building as a “no parking, tow away zone.”

One gentleman couldn’t understand why he couldn’t park in front of his building and decided the parking restriction signs did not apply to him.  Not willing to go through the hassle or expense of towing for just one car, the police did nothing.  So, we picked up the car and moved it to the middle of the street.  With no choice, the police enforced the restriction and had his car towed.  Clearly the gentleman was livid.

Many morals to this story…

  1.  Sometimes you have to be creative to make people do what they’re supposed to.  Force the issue.
  2. It’s a good idea to abide by parking signs that include towing as a penalty.
  3. Don’t mess with Greff.

Only Greff…

July 2010

As part of ongoing renovations on our house, we planned to drop the utility lines underground from the utility-pole-to-house overhead wiring we inherited. We took all the proper steps – securing county permissions, contacting Miss Utility, digging a massive trench, and engaging the respective service providers. This last part is where things got a little sticky…

Dealing with Pepco was difficult for sure. But, Comcast presented a whole other set of challenges. Since we’re not customers (and have absolutely no interest is subscribing to service – cable or otherwise), repeated calls resulted in absolutely nothing. Greff threatened to cut the line. They continued to do nothing. So, addressing the situation is his own Greff way, and, as promised, Greff cut the line and encouraged others to help rectify the situation by providing Comcast’s number for others to contact the company themselves.

I was completely horrified. The splice didn’t impact us or any of our neighbors (I later came to find out none of them are customers of this fine company either), but, we now had a nicely-coiled, yet dangling, line hanging from the overhead line that runs next to our house and along a major neighborhood thoroughfare. Totally embarrassing.

Luckily, later the same night that Greff/want-to-be-Comcast-utility-man made the cut, we had a major thunderstorm with significant wind. Sweet – now I could claim the line came down in the storm. I took to calling. I learned that Comcast needs a service address of a current customer to which to assign a problem. Only challenge was that Comcast couldn’t find our street or any associated customers in their system. Hmm – perhaps others have experienced the same high-quality customer service that led us to purge them from our utility pool years ago? Finally, they found a neighbor about a block away. For privacy reasons, they wouldn’t tell me the name of the neighbor, so I couldn’t apprise them of the situation. I asked the ever-so-helpful customer service rep to clearly state in the notes that the problem was not located at that address, but rather on our corner.

The service man comes out on the appointed day (shocking!) only for the neighbor to decline the service call, as they were not experiencing any issues. And of course, I wasn’t home at the time they came, so I couldn’t intercept the service man. I call again. And again. I threaten to call the police. Scott actually considers calling the police. Still, nothing. I give up.

November 2010

What does any of this have to do with Thanksgiving?

Well, on Thanksgiving morning, I look outside to see a Comcast truck parked right in front of our house and the service man getting in his cherry picker to work on the lines. I couldn’t imagine that after months of our dangling wire that, on Thanksgiving, it was suddenly a priority. Clearly, it wasn’t. There was an issue with internet service blocks and blocks away and the command box happens to be located on the pole on our corner. A few Thanksgiving niceties, an offer of a cup of coffee or bowl of soup (both declined), and simply an explanation of “this cable came down in the storm and we’ve been trying to get someone out here for months…” resulted in a solution to the problem.

Amazing how simple and easy the fix was when someone actually addresses the situation. Thanks for giving us one more thing to be thankful for, Comcast.

Only Greff…