Merlino & Gonzalez December 2019

December 2019





The Mischievous Office Elf Who Brings Us Joy

we grew almost giddy with excitement, anticipating the moment she would come to our office to sign her contract, negotiate nerve-shattering inspection concerns, and ultimately close on her cozy, icing-topped home. The feeling must have been mutual, because since that first delightful encounter, Merry has decided to make Merlino & Gonzalez her holiday home away from home every year from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. Her joyous smile and infectious laughter make our holiday season bright. But it’s not always candy canes and gumdrops when Merry is here. She’s a prankster with a mischievous side. One time, she replaced all the precious family photos on our desks with pictures of herself. There was also the time she altered all the clocks in the office to make it perpetually 5 o’clock. We missed a few meetings that day. Perhaps her most astounding prank was when she sent a letter to Santa proclaiming herself the only person at Merlino & Gonzalez deserving of gifts. She placed the rest of us on his “naughty” list, but luckily, Santa was on our side. However, no matter what she gets into, we look forward to a visit from our favorite elf every year. She dutifully poses for photos alongside her antics that bring smiles to the faces of our clients, and when you’re in the middle of a heavy legal situation, a simple smile can mean a lot. For those of us whose children have now grown up and moved away, things aren’t always as festive as they once were at home. But Merry brings the spirit of celebration back into our lives, and we couldn’t be more thankful to her for that. If you visit us at Merlino & Gonzalez this holiday season, be sure to say hello to Merry (and maybe bring her a sweet treat so she doesn’t put you on the naughty list). Happy holidays fromMerry Garland and all of us at Merlino & Gonzalez!

When you work in estate planning law, it’s easy to get buried in the shuffle. We’re so invested in the lives of others that we sometimes forget to step back and do the things we love in our own lives. During the holidays, having a reminder in our workplace that this is a season for celebration gives us reprieve from work and sparks moments of much-needed joy. That’s why our senior paralegal, Michele Santacroce, introduced a cantankerous Elf on the Shelf named Merry Garland to our office.

On a chilly December afternoon in 2014, Merry Garland drifted into our office with a starlight mint sparkle in her eyes and sweet sugar cookies on her breath, looking for the finest legal representation in town to help with purchasing the gingerbread house of her dreams. In the ensuing weeks,

Because she’s important too

Because mental health is important too

Lookie what she can do

Tampering with the naughty and nice list

Tampering with the clocks in the office

–Michele Santacroce

Filing a legal brief



WHAT ABOUT DUNDER AND BLIXEM? The Strange History of Santa’s Reindeer WHAT’S IN A NAME? Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, and Cupid were all brought to life by Moore, but have you ever heard of Dunder and Blixem? Though we now know the duo as Donner and Blitzen, Moore originally named them Dunder and Blixem — the Dutch words for thunder and lightning — but publishing companies wanted names that would rhyme better with the rest of the poem. Still, it was a few decades before Donner and Blitzen made their appearances in the version of the poem we know today. REINDEER BURGERS, ANYONE? Moore’s poem paved the way for Santa’s most famous form of transportation, but it was actually Carl Lomen, an Alaskan businessman, who mass- marketed reindeer as Santa’s companions. In the late 1890s, the Sami natives of Northern Europe, who were longtime reindeer herders, made their passage from Norway to the U.S. with a herd of reindeer to invigorate the Alaskan landscape and help their native neighbors. Lomen saw the reindeer as an opportunity and partnered with the Macy’s department store company to create a promotional Christmas parade in which Santa, led by his reindeer, a sleigh, and Sami herders, were prominently featured. Lomen’s goal was to promote his massive reindeer conglomerate for the production and sale of reindeer meat. Instead, a holiday story was born.

We all know reindeer visit our rooftops everyChristmas Eve, but what brings them there? Follow the unique and complicated history of Santa’s reindeer to find out.

A VISIT FROM WHO ON WHAT NIGHT? In the 1820s, Clement Clarke Moore penned a holiday poem that became the foundation for a phenomenon still alive today. Commonly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” “A Visit From St. Nicholas” is a beloved story shared by every generation. It is in this poem that reindeer were first credited with powering Santa’s sleigh around the globe. Many popular songs, movies, and plays have preserved Moore’s vision of St. Nick, and his reindeer and their names are no exception. (Well, kind of.) Rudolph wouldn’t join the squad until a department store added him as part of their promotions in the 1930s.

LIGHTS OUT Florida City Battles to End ‘Extreme’ Lights Display

There’s nothing quite like the magic of twinkling Christmas lights. But for city officials in Plantation, Florida, Christmas lights are a stark reminder of a prolonged fight, nearly $500,000 in court fees, and continued drama. In 2014, Plantation sued residents Mark and Kathy Hyatt for their “Hyatt Extreme Christmas” lights display, claiming it was a “public nuisance.” Each year, the Hyatts decorated their yard with more than 200,000 lights, snow, a Christmas tree, a Nativity scene, a functioning Ferris wheel, and more. Their creation was featured on two nationally televised programs and attracted flocks of visitors. But, for the Hyatt’s neighbors, extreme didn’t even begin to explain the chaos. Neighbors complained to the city about increased traffic, litter in their yards, and potential injury or death to pedestrians due to the traffic. Police officers in Plantation were dispatched to the light display multiple times each season for complaints by neighbors, accidents, and traffic control. After a two-year battle in court, a judge ruled in favor of the Hyatts, claiming the city could not prove the display was dangerous or a nuisance. The city had spent nearly half a million dollars fighting their case.

Christmas” was in full swing again, much to their neighbors’ chagrin. Mark Hyatt rode the wave of support for his display all the way to a vacant seat on the Plantation City Council in 2016, but the highs would soon stop there. Plantation news outlets reported in 2018 that Mark Hyatt filed for divorce, effectively ending any hope of another “Hyatt Extreme Christmas.” As the snow has settled, an extravagant lights display has instead become a story of nasty court battles with a sad ending for the Hyatts and their “extreme” Christmas devotees.

For the Hyatts, Christmas 2016 was a celebration, though their display was restrained due to the timing of the court’s decision. By 2017, “Hyatt Extreme



When you’re in the middle of ultimate fun and relaxation, you may start to consider buying a vacation home right then and there. While we’d never discourage you from purchasing your dream home, we do want you to acknowledge what being in a “vacation haze” might be doing to your better judgment. WILL YOU REALLY USE IT? Even if you have your own vacation home, you likely won’t visit it more than you already do. That’s because purchasing a home doesn’t change your daily schedule. This means that most vacation homes are turned into rental properties to offset the costs of owning them without living in them. Tenants often want to rent the property during the best times of the year, which is exactly when you’d want to be there. Don’t purchase a home for someone else to vacation in. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE COSTS. Aside from the mortgage and property taxes, there are numerous additional costs to owning a second home. Furnishing it with everything

needed, from furniture to cooking utensils, adds up quickly. Over the years, every home needs repairs. You’ll spend money making those repairs instead of drinking cocktails on the beach. Also, keep in mind that real estate value doesn’t always rise; your property may never grow in value, so you may never reap any return on it. BOREDOM CAN HAPPEN. When you’re on vacation, it’s hard to imagine being anywhere else. But boredom happens. Vacations are for experiences outside of your everyday life, so if you consistently return to the same location, you might start to need a vacation from your vacation. Are you willing to sacrifice brand- new adventures for the obligation of returning to the home you own? We’re not looking to dissuade you from buying a vacation home. We just don’t want you to make the decision while you’re on vacation. Wait until you’ve gone back to reality so you can consider every detail with a clear head. That way, you’ll make the best decision for you and your family.


take a break

• 1 cup molasses • 4 tbsp honey • 1 cup water • 1/2 cup vegetable oil • 6 cups all-purpose flour INGREDIENTS

• 2 tsp baking soda • 1 tsp cinnamon • 1 tsp dried powder ginger


1. Heat oven to 350 F. 2. In a medium bowl, combine molasses, honey, water, and oil, and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing well until dough forms. 3. Separate dough into four equal balls. Wrap dough balls in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3–5 hours. 4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out chilled dough to 1/4-inch thick. Use dog-shaped cookie cutters to cut out treats. 5. Bake for 20–25 minutes on baking sheet until cookies start to brown. Carefully remove treats from the oven and let them cool completely before serving to your dog.

718-698-2200 3

394 Manor Road Staten Island, NY 10314




How an Elf on the Shelf Makes Our Office Merry How Santa Claus Became Powered by Reindeer Florida City Sues Family Over Extreme Christmas Display

Vacations Aren’t for Buying Homes Homemade Gingerbread Dog Treats The History Behind Christmas Lights

close friend of Thomas Edison and vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, vowed to find a better way to decorate Christmas trees with light. In December 1882, three years after Edison’s invention of the lightbulb in November 1879, Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white, and blue lightbulbs together and wound them around a Christmas tree in his parlor window. A passing reporter saw the spectacle and declared in the Detroit Post and Tribune, “One can hardly imagine anything prettier.” Johnson continued this tradition, increasing the number of lights each year and eventually putting them up outside. But because electricity was still a new concept, many years passed before the fad took off for regular Americans. In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of lighting the National Christmas Tree, which spurred the idea of selling stringed lights commercially. By the 1930s, families everywhere were buying boxes of bulbs by the dozen. Today, an estimated 150 million Christmas lights are sold in America each year, decorating 80 million homes and consuming 6% of the nation’s electricity every December. Whether you’ll be putting up your own lights or appreciating the most impressive light displays in your neighborhood or town, let the glow fill you with joy this season. Just don’t leave them up until February! LIGHT UP THE NIGHT Why Do We Hang Christmas Lights?

The first string of twinkling lights illuminating your neighbor’s house is always a telltale sign of the upcoming seasonal festivities. Christmas lights are a holiday staple, but have you ever wondered where this beloved tradition started? The tradition of hanging lights on the tree originally started with candles. Because this posed an immense fire hazard, Edward Hibberd Johnson, a 4

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