Category Archives: Holidays

Angel of Darkness

We have a beautiful angel on top of our Christmas tree — but when the room is dim, she can be a little hard to see. In this world of plug-in and light up, she’s old school analog — and many nights I’ve sat in the living room and wondered how to cast a light in her direction. It’s a shame that the crown of our tree should not be illuminated.

The solution? One of those little gooseneck laptop lights you sometimes see that plug into a USB port. I was able to mount this one right on the tree, powered by a USB charging block. Plug in the light and we’re in business. Woohoo!

We do go crazy over Christmas trees, don’t we? But you know what? It makes me happy. Sometimes I just sit in the dark and look at it all lit up. Keep the gifts, the parties, the hustle and bustle — all the things that bring holiday stress. I would gladly give up all the trappings of the season as long as I could have the tree.

Two Sizes Too Small

First, let me say this: I love the Grinch. The Dr. Seuss book is magical — a perfect Christmas story — and the 1966 cartoon version is one of the greatest and most successful adaptations of a literary work for TV or film ever. Seriously.

Because I love the Grinch, I hate Ron Howard’s revolting film version of the story. It’s a hideous mess and if there were a way I could destroy every copy of the movie I could find, I would do it. Yes, I know that sounds a tad… extreme, but what can I say?

And because I love the Grinch, seeing him mischaracterized in the media troubles me — and every December, writers trot out Grinch as their description for every holiday evildoer. I’ve explained before (ad nauseam) that this is inaccurate because the Grinch returned everything he stole back to Whoville.

Bear with me. When would you describe a thief as being like Robin Hood? Only if he turned over his booty to the poor — not if he kept the loot. Similarly, without giving back, one can not be like the Grinch.

Nevertheless, every December the Grinch gets a bad rap. A few examples:

Woman Stealing Wreaths Called “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”

Grinch Steals Salvation Army Kettle in Oak Lawn

The Grinch Who Stole Jesus

Real-Life ‘Grinch’ Committing Christmas-Related Crimes

‘Grinch’ Arrested for Stealing Readstown’s Christmas Tree

As you might suspect, I could go on all day.

So how can you help? The next time you see Grinch misused in a news story, leave a friendly comment pointing out the error. And be nice! It’s Christmas — and you wouldn’t want to be inappropriately compared to Scrooge.

The Kitchen Cabinet

On Thanksgiving I suddenly started humming the 1980 Jona Lewie technopop hit You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties. Allow me to refresh your memory:

What’s it been, 30 years since I heard that song? It was certainly forced up from my subconscious by the oppressive turkey day crowd in my kitchen.

It’s not like our kitchen is unusually small, but it’s small enough that when five people are standing around it feels crowded — and when you’re juggling Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps having five extra people standing around is not helpful.

I managed to drive away several guests during my expletive laden attempt to lift the hot turkey from the roasting pan, but it was only temporary. Soon the kitchen was again filled with people eating appetizers, offering gravy tips, asking questions…

But let’s be real: it may have been mildly aggravating, but it beats the alternative. To have my family and friends around was a real blessing. Now, please, go watch some football.

Christmas Tree Index 2014

For our family, Christmas begins not in late October (like at Lowe’s), but on the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when we go to Bob’s Trees in Galway for the annual Tannenbaum hunt.

You may be wondering why we drive more than 40 miles to get a tree. Surely there are many trees that are just as good at half the distance. I’ll tell you why 40 miles matters: tradition!

I don’t remember why we started going there, but who cares. When you start applying logic to your traditions, soon you won’t have any. But that doesn’t mean we can’t incorporate some statistics, hence the annual Christmas Tree Index.

Last year, after more than 25 years of cutting down Christmas trees,  it seemed like an interesting idea to rate our performance. Interesting because some of our tree harvests have been… well, horrendous experiences.

My system rates the tree cutting on a scale of one to 100 based on mood
, weather, field conditions, tree quality and transportation. Each of those criteria account for 20 points.
 This year’s score was 90, beating the 85 we tallied in 2013.

I’d say that this year things were damn near perfect, with the notable exception of field conditions. The Thanksgiving storm meant we trudged through half a foot of snow, some of it covering soggy ground. The snow, while picturesque, also made it somewhat difficult to assess the trees adequately. Ten points off. I nearly took off points for the extreme mud in parts of the parking lot, but it did not significantly affect the day.

Also of note is that we cut down two trees: our own and one for my son’s apartment. It was actually easier tying two to the roof of my car, so no points lost for transportation.

It may seem to you that with recent scores of 85 and 90 that tree day is consistently trouble-free — but don’t be fooled. There have been dark years where we would have been lucky to scratch the 40 point mark.

One area that would always get a perfect score is tree quality. Once the tree is standing in the living room, festooned with lights and ornaments, it would be hard to give even the gnarliest and most misshapen tree anything less than 20 points. And when you sit and look at it there in the corner, it’s easy to forget any trouble that might have come along with keeping up the tradition.

Eat the Bird

Turkey -- not body parts.
Turkey — not body parts.

Working in the dark of night, the black plastic bags, the cooler — whenever I brine a turkey it reminds me of something out of Dexter. I hope none of my Thanksgiving guests are reading this.

Anyhow, it would not be Thanksgiving if I didn’t post a link to my recipe for sweet potato crunch. People remember two things about Albany Eye: the wiseass commentary and the sweet potato crunch recipe I first shared in 2006.

It’s getting sort of like NPR’s tradition of running Susan Stamberg’s horrible relish recipe with one important difference: the sweet potato crunch is something people will actually love to eat. Stamberg is fond of saying “It sounds terrible but tastes terrific.” Susan, let’s be honest: most people hate it.

Take my word for it, this will be one of the most popular things on the table — but I’ll share one tip about the recipe that I wrote when I first shared it:

Cook’s note: DO NOT DARE used canned sweet potatoes; you’re making dinner for your loved ones, not the inmates down at Coxsackie.

Maybe they could punish unruly prisoners by giving them nothing but the Susan Stamberg relish? Nah… that would be cruel and unusual.

Turkey Flambé: 2014 Edition

Yay, Americans are getting smarter!

You’re probably saying, “Rob, that’s not very likely. What proof do you have?”

Easy. Every Thanksgiving, I scour the internet for videos of people having horrible mishaps when frying turkeys — and these videos are getting very hard to find. The most recent fryer fire I could locate was uploaded to YouTube more than a year ago, on December 10, 2013.

Combine the lack of videos with the proliferation of phones that shoot video and it can only mean fewer fires.

What you will find on YouTube are many videos of fire departments staging turkey fires to demonstrate the dangers of hot oil, open flames, turkeys and (presumably) alcohol. Having served as a firefighter, I can tell you that they pass up few opportunities to light things on fire for training. Here’s a good one:

So, if we connect the dots we can surmise that all these demonstration videos have made a difference and yielded smarter Americans. Now, all we need are some videos about how local talk radio can rot your brain…

Down By the Water

You should know by now that screwing up Mother’s Day is bad news.

I’m happy to report that this year’s celebration went off without a hitch. The agenda included brunch at Max London’s in Saratoga, a leisurely trip to the Spa City Farmers’ Market and a stroll in the Saratoga Spa State Park.

We walked along the trail where many of the mineral springs are located and, naturally, brought a cup along so to take of the fabled curative waters.

How was it? My impression of the magical mineral elixir was about the same as when I first tasted it decades ago: “Blech!”

Imagine drinking water that tastes like it comes from a rusty pipe and that will give you some idea of the flavor.

Nonetheless, I insisted on trying each one, as if we’d eventually stumble on one that tastes like an enchanted cross between a fizzy mountain stream and unicorn nectar.

My son had more sense and did not partake. But he was curious, the conversation going something like this:

“How is that one?”

“Not as bad as the last one. But bad. It smells like sulphur, which makes it interesting. Are you sure you don’t want some?”

“Yes.”

One spring, according to a nearby sign, was known for helping digestive ailments and for its laxative effect. That’s not exactly what I’m interested in when out walking around in a park.

We went away with the memory , but I swear I could still taste the water in my mouth hours later, perhaps because of all the minerals I’d ingested. And without going into detail,the next morning there was a definite laxative effect.

Tradition

We had a conversation last night about Easter morning. The question? Do we hide eggs.

Hiding the easter eggs is something I’ve done that goes all the way back to when my older son was little. We’re talking decades. Today, one son is in his mid-twenties and the other not even living at home — but the egg thing. It worries me.

Will he be disappointed when he comes over on Easter if there are no eggs to look for?

eggs

Traditions can be important in ways you don’t always realize. The best example of this was Christmas a few years ago when I had the great idea to put the gifts out on Christmas Eve instead of early Christmas morning. It seemed like an insignificant thing to me, but it caused quite an uproar with the kids. What’s going on? Why are the presents out? Presents aren’t supposed to appear UNTIL MORNING!

I never did that again.

Don’t screw around with your traditions, not even the small ones.

Holiday Gift Guide

All Over Albany is running a series of posts with local folks offering their gift-giving ideas; they’re a fun read. They asked me to write one, which is very flattering, and I agreed — but then I never sent it in. Sorry AOA.

So, what’s up with that?

It’s sort of hard to explain, but I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with having my name out there. Some of you may find this surprising, but I hate any sort of attention when it comes to things I write. Oddly, I’ll get up in front of a crowd and do just about anything, but mention the blog and you’ll see me visibly squirm.

Strange.

Anyway, I’m really grateful to you, my small and loyal audience, who have stuck with me through another year. For you, here’s my aborted AOA post with gift ideas:

1. Clue
Do yo know somebody who doesn’t have a clue? Well, maybe you can’t give them a clue, but you can give them Clue. Clue is not only a classic board game, but a gift with a message. A not so subtle message. Imagine how much fun your clueless friends will have solving mysteries — and the satisfaction you’ll feel as you quietly snicker over your little joke.

2. For the Drinking Man (or Woman)
Everybody loves booze! Scotch is an excellent choice, and I’d recommend a nice bottle of Oban, a small distillery that makes a very good single malt product. Go with the 14-year-old; no need to spend more. As for beer, my favorite gift is a 22 oz bottle of Ommegang’s Hennepin Farmhouse Saison — or wait, get a Hennepin, a Rare Vos, and a Three Philosophers and put them in a basket with a fancy napkin or some freakin’ hay or such shit… you’ll look like a beer genius.

3. Historic Albany
If you take a right off Delaware Avenue onto Normanskill Drive you will see the old road’s yellow bricks peeking through the asphalt here and there — and the keen-eyed explorer can actually find loose bricks laying about along the road side. These are amazing artifacts of the city’s past — and imagine how cool it would be to have one on your shelf or in the garden. I’m not suggesting you take them, just saying that they are there.

4. Knives and Flashlights
Not exclusively for men, everyone enjoys these two useful items.
You can spend a lot of money on a flashlight, but I recommend those by Utilitech that you find at Lowe’s. These are small, extremely solid, and powerful. And cheap. There are two models to look for, one that throws 200 lumens for under $10 and the other 300 lumens for about $20. That’s a lot of lumens!

Knives. A Swiss Army Knife is an excellent gift for both men and women, but it does blur the lines between knife and tool. Anything by SOG is good, but consider the SOG Twitch II. It’s a stylish little knife that can be carried unobtrusively during work or play. Oh, one more thing: don’t try to bring it into Canada. Long story.

5. For Your Single Friends
A t-shirt that announces one’s cultural orientation is a great conversation starter. If they only had an NPR shirt, they could go to a bookstore or the farmer’s market and start meeting like-minded people right away. Just to cover both ends of the spectrum, the NRA has an excellent online store, also.

6.  I Know What Boys Like
Yes, kids spend way too much time sitting around playing video games where they pretend to shoot at each other. You can help put a stop to that by giving them a gift they can use to really shoot at one another, Nerf guns. I know some of you don’t think children should have play guns of any sort, but come on — Nerf guns are awesome! If you don’t agree, please see my first gift idea.

Oh, yes, my post on AOA would have had this bio:

Rob Madeo serves the people of New York at a government agency based in Albany. When he is not at work, he enjoys driving ambulances, kissing his dogs on the mouth, and spending time with his family.