Category Archives: Holidays

Fighting the Fun Police

The orthodontists where I sent my kids are at it again with their Halloween candy buy back program.

Here’s how it works: patients receive $2 for each pound of candy they bring to the braces factory. As an added incentive, for each pound collected the orthodontists  donate $2 to a scholarship fund. That’s nice — they’re putting $4 per pound behind this.

But wait a second, look at this:

Candy will be donated to the Capital Region Food Bank

So let me get this straight: candy is bad for our patients, but it’s OK to give it away at the food bank to kids who are too poor to afford braces.

In defiance of this stupid idea that kids shouldn’t have candy on Halloween, I decided it was time for a gesture: full size candy bars. That’s right, no of “fun size” nonsense at my house this Halloween.


It’s my sincere wish that none of this  candy ends up at that orthodontist office — and by the way, if you ask me, there is nothing fun about “fun size” candy bars.

When did Halloween become about teaching children not to eat candy? I’m sorry if it means you have a few extra brackets and bands to fix this week, but save your lessons for another day and let children be children.

If you really want to stop the little darlings from munching on chewy treats and ruining  the tooth scaffolding, charge the parents a pile of money to fix the damage. That might work.

Waiting for Dick

An actual conversation while watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve:

“God, this is awful. When do they drag Dick Clark on?”

“Dick Clark is dead!”

“Well that will really be something if they bring him out, then.”

‘Tis the Season

No, that’s not a head in my refrigerator, it’s a standing rib roast that’s been in there dry aging for a week. But it does look sorta like a head, doesn’t it?


It’s the main course for our family Christmas celebration on Tuesday 12/30, delayed almost a week because that’s when my son flies in from California. The Marines had important work for him to do that kept him away from us on Xmas.

The result is that the holiday feels like it’s never going to end.

Don’t get me wrong, I freakin’ love Christmas, but I swear to God it’s going to kill me. It seems that ten years ago I was a much more resilient merrymaker, able to eat, drink and party with greater abandon. Now? It takes much longer to recover from holiday indulgences.

But nobody said Christmas would be easy, did they? Consider the Maji, travelling through the desert for the original celebration of Christ’s birth. Their difficult journey — on stinky camels, probably — is thought to have taken six to eight weeks. Next to that, driving to Syracuse is a piece of cake.

So enough of my ungracious Christmas kvetching. Celebrate until it hurts this season and understand that in the pain you will certainly gain.

Merry Christmas

I always swore I’d never send one of those Christmas letters — in fact I hate them so much that this year I sent one back with edits. “Please see my notes on unnecessary capitalization. Central New York should not be used with quotation marks. Try to tighten up the part about the death of your aunt; overall it would be good to keep this under 400 words…”

But despite my Christmas letter ban, I did enclose this little note with our card this year, which featured us standing by the Christmas tree we cut down:

For 27 years we’ve been cutting down our own Christmas tree.

The first time was in 1988, high up in the hills outside Albany. We followed some hand-drawn signs down a deserted road where a sketchy looking guy took our $10 and told us to cut down whatever tree we wanted. It wasn’t a tree farm. We’re not even sure it was his property.

These were not the beautifully groomed trees of Christmas cards, but big, bushy things that were as wide as they were tall. But hey, $10! After trudging through the snow we found the right one, cut it down and dragged it off to the car.

Since then we’ve gone out, usually the day after Thanksgiving, to start the Christmas season with the annual tree cutting. This year was no different, and we were blessed that both Alex and Zach were home to help.

By the way, we’ve learned many lessons about Christmas trees. The top five:

  1. Cut down a bigger tree than you need. You can make a tree shorter, but not taller.
  2. If it’s muddy, leave the dogs at home.
  3. Putting the tree on the car roof? Don’t open the windows and run your rope through the car. This will tie the doors shut.
  4. Invest in a good tree stand. Not saying our tree has ever fallen over, but…
  5. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Pay close attention to that last tip. In fact, this Christmas, let’s all remember what really matters: our family and friends, the traditions we treasure and the miracle we celebrate.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas.


krampusAt a work gathering, we played a game that involved discovering Christmas facts about your co-workers: their favorite movie, Christmas song, holiday tradition and so on. It was a fun way to get people interacting at the party as teams competed for prizes.

The question about me? My favorite Christmas character — and naturally, the answer was Krampus.

I had to explain Krampus to most people. “Oh, he’s St. Nick’s demon sidekick. He comes for the bad children and carries them away.”

“What does he do with them?”

“Well, he drowns them, or eats them — sometimes he just takes them off to Hell.”

And at that point, most holiday revelers slowly backed away.

So, as you can imagine, it brought me great Christmas joy when the New York Times ran a big story about the revival of Krampuslauf in Bavaria. It’s an annual festival that celebrates the hairy and horned scourge of misbehaving kids, and it sounds like a blast. Forget Oktoberfest, I want to go to Krampuslauf!

There are tons of videos of Krampuslauf events online; this is one of the crazier ones:

Yes, all the best things about Halloween and Christmas rolled into one. This is something we really need around here.

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.