Category Archives: Holidays

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.

The Christmas Tree Index

For years we’ve gone to Bob’s Trees in Galway to cut down our Christmas tree — and each year we informally rate our outing compared to previous experiences. We’ve had our share of problems over the years, from terrible weather to cars stuck in the mud to angry tantrums — by both children and adults.

So it seemed like a good time to formally rate each year’s tree cutting adventure based on a fixed set of criteria. I decided to track the following:

-Mood
-Weather
-Field Conditions
-Tree Quality
-Transportation

Each of the five are assigned a maximum possible score of twenty points. Here are this year’s results:

I’m happy to report that we had perfect scores in four areas. Everyone was upbeat and chipper, the weather was ideal, the ground was frozen and covered with a light coating of snow, and the tree was exceptionally healthy and beautiful.

Where we fell down was in the transportation department. On the way home, we had to stop twice to re-tie the tree to the roof of my car, something that’s only very rarely been done in my 25-plus years of Christmas tree moving.

Due to the seriousness of this problem, only 5 points were awarded in this year’s transportation category, giving us a total score of 85. Not bad.

It’s unfortunate that we failed in a category that we had so much control over, but lessons have been learned. Here’s to doing a better job next year. Nobody expects Christmas to be perfect, but we can always strive for excellence.

Turkey Flambé

YouTube is full of videos of turkey frying disasters, but these days most of them seem to be from volunteer fire departments demonstrating the worst case turkey frying scenario.

As a former volunteer firemen, I know how much these guys love burning things in training. Cars, piles of wood, houses — so igniting vats of oil to educate the public is a no brainer.

While I enjoy seeing those huge orange fireballs erupt from the turkey oil, there is no substitute for the real thing. Searching YouTube I found that there are fewer turkey inferno videos than in the past — this despite the proliferation of phones that shoot great video and the popularity of turkey frying.

Could it be that people are finally getting the point? Well. not entirely.

So, do be careful if you’re doing any turky frying. And for God’s sake, please keep a camera ready just in case.

Because Thanksgiving!

We can all agree on Thanksgiving.

Your religion — or lack thereof — doesn’t matter. Politics? Card carrying member of the John Birch Society or national health care lovin’ socialist, who cares? Yankees fan, Red Socks fan — you’re both insufferable, but on Thanksgiving we can all sit down at the same table.

DSC_0371And if you’re lucky, someone will have made Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch.

I’ve been sharing this recipe since 2006, so it’s become a tradition of sorts, to the point of sounding like Sam I Am, except evangelizing for sweet potatoes rather than green eggs and ham.

You do not like them. SO you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may I say.

One important note: never, never, never use canned sweet potatoes. If you do, that might be the one thing that could come between us on this most American of holidays.

A Little Bit of Everything

Oh, boy! Wouldn’t it be cool to answer the door on Halloween dressed up like Walter White cooking meth? Yeah, the kids probably won’t get it, but the parents will think Heisenberg handing out candy is a hoot.

So off to Amazon, where they sell everything, to find a HAZMAT suit and respirator. I figure I’ll skip the bald wig — which never looks good unless done by a professional — but instead, go pre-cancer treatment Walt with a moustache. Yes, definitely.

Well, based on Amazon’s data mining, it looks like Halloween will be a big year for Breaking Bad costumes:

BB Suit

Click to enlarge.

This comes hot on the heals of hearing an interview with Brad Stone, whose new book The Everything Store, takes a look at what Amazon has done to become the one stop shop for everything you could ever want.

And it’s worked. I didn’t even consider going to another merchant to buy what I wanted; not even for a second.

There’s been a lot of noise about how bookstores, especially independent shops, are endangered by Amazon. Recent evidence suggests that this isn’t true, and that good retailers are giving shoppers things they can’t get online. Good for them — but to the others, I say too bad.

If I can get a book delivered to my home in two days — a book you probably don’t have in stock — then you’d better find another way to get me in the door.

We Text You a Merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year!

Stocking

This Christmas stocking is more than 50 years old.

stocking

 It was knitted by my Italian grandmother, and every one of her more than twenty grandchildren was given one. Then all her grandchildren’s husbands and wives received one, and their children, and their children’s children. How many are out there now? Sixty? Seventy? I tried to count but couldn’t figure it out.

Every Christmas for more than sixty years one has been hung somewhere, stuffed with the sort of things you stuff in a stocking. Go to any of my cousin’s homes and you’ll see them. Today, the great, great grandchildren have them, knitted these days by someone my aunt knows.

This is my favorite Christmas tradition.

The idea that so many in my family — kids and adults — have reached into these stockings for so many years, stockings that are nearly identical, some fresh and bright, others showing their age and yellowing a bit. From Hawaii to Florida and across Upstate New York, it’s something that binds us together, and when I hang them up I feel a connection. It’s a powerful thing, and to me, it’s what Christmas is all about.