My office is at the corner of State and Pearl, squarely at the crossroads of downtown Albany. It’s certainly not Manhattan, but the sidewalks bring an interesting blend of people.
On the way out of my building to get a cup of tea, two men, apparently Orthodox Jews, stopped me and asked if I’m Jewish. I said no as I held the door for them, and they cheerfully wished me Happy Hanukkah. “Thank you,” I said. “Happy Hanukkah!”
That may not sound unusual, but I don’t think anyone’s ever wished me Happy Hanukkah. I walked off with a smile because it really made my day for them to share their celebration with me in that small way.
Much is made of how to greet people this time of year and whether it’s OK to say Merry Christmas or whatnot. Look, stop thinking and just go for it. If someone’s offended by your Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Saturnalia or whatever the heck you celebrate, that’s on them.
Now, what did I do with that dreidel?
The whole running thing is not what it used to be. Ten years ago I ran a marathon and today three miles is sometimes a struggle. But you get out there and do it. Why? As the man said when asked why he’s hitting himself with a hammer: because it feels so good when I stop.
Early in the morning when it’s dark, odors are amplified. You can smell the cigarettes people are smoking in their cars. Sometimes their smoking weed, even though it’s 5am.
Skunks, garbage trucks, wood stoves. Wet leaves, cut grass. Sometimes the smell of rain coming. After rain there’s that peculiar odor which I used to think was the smell of worms, but is actually not.
But every year you really know the holidays are here when you smell the Christmas trees. There’s a garden store along my route and every year a tractor-trailer shows up overnight full of evergreens. The store sets the trees up and strings of those bare bulb lights so people can shop at night. Then, for one or two mornings, the area near the store has that smell.
The smell of Christmas.
Ah, Thanksgiving, the most American holiday.
There’s so much to be thankful for this year, that I don’t know where to start. I could only be more thankful if Donald Trump were walking down the street and a safe fell on his head. Anyway, a few holiday observations:
Electric Turkey Fryers
Electric countertop turkey fryers are all the rage this year. No doubt these are considerably safer than the outdoor propane versions, but any time you’re around enough boiling oil to fry a turkey, there may be trouble. Please be careful. It is my sincere wish this Thanksgiving that you don’t burn your damn house down or suffer hideous grease burns.
According a story in the Times Union by food writer Deanna Fox, local strip club Night Moves will offer turkey and exotic dancing on Thanksgiving. Club owner Steven Dick Jr. tells the paper, “We offer a chance to get a nice, hot meal and enjoy the show.” Yes, his name is Steven Dick!
Early Black Friday
Are you one of those people who will be starting your Black Friday shopping early by heading out on Thanksgiving? Well, fu*k you, then. Yes, some stores should be open for part of the day, like supermarkets, but c’mon, do you really need to go shopping at Best Buy on Thanksgiving? If you do shop on Thanksgiving, you’re part of the problem. Give it a rest.
Finally, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if I didn’t share one of my favorite holiday recipes, Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch. It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since I first urged you to cook this extraordinary side dish that will guarantee you praise and adoration. Remember, don’t ever use canned sweet potatoes. That would be as bad as shopping on Thanksgiving.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
- Cut down a bigger tree than you need. You can make a tree shorter, but not taller.
- If it’s muddy, leave the dogs at home.
- 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.
- Invest in a good tree stand. Not saying our tree has ever fallen over, but…
- 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.
At 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.
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.