Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Holiday Lights

Hope everyone had a splendid holiday. My Christmas gift collection included blackberry jam, warm winter socks, a new bird feeder to replace the one the squirrels trashed, a book detailing ways to remain cheap--which I am of course—and a Cornell University hooded sweatshirt. Wendy and I noticed while Christmas shopping that it seems to be much easier to find “hoodies” than regular sweatshirts anymore. I’d be interested in hearing what others got this Christmas if you want to share.

Since I wanted to try a little creativity with my holiday photo-taking, I took some pictures of our Christmas decorations with natural light. Figured out how to do that with my digital camera.

My wife Wendy spends a great deal of time putting up the holiday décor. I’m only her assistant, and not a good one at that. The first photo is from her ceramic village collection that rests over the fireplace mantle. Seems like it’s lacking something. Maybe some ceramic people, or toy soldiers, or dinosaurs . . . something like that.

The photo of our tree displays a few of our older ornaments. The rocking horse from 1978 is something Wendy acquired before we had even met. There are also two ornaments marking our “baby’s first Christmas.” Those have to be at least 24 years old, since our youngest turned 24 in August. At the far left you might be able to see an ornamental bone with the name “Doogie.” Even though our pet chin-pooh has been gone over a year, we still remember him fondly.

Then there’s a picture of our nativity set, handed down from Wendy’s mother. That dates wayyyyyy back. We looked up some of the figurines on E-Bay, which were made in Italy and “U.S. Germany” post World War II. Found out they’re made of paper mache. I think the straw is pretty old too.

Finally, there is the green garland that gives our white picket fence a New England holiday look, I think. The elderly woman who lives across the street has told Wendy she really feels the Christmas spirit, looking out her front window to see our fence decorated like it is.

But very soon it all comes down. Wendy wanted to take it down this week, but we learned during the priest’s sermon that today (Tuesday) is really only the fifth day of Christmas. We’re really supposed to leave our decorations up to the twelfth day of Christmas; there’s a liturgical name for the feast that ends Christmas, but I can’t remember what he said it was. Let me Google it here now . . .

The feast of Epiphany. Now if I can remember that, I’ll have learned something new today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'll Be Immune For Xmas

Ordinarily, getting my yearly flu shot isn't a problem. My doctor suggests my getting one since my age and health warrants it. Fine, no problem. Usually come October he tells me the seasonal flu vaccine has come in and--poke--I'm good to go.

This year, with the H1N1 scare and all, I thought I better ask HIM come October. When I did, I was told that their supply of vaccine hadn't arrived yet, but they would notify me. The nurse wrote my name and phone number on a scrap piece of paper there at her desk. Hmmmmm, I love a doctor's office that's well organized, especially when it comes to matters life and death.

So by late November, no call from the doc's office. I called them. They said they had no vaccine and had no idea when they were getting their supply. Instead, they were referring their patients to the local drug store or health department. Wonderful. I wonder if the nurse wrote their vaccine supply order on another scrap of paper and filed it next to mine.

No problem, I thought. They were offering a flu clinic at work. I could get both the H1N1 and the seasonal flu vaccines at the same time--poke, poke, good to go. Only those with chronic conditions were eligible for the H1N1, we were told. Fine, that's me.

On the appointed day, the line for the flu vaccine stretched down the hall. No problem. I assumed they had plenty and waited a while. By the time I got in line, I was told they were out of H1N1 flu vaccine. What?? "Are there that many sickos in the building," I asked my supervisor. Apparently, they were not screening to see who truly qualified. Anybody who asked for the H1N1 innoculation got one.

Great. So I decided to go to employee health service instead so I could get both shots--poke, poke, good to go. It was my first time at employee health. Though I'm considered chronic, I'm rarely sick. Go figure. I got right behind this lady, who had various health issues. Interesting, but let's move it along lady, eh.

Then they gave me a clipboard, told me to fill out some forms, then come back. Upon returning to the receptionist, there's somebody ahead of me. Then I saw somebody standing quite far behind us. Is there a line? THEN I see a sign behind me, "In order to protect patient privacy, please form a line here and wait until the person ahead of you is finished."

Whoops! Didn't know that. Well, that first lady didn't have any REALLY personal issues. And I finally ended up getting doubled poked. Good to go. However, the anti-bodies from the vaccine don't kick in for another 10 days. I'll be immune for Christmas . . . maybe.

Afterwards, in the news I see that hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses have been recalled in our area, since the vaccine may be too weak to be effective.

*sigh* So as in the Christmas carol, I'll be immune for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top This, Griswold

We're kicking off our fun old fashion family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols--Clark W. Griswold, Christmas Vacation.

We enjoy a similar tradition in our family come the holiday season. Every year we venture out into the countryside to find the perfect Christmas tree. This past weekend we joined a three-car caravan that included my brother-in-law's family including my nephew's girlfriend; my son and his new wife; and me and Wendy.

It had rained hard through the previous night, something that didn't concern me initially as we rolled over paved roads to Manchester where we gathered for breakfast at the Whistlestop Cafe. While there, my daughter-in-law Lindsay warned that treacherous icy roads awaited if we ventured off the safety of the paved highway.

Pshaw! My brother-in-law Randy and I are both seasoned drivers of the north country. We have been braving Michigan's wintry roads for more years than my young blonde, daughter-in-law has been around. So after a leisurely breakfast--maybe too leisurely as my nephew Bill had to play percussion at a University of Michigan event in the afternoon--we hit the road again.

Randy led us all, winding into the countryside. Once the pavement ended, the roads did get a little slushy. Then, a little icy. Then, a LOT icy. Still, even when the roads were covered with a frozen glaze two inches thick that caused us to occasionally fishtail, we made uneven if steady progress.

Luckily, there were no other fools, er drivers on the road for us to collide with as we weaved our way towards Hillside Farm, our ultimate destination. We were doing just fine. Just one more obstacle left to cross before we arrived--the hill that gave the farm its name. My brother-in-law's small SUV almost made it to the top, nearly in view of the farm. Our mini-van made it about a third of the way. Neither of us could make it a foot farther if we had pressed the accelerator to the floorboard. And, yes, I tried.

The road by now resembled more of a bad bobsled run than anything traversable by conventional means (see picture below). Luckily, my son Greg riding behind had four-wheel drive. We would figure something out. But when I looked back, Greg had turned around and reversed course out of sight. Maybe to get help? Not likely if I know my own son. So my brother-in-law and I separately backed down the hill, somehow got turned around, then headed back the way we came.

Since the Xmas tree farm was off a major paved highway, we just back-tracked and went the long way. Well, my son and I went that way. My brother-in-law took what he said was a short cut. Took us a while but we finally all rendezvouzed at tree farm at about the same time. Now we had to really rush since Billy's performance was just a few couple short hours away. We had our tree cut and on the wagon faster than Charlie Brown picked out his tree in Charlie Brown's Christmas.

After a quick trip to the warming barn to pay for it all and spending a minute admiring all the beautiful Christmas decorations inside, we double-timed it back to our vehicles. My brother-in-law Randy rounded a corner towards the parking lot, wishing the farmhands a merry Christmas and saying he'd see them next year. The employees' responded with a puzzled look.

"Randy, don't you want your tree?" we asked. All our trees had been baled and were standing there by the shed.

Maybe he wanted to go through this all again another day. Some Christmas traditions you just want to enjoy over and over.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Show Me The Tuaca

I've been blogging now for almost five years. Four and half to be exact. I've written poems, posted pictures, written stories both humorous and serious. But there's one thing I've not done yet, but many of my blogging buddies have.

So today I'm going to post a recipe . . . of sorts anyway. My wife Wendy got this particular drink recipe from her sister Sue in Kansas. What I like about it is that it doesn't involve the tedious task of measuring out ingredients. Why do recipes have to have exactly a third cup of this or a half cup of that?

My wife found out just tonight that using a third cup of milk instead of a half-cup made a big difference in her no-bake cookies. This batch she cooked with a third cup of milk did not hold together and the cookies pretty much fell apart, including all four that I ate.

So this recipe that I'm about to post isn't that fickle about measuring out ingredients. However, there may be one ingredient that will be difficult to find. Well, make that two. One of the ingredients is apple cider and now that the apple-picking season is over here in Michigan, fresh cider may be difficult to come by. But for the sake of this blog, make believe it's plentiful.

The other ingredient is Tuaca. It's pronounced "two", then aca, rhymes with caca, which is something anybody who's ever changed a baby is familiar with. I'm not sure I spelled that right. My spellchecker says it's wrong and has suggested either "cache" or "cacao." I know neither of those if right.

My wife and I made a Christmas getaway shopping trip to Grand Rapids this past weekend. It felt like Christmas there in more ways than one since there was no snow in Ann Arbor when we left, but plenty piled high and deep in Grand Rapids.

We stopped at a liquor store and Wendy asked the clerk who interrupted our browsing if he had any Tuaca. He headed for his wine collection. But we said it wasn't wine, though we weren't exactly sure what it was in fact.

He said he wasn't familiar with it but would check the internet. Fine, we thought. But then he asked for a phone number where he could call us back. What?! Was he going home to look it up on his personal PC? We told him we were only in town till Sunday morning, and gave him Wendy's cell phone number.

We didn't think we would hear back from him and, in a way, we didn't. Wendy never heard her phone ring but the next morning she discovered an unplayed message on her cell phone. It was the clerk who said he'd determined that Tuaca was an Italian liquer and that they indeed did stock it. Unfortunately, the store didn't open till noon. We would be long gone by then.

So after arriving back in Ann Arbor, I went to a local liquor store, scanned the top shelf and found a bottle within a few seconds. If that clerk in Grand Rapids hadn't interrupted our browsing, no doubt we would have found it ourselves. As I purchased my Tuaca, I asked the cashier if he would have known he had it in stock if I'd asked for it by name.

"I know 99 percent of what I stock," he said confidently. Then he added, "As long as the customer pronounces it correctly." Good point. I kept telling Wendy that we were looking for "El Guapo." Don't know where I got that from, but I don't believe it's a liquer.

Moral of the story? For the salesman, leave the customer alone and he may find what he's looking for without your help.

Oh, that recipe. Almost forgot. Add a shot or so (whatever) of El Guapo, excuse me, Tuaca to a mug of hot apple cider. Stir with a cinnamon stick and top with fresh whipped cream. It's a delectable holiday potable, especially on those cold winter evenings here in Michigan.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Black Friday Blues

I didn't participate in that black Friday thing. Shopping just isn't in men's genes, not in mine anyway. Do you think back in ancient history some Roman soldier said to his comrades, "Sorry guys, I can't go conquer Persia on Saturday. There's a sale on down by the coliseum." Not likely.

Yet every year I get drawn somehow into the "shopping experience." And it doesn't make it any easier that I have few clues to what I'm getting, or even what I'm looking for. When I make out my Christmas list I'm very meticulous as to what I want, down to size, color, brand and the store that is most likely to sell it at discount price. My wife disdains such lists. She prefers to suddenly blurt out "I wouldn't mind having that for Christmas" in the middle of a conversation or shopping trip. This is cruel and unusual punishment for the average married man. It requires that I always pay attention when my wife speaks during the holiday season. More than that, it requires that I remember what she said beyond the moment. Very, very difficult for me.

Usually, I end up in a JC Penney's woman's department, checking out the apparel. I refuse help from the clerks. With my luck, I'd ask some middle-aged clerk whether a particular outfit looks too "old-ladyish" only to notice that she herself is wearing an identical outfit.

I can usually figure out my wife's and dislikes eventually. Afterall, we've been together almost 30 years. But now I've drawn the name of the my nephew's wife for our annual family Christmas exchange. That's a toughie. Then I heard someone got Xmas ideas by checking a Facebook page. I'm "friends" with my nephew's wife on Facebook. Cool. I'll check her Facebook.

So I see she's written on her wall, "Sometimes, it's nothing to believe in. Sometimes it's everything I see." But what does it mean? Maybe she's into obscure poetry? Or maybe puzzles? That would make an easy gift. But I Google the phrase (smart thinking, eh), and find out it's a line from a song produced by the Monsters of Folk. Monsters of Folk?! I dunno. That makes as much sense as "Monsters of Opera." If I got her a Monsters of Folk CD and she already had it, I think that would be extremely difficult to re-gift to the appropriate person.

On her Facebook page, it notes that she's a fan of craft shows. OK, I usually attend the local mega-craft show annually. It supports local schools. Sounds like a plan. But again, this is not a guy thing. Of the hundreds of people who crowd into this particular craft show, I'd say the percentage of men is one percent. And the percentage of men who are not exhibitors but shoppers are point-five percent. And the percentage of men who are shopping alone and not with a wife or significant other is probably point-one percent. That's me.

I was also drawn into doing the Secret Santa gift exchange at work. We drew names today. Thankfully, the names you draw comes with a list of likes and dislikes. The lady whose name I drew likes "Sweet Pea" scent from Bath and Body. Sweet pea scent? Is that the vegetable or the rug rat from the Popeye cartoon series? Either one doesn't sound too appetizing.

When we did the drawing, we were told to throw back the name if it was our own. What for?? I'd love to draw my own name. It would be a good excuse to shower myself with gifts my wife would normally not approve of. "Hea Wen, guess what my secret Santa got me today. Two tickets to see the movie Zombieland. Guess my Santa wants you to come with me."

She'd have to go with me right? Otherwise, she'd be on Santa's naughty list.