Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Elf on the Shelf, but not for myself.....

     Please don't be offended if you are an "Elf on the Shelf" family reading this.  This blog is meant as more of a primer on what I could have done better in celebrating this holiday with my family and not to chastise any family on their own traditions.   I fully believe in creating Christmas traditions in fact, and compliment any family that spends this much time and creativity to foster one.  Not too many years ago I could have seen me being an "Elf on the Shelf" family too, but I've had more time to reflect on the messages that I wanted to send more clearly as a father and as a Catholic.  Being as old as dirt and having your kids largely out of the house will do that for you.  

     I have to admit that prior to this year, the Elf on the Shelf thing went unnoticed by me.  This year,
The Elf on the Shelf balloon
 however, I started to see mention of him popping up at Thanksgiving.  He had his own balloon in the Macy's parade and I saw it that morning and again over the next few days as some adult shows poked some fun at it.  His appearance there wasn't enough for me to be motivated to go look up the story, at my age a lot of what others call "culturally significant" passes unnoticed by me, and I'm ok with that.  A few weeks later though, it became a lot harder to not notice.  Several Facebook friends of mine decided to "adopt" an elf and for the next 3 weeks it co-opted their status updates.  I'm not saying that it was pervasive on my page, but it almost made me miss Pinterest and cute cat pictures.  Most mornings I was treated to pictures of the unique position of the elf by multiple friends, the rest of my friends, thankfully, were still bit-stripping themselves in their statuses.   Point is, it gave me a lot of time to ponder this phenomenon.  It was around the same time that I heard that only
25% of my fellow Catholics were attending church on a weekly basis.  I found the number astounding, I would have thought it was closer to 40% and I know that in the 50's we hovered around 80% but I was saddened by this and I had to blame someone, and the elf was pretty handy (he was right there on the shelf), so....

     In a crisis of faith I always go to my roots and I only had to ponder the question shortly "What would my mother do?"  I realized that my mother had always done her version of elf on the shelf as I'll bet a lot of Catholic families did, but they used the journey of the Wise Men to do it.  For those
I swear my blog idea came first, it's only the calendar that disagrees
 that knew my mother, and before they fall down laughing, I am not suggesting that she arose before the household each morning to place the Wise Men, or 3 Kings, or Magi, on the toilet tank or in the fridge, however as Advent started and over the month of December they would systematically make their way around our living room, getting ever closer to the nativity and would finally arrive on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.  There was no Christmas Magic associated with their moving and if we touched them they didn't go back to Santa to tattle on us, but nevertheless, it was a tradition that my mother kept up.  I do remember doing this with our own nativity here at home over a long period of time, and I honestly can't say why or when I stopped doing it.  That is how traditions get lost though.  I also recall quizzing the kids on the names of the 3 Kings, can you name them?  The accepted names are Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, however, in the gospel of

Matthew, the only gospel to mention the visit of the Kings, they are neither named nor numbered.  It also doesn't mention if their camels were any happier on Wednesdays than the other days, but you can't get all the details all the time.  The gifts that they brought were though and that's how they surmised the number of Kings who visited Jesus.  Can you name the 3 gifts?  I'll bet more people can do this one than name the Kings, they are Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  I'd give you more trivia, but it will be more fun if you go and read or re-read up on the Kings yourselves.

     So what am I going to do with all these thoughts?  As I had said, my current household is a little beyond either the elf or the journey of the Kings thing, but I can start to prepare for any grand-kids that I might have.  Heck, I can even Snapchat pictures of my traveling Wisemen to people (note to self, download Snapchat app).  I can talk with my son who's still at  home about the 3 Kings, but he does go to church each week, so he probably knows as much as me.  I'll do what I always do though, I'll take my best shot at this idea of re-centering my Christmas around Christ and I'll stick with it, if it 
works.  For your house, feel free to do the same.  For what it's worth though, I'm a poker player and 3 Kings always beats a single joker (or even an elf). 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How we celebrate Christmas

     This will post on Christmas Eve and we will have several Christmas traditions in the bank by then, and here's how we tend to celebrate this Season.....

     I was going to blog about the traditions that we have in our family, and then I realized that I could probably fill a page with just the things we do around Christmas, so I thought I'd peel that Ongion skin for you this morning.  The Christmas season starts for us about 3-4 weeks prior to Christmas. 
Nolan in front of our Christmas tree
 Our first tradition is to hunt and chop down our fresh Christmas tree.  No artificial ones for us, we have to see it standing, crawl underneath it with a hacksaw, sever it from the earth and then drag it through the mud or snow.  For as long as I can remember, this is how we get our Christmas tree.  I did a whole blog a few years ago on the year we lost a tree, the link is attached here if you want a true heartwarming story, but that's how we kick the season off. (On Christmas Trees, lost and found.)   When we get home with the tree, Dad strings the lights, and Mom and the kids hang the ornaments.  We're angel people, don't try to convince us of putting anything else on the top of the tree, in our house, that space is reserved for an angel.  We aren't pretty white light people either, ours are big, gaudy and brightly colored. We don't string popcorn to go round it, although the Boy Scouts keep us in good supply.  We have a small living room, but that's where we put it, so we can plug it in and enjoy it each night.  Char decorates the rest of the house with nutcrackers and wreaths and other assorted things, and our nativity set is simple and Jesus arrives on Christmas, and not beforehand. 

     We throw some lights on the house outside, but we don't aim to be the brightest lit house strewn with lawn decorations, timed to music and such.  My brother in law down the street, however, strings 
lights completely around his house and stages several blow up characters in front too.  I've been tempted to just take credit for his decorating, like the guy in this picture did, but he's too far away for me to do this.  Our church puts up a giving tree each year, and we participate in it, sponsoring 3 anonymous children so that they might have a better Christmas morning.  We volunteer a shift at a Salvation Army kettle on a Saturday prior to Christmas.  My wife's family had a winter house fire when she was small, so this is an important tradition for her, to make sure that we think of those less fortunate.  Our Boy Scout Troop has a great tradition of spending $400 of their hard earned money and making 40 fruit baskets to distribute to the needy, aged and infirm.  It's our 2nd biggest budgeted item each year and this tradition goes back decades and my family has both benefited from this tradition and met some amazing people.  I wrote a blog about one of them a while ago, and it's another heartwarming holiday story that you can share (The clothing lady with the one shoe story).  That's how we try to keep Christ in Christmas in our house.

     We have 2 other traditions that center around my family in the weeks prior to Christmas, our Men's Shopping Night and our Progressive Dinner.  Both go back over a decade, with the first being 
5 of my sisters at a Progressive Dinner
at least a 20 year tradition and the second encroaching that number.  My brothers, and brothers in law spend a Friday night out together and try and relieve some of the holiday stress.  We used to shop for an hour and then go bar-hopping, but now we don't even pretend to shop anymore, we just do a 12 station bar crawl.  Traditionally we stop in at Wally's Pub and try to eat 20 wings apiece, but only a few of us ever do.  We tear up our hometown of Canandaigua and we laugh and dance and just hang out with the male members of our clan.  I'll include the link here to the blog I did on this event, and you can read about our hijnks and shenanigans if you'd like  ( Men's Shopping Night) The Progressive Dinner kicks off at noon on a Sunday, just prior to Christmas and
we caravan through a 5 or 6 course meal visiting some of my sibling's homes and viewing their decorations.  This is open to all of my immediate family and we get a great turnout each year.  I did a blog on this before, see (Our Progressive Dinner).  I'm a big fan of this one, especially since it involves 2 out of 4 of the F things that my mother was thankful for, Family and Food, the others are Friends and Faith, but we'll get to those in the next paragraph.  Here's a shot of Mom and how she dressed for this event some years.  Sometime prior to Christmas my wife, children and I try to sit down and watch my wife's favorite movie "It's a Wonderful Life".  We've done this for so long that we all can recite the best lines as they come up and it's a special night for us to snuggle in.

     We celebrate Jesus' birth by attending church as a family, mid-day on Christmas Eve.  We arrive almost an hour early so that we can sit together, but it's tradition that my sons and I give up our seats to older parishioners or ladies that may be standing just prior to the service.  I don't even have to spot the people anymore, both my boys are on high alert for this opportunity to sacrifice a little and to make someone else's Holiday a little brighter.   I'm a little beyond getting excited on Christmas morning anymore, my kids are older and I've never liked the commercialism that is so
Nolan make armadillo eggs for the party
prevalent on this holiday, but I'm as guilty as the next husband and father when it comes to doling out gifts for this day.  What I do look forward to each year though, is the intimate party that we throw on Christmas Eve.  This idea, we blatantly stole from my best friend's family and made it into our own tradition.  We mix a few close friends and just a couple of our family members from each side whom we spend more time with each year, and we host an upscale evening complete with cocktails, singing round the piano, and tasty dishes that require a lot of prep and forethought.  We laugh and sing and enjoy the small gathering, and there are no gifts exchanged except the pleasure of the company.  We knock off the other two F's of my Mom's Friends and Faith that evening. 

     On Christmas Day, we arise early, get the coffee brewing and gather in our living room for the gift exchange.  Santa fills the stockings overnight though for some reason only my wife's stocking stuffers are wrapped each year.  A tangerine or orange is placed in foot of the stocking.  I always thought this was to take up a lot of room, but this tradition dates back to when citrus was hard to come by in this area in the winter, so it was a special treat to receive an orange in your stocking.  The
Watching a Christmas tree burn
gift sorting is done by me, the man of the house, and I pass out each present and we watch as each one is opened with oohs and aahs.  After we finish, I make breakfast for the family and then we travel to see Char's Mom.  We used to see her on Christmas Eve and my mother on Christmas Day, but now we just have the short trip down the street.  I miss my Mom, but it's nice to see Mary on Christmas Day so that we can hear about the gifts that her family got her.  Last year was extra special as one of her grandsons arranged all of her grandchildren to be in a family picture and we got to present it to her.  For all intents and purposes, that terminates our Christmas celebration, except for one small last tradition.  We drag our tree out a few days after Christmas, but it gets stored behind the barn for a while, drying out.  It becomes a home for rabbits or birds and when it is sufficiently dry, we donate it to a bonfire at a friends house or a family gathering and we watch the tree go up in a few seconds of blazing glory.  It's kind of like a Viking funeral for the Christmas Season, and it's spectacular, you should try it.  Those are some of the traditions in my family around this time of year, how about yours? 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An ode to the alarm clock at the Hampton Inn

     Tongue pressed firmly in cheek this morning, I offer this ode for those new alarm clocks at the Hampton Inns and Hilton's that seem to have every feature and instruction on them, except how to set the time correctly when it is wrong, and it is frequently wrong. 

                   An ode to the alarm clock at the Hampton Inn

The sale has been made and the hour is late,
the day hangs on me like a leaden weight,
clothes get strewn in a path to the bed,
where I hope to soon lay down my head,
a last glance back to the lock on the door,
to insure that my slumber will be secure,
then as I start to untuck the covers,
what is this that my eye now discovers?
The glowing red time on the nightstand is wrong,
Is says 6:03,  but that time is long gone.

I sigh as I realize, I've been here before,
why the maids do not check this, I'm really not sure?
but experience tells me I'm in for a fight,
cuz it got lots of buttons to ponder tonight,
there's 2 buttons to set the alarm to and fro,
and volume adjust buttons located below,
there's an alarm on and off  on the face, to each side
these all seem important to not try and hide,
there's a radio on and there's just a plain, Enter
I'm getting annoyed now and afraid I might dent her
The last buttons there lets you adjust your station,
Can you see now why I've got all this frustration?
The instructions emblazoned and so clearly imprinted,
are all alarm focused, could it kill them to have hinted?
At how to set the damn correct time?
or at least sync the zone with meridian Prime?

I check out the top and there's no relief there,
it's a big row of buttons and now I don't care,
A check of one side shows a total blank pane,
I'm ten minutes in and I'm going insane, '
on the other side, it gives some advices
on how to plug in my music devices,
but  I've got no help in my ongoing mission
to set the right time and for help I am wishin'
I could call the front desk, but they always will stammer
That the maintenance man can come up with his hammer,
but it's very late now and I've got no affection
for men from "the slow and incompetent" section.
I've got no time for those endless delays,
and besides I'm attired in only PJ's. 

As a last ditch effort I check the back and the bottom, 
But as to instructions, it still doesn't got 'em.
I next randomly try all the odd combinations,
but  all I can change is alarms and the stations. 
I grab my Iphone and place it aside me,
to the correct time, I know it will guide me,
I turn the clock round, and I give up the fight,
If only I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On being a Buffalo Bills fan

     I've been a Buffalo Bills football fan for all of my life and I don't see it changing anytime soon.  If you aren't a fan, this will give you an idea of what we Buffalo fans go through and if you are, well you can commiserate with me. 

     Last night we lost a game, that we should have won.  A few bad calls and a fumble sent us into overtime and another fumble lost the game for us.  A game that we had been winning with our team really playing some solid football ended with a L instead of a W.  The sad thing is, I missed all the drama at the
I love to see Freddie run.
end of the game, I had left the house on a kid-run with us having a lead, and came back with us recording another loss and yet, I wasn't surprised, because I'm a Bills fan.  I see this almost every week.  As I say this, I'm not calling for any heads to roll or to have people be traded or benched, though admittedly I wouldn't cry if Gilmore was gone, but instead just to vent a little about a team that I love a lot, the Buffalo Bills.

     Before I talk any smack about what is wrong with the Bills, I have to give credit to what is right about them.  The fans are great, and since the 1990's have turned out year after year to support largely losing Buffalo Bills teams, because they are the home team and we are grateful to have them here.  The stadium was built a little too big for a market this size and yet for most games we sell the seats and if we don't the local businesses or Ralph Wilson steps in to buy up the rest.  Each year the stadium fills back up with these
Th iconic Ralph Wilson, oh with Jim Kelly
loyal and overly optimistic fans, that keeping inventing new terms so that they can bring hope into the stadium with them.  Tell me that it wasn't Buffalo fans that invented the terms "rebuilding year", "enviable draft position" or my favorite, "statistically still in the hunt".  We don't whip stupid towels in your face while you are trying to watch the game and our cheers are not offensive, just uplifting.  There's no better sound than the 12th man rocking the Ralph.   That's another thing we have that's great, our owner, Ralph Wilson.   Ralph turned 95 this year and was an original founder of the AFL.  He is the last of his kind.  He's the longest tenured owner (54 years) and he's credited with saving the AFL during it's tough times by lending money to the other teams to keep them afloat.  The AFL never lost a franchise because of him.  He grew up in a tough town, Detroit and went off to serve in the Navy.  After JFK was assassinated, Ralph lobbied successfully for all AFL games that Sunday to be postponed out of respect, while the NFL teams played on schedule.  He's a class act and we are lucky to have him. 

     The same can be said for the city of Buffalo.  We are lucky to have the "Queen City" or the "Nickel City" if you prefer.  Did you know that at one time Buffalo boasted a larger number of
The Ralph
millionaires per capita than any other city?  That time, however, is not this time.  Buffalo's growth times are likely behind her, a city that once ranked 8th in the US for population, now ranks 73rd.  In fact, Buffalo's current population is almost identical to it's population in the year 1890.  The Saint Lawrence Seaway stole her commerce, China stole her steel industry and other manufacturers and people just packed up and moved away, but the ones that were left were the die-hards, the Bills fans.  For a city now boasting fewer than 260,000 people. it still has great architecture, great sports teams, music,street festivals, art and a host of institutes of higher learning.  In 2010 Forbes magazine named it the 10th best city in America to live, which makes me wonder, how bad were those who left?  If I had to guess, I'd say that they went to Miami, or maybe to Foxboro MA, but it's only a guess.  I say good riddance, cuz you left a great city and some great fans behind and they know how to tailgate.

     Wow, another whole paragraph on what we do right?  Yep.  There are few cities that know how to tailgate as well as the Buffalonians and we invented some of the foods that other fans eat each week.  The Buffalo chicken wing has to rate first among these, only we can take something that was once
Beef on Weck
thrown away and make it delicious enough to become the most expensive part of the chicken.  Beef on Weck has to come in a close second.  That's a staple up here where you take rare roast beef, slap it on a Kummelweck (or Kimmelweck if you prefer) roll and serve it up hot with some horseradish and au jus.  Even our hot dogs taste better, they are less sweet than other markets, are spicier and are made for charcoal grilling, not boiling.  You've never really tasted a hot dog until you've had a Sahlen's hot dog, grilled over charcoal (I'll give Wardynski's a close second).  Sure we eat cheese steaks and soups and stews and foods made famous in other markets too, but when you are tailgating outside of the Ralph, you'll see these foods the most. You'll see the oddest cooking
Sure, why not use your car too?
contraptions set up outside that stadium too and they been designed to keep the food coming in spite of the blowing snows and winds that are so common to that area of Western NY.  Awnings and tents are handy too, that is, right up until Mother Nature decides to take them from you, an ever-present threat when tailgating at the Ralph.

I should probably talk a little about football in a blog about the Buffalo Bills, but as most of you are well aware, it's been some time since we've had any bragging rights. If you are a playmaker on another NFL team and you find yourself traded to the Bills, you can historically count on having a couple of mediocre years on this roster that can't afford you before you find yourself somewhere else where you are sure to start playing like you did before your Western NY trip. It must be our weather but we've fared much better by getting newbies and teaching them how to play
My family at a street festival this year
here than in trying to bring established talent in (think T.O. here). We seem to have more problems keeping players healthy too and as a Bills fan, I spend a lot of time each week perusing our injury report to see who is actually able to start for us. We struggle with finishing games, I'm not sure if there's a stat for teams that go into the 2nd half with leads only to be outscored by their opponents, but if there is, we surely are at the top of this list. It's become so common an event for us that my brain immediately starts going through each way we could lose the lead, as soon as we have one (don't call me a bad fan for this cuz I'll bet a lot of us do this and this just makes us better students of history). It's amazing how often I'll predict the blatant late hit or unnecessary roughness call that comes or the poorly thrown ball that falls into the hands of an opposing player but each time I do, I get a stony stare from the Bill's number 1 fan and cheerleader, my wife. Sorry Dear, but without becoming a little jaded you never last decades as a Bills fan. I do read my wife's Pollyanna predictions and pre-game postulations that she posts to Facebook each week, but as I do I'm practicing my platitudes for consoling her after the loss. Most weeks, it's time well spent.

     I'll close this blog in the way that I opened it, I'm a Buffalo Bills fan and probably will be for life. We are proud that we didn't steal our team from another market, and we pray some bigger, richer city won't do that to us (cuz then I'd have to be a a Steelers, Browns, or Lions fan). To my knowledge, we don't spy on other teams and we don't pay players to injure their competitors, but we do win fewer games. So many years we come off a 7-9 season anticipating a much better season to follow, only to find ourselves hoping mid-season to be able to finish at 7-9, sigh. That's the reality of being a Bills fan, one that we live every year, but Hey, at least we are statistically still in the hunt.

It was fitting that this blog end in de feet.