Top Ten Things I Like About New Year’s Day

1. (Technically, this happens just before midnight, but still…) That the last song played in Times Square before the ball drops is “Imagine” by John Lennon.

2. Removing the Christmas decorations – I know I really enjoyed putting them up, but that was five weeks ago. I’m ready to have my living room back now.

3. The NHL Winter Classic – Hockey played outdoors in an open-air stadium (with snow if we’re lucky), and usually between two good teams.

4. College bowl games that don’t make me want to throw up. Instead of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, we get the Rose Bowl. Finally.

5. Knowing that the NFL playoffs are only days away – No more “49ers vs. Chiefs on this week’s Monday Night Football!”

6. Changing the calendars in the house. As cool as I thought that calendar was last January, I want it gone now.

7. Back to single digit months – Starting today, I can write 1/1/10, rather than 12/31/09.

8. It’s ridiculous, but now that we’ve turned the corner, so to speak, it seems like spring is much closer than it was yesterday. It also helps that the next big holiday is Valentine’s Day, which is in mid-February, by which time it could be 65° (or 20°).

9. The illogical, yet undeniable optimism that coincides with an arbitrary change in the numbering system that we use to mark the passage of time. For no real reason, everything seems new, and anything seems possible.

10. The satisfaction of having pulled off one more successful holiday season. (“Put Christmas 2009 in the can, that’s a wrap!”)

The Christmas Blizzard of 2009 at UMBC – A Pictorial

This weekend’s major snow event buried UMBC – but not so much as to keep campus from opening. Here are some images from this morning:

This is what I woke up to Sunday morning:

My Favorite Quotes From Christmas Programs – With Video Links!

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

In no particular order:

I suppose it all started with the snow. You see, it was a very special kind of snow. A snow that made the happy happier, and the giddy even giddier. A snow that’d make a homecoming homier, and natural enemies, friends. For it was the first snow of the season. And as any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic that comes with the very first snow, especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow… Well, something wonderful is bound to happen.”

I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.

Santa Claus: Don’t cry, Karen, Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. It sometimes goes away for almost a year at a time and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again.
Karen: Yes, but… He was my friend.
Santa Claus: Just watch.

” ‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

[Props man tries to attach antlers to a mouse]
Props man: I can’t get the antlers glued to this little guy. We tried Crazy Glue, but it don’t work.
Frank Cross: Did you try staples?

Jacob Marley: In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing hole! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!
Ebenezer: But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!
Jacob Marley: BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!

“…there are only three jobs available to an elf. The first is making shoes at night while the old cobbler sleeps. You can bake cookies in a tree. As you can imagine, it’s dangerous having an oven in an oak tree during the dry season. But the third job, some call it “the show” or “the big dance,” it’s the profession that every elf aspires to. And that is to build toys in Santa’s workshop.”

“Every Who Down In Who-Ville Like Christmas a lot… But The Grinch, Who lived just North of Who-ville, Did NOT! The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all May have been that his heart was two sizes too small. But, Whatever the reason, His heart or his shoes, He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos, Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown At the warm lighted windows below in their town. For he knew every Who down in Who-ville beneath Was busy now, hanging a mistleoe wreath. “And they’re hanging their stockings!” he snarled with a sneer. “Tomorrow is Christmas! It’s practically here!” Then he growled, with his grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I MUST find a way to keep Christmas from coming!””

“Just a minute – just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was – why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why – here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You – you said – what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.”

“Scrooge was better than his word… and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Top Ten Not-To-Be-Missed Christmas Shows

There are plenty of Christmas television specials and movies out there; how do you decide which ones to watch? Well, here are the ones I stay home for:

10. Elf – One of the few Will Ferrell movies I can sit all the way through. It’s cute, it’s funny, and Bob Newhart plays Papa Elf. Fortunately, I don’t have to make time for this movie, because it’s on sixteen separate cable channels every day during the month of December.

9. Scrooged – I detest remakes of A Christmas Carol that repeat what’s already been done better. I’m fine with versions that update the story or take it places where it hasn’t been. In this version, Bill Murray is a cynical, vicious television executive who gets the Dickens scared out of him by an excellent supporting cast, which includes John Forsythe and David Johansen (below with Murray).

8. It’s A Wonderful Life – The 1946 Frank Capra classic. Yes, it’s a sappy story, but it reminds us of all the good we can do, and maybe already are doing, for the people around us every day. At this point it’s passed from being a film to being a Christmas tradition, which makes it immune to cinematic criticism.

7. Saturday Night Live Christmas – SNL has done a lot of really funny stuff over lo these many Christmases – none funnier than Steve Martin’s Christmas Wish.

6. A Christmas Story – I’ve never seen a film become iconic quite as quickly as did the story of Ralphie’s quest for the elusive Red Ryder Ranger Model Air Rifle. A huge bonus is the acting of Darren McGavin, who also played Carl Kolchak in the Night Stalker series. If you like this movie, you can see it for 24 hours straight on TBS.

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Debuting Christmas 1964, this is the claymation classic that started it all. As much as I enjoy Rudolph, every year Santa seems to become more and more of an insensitive jerk. If this were remade today, Rudolph wouldn’t run away, he’d sue Santa under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

4. Frosty the Snowman – A little song becomes an indelible part of our lives with the help of great voiceover performances from Jackie Vernon (Frosty), Billy De Wolfe (Professor Hinkle) and Jimmy Durante.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – Dr. Suess’ Christmas staple first appeared in December of 1966, complete with narration by Boris Karloff and singing by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was also the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. Directed by Chuck Jones, of Tom and Jerry fame.

2. Scrooge (1951) – The definitive version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a brilliant cast headed by Alastair Sim set the bar so high that all other Scrooge films seem like disasters by comparison. The original was in black and white, but the colorized version really brings out the feel of London in the early 19th century. Another bonus is how close this version stays to Dickens’ text.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – For me, Christmas is in full swing when I hear Linus say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Released in 1965, when people weren’t afraid to quote the Gospel of Luke and some actually had aluminum Christmas trees illuminated by rotating color wheels, the message is about rejecting the commercialization of Christmas. If Rudolph created claymation holiday specials, Charlie Brown did the same for animation. [Irony Central: Let me say here how disappointed I am with ABC for cutting a full five minutes from A Charlie Brown Christmas last night so that they could squeeze in more commercials. Being the network that gets to broadcast “ACBC” is a sacred trust, which ABC violated for the sake of commercialism. Shame on you, ABC.]

Honorable Mentions:

The Year Without a Santa Claus

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

The Little Drummer Boy

Miracle on 34th Street

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town

My Top 20 Christmas Songs

Christmastime is here, and in honor of the season, I’m going to do a few Christmas lists. The first one out of the gate are my twenty favorite Christmas songs:

1. I Believe in Father Christmas – Greg Lake. From Christmas 1975 – Lush, gorgeous music paired with a biting, cynical message (“Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell; The Christmas you get you deserve.”) Not exactly uplifting, but awesome nonetheless.

2. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John & Yoko. A sentimental favorite. I’m a huge Beatles/Lennon fan, and this is typical John, reminding everyone that there’s much to be done.

3. You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Thurle Ravenscroft. If there’s a recurrent theme in this list, it’s that we carry our childhood around with us forever. I love How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the original animated version, not that sin against nature that Jim Carrey foisted upon us), and I’ve even memorized most of the Suess script. BTW, did you know the guy who sang this was the voice of Tony the Tiger, the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes spokescharacter? Heeee’s Great!

4. Frosty the SnowmanJimmy Durante. Another throwback to my youth. This version is from the animated classic, which so impressed me in my youth that I eventually went out and got myself my own cute blonde girl and married her. How’s that for influence?



5. 2000 Miles – The Pretenders. I’m a big fan of Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, and I love her contribution to the Christmas season.

6. Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney. My Beatles thing influencing me again. Bouncy, upbeat, hopelessly optimistic. In short, perfectly Paul.

7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan. This is a really great folksy mashup  of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings. I wish it was played more often on the radio.

8. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Dean Martin. The definitive version by the always smooth, slightly intoxicated Dino.

9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland. This is a sad song anyway, but when Judy sings it, it’s got a tragic, almost heartbreaking feel about it. If you’re a potential holiday suicide candidate, stay away from this one.

10. Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson. The original version, and for me the signature tune of the Christmas season.

11. Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives. Another childhood memory, this time from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Whenever I hear this song, I don’t think of Burl Ives, I think of Sam the Snowman.

12. Christmastime Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio. From the opening scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas, where the Peanuts gang is skating. Whenever I hear this song, in my mind I also hear the sound effects from the cartoon. Weird.

13. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole. The definitive version from the definitive voice. Classy, smart and timeless.

14. Do You Hear What I Hear? – Bobby Vinton. When my mom tucked me in every Christmas Eve, she let the small radio play next to my bed so that I could listen to the news bulletins tracking Santa’s movements across the globe (I always dozed off when he was up around Newfoundland). For some reason, this version of this song was always on that station, and thus became welded to my childhood Christmas memories.

15. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Bruce Springsteen. Proof that you can be cool and rock Santa Claus. I wonder: Did Clarence ever get that new saxophone? Good stuff.

17. The Little Drummer Boy – Harry Simeone Chorale. Another memory from the radio next to my bed on Christmas Eve.

18. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee. It was only very recently that I actually saw a picture of Brenda Lee for the first time. I had always imagined her looking like Sandra Dee. You cannot imagine my disappointment.

Sandra Dee


Brenda Lee

18. White Christmas – Bing Crosby. Bing’s original rendition is ancient and perfect.

19. O Holy Night – Mario Lanza. A voice from the heavens, crazy powerful and booming, almost compelling you to “fall on your knees” and ‘hear the angel voices.” Perhaps the greatest vocal performance of all Christmas songs.

20. Silver Bells – Elvis Presley. The King, doing his Christmas thing. A bit bluesy, all Elvis. Thank you, thank you very much.

21. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Steve and Eydie did a few Christmas songs that I like, and I inadvertently left them off the list, until reminded by the intrepid Melissa Smith. Curiously, though, I can’t think of Steve & Eydie without being reminded of the Sinatra Group, an SNL skit that was a send up of the McLaughlin Group. Mike Myers and Victoria Jackson do a great job, with the late, great Phil Hartman as ol’ Blue Eyes.

Have a swinging Claus-Day, Jack.

Happy Thanksgiving! I Might Be OCD! (No, I’m Sure Of It Now.)

I love holidays. This is tied very closely to my love for traditions and seasons, which I think, is tied very closely to my need for order and predictability. Let me explain.

My desk is very neat and very regimented. Everything has a place, and everything is in its place – all the time. I don’t like things to be drifting into areas where they do not belong, because, well, that’s not where they belong. When something is displaced, I notice and return it immediately. There is order in my universe.

My orderly universe

I also love the seasons, especially the changing of the seasons. I like how there’s a definitive start and stop date to seasons, and I ensure that my personal routines adhere to this framework as much as possible. For example, I will not turn on the heat in the house before November 1st – period. That’s when my heating season starts. On the other side of the year, I will not turn on the air conditioning until June 1st. Every fall, I neatly fold my “summer clothes,” tee shirts, shorts, etc., and box them away in the closet until spring, replacing them in my dresser with the sweatshirts that had been stored away for the previous six months. I guess this is my way of marking the passage of the seasons, and thus the passage of time, in an orderly, disciplined manner.

Likewise, my holiday schedule is similarly regimented. Halloween decorations are to be displayed from October 1-31 only, because September isn’t Halloween season yet and November is Thanksgiving season. So, on November 1st every year, the Halloween decorations return to their boxes and the Thanksgiving decorations go up. On the day after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday,” I can’t be bothered with shopping, because that is the day when the Thanksgiving decorations must go away, being replaced by the Christmas decorations. (While we decorate, my wife and I prepare a second, smaller Thanksgiving meal, because we rarely get enough leftovers from the actual feast.) Because of the sheer number of decorative items and the degree of difficulty involved (the tree alone may take hours to adorn satisfactorily), I allow Friday and Saturday to complete this task. But be assured, by the end of the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it is done. Christmas season officially ends for me on January 1st. On that day, all the Christmas decorations will come down and be stored away for the year. This act officially ends my holiday season.

But really, it goes farther than this. During the various holiday seasons, there are certain activities that I must engage in, or else I’ll feel like I’ve missed out on a key component. For example, I must watch all of the original Charlie Brown specials in their appropriate season (The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown Thanksgiving & Charlie Brown Christmas).

I must also see all of the other TV specials from when I was a child (The Grinch, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, etc.)  I must also watch Alastair Sims’ 1951 version of A Christmas Carol.

"It's not convenient - and it's not fair!"

Now back to Thanksgiving. Today, I will wake up and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. I will not pay much attention to the Broadway nonsense and endless interviews with actors from struggling NBC television shows, but I will become increasingly focused during the last 90 minutes as the ratio of inflatables to dancers picks up. I will attempt to interest my (now teenage) children in this and they will be less than excited (but that’s part of the tradition, too).

At the end of the parade, I will not take my eyes from the screen until Santa has disappeared. This may take a few minutes, as he continues to smile, wave and Ho, Ho, Ho as the credits roll for what seems like forever. But he is Santa, so I will wait.

After the parade, the television goes to football, where I must watch the Detroit Lions valiantly struggle against their inevitable fate, almost as if they were the central character in a Greek tragedy. Struggle they may, but in the end, they will be vanquished by whatever team is lucky enough to be playing them (this year it’s the Packers). At halftime, my wife, our children and I will leave our home and make the short drive to her mother’s home, where the Lions game will be waiting for us. Watching the Detroit Lions lose is also an important part of my Thanksgiving routine.

About the time the Lions’ opponents are running out the clock, dinner will be served; the fare is predictable and correct to the holiday. During the meal the television will be switched over to the Cowboys game, but I feel that this game is more peripheral to the day, and so I watch it with less intensity, often times dozing off. Eventually, the “let’s get ready to go home,” noises start to be made, the children are rounded up, and we, with a few token leftovers as souvenirs, make our way home to prepare for the work ahead of us on Friday and Saturday.

With all of this having been accomplished, with each benchmark having been achieved, I will feel satisfied that one season has successfully passed into another, and I didn’t miss anything in the process. It will have been a good Thanksgiving.

I wish an equally wonderful Thanksgiving for each of you today.

Help Desk Thanksgiving Party!

Today, the Help Desk was the scene of an all-day potluck dinner. Lots of folks brought in food, desserts and beverages. Here’s the menu (I think this is everything):

Sliced turkey, Cranberry sauce, Deviled Eggs, Apple Pie, Stuffing, Crab Dip, Chocolate cake, Pumpkin Pie, Green Bean casserole, Sweet Potato Pie, Shrimp Cocktail, vegetable platter, chips & soda.

Here are some photos:

If we had been at Charlie Brown’s house, this would’ve been the fare:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Addendum: It’s only 2PM, and I’ve already consumed more calories than I would in an average day (the Belgian Chocolate cake finally got me). Not good! (And there’s still tomorrow…)