Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Trip to NYC ... Take 2

Last year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, our family decided to try something new and traveled into NYC to take in the family-friendly holiday happenings around Midtown Manhattan.  We found a dream line-up of pre-Christmas fun that included FAO Schwarz, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, the American Girl Doll store (have I mentioned I have three daughters), followed by dinner in Little Italy.  The kids just loved it and talked about our NYC trip all year long.  

The only snafu was finding a place to eat lunch around 5th Avenue, and of course the crowds in Little Italy.  Still, we had such a fun time we decided to make it an annual part of our holidays. 

This year we set out to repeat the fun, improving on our plan by packing a lunch and having better dinner options.  We decided to start at FAO Schwarz, then stroll through Central Park to the Holiday Market at Columbus Circle, take a train down to Bryant Park to take in more shops and enjoy the skaters, after which we'd go up 5th Avenue to the American Girl Doll store, and finally back to the car and home.  It was foolproof.

What happened, however, proved definitively that a year of anticipation and months of preparation are a sure way to ruin a perfectly good time.

Don’t get me wrong.  We had fun on our second annual tour of the NYC tourist traps.  And someday we may even laugh about it.  But we also learned a few things. 

First, we learned that the tall buildings in New York are not only excellent at funneling modest breezes and turning them into wind tunnel like gusts, but that these same buildings are also especially skilled at blocking out the lower-in-the-sky winter sun.  These two attributes can apparently work in tandem to make a typical 40-degree November day feel like the forecast for the Iditarod.  And while my coat was able to keep out the cold, I had no covering for my ears to block the constant complaining. 

Second, we found out that the Christmas Market at Columbus Circle doesn’t open the weekend after Thanksgiving, bucking the trend of holiday shopping centers.  No, these particular shops open a week later than that, after the initial holiday crowds have dispersed.  Of course, we learned this little factoid after dragging four children (three were actually dragged, one was on my shoulders) on a trek along the southern end of Central Park to the place where the market’s buildings stood empty, waiting to be filled with holiday commerce and joy.  It is worth noting that the journey along this end of the park is a lot longer than it looks on a map, and also smells of equine urine and droppings.  

Huddled Masses enjoying picnic lunch
on floor of Time Warner Center as
well-heeled holiday shoppers stare.
Third, we discovered that, should it ever be too cold to picnic outside in the Columbus Circle corner of the park, there aren’t many indoor places to eat a packed lunch.  In fact, there isn’t even one single bench within the mall-like Shops at Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Center around which a young family can gather to eat their pre-made sandwiches that were caringly placed in bags with their names on them.   The only real option is for the family to huddle in a corner of the mall and eat the measly sandwiches while hoping to avoid the unwanted attention of the mall’s crack security force.

Forth, we found out that if you are in the area of Columbus Circle with four children and a stroller, and you hope to take the subway to Bryant Park – a short jaunt on the 1 Line Downtown -- you really should not take just any elevator down to the subway platform.  Because there is a good chance that platform only serves trains going Uptown.  And if you find yourself on the wrong platform, you and the stroller and the children will take another four elevators, connecting countless platforms and dark passageways, before you arrive at the platform for the 1 Line train bound for Downtown.

Fifth, we learned that the bathroom line at the Bryant Park plaza and skating rink is about 40 minutes long, that the hot chocolate sold there stains almost anything, and that children really do not enjoy watching other people go ice skating.  A taste of what the time at Bryant Park was like:  Please can we go ice skating. No.  Please can we go ice skating. No.  Please can we go ice skating. No.  Please can we go ice skating. No. ... I have to pee.

Sixth, we figured out that the many workers at the American Girl Doll store on 5th Avenue have no possible way to clean the floors of said store once the doors open and the constant parade of spoiled brats spills in for the day, as they all beg their weak-minded parents for overpriced dolls.  By the time our children arrived at the store around 5pm and commenced begging, the carpet resembled the floor of a movie theater after a food fight.  It was certainly no place for that one two-year-old boy to show his exhaustion and disinterest in dolls by rolling around between shoppers and crawling like a dog.  His poor parents!   Did I mention that it was our two-year-old boy.

As a final lesson, we learned first-hand that there actually are bad restaurants in Manhattan.  Like, really bad.  I know it’s a shock. All the talk of how good restaurants are in NYC I was certain even the bad ones would be okay, especially for a family of Podunks from Syracuse.  It turns out that isn’t true.  In fact, a bad restaurant in Manhattan is probably worse than the typical bad restaurant someplace else.  We learned this one at a quant-seeming irish pub/restaurant within a block of 5th Avenue when we had the worst meal we've ever had in our entire complete lives.  To top it off, it was expensive.  Really expensive.   Like, did I miss the lobster course, expensive.   We could’ve bought an actual American Girl doll, plus two tacky outfits, for that price. 

Of course, the leisurely post-meal walk up 5th Avenue, past the windows at Saks, past the scaffolding-clad tree at Rock Center and under the hanging star on 59th street, made it all worth it.  Truly, the kids loved it, and will surely talk about for a year.

Our second annual holiday trip to Manhattan was certainly one for the ages.   Heck, someday, my wife and I may even learn to laugh about it.  And next year, we’ll be sure to do it even better.  If anyone has suggestions on how, please let us know.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

The rise in the popularity of local foods, specialty farms and artisan producers spurs one recurring thought: I should have been a cheesemaker.

Oh, but what kind of cheese, you ask. And that's a good question.  With milk, salt, cultures, rennet (have to look up what that is) and time, a well-skilled cheesemaker can produce any type of cheese imaginable. There are the basics: Cheddar, Gouda and Colby. And the Semi-basics: Asagio, Feta, and Chevre. There are the blues, and the spreadables. There are hard, soft, semi-hard, semi-soft. You can add semi- to pretty much any description and there is probably a cheese out there that fits. Semi-funky? Yep.

A whole world of local, artisan cheeses exists out there. It’s a world my wife and I explored recently as we traveled the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail.

Artisan cheeses from the Finger Lakes, made by the brave few
who followed their cheesemaking dreams. From this photo you
can also surmise, despite dreams, I am not a photographer.   
Of course, the day trip through New York’s Wine and Cheese Country was done under the pretense of a birthday gift getaway for my beloved.

We stopped, tasted and bought cheese at the Muranda Cheese Co., the Lively Run Goat Dairy, and the Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Co., among others. We also popped into a few wineries and ended our day at a distillery where people stand around “tasting” shots of whiskey. My wife enjoyed the trip. And she did not once suspect that I was actually scoping out a drastic life change.

Drastic may be overstating it. All we have to do is trade in the house for a farm and a bunch of cows, goats, or even sheep. Get the equipment. Learn the trade. And in about three years or so we may just be able to enjoy our first raw-milk, artisan Gouda-style cheese. Not smoked, though. My wife doesn’t like smoked cheese. And I always do what she wants. Of course, the first batch will be a prototype. Once we’ve sampled it, we’ll tweak the recipe, change the feed-stock we give the cows, goats or sheep, and maybe add in some scallions to half the second batch. Then, voila, we’ll have the perfect artisan cheese ready for sale.  Once we do a little clever marketing and break into one of the major grocery chains, we’ll be off and running. I figure in about 12 years, we’ll break even.


Being a cheesemakers sounds tougher than I first imagined. Of course, we could just go on the cheese trail once a year, and stop by the farmers’ market on the occasional Saturday. But where’s the adventure in that?

For those not interested in making the quick buck as an artisan cheesemaker, you could opt to just start a vineyard. Good vines can take a decade to reach full production. That’s even before the grapes are pressed and the wine aged. Although our trip along the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake makes me think that market may be getting a bit saturated. A decade from now, who knows.

The important thing is that each and every one of us turn the local food craze into our own unrealized dream, so we can enjoy artisan local products with a sense of longing and brimming regret about our own career decisions.

Ah, Gouda. I could've made that.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dad, the Spider Assassin

I have nothing against spiders. Honestly. But you wouldn’t know it from the scores of carcasses I have discarded down the drain in the past few months.

It’s not personal. I am but a hired gun – or at least a hired paper towel, which is then pressed firmly between my thumb and fingers to finish off the little buggers. I have grown accustomed to the work. Though, you never really get used to the “pop.”

I used to try to convince my clients that spiders really aren’t that bad. Good luck with that. A four-year-old girl will never believe that the spider she found on her ceiling has no qualms with her. It doesn't matter when I remind her that spiders could even help keep other bugs away. She's not buying the spider's side of the story. She just wants it gone.

“Daddy!” she shrieks. “Spider!” And I go to work.  

Dangling from the ceiling, crawling along the window sill, scurrying across the floor -- no spider is safe. I grab my trusty paper towel, napkin, or, in a pinch, toilet paper. And I begin the hunt. 

“Where is it?” 

The child points, and cowers beneath the covers. I have to squint to even see the darn thing. I swear my kids are exceptional at noticing spiders. They must get that from their mother. With a quick swipe, squeeze and flush, the job is done, the client relieved.

Certainly, I don’t want to live in house that is “infested” as my wife describes it during the months when spiders seem to just appear. I just don’t notice them. What is that small black spot on the crown molding? I really don’t care.  In fact, I usually hope it’s a spider. Better that than chipping paint or evidence of a leak. Those jobs are much tougher on the soul than killing a spider.

But, I swear,  I have nothing against them. It is just a job to me. And as much as I’m good at it, there is one part I will never quite enjoy. 


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Warning - Holiday Season Levels Rising

It's time we all admit the battle over “when Christmas season should begin” is lost forever. What began as a slow creep over the past few decades has gained seemingly unstoppable momentum. This year, the harsh reality set in as Holiday music started blaring on November 1st, broadcast over every easy listening station and piped through all the speakers at our various shopping arenas, turning fall Christmas-list-making families into zombie-like gift buyers. 

At the current rate of change, the Christmas Season is projected to start just after Labor Day by 2020.  It’s frightening, but true.

As we know, the first casualty is Thanksgiving, which has now been fully enveloped by its Holiday brethren. And Halloween is under threat. Don’t believe me. Target had trees and lights up even before the candy corn went on clearance this year.

Of course, all those who’ve been sounding the alarm bells for some time -- the ones who we all considered, well, alarmists – are being proven right. Maybe they were a bit overboard with the dire warnings about the disappearance of Thanksgiving. But with Christmas swag replacing cornucopias as acceptable turkey day decor, they can smugly say, “I told you so.” Because they did.

It’s not just the general d├ęcor that has changed. Thanksgiving Day itself is a mere wisp of what it used to be.  In the olden days (about two years ago), we used to watch the Macy’s Parade, have a family feast, and see the Detroit Lions lose a meaningless football game as everyone napped. Then we’d end the day by stuffing our faces with more pie than humanly possible while engaging in colorful discussions with extended family.  

Now, all that is asunder -- at least the last part. Sure we still have the parade, and the turkey, and the Detroit Lions, and even the pie-eating. But rather than one or two family members storming off in wine-infused disagreement, hoards of them pile into the car and head to K-Mart, were sales begin at 8 pm. These are people, mind you, who wouldn’t find themselves dead in K-Mart the other 364 days of the year. And that’s just the warm up. This year, plans are in place to move up the annual Walmart stampede by a whole twelve hours. That’s when daring shoppers crowd the streets of Pamplona in the hopes of being crushed by giant HD televisions. I might have my ludicrous traditions a bit confused. But the point is clear:  Black Friday, has now become Black Thursday Afternoon.  And Thanksgiving has changed forever. 

The only question left, what are we to do about this seasonal calamity? 

The obvious solution:  we should move Thanksgiving.  If we do so, we can create an impenetrable wall of holidays in October. Consider this:  the 10th month already has Columbus Day and Halloween. If we move Thanksgiving to October, we would forever halt the slow creep of Christmas. Of course, in this plan, we would leave Veteran’s Day on November 11th, as it would be an affront to our veterans to do otherwise – and, that holiday would also create sufficient resistance to slow the further advance of Christmas.

Moving Thanksgiving may sound drastic. But it is our only hope.

Then again, there is one other thing we could do. But, nah. It’s too crazy. It would never work. 

But I'll put it out there, anyway.  Since we are just brainstorming. Here goes. We could all stay home on Thanksgiving and ignore the Black Thursday afternoon sales. We could set our alarms for 7 a.m. on the actual Black Friday, and all meet at the mall at 8 a.m. – like we used to.  (I’m not suggesting this so I alone can get the deals. I swear).  And we could turn off the Christmas radio stations and let them know we will listen to them the day after Thanksgiving, thank you very much.  If they want to extend the season, they could go back to playing Holiday music until New Year’s Eve, rather than switching to slow songs that make me want to hurl on December 26th.  That would be nice. 

We could also … Oh, who are we kidding. This option will never work. It's just crazy talk. Let’s move Thanksgiving.  It’s the only realistic solution.

But let’s also remember, the enemy here is not Christmas. Properly contained, it is the most wonderful time of the year.  Free to set its own limits, however, it becomes less so.  Working together, I believe we can contain it. 

There is still hope.  God bless us, every one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Secessionists Take Steps to Become the Poorest Nation on the Continent

Reports are coming out that many outstanding citizens of the United States are reacting to the will of the people by literally taking their ball and trying to make a new home.   I say, let’s let this one play out. 

Personally, I like the present make-up of the country, from a geographic perspective at least.  But this whole red state secession movement could be a good thing.

Think about it.  Most of the good people of our fine country agree on the need to improve our education system, increase student test scores and reduce our environmental impact, all while also cutting the percentage of uninsured and driving down poverty rates.   We can do all that in one fell swoop by just letting the really red states go their own way. 
This map is not funny, but sure makes the point.

Just think how much better kids from the US would rank in science and math if we didn’t have “Fox News” nation dragging down the average. 

It’s not all upside, however.   This new loose confederation of Red States – let’s call it Texassippi – will almost certainly become the single biggest drain on our international aid budget. 

I mean, how could we stand by and watch as the poor people of this new and impoverished nation suffer under the despotic rule of their misguided leaders.  Leaders who rely on slanted, party-controlled media and who clearly prefer one party rule to democracy.  

We’d have to help them.  It’s just our nature.  So, maybe it’s not such a good idea after all.   We just can’t afford it.

Here's other articles you may enjoy: Government Shutdown Edition - A Fox Leading the Hen House, The Father, The Son and President Obama, and First of All, on the 1st Amendment.

Monday, November 12, 2012

So You've Started a Blog...

After a recent post on Facebook, several friends said to me, “You should start a blog.”  At first I didn’t know whether to take it as an insult.  I mean, blogging seems so 90s.   I have actually used those exact words to subtly insult someone.  Recently.  Why don't you go start a blog.  It’s kind of the modern version of “Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.”

Who starts a blog, after all?  I mean, when you’ve got a world of FB friends ready to read (or at least scroll past) your most random and pointless thoughts as it is, why blog?  With a few strokes of the key pad, your precious gem of writing filled with logic and humor is right there posted for the world to see.  Just below the “Cat jumped on the counter today” post by that person from high school you don’t remember.   You know, they really should consider segmenting Facebook into cat lovers and, well, the rest of humanity.   

Maybe my random thoughts are getting lost in a FB world of other random thoughts - thoughts that are even more pointless and inane than mine.  Dang it.   Maybe my friends who told me to start a blog weren’t telling me to shut the hell up.  Maybe they liked what I wrote.  And not push a “Like” button liked, but actually liked.  And maybe they are right.  Maybe I should start a blog.  

I mean, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, blogging is definitely old school.   And I am nothing if not old school.  Right?  Just the other day I was explaining to my 9-year-old daughter that Run DMC and Aerosmith were actually the first ones to do the rap-in-a-rock song thing that is ubiquitous these days.   And as she stared blankly at me, worried that someone might see us talking, I thought: Man, I am old school.

There is something almost endearing about starting a blog - and liberating for the writer.  My posts would no longer be judged by the number of “likes” I can get.  They’ll just be out there, being read by nobody and not judged at all.  It could work.      

And that’s how I decided to start this blog.

My first confession is that I actually tried starting a blog before – a dad blog on parenting.   After about four posts, I decided I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about.  I mean, my kids are loud and never listen to me.  Why should anyone else.  

With this blog, I am not going to limit myself to parenting drivel.  Any drivel will do.  Politics, parenting, travel, food, fishing, house work, real work.  What the heck.  There are no limits.  It’s exactly the opposite of what I’d advise someone starting a blog to do.  I’d tell them, be focused.  Have a point of view.  Specialize.  Maybe start a blog about home organic gardening for single moms.   Or write reviews of good places at the mall for a husband to sit while his wife shops.  That’s what I’d tell them.  But me.  I’m a generalist.  So I am going to ignore that sage advice and just write about anything I want.

Ah, it is liberating.  I hope people like it.  And I mean really like it, not hit a “Like” button like it. We’ll see.      

(Note: everything below this post was pulled from Facebook, or from the now defunct parenting blog I tried and failed at months ago.  Everything from now on will be original to this blog only).

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Father, The Son And President Obama

Pulled from a recent FB post I wrote:

I am not big on posting things that are too political or religious on Facebook. I always figured that’s what Twitter is for. But as someone who has worked in politics, I felt a need to respond to the friends and family on Facebook who think “God has forsaken us.” It is a bit more complicated than that.

Your right, God the father, or OTG as we call him in politics (Old Testament God), is a bit on the conservative side. And OTG is a pretty dependable Republican vote. But he has a son. And, as you know, JC went out in the real world, saw the pain and suffering, and devoted his life to helping the sick and the poor. He’s become a pretty dependable vote for the Democrats. In fact, sometimes he votes with the Green Party. Let’s just say JC is bit left of center.

So there is always a big debate in Heaven this time of year about which candidate to support. Tensions around the dinner table are on the high side, if you follow me. And all the campaigns call into their house asking for their vote. But here is what so many people forget: because as it turns out, the real swing vote there is the Holy Spirit.

These results simply show that HS is down with getting more people health coverage and cracking down on Wall Street excess. God hasn’t forsaken you. It’s just that this year, anyway, the “helping the poor” thing moved HS more than some other issues. It’s true, HS is tough to predict. Kind of like Soccer Moms, or lower –income independents. Some of us are still trying to figure out how HS went for G.W. Bush in a second term. One theory is that HS just didn’t vote that year, tipping the results to OTG. But that’s just a theory.

Anyway, I hope this helps bring some clarity. And remember, next election, focus your calls and prayers on HS. That should make things better for you.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We are so Outta here

One big loser on election night: Vermont. You can almost hear everyone packing up their VW vans to move to Colorado.