When I was a kid, my siblings and I were pretty bad about snooping for presents. Every year our parents would come up with more and more clever places to hide gifts, and we'd respond by improving our skills at breaking and entering. For example, one year my brother made a makeshift card to jimmy open the locked door of the room where the presents were hidden. The only year we didn't succeed in our snooping efforts was the year they put the presents in the attic. Even then we knew they were there, but we didn't have any way to get up there. My parents would also tape a bedsheet across the doorway of the living room to try to keep us out until morning, but I always snuck in anyway. Ah, traditions.

What kooky Christmas traditions does your family have?

A Snowball's Chance in Our Parking Lot

We’ve had three significant snowstorms in the last three weeks. While the snow on the ground has mostly melted in between storms, the piles produced by snow plows have not. Our parking lot is gradually shrinking. Before the storm this morning, this drift was taking up 5 parking spaces.

When I was a kid, we used to head to the church parking lot across the street and dig in these drifts to make forts.

Have a Zantac Candy Cane

Everyone I have spoken to this month has asked me if I’m “ready for Christmas.” I don’t understand what that means. Why do people give themselves so much to do this month that it all becomes one big endorsement for lobotomies? Calm down, people! Nobody cares if you didn’t get your giant, inflatable Peanuts-character-themed nativity scene on the lawn. Next July you won’t be sitting around mourning the fact that you gave people in the neighborhood the exact same wassail mix as Judy down the street (curse her eyes!). As you lie on your deathbed, surrounded by family, you’re not going to be thinking, “Oh, if only I had been able to find that glass reindeer ornament I searched for my whole life!” And if that is the thought you take with you as you depart this mortal life, you can take comfort in knowing that the world will not be made worse by your passing.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Christmas decorations and giving gifts and all that. But I don’t see why those things are such a focal point of the season. I’m not one to talk about the “true meaning” of things, but I feel reasonably confident in the assertion that the true meaning of the season has little to do with icicle lights and four-hour sales events (today only!).

The Year of Giving Names to Years

I think it would be kind of fun to be able to look back on each year at its end and give it a name. If I had to do that for this year, I would call it the Year of Mechanical Failure. It boggles my mind that there could be so many automotive and electronic problems happening within the space of one year. Personally, I feel it’s because we had gone so long with nothing wrong that the universe realized it was getting behind.

Anyway, if you had to give 2007 a label, what would it be? The Year of Time Wasted Reading Joel’s Blog? The Year of Gross Diseases? Go ahead and spill your guts.

Holiday Gift Guide

Christmas shopping can be a significant source of stress during the holiday season. Being the nice guy that I am, I feel obligated to share with you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years when it comes to giving gifts.

One of the most important things to consider is how much you’re going to spend on each person. If you spend significantly more than they do, you could embarrass them, and if you spend less than they do, you might come across as a cheapskate. So the best thing to do is to wait until they give you a gift, upon which you can say that theirs is still being shipped. Then you can open the gift they gave you, giving you an idea of how much you can spend. Another advantage of giving gifts late is that it allows you to re-gift anything you don’t like to someone you haven’t shopped for yet.

For men, shopping for the woman in your life can be a daunting task. Women tend to scrutinize gifts beyond all reason or logic, as it forms their opinion of your opinion of them. (“Running shoes?! He does think I’m fat!”) The only way to avoid this is to give her a gift that gives her the impression that you think she’s perfect, which is a picture of herself. If any of you actually have the guts to try this, let me know how it works.

For women giving gifts to men, you need to give them something that will make them feel powerful. Assuming a monster truck is out of the question, you can get them power tools (it really doesn’t matter what; men love all tools, even if they have no idea how to use them) or just about any electronic gizmo you can find. (“Wow! A little box with switches and dials on it!)

Now, when buying gifts for young children, you should remember the cardinal rule: Whatever you buy them, they will only like the box it came in. So you might as well go get the cheapest toy you can find, throw it away, and just wrap the box. When purchasing for older children you can relax, safe in the knowledge that nothing you buy them could possible satisfy them. They will never be happy until they have every toy and gadget that every other kid at school has. This knowledge sets you free because, as long as they’re going to complain anyway, you might as well just get them socks and underwear, saving all your money for the “family” present, which is that big-screen TV you want.

My Darling Clementine

I feel so ashamed that I used to be in the dark. I mean, I actually used to eat tangerines. I know, it’s shameful, but I had not yet tasted the sweet manna of clementines. Clementines are a particular variety of mandarin orange, and they are so wonderfully sweet and juicy that I’m salivating just thinking about them. They’re really easy to peel, too. If you have never had one, I insist that you drop whatever you’re doing and head off to the store to find them. I know it sounds strange, especially if you’ve had canned mandarin oranges, which are pretty terrible to eat plain. But you won’t regret it.

One other fruit that might be even more delectable than clementines is the Asian pear. You occasionally see them around here, but they’re about the size of an apple. The pears they grow in Korea are the size of a grapefruit. They have the delicious taste of a pear and the crisp flesh of an apple. You can sometimes find them in Asian markets; they’re not quite as good when they’ve had to travel so far, but they’re still worth trying.

My Stars!

I’d just like to state, for the record, that I don’t care in the least about the private lives of celebrities. I don’t read star gossip magazines, I don’t watch Entertainment Tonight, and I probably wouldn’t recognize Brad Pitt on the street if he stopped to ask me what time it was. I think they’re entitled to live their own lives.

Now, with that little disclaimer out there, it’s story time.

One night when I was in college, my roommates wanted to get some people together and go play a game they called Bigger and Better. The idea is that you pick a small, worthless object and go knock on somebody’s door. Then you offer to trade the item for something bigger or better. The idea is that as you keep doing it, you end up with something really good, like a Wonder Woman action figure, or an aircraft carrier.

Well, on this particular evening we decided to drive out to a fairly nice neighborhood in the hopes of finding some generous people. There was nobody home at the first house, so we went next door. A middle-aged woman opened the door, and we told her what we were doing. As she went back into the house to find something for us, somebody in the group started saying that she looked like somebody famous. The door was open a little bit, and we could see some family pictures inside on the walls that seemed to support this idea. When she came back to the door holding (I’m not making this up) a jar of Osmond Jelly, we realized that Marie Osmond had opened the door for us. So everybody went nuts (except for me, as I had no more than a vague idea who the Osmonds were), and somebody got her to autograph a scrap of paper, and we took home our prize and a far more interesting story. Sorry, but I don’t remember how the jam tasted.

Do you have any stories about meeting someone famous?

Hi, School!

Something just occurred to me. Most people I talk to hated high school and would never go back, but I would actually like to go back with the knowledge and experiences I have now and do it all over again. I think I could have really done better for myself and avoided some mistakes I made.

What about you? Is high school a series of painful memories to be repressed, or was it one long, never-ending party?

Only in Dreams

Dreams are weird. I don’t know about you, but one of the things I remember most about dreams is the scenery. I regularly have dreams in certain settings. For example, I occasionally have a dream involving a lake or swimming pool, and I can usually breathe underwater. I also regularly have dreams in which I’m hanging out on the upper floors of a skyscraper. Of course, I also have the old standby dreams about not being fully dressed in a public place. What’s the point of that? Why does just about everyone have basically the same dreams?

Share your thoughts, or tell me about some dreams you’ve had.

Put Your Matrimony Where Your Mouth Is

There is no better medium for studying society than television, mostly because you can do that studying in your pajamas. So, through a careful and objective scientific study of the media, I have compiled a list of things you should never say to your spouse. Most of these fall in the husband-saying-to-wife category, because if there’s one thing we have learned from television in the last 15 years, it’s that men are of unequivocally inferior intelligence.

You might want to skip dessert tonight, honey.

Wow, she’s way hotter than you!

Rub your feet? Gross! Have you ever smelled them?

I gotta tell you, prison grub was better than your cooking.

What’s your name again?

Great news! My mom is coming to stay with us!

Now that you mention it, it does look like a new wrinkle. And look, it’s got a friend!

There is no way you’re going to squeeze into that.

I’m having lunch tomorrow with my ex, ok?

Are there any I’m forgetting (besides the obligatory “Yes, it does make your butt look big”)?

Take My Hand with Your Glove of Love

Don’t we all have some article of clothing that we just love to death and wish we had bought ten of so they would last us forever? I have a pair of black leather gloves that I got in Korea. They were about $10, I think, and they fit perfectly. I have pretty small hands, and I can’t for the life of me find a pair of gloves in the U. S. that fit right. So I wish I had bought several pairs of those gloves.

What article of clothing is it you have that you wish would last forever?

Chef? Boy, Are We!

I enjoy cooking. Well, I enjoy eating and get some satisfaction from eating when it’s something I made. I like to take meals that I enjoy in restaurants and learn to make them at home, so I can save money and make it just the way I want it. Like many men, I often cook without paying attention to the exact amount of things I use, and I’m always tinkering with a meal trying to get it just right.

There are, however, a few personal rules I follow in the kitchen. Here are some of them.

If it requires a thermometer, it’s too much trouble.

Double the amount of cheese.

Double the amount of sauce.

Gravy can cover just about any mistake.

Smoke coming from the pan is a bad thing

Be careful when buying the store brand—sometimes it’s disastrous.

What rules do you follow in the kitchen?

Get Your Buzzer Ready

Where would society be without the magazine quiz? To honor this cherished tradition, I have cooked up the following quiz for you.
For those of you who need your existence to be validated by others, this will help you determine how manly your music is. Listen to a song typical of your taste and answer the following questions.

1. How many electric guitars are audible?
a. 1
b. 2 or more
c. What’s a guitar?
d. Do violins count?

2. What portion of the words can you understand?
a. 50% or less
b. There’s too much screaming for me to make out the words
c. All of them
d. Mozart didn’t write lyrics

3. How long is the hair of the lead singer? (If singer is female, score zero for quiz and go arrange some flowers.)
a. He’s bald
b. Shoulder length or longer
c. He looks like Chris O’Donnell
d. I don’t know; he’s been decomposing for 200 years.

4. When you turn up the music as loud as your stereo goes, what is your reaction?
a. Wow, this sounds better!
b. My neighbors called the police, and I can’t type in handcuffs.
c. The louder it is, the more embarrassed I am to be listening to Michael Bolton.
d. My neighbors showed up offering me his extra ticket for the symphony.

5. Which of the following most closely resembles the name of the lead singer?
a. Ed
b. Max Fightmaster
c. Prince
d. Hermengild von Rauchenmeier

Scoring:
Score 2 points for every A, 5 points for every B, slam you hand in the car door for every C, and half a point for every D.

Results

0 to 5 points: You are in dire need of some serious rocking out. Go pick up some AC/DC before you turn into Whitney Houston.

6 to 12 points: You have a glimmer of hope, but you should throw out all your Brian Adams CDs and check out some Aerosmith.

13 to 19 points: you know how to rock, but you try not to frighten small children. Let your hair grow an extra inch or two for maximum rockability.

20 to 25 points: You are probably a drummer for a band called Death to All Things Good and Wholesome in the World. Can I have your address so I can send you my demo tape?

Fiction, Baby!

I love reading. Since elementary school, I have always read for enjoyment. (And yes, the reading material has increased in complexity of language since then, poop head!) I do have a hard time reading nonfiction books, though. I enjoy reading articles in magazines and researching topics online, but a book-length work of non-fiction tends to bore me. I often hear about the great books other people are reading on subjects such as boat repair and the Oort cloud. Then I consider that I’m usually reading about far-off worlds and advanced technology, and I realize something important: Those people are either really boring or they’re making it up to impress people. I get enough mundane information during my day. When I read, I want to escape to other world where they have fantastic advances such as flying cars and dustpans that don’t leave behind that little line of dirt when you sweep your kitchen floor. If you want bland, “applicable” information, just go watch C-Span, which also happens to be a great cure for insomnia.

Who Needs a Rollercoaster?

I live on a dead-end street. No, not just metaphorically, it really is a dead end. In fact, to exit the street you have to make one of the worst blind turns imaginable. The street you turn onto is narrow, with concrete barriers on the opposite side, so there’s not room for anyone to swerve if you pull out in front of them. So I pretty much take my life in my hands every time I have to go anywhere.
To add an extra element of danger, a sheet of ice develops on the street whenever it snows. For some reason, the city plows shun our neighborhood, so as more cars drive on the street it polishes the ice to a lethal smoothness. Most of the street is clear within a few days, but the last 15 feet or so takes weeks and weeks to melt. So the point at which you need to slow down and slowly creep out, straining your neck up to see over the fence, becomes the point at which it is almost impossible to stop.
My point is, if you’re looking for a life-threatening thrill, just head over my way this winter to satisfy all your adrenaline-pumping needs.

Have an Enjoyable, Non-Denomintaional Winter Season

In making a comment on another blog, I came up with something that is so darn clever that I felt it deserved its own entry. Given the current political climate, this is what "Merry Christmas" will soon be reduced to:
"The Author of this card wishes to endorse a felicitous Season upon the Recipient, where 'Season' refers to the period between the approximate dates of November 23 and January 2. The wishes are in no way to be construed as adherence to or endorsement of a particular system of beliefs and have no cash value. Should the Season of the Recipient in fact not adhere to established measures of prosperity, including but not limited to economic, familial, or emotional prosperity, the Author accepts no responsibility. By accepting this message, the Recipient absolves the Author from any and all responsibilities pertaining to the salutations contained herein."

Take My Electrons, Please

I suppose winter is really an underrated season. I mean, it gives us a chance to take a break from complaining about the heat by complaining about the cold. It allows us to feel less guilty when we drink hot chocolate every day. It affords us the opportunity to do donuts in parking lots (or bagels, of you prefer).
The story of winter you never hear is that the humidity all freezes out of the air, horribly drying your skin. That’s not the worst of it, however. The real evil of winter is in the static electricity that lurks where you least suspect it. I was nearly electrocuted a couple times just trying to kiss my wife. Our couch is so charged with static that your hair starts to rise the moment you sit down. I tried wiping things down with dryer sheets, but it’s at best a temporary solution. I feel like I’m living in one of those old dryer sheet commercials. “Static! It’ll stop you…”