Over Two Hundred Served!

This week, we passed the two hundredth edition of Woody’s blog.  Thank you all for your interest and the thousands and thousands of visits to this space. Thank you also for your hundreds of comments and emails. Since April, 15th 2010, I have had  enjoyed  writing these words and hope you had some fun viewing them.

 

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New Years Eve

My experience with New Years Eve celebrations is that people either like the idea of going out and partying until the wee hours, or they don’t. I fall into the latter group. This should not be a big surprise to you given that I am sometimes thought of as a curmudgeon.

I guess I have gone out about a half a dozen times or so to “celebrate and ring in the new year” but they were either to please someone else or for a business reason. My personal preference is to stay in on this particular night and retire early. This leaves time for a good night’s sleep and awaking to a new day and a new year, ready to start a fresh.

I have never been a fan of contrived entertainment. Things you must do to have a “good time” just goes against my grain, especially when they are based on some manufactured eccentricity like the Gregorian calendar. I remember one time I attended a New Years Eve celebration at a yacht club. I was dressed up like some banana republic admiral, watching an array of bad singing, eating overcooked filet mignon and drinking not so good champagne waiting for midnight to arrive, so I could leave the merrymaking and go home. I watched every tick of the clock.

Don’t misunderstand, I enjoy a party as well as the next person. I like going out to restaurants and familiar taverns with friends to enjoy conversation and fellowship. But celebrating some media and marketing induced random event becomes tedious to me.

Why is it that people all over the country will watch on big flat screen TVs some mechanical ball of light in Manhattan move down a pole at the “exact” stroke of midnight? Most of them live  in different time zones  anyway.

Oh, I better not get started on time zones. It will really get weird then. Balls could start dropping every second if we wanted to be accurate and precise about when the new year actually begins.

Anyway,  if this is your night to go out and paint the town red,  have a good time and enjoy yourself. Be safe. When the ball drops, take a drink, kiss your partner and dance the night away.

I will be enjoying a long winter’s nap.

Happy New Year!

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The recent snow storm in New York has created eight million stories in one too cold to be naked city. But none seem more frustrating and downright unnecessary than the traveling nightmare of the passengers aboard planes that landed at JFK with no arrival “gates” available to them .

Planes arriving from long overseas flights were left sitting for hours on the tarmac before passengers could deplane. One Cathay Pacific flight that originated in Hong Kong  sat for more than 10 hours before passengers were allowed to get off  the plane on Tuesday morning.

The reason given by officials was, “there were no “gates” available!”

Now, JFK is a really big airport so I find it incredible that there was absolutely no place where these planes could have gone to unload these folks so they could be processed and sent on their way.

Hey, bring out a few buses and let them board the bus on the tarmac to be shuttled to the immigration and customs center. After all, even the Italians figured out how to do this at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.

 After a long transcontinental flight, you are tired, disoriented and need to recoup and recharge. It was cruel and unnecessary for those people to be detained in such a cramped way. It was especially hard on families with small children.

The only word which comes to mind when thinking about these callous “officials” who permitted this torture to happen is… stupidity.

Stupidity.  It seems you hear the word a lot when describing airline passenger treatment in the 21 century American transportation system.

Oranges and ice

December 29, 2010

Sometimes I wonder if people realize how much work, expense and worry actually go into the production of the nation’s food supply. It is amazing to me the time and effort required to grow, harvest and ship produce to market. 

The fact comes home to me every time there is a Florida cold snap.

When temperatures are forecast to be in the mid to low twenties for 4 to 6 hours during the night, the spines of Florida citrus growers stiffen as they think of the jobs awaiting them. While some cold is desirable to mature, ripen and give color to the fruit, sustained temperatures of 28 degrees or less will damage the leaves, the fruit and ultimately the trees.

To try to prevent this, Florida citrus growers use an irrigation technique that pumps 80 plus degree  water from deep wells, spraying it through microjets at the base of the trees. The water creates a warming effect, raising the ambient temperature near the trees by 4 or 5 degrees; enough to kept the harvest safe in most cases.

The irrigation system, while infinitely better than the smudge pot madness of times past is not without its own issues. It is a complex system with many moving parts and breakdowns can and do occur. When they happen an alert grower can sometimes fix the problem and keep the trees from freezing.

To maintain this vigilance requires many cold, sleepless nights of riding through the groves and watching the water work. Last year this process when on for ten days and nights in a row. So far this season, there have been a half a dozen fridged nights experienced by Florida citrus growers.

So the next time you go to the store and pick up some great tasting, healthy Florida orange juice, know that it took a year to produce the oranges that made that juice and that the growers watched over those oranges during some very cold winter nights.

Is it soup yet?

December 28, 2010

“Beautiful soup, so rich and green
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!
Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth of beautiful soup?”

     —-Lewis Carroll, ‘Alice in Wonderland’

After this past Thanksgiving, I showed my son-in-law, Chris how I make wonderful roasted turkey broth from the spent turkey carcass. It always amazes me how those simple roasted bones and a little mirepoix can create superb stocks for endless varieties of soups, stews and sauces. The fact that it is a cheap nutritious meal adds to the enjoyment. And unlike canned or prepared soups and such, you know what is in it.

Well, Chris took to the whole stock making business like a duck soup to  water. For Christmas he got another stock pot and a chinoise ( the fine chinese hat) for those velvety smooth creations. I look forward to enjoying some very tasty gumbo soon.

Speaking of soup and things Chinese, have you heard about the Chinese archaeologists who unearthed what they believe is a 2,400-year-old pot of soup? Savory liquid and bones were in the sealed bronze cooking vessel dug up near the ancient capital of Xian— training ground to the country’s famed terracotta warriors. Tests are being carried out to identify the soup’s  ingredients.

I find  the idea of a 2400 year-old soup, which had turned a wonderous green color from the oxidation with the bronze pot fascinating. I wonder if it was the original Hot and Sour or maybe a 2400 year old egg drop soup?

Anyway, I look forward to hearing what the archaeologists come up with. 

Maybe I can get Big Wong  to put it on his menu.

Did you hear about the 69-year-old retired lawyer, who has been giving away thousands of his own money every year over the past 30 years at the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles, California.

He dresses  in red, and says he is always moved by the appreciation and gratitude that homeless people show. He estimates about 3,000 people receive $10 bills every year during the holidays.

I think that it is special and wonderful  that the old guy can and is willing to do that. You would think that everyone would give him an attaboy for his kindness and generosity.

But not so…

 Critics say the homeless would be better served if donations were made to one of the city’s charities.

Why is it that some people insist on telling other people what they should do with their own money?

If the guy wants to give the money directly to some needy folks, why should he have to give it to a charity (or a government!) that will take out its requisite “administrative charge” before passing some benefit along?

And what assurances does the guy have that his donation will go to whomever he wants it to go?

Some people just need to pay more attention to their own responsibilities and behavior and leave the good deeds of others alone.

 

Boxing Day

December 26, 2010

December 26th is called Boxing Day in certain British Commonwealth countries. The origins of the name are uncertain, but probably have to do with the boxing up of Christmas gifts for household organization, travel or “regifting”.  It is a legal holiday and is celebrated widely in countries of the United Kingdom.

My first experience of Boxing Day was in Sydney, Australia in 1977. On December 26th each year my boss at the time had a festive brunch for his staff at his rooftop penthouse overlooking Sydney’s magnificent harbor. We had the good fortune to be invited to them.

Boxing day is also the start of the famed Sydney Hobart yacht race.

So there we were on the rooftop having just finished a fine Sydneysider brunch. With champagne glass in hand, looking down from the terrace in balmy 75 degree weather, like some Great Gadsby type character, I had a superb view of  the scores of sailing yachts and escort boats preparing for the race. It was a delightful day.

Today, thirty-three years later,  Boxing Day 2010 in America is not a legal holiday. However, it  is a Sunday this year, so it has a weekend festive feel to it.

In the past, the day after Christmas was a day for returning certain  Christmas gifts of  eclectic, sometimes questionable  taste, such as the paisley, periwinkle tie from Trudy, or the Hickory Farms celebration of cheese basket from Ted. Nowadays however, it is all about buying more stuff at discounted prices and more batteries at NOT discounted prices. But I am having none of that.

And there will be  no oceanic yacht race for me to watch with some chilled, fine Australian champagne. No seventy-five degree weather either. It is 23 and snowy. So, I think I will spend this Boxing Day putting some Christmas clutter in the recycling box.  Maybe  change  Oscar’s cat box and then spend the day listening to holiday music on my ipod boom box with Kuno by the fire.

All in all a delightful day.

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2010

As is my tradition, on Christmas Eve, I like to reflect on the  Christmas manger scene which first used over 800 years ago, in a little italian village, to depict the birth of Christ. I was privileged to visited that village some years ago and enjoy the memories I have of my visit.

Merry Christmas!

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For the last few weeks if you were a Christian or not, you could not help but be caught up in the media and mercantile madness that has become “the holiday season”  in modern America.

Whether you are shopping at Macy’s for that perfect sweater for Uncle Phil or regaling your coworkers at the office “Holiday Party” with your wild tales of Christmases past,  you are somehow swept up in this omnipresent public movement of Christmas celebration.

Which  has very little to do with the orignal notion of Christmas.

What is  ironic is that the only present day public display of the origins of Christmas as a Christian belief started out itself as a marketing plan. A plan that would have made Sam Walton envious.

I am speaking of the simple manger scene. Though now, its opportunities for public display have been significantly reduced by the court’s  interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

You might say that all this modern-day celebration of Christmas started nearly 800 years ago in the little hillside town of Greccio in Italy. Greccio overlooks the Rieti valley and is located in the province of Lazio.

It was the year 1223, when a simple, poor man, a deacon was visiting Greccio  during Christmastime . This man named Francis had noble roots and a mercantile background .  He knew the power of sales excitement from working in his father’s clothing store in Assisi.

Francis saw that the people needed something real and tangible to get them excited about the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. He got permission from the pope to establish a Christmas crèche display for the town’s  poor, uneducated people. He wanted to teach the story of Jesus Christ in an exciting new way for the people  to celebrate each year.

Francis got together some sheep and other farm animals, a couple of volunteers and constructed a small  manger with the help his follower, Brother Leo.  The crèche was an immediate success in teaching the Italian farmers in terms they could understand.

It became an overnight sensation as crowds gathered to see it that first night,  December, 24th 1223. At the time, it was the equivalent of  the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller center.

Today, Greccio is still a small hillside town overlooking the Rieti valley. If you have the good fortune as I did and get to visit Greccio, you will see the small church and monastery where this event occurred. There is also  an impressive museum displaying hundreds of Christmas crèches  from around the world.

But you don’t have to go to Italy to feel the magic of  reflecting on the Christmas crèche. Just take the time and look at the scene. You may not get an excited feeling of the new celebration that those Italians felt, but you just might experience a little bit of wonder yourself.  I believe that is what St. Francis of Assisi was trying to do for you.

May you know the peace and joy of  Christmas.