Sunday, June 11, 2017

Learnin' geography from the Rubber Duck

Who all remembers the song Convoy by C.W. McCall? (Clicking that link will take you to a YouTube video of him performing the song on the TV show Hee Haw.) I was ten when it was released in 1975, and from what I remember it was right in the middle of the CB radio craze. Convoy was my first exposure to the artist C.W. McCall, a stage name, by the way, for Bill Fries. Since he performed under this stage name, and internet searches are based on "C.W. McCall," I'll refer to him throughout this blog by his stage name. This song was so popular it even inspired a movie by the same name. Before I get into the actual topic of this blog, I do want to comment on yet another occurrence of that mystical number we fans of Sai King seem to find everywhere. Anyone remember what the "common" channel was for CB radio users was? That's right....19

Bill Fries, a.k.a. C.W. McCall
photo from Google image search

I never gave much thought to the actual lyrics of C.W.'s songs other than the general message the song presented. At the time, it was just background music to be enjoyed. As I got older, though, and especially with the introduction of Google, I paid more attention to the lyrics. First off, I could Google the song lyrics to find out exactly what he was saying. Sometimes lyrics are hard to distinguish, and by actually seeing them on the screen yield so much more than what I thought. I've always loved geography, and once I started to actually pay attention to his song lyrics, I wanted to learn more about these unique locations he sang about. From these explorations, I found several song titles I've never heard of. Yes, his most popular works were familiar to me, but some titles I'll mention below are a bit more obscure but no less entertaining.

I'm going to write about some specific songs, and include links to both a YouTube video of the song as well as the lyrics to that song. Hearing the lyrics is one thing. Actually seeing them is another, and was typically more helpful when I sought more information.

Many of his songs feature locations in Colorado, as well as the mid-west, such as Iowa. I mention Iowa specifically because there are at least FOUR songs that feature specific places in that state. I think I learned more about Iowa geography from C.W. than I ever did in school. The only thing I associated with Iowa before delving into C.W.'s works was Ottumwa, hometown of the fictional Radar O'Reilly

Let's start off with Lewis and Clark, from his Black Bear Road album. This song tells of the adventures of two law enforcement officers, Fairweather Lewis and Willard Clark of Pottawattamie County as they are on patrol. Where is Pottawattamie County? In Iowa, of course! One line of lyrics mentions Council Bluffs, which happens to be the county seat of Pottawattamie County. I can't decide if these two (deputies??) are really efficient law enforcement officers or just happen to be in the right place at the right time. I'd love to hear what y'all think...efficient or lucky?

I wonder if Lewis & Clark work here?
photo from Google image search

While we are hanging out in Iowa, we'll head over to Sloan, on the western border. This song refers to a dog named after the township he found him in. Check out the lyrics, and you'll see this poor dog gets lost and eventually found, about 58 miles away in Mondamin. Just head south on I-29 from Sloan, and you'll find Mondamin.

A good name for a town or a dog...
photo from Google image search

For C.W.'s next song, Four Wheel Drive, I definitely needed help with the lyrics. He mentions the Nishnabotna River, which is a tributary of the Missouri River. Wikipedia says the Nishnabotna flows through southwestern Iowa (imagine that), northwestern Missouri and southeastern Nebraska (M-O-O-N, that spells Nebraska! Yeah, I know, click here if you can't figure it out.). I determined, just based on that, this song was set in Iowa. Since he also mentions the town of Persia, it has to be Iowa, right?

I wonder how well it flows.
photo from Google image search

After I finally figured out the whole Nishnabotna thing, I discovered another song of C.W.'s called....wait for it!.....Nishnabotna! I don't know why I was surprised to find it, but I was. Apparently, C.W. was singing specifically about the West Nishnabotna, again placing it in Iowa. Check out Wikipedia's entry, and it even refers to this song. The lyrics describe how shallow the river is, as does the Four Wheel Drive song. Maybe the shallow river will help with the toad hunting, which seems to be the point of the Nishnabotna song.

Is this the "big iron bridge" from the song?
photo from Google image search

We've been all over Iowa, so let's head over to Colorado and see what we can learn. Perhaps it's all a matter of relevance, but it seems to me that his geographic references in Iowa are much more obscure than the ones from Colorado. It could be that I since I lived in Colorado for a few years, I'm much more familiar with the state, and therefore have a better grasp of its geography compared to Iowa's. 

I'll start with one of my favorite songs: Green River. This is the story of some whitewater rafters navigating the rapids through Lodore Canyon in NW Colorado near the Utah borderIt's very easy to visualize going through this canyon, water splashing into my boat, as I listen to this song. His lyrics paint an epic tale of these hardy souls as they make their way downriver. 

Lodore Canyon
photo from Google image search

He also released another song about another canyon in Colorado. This song, Glenwood Canyon, isn't about rafting but about preserving the natural beauty of the land. His lyrics express concern about what could happen if people don't pay attention to the environment. One can travel the length of Glenwood Canyon along I-70. It's a beautiful drive, and when I lived in Colorado for a few years, we'd drive this route to Glenwood Springs frequently. We even went rafting on the Colorado River which flows through Glenwood Canyon in 2010. That was a blast and made us want to go rafting in Lodore Canyon even more.

Glenwood Canyon (that's us in the boat)
photo courtesy of the rafting company we used

On that same trip in 2010, we visited Mesa Verde National Park in the SW corner of Colorado. After our rafting fun, Cindy and I continued west on I-70 to Grand Junction to meet my best friend for dinner. By the Andy, you need to come down here to Texas and visit US, now. Just sayin'... The next day we went south on US 50 then on US 550 through Durango. US 550 is one of the most scenic routes I've even been on. Nicknamed the "Million Dollar Highway," US 550 winds its way south to Montrose, CO. This stretch of road is the setting for Riverside Slide. The song tells the story of a snowplow driver who wrecks his snowplow on 550 in the middle of a blizzard. Just drive this road, and you can fully appreciate how treacherous it could be in winter. One of my sisters said the first time she was on this road, she had to lay on the floorboard so she couldn't see out and let someone else drive.

Red Mountain Pass
photo from Google image search

This route, which generally parallels the Animas River, also happens to have a narrow gauge railroad running its length from Silverton to Durango. A famous train shares its name with a popular C.W. McCall song guessed it: The Silverton. The lyrics nicely describe this trip, and what it must look like. To this day, it's a very popular ride, and should you choose to do it, make sure you plan accordingly and make reservations well in advance. We didn't get a chance to ride the Silverton on this trip, but that just gives us an excuse to go back again.

Silverton train
photo from Google image search

As if US 550 and Red Mountain Pass wasn't scary enough, you could always rent a jeep and give the Black Bear Road a try (NOT recommended for the faint of heart).  Seriously, y'all, unless you have a LOT of experience in a four wheel drive vehicle, this isn't for you. Pay attention to the lyrics, and you'll see why this road is best enjoyed vicariously through a YouTube video. That link, by the way, will take you to an actual trip down Black Bear Road filmed from a jeep. I don't know what's more entertaining: the scenery or the conversation of the driver and his wife. 

This sign should tell you something
photo from Google image search

This video here shows what can too easily happen on the same road. NOTE: Both of these videos, especially the second one, contain language that may not be suitable for children. Hey Sissie, I bet this makes US 550 look tame by comparison now, huh?

Black Bear Road
photo from Google image search

Similar to Red Mountain Pass is Wolf Creek Pass, on the Continental Divide along US 160 north of Pagosa Springs. C.W. sings about two truckers carrying a load of chickens and what happens when things don't go quite the way they are supposed to. The lyrics are amusing and personally, if I were Earl I'd get awful tired of having a back seat driver.

Wolf Creek Pass
photo from Google image search

We've been up and down several passes now, exploring the mountain roads of Colorado. Let's head deep into the mountains, to Lost Lake. This is one of the places mentioned in Aurora Borealis. Listening to the lyrics, you'll hear of the natural beauty of camping in the mountains, and if you are lucky, getting to see the northern lights. Of all the items on my own bucket list, seeing the northern lights, with my own eyes, ranks near the top. 

Lost Lake
photo from Google image search

There are two different versions of this song that I'm aware of. The link I provided is one version, but I can't find the other version online that I have. It comes from the American Storyteller album released in 1990. There are subtle differences in this version compared to what I linked to. Mainly, some of the locations are different. Either version still tells a good story, though, and makes my desire to see the northern lights even more pressing.

Aurora borealis
photo from Google image search

I hope you've enjoyed this brief geography lesson, courtesy of C.W. McCall. I'd love to take a road trip to Iowa now, and dip my toes in the West Nishnabotna, and have my photo taken with a Sheriff's deputy from Pottawattamie County just for the fun of it. Maybe even drive into Sloan and take a picture of the city limits sign. 

I'd like to add that I try to use as many of my own photos as possible when I write my blogs. This blog, though, required me to use Google to find a suitable image of what I wanted. If anyone reading this blog happens to own any of these photos, please let me know, and I'll give full credit for them. 

Mr. Fries, if I'm lucky enough to have you see this blog, please know how much your music means to me. I've enjoyed it ever since I was a young lad, and you've inspired me to learn more about this great nation. We listened to your music on our road trip to Colorado, and it enhanced our experience beyond measure.

I'd love to see comments from anyone who's had a similar experience with learning something from music. Please feel free to elaborate in the comments section below.

Coming up next, I'll write about one of my favorite games, Dead of Winter

Until next time....

carpe cerevisi

Monday, February 20, 2017

Playing with fire...

How many times have you been told that, growing up?

"You're playing with fire, kid, ya better stop before you get burned." 

Of course "fire" could be, well, actual fire, or it could be more figurative, such as misbehaving in front of the relatives or teasing the dog. I must admit, that growing up I did play with fire, both the actual hot "product of rapid oxidation" as well as the occasional bouts of misbehaving. I would never tease a dog, though, that's just uncool. I don't think it caused any permanent harm, though. I turned out to be a well adjusted adult, doing adult things like getting married and holding down a job. 

Can I let you in on a little secret? I never stopped playing with fire, and I still play with fire today! And I'm talkin' about the hot stuff here, not the figurative stuff. No kidding! Well, as you'll read a bit later, maybe the hot stuff is actually a figurative type of hot stuff.

OK, who in the background just coughed and muttered "pyromaniac?" Don't think I didn't hear that!

For several years, starting late in my high school days through my time in Colorado, I was a volunteer firefighter.  Yes, I'd like to think I did this to serve my fellow man and give back to the community. For the most part, that's true. If I'm going to be totally honest, though, I did enjoy the "adrenaline junkie" part of it as well. There's just something about heading into a rip-roarin' fire with your team and facing the beast head on. So, now you'll see how my last blog got its name. This is the "flaming" part. The "zombie" part will be another blog talking about the game Dead of Winter, kinda like I did with my Pandemic blog. I covered the "bowl" part already, so off we go!

Does anyone feel hot?

I took the above photo during a training burn when I was with the Eagle Volunteer Fire Department wayyyy back in the early 90's. I still remember that day, and how much fun we had. There are times I miss being a volunteer firefighter, but with all the other activities in my life, and yes, I have to admit, I'm no youngster anymore, I have to indulge my firefighting passion in another form. 

As I've found with pretty much every contemporary board game, I was late to the party finding Flash Point: Fire Rescue. The "base game" first appeared in 2011, yet I didn't discover this gem until sometime last 2016.......five years after the fact. Of course. Much like Pandemic, Flash Point is a fully cooperative game. Everyone plays as a team, and you win or lose as a team. The objective is to rescue seven victims before the building collapses. These "victims" aren't all people, either. This game includes dogs, cats and even a goldfish as a "victim."

Saving the actual structure is not required to win the game. Of course, if the structure collapses, or if four or more victims are lost, game over! The collapse part of the game comes from damage cubes that are placed as the result of explosions or chopping (to gain access) walls. There are 24 cubes, and once all of this "damage" occurs, the structure collapses, killing all of those inside. Sorta like Pandemic, huh? You don't want to run out of disease cubes in that game or, yep, you lose!

Flash Point "base game" box

From Flash Point's official website, Indie Boards & Cards, and ("BGG"). I've been able to place the expansions in a reasonably accurate timeline. Thanks to my lovely wife, we have all the expansions to date for this awesome game. If I have any of these dates wrong, please let me know and I'll correct them. Let's take a look at game, shall we?

Base Game: Released in 2011, the base game board has two sides, representing two different structures. Flash Point includes two sets of rules: a family set and an "experienced" set. The "experienced" rules build on the family rules. Adding to the variety, there are three different levels one can play at: "Recruit," "Veteran" and "Heroic." Each of these levels adds a little more complexity and difficulty to the previous level. Not only is there more fire to deal with, but also more hazardous material, or "Hazmat." 

As in real life, a responding fire company may or may not know who or what is in a burning building. Flash Point addresses this by having Points of Interest ("POI") that are placed randomly on the board. These POI are represented by tokens with a "?" initially. Part of your job is to identify these POIs and rescue them if they are an actual victim and not just a "false alarm" (a blank token). This can happen by occupying the same location as the POI or having the Imaging Technician identify it. Per the rules, there should always be 3 POIs on the board during play.

Note: The family rules use a general purpose firefighter for each role. In the experienced rules, and with the expansions, specialist roles make their appearance. Each specialist has its own strengths and weaknesses. What I really like about this game, compared to Pandemic, is that one can choose which role they wish to play, and even change roles throughout the game as needed! Finding the best mix of specialists is part of the fun, and based on how the initial setup goes, one mix might work better than another. I'll introduce all of the specialists at once, even though some are expansion specific. I won't go into detail for each role, as one can find this in several places, such as the game's website, BGG, etc.

Flash Point "cast"

Fire Captain: Functions much like the Dispatcher in Pandemic.
Imaging Technician: Identify a POI anywhere on the board.
Generalist: One of my fave roles to play.
Rescue Specialist: Gets to carry a chainsaw!
Hazmat Technician: What is that stuff you are handling?
Driver/Operator: I wanna use the BIG nozzle on the engine!
Structural Engineer: Can repair a building (and save those cubes!).
Rescue Dog: How ironic if the rescue dog rescues....a cat!
Veteran: Cindy really likes this role.
CAFS Firefighter: Compressed Air Foam System. Check it out here.
Paramedic: Can treat a victim which makes them easier to rescue.

Knowing I'd be writing a blog about this game, as well as Dead of Winter, I had a little free time and took many photos of each game board, set up for play. For full disclosure, I haven't had a chance to play every board/scenario yet, especially some of the more specialized boards. With that in mind, those of you who have played may notice a few discrepancies with my photos versus "real" play. Please point them out and I'd be happy to correct it.

Base game in play

Just click on the photo to enlarge it, and you'll be able to see more detail. Notice that of the 3 POIs on the board, one has been identified. The "?" has been flipped over to reveal a person. Our Generalist is heading towards him to rescue this poor soul. Look at the bottom right of the board. Two victims have already been rescued, a lady and a cat. We are halfway to winning! The little flame tokens, by the way, are "hot spots," which are part of the experienced rule set. These hot spots have a nasty habit of causing other problems, and only the Structural Engineer can remove them. The large flame tokens are actual fire.

Here I come!

Here's a dramatic closeup of our Generalist racing to the rescue. He'll have to carry this man out of the building, which will slow him down by half. That's where the optimal mix of specialists comes in. If the Paramedic treats this person, then he can be led out of the building instead of being carried. There are always pros and cons attached, and if this victim is close to an exit, it might be best to just carry him out rather than tying up two firefighters.

Urban Structures (2011): Urban Structures adds the Structural Engineer role and two new structures: a Brownstone duplex apartment and a high rise office building. 

A blazin' Brownstone!

Notice all of the damage cubes in the room in the bottom left corner? Lots of fire and damage due to an explosion in a previous round. The Driver/Operator on the engine in the bottom left has done a good job extinguishing fire in that room. 

It's NOT what it looks like

At first glance, you'd think this poor lady is about to get whacked by a lunatic with a chainsaw. Nope, that's just our Rescue Specialist coming to the rescue. Notice the open door to the right of them. It will be a short carry to get the victim outside. Luckily that hazmat token will be easy to get outside as well, reducing the chance of it causing an explosion if flames reach it.

High rise office building

We have one of the upper floors of the high rise office building. Rescuing victims is a little easier in this scenario compared to the others in that they only need to be carried or led down to the lobby. This is accomplished by using the elevator to move them. Now wait, before anyone starts getting agitated about using an elevator in a fire, the game specifically addresses this issue. Some may not know that the fire department, in real life, often has a special key to control the elevator in a fire. This is left up to the experts in the fire department. For the sake of this game, the elevators are considered safe by the fire department and are therefore used. 

For game mechanics, a closed door indicates the elevator is at the lobby level, and an open door represents the elevator at the "fire floor." In the photo above, the elevator bank is to the right, just above where the cubicles are burning. The door on the left is open, indicating the elevator is ready for use on that floor. The door on the right is closed, indicating that elevator is at the lobby. Cue the theme from The Towering Inferno!

2nd Story (2012): 2nd Story adds another two game boards, a hotel and a villa, that represent the ground and second floor of their respective structures. While the publisher describes one set of boards as a "hotel," I'd say it's more of a "bed an breakfast" than an actual hotel. I get that making a game board accurate for a hotel would entail a huge game board to accommodate all the rooms. I just struck me as a bit humorous to see just a few rooms in this "hotel." I'm totally cool with it, though. Don't get me wrong. This expansion also includes ladders as a game component and introduces stairwells. The difficulty here is visualizing each game board as a separate floor of the same building. 

A quaint hotel

Imagine the board marked B2 (look in the upper right corner) hovering magically above board B1. B1 represents the hotel's lobby on the ground floor, and B2 represents the second floor. Notice the yellow ladder on the left side of the board, near the top. As in real life, this is an extension ladder. The bottom portion of the ladder, naturally, is on the ground. The smaller ladder segment is the extended portion, or "fly section,' at the window. Our Rescue Specialist is perched on the ladder, trying to identify the POI in front of him.

Hotel lobby

A closeup look at the lobby shows our intrepid Generalist in the bottom left corner approaching a POI. Will this be a real victim or just a false alarm? If it's a real victim, rescue is just outside the door at the ambulance.


Here is a villa (a fancy word for a ha-YUGE house) set up for play. Let's get to work, and rescue our victims!

Closeup of Villa's 2nd floor

Another "vertical component" is the hydraulic platform. (That link will take you to a Google image search of fire apparatus with this feature.) Look on board A2, the second floor, top right. Our CAFS Firefighter used the platform to enter the window and start extinguishing fire in the bedroom. The Veteran used a ladder on the left side of the board to check out the POI in the middle of the room. 

Extreme Danger (2013): Bored with just "regular" structures? Need a little more challenge? Hey, no problem! Extreme Danger introduces a laboratory and mechanic's garage, as well as an attic and basement game board. These optional basement and attic boards can be used with either the lab, garage or the other expansions. This means your scenario can now have three levels! It also adds several new components such as chemical spills, fire doors and damaged floor markers. You said you wanted more challenge, didn't you?

What are they making in this lab?

The lab is another structure with two levels. It's up to you if you want to add an attic or basement. Perhaps you've noticed that I set all of these scenarios up as a four player game. We typically play with four, so it was only natural that I set up the games this way.

Hazmat Tech going to work

Since this lab apparently contains many nasty chemicals, our Hazmat Tech will focus on removing them from the building before they cause any more problems. That smoke to the right of the hazmat token could turn into flame, and things would then turn ugly very quickly.

How much for an oil change?

The mechanic's garage is all on the ground level, but that doesn't make it any easier. See the black car in the center of the board? There's a POI just above it. Notice a black cube on the car. What makes this scenario a challenge is that if the car acquires four damage cubes, it causes an explosion that radiates in SIX different directions, instead of four. Yeah, you might want to focus on protecting the car. Just sayin'.....

Dangerous Waters (2013): About 75% of the earth is covered with some form of water. So far, all of our game boards feature land based structures. In Dangerous Waters, we are faced with a fire on a merchant ship or a submarine. I haven't played either of these scenarios yet, but from what I've heard, these are the two most difficult to win. There's limited access and this makes rescuing victims very hard. The submarine board is laid end to end, so it was difficult to get a good photo of it.


In addition to difficult access (basically, the two sets of stairs on the bottom left and right of the board), there is a "special machinery" space that can only acquire four damage cubes. Once it receives four damage cubes, the ship is lost and your team loses. That space in on the top half of the board, with two smoke tokens on it. One of our firefighters is making his way there. 

Honor & Duty (2014): The latest expansion, Honor & Duty, features a subway station (underground trains, not the sandwich shop) and an airplane. These boards introduce "difficult terrain," which costs double to move, a sprinkler system for the subway and foam for the aircraft scenario. Since a subway station, by nature, is typically underground, firefighters can't use the engine mounted nozzle to help extinguish fire. That's where the sprinkler system comes in. Likewise, in an aircraft incident, most airport firefighting apparatus are equipped with a foam system. The foam not only extinguishes fire, but also helps prevent spread of fire. The game mechanics take this into account nicely.

Emergency at the airport!

Our firefighting team made an initial attack and gained access to the fuselage. The victim in the middle of the fuselage is in immediate danger with all of the flames nearby, but is about to be rescued. Will he make it out in time? I hope so!

I hope you enjoyed this blog on Flash Point and all the expansions. There are several other expansion sets that have unique POIs that were offered via promotional activities on Kickstarter. I hope to acquire some of these to add to the variety of the game. Some of these POIs require even more effort to move, or require treatment before being moved. 

Have you played this game? Did you like it? Please let me know in the comments below.

Coming up is an in depth discussion on Dead of Winter (and its expansion The Long Night), Caroline Picard's interview and a few other topics you may find interesting.

Until next time.........

carpe cerevisi

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Flaming Zombie Bowl

Most of y'all consider this past weekend to be some variation of "Super Bowl Sunday," or something like that. While that holds true, for the most part, to me as well, it's only partially descriptive of what all transpired over that glorious end of the work week we all love.

Our San Antonio niece and her husband spent Thursday through Sunday at our house and managed to pack in many activities, including attending the Super Bowl. Yes, you read that correctly. They actually got to watch the person! David, Tiffanie's husband, won the rights to purchase two Super Bowl tickets several months ago. To make it even sweeter, he's a Patriots fan. I don't hold that against him, though. As a Cowboys fan, I really don't care about the AFC side of the house.

They decided to make a long weekend of it, and visit some family and local attractions on the Friday and Saturday before the game. Since both Cindy and I had to work on Friday, they met some other family and toured Space Center Houston. I've been there several times, and highly encourage anyone who has even a small interest in manned spaceflight to give it a try. You won't be sorry. On Friday and Saturday night, though, we four spent the evening playing board games. 

Flaming zombies?
photo from Google search

On Friday, we played Flash Point: Fire Rescue. It's a cooperative game, like Pandemic, in that all the players win or lose together as a team. Clicking on the Pandemic link will take you to one of my previous blogs describing this fun game. So, instead of fighting disease outbreaks across the globe like you'd do in Pandemic, you fight structure fires and try to save victims. You win by rescuing 7 victims. It isn't necessary to actually save the house. There are multiple expansions for Flash Point, and even though I have them all, I still haven't had a chance to play them yet.

Flash Point

Neither Tiffanie nor David had played Flash Point before, and Cindy and I have only played it a few times. For the first game, we used one of the basic boards with a beginner level difficulty. We managed to save all 7 victims before the house burned down, and decided to play another round, with a more difficult board. I'll fully describe Flash Point and the other game in their own blog like I did with Pandemic. As much fun as we had playing two different games, they had to get up somewhat early on Saturday to spend time at the NFL Experience.

Brownstone duplex

After Tiffanie and David got back from the NFL Experience on Saturday evening, we set up the table to play Dead of Winter: The Long Night. Like Pandemic and Flash Point, Dead of Winter is essentially a cooperative game, but each player also has a secret objective to accomplish. There may even be a betrayer in the group! While the group works together to achieve a common goal, each individual player must also achieve his or her own secret goal in order to win. 

Dead of Winter

We ground our way through hordes of zombies, scarce supplies and the possibility of a traitor amongst our ranks. The scenario we picked was one of the longer ones, so we had time for one game before all of us retired for the evening.

With Sunday afternoon rolling around, I did set up for another game of Dead of Winter. My mom, sister and brother in law would be joining Cindy and me at the house to watch the game and play Dead of Winter at the same. The game was so good, though, that we ended up watching the whole game and left the colony to fend for themselves.

I'm glad that David, being the Patriots fan he is, got to experience such an epic game in person. We sure enjoyed it here at the house. And we didn't have to stand in long lines for the restroom, either!

What a game! David & Tiffanie at SB 51
photo courtesy of David Flynn

So, dear readers, what did YOU enjoy about Super Bowl weekend? Did you watch the game? Did you do something else? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below. 

Coming up in the next few blogs, a detailed description of Flash Point and Dead of Winter. I still have a couple of interviews to finish and post as well.

Until next time......

carpe cerevisi

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Admit it, some of you read that title in Johnny Mathis’ voice, didn’t you?

Yes, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year!

I love Christmas…..a LOT! We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and that, my esteemed readers, is the whole reason for the season. Of course, the gathering of friends and family and general holiday cheer just add to the fun of picking out that ultimate gift for a loved one.

Yes, I say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” I’m not condemning anyone who uses other terms, by the way. I’m simply not going to apologize for saying Merry Christmas. So call it what you want. I won’t be offended if someone says Happy Holidays to me, or Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Yule or even Happy Festivus. In fact, I’ll appreciate the sentiment behind it, as much as I hope someone would appreciate the sentiment behind my saying Merry Christmas. Now if someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal,” I may have an issue with it.

I will admit, though, that my favorite parts of Christmas have to be the music and all of the holiday treats. I’ve written before about my love of music in general, as detailed in this previous blog. Every year I look forward to when I can start playing Christmas music. My own standard is to wait until after Thanksgiving. I won’t play any Christmas music until the Friday after good ol’ Turkey Day. After that, though, Christmas music is pretty much all I’ll play or listen to until the feast of St. Stephen (which also happens to be a cute song The Chieftains perform). OK, full disclosure here: I easily could’ve said “the day after Christmas” instead of “the feast of St. Stephen,” but it sounds soooo much more sophisticated when I mention a saint, right? Me? Sophisticated? Ummm, sure!

Now before anyone says anything about listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving being OK, I’ll say this. You are right! If you want to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, or after Valentine’s Day, or whenever, I say go for it! It’s your choice and this is a free country. It won’t bother me one bit. In fact, try reading the book NOS4A2 by Joe Hill in the middle of the summer if you want some Christmas references to tide you over. Nothing like reading something about Christmas when it’s 90 degrees with 100% humidity to put your mind in a different place.

I digress, though……

One look at my Christmas playlist would reveal an eclectic blend of everything from classic carols to more contemporary songs to some with an international flavor. While I’d love to post my entire Christmas playlist here, I don’t see that as either feasible or advisable. The list is simply too long, and frankly some of the titles (with their resulting links) would definitely not be family friendly. I’m looking at you, Mr. Hankey! Not familiar with Mr. Hankey? That’s most likely a good thing. Trust me on this, and don’t bother Googling it if you don’t already know. If you do, don’t blame me for anything you might discover. Just sayin’…..

My list changes from year to year, though, truth be known. I have a core group of favorites (my starters) that I’ll usually want to hear, and then there’s the second string. My second stringers sometimes get promoted to starters and every so often some of the starters will get relegated to a backup position.

I’m going to challenge myself and list just the top twelve. Why twelve? Well, I’m writing about Christmas songs, and since the Twelve Days of Christmas is a song, that seemed appropriate. This promises to be as hard as the 100 word flash fiction story challenges I’ve written previously for Halloween and Christmas. Thanks, Eric, for the idea!

Here, in no particular order, are my 12 starters for 2016. For those on my Facebook friends list, I believe all of these will look familiar. The hyperlinks will take you to a YouTube video of my favorite version of each song.

Soca Santa  
An upbeat, Caribbean flavored song that will transport you to Trinidad, boat drink in hand.

The Rebel Jesus  
Sung by Jackson Browne, along with The Chieftains. The lyrics are quite profound, and send a beautiful message.

For Unto Us A Child Is Born  
One of three traditional carols on my starters list. I've always enjoyed listening to this, and marvel at those who can actually sing such a difficult song.

Mary’s Boy Child  
This is another Caribbean flavored song that caught my ear several years ago.

Boar’s Head Carol  
Another traditional carol, also performed by The Chieftains. I really love the Celtic flair of this version, combined with the Latin in part of the lyrics.

We Need A Little Christmas  
Don't we all need a little Christmas? Johnny Mathis seems to think so.

Ho Ho Ho And A Bottle Of Rum  
Jimmy Buffett really knocks it out of the park with this fun, upbeat song. Makes me want to add even more rum to my Christmas Eve punch.

Sleigh Ride  
Here's another Johnny Mathis version I consistently enjoy, year after year.

I Saw Three Ships  
I have several versions of this song in my collection, and Sting's version takes first place.

A Holly Jolly Christmas  
Only the Burl Ives version counts, as far as I'm concerned. Every time I hear this song I can see the snowman version of Burl Ives as he sings it.

Ding Dong Merrily On High 
One more traditional carol here, and another done by The Chieftains. Yes, I do love listening to them.

Christmas Canon 
Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with their innovative approach to music, has definitely expanded my Christmas music collection.

A final thought about Christmas music before I move on to my other favorite part of the Christmas season……TREATS! Have you ever actually listened to the lyrics of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch? I was talking about this with a friend of mine at our dive club party the other day. With all the mean comments made about Mr. Grinch, it’s no wonder he acted the way he did. Libby then replied with “It’s a question of which came first….then chicken or the egg. Did the Grinch start out bad, which prompted the song, or did the song make him bad?” Good point, Libby. I’ll grab another drink and ponder those heavy thoughts. At least until I get bored and move on. Oh look, squirrel!

To me, at least, no other time of year offers as large an opportunity for such a wide variety of treats as Christmas. Honestly, though, I think the “season” starts with Halloween. I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but at our house, Cindy and I make sure to buy some of our favorite candy just for us. We usually have enough left over for a couple of weeks, then with Thanksgiving rolling around we start thinking of pies and how many we should make to ensure we have some for after Thanksgiving. Who doesn’t love multiple slices of pie on your plate at the same time? That link, by the way, will take you to a blog I wrote about pie, glorious, wonderful, pie. Once Thanksgiving has come and gone, it’s just a smooth transition into nonstop holiday feasting until New Year’s Day. After that, many will make the inevitable resolution to eliminate all the treats, work out and drop all those holiday pounds. Which lasts all of a week. Or until the next holiday arrives.


Now these are not just treats that we make at home. Oh, no, it's almost a conspiracy. Coworkers bring trays of delicious cookies, or a container of their homemade chocolate and salted caramel fudge. "Here, have some!" I can't refuse and them think I'm rude, so naturally I do the right thing and snack away. We have wonderful neighbors on our street. During this feasting season, I'll come home and find a package of goodies sitting by the door with a note wishing us a Merry Christmas. How cool is that?



My favorite cookie of the season, hands down, is the gingerbread cookie. I prefer a soft baked cookie versus the crunchy-shatter-your-teeth version. The shape is completely irrelevant to me. They can be the traditional gingerbread man, a tree, star or amorphous blob and I’d still happily scarf ‘em down. Hhhmmm, what other cookies get to make an appearance? A close second to gingerbread cookies are chocolate crinkles. If they weren’t so labor intensive, I’d make them more often. Then again, if someone would like to bake some for me, I’ll happily thank you publicly on my next blog. Any takers?

I'll have 'em all, thanks

Chocolate Crinkles

Besides cookies, I can look forward to some fudge, rice krispie treats and other goodies limited only by the cook’s imagination. Not everything needs to be sweet, though. I stumbled across a recipe for cheesy sausage balls on Whataburger’s website that I’ve made the past few years on Christmas Eve. Clicking the link will take you to Whataburger's website, where you can find the recipe. From experience, you do NOT need to double this recipe unless you plan on feeding a LOT of people. The basic recipe will make plenty. Trust me on this. Yes, you can use any sausage. It doesn’t have to be Whataburger sausage if you are unfortunate enough to live in an area where it isn’t available. Any pan sausage will suffice. Their creamy pepper and jalapeno ranch sauces work nicely with these balls, too!

Cheesy jalapeno sausage balls
photo from Whataburger website

I wonder just how many calories are represented by all the photos above. Calories? They don’t count during the holidays, right? See my comments above about New Year’s resolutions.

What are your favorite Christmas songs/carols?

Do you have a favorite treat?

I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below.

With all the music, treats and family, this is indeed the most wonderful time of the year! So, to all my friends and family, and everyone else reading this blog:

Merry Christmas, y’all!

carpe cerevisi