Unlike the previous and subsequent entries in Vacation, series, this one has a big heart.
If it is going to be winter, let it snow!
I spend much of my life these days studying the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather web site. It is cheap entertainment, won't get you in trouble with the Missus or the boss at work, and is educational to boot. The NOAA people do weather like the Colonel does chicken.
You get a five-day forecast that is not afraid to say, day by day and night by night, whether it's a 90 percent chance of snow or an 80 percent chance. And how many inches we can expect, in standard English measurements. Neither of which the Wisconsin State Journal weather will venture.
Best of all is the map. From (usually) the southwest come menacing areas of blue, green, yellow, orange, and red -- in increasing degrees of menace. Ah, yes, tonight's snowstorm has just crossed the Iowa border from Dubuque. Now it's kicking Lafayette County three ways from Sunday. Oh, now there's a tip of the messiness just venturing into Perry township in Dane County. Yep, it's coming our way!
You look outside for evidence. I am rarely disappointed. The thing works.
Work the directional arrows on the map to skip on down to Iowa to see what is lurking there. Very often precipitation works its way up to us, usually from the south and the west. The cold, that comes from the north and west.
After it's all over, you can look up the hour-by-hour precipitation and temperature record in a three-day history.
Let it blow, let it blog, let it blow
Another thing America does very right -- it makes great snow blowers. I bought a Toro snow blower -- the company is headquartered in the Twin Cities -- at the end of the 2006 season and glad I did. It's a single-stage snow blower, meaning that one mechanism both scoops up the snow and blows it out the chute. Thus it is smaller. Plug it into the outdoor electric outlet, push the priming button three times, slide the choke full on, and it starts right up.
It's a big boy's toy.
Blow snow? Does it ever like to blow snow! Eats it right up and throws it right out! Runs on a two-cycle engine, which is easier to maintain than a four-cycle. I know you crybabies whine about adding oil. Quit it! All internal combustion engines need oil. With a two-cycle, fill up a one-gallon container of gasoline. Throw in a tiny container of oil (the Toro takes its oil on a 50 to 1 ratio), and swish. Too easy to ruin a four-cycle engine by forgetting to keep the oil pan maintained. With a two-cycle, you forget the oil, it won't start. No harm done. You never need to change the oil because you're burning it! (Yeah, that green thing in the last post? It didn't last.)
I take pride that the driveway at Stately Blaska Manor is among the cleanest in Orchard Ridge. You can still see asphalt. Yes, Christmas teaches us what is important.
Snow, Snow, Snow!
My dear wife Lisa said she was watching White Christmas, the Bing Crosby movie from 1954. One of our favorite scenes is the train ride north (I love train rides!) when der Bingle learns that Danny Kaye has given their sleeper car tickets to "the girls," they being Rosemary Clooney and Vera Miles. Somehow, the station cut the scene in which the four get together in the club car and sing Irving Berlin's "Snow." What is the point of watching White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny F-ing Kaye -- not to mention Rosemary Clooney and whatsername -- if you're going to cut the music?
Alright, I've calmed down.
Stately Blaska Manor is tastefully decorated to excess with all manners of blinking lights, a Wisconsin-grown balsam tree, various Santa, Snoopy, and other religious figure stuffed creatures, and candles dripping on the furniture. That blue bottle of Harvey's Bristol Crème taunts me with, "C'mon, Dave, have another."
A big hunk of pig's ass -- ham -- lurks in the over-sized, French-door refrigerator.
On Monday I mailed my first and only Christmas card -- to my 91-year-old aunt Burdette, who did so much for all of us I should send her 91 Christmas cards, with interest. She was the fourth-oldest of nine children, born to a father who was one of 10 and a mother who was one of 11 (9 of them girls!). Ah, those Catholic farm families! Now they're all gone except for Burdette and our Christmases are so much smaller. Sigh.
We have already watched that great 1965 classic, Charlie Brown Christmas, with music from the ineffable Vince Guaraldi. Glory be to a popular entertainment with the courage and conviction to make as its centerpiece Linus' simple reading of the angel's announcement of Christ's birth, as recorded in Luke 2:8 "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
Everyone's favorite is ours, too. It's a Wonderful Life is much more than its treacly reputation. Jimmy Stewart's anger, his frustration at being tied down by the flea-bittin' savings and loan in that nowhere town of Bedford Falls is palpable. The scene where he resists Donna Reed and then seems to get a whiff of her hair in his nose -- men are olfactory beasts -- brings his dreams back down to earth.
This review nails it:
By now everyone knows Frank Capra's holiday classic and the tears it so effortlessly conjures up year after year -- but it's easy to forget how truly vicious the film is, and how brilliantly James Stewart rises to the challenge.
Freezing our baguettes
Our all-time favorite movie, here at the Stately Manor, is 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation with the great Chevy Chase. It's one of those little classics that bear repeated viewing. We'll cue it up again this Christmas.
I should explain the Danny Kaye comment. This is one of Chevy Chase's great speeches as the harried householder Clark Griswold barring anyone from leaving a disastrous Christmas Eve:
Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving. Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We're all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.
Despite the raunchiness, this is a very sweet movie.
Unlike the previous and subsequent entries in the Vacation series, this one has a big heart. No dead aunts are strapped to the top of the family station wagon. This one is believable -- well, almost. It pays homage to It's a Wonderful Life as Clark Griswold plays 8 mm home movies from his childhood while locked in a cold attic, snuggled in cast-off clothes. On the soundtrack, Ray Charles sings a tender, simple song not much heard anywhere else: That Spirit of Christmas.
All our "Sparky" wants to do is recreate the Christmas magic he felt as a child. Hard to do when the house is full of squabbling in-laws and you've got bills to pay. The movie has a great cast, especially the one-of-a kind Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddy ("Shitter's full!"). More great lines:
Aunt Bethany: Is your house on fire, Clark?
Clark: No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights.
Cousin Eddie: I don't know if I oughta go sailin' down no hill with nothin' between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic.
Clark: Do you really think it matters, Eddie?
Daughter Audrey: I hope nobody I know drives by and sees me standing in the yard staring at the house in my pajamas.
Father-in-law Art: If they know your dad, they won't think anything of it.
That's why, this year when I set out the balsam fir in the living room, I could not help but yell, "Squirrel!"
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to all.