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Stone Hollow

coffeeneuring 2017: new places aplenty

Another autumn means another of Mary G’s Coffeeneuring Challenges! I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike in search of a cup of joe. Or an espresso. Possibly a flat white. Or maybe a cortado…

Regardless, it’s always fun. This year, I once again couldn’t come up with a “theme within a theme.” Rather, I decided to do my coffeeneuring at places where I hadn’t previously done the challenge. So while a couple of these might be coffeehouses where I’d been before, none had previously seen me for some good old-fashioned coffeeneuring!

Read Mary’s intro piece for the rules (and they are rules in this portmanteau of “coffee” and “randonneuring,” the latter of these words being a form of cycling so laden with rules as to make me wonder why I’d want to lug around a control card… yet I kinda want to), then read along as I go on this year’s journey. As with last year’s post, clicking on the mileage will take you to the Strava record of each journey.

Stop the First:
Date: 13 October
Distance Ridden: 5.7 miles
Location: Qualia Coffee (Eckington location), Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (one block from a major east-west bike lane and the Metropolitan Branch Trail, but no real bike parking out front – Joel, the owner, invited me to bring the bike inside the shop)
Drink: cortado (beans roasted at the other Qualia location)

#Coffeeneuring stop the first of 2017: a cortado at @qualiacoffee’s new Eckington location! #caffeine #bikeDC

A post shared by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Lesson Learned: Qualia’s original location is in Petworth, run out of a converted house with a laid-back, homespun vibe. So when I’d seen signs advertising their new location in Eckington, a block from the Metropolitan Branch Trail and thus on my daily commute route (more or less), I thought I should drop in. The new space is airy and light, even though it’s not too huge. It’s part of the new Gale at Eckington apartment complex, and is still developing a local clientele. But the coffee is still the excellent quality stuff offered in Petworth – they just need a bike rack or two out front to make it a bit more cycling-friendly.

Stop the Second:
Date: 15 October
Distance Ridden: 5.7 miles
Location: Sugar Shack Donuts (Shaw location), Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (not a lot of space for bikes to park, but enough signposts for locking that keep bikes out of the narrow sidewalk right-of-way)
Drink: latté (Zeke’s Coffee)

Lesson Learned: sprite is also taking on the Coffeeneuring Challenge, and I’ve been happy to join her on some of her exploits. The coffee at Sugar Shack is made with beans from Zeke’s, a favorite local roaster, and was quite good. The donuts are also superb, and two of these we acquired by singing “The Hogwarts Song” from the Harry Potter series. I sang it to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” while sprite made up the tune as she went along (there is no proper music to this song, so why not make something up?). We also visited the Northwest One branch of DC’s Public Library, which was a really lovely library that replaced the kiosk-style Sursum Corda branch a few years ago. Read sprite’s account here.

Stop the Third:
Date: 19 October
Distance Ridden: 35.6 miles
Location: Bread & Water Company, Alexandria, VA
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (in a strip mall, easy to park bikes in front and sit next to them, and strip mall is on a bike-friendly road with a bike shop around the corner)
Drink: flat white (Caffe Lavazza)

Lesson Learned: Over the past year this stop has become a favorite one for coffee and awesome baked goods, so I make a point of going there whenever I ride south of Alexandria. I rode with my good friend, Ed, and we had a lovely ride with a tasty break. I bought one of the fresh baguettes as my snack and ate half of it at the bakery, packing the other half for the ride home. In a not-so-nice turn of events, I crashed my bike on the return to DC along the Mount Vernon Trail by DCA, suffering some contusions on my knee, partially separating my shoulder, ripping a favorite pair of cycling shorts, and doing in my favorite Kask helmet (it took a very solid hedge branch for the team). Luckily, #hip2point0 was just fine, as was my bike, and I rode the rest of the way home without any further incident (and I rode the 5.5 miles into work the next morning).

Stop the Fourth:
Date: 21 October
Distance Ridden: 4.7 miles
Location: Made in DC Pop-Up Shop (Dupont Circle), Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (staple racks and street signs outside, plenty of space to park the bikes without blocking the sidewalk)
Drink: double espresso (Small Planes Coffee)

Lesson Learned: another adventure with sprite, this time to the cool pop-up shop in our neighborhood that features only made-in-DC wares. Thus, the coffee is from a new local micro-roaster – it was tasty! The shop had a lot of great things for sale: food, drinks (I also had a local cider from Anxo), clothing, art (unsurprisingly, the Dupont Circle map prints were sold out), and jewelry. And the outdoor seating was perfect on this warm autumn day.

Stop the Fifth:
Date: 28 October
Distance Ridden: 69.5 miles
Location: The Little Country Store, Etlan, VA
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (it’s a country store, so parking isn’t a big deal, the proprietors are friendly, there’s a great view of Old Rag Mountain, and there’s a store cat – what’s not to like?)
Drink: drip coffee (nothing special)

Lesson Learned: I’ve been here many times before, as this little oasis is a welcome respite when riding along the foot of Shenandoah National Park. It’s a typical locals place: basic groceries, a deli, pit BBQ, and a few neighbors discussing the local news. The coffee there is nothing special (probably Folgers or Maxwell House), but it was a warm beverage on a crisp fall day. And the store’s elderly cat (some Siamese mix, I think) is always game for some lap time – and happily posed for pictures. The ride was one that had over 40 miles of gravel roads, and while I wasn’t on an ideal whip for the task (a road bike with 26mm tires), I held my own.

Stop the Sixth:
Date: 1 November
Distance Ridden: 5.5 miles
Location: Chuck Brown Memorial Park (Langdon Park), Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (nice park, hilly to get there but the roads are quiet, bike racks in the park though not near the memorial area)
Drink: French press (Starbucks Pike Place beans)

Lesson Learned: Ever since I started my new job with JUMP Mobility, my commute has taken me past Langdon Park, where the Chuck Brown Memorial was built a couple years ago to celebrate DC’s “godfather of go-go.” So I decided to make a “coffeeneuring in the wild” stop at this memorial – very cool! It’s a dynamic sculpture that captures the essence of the celebrations that were his concerts (full disclosure: never had a chance to see Chuck perform live). I love Chuck’s music – give his “The Party Roll” a listen!

Stop the Seventh:
Date: 4 November
Distance Ridden: 61.2 miles
Location: Extra Perks, Alexandria, VA
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (only a couple blocks from the Mount Vernon Trail, OK street parking tho sadly without bike racks, outdoor seating is nice, and a bike shop around the corner)
Drink: espresso (beans unknown but fairly good)

Lesson Learned: I’d already been to Vigilante Coffee in Hyattsville on this ride, but I’ve coffeeneured there before. So when we passed this place, I had to stop and get a quick espresso! Despite the name, Extra Perks is a British-themed eatery: full tea, English fry-ups, bangers and mash. But the espresso was a winner: tasty, not bitter, the size of a triple shot, and under $2.

Stop the Eighth
Date: 5 November
Distance Ridden: 2.4 miles (this is two separate Strava rides – the decimal is the divider!)
Location: Pear Plum Café (Mt. Pleasant), Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (we rode Capital Bikeshare for this one, and the nearest stops are a few blocks away. Otherwise, it’s not difficult to find racks or signposts for locking a bike, and Mt. Pleasant Street has a sharrow going each way.)
Drink: dirty chai (Oregon Chai and Counter Culture)

Lesson Learned: another ride with sprite, with a stop at the Mt. Pleasant branch of DC’s Public Library system, a lovely Carnegie-funded building dating back to 1925. This branch was devastated by a large neighborhood fire in 2008 and remained closed for repairs and renovations until 2012. The restored library is lovely, with bright, open spaces that invite a patron into the stacks. There are also lovely murals by Aurelius Battaglia, a DC native whose work is best known in the Little Golden Books series. After spending some time in the library (which also had a photo exhibit focused on Michelle Obama), we went to Pear Plum Café, which succeeded Flying Fish Coffee on Mt. Pleasant Street. Our drinks and pie were most excellent!

Stop the Ninth:
Date: 13 November
Distance Ridden: 9.6 miles
Location: Chinatown Coffee Company (Chinatown), Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (there is a single staple rack about 20 feet from the front door, though the owners will let you bring your bike inside if it’s not too busy. Located on a busy street in downtown DC.)
Drink: cappuccino (Intelligentsia… maybe?)

Lesson Learned: I was en route to a work meeting with the Metropolitan Police Department and wanted some coffee and a snack, so Chinatown Coffee was the place to go. I’ve been here before, though never while coffeeneuring. My cappuccino was perfectly executed, and the chocolate biscotti was a perfect contrast and was tasty when dunked into my frothy beverage. The meeting with MPD went well, and I made some important contacts within the department. Above all: they liked JUMP’s business model and our commitment to responsible parking of the bikes (JUMP bicycles are meant to be locked to a bike rack, signpost, or other out-of-the-right-of-way object).

Total Miles: 199.9

Cover image is from the fifth coffeeneuring adventure, taken in Stone Hollow, Virginia.

a quick #hip2point0 update

Yes, I said I’d give more regular updates about the new hip.

And I’ve not done so – at least not on this site. Bugger. Sorry about that.

I’ll make it brief and bulleted:

  • I made it through the high-risk for deep-vein thrombosis time without incident. Yes, there was a bit of a pickle with the anticoagulant meds, but that was fixed quickly and, as I said, no problems.
  • I was off crutches within less than two weeks of surgery, and off a cane not long after that.
  • My physical therapists have kicked my butt, and the result is ever-improving strength and range of motion.
  • I’ve put in over 1,000 miles on the bike since I was cleared to ride back in mid-July. There was a lot of rust at first, but things have come back quickly.
  • I’m now at around 80-85 percent of maximum possible strength, and as I’m already feeling far better than I did even after #projectfemur healing in 2014, this is a good sign.
  • My orthopedist says the new joint has healed really well, is stable, and should be good for a long while. My PTs appreciate that I do my work to build fitness and flexibility.

And that’s about it! There haven’t been any major bumps in the road, for which I’m grateful. I know that things can challenge me in the coming months and years,  but I’m prepared in case things go off the rails. I’m carrying on, and should be all set for ski season well before the snow flies.

Days since surgery: 118

Three faces of recovery

a #hip2point0 update: two weeks on the new hip, and…

Hey there! It’s been a fortnight since #hip2point0 happened, and a lot has changed – primarily for the better!

The surgery went well. My previous post was thumb-typed in the pre-op prep room on my smartphone. I hadn’t yet had any pain meds or anesthesia, but I was confident about the surgery. My prep nurse had wonderful bedside manner and a great sense of humor. My anesthesiologist was similarly nice and friendly. My orthopedist initialed my right hip, and I was ready to go.

I waited. As the last surgery of the day, I had to wait for my doctor and his team to have lunch – a good thing, I’d say. That said, I hadn’t eaten since midnight, and my stomach was growling a bit (and not out of nervousness).

My surgery lasted almost four hours. My surgeon, Dr. Hanna, had to remove some of the #projectfemur hardware, which proved tough as the still-good part of my femur had grown around the titanium rod running down the marrow channel of my femur. I lost a lot of blood during this (“a sign of a healthy bone,” per a doctor friend), but after the hardware came out the installation of new hardware was fairly routine. Best of all, Dr. Hanna didn’t have to dissect any gluteal muscles to get to the surgical site, which meant a quicker recovery was possible. (All credit to pulling off a 45 mile bike ride the day before surgery, as it made my glutes limber enough to be moved without cutting.)

As was the case in 2014, I awoke from anesthesia in a great mood, though I can’t remember this as there is a period of unconscious awake state before actually waking up (thus why you sign a contract stating you’ll make no major life decisions while on anesthetic drugs). I do remember waking up in my room at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, a bit nauseous but otherwise OK.

And my hip felt great!

And my right leg was now back to equal length with my left – woohoo!

The blood loss took its toll on my original plan to go home the next day. When I was sat up to transfer to a chair for PT, I turned white as a sheet, my blood pressure dropped, and I almost fainted. I was very anemic, and it showed. So I ended up getting four units of platelet-rich plasma over the next two days, and it did the trick, getting my hemoglobin numbers moving in the right direction.

My inpatient PT and OT went well once I had the blood, and I was walking with crutches – fully weight bearing on the new hip – two days post-op. I easily passed all of the occupational tests, including climbing and descending stairs, getting onto and off the toilet, into and out of a shower, a car, and bed. The therapists credited my pre-surgical shape for being so capable.

What was really remarkable was the overall lack of pain in my hip. Sure, the muscles were sore – moving them out of the way, while less invasive, is essentially pulling them, so I felt like I’d been kicked in the butt extremely hard – but the pain level was so low that I was off of opioid medication less than 30 hours after surgery. The docs and nurses were pleasantly stunned, as was I – but best to avoid those things, I don’t like the side-effects.

The nurses and techs at Shady Grove were really caring and affable. It took me until Wednesday night (the night before my discharge) before I got a good night’s sleep, but that’s to be expected. On discharge day, the ward doctor said I had one new prescription: Coumadin, an aggressive blood thinner. This was due to the pulmonary embolism risks I had, my history from 2014 being the driver in this decision.

Coumadin is a samurai sword of an anticoagulant: it doesn’t mince words in its treatment, for better and for worse. The latter aspect is what really hit me hard. It meant: limited use of sharp knives (I could bleed a lot without clotting); blade shaving was out of the question (so I’ve grown a scruffy beard, drawing comparisons to Roger Waters‘ current state of upkeep); basically cutting iron-rich, green, leafy vegetables from my diet (they are rich in vitamin K – i.e. the clotting vitamin); and cutting my daily alcohol intake to a single drink. Given I live in a mostly vegetarian household, gutting green veg from my diet has been really limiting on what I can eat. And given I’m recovering from blood loss, I crave iron-rich things – and the vitamin K veg have the most easily metabolized iron of all foods!

But it was worse than that. I happen to suffer from a rare side-effect to Coumadin and warfarin: I get hypersensitive teeth, to the point where anything not pH neutral and/or room temperature causes my entire jaw to engulf itself in waves of pain. I cut my daily dose from 5mg to 4mg to make things less intense, but it only did so much.

I wanted to be on Xarelto, which was my anticoagulant after the PEs in 2014. It worked great, with no major side-effects, no dietary restrictions, etc. But my doctors insisted on Coumadin as it wouldn’t interfere with platelet production – a reasonable concern.

So I went home and since then, it’s been awesome (save for the Coumadin side-effects). I’m ambulatory, walking a lot, doing household things. I’m doing in-home PT with a great therapist from MedStar’s Visiting Nurse Association, and I’ve quickly graduated from crutches to a cane, and now only use the cane for longer-distance walking - I can walk unassisted and without a limp!

The nurses from MedStar VNA have taken blood samples, confirming my hemoglobin and hematocrit numbers are recovering nicely – so well that my primary care doctor switched me from Coumadin to Xarelto today! I’m already feeling my mouth returning to normal, which is a big relief!

I see Dr. Hanna on Wednesday to have my surgical staples removed, get some X-rays, and discuss PT and post-op consultations moving forward. I’ll still be in hip precaution territory for a while (to prevent dislocating my new titanium, ceramic, and polymer joint), but it should be a fairly smooth, linear trajectory back to normal life by mid-summer.

Thank you to Drs. Hanna, Olsen, Baxi, and Hofmann in helping drive this crazy ship called me through surgery and recovery. Thanks to all the nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists who helped me take the first steps on my new hip. Thanks to my friends for being there to cheer me up and keep me company. Thanks to my mom and dad for reaching out to care from afar. And special thanks and love to sprite for being there for me, helping me through rough patches, and keeping me grounded when I needed it.

In summary: the new hip is great, I can walk, I see a bright, pain-free future ahead. Yes, there’s work to be done, but I’m good for it - allons y!

#hip2point0 – here we go!

Just checked in at the hospital. Old #projectfemur hardware is coming out, #hip2point0 hardware is going in.

I’m at ease with this. It is time. Yes, it’ll be a lot of hard work coming back to full strength, but I’m ready for the challenge.

Game on! See you after surgery…

Nats Park panorama, 28 April 2017

six days left to go…

In six days, the new hip arrives – I can’t wait!

I have the clearance from my primary care doctor – my body is ready for new hip hardware. I have the surgical orders from my orthopedic surgeon – he’s ready to remove the last vestiges of #projectfemur hardware and put in shiny, new things. I had a nice call today with the admit nurse at the hospital – the hospital is ready to take me on as a patient.

But I’m not sitting idly by waiting for surgery day – I’m keeping busy!

My first Nationals Game of the season happened last Friday. The weather was perfect, and the Mets defeated the Nats (making sprite and me happy).

sprite and I went to the beach where I dipped my toes in the surf and received a wonderful natural exfoliation thanks to a wee bit of wind. We stopped at farm stands, ate fresh flounder sandwiches, tried out a new-to-us donut shop, and enjoyed Reese’s peanut butter Blizzards from DQ.

I’ve been cleaning The Burrow to make it more accessible in my post-surgical state. I’ve assembled a fairly large clothing donation for charity in the process (“I’m not half the man I used to be,” as McCartney once mused).

I just had my final pre-op dry needle and PT session – hip feels really great after that!

I’ll go on a few more bike rides with friends, to another baseball game (weather permitting), a meeting of the Pennsylvania Alpine Racing Association, and a few coffee and meal outings.

And Sunday I will eat like it’s going out of style – gotta for 12 hours prior to surgery, so I’m going to enjoy some of my favorite flavors in anticipation.

Like I said: I can’t wait for my new hip!

Calendar page

only four weeks from today (doo-wah!)…

Four weeks from today, around this time, I should be taking my first step.

On my new hip, that is.

Yup: mark May 8th on your calendar, as that’s the day I get #projectfemur a major upgrade. It’ll come in the form of surgical steel, titanium, industrial-grade ceramics, polymers, and cement.

It’s a monumental day, to be sure. On May 8th, 1429, Joan of Arc lifted the Siege of Orléans, turning the tide of the Hundred Years War. On the same date in 1861, Richmond, Virginia, was named the capital of the Confederate States of America. In 1886, the first Coca-Cola was sold by a pharmacist named John Pemberton as a medicinal tonic.

On May 8th, 1912, Paramount Pictures was founded.  On May 8th, 1945, V-E Day was declared, ending military actions in the European Theatre of World War II. In 1978, May 8th saw the first successful summiting of Mt. Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen.

Many famous people were born on May 8th: Oscar Hammerstein I, Harry S. Truman, Robert Johnson (king of the blues), Saul Bass, David Attenborough, Don Rickles, Toni Tenille, Melissa Gilbert, and Evgeny Lebedev – to name more than a few.

On the flip side, many famous people died on May 8th: two Popes, Gustave Flaubert, Harry Selfridge, Avery Brundage, Rudolf Serkin, and Dana Plato, again to name more than a few.

It’s the earliest day on which Mother’s Day can fall in the U.S. It’s Furry Dance Day in Helston, England.

And it’s the day of the arrival of my new hip.

So until then, I count down the days.

Hains Point blossoms

errandonnee 2017: I slack my way to… yeah

Here’s a brief write-up of my 2017 Errandonnee. I admit, I did it, but I didn’t really feel it.

Y’see, my hip – the old #projectfemur – is in a sad state. I’m now four weeks away from total hip replacement, and I can’t wait for that to happen. Until then, I’m dealing with a constant pain, mobility impingement, and cycling that is, frankly, not comfortable and thus not a lot of fun.

But I persevered and managed my errands. Here’s the quick recap:

Personal Care: I rode to a physical therapy appointment on March 21st, and to an appointment with my orthopedist on March 22nd.

Personal Business: I rode CaBi to go pay a dental bill on March 22nd.

You Carried WHAT?!?: Coming out of my orthopedist appointment on March 29th, I carried my surgical order on the bike. Yes, it’s a piece of paper, but it’s a mission criticial piece of paper for my hip replacement!

Arts & Entertainment: sprite and I rode CaBi to see the Hains Point cherry blossoms on March 25th.

Non-Store Errand: On March 26th, sprite and I went to the Shaw library to return some books and DVDs (see link under “Coffee”). And on March 30th, I visited our garden plot at West End Community Garden on the way back from a “work” ride (see link under “Work/Volunteer/School”).

Social Call: I rode for coffee on two days: to #fridaycoffeeclub on March 24th, and to The Coffee Bar with sprite on March 26th

Work/Volunteer/School: On the same day I paid the dentist (March 22nd), I also had lunch with a Liberty Mountain Race Team parent, Jawad B., at his awesome City Place Café. We discussed a lot of ski racing business, so that’s work. My second work errand was a ride and lunch on March 30th with Vic S., a parent of two of my Liberty Mountain Race Team athletes. We discussed ski racing, which is part of my work, so… it counts!

Store: On the same ride when I visited my orthopedist, I stopped by District Cycle Works to say hi to the gang and check out the cool stuff they had in the shop.

Wild Card: I made a “missed opportunity” ride up to La Madeleine in Silver Spring on March 21st to meet up with a friend. Due to foggy brain, I was a day early. But the coffee and the ride were nice.

TOTAL ERRANDS & MILES: 13 errands over 76 miles

Sunset reflection

holiday traditions: family means something different to me

Something has been gnawing at me this holiday season. I just don’t feel very celebratory. I know there are many factors contributing to this, including my employment situation and the outcome of the election.

But over the past few days, I’ve put a lot of thought into why things don’t completely add up at this time of year. And during the drive up to Connecticut, I discussed my dilemma with sprite, and I figured out a big part of why Christmas simply hasn’t felt right for the past many, many years: It’s because my own holiday traditions haven’t been part of the season for far too long.

Growing up in a small family with a variety of traditions meant that there wasn’t the typical family get-together on the 24th or 25th of December. We celebrated St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6th (a nod to my dad’s heritage) and did a gift exchange and celebration on Three Kings’ Day (i.e. Russian Orthodox Christmas, a nod to my mom’s heritage) on January 6th. We did celebrate on the 25th as well, typically putting up our tree on the 24th (when you buy from a tree lot and you want the tree to last until January 6th, you wait until the last minute to keep the needles intact). There were presents on Christmas Day, and my grandmother would often come over, but it wasn’t a big “focus” day for the season.

Once I was a teenager, the thing I did more often than not was go skiing on Christmas morning. Let’s face it: if it snowed on Christmas Eve, the powder in the Wasatch was one of the best presents you could get for Christmas, and the the local resorts were seldom crowded.

But the big thing that did happen on December 25th was having our family of friends over for a celebratory holiday dinner. My parents both being immigrants, the extended family was made up of fellow immigrant expats. You heard the accents from Slavic languages, German, Dutch, Danish, and French. There were a few kids my age, as well, and we kept ourselves occupied while my parents and their friends wined and dined. The food was great. The company was friendly and jovial.

Since my parents’ divorce and my move to the east coast over 20 years ago, this tradition fell by the wayside. My mom doesn’t get together with her expat friends as much these days, due to the combined effects of age and growing apart from some of the group (who now travel to where their kids – my peers – have gone). My dad now lives on the west coast and celebrates a low-key, stay-at-home Christmas with his partner. And I celebrate with sprite’s family in New England.

And while I love the New England gathering and celebration – sprite’s family has welcomed me into the fold, parts of it are quite enjoyable, and I’m grateful to be part of their tradition - it’s not quite the same. Their Christmas is not the one I grew up with, that is mine. There’s a hole in my holidays that needs to be filled.

I see my close friends as my extended family, much as my parents saw their expat friends in a similar light, and I miss having a holiday gathering like I had growing up. We have a tree trimming party each December, but it’s more of an open house style party: great for seeing a big group of friends, but not really the same thing as before. I’m always milling about, serving food and drink, and it’s a tradition for sprite and me, but it doesn’t quite fill in the missing piece of the puzzle.

I see an inkling of what I’d like in the relatively new trend toward “Friendsgiving,” where friends gather to celebrate the harvest shortly before the more typical Thanksgiving family gathering. This idea clicks with me because, to be frank, my friends are as much family as anybody. This hearkens back to the Christmas celebrations of my youth and makes perfect sense.

So perhaps this holiday season I will try to rekindle a long dormant family tradition. I realize it can’t happen on the 25th, as my friends are scattered about the country for their family celebrations. So perhaps sometime around Three Kings’ Day a gathering can occur. Or maybe it’ll be just a mid-winter gathering to start out, given time constraints and the fact that TKD falls on a Friday this year and I have to be up for ski coaching work early the next morning.

I guess what I’ve realized is that traditions matter, if only for a sense of personal place and purpose. And while some can and should pass on, some deserve to be held near and dear. I know you can’t go back to what was, but bringing part of that back to the fore may be the necessary re-centering I need around the year-end holidays.

From me to you: happy holidays.

(Special thanks to Nick C. for some editorial advice – cheers!)

Frosty the Snowman

virtual advent: the alternate holiday tv specials and movies

Yes, we all know the holiday TV specials that have become canon. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and The Year Without a Santa Claus are all December television viewing for kids from 2 to… well, their 60s, given the fond memories many have of their favorites.

Holiday movies are also a tried-and-true sign of Christmas here in The Burrow. From White Christmas to Love Actually, The Bishop’s Wife to The Polar Express, the old standbys are always good viewing – or good background noise while writing Christmas/ Hanukkah/Festivus cards.

As sprite well knows, I tend toward parody and the obscure. So with that in mind, here are some of my favorite parodies of classic TV Christmas and holiday programs, and a few of my favorite… warped TV special faves.

A Charlie Brown Christmas – alternate ending

Aired on Saturday Night Live back on December 14, 2002, this alternate ending to the 1965 animated holiday TV classic finds the Peanuts gang harnessing the magical powers of waving their hands in the air (i.e. the action that the animators used to depict the gang de-decorating Snoopy’s doghouse and transforming the twig-tree into a masterpiece). “We have magical powers!”

Some cool things about this “TV Funhouse” animated short: Louis CK was one of its co-writers; Brad Pitt voiced himself; and it was dedicated with full love and respect to Charles Schultz, Lee Mendelson, Bill Melendez, and Vince Guaraldi.

The Narrator That Ruined Christmas

Another SNL “TV Funhouse” animated short, this aired on December 15, 2001, when New York City and the country were still a bit raw from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Leave it to Robert Smigel and his writers and animators to take Sam the Snowman (from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and make him find the entire annual recitation of the classic story a bit pointless in the shadow of the recent attacks. So after going on a drunken depressed bender (while kids watching from home on the TV watch in bewilderment), Sam takes the kids, Rudolph, and Hermey to the World Trade Center site. Santa needs to intervene, and eventually leads the assembled crowd in a healing, unifying sing-along.

I tip my hat to the animators of this short for really capturing the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation style.

Christmastime for the Jews

Yet another SNL “TV Funhouse” short, and another nod to Rankin/Bass Animagic® style, this one features the one-and-only Darlene Love (of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” fame who performed said song on David Letterman’s late-night shows for 28 consecutive years) belting out a Christmas ode to those of the Jewish faith, and their unique (albeit extremely stereotypical) customs of December 25th.

This new classic first aired on December 17, 2005.

Community: “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

Community loved to film parodies that were loving nods to their influences. In 2010, their Christmas episode was a stop-motion special in the Rankin/Bass style.

The whole episode is available on Netflix, for those who wish to see it in its crazy entirety.

Doctor Who Holiday Shorts

While new series of Doctor Who traditionally debut at Chrismastime, the famous time traveler often performs other holiday feats. The Doctor often features in short subjects for Comic Relief or Children in Need, two excellent British charities. Here are a few classics that featured over the years:

Doctor Who and the Case of the Fatal Death (Comic Relief 1993):

This short from 1993 features Rowan Atkinson as The Doctor, Jonathan Pryce as The Master, and many others as… The Doctor. Luckily, this didn’t burn through any official regenerations. (And no, this technically didn’t air over Christmas, but it fits with the BBC’s tendency to parody Doctor Who during their various charity drives – which leads us to…)

The Doctor meets Newt Scamander (Children in Need 2016):

One of the big end-of-year blockbusters this season is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a Harry Potter prequel, of sorts. Eddie Redmayne plays the lead character, Newt Scamander, and after filming one scene, he calls the BBC on the hunt for the “Children in Need” campaign, Pudsey Bear.

Sure, The Doctor doesn’t appear until well into this (at the 2:02 mark for those playing at home), but the whole thing is a great tribute to BBC stars with some excellent comedic timing.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Who introduced Pia Zadora to the filmgoing public? Santy Claus, of course:

This is an awful B-grade film, a crude attempt at mashing up sci-fi and Christmas movies. It routinely makes “Worst Film of All Time” lists – for good reason. But the best way to enjoy it is with the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crew providing rolling commentary, their wit first hitting the airwaves on December 21, 1991. Seriously, it’s the only way to make the movie palatable.

But I’ve saved the worst for last…

The Star Wars Holiday Special

This is possibly the worst holiday TV special ever made – honestly, it’s terrible (I think sprite sat through it once, and possibly not through the whole thing). But hey: Star Wars was a hot commodity in 1978, so it made perfect sense for Lucas and company to cash in on things. After all, the cast was all signed on to film The Empire Strikes Back, and music-variety shows still had some clout on network television, so have a look. I encourage you to scan around, because it’s a really rough 96 minutes.

Yeah, it is that bad. After the opening credits, there is a nearly nine minute stretch with nothing but wookie grunts. The plot drags. The all-star cameos read like a who’s who of 1970s panel game shows. The Jefferson Starship performance is odd. The Diahann Carroll bit is soft-core porn, for all intents and purposes. And Carrie Fisher is very obviously on some… chemical enhancement as she warbles the atrocious “Life Day” song.

Sir Alec Guinness dodged a serious career tarnishing bullet by sitting this one out.

But hey: it is the show that introduced Boba Fett to the Star Wars universe, so there’s a plus. And yes, I have this on DVD from a less cleaned-up copy than this stream. The vintage TV commercials are often (always?) more entertaining than the show. For what it’s worth, this show aired exactly once, on November 17, 1978. Lucas was so embarrassed by the end product that he ordered it permanently removed from circulation, and for a very long time his company worked tirelessly to remove all copies from online distribution (though that stance seems to have loosened since Lucasfilm was sold to Walt Disney).

What holiday specials, parodies, and movies are on your must-see list every year? Talk about it in the comments!

This post is part of spritewrites’ Virtual Advent Tour.

Virtual Advent Tour 2016

Lennon's bloody glasses

what would john lennon think?

Thirty six years ago today, John Lennon became, as Jimmy Breslin wrote on deadline for the New York Post, “another person who died after being shot with a gun on the streets of New York.”

And I wonder: what would John Lennon think about the recent turn of political events here in the United States? Certainly he would think of Trump as a charlatan, a fraud, a madman bent on marginalizing and trouncing his enemies, all while distorting (or flat-out ignoring) the facts to his own benefit.

So while I want to believe the optimism of “Give Peace a Chance,” “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” or “Imagine,” I think that one of John’s more venomous songs, “Gimme Some Truth,” is the right choice for this time. It was written during the throes of Nixon, Whitehouse, Vietnam, and the Cold War, and has one simple demand: the truth.

As is customary, Yoko Ono tries to turn the anniversary of her loved one’s murder into a call for peace – in this case, for better gun control.

R.I.P. John Lennon (1940-1980)

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