As far as celebrations go, my New Year’s has been pretty low key for the last few years. It could be that I’m disappointed that I’ll be returning to work in a couple of days. Or it might be that I’m devastated that the next Christmas is now another 12 months away.

A typical New Year’s involves watching television celebrations and having a little something to drink. (And staying up later than I usually would.) I really should work on a standard drink for the occasion and, at this moment, I think it might be a martini occasion. Shaken, not stirred. 

I’ll want to put the dark liquor away for the night. Bourbon wouldn’t necessarily have the feel I’m going for. New Years’s just doesn’t seem as cozy as Christmas or Thanksgiving. If nothing else, champagne sometimes comes along later in the evening.

For me, New Year’s is essential because of the resolutions. But, to be honest, before the last couple of years, I didn’t make them. But the last few years have broken down like this:

  • 2016 – Do more with less.
  • 2017 – Do it now.
  • 2018 – Do more with less & do it, now.

In 2019, I didn’t really have a resolution. That may be because it was the same as the year before. These two resolutions sum up what my aim has been over the last few years.

Regarding “Do more with less,” I was attempting to expend less effort in my writing—all aspects of it, including social media. My goal was to focus on quality over quantity. That speaks for itself in terms of doing more with less, I think. And, arguably, it might take a couple of years to figure out how to do just that.

The “Do it now” mantra was adopted, so cleaning the house and performing other routine housework might be executed in a state of what some refer to as microflow. Rather than putting tasks off, I wanted to complete them more efficiently. The goal was to stop procrastinating or hesitating. This wasn’t so much a problem with writing, but it has helped in other areas of my life.

The combination was simply a decision to put the two together and concentrate on them further. It may not capture everything I mean, but I could simplify my 2018 & 2019 resolution this way:

  • 2020 – Be decisive and efficient.

2020 was an efficient year in which I took decisive action. I focused on quality by rewriting some old work and taking a break from adult fiction to produce a children’s book series and three short films. The decision to jump back into film was decisive, to say the least. And it doesn’t get much more efficient than the first draft of a Christmas novel in two months.

So, 2021? It’s time for something different.

  • 2021 – Get moving.

COVID-19 significantly altered 2020. Everyone knows this, and whereas I performed a workout routine of some kind weekly this year, I was sedentary between workouts. So, my goal is more walks, bike rides, and more focus on my health, in general. This may mean that I start listening to more podcasts and audiobooks, which won’t be a bad thing. 

Admittedly, it’s a pretty basic resolution, but the last few years have required radical action. In short, this will be the year to try and counteract the effects of so much desk work while developing more healthy habits and routines.

photo: Wojtek Witkowski

Christmas in July seems to have experienced a bit of an uptick as a commercial gimmick in the past few years and has become a stalwart of the Hallmark Channel for at least that many. But it’s not a new idea. There’s a 1940 film with the title Christmas in July. It may only be referring to unexpected prize money, but the concept is there. We’re talking about a windfall outside of the holiday season.

That being said, I’m just now starting to take Christmas in July seriously. According to my wife, the reason is our daughter. She was born in April, and I couldn’t wait to celebrate Christmas with her, so I started a few months early. It must’ve been subconscious because I don’t recall making that decision, but it makes sense. I never thought twice about Christmas in July before she was born.

Therefore, I hope it’s obvious that my celebration is not centered on conning folks into giving me presents. Not at all. The first thing I did was try to find out where I could get my hands on some eggnog—in the middle of the summer. As it turns out, it’s available by the box from Amazon. But my wife offered to make me some, which was even better. Because if I hadn’t found eggnog, there wouldn’t have been any point to a second Christmas in July.

The Beach Boys have a Christmas album. Jimmy Buffett has two. There is a plethora of reggae Christmas selections on Spotify. I think it just makes sense not to overlook the fact that it’s 90 degrees outside. So, I’ve chosen to embrace it.

Given the tropical theme of my Christmas in July, a red Hawaiian shirt or two makes for appropriate attire. However, I’ve not started going all out on decorations. A few strategically-placed strings of lights are fine. We have a fake miniature Christmas tree that I set up in the corner. (We have a real tree for December, but the mini-tree is a holdover from our apartment days and works well for the summer.)

I should probably speak more in-depth about gifts. I said Christmas in July wasn’t about that. And, in all honesty, I don’t do much in the way of presents for this pseudo-holiday. But I do think it’s okay to get myself one thing… or maybe a couple of things. It’s also okay to get someone else something too if that’s what you’re into.

This past year was my first official Christmas in July, so I’m no expert, but I recommend homemade eggnog if you can get it. Also, I would say that gingersnap smores are a pretty good bet. (Give mint chocolate a try when you toast your marshmallows over the campfire.) Make peppermint milkshakes or mint chocolate chip on really humid nights. Also, drink chocolate milk instead of cocoa. You can do that all month long.

But we made the smores with my family on July Eve, which happened to fall on the 24th this year. By the way, I’ve decided against using July 25th as a strict date for Christmas in July day. I’m going the route of those Halloween-enthusiasts who want their holiday to be the last Saturday of each October. 

* * *

July is an excellent time to check out some of the Christmas movies you didn’t watch the previous Christmas or to watch your favorites again. I watch a bit of Elf and Home Alone, which is my favorite Christmas movie. However, I also hunted down this 1970 film adaptation of A Christmas Carol titled “Scrooge.” Alec Guinness was Jacob Marley’s ghost, which was a treat.

This year, my wife started a Christmas-related project. She made stockings that we’ll use for Christmas and next Christmas in July. (We just have lights on the mantel this year.) I recommend putting an orange in your stocking for Christmas in July. I typically received a single orange in my stocking when I was growing up, and it just makes sense for summer.

When it comes down to it, Christmas in July is all about anticipation of the season, so if you feel the need to drag out all of your decorations to make sure the lights are all working, then go for it. This is practice for the real thing. But be careful, one day, you may have people driving past your house in the middle of a heatwave because of a summer wonderland you have on display. If that sounds like my five-year plan for Christmas in July, it’s because it is.

photo: Lynda Hinton

I sometimes wonder if there will be a point in my life where wine becomes more important to me than beer, but I’m not there yet. And I think there will always be a place for a beer after a long week of work.

Unfortunately for me, most beers are out of my reach due to a gluten allergy. So, gluten-free beers and ciders are my mainstays. However, I can also drink rice beers. And of those, Sapporo is my favorite. I’m just lucky that this Japanese beer with the gold star on the bottle was one of my favorites before I learned of my gluten allergy.

It could be seen as depressing to have such a limited beer palate. And there are certainly times when I wish I could try the latest beer on tap at my local brewery. But I think–and I may just be making the best of a bad situation–it’s not so bad to have one goto brew.

I don’t drink frequently, and when I do drink, it’s rarely more than one or two 12 oz. bottles, so I don’t necessarily need variety. What I need is consistency. I want a beer that’s going to be tasty every time.

Drinking a beer has become, at times, ritualistic for me. I was drinking a big can of Sapporo every Sunday night while watching Parts Unknown up until Bourdain’s untimely death. (I recently gained access to several seasons of No Reservations, so maybe I need to bring this ritual back.)

Drinking the beer and watching that show was the way I prepared for the next week. But sometimes I’ll drink a beer just to relax. I’ll reward myself with one after surmounting some bureaucratic BS at work. Or just because I can.

Beer doesn’t need to be overdone in my book. It can be pursued lightly. That’s probably the best way. Unless, of course, you’re into dark beers.

photo: Christin Hume

My family and I tend to have a pretty minimal Christmas. At least, in regards to decorations. This may misrepresent how important the holiday is for me. But this importance only sprang up a few years ago.

I’m not sure if age brings about a desire for tradition or if it was one singular event that spurred a change in me. But I do recall a particular Christmas that seemed to come and go a little too quickly. Before I realized it, I was back at work after New Year’s. This seemed to spin me around from a bit of a Scrooge to more of a Clark Griswald.

Because the very next Christmas, I decided to create some traditions of my own so I could mark the holiday. Some of them included: listening to holiday music and putting out decorations the Sunday after Thanksgiving, watching select Christmas movies throughout the month of December (just to amp up that good ol’ Christmas feeling), and listening to David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries” on Christmas morning. Now that I’m a father, even more traditions are in the works.

I may have made it sound like I’m now decorating my home like Clark in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Maybe that’s coming but right now we just have a box with a few Christmas decorations (However, this year I bought some lights for the TV stand and outside so we may need a bigger box soon.) We also have a box for our miniature tree. There are plans to remedy the fake tree, but it wasn’t until this past Christmas that we realized real miniatures might be available. And we’ve already decided to have a full-size tree once we move out of our apartment.

We keep our wrapping paper in an “under bed storage system.” (That’s the language they use in the product description. I guess they’re right. It’s not a box exactly because it zips up. So, it’s a storage system that goes under the bed. But we don’t keep ours under the bed.) It’s standing in a closet for easy access because we use it for birthday wrapping paper and other miscellaneous gift bags as well.

As you can tell, keeping decorations and all Christmas paraphernalia organized and to a minimum is still pretty important to me. Christmas music, Christmas cookies, Christmas cocoa, and Christmas presents are much more critical. However, I am looking for a good Christmas sweater. If I can find the right one, I wouldn’t mind adding the tradition of wearing one every Christmas day.

photo: Caleb Woods

I sometimes prefer to read a physical book over the digital version on an e-reader. But sometimes I don’t and I’m just fine with an ebook. So, the question I’ve had recently is whether or not a collection of physical books is necessary.

At present, I have a collection of works by Michael Crichton, Anthony Bourdain, Haruki Murakami, and a few by Aldous Huxley. I also have a smattering of books by other authors. But I tend to return those others to my local bookstore for store credit.

Earlier this year, I had my heart set on an Everyman’s Library set for display on my bookcase. For the most part, this collection would have included books I’ve read and want to read again. But there were also several others I was planning to read.

At this point, it’s hard for me to foresee what I’m going to want. It might be made more apparent when I land in a home… with a library. Either way, I know I’ll continue to want some books in my office in the future. But how many?

Some people say that there can never be too many books. But I want a curated collection.

Most recently, I’ve tended to read nonfiction on e-readers and fiction in print, but that appears to be shifting (especially since you can get library books on an e-reader). I prefer the hardcover version of a work if I’m going that way, but my concern is that in the next twenty years, this could become even too old-fashioned for me.

For the time being, the library is on hold. But that doesn’t mean books aren’t essential. I will continue reading the classics while sitting in the leather chair in my office–sipping whiskey or coffee or not sipping anything at all–no matter the format of the book.

photo: Iñaki del Olmo

Thanksgiving is a great warm-up for Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in giving thanks. It’s just that Thanksgiving sort of feels like preparation for the main event. Fall is in swing, winter is coming, and there’s pumpkin pie.

In an effort to maximize this holiday the way I have tried to do with Christmas, I’ve made the following itinerary:

  • Wednesday: I’ll spend this day taking long walks through the neighborhood, drinking warm coffee (Irish coffee?), and relaxing with a good book. Then, in the evening, I’ll watch a Thanksgiving movie. There are surprisingly few, but Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a good one. So is Home for the Holidays.
  • Thursday (AM): I’ll wake up late, eat a light breakfast, and listen to The Big Chill soundtrack. That’s technically a Thanksgiving movie; the Thanksgiving dinner scene was just cut. The edit took Kevin Costner out of the picture. But Jeff Goldblum is in the whole thing.
  • Thursday (PM): Thursday afternoon is reserved for feasting. But I’ll be watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with my infant daughter later that evening. And in that way start one of our many traditions. If I’m not too stuffed, I might have a whiskey on the rocks or an Old Fashioned for a nightcap.
  • Friday: This day will pretty much be a repeat of Thursday except less turkey and Charlie Brown. We usually have pasta the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition. If I can, I’ll watch a few episodes of my favorite TV show. For the most part, I’ll do absolutely nothing.
  • Saturday: Turkey sandwiches and a day that looks a lot like Wednesday except that it might be time for a Christmas movie. If not this evening, then definitely the next. Saturday might involve a little exercise. Let’s face it: I will have overeaten.
  • Sunday: And now it’s time to decorate the apartment for Christmas. Christmas music will be playing. And I’ll be wearing that Christmas sweater I’ve been wanted for a while now. (Although it could be 70 degrees outside, so maybe not.) Sunday will be spent giving thanks for the last three days.

If you can’t tell, I’m a planner, but I’m also willing to throw out my plans if something better comes along. However, Charlie Brown with my little girl is non-negotiable. And she’ll be having her first bite of turkey.

photo: Element5 Digital

I’ve been driving a vehicle with a manual transmission for more than a decade. Having said that, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t know what that is. These days they’re increasingly rare. Put simply: Most cars are considered “automatic” because they change gears… well, automatically. And a manual transmission requires that the gears are shifted manually by the driver.

If you didn’t already know this, then it may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. To be honest, I don’t know a great deal more about cars than how to check the oil or change a tire. And I can still drive a stick.

Speaking of the gear stick, that’s what makes driving a manual so fun. It puts you in tune with the car (no pun intended). You learn to hear or, better yet, feel when it’s time to shift gears. This can be especially exhilarating amidst rapid acceleration and/ or on curvy mountain roads.

However, there is a problem with loving manuals. I purchased my last sedan in 2016, and the vehicle was in a lot with other cars that had been marked down. I’m not entirely sure, but it could be that these cars are no longer considered hot commodities. They might be going out of style, but that’s a shame, in my opinion.

I’m a fan of classic cars, and, typically, they must have a manual transmission. But, in the future, this feature will be obsolete if for no other reason than cars will be self-driving. So, it would seem that being increasingly separated from our mode of transport is an inevitability.

I realize it may be safer, but the future puts a kink in my plan to one day own a sports car with a manual speed transmission. Fortunately, I’m not a complete Luddite, so losing the gear stick won’t be downright devastating. I can look forward to whatever comes next… like quadcopters.

photo: Alok Sharma

I’m not sure why but a good deal of the music I enjoy was written and performed in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I’ve heard it said that people are most nostalgic for the period right before they were born, so that explains it, right?

I’m not sure, but I enjoy Bowie, Young, the Stones, and various other acts that were active around the same time. The music during this period just strikes me as a little more authentic, for some reason.

Don’t get me wrong. There are musicians that I enjoy that were making music outside of that time. Luna comes to mind. And Radiohead. That might sound cliché, but they are responsible for my favorite album, Amnesiac.

I’ve read that Dante’s Inferno inspired it. I can see the connection and further believe that that album is the sole reason I want to own a record player.

I don’t yet, but I have a dream in which I’m sitting in my office chair working while the turntable is playing. Or I’m just sitting in my leather chair with my arms crossed. I’m deep in thought or otherwise engaged in the intense visuals Thom Yorke’s vocals provide.

If I’m perfectly honest, I’m a little on the fence about LPs. Are we past them? Is it just another manual transmission-like hold out? (I drive a stick.) I’m not really sure. But I have thought about just investing in an Apple HomePod.

Maybe there’s an in-between. A record player that is connected via bluetooth to a really good speaker? I don’t have to have a console. Perhaps this is a way I can merge the past and the present.

Either way, having a small record collection is an appealing notion. And, in the end, the experience of playing a record is going to be much more nostalgic than clicking on any mp3.

photo: Jack Hamilton