Saturday, December 25, 2010

Last Minute Christmas Shopping

One of my brothers-in-law used to be famous for doing all his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve - usually just before the stores closed.
One year, he was running particularly late and decided that shopping at a bookstore would be the most efficient use of his time. Lots of choices. One-stop shopping. Good idea.

He zipped up and down the aisles and before long he had gifts for everyone, except his dad. My late father-in-law was a dear, quiet, serious man - and hard to buy for. He was a mathematics professor. Didn't have much of a sense of humor. Few hobbies. Devout religious man.

As the store was closing, my brother-in-law was starting to panic. He couldn't show up Christmas morning without a present for Dad. Just then, he spied a book of poetry on a sale table and thought, "that'll be perfect!" Satisfied that he had, once again, managed to pull off a brilliant, last minute shopping spree, he headed to the register.

The next morning, as everyone was exchanging and opening presents, my brother-in-law was watching the expressions on people's faces as they opened his gifts. By all accounts, he had done a good job.

Off to the side, my father-in-law was carefully leafing through his book of poetry. When my brother-in-law asked him what he thought, Dad handed the book to him and said, "You didn't read any of these before you bought the book, did you?"

My brother-in-law smiled weakly, opened the book and started to read. It turned out that the "poetry book" was, in fact, a collection of dirty limericks. When that dawned on him, the look on his face was priceless.
I'm sure my brother-in-law wishes he'd never bought that book, or at least never given it to Dad. But I've always thought of it as the gift that keeps on giving - because every time I think about it or one of us tells that story, it makes me laugh.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Praise of My Neti Pot

Yesterday, I started getting a sore throat and stuffy nose. And right away, I got out my Neti Pot and rinsed my sinuses. This might sound strange to you if you've never heard of it before. I'll admit that I was skeptical when I first was told about it. But I have never found anything that is as effective at stopping a cold in its tracks or, if I have one already, shortening its duration.

Believe me, as a veteran of chronic bronchitis and sinus infections, I've tried many things over the years including massive does of vitamin C, homeopathic remedies and a whole range of over the counter medicines. Over all of them, the Neti Pot rules.

To use it, I simply fill the pot with warm water and a pinch of sea salt. The video below shows the rinsing technique. It does take a little practice, but you'll quickly get the hang of it.

If you try this, be sure to use it at the first, slightest sign of a cold. If you wait until you are so congested that you can't breathe through your nose, the pot won't help. If you can't breathe through your nose, it's because inflammation has closed off your nasal passages. The warm saline can't get into your sinuses once things have gone that far.

However, once the swelling goes down and the cold starts to break up, rinsing once or twice a day will help speed your recovery. The rinsing will clear your sinuses and nasal passages, getting rid of the excess mucus and viral "debris" accumulated there.

Friends of mine who have nasal allergies swear by their Neti Pots, too. Regular rinsing flushes pollen and other irritants out of their sinuses and reduces their discomfort.

So ask Santa for a Neti Pot and enjoy a happy, healthy winter. Ho Ho Ho!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Great Figgy Pudding Street Corner Caroling Contest

Last night was the 24th Annual "Figgy Friday" caroling competition held on streets and street corners in downtown Seattle. This event is a fun and festive holiday tradition. It is also a significant fund raiser for the Pike Market Senior Center and the Downtown Food Bank.

I was there, on the corner of 5th and Pine, singing with a group that is now the Olio Glee Club. Because I was performing, I couldn't walk around and take photos, so I asked my friend, Gordon Hjelm, if he would take my camera and get a few shots. He did a wonderful job and all the images you see in this post (except the Macy's star at left) are his. Thank you, Gordon!

We had a total of 35 caroling teams competing along four blocks of Pine St. from 3rd to 7th Avenues. The area was closed to motor traffic during the competition so people could stroll along the street and see the various teams perform. The weather was good - no rain or snow - and everyone, performers and audience alike, seemed to be having a good time.

A panel of 14 judges selected the winners in the Best Choral Team and Most Creative Team categories. Members of the audience got to weigh in, too, and vote for their favorites for the People's Choice award. There were also "Figlanthropy" awards for the teams that raised the most money.

Money was raised in various ways. Some singers made personal donations. Some of us found sponsors. At least a half dozen companies sponsored the event. And there were "busker" boxes next to each team during the event where people could drop donations. 

I went the sponsorship route and want to say a big THANK YOU to my friends who made donations. Altogether, those checks added up to $170. Outstanding! And much appreciated.

The big winners in the Figlanthropy category, were the Starbucks Coffee Carolers (shown above). Between donations collected by barristas in coffee stores around the area and Starbucks matching dollars, they raised over $31,000! Second place winners were the Phinney Neighborhood Community Chorus. In third place, the Hoppy Holiday, Merry Malty Beer Carolers.

Here's the Malty Beer Carolers, from Pike Place Brewing Company, entertaining the crowd. They also came in second in the People's Choice category. The People's Choice winners were The Beaconettes, whom I wrote about earlier in my Glee! post. In that post, you'll also find a YouTube clip from one of The Beaconettes' past performances.

Here's my team.
And here is where I get to find out that having your picture taken when you are singing is almost as bad as having it taken when you are eating. (That's me, second from right.)

So what did the judges think of all this? The winner for Best Choral Team was Mount Vernon High School. Second place went to Bellevue Christian School. The winners of the award for Most Creative Team went to the Carol Brunettes (shown above). Second place went to the Phinney Neighborhood Community Chorus.

I leave you with this view from Westlake Plaza, at 4th and Pine, across from the Figgy stage. It is a magical scene with the Macy's star shining and children (of all ages) riding the Christmas Carousel.

We had a lot of fun last night and, in the process, helped a lot of people in need - a winning combination all around. Want to join the fun? Plan on coming out next year for the 25th Annual Great Figgy Pudding Street Corner Caroling Competition.