Archive » December 2020 » Columns

You may not know this about me, but years ago I was diagnosed with a sleep disorder and was prescribed sleep equipment. Sound familiar? In talking to a few of the Old Men of the Mountain, I learned a good night’s sleep is very important as to how you are going to feel the next day.

As the OFs got (and are getting) older, a good night’s sleep is hard to find. (Aches and pains, dreams, night sweats, seem to keep us awake).

The topic of sleep not only came up in a couple of phone calls, but this time it was on naps and the night’s sleep put together. Naps, when the OFs were younger, were something taken when on vacation, and a nap would be snuck in here and there.

As the YFs are now OFs, naps are part of the required daily regime. The scribe has notes on sleep in his little notebook so the OFs must have spoken about this when they were still meeting together.

Sleep must be important or it would not be brought up among the group so often. The term the OFs are looking for is a “good” nap in the afternoon, and as the scribe has written before, a “good” pre-sleep in the evening, and then a restful night’s sleep. That would be great according to the OFs, but unfortunately, does not happen that often.

In the Bible, Acts 2-17 says basically, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God …. your old men shall dream, dreams.” Well, the last days must have started long ago, because old men have been dreaming dreams for quite a while.

About 1800 B.C., Joseph interpreted Egypt’s Pharaoh Necho’s II bad dreams, so that makes the last days coming in from at least 3,800 years, and way before that.

The OFs of 2020 have some whoppers they could lay on you. Dreams go way back to Abraham, and what about dreams of the season like we are in right now with another Joseph, the step-dad to Jesus, and the dreams the Wise Men had that sent them home another way so they wouldn’t have to mess with Herod? All important dreams to the Christmas season.

Some of the OFs claim at times they are afraid to go to sleep because their dreams are so bad. One OF decided to check with his doctor because bad dreams could be caused by a medication the OF was taking.

The scribe, on this conversation way back when, said he wondered what dogs and cats dream, or even what the Neanderthal’s dreamt (those must have been some whoppers) or what do lions, tigers, and bears, Oh my, dream? Elephants, whales, and snakes must have some screwy dreams.

Sleeping was the topic of the day and sleeping seems to be important to the OFs. However, it’s not only the OFs; sleeping is important to all of us. One OF said he was checked for sleep apnea and couldn’t take it since he had to be hooked up to equipment that measures your heart, lung, and brain activity plus blood-oxygen levels, etc.

The OF said he took all that “junk” off and told them he was going home and did. The OF never finished the test.

This scribe was tested for sleep apnea with all the attachments, but the scribe was shown how to put them on and did the test at home. It wasn’t too bad, but it was necessary to pay attention and follow the instructions and do it right for the test to have any value.

The OFs said that having arthritis has quite an effect on getting to sleep, and staying asleep. One OF mentioned this must be a common problem because of all the sleep aids out there. Not only nightmares give him a problem but so does pain.

Again, we hear the adage, “Ya gotta be tough to get old.”

An OG added to that: “When I was young, I never saw it coming” because his parents never complained — they just put up with it. “Now I recognize, to some extent, this situation, also I only complain to you guys because you understand.” What a therapy group this group is.


Out with 2020

In phone calls, the year 2020 comes up most of the time and the OFs will be glad to see this year go. The OFs spoken to will be glad to see 2021 come in, and hope it is different than 2020.

One OF mentioned that, with the advent of vaccines, he thinks, once they get spread around, 2021 will be different in many ways.

This OF mentioned his kids working from home and if that becomes normal they will designate a room just for that, and use this room as a tax deduction. (“Hopefully,” the OF added to the sentence, “because the government will find a way to eliminate that perceived benefit” — of that the OF is sure).

The OF said his kids are used to the world changing every week or so, but the OF can’t get used to it. Right up to a few years ago, the OF said it took quite a while for changes to occur and he was able to see them coming and adjust and he really didn’t know exactly when it happened but he was ready for it.

Now, the OF said, he goes to bed at 9 and wakes up at 6 the next morning and everything has changed. The OF said, “I am there at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, scratching my head and muttering what the h--- just happened?”

What did?

The other day — Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in fact — I woke up dead. I knew I was dead because it was way past when I normally get up and I couldn’t feel or sense anything as I lay there in bed.

Surprisingly, being dead was not that much different than being alive. It was actually very relaxing, in a trance-like way. Kind of like being at a zoning board meeting.

There was one big difference about waking up dead. What happened was a movie started playing in my head. It was like the credits at the end of a movie, not the movie itself.

It started to list all the clubs I was a member of back when I was alive. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve been in a lot of clubs over the years, but the screen in my head was listing clubs I never knew I’d been a member of.

The first club listed was People who Blame their Parents for not being Perfect. Turns out this is a huge club (they listed the membership at the time I died and it was a big, long number with a lot of commas in it).

Among the reasons I was a member of this club was that I never got music lessons or swimming lessons or went to Disneyland or even had a yard or basement to play in. Still, I grew up in a loving Italian family and we ate like royalty every Sunday, so I was surprised I was in this club.

The things you find out when you wake up dead!

The movie kept scrolling. The next club listed was People who think they could have Done So Much More. This was strange as well.

I mean, when I was alive, I was a college graduate with a good job, a beautiful wife, and three educated, working, successful children. I had a lot of friends, tried to be a good person, and helped out whenever I could.

Then it pointed out that I at one time had a full scholarship to one of the best engineering schools in the country, but that I threw it away to live like I was in my own daily “Animal House” movie from my teens to my early twenties. Ouch.

I try not to think about that so much, because it really did happen. Somehow things turned out OK anyway, despite my best attempts otherwise.

Finding out when you’re dead what clubs you were a member of when you were alive isn’t always that great.

The movie screen kept scrolling. The next club I had been a member of was People who don't know when to Shut Up. Oddly, I had known all along when I was alive that I had been a member of this club, but that didn’t stop me from putting my foot in my mouth on a regular basis.

This is a really interesting club to be in. Why? Imagine you’re at a party and you ask the hostess, who is, shall we say, not slim, when she’s due. She then gives you The Eye and says “I’m not pregnant.”

From that moment on, for the rest of your life, you will be known in that circle as The Jerk Who Thought She Was Pregnant. That's why the People who don’t know when to Shut Up club is so extraordinary. It’s benefits never go away, even when you very much want them to.

I could go on but I’m sure you get the drift. Other clubs I had been a member of when I was alive, without even knowing it, kept on scrolling by:

— People who really don't want to know what's under those kilts;

— People who get suckered into political arguments on Facebook;

— People who wonder why men no longer have chest hair;

— People who are not as funny as they think they are;

— People who should listen more;

— People who shop at Walmart and then complain that nothing is made in the USA;

— People who think nobody can hear them passing gas;

— People who actually think the Minnesota Vikings will win a Super Bowl someday;

— People who hold grudges, like, for a long time;

— People who don't "get" cats even though the rest of the world is crazy about them;

— People who think pineapple on pizza should be a crime; and

— People with toenails that are in fact weapons.

Then the very last club appeared. It was called People who can Still Learn to Forgive.

The membership count for this club was, unfortunately, very small. This one was accompanied by a really deep, heavenly voice, like the guy in the Allstate commercial (“You're in good hands”).

The voice said, and I’m not making this up: “Frank, you did indeed wake up dead today but, if you agree to join this club — People who can Still Learn to Forgive — we'll agree to let you live so you can see your grandson again and ride your motorcycle and learn to play a few songs on the guitar. But you must promise to really make an effort to learn to forgive. It’s that important.”

The next thing I knew, my eyes opened, I reached over to feel if my lovely wife was still there (she was), and I realized that I was going to be allowed to live again. Hot dawg!

Waking up dead turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’ve already forgiven David Chase for ending “The Sopranos” (spoiler alert) with a blank screen, and I’m working on forgiving Stewart’s for getting rid of Star Gazer Lite ice cream.

Who knows who or what I’ll forgive next!

As the scribe called around this week, he found three of the OFs really sick. These guys are not sick with COVID-19, but ill with problems they would have had whether there was a virus or not.

Our prayers go out to all the OFs on a routine basis, but these will be isolated out for special request along with many others on that list. This scribe doesn’t have a clue how do to this right and is sure there must be a way because priests, rabbis, and ministers do it all the time.

There is one topic that came up this weekend and guess what that was. Tropical islands?

Nope — wrong — it was snow. This scribe wonders why the OFs would be talking about snow.

Those spoken to in the first part of the conversation was how long it took them to shovel or get plowed out, and how much snow was left. This must apply to all on the Hill and in the valley; no one in our area escaped this snowfall.

On the Hill, each OF spoken to in person or on the phone mentioned the depth to be about 30 inches plus, maybe a tick less but 30 inches seemed to be the figure. Not all of the OFs spoken to have attached garages and some had to wade through 30 inches of snow just to get to a shovel. No matter who the scribe spoke to, clearing away the snow just to get anywhere was the job of the day.

This scribe hopes the OFs only thought about shoveling, because at the ages of most of the OFs, shoveling snow is not a good idea, and neither is going to the hospital a good idea; either one could lead to the other.

Many of the OFs have good neighbors who come and help the old folks in all kinds of situations. These types of neighbors would offer the helping hand, whether their neighbors were old or not; they just want to help.

One OF mentioned that he had the opportunity to go South for six weeks this winter and declined because of the COVID; the OF did not want to go where this virus was more prevalent than in New York. Now he is beginning to have second thoughts about turning it down, because the offer of the place was given to someone else.

“Then again,” the OF said, “With snow what you have is what you have; however, with this stupid virus it is all questionable.”

The few spoken to had basically the same feelings on the holidays this year, but with the snow the OFs seemed to have perked up. This has to be a form of conditioning for a Northeasterner.

The people in the South and the people in Hawaii do not have snow to help them along, yet they decorate and celebrate and have the holiday spirit without snow. Some have never even seen snow.

But to a Northeasterner snow seems to be necessary. The OFs feel more like Christmas with white on the ground or in the air.

When the OFs were younger, Christmas meant material gifts; even when the OFs were really young and Santa brought only one thing. Boy! Has that gone by the wayside for most people!

When the YFs became the OFs, some of them want only one thing again, but this time it is not materialistic. They want not to hurt, and to have good health. Some OFs want to be able to wish that for friends and relatives even if they can’t have it themselves.

One OF made the comment, “Wouldn’t it be great if Santa was able to leave a get-well pill. Little Mary and Brother Tim would get their presents, Mom and Dad would get theirs, and Grandma and Grandpa would get a get-well pill on a little silver plate.”

All the OFs, whether they a part of the OMOTM or not, would think this would be a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Speaking of Merry Christmas and all that on behalf of the Old Men of the Mountain this scribe would like to wish all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Right now, Christmas has me feeling extra Santa-mental.

This scribe was a little under the weather this week but is fine now so did not contact any of the OFs. This scribe did call a couple just to see how they were doing and only got to talk to a machine.

The machine on the OFs’ behalf advised they would return the call as soon as they returned. These calls did not come.

So, as of right now, there is nothing to report that would be new; however, there is always the old notebooks where the scribe can research if anything happened a few years ago. Well, here it is and it was when times were more normal, if anything can be called normal.

We have one OF who maintains we can’t call anyone crazy; this OF thinks the ones we call crazy may be the sane ones. This OF would counter anyone mentioning the strange behavior of someone with the comment that maybe running around naked is the sane thing to do and wearing clothes in the insane thing to do.

This OF would always respond, “Who determines what is sane and what is not?” That is always a good question to get any conversation started.

Many a psychologist’s and psychiatrist’s job would depend on the answer to that question.

This brings the scribe to relate that, for some years in his art class, there were at one time four or five members in the field of mental behavior, or teaching the “unteachable.” A variation of this topic would occasionally pop up as they just routinely talked as they were painting.

One thing the scribe noticed was that never once did the professionals mention cases or people — it was all so general. Just like stories and topics of conversations that a group of mechanics, or electricians, or plumbers would have if there were a group of them talking in a hobby group outside of their trade situation, say a book club, or writers’ class, or a local band, or orchestra, or for that matter a meeting of “old men.”


Weather redux

One of the notes this scribe ran across was for December 2010. It was a carbon copy of this exact time of the weather in 2020. The OFs in 2010 were complaining how cold it was on Tuesday, compared to the days before when it was in the forties and fifties.

As time goes by, nothing seems to change — not even the weather. The OFs then were 10 years younger and more of them went out hunting, and 10 years ago they were talking about how nice it was to be out in the woods even if they did not get a chance to shoot anything.

That would be true today with the same words, only adding 10 years to many of the OFs and getting the gun out of the case would be more of an effort than going out. Also, there is the matter of getting dressed, and by the time all that was done it would be almost time to come home.

If the OF now didn’t have a YF with him to haul back whatever he bagged, the OF would be almost dead by the time he got whatever it was to the truck or car.

The sport of hunting is not every OF’s cup of tea. One OF at one time said he would really be leery going into the woods with these OFs and a loaded gun. One would have a cane in one hand, and the gun slung over the shoulder of the other arm.

His partner OF wouldn’t be any better. He would be carrying a gun but only one eye worked, and that one was not that good. Who knows what ailments would beset the others.

One, because of arthritis, would have to drag a leg. The OF thought, with a hunting party like this, the deer and turkey are pretty safe but the hunters would be the ones in peril.

Also in the archives of this scribe’s notebooks is a notation of the OFs commenting more than once on the beauty of the outdoors in the Northeast during hunting season and the fall with one OF observing: Why do we appreciate it so much more as we get older — and by older, the OF meant older.

The OF said, when they were younger, the seasons were the seasons and just another part of the year. But, in their sixties, the OFs began to notice the beauty of winter, the smells of spring, the sounds of summer, and the whole pot of senses in the fall.

The scribe did notice a note from the OMOTM discussing what it would be like with a year of constant weather, and the word “boring” in parentheses. The scribe seems to remember most of the OFs saying they would be bored out of their skulls if the seasons did not change.

Even as challenging as that can be, with heat in the one-hundreds or snow up to the OFs’ eyeballs, the OFs would rather put up with this than have it 72 degrees and sunny every day.

One OF commented he had constant temperatures like this for over a year when he was stationed on Guam. For a while, it was nice but then it got just too darn hot, and he longed for a snowflake.

Soon the OFs will have to start singing their theme song: 

Oh, the weather outside is frightful,

And our joints are not delightful,

Since it’s got so dang cold, 

We feel old, we feel old, we feel old!

When this scribe phones the Old Men of the Mountain, most of the time the call is made from a regular phone number. Then there are a few with “cell phones” and most of the time this scribe is able to tell that by the area code.

Numbers which are familiar are 872, 861, 827, 295, and 868. When this scribe bumps into a number like 314, or 212, the scribe knows it is a cell-phone number.

The purpose for starting like this is that many, if not most, businesses, doctors’ offices, and the like assume everyone has a computer and knows how to use it, or a cell phone and knows how to use it, or any other of these electronic communicating devices and knows how to use them.

Well, they don’t. The assumptions are so strong that seniors can do either (the computer or the cell) but, in actuality, many seniors don’t have either one. Their kids may have given them one but they don’t understand how to use it. To arthritic hands, and senior minds, these devices are just paper weights.

One OF said, “What is so d--- important that it can’t wait?” His granddaughter’s cell phone rings all times of the day, even during meal time.

The OF claims it is rude. The call breaks up conversations around the table, and the family comes second to her. One time her mom said she speaks so seldom to them they don’t even know what her voice sounds like. 

“Her little brother was smarter than his parents,” the OF said. “If you want to talk to her call her on her phone.” 



The OFs spoken to did not understand the medical portals; one OF could get into it but then it became so confusing the OF was unable to go on, so he does not bother with it.

The OF also said, while at the doctor’s office, he thinks he understands what the doctor said in doctor-speak, but once out of the office the OF forgets half of what the doctor told him.

One OF said he was in the hospital with quite a problem and doctors kept coming in and doing different things and scratching their heads. The OF said the only one that could explain things to the OF and seemed to know more than the doctors, or at least spoke in real-speak was a young, male nurse.

The OF said, “He was the only one that put me at ease.”


Are girls turning into boys?

The other conversation morphed into when the OFs were young and times were different, and again it centered around young people today as opposed to the OFs when they were young, and this was gender inclusive.

This scribe thinks the OF was talking about chivalry without using the word. This OF did not understand the young ladies of today. To him, they don’t want to be ladies; they want to be boys.

The OF grumbled that girls want to be on the baseball, football, and basketball teams. They want to wrestle in the boys’ weight class.

What set him back a little was not too long ago his son and daughter-in-law were taking him to his doctor’s appointment and his granddaughter was coming along. He opened the car door for her and she told him, “Grandpa, I can open the door myself; I don’t need any help.”

The OF said he is beginning to have trouble distinguishing the girls from the boys. They dress alike, in jeans, plaid shirts, sneakers, and hats. The OF also claimed he wouldn’t be surprised if the girls are growing bigger with a different bone structure.

It almost seems the girls are becoming broad-shouldered and narrow at the hips. He isn’t sure but their voices seem to be coming deeper too.

Unfortunately, this is a one-on-one conversation. This scribe is sure, if the same conversation were carried on in the group, there would be much talk and opinions on this one, and some of the OGs might think this particular OF is becoming a little paranoid.

This scribe thinks: Wait until the granddaughter is 18 or 19 and things will be different.

This scribe said think back to when we were young on the farm. All the kids pitched in to help with the farm work, even the milking, and many a young lady could pitch hay as well as any boy her age, or handle the horses, drive the tractor, milk and feed the cows, and it was expected and not considered different at all.

All the jokes about the farmer’s daughter were probably made up by city slickers who didn’t know what farmer’s daughters were really like. If boys messed with those young ladies, and they didn’t want to be messed with, the boys would be decked quicker than you could say Jack Robinson.


Heaven and hell

Another week has passed and this column did not have to mention the pandemic once. Until now. This scribe received this note from another OF who obviously knows how to access his computer.

It seems that people keep asking if COVID-19 is really that serious. Listen up: Casinos and churches are closed. When heaven and hell agree on the same thing, it’s probably pretty serious.

One of the most famous Old Testament stories is that of the Tower of Babel. It goes like this: After the Great Flood, all people spoke the same language. Then they got the idea to build a city with a tower as high as Heaven.

When God got wind of this, he didn’t like it at all. Maybe he hadn’t had his coffee that day. Truth be told, the Old Testament God was often a little cranky, to put it mildly. So he scattered all the people throughout the Earth, and as an extra bonus he made everyone speak different languages as well. Was he having a bad day or what?

I’ve always wondered how different it would be if one could approach someone from another place or culture and speak their language. Can you imagine how transformative that would be? It would be so easy to establish a rapport with them.

There is actually a language called Esperanto that was created to be one common world language but it never really took off. No one except language junkies has the time to learn an entire new language that hardly anyone else is speaking.

I was giving this some thought the other day when it occurred to me there is after all a universal language that many people from all over the world can understand. Can you guess what it is?

Hint: I’ve been learning to play the guitar, which means if you guessed the answer is written musical notation, you got it right. Yes, the notes and staffs from music class or the hymn book are indeed a universal language.

Though I never had any formal musical training, I always knew about written music. It was mostly where you got the words to the hymns in church (you got the tune from following the stronger singers). All those lines and funny little markings were cute in their own way, but it may as well have been Greek to me.

Then I married a world-class piano teacher, organist, and choir director. Over the years, she slowly got me to where I had some idea of what was going on with written music. That was great. But it was only recently, when I started learning to play guitar, that I finally understood the true power of this universal language.

A lot of guitar players — even some very famous ones — don’t know how to read music. Many of them just want to “jam,” as they say, and some go very far using various fret-board tricks and techniques. Still, there is real power in understanding written music.

Here’s one example: Once I was outside running during my lunch break at work. All of a sudden, I don’t know from where, this tune popped into my head. It was a really pleasant tune. So I stopped running and pulled out my flip-phone (this was a while ago), called my wife, and hummed the tune to her over the phone.

Would you believe she was able to take that tune and write it out, using music notation, such that it could easily be played on the piano? Man, that was so great. If you play any kind of music, why wouldn’t you want this awesome ability?

The real power of music notation is that anyone, anywhere in the Western world who knows even the rudiments of music notation can pick up a piece of sheet music or a hymn book and at the least get a feel for the piece or even play or sing it outright.

What is really incredible about music notation is how simple and straightforward it really is: You have just seven notes from A to G that repeat to give us the musical sounds; the staffs with horizontal lines and vertical bars, where each note fits on a line or on a space between the lines; the clefs (treble, bass, or other) to identify what kind of staff it is; the key (the tone or “pitch”) to tell us what musical range it’s in; the time signature (the beat); and various other markings to indicate speed (tempo) and dynamics (soft to loud).

Oh, one more thing: There are also sharps and flats, which are notes that are a semitone above (sharp) or below (flat) another note. Don’t get confused by sharps and flats; they are just the black keys on the piano (though some can be white keys as well).

Music notation is really not that complicated, yet what you can achieve with it is simply amazing. From “Happy Birthday to You” to Beethoven’s “Symphony #3 in E-flat Major” (the famous “Eroica” symphony), to everything in between, it can all be written out and played back in a language that many disparate people all over the world can easily understand, even if they don’t speak the same language. Wow!

It’s easy to extend written music from the foundation I’ve described above. You can indicate to play a note in an abrupt or disconnected fashion. This is known as “staccato.” Or you can make the notes long and continuous. This is “legato.” Or you can accent a note. This is “sforzando.” You can also play a bunch of notes smoothly and without separation. This is known as a “slur” (and it’s not a bad thing).

Have you noticed that many of these words sound very Italian? It’s because they are. Italy was where music notation really developed and took off. Just one more thing to thank us Italians for (as if great food, literature, science, music, painting, sculpting, and such warm, heartfelt, joyous and beautiful people weren’t enough).

In fact, from studying music notation, I discovered that very, very loud music in notation is called “fortississimo.” If you know me personally, you know that kind of describes me to a T, for better or worse. Oh well, I just like to have fun.

Another interesting part of music notation is the “rest.” It’s like a note except you don’t play or sing it. Turns out a lot of music depends on what you leave out.

You’d think this would be great for a beginner like me — fewer actual notes to play wrong — but you have to be careful to get your rests in at just the right time or it screws everything up. That’s right, it even takes skill to play well what you don’t actually play.

If you have any interest in music notation or music theory, I highly recommend the book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory,” second edition, by Michael Miller, Alpha Books, 2005. This book is easy to read and makes what many find rather boring or tedious very fun and exciting.

I’m basically reading it over and over in the hope that it’ll really sink in. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to write the tunes in my head down on paper myself without having to call my beautiful wife. She has enough to do as it is.

The Old Testament God was really having a bad day when he scattered folks all over the world and made them speak many different languages. However, not long after that we got the gift of music and it’s incredibly versatile notation system that to this day is shared all over the world by people of different cultures to allow us to enjoy the supreme gift of music. Maybe that was God’s plan after all.

Thanksgiving is over and the few calls to and from the OMOTM revealed that — to a phone call — the gatherings of relatives and friends were going to be greatly reduced. One OMOTM was going from the normal 20 to 24 people down to three.

That was the largest drop reported. The others were generally the same down to nine or 10, with one who has family close by and even though the countdown was at 12 there was a sentry at the end of the road to watch for turkey cops.

Today with cell phones it is not necessary to have walkie-talkies or a two-way radio to communicate back and forth. The above-mentioned OF had one of the attendees leave their cell phone on, and that was the number for the sentry to call if a turkey cop was spotted.

Two attendees who drew the short straws were assigned to scurry to the root cellar if a call came in. A few cars were in the driveway, but some were in the barn with the doors closed to cut down on suspicion of possibly too many at a particular domicile by car counters as they drove by.

The OFs really didn’t worry that anything would happen but part of the conversation at a couple of the meals was what would the police do if they spotted 11 at one of the meals? What would their options be?

Would they cuff one and take him or her to the station with the rest, or hand out an appearance ticket to whoever was hosting the dinner? What would the penalty be?

This made for some interesting chats around the table at a couple of the OFs’ dinners. However, only one had anything to worry about, and this scribe does not think they worried much, if at all.

In these well-wishing calls, the Thanksgiving wishes were given by all to all, and the theme was that, in the way things are going now, we still have much to be thankful for. In one call, the scribe and one OF hit on the same theme.

That theme was: With all that is going on — this matters, and that matters or nothing matters. The discussion finally came down to this: Enjoy yourself. These are the good old days you’re going to miss in the years ahead.

One OF said that, because the group is so small, instead of turkey this year they purchased a big chicken and were going to cook it turkey-style. The same OF said that, with some of the side dishes they usually make, they had trouble figuring out how to scale the quantity of ingredients down, because they are only feeding three instead of 23. The OF said, if they use the original recipes, they would have leftovers all the way to the Christmas dinner.


Christmas is coming

That is right. Christmas is only a few days away. No wonder we all put on pounds during this time of year.

One OF asked the scribe if he has done any Christmas shopping yet. The scribe gave a truthful answer and said he really only shops for one person and that is his wife, and he does a miserable job at that. The scribe said his wife does the Christmas shopping and she does a bang-up job at that chore.

All the scribe does, he told the OF, is the Christmas cards, but again the scribe’s wife goes over the list, makes out the labels, removes those who have passed on, changes the address of those who have moved, etc., etc. And the older we become, the more names are taken off the list because they have joined the passed-on group. 

The OF said there is a heck of a lot that goes on with the holiday season, including the decorations, super-cleaning the house, keeping the cat-box empty and the cat full. Then the OF added maybe this year it will all be for naught because this OF said he thinks they won’t be getting visitors like they used to in past years, at least for the remainder of 2020, and maybe part of 2021.

Along with this time of year, with Thanksgiving over and Christmas coming, two of the OFs mentioned how (at their places) the lilacs are budding out, and so are the wild apple trees, and this is in the Hilltowns. One OF mentioned he has not been to the flatlands in a while but he bets the trees and shrubs are further along than at his place.

When the scribe mentioned this to one of the OFs, this OF said he winterized all his lawn equipment and the lawn could be mowed again for winter but he is not going to do it now; he will just let it grow. The OF said he will cut the lawn in the spring because he is not going to run his mowers just for one shot and then have to go through all the winterizing again.

With all that is going on, it sure is a different year.

During this trying time, I noticed my wife was a little upset with some things that had gone wrong. I told her she should embrace her mistakes. She gave me a big hug!

I concede it’s unoriginal for a columnist to publish his holiday list of venerable charities. But since imitating a good idea yet remains the best way to flatter it, this Chanukah/Christmas I’m introducing my own take on what I intend to make an annual feature. Please join me in dedicating a few of your precious holiday dollars to support these worthy nonprofits!

There’s a functionally infinite number of causes which warrant financial backing, so in arriving at this year’s list I first had to pare down by “Category” the organizations to which I’ve donated in the past.  What follows are a few of my favorites with Medical, Occupational, Historical, Environmental, Veteran, and Journalistic missions.

Yet left on the cutting-room floor are countless laudable enterprises tackling hunger, enhancing education, spreading democracy, combating racism, supporting equality, advancing animal rights, reforming prisons, and defending our civil liberties. As such, while I encourage donations to the organizations recognized below, I’ll be equally grateful if my column inspires (reminds!) you to support the charitable causes important to your family.

After all, 2020 will go down in history as the year collectively regarded as the most deranged. So open your hearts — and your wallets — and let’s restore some sanity to this world.



First up is, one of the most creatively enterprising 501(c)(3)s out there. As the political effort to repair our nation’s shattered health-care system languishes, RIP Medical Debt has stepped into the void to give donors “the power to eradicate medical debt at pennies on the dollar.”

To date, it’s facilitated forgiveness of over $2.5 billion by leveraging donations to buy those debts from collection agencies (a single dollar can eliminate $100 in delinquent bills!) Founded by two former debt-collection executives, this not-for-profit offers a case study in atoning for capitalism’s excesses by hacking it.

After all, it’s not the quality of medical care in America that’s abysmal, it’s the cost — which is why a third of all Americans are plagued with medical debt. So, if you’re looking to help out your fellow country(wo)man, this may be the most tangible bang for your buck.

Next up are and, two organizations that facilitate completely free cleft-repair surgery for sufferers worldwide. A cleft afflicts the lip and roof of the mouth, the sides of which fail to fuse together during fetal development.

It’s a condition particularly prominent in developing countries. But for only $250, you can cover the cost of a full-scale cleft surgery, forever transforming a child’s life. So what’ll it be?  That limited-edition Baby Yoda doll, or an immediate end to one’s ostracizing stigmatization and debilitating physical difficulties eating, breathing, and speaking? You’re tracking that alien baby isn’t actually Yoda, right?



I once dated a nurse, and thereby came face-to-face with what a terrible human being I was in comparison. She’d been drawn to the profession presumably because it was an effective outlet for her limitless empathy, compassion, and selflessness. 

The risks and demands were high, the pay and hours were lousy, but her personal impact was undeniable.  (At the time, she worked at a needle-exchange and opioid treatment clinic — I know, right?!) All across America, these agents of God’s love have bravely mobilized as humanity’s first line of defense against a fatal worldwide pandemic.

Fortunately, there exist organizations like, which assists with housing and medical expenses incurred by registered nurses who are seriously ill, injured, disabled, or facing other dire circumstances. 2020 is the Year of the First Responder, so I encourage you to honor the daily sacrifices made by those special men and women who’ve always worn masks without complaint.

And: Are you a nurse in need of even more opportunities to toil in the service of humankind? Then apply for a scholarship at, which uses financial donations to send nurses across the planet to wherever medical help is desperately needed. (Who are these people?)



Do you fully appreciate what being a New Scot signifies? If you’re not a member of the, the answer is likely “no,” given that so much of what it means to be a New Scot is wrapped up in the origins of our town and its rich historical landscape.

Since 1975, the New Scotland Historical Association has been a steward of the New Scottish identity, helping to plot a future course by probing, documenting, and honoring its past. For 45 years, the NSHA — a not-for-profit chartered by the New York State Education Department — has operated the New Scotland History Museum (partially comprised of the former one-room New Salem schoolhouse built in 1903) and orchestrated gripping lectures, exhibits, and events to explore upstate New York’s fascinating geography, genealogy, and archeology.

Once a quarter, the NSHA also publishes a newsletter that’s equal parts community bulletin, historical treatise, and call-to-action. Can’t get enough of Yours Truly?  Then consult pages 4 to 5 of The Sentinel’s Winter 2018 edition — available on the NSHA website — where you’ll find familiar prose in an essay entitled “The ‘New Scot.’ Defined: What It Means to Be New Scottish at This Moment in Time and Space” (as edited by my former seventh-grade English teacher, who reprised her role for the occasion as “Mistress of the Unforgiving Red Pen”).

NSHA membership costs as little as $15, and there are lots of ways to volunteer with this pulsing heartbeat of our community.



I should probably extend honorable mention to, because I’m about to beat this horse to death. Again. For those who weary of my tireless campaign to secure the beatification of Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy Executive Director Mark King, just skip this section — but be sure to make a quick donation at before you do.

Because absent your financial support, the MHLC might never have been able to save the Bender Melon Farm, or Picard’s Grove, or the Heldeberg Workshop summer camp property, or the Lansing Farm, or Locust Knoll, or the more than 3,500 acres of the Helderberg Conservation Corridor, or the blah blah blah at this point even I’m bored by MHLC’s successes.

The point is that MHLC is the vehicle through which Albanites preserve the unrivaled natural beauty of our Capital Region, safeguarding its environment and farmlands from the unfettered development that ever threatens to irrevocably spoil them. Hats off to you, MHLC, for securing so many green pastures — on which frolic the very horses I’ll keep fatally beating as I continue to herald the patriotism of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.



The “thanks for [my] service” greetings come from all sides at all hours, and indeed there are scores of organizations that support the veterans whom all soldiers someday become. Yet the rate of suicide among servicemembers and veterans is still estimated to be 50 percent higher than the national average. 

According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 17 veterans committed suicide every day in 2017; to put that in perspective, 17 U.S. servicemembers died in Afghanistan throughout the entire year of 2017.

That’s why — which “provides personalized care and continued case management” to servicemembers and veterans in desperate need of mental-health support, housing assistance, and other services — is such a critical player in this space.

So, too, is, which claims an 85-percent success rate in transitioning veterans out of homelessness. Veterans Inc. is the largest provider of support services to veterans and their families in New England; two years ago, it made headlines for opening the country’s first private in-patient treatment center designed specifically for veterans with substance abuse disorders.

For those of you still seething from the CBS News investigation which uncovered the Wounded Warrior Project’s unconscionably wasteful spending, give these complementary veteran-oriented 501(c)(3)s a look instead.



The last organization I’m highlighting isn’t a charity, but it’s no less deserving of your largesse. Because without it, it wouldn’t just be my voice that the community lost — it’d be yours, too. Of course I’m referring to The Altamont Enterprise & Albany County Post, the local media outfit which makes this year’s “Giving Season” installment possible in the first place. The Enterprise has been our hometown’s paper of record for 136 years, and still persists in the face of unrelenting assaults on its survival.

Back in October, The New York Times published a terrifying report about “a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country.”  The Times claimed that this network, entrenched in all 50 states, was built not on traditional journalism but rather on chilling propaganda by dozens of partisan think tanks, political operatives, and corporations.

Quote the Times: “The sites appear as ordinary local-news outlets, with names like Des Moines Sun, Ann Arbor Times and Empire State Today. They employ simple layouts and articles about local politics, community happenings and sometimes national issues, much like any local newspaper. But behind the scenes, many of the stories are directed by political groups and corporate P.R. firms to promote a ...  candidate or a company, or to smear their rivals.”

As if on cue, within days of that bombshell article, The Times published another devastating report: Salt Lake City was losing both of its major daily print newspapers, in operation for 150 and 170 years.  Consider the lurking digital disinformation poised to take their place in one of America’s major metropolises.

The same fate could befall Albany County, and we won’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. If we surrender The Altamont Enterprise, we’ll lose the one media outlet that’s for us, by us — binding Rensselaerville, the Hilltowns, Guilderland, New Scotland, and the most intimate corners of Albany-Schenectady-Troy to the common fates and causes of which we’d be oblivious without our County Post.

We’ll lose the one media outlet that’s been awarded the New York Press Association’s Sharon R. Fulmer Award for Community Leadership more times than any other newspaper throughout all of New York State.

And we’ll lose the only independently-owned free press watchdog we can count on to expose breaking news capable of galvanizing our community. Whether it’s the intended shotgun sale of Picard’s Grove in the heart of New Scotland, helping to save a medical practice in the Hilltowns, or giving a girl victimized by her Guilderland teacher a chance to tell  her story, The Altamont Enterprise has time and again courageously wielded grit and sunlight on behalf of the neighborhood its subscriber footprint defines. 

The Enterprise staff works tirelessly to chock each issue full of intrepid reporting, in exercise of the very freedom those soldiers I mentioned pledge to defend.

It’s true I’m often most concerned with how my Enterprise columns appear online. Yet it’s nonetheless vital that the Enterprise’s web edition remain a mere companion to its printed form. Because what makes the Enterprise authentic journalism — what distinguishes it from all the noise online as a credible record — is the fact that you can feel it. You can hold it in your hand. Without a print component, The Enterprise is just a blog.

And blogs make possible the inundation of fake news and political hit pieces, whose shadowy authors are spared the time and expense of ink, paper, and coordinating circulation. Algorithmic bots, Russian trolls, partisan hackers — these dystopian agents exist on social media precisely because such platforms afford misinformation an easy outlet. Not so through the printing press.

It’s because we have the luxury of trusting what lies within these real pages, intended as they are for a geographically aligned community, that there will always be at least one thing on which we can depend: a sense of who our neighbors truly are.

So this holiday season, give the gift of local journalism to one of your neighbors by visiting Or, visit to donate to The Altamont Enterprise, in support of its consistently award-winning brand of local news coverage.

That’s all I got, folks!  Have a wonderful holiday season. Stay safe, and thanks so, so much for reading — addressing you from these pages remains my favorite thing.

Captain Jesse Sommer is an active duty Army officer and lifelong resident of Albany County. He welcomes your thoughts at .