Christmas Wish-List, Part 1

With Thanksgiving so early this year, I really blew it in not getting this out sooner. I’ll expand on this, but wanted to get the quick-wish-list out a.s.a.p. You’re welcome.

Bongo Bamboo Bluetooth Speaker: It’s soothing to look at, water resistant (because I’m such a beach-going type of guy), and gets rave reviews on sound. My current music-anywhere option is using my son’s speaker. He’s generous and doesn’t seem to mind sharing, but I’m always using his badass headphones and his equally badass Bluetooth speaker, so I think it’s about time I get my own. Plus, I have a vision of this sitting on a corner shelf in my living room and it should look this good. I’m partial to the Oslo or the North Fork.



Johnston & Murphy Penny (or Tassle) Ski-Moc Loafers: There comes a point in every man’s life when he just has to say, “aw, hell …I’m old and not getting any younger, and I need to buy quality, classic shoes that will last me the rest of my life. The two pairs of Johnston & Murphy’s I’ve had have been the best built, longest-lasting shoes, ever. Shoe-shine guys seem to light up when they


see quality shoes. Shoe repair places gleefully re-sole them. “But, Don,” you ask, “is it really necessary to spend that kinda money on a pair of shoes?” Well, in the past 4 years, I’ve gone through 2 pairs of $100 black shoes, 3 pairs of $100 brown shoes, and I’m hanging onto a pair of black Cole Haans that have holes in the bottom and can’t be re-soled. In four years, it’s safe to say I’ve spent $600 on dress shoes. So, if I spent a little more on Johnston & Murphy’s, and I could keep them for 5 years each …well, don’t make me bust out a spreadsheet and just trust me …it will pay off in the long run. And they’re sooooo versitale. They can be dressed up or dressed down.

That’s all for now. More tomorrow during my Saturday morning writing.



A Holiday Memory – The Correct Way To Hang Certain Ornaments

Anyone care for a Mary Lou story?

Something’s been nagging at me, lately. I have all these memories of stuff, and I like to write, and a few people (family members) have said on more than one occasion, “you should put all those stories together and write a book.” Let me give you my two main excuses for not doing it. (1) I don’t think anyone would read a book that’s filled with 4 wedding toasts, a speech I gave in college, 5 eulogies, and then 5 or 6 stories on top of that. (2) I tend to embellish things and I would regret if my memory of something has been distorted over time and my version of the stories turn out to be only 75% accurate (or less). Not like I’m saying I’d write a story about my “Uncle Stephen” and then everyone would be like, “Don, you don’t have an Uncle Stephen.” It’s more like I’d remember a single memory and try and fill in details, but the details of a specific Thanksgiving might blend together multiple Thanksgivings and possibly a Christmas and, well, what good is a story like that?

But here’s a story I know is completely accurate. My Mom (Mary Lou, for those of you new to my blog) loved Christmas. Our house was madness. Multiple tea kettles, a snowy old-time village of miniature light-up houses all over the place, a model train that drove through that miniature village, specific mugs that only came out between Thanksgiving and replaced the every day mugs, and candles and runners, and Christmas art that replaced the year-round art on the walls and a giant Santa head that hung over our fireplace. And much . . . much . . . more.

Even my Dad got in on the act and when we moved to West Michigan. We lived in a neighborhood that prided itself on elaborate light displays. It was the type of neighborhood where, on most evenings, cars would drive through the streets at 5 miles-per-hour gazing at hundreds of houses decorated to the max. Well, coming from Sterling Heights, I seem to recall we had lights outside, but nothing like what my Dad did in Kentwood. He rigged lights that were in the shape of a two-story Christmas tree in front of our house. It was like a May Pole, but with Christmas lights.

I suppose some wives would frown on an upstairs window being ajar an inch for more than a month, allowing heat to escape and for a crazy snowy-ice-dam to form on the soffit vent and in the gutter, but for the sake of a quality outdoor light display, Mom didn’t mind.

The Mary Lou story that I’ve taken with me into my marriage (and I realize this might not be my Mom’s sole invention or theory) and am passing along to my kids is this – any glass or crystal ornament should be hung directly in front of a light on the tree. It’s imperative. When we were younger, we’d all help hang ornaments and in typical childlike fashion, every ornament was hung at the bottom of the tree, no higher than 4 feet (as high as we could reach). Then, later that evening, once we were all in bed, Mom would go to work re-arranging the ornaments to perfection. A properly ornamentized tree should be equal parts novelty ornaments, religious ornaments, meaningful souvenir ornaments (likely from an exotic travel destination), mixed with a blend of standard, solid color ornaments (in our house, it was burgundy and gold) to match the color scheme of ones home. The burgundy and gold should be a pure 50/50 mix and no single color should dominate any quadrant, nor the top-half or bottom-half. And most importantly, as I’ve mentioned, glass or crystal ornaments must be hung in front of a twinkling light to highlight them and make them shine.

I can only imagine, now, if she came to my house and saw an ornament hung incorrectly, she’d probably move some ornaments around when we weren’t looking.

She loved Christmas. I think most everyone could agree on that. Only someone who loved Christmas and celebrated it as a season of giving would spend the better part of 200 hours shopping for the perfect gifts to wrap (perfectly wrapped, I might add) under a perfectly decorated tree.

Thansk, Mom, for loving Christmas and loving us. 


Remember when I wrote that “I Won Christmas?” I made such a bodacious claim because I asked for a buncha utility items for Christmas and it wasn’t really a vanity play. What are “utility items?” Because I’m an old man, it means I’ve started to ask for things I “need” versus “want.” And it feels good.

I got a dog last year. When it’s rainy or a little snow outside, I won’t want to walk in heavy boots for long distances. And tennis shoes get wet. Enter the BOGS Urban Walker. Utility.

Which brings me to one of my favorite things I own – the Bedphones.

I bought them to listen to music while sleeping or trying to get to sleep, and they’re popular for that because they are thin and lay on the outside of the ear so as not to jam deep into your ear canal. But, I like them better than all my ear-buds (because they’re comfortable and the bendy-wire design makes them bend exactly as you need them to fit around your ear). They serve their purpose, but …what I missed is that they have a microphone, too, so I can use them while walking or driving and talking on the phone, and the sound quality is terrific – so I wear them almost exclusively. An earbud won’t ever be used again if I can help it. And I’m not longing for over the ear Beats by Dre or Bose noise cancelling headphones.

If I still traveled, these would be my music-listening earphones, my talking-on-the-phone head-set, and my “I can’t sleep in hotel rooms” sleep remedy. Heck, I’d chat up people at the airport or on the plane just to talk about my Bedphones.

What is the point of this blog entry? Maybe so the Bedphones people will send me a free pair? Or because I just love them that much? Mashable’s review says, “you’ll probably forget you’re wearing them.” That’s spot on. I get up at 5 a.m. and start breakfast and listen to podcasts and I literally forget they’re on my ears.

My life is better for having Bedphones. And because I have a blog, when my life improves …guess what. I write about it and you get to read about it.

If you travel alot. Get Bedphones. If you like to or need to listen to music or any sort of audio in bed. Get Bedphones. If you frequently work remotely and join conference calls and sometimes need to talk. Get Bedphones.

I’ll fight any man who says they have something better.

When your Christmas, Father’s Day, and birthday wish-list are designed around the concept of making your life better, and your well-researched items actually perform as (or better than) advertised, it’s worth blogging about and sharing.

Yes. I like these better than my BOGS, I think.

Follow me at @donkowalewski.

I Won Christmas!

I won Christmas. But not in the same way I usually win Christmas, which I usually measured statistically with measurable metrics like “most gifts” and “cost of gifts” and “percentage of list.” But not this year. This year, I measured it in here (pointing to my heart) and up here (pointing to my head).

We live in a material world and I try my best to fit into that world, worrying about (a) me, (b) myself, and (c) what other people think of me. I typically want other people to base their judgments on the things I have and the money they believe that I have. For most of my life, this worked out just fine. I walked around picturing everyone jealous of me.

Then, I approached 40 years old, then I turned 40, and then I went zipping right into my “40s” (the decade, not the beer bottles) and it all changed. I started to realize, nobody cares, Don. Nobody thinks about you and envies you as much as you hope they do. They have lives and families and concerns of their own.

I had to shift my entire world view. And with that came new (and probably healthier) perspective. Which brings me to my Christmas list.

My sister has laughed quite a bit about my Christmas wish-list. Everything on it was practical and boring (to the outside world). Usually my list is filled with items that make the outside world think I’m doing all sorts of awesome things …like dressing in high fashion and expensive clothes, or exercising and being awesome, or into expensive hobbies because I’m soooooo upper middle class. Not this year. My list, in a nutshell was (a) keep my feet warm, (b) help me sleep, (c) replace something I had and used up, and (d) drink – in style.

Guess what? When you ask for things, and get things, that enrich the lives of those around you, it’s actually way better.

My new world view is shifting to, if I get this, I can make Person(s) A happy by __________.

I got waterproof Bogs (slip on shoes) rated to 20 degrees below zero for walking the dog or for quick chores outside. This makes my life better by walking more. Makes my dog’s life better by walking more. Makes my wife’s life better because I don’t track dirt and mud into the house. Yes. I have running shoes. But on a 35 degree rainy day when the neighborhood is all puddles and wet grass, having these quick slip-ons is brilliant.

I got warm, boot high socks. I didn’t even know I wanted them, but my wife did, and they are cozy and warm and when it gets really cold (which I’m sure is coming soon), my feet will be warm (while walking that damn dog the kids wanted so badly …do you see them walking the dog? 10-9-8-7-6 …OK …I’m better).

I got a “#1 Dad” wallet, which means all my hard work in 2014 elevated me from “All American” to #1. Woo hoo! It’s probably because I bought this particular daughter a dog, come to think of it.

I got Bedphones. Hey. I have trouble staying asleep. I was trying to fix it by (a) reading in bed whenever I woke up (which meant a 1/2 hour or more of wakefulness in the middle of the night). Or (b) I tried heading downstairs and sleeping in front of the TV, which meant bad sleep in the glow of a TV (that’s horrible). I (c) tried getting up and making lists (of the things I was worrying about). That didn’t help. But I found the best idea was to have a few (boring) audio books ready on my iPhone. When I wake, I quickly pop in the headphones, set the sleep timer for 30 minutes, and then try like hell to stay awake and listen. But when the book is something like the epic “John Quincy Adams” biography and it’s detailing the letters he received from his mother about how to dress in public …trust me …it’s a cure of insomnia. Sorry, history buffs …it was interesting, but not that interesting. Ear buds hurt my ear canals, so I read about these Bedphones wish are soft and lay gently against my ears, but not in my ears, and I can sleep on my side or back and I can’t really even tell I have earphones on.

And lastly, I got a new sea salt block for grilling and cooking (which I love and love doing it for my family and I love when my wife says, wow, this tastes so good), and my Secret Santa at work got me a growler (32 ounce beer bottle) which I can get filled at local breweries. I’m not a “craft beer” guy, and rarely will I pick up a bottle of micro brew, but the style and flair of bringing a growler into a brewery and having them fill it up …OK …so this was the one gift that still screamed, “look at me …I do cool things. Envy me.” The growler is cool.

Can this non-selfish, and non-ego gratifying outlook on gift-receiving last into the rest of my life? Not sure. But for now, getting things that improve my life and improve the lives of those around me …it feels pretty good.

What if I really adopted the motto …help others in order to help yourself. That sounds like a pretty good resolution. And I’ll hope, maybe, somebody reads this blog entry and doesn’t see it as self adulation, but maybe they say, hey, me too.

Follow me at @donkowalewski on Twitter.

Things I Think: Random Things

I know the musical group Florence + The Machine is popular, but I don’t get it. This is the latest group I don’t understand. They’ve been added to a list with Radiohead. Everyone loves them, and yet I can’t force myself to enjoy listening to them. When I listen to their CDs, my mind wanders and I don’t hear anything. This must be what it was like to be pushing 40 when rock n’ roll music was invented – it just doesn’t make sense.

If Herman Cain becomes the Rebuplican Presidential nominee, and you still have a McCain/Palin bumper sticker on your car, you can cleverly cover up some letters and have a ready-made “Cain” bumper sticker. And Herman Cain would be smart to pick a running mate with some combination of the letters p-a-l-i-n and then sell a McCain/Palin bumper-sticker-upgrade kit. Oh, wait …I’m going to create the McCain bumper sticker upgrade kit.

Winter! It’ll be here soon. I’ve always been a big believer in winter, and I have oft proclaimed that I’d never live in a place without snow, without drastic seasons, and without the rejuvenating qualities that come with below zero temps and massive amounts of road salt. But I’m pushing 40, and these past two winters seemed to last forever and I might be changing my tune. I’m thinking more and more like Utah might be cool. It’s sorta west, it’s mostly moderate, and if I want snow, I can drive a few hours and enjoy really expensive and scenic snow …versus the blackish-grey stuff that snow becomes after a few days of being plowed, salted, driven on, and polluted.

Beavis & Butthead is back. It won’t be funny, right? But hey …good for Mike Judge. If MTV will pay him, more power to him.

Anyone out there thinking about their Christmas list? Ya know, before you know it, your local radio station will be playing Christmas music 24/7 and your kids will demand that you put that station on, the stores have already started putting out Christmas decorations, and you’ll be stuck making your list based on what advertisers say you should want. It’s true …men might have all sorts of great ideas in September or October, but some November and December and if you ask them what they want, they’ll all say “a tool set and a ShopVac.” That darn media. On my previous blogs, I was always very public with my Christmas wish-lists, but on my new blog …it’s going to be even bigger and better! I’m going to have begging/pleading videos, I’m going to take pictures of myself in stores enjoying the store display so that my gift-givers will see how happy they would make me with said gift. I’m saying …check back often …the Christmas wish-list goes public on November 1st.

Speaking of Christmas, I’m starting to see and hear people refer to fellow Justin Beiber fans as “true Beliebers” and its all stemming from his new song, “Mistletoe” and these people Tweet and post things like “Merry Christmas to the Beliebers.” OK …so now I’m completely on board with the concept of a war on Christmas. This must be stopped.

That’s all I have for this Wednesday. Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog, to bookmark the Donnie Jalapeno blog, and speaking of Donnie Jalapeno, get your weekend salsa orders in. Today!