I can’t speak for you, but raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are not a few of my favorite things. While I appreciate the sentiment of that song we hear each holiday season — stopping to recognize the things that make each day a little better — the stuff that makes us not feel so bad in the song is pretty weird. Brown paper packages tied up with string? That’s a security alert, not a way to feel better.
So in the spirit of the season, this week’s Lang’s World features a list of a few of my own favorite things. A few weeks ago I told you about my love for Crocs, so here are a few other things that made my world a little better this year…
The Great British Baking Show
I love to cook and I watch regularly cooking shows on TV, which is how I taught myself to cook. But I like instructive shows, the kind that used to be shown ad nauseum on Food Network. These days the Food Network seems to be entirely filled with cooking competition shows, which mostly just seem like a waste of time. That said, the one cooking competition I absolutely love is the Great British Baking Show, which I discovered a few years ago on PBS (it’s now on Netflix). Shot amongst the verdant green hills of the British countryside, The Great British Baking Show is a competition in format only — the contestants are attempting to eliminate each other, but they also are all helping and rooting for each other. The judges are firm but fair, and the whole thing is just a chill way to spend an hour. I actually stopped watching the show a few years ago when Mary Berry (the undisputed GOAT) and Sue and Mel left the program, but I recently caught up via Netflix and the new hosts and judges might be even better.
Star Wars: Fallen Order
I’m not a Star Wars die-hard — I can’t name all the planets or ships or creatures — but I have always liked the series, and I literally grew up watching all of the movies. Considering the enduring popularity of the films, it’s kinda wild to think that there’s never really been a classic Star Wars video game, other than maybe the arcade game that was out when I was a kid. The recent “Battlefront” games were playable but not really impactful, and the Lego Stars Wars games were fun to play, although they were essentially made for kids. But worry no longer, do you: The new “Star Wars: Fallen Order” is not only the best Star Wars video game ever released, it’s one of the best video games released this year. It’s an intergalactic adventure taking you, a young Jedi, through multiple planets and star systems, where you have to defeat all kinds of attackers using your lightsaber and, of course, The Force. The story is well-plotted — it’s one of the few games where I actually sat through all of the cut scenes — and the action non-stop. It reminded me of the “Uncharted” series, in all the best ways. As I write this, I’m still not finished with the game, and I have no idea how much more I have to go. But I kind of hope it just keeps going forever.
We knew coming into this season that the Grizzlies were going to be a work in progress. The two best players, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., were each 20 years old, and the rest of the team weren’t all that much older. Heck, the two oldest guys are Solomon Hill and Jae Crowder, and neither of them are even 30. With a new coach on the sideline and so many new faces in the locker room, I suspected it might take some time for this team to find their stride. And while we still have a ways to go, they’ve clearly started figuring some things out. When things are clicking, this can be a wildly entertaining team. Between Ja’s ability to generate endless flourish on everything he does and Brandon Clarke playing way above the rim, the next gen of the Grizz are, so far, such great fun to watch. More wins are going to come, eventually. The highlight plays are already here.
A few weeks ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, my wife started hanging Christmas decorations in our front yard. I took this as a personal affront. Everyone knows, I said to myself, you’re not supposed to hang Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. If you want to do it on Black Friday, fine, but you can’t have Christmas stuff up before Thanksgiving. When confronted, my wife countered with a line of logic I hadn’t considered: She needed the extra cheer. The world these days confronts us with what can feel like an unending stream of negativity and bad noise; why not combat it with some wreaths and lights? And you know what? It worked. Having a couple of pine needles and fake snow-dusted pine cones resting merrily atop a strand of twinkling lights on the mantle are a simple gesture, but it does do something to help me feel a little less Grinchy during the holiday season.
Gifting what I know
Since we’re talking about the holidays, here’s a little lesson I learned the last few years that has helped me when it comes to gift giving, and can be applied year-round: Gift what you know. For many years, I tried to give gifts to people that I thought they wanted. For example, I always tried to give my wife a purse or a sweater or some clothes or… well, something that was cool and fashionable and hip, but the truth is I don’t really know what is cool or fashionable or hip for women. So I’d search websites and ask people for advice and come up with a gift that was fine, but was never all that memorable. And then a few years ago, I decided to play to my strengths. I decided to stay within the world that I know, and I bought what were at the time, the cool thing: a pair of women’s Nike Dunk Sky High sneakers. And it worked! She loved the gift, and since then I’ve bought her stuff from my world (sneakers, headphones) that will upgrade her daily life and that I think she will appreciate. And it works!
I know I’m getting old because I find myself listening to more old music than new music. My presets in my car are all stations from the past, instead of any that play current hits. One day my son told me all about the DJ Marshmello, and I decided I was good sticking to listening to the ‘80s on 8. But I have found two new albums this year that I loved. Little Brother is a hip-hop group from North Carolina who retired a few years back, but then popped back up this year with a new album called “May The Lord Watch,” which has been in frequent rotation on my iPhone. I think my appreciation for this record is because it’s age appropriate for me: The song “Sittin Alone” is about being too old to go to clubs and instead staying home to watch HGTV and mess around on Instagram. If that doesn’t speak to me I don’t know if anything ever will. The other album I ran into the ground is “Heard it in a Past Life” by Maggie Rogers. She went viral a few years ago as a student at NYU when she played a song she’d written for Pharrell, who was clearly blown away.
Pharrell, as usual, was right. Her debut album is basically a straight-up pop record, and every song is catchy as all heck. My favorite thing about this album is it all seems to fit together — each song rolls into the next one like a big finished product.
It’s been about four months since the NBA 2K League season ended, but it feels like it was years ago. We finished our second season in the 2K League in 8th place out of 21 teams, and would have made the playoffs except for a team leapfrogging us by winning an in-season tournament. The next 2K League season is still a few months away, but I can’t wait to get to work. We return three players (Vandi, AuthenticAfrican and DDouble) who were all among the best at their positions, and then we also recently traded with the Knicks for their center, Goofy, who IMHO is the best center in the 2K League. We still need to add a few more players, but we have a core, we have a culture, we have experience, and now we just need to play some games. And I know my guys are as fired up as I am to get this thing started up again.
About a year and a half ago, almost on a whim, I purchased an electric smoker. I was not in the market for one, but I was at the Bass Pro Shop and they had some marked down, so I figured I would splurge on a birthday present to myself. Since then I’ve used the thing way more than I expected to use it. I’ve smoked chickens, turkeys, steaks, lamb, pork, and vegetables from cauliflower to corn. Last year I smoked several tray pans filled with olive oil, which I then bottled and sent out as holiday gifts. I never thought I’d become a smoke boy, but here we are.
You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and don’t look now but college football is almost gone until next year. It was another wild and wacky year, and that was just at the University of Tennessee! But I digress… seriously, college football once again managed to deliver surprises, highs, lows, and give us things to chew over and spit out. Where else could a quarterback who couldn’t win the starting job at one place go elsewhere and dominate the way Joe Burrow did at LSU. I still think it’s fated for LSU to take it all this season, but stranger things have happened. Hopefully the college football gods have at least one more surprise waiting for us.