My Favorite Christmas Songs Now

These last few years, nothing gets me in the mood for Christmas more than music. It gives me the warm feeling of the holidays that we need more than ever this year. I love listening to Christmas songs in the mornings while making breakfast or while decorating the tree.

I grew up with the classics: Silent Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, etc. Beautiful as they are, I’m mostly listening to more recent, pop Christmas songs these days.

Check these out today while you finish up your work or buy those final gifts!

And if you’ve hit your limit on Christmas songs for the day, try this jam I put on while folding laundry last night. I wished I had more socks to fold!

Tell me what your favorite Christmas songs are in the comments. Merry Christmas!

Photo: Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, New York City

This Morning Jam Had Me Dancing In My Kitchen!

I heard this song in a grocery store on Sunday for the first time in years. I played it this morning and wound up dancing through my kitchen and swaying while doing the dishes. I just hope they’re clean.

We all need a little motivation and something to make us smile these days. Hope this works for you like it did for me today!

I Just Bought These FDA Approved Surgical Masks for My Family

I just bought these high quality surgical masks from Taiwan.

I’ve heard scary stuff about poorly made masks that don’t do a good job protecting people. I’ve worn these KN95 masks for some time (also FDA approved) and found them very comfortable, but I think masks are like clothing: they fit different people differently.

Some in my family prefer the surgical style masks (the mostly blue disposable ones you see frequently). So last night, I made it my mission to find a high quality, FDA approved surgical mask.

I found out that a good surgical mask should be ASTM-rated. This is an international standard of how the mask performs:

  • Level 1: low barrier protection. General use for short procedures and exams that don’t involve aerosols, spray or fluids
  • Level 2: moderate barrier protection. For low to moderate levels of aerosols, spray and/or fluids
  • Level 3: maximum barrier protection. For heavy levels of aerosols, spray and/or fluids

Every mask I’ve ever seen in normal stores has no ASTM rating at all, which means they’re less protective. The masks I bought are ASTM Level 1.

The FDA-approved higher level masks I saw appeared to be available in very large lots designed for hospitals. Since no one in my family works in the medical field, I am thinking an ASTM Level 1 mask should suffice. If you guys know of a Level 3 mask available in smaller quantities, please leave that info in the comments.

The FDA publishes lists of approved surgical masks and respirators (like the KN95 I wear). You can see the masks I bought on that list below. If you match the model number on the FDA list to the model number on the Mocacare website, you’ll see it’s an exact match.

Consider these masks as a good alternative to a KN95 or to surgical masks that came from who-knows-where.

The New COVID Strain in the UK

A novel variant has been identified which has spread rapidly within the UK.

Public Health England

Like you, I’ve been hearing about this new strain of COVID cropping up in the UK. I did a little digging on it this morning. Here’s what I found:

  • The new mutation makes the virus easier to transmit. These are still estimates, but this strain may increase how many other people each sick person transmits to from 1.1 to 1.5 (the R-naught). That’s a very big difference.
  • The new mutation doesn’t appear to make people any sicker than any other strain of COVID.
  • Since the new mutation involves changes to the spike protein that vaccines target, it might make vaccines less effective, but we don’t really know yet. It’s more likely the vaccines would need a tweak than that the vaccines would be rendered useless.

I suggest checking out Peter Horby’s Twitter account. He’s one of the leading UK researchers in this area and has been posting some great information on this new strain of COVID.

Whatever the details, what we do remains the same: masks, distancing, wash hands. Everything we’ve done since March. We can do it!

The Best NYC Comedians You Haven’t Seen (Until Now)

I’m a huge fan of comedy. For years, I’ve gone to open mics to see the very newest talent work out their material in front of largely indifferent audiences of fellow comics waiting to do their 5 minutes. I’m often the only non-comedian there.

The payoff: I’ve found some great comedians you guys need to know about:

  • Ryan O’Toole. This guy is truly from the Lenny Bruce school of comedy. He says what he wants and dang if it isn’t hilarious.
  • Alexx Starr. I’ve rarely seen anyone hold an audience as powerfully on stage, including major national acts.
  • Mike O’Rourke. I’ve watched him do hours of material, seemingly from nowhere, and he kept me laughing the whole time.

What comedians should the world know about? Leave it in the comments!

Bonus video: Impeach DeBlasio

How I Know Virtual Christmas Will Be Special

Photo: My great grandfathers Will (left) and John putting the world to rights. Connecticut, approximately 1987.

My family has always been spread across the country. When I was little, we moved away from my mother’s side in the Northeast to Wisconsin. My father’s side of the family lived in Kentucky. We had no relatives within 500 miles. And for a while, we didn’t have any friends either.

On Christmas day, I’d open my eyes to a sea of presents, despite my mother’s modest resources. She must’ve saved all year to give me that moment in the morning. Then, once the last gift was opened, the phone calls would start.

We’d usually begin with Granny Mary and Grandpa Jim in Kentucky, continue to Aunt Carol and Uncle Tony in Connecticut, and then on to Grammy up in Maine. Last was Will, my great grandfather. You didn’t have a short conversation with Will. You dialed 10-10-321 (leave a comment if you know what that is), punched in the rest of the digits, and connected to Stratford, Connecticut.

My part of the conversation was generally short. I remember he would always tell me at the end, “Pay attention in school, and learn all you can!” Will had worked as a trapper and later in a factory making asbestos brakepads. He did not have the opportunity to go to college. But he clearly wanted something different for us.

Even into his 80’s and 90’s, he read widely about ancient man, mammoths, and astronomy. In different circumstances, he might’ve been a professor. For me, he was a kindly grandfather. Maybe that’s enough.

Then, I’d hand him back to my mom. She would stand near the receiver, ever closer to hanging up, but the conversation would continue like that for hours, or so it seemed. I wondered when we might ever watch a movie or play.

After about 4 hours, they’d finally run out of steam and call it a night.

Those calls always felt like a marathon, but they also gave us a wonderful feeling of connectedness to a family spread far and wide. We didn’t have the money to fly to visit anyone, but we did what we could do. This year, a lot of people will be finding ways to connect without being in person. I can tell you it’s possible and it can be truly satisfying and joyful.

Many of the people we called then are gone now. Some remain. They’ll be on my list to call this Friday. And I’m adding someone new: my mom, whom I cannot safely go see this year. Maybe we will be on the line for 4 hours. If so, that’s fine with me.

The Songs Getting Me Going in the Morning

For the last couple of months, I’ve been listening to up-tempo music while making breakfast and in the first hour of my day. It’s fun, it helps jolt me awake, it puts me in the right frame of mind to attack the day. Podcasts used to be my go-to during this time, but with later sunrises, colder mornings and the world situation as a whole, I find I need a stronger stimulus.

These have been my go-to’s lately. Whether you need them when you wake up or to revive yourself on a sleepy afternoon, I hope you enjoy them!

Bonus: Song I listened to while writing this: Lime – Unexpected Lovers.

What are you listening to? Leave it in the comments and have a great Friday and weekend everyone!

Photo by Alan Light

These Vitamins Are So Good I Took a Picture With Them in a Snowstorm

It’s been snowing for over 20 hours straight here in the New York City area. But I’m inside enjoying, among other things, the excellent vitamins that just arrived from iHerb. I got the best tasting Vitamin C gummies I’ve ever had, from California Gold Nutrition, along with melatonin, magnesium, etc.

I almost bought the vitamin C on Amazon, but I did a quick Google search right before pressing “Place Order.” Good thing too, because I found them for $7.00 rather than $12.55 on Amazon.

Note that the Amazon ones are actually coming from iHerb too! You’re buying the exact same product from the exact same seller for almost twice the price. Why? My guess is Amazon is just marking it up through the roof because people default to Amazon, and iHerb just has to live with it. But who knows.

I had never heard of iHerb, but my always-astute wife had and assured me it was legit. It is. I got my shipment in a couple of days (first day in the delivery window they specified) and got texts when it shipped and when it was delivered.

iHerb adds a lot of additional value through their iTested program. They take the supplements they sell, send them to a third party laboratory, and find out if they actually contain what the manufacturer says. Then, they share that result with you. Here’s the report on the vitamin C I bought. They contain 250 mg of vitamin C dead on, as advertised, and virtually zero trace heavy metals or any other contaminant.

This is important when many vitamins don’t contain what they claim to. I intend to shift all future supplement purchases to iHerb based on this experience.

New customers get 25% off their whole order right now, and minimum shipping is $20. That’s hard to beat.

I Went to Japan’s Magical Kingdom of Eyeglasses

I’ve worn glasses since I was four years old…30 years. As I write this, I’m wearing what is probably the best pair I’ve ever owned. They cost me about $50 and the eye exam was free.

How did I pay 1/10th of what some of you are paying? I went to Zoff, an outstanding eyeglasses store that’s omnipresent in Japan and rapidly expanding throughout Asia.

I went in, sat down right away with an extremely polite young man, and looked into a machine I’ve never seen before in America. It showed a small picture and gave an instant estimate of my prescription. The employee, who was little more than 20, took me through just a couple standard “is this lens better?” questions and then produced tester glasses for me to try.

His estimates were dead on, and I saw beautifully. In a couple of days, I picked up my new glasses (along with a pair of prescription sunglasses I also ordered). I paid about $50 equivalent, or around 5,000 yen, per pair. Eye exam: $0.00.

How can Zoff sell so cheaply? The employees, like those in most countries aside from the US, are not optometrists. But they are well trained and extraordinarily nice and this, my 3rd pair of Zoff’s now, is first rate as always. I bought my latest pairs in January 2020 (you know, before the world stopped), and they’re still going strong!

US law requires an optometrist to examine you and issue a prescription. Japanese law does not. It has good company: Germany, the UK, Italy, and countless other nations. Is everyone in these countries seeing poorly and dying of rare eye ailments the optometrist didn’t catch? Doubt it.

But we insist on Americans seeing an optometrist, who goes to school for 8 years and commands an average wage of $106,000, largely to diagnose rare eye problems. However, how many people are deterred from buying newer glasses with a more appropriate prescription due to the high cost? Then they don’t get the new glasses or the optometry exam either. It’s a lose-lose, and we’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I suggest a different model: regulate the way Japan and countless other leading nations do. Let people get their glasses and contacts without a prescription, and they can see an optometrist from time to time, like how they see any other doctor.

What if ibuprofen required a prescription from a doctor the way eyeglasses do? There would be a lot of untreated pain and unnecessary suffering. We don’t do that, and yet, people still get check-ups. Is this about the patient, or is it really about regulatory capture?

My experience at Zoff was so good that I e-mailed them to thank them for their excellent work. They responded promptly (in English!) saying that they would congratulate the employees and “praise them firmly.” That kind of made it sound like they were in trouble, but I understood what they meant. πŸ™‚

Zoff is doing a wonderful thing in providing real care to those who need it at an affordable price, while also giving great opportunities to a young and hardworking staff. I can’t think of a better way to do business.

I Listened to Sammy “The Bull” Gravano’s New Podcast

It’s awesome! Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, Gambino crime family underboss turned government witness, released the first episode of his new podcast today. It’s called “Our Thing” and you can see it here.

I found it very engaging. The style is spare and fast-paced. The first episode covers the planning of a hit on Genovese family boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante and also Gravano’s later arrest and cooperation with the federal government.

This episode includes interviews with both Gravano and the FBI agents who caught him, so you get a reality check on what could have otherwise been a self-serving narrative.

I found the sound effects really enhanced the story, which is rare in podcasts, where I find they generally detract. Give it a listen! The next episode in this series, which took two years to develop, should come out in the first days of 2021.