The Quimby Award: Candy Cane Lane

Now that the holidays are officially over, we have time to sit back and reflect on the traditions and events that make Christmas so special.

Some years ago, we stumbled upon a local holiday landmark, Candy Cane Lane. Even if you're not from Milwaukee, I'm sure you’re familiar with the concept – homeowners get together and coordinate aggressive, excessive outdoor Christmas displays. In Milwaukee, Candy Cane Lane (CCL) is a 12-block area of small 1950’s and 60’s ranch homes demarcated by strips of white and red plastic twined around poles and trees.

The participation rate is impressively (and maybe suspiciously) high. I’m imagining tense neighborhood association meetings, a lot of peer pressure, confusing and arbitrary rules and Machiavellian power plays.

Michael imagines a Grande Dame of Candy Cane Lane; a pushy, judgmental old lady who often admonishes, “It’s supposed to be about the candy canes!”

Of course, I suppose it could be that people simply enjoy participating in a community activity and sharing the joy of the season. I guess.

Anyway, the participation rate is a good 90%. Anyone without decorations? Probably Muslims or Commies.

Quantity over quality is a popular approach to decorating in CCL. It appears many homeowners, possibly drunk at the time, fling dozens of strings of flashing multi-colored lights in the general direction of the shrubbery and plug those puppies in. “I’ve got your Candy Cane Lane right here!”

On the other hand, some people go to a lot, and I mean A LOT of effort. We’re talking hand-carved wooden figurines, synchronized lighting routines, piped-in music, little slide shows projected onto garage doors, animated penguin carousels, giant working snow globes, inflatable polar bear jazz bands, human-scale nativity scenes, working “Days to Christmas” countdown clocks and just about every type of illuminated plastic holiday figure imaginable.

I almost forgot about the corporate sponsorship! As you approach “CCL Central” (the intersection where high school girls or firemen or Shriners or random old people stand in the middle of the street and hit you up for a donation), there’s a brightly lit sign welcoming you to Candy Cane Lane, on behalf of Verizon Wireless. Excellent.

Michael just reminded me that CCL raises a lot of money for cancer research. Thanks. I feel like a total asshole now. And really, that’s super, but maybe they should also donate some money to an environmental organization since it must take millions of kilowatt hours to keep CCL going from dusk ‘til dawn, Thanksgiving to New Years.

There is a point to this story.

After our first visit, I realized CCL provided a perfect opportunity to resurrect one of my family’s Christmas traditions.

Each December, my family would pile in the car, pop in the cassette of John Denver and the Muppets, and go looking for houses to nominate for “The Quimby Award.” My dad started this tradition and it’s one of my fondest Christmas memories.

The criteria for the Quimby Award are really pretty straight forward:

• There must be flashing or “chasing” lights somewhere on the scene.
• The tableau must blend the sacred and profane. A light-up Frosty or Santa hovering over the baby Jesus? Excellent.
• Some type of Licensed Character should be present.
• Bonus points if there is evidence of decorations from another holiday anywhere in the yard – a rotting pumpkin on the porch, or one of those jack-o-lantern lawn and leaf bags next to the garage? Perfect.

So, without further adieu, here are the nominations for the 2007 Quimby Award!

In this post 9-11 world, I think it’s time to update the nomination criteria to include anything with a military theme. USA! USA! USA!

The kneeling Santa. Always a classic. The lighted reindeer is a nice touch.

Holy shit, what is going on here? “Son, I know you’ve been a good boy, but I'm afraid Santa can't make it this year -- he’s fighting insurgents in Iraq. In fact, with stop-loss and mandatory tour extensions, I really wouldn’t expect him next year, either.”

I know the picture quality is poor, but what we’ve got here is a giant illuminated snow globe with a bottle of brandy inside of it. Underneath is the legend: “Celebrate the Holiday.” Klassy.

SpongeBob SquarePants, check.
Totally insane amount of flashing lights, check.
But something’s missing…if only…WAIT, is that “John 3:16” done up in flashing lights on the side of the house?!?

We may have a winner here, people!


Foodstuff Review: Trader Joe’s Light Mayonnaise

Ah, the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Has God blessed us with a culinary experience more sublime? The Quimby Mathias Family enjoys BLTs more often than is probably recommended, but it’s hard to resist the deliciousness. As a bonus, the BLT is enjoyed, in some incarnation, by every one of our children—the BL, the BT, or even the LT. The B, plucked from a serving plate and eaten with fingers, is also popular.

One recent night, the stars appeared to be arrayed for an even better than usual BLT. The nitrate-free bacon was outstanding—not too salty, not too sweet. The whole-grain white bread was firm and chewy, toasted to a perfect golden brown. The romaine was crunchy. And the tomatoes? Sweet and tangy.

And, yet the result was a pure and unmitigated dining disaster. Barely eaten sandwiches were dropped into garbage cans, left on plates, or tossed outside for the possum that lives near our garbage cans.

What, what, WHAT in the name of Saint Anthony, that patron saint of heavenly bacon, could have ruined a sandwich with so much potential?

Trader Joe’s Light Mayonnaise.

I’ve never in my life thrown away a BLT sandwich, but as often is the case with Trader Joe’s products, there’s a first time for everything. (For example, the only pizza ever rejected by our children.)

I don’t know if I can adequately describe how just how bad this mayonnaise is.

First, the texture and body are weirdly translucent. Do you recall the slime effects in Ghostbusters? Well, not the first Ghostbusters, more like Ghostbusters II, where the producers were really trying to squeeze money out of the franchise. The really cheap slime. That’s what Trader Joe’s Light Mayonnaise looks like.

The taste is overwhelmingly vinegary, but still somehow bland, almost like a glue on bread.

And, Lordy, just like glue or cheap Hollywood slime, Trader Joe’s Light Mayonnaise sticks to everything it comes into contact with, rendering even delicious bacon inedible.

Again, we have nothing against the Trader. The store at Bayshore is tiny, but the prices are great and the staff is much, much, much less annoying than the angst-filled dreadlocked teens you have to interact with at Outpost or Lean and Snarly.

It’s just that when one of their products fails, they tend to fail spectacularly.

In any event, unless you’re willing to give the food away to the opossums, avoid the Light Mayonnaise from Trader Joe’s.


Easy-Bake Oven: What the Fuck?

Editor’s note: one of our New Years’ resolutions was to swear more often and more offensively. It’s been tough, but I’m still sticking to it and doing my part to "Make it Great in 2008!"

When I was six, I received an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas. My mom wouldn’t let me take it home from grandma’s house. We lived 2,000 miles away from grandma. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with Easy-Bake Ovens. So much so that I decided that our children—three boys—simply had to have one for Christmas.

Such giddy anticipation.

And such crushing disappointment.

First of all, thanks, Hasbro, for confirming that all toy companies are totally fucked in the head when it comes to gender. All Easy-Bake Ovens are either hot pink or purple or hot pink and purple. All of them.

Hey, Hasbro—ever heard of James Beard? Paul Prudhomme? Gordon motherfucking Ramsey? I’m pretty sure they use(d) ovens. Not just that bitch Rachel Ray. (Jesus, can I eat a goddamn Ritz sometime this century without her annoying mug staring up at me?)

I have an idea -- how about a Hell’s Kitchen version of the Easy-Bake for the guys? How about that, Hasbro, you fucking donkeys!?!?!

Ok, I’ll try to focus here.

I realize I’m bitching about an appliance that utilizes a 40 watt light bulb as the heating element, but DAMN, this thing is slow. The instructions suggest allowing it to pre-heat for 20 minutes, and then it takes at least that long to bake anything.

If you're thinking this doesn’t seem very long, keep in mind the Easy-Bake branded mixes, which are shamelessly sold for $5 a pop, amount to about a quarter-ounce of actual foodstuffs (and I use that term loosely). There is so little mix, it only takes a teaspoon and a half of water to create a moist batter.

I’m totally not exaggerating.

These little packets of mix are like toner cartridges. It would be cheaper to buy a new Easy-Bake Oven, which comes with like three packets of mix, than to buy two individual packets of replacement mix.

Again, I’m not exaggerating (much).

Like I was saying, this thing is S-L-O-W. In fact, it takes so fucking long that the kids forget about the tiny cake. As it turns out, this is somewhat a relief since it takes the wisdom of Solomon to split a cake the size of a fifty cent piece into three equal servings.

On the other hand, this is supposed to be a family activity, and now I’m solely responsible for a half-inch diameter pan of miniature Blondies. Great.

Who here didn't think it was possible to burn food with a light bulb? Well, you can. Now I’m solely responsible for scraping burnt miniature Blondie from a tiny pan.

The kids? Lost interest. Hours ago. I'm not even sure where they are.

And I’m too depressed to go into how these tiny baked goods actually taste. Needless to say, it didn't live up to expectations built from almost 30 years of anticipation.

I’ll leave you with this: printed prominently on the front of each $5 mix packet are the words, “Product shown larger than actual size” and “Your results may vary.”

Amen, Hasbro, amen.

Oh, and a teeny piece of advice, Hasbro – maybe next time you should focus less on the “results may vary” type of legal CYA and oh, I don’t know, make sure your pretty pink and purple ovens don’t, say, AMPUTATE THE FINGERS OF UNSUSPECTING CHILDREN? Ok? Thanks.