Tag Archives: Neighborhood

The Do’s and Don’ts of Christmas Lights

We’re forgoing any Christmas decorations this year. Call it an austerity measure. Call it Grinching. Call it (most accurately) laziness. With the amount of traveling we do every year, and not knowing when we’ll next be home for the holidays, it didn’t seem prudent to invest time, effort and money in decorations that may not see the house-front again for another 3 or 4 years, especially with no wife or children to share in their enjoyment.

With Christmas just 10 days away, we’re guessing that everyone who’s going to decorate already has, so we may be a bit late with this, but we’re certainly not too late to judge the good, the bad, and the ugly as far as Christmas lights in Baltimore go.

We’ve noticed that the vast majority of inner-city rowhouse dwellers are disinclined to decorate at all, and most will only bother with a tree if there’s a Santa-aged kid in the house. It pains us to admit that the County’s got it all over us as far as decorating goes, but no matter which side of the city line you’re on, you can’t go wrong if you’ll follow our advice to the letter.

This house on Peacock Lane in Portland is a masterpiece of taste and understatement. It's warm, welcoming, and wonderful.

Do: Use white lights. When you light your house, the idea is to show off the house not the lighting itself. Colored lights have a way of clashing with each other, and with the features of most houses. With white lights, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. They can be accented with small strands of red or green lights if you’re really craving a little color, but white effects the soft, warm glow that makes a home look most inviting in the dead of winter.

Do: Work with the symmetry of your house. If you’re going to light up the door, be sure to light up the full length window next to it. Any architectural features like gables or overhangs should be lit, otherwise you run the risk of an incomplete aesthetic. If you have an attached garage, that should be treated as part of the house as well.

Do: Understand that less is more. Resist the urge to compete with your neighbors or add just one more ‘finishing touch.’ Too many lights, wreaths, bows, etc. can go from festive to cluttered very quickly.

Do: Take note of what your neighbors and others are doing. If someone with a house style similar to yours gets it right, don’t be afraid to borrow some of their ideas. Just because you’ve always done it some specific way, doesn’t mean you can’t try something new this year.

Do: Place your tree in the front window. This isn’t mandatory, of course. Some people will want to set up their tree in a non-fronting room. If you’ve got the room and the right windows (bay windows, picture windows) placing the tree at the window will serve to bring the inside out a bit and make the whole effect that much more unified, cozy, and inviting.

Yes, there is actually someone's house under there.

Don’t: Buy any of those giant inflatable snowmen. Just look at the picture. Even with only one of those, your house is a considerable fraction of being that ugly. All those inflatables that light from the inside and require you to run an air compressor half the night are always, always, always tacky. The first Clark Griswold who ever bought one of those probably thought he was pretty clever, but now that Wal-Mart is moving them by the truckload in every town in America they look more ridiculous than ever.

Don’t:Put a bunch of wire statues all over the yard. All those little deer skeletons are junky and trite. One look at them and all we can think is “Welp, that’ll be in a landfill somewhere sooner or later.” That’s not the thought you want in your head at Christmas time. Also, along the same lines, we’d like to mention that we fully endorse natural wreaths and trees.

Don’t:Light deciduous trees. If you’ve got an evergreen, go ahead and light that. Most types of bushes and shrubs are good for lighting as well. Once they lose their leaves though, deciduous trees look dead and have no symmetry. Lights tend to look more like they’re tangled than neatly strung.

Finally Don’t: String all purple lights and football decorations. Christmas is supposed to be about the little baby Jesus. It’s not about the little baby Ray Lewis. Harbaugh, Reed, and Flacco are not the three wise men. The Yinzers in Pittsburgh may have a memorabilia-based economy, but as Baltimoreans, this kind of thing is beneath our dignity.

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House Rules: Anonymity

An interesting incident occurred earlier this week.

The Chop went to dinner in a certain North Baltimore establishment. It’s a small place, but it does a good trade and is usually more full than empty. As soon as we walked in though, we were greeted like old personal friends.

More than that, we were recognized and greeted like old friends. Both the bartender and the host recognized our party immediately from our first visit a week ago. Here’s the thing though: That first visit was just for a quick drink. And when we say quick drink, we mean a really quick drink. We ordered one round, didn’t finish our drinks, and didn’t even get the check, just left a twenty on the bar. We didn’t say anything to anyone and were in and out in ten minutes.

Here Comes a Regular. Paul Westerberg knew exactly what we're talking about here.

Don’t get us wrong… it’s great to go anywhere and be treated well. We thought the service at dinner (and the meal) was above and beyond, and we could definitely see ourselves becoming an actual regular over time. It did get us thinking though.

As nice as it is to get known as a regular someplace, it can be just as nice to be completely unknown. (Yes, we are well aware that we say this as an anonymous blogger.) Just as there are perks to regularity, there are also perks to anonymity. It’s nice to be able to order something out-of-character. It’s nice to not be dragged into conversation if you’re not in a mood to converse. It’s nice to leave a tip based solely on the merit of service and not because you know the bartender personally.

With the Baltimore bar scene consisting of what basically amounts to a few small towns (neighborhoods) in close proximity to one another, and the hospitality industry being somewhat insular, you can get known or recognized almost anywhere relatively quickly, but a place with a bartender who will forget you every time and a crowd who’s not all the usual suspects is worth its weight in Goldschlager.

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Kickball in the Schoolyard

As you probably already know, many area Catholic schools are slated to close due to ‘budget issues’. We’re going to reserve any comment on the Church as a whole, and instead stick to what we know best. We have very mixed feelings, to say the least.

Although the Chop is (mostly) a product of the Catholic schools, we are not now and have never been a Catholic. Our old school is among those that are closing this week with the end of the academic year.

What are we doing to mark the occasion? Are we forming some henny-penny ‘concerned citizens’ group to try to ‘save our schools’? Are we going to go to mass and say the rosary? Are we going to go get a lapdance from a schoolgirl-themed stripper? (Maybe.)

No. We’re playing Kickball.

Playing kickball in the schoolyard was central to the Chop’s adolescent development. It was what we did every day both at recess and after school for years. If we were missing a kickball game, we felt like we were really missing something. We had to know everything that went on in the neighborhood as it happened, and if anything ever happened worth gossiping about, the news hit the schoolyard first.

That school was where we learned to ride a bicycle. It was where we had our first kiss. Smoked our first cigarette. It was a place we made friends that we still have today.

We were lucky to have grown up in an old-school neighborhood. It was full of Polacks and it was the kind of place where 3 generations of family would own 3 houses on the same block. You knew them all and everybody’s dad had a job that paid. And that church and its school were the center of all of it.

That neighborhood is not the same anymore. Our family moved to the far suburbs long ago. The jobs are long gone, and now, so is the school.

You can’t go home again, but today we’re going to go play kickball and afterward raise many a sentimental glass with the Catholics.

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