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'Tis the season to be jolly, they say, and jingle all the way and yada yada yada and when does the friggin' sun come back?

Being the holiday Grinch is easy these days. There's too much work, too much rain, too much misery to endure. Last week I was subjected to six hours of Celine Dion's Christmas music, and those were just the songs playing on my iPod.

I go full bore to get in the Christmas spirit each year with the appropriate songs and movies, but there are only so many times you can watch "Christmas Vacation" before finally admitting that this once-sacred film from your childhood is borderline rubbish. And when you begin to disrespect the immortal Clark W. Griswold, you know the spirit done died.

That's why it's so refreshing to meet someone like John Buchner, the chairman of the Albany Regional Museum and someone who personifies the goodwill-toward-men ideal that is glorified during the holidays. While so many of us stew in winter's discontent, Buchner, a smile on his face at all times, motors along in his role as one of the leading members of the Albany community.

I didn't know John Buchner from John Lennon until last week when he invited me to lunch with him and Tami Sneddon, the museum's administrative coordinator. Everyone has a story idea to sell, I thought initially. (Talk about having a heart two sizes too small, right?) But Buchner had no sales pitch. As you're probably beginning to realize, this column has limited news value other than to report that Buchner will step down as museum chairman next September when his term is up.

A lifetime ago, when Buchner was a hall-of-fame newspaper man at the Albany Democrat-Herald, he hired my dad as a sports writer. Over the next few years, he etched a place in my family history. Whenever my parents wanted to go out to dinner, Buchner volunteered to babysit my two brothers. When my family had no relatives around with whom to celebrate the holidays, Buchner opened his home. When I was born and the D-H health plan didn't cover all the medical expenses, Buchner wrote my dad a check for the remainder.

Those "World's Greatest Boss" coffee mugs were created for people like Buchner.

I was too young to know him then, but nearly 30 years later he sought me out and became a one-man welcoming committee when I moved to town. Maybe that's just how things are done in the mid-valley, or maybe I'm not giving other, larger communities enough credit for their bigheartedness. I'm more likely to believe the former.

The holiday songs we sing and the movies we watch implore us to embrace the Christmas spirit every day of the year. When you're of the mind-set that it's all a little too hokey and unrealistic, my Christmas wish for you is that someone like John Buchner will come along and (figuratively) smack you upside the head and change your mind.

New weekly feature gives glimpse of valley's taste

The Entertainer is trotting out a new feature this week, something we are (experimentally) calling Listen Watch Read. Each week, three members of the community (newspaper folk, local authors, musicians, artists, students, whomever) will write a blurb about an album, film or book they are currently listening to, watching or reading.

The purpose is to provide an answer to the following question: What is entertaining the mid-valley right now?

The weekly feature ideally will focus on old items as much as new ones. With an avalanche of new releases each week, it's impossible to stay on top of them all. Our hope is that Listen, Watch, Read introduces you to titles you otherwise wouldn't have discovered.

You can find the first installment on the Entertainer's website (www.gazettetimes.com/entertainment and www.democratherald.com/entertainment).

An unabashed plea to all hot dog vendors

Last week I wrote about local gourmet hot dogs. My inspiration for the article was the current special at The Downward Dog in Corvallis: a Kobe beef hot dog topped with a fried egg and stuffed in a grilled cheese sandwich. It tastes amazing, but it's not the best hot dog on Earth.

That honor belongs to the Sonoran dogs that originated in northern Mexico and are prevalent in my hometown of Tucson. Sonoran dogs are wrapped in Mesquite-smoked bacon, stuffed in a special bun called a bolillo bun and topped with a horde of items. The basics: diced tomatoes, pinto beans, fresh onions, jalapeno salsa, mustard and mayonnaise, with a roasted chile on the side.

If Santa Claus had his way, Sonoran dogs would take the place of milk and cookies. They're that good. They've been featured in recent years by The New York Times, NPR and the Travel Channel's "Man v. Food." (For the clip, go to http://bit.ly/sonorandogs.)

I hope the mid-valley is next in line to embrace the greatness.

The Downward Dog owner Cloud Davidson and chefs Ko Atteberry and J.D. Monroe didn't commit to adding the Sonoran dog to their specialty menu when I floated the idea, but I'll push for it as long as I live here. And as soon as they or anyone else has it, I'll shout it from the mountaintops.

 

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