Monday, January 15, 2018

Small specific pleasures

(Something less horrifying to contemplate than the previous post).

I think a large part of happiness in life comes from noting the small things - some of them things that might happen regularly, but others being things that are uncommon and therefore more special - and enjoying them. Big happy things (what I've called "Christmas morning moments") are rare - things like getting to see a far-away friend, or falling in love, or getting a new car. But there are littler happy things you can recognize and enjoy. Some of these are very specific to me/to people who have my particular hobbies (see #2) but others might be more general

(I may add to this list over the next days as I think of things):

1. Getting into bed on a Friday night when you do not need to do anything the next day, and so you need not set your alarm clock.

2. Finding just-the-right pattern for a yarn (or for quilt fabric) that you've been saving up, and knowing it is the right one. (This happened to me this week: I bought the new "1990s throwback patterns" KnitScene and the Fullerton Cardigan - a plain, dropped-sleeve, v-neck cardigan - which is just what I was thinking of for two big skeins (760 yards each!) of James Brett aran tweed yarn I bought back in July).

3. Or, finding just the right fabric to go in with a quilt you're making.

4. Changing the sheets on the bed on the same night that I wash my hair and have new clean pajamas

5. Cooking something that is easy but really good.

6. Getting something you ordered in the mail. (Part of the reason I buy so much stuff mail-order is that it's just nice to come home and find not-a-bill in the mailbox)

7. When stuff starts flowering in the spring. (I mean pretty flowers, like daffodils or redbud. Not the wind-pollinated tree flowers that make my allergies bad)

8. Having some kind of a little nightlight or something that requires little enough power that you can leave it on when you go out in the evening so there's a little light on when you come home (this is probably only applicable to live-alones)

9. Good quality books, especially ones that have illustrations in them.

10. Finding some kind of product (whether shampoo, or "store" bread, or a pen) that works for you AND is easily obtainable locally.

11. Having a warm buckwheat bag (or hot water bottle) to put down where your feet go in bed on a cold night.

On being prepared

So of course the big news of the weekend was the crying-of-wolf (if it was that) in Hawaii. People got notified - apparently by text message and over the television, though those were two slightly different messages - that a missile was headed their way. It was only 38  minutes later they found out that was in error.

Think about that: 38 minutes.

That's an *awfully* long time. That's almost an entire class section for me (especially if you take into account the calling-roll and making-announcement time at the start, and the inevitable "people shuffling and putting papers away five to seven minutes before class is actually due to end")

It makes me wonder: what would I do? How would I react. I hope I don't EVER have to put it into practice. I admit my first inclination would be to call loved ones on the phone, to say goodbye and that I love them....though I also heard of people filling every container they could find with water, which also is probably a good use of the time (I suppose it comes down to: do you think you'll be vaporized - in which case, call your loved ones and forget water - or do you think maybe you'll make it by 'sheltering in place'?)

I guess also some parents were sending their kids into the storm sewers, in the absence of real shelters? There was some talk about "people would shelter in place for 24 hours" but based on what I read back in the 1980s - the problem would not be over then; there would still be fallout and doubtless a lot of things would be rendered unsafe because of radioactive dust.

I suppose another answer would be to get as FAR into the boonies (i.e., away from anything that would be a target) as possible. Might be hard to do on an island. (Based on some maps I've seen, if I could get to the Panhandle, or to southeast Missouri, or even a bit east of here in my own state, I'd be safer than much of the population. Though then again - unless my car would be a safe shelter I'd be pretty stuck.

So I don't know. My mental image - probably influenced by the fact that I was a tween/teen at the time - of the 1980s nuclear threat was that the Earth would become well-nigh unlivable after a nuclear war, and so unless you had a DEEP reinforced shelter with lots of stored food and water, you'd be done for. And also, the assumption was that it would be like the most dystopian dystopia ever, either with a strongman government taking hold, or with anarchy loosed upon the world, so that if you even HAD stored food, there was a chance you'd not wind up keeping it, not without serious firepower and no qualms about ending the lives of anyone around you....ultimately my conclusion was that I'd rather NOT be a survivor, seeing that the after-nukes world seemed to hold little promise: living off of dry rations, fighting over water, if you were young and reasonably healthy you'd be expected to produce the next generation....

But then again: Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only cities in the world that actually WERE bombed, and they are not sheets of glass. Yes, lots of people died in the detonation, and lots more died of various diseases brought on by the radiation. But Japan still prospers....

So I don't know. Maybe the filling of bottles of water makes ultimate sense here. And making sure you've got some canned food on the shelf (a good idea, anyway, especially in the winter when things like ice storms can happen).

But yeah. I don't want "what do we do if the Big One drops" to be added, once again, to the list of top-of-mind worries. I don't want to have to have "nuclear preparedness training" every fall on top of Active Shooter training and How Not To Harass Sexually training and How To Comply With Every New Government Mandate Training and everything else....

Granted, the risk of a nuclear attack happening is low compared to, say, the risk of being in a car wreck. But I can reduce my chance of a car wreck by driving carefully (and not driving at bad times, like on Saturday nights). And like the old t-shirt of my youth went, "One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day" - an unlikely risk, but a gigantic problem if it were to actually happen.


And a little more philosophical thinking (if you can call it that): In a way, don't we all essentially go around every day with a (figurative) bomb trained on us? Where that bomb might be a heart attack, or a car wreck, or a group of cancerous cells....but because we don't know FOR SURE when that bomb will "detonate," we can go around acting as if it never will. So perhaps the people who managed to keep doing "normal" things for that 38 minutes were the sanest, I don't know.

One of the curses humans live with is the knowledge (on some level) that we will die some day. The only thing that mitigates it for us is we generally don't know WHEN. (And yes, there are medical predictions made, though I know more than a few people who were told, with cancer, "you have at most three months left" and a year later they were still here, and were doing well enough to have what's called "quality of life"). Part of the horror - at least in my mind - of the idea of a capital sentence is that you WOULD would anticipate that evening when the chaplain showed up, and that last night, and when the knock came the next morning. (To me, that seems the most inhumane part of the death penalty, though maybe I over think it). Perhaps the reason we feel fewer qualms euthanizing pets when they get very old or very sick is that we tell ourselves they don't know what death is to fear it as we do....and that may be why the idea of doctor-mediated suicide is something that is a sticking point for many of us. (Though I don't know. There are a few conditions - Alzheimer's is one - where I might be inclined to say "a quick exit while I am still at least somewhat me" would not be such a terrible thing)

I tend to - mostly - be able to go about every day without that cursed knowledge intruding itself into my mind too much (though of late, it's not been so easy for me to feel it about loved ones. The hell of having aging parents is every odd-time phone call - late at night, early in the morning - can make your heart stop briefly.)

So I suppose the answer to "how do we live in a world where something like the 'you have a half-hour before the bomb hits' seems like a plausible sentence we might hear some time" is similar to that going about NOT thinking "someday I'll be felled by a stroke" or "there's a bus out there with my name on it" and try to live normally.

One of the questions I remember coming up in (I think it was) sophomore-level English in high school, where we were reading "Zorba the Greek," is "Is it better to live like you would live forever, or live like you expect to die tomorrow." I admit I disliked the question, and I came down on (and still do) the side of "like you will live forever" because...I don't know, if I knew I would die tomorrow I doubt I could enjoy anything TODAY, but if I can fool myself into figuring that my eventual end is still very far off (and that perhaps I won't see it coming), I can enjoy the day-to-day things - and even enjoy things like slacking off a little, whereas the "you might not be here soon!" raises all kinds of anxieties about "how can you possibly sleep a minute longer than the bare minimum to survive?" and the like.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Blue, not purple

One of the minor-league impulse purchases of yesterday: another bottle of nail polish. In fact, another bottle of China Glaze's "My Little Pony" tie-in nail polish. The color was called "Let your Twilight Sparkle."

So, it should be purple, right? Twilight Sparkle is purple. And it looks purple in the bottle.

Two coats and .... womp womp.

It looks more to me like "Let Your Rainbow Dash." Oh well. It might work another time as a top coat, especially if I had a purplish undercoat. But for now, I have festive, glittery....morgue nails. (I once had a student who worked at an ER and he said he could never get used to blue nail polish because "that's how nail beds look in the morgue...")

Another blue thing, but this was intentionally blue (or rather, blue-green):


This is the "Hippocampus" pattern from Starbeamer Designs on Ravelry. It worked up a lot tinier than I thought it would - and this is worsted weight. (The legs are fiddly to do because they are so small).

I named her "Marina," one of the names I rejected for the dolphin pillow. I think it fits her better.

I tried to do My Little Pony style eyes. It's tough on such a small thing:

Marina face

At one point I had thought of modding this up a little to make a "Princess Skystar" but the pattern works up so small....I don't know. (And the tail isn't quite right for Skystar anyway).

Still, there is something pleasing about the general shape of the critter, and it's sort of fun to have more of these mythological creatures. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Some happy things

A couple more little finished items.

First, a Christmas ornament. This was a kit that came with an issue of Simply Knitting that I picked up when I was at my parents' house. It's a kit for "4-ply" (American translation: fingering weight yarn). They included small amounts of red and white in acrylic. There were three possible patterns. I chose the one I liked best; I didn't realize the kit was probably kitted up for the one with a lot more red in it and I ran short on white....

so I wound up taking the leftover white dk from the SECOND item I will show you, unplying it, and using it, keeping my fingers crossed that the whites were similar enough it wouldn't stand out.

I think it came out OK:


I had to add in the new yarn right over the end of the patterning, so the whole top of the ball is the different yarn. (And in other  news: "Double knitting" is, in fact, twice as heavy as four ply so you can divide strands of it in half and have four-ply weight.)

I will have to squeeze and squish it back into shape before next Christmas when I put it on the tree; it got kind of misshapen in my luggage.

The second item is actually the first of the numerous toys I made over break:


This is Bryony. She is TINY - like, 3 and a 1/2 inches long. Her kit came in a back issue of Simply Crochet and I just never got around to making her before. The instructions suggested unravelling the mane and tail yarn to make them fluffy but I like them better this way.

I named her Bryony because at the time I was making her (just before Christmas) I was watching some kids' specials on TV and one of them was a different sort of movie called "Arthur Christmas" - essentially, a competition between the "current" Santa's two sons for which one would take over the "business" - the brusque and efficient Steve, or the more-traditional and kindly Arthur. (The idea being: heart wins out in the end). When Arthur finds out a little girl's bike has been forgotten, he sets off with the retired-Santa (his grandfather) and an asthmatic reindeer and one of the elves - a hyperactive package-wrapper named Bryony. I liked the name so I appended it to the little unicorn.

(The movie is odd but sweet. I guess it was a British-American collaboration: some of the humor seems more "British" to me, and the voice actors seemed to all be Brits. One thing I liked was the way it kind of explained away the "but how does Santa live so long?" by making the position, rather than the individual, the eternal thing, and that it is essentially a hereditary position).

When I've shown all the critters I made, I should take a photo of "The League of Crocheted Ungulates" because all four of the crocheted critters I made were ungulates (well, at least in part....) and the only other toy I made was a knitted cat....


While I was out of town, my Doki Doki box came. This one is for The Year of the Dog (I guess timing it to Western New Year - the Chinese New Year doesn't come until NEXT month). Fun stuff in this crate - a little sponge that is a dachshund head, and a stuffed Shiba, and a plaque like the ones people used to hang in temples (it said the inscription of mine was a wish for more luck in the new year). And a Cinnomoroll (who I guess is a dog and not a bunny) notebook.

And then this nice big thing:

doge mat

A doge floor mat! It's maybe about 15" tall, and I've put it in front of my living-room chair; it matches better than the woven mat I did have there.


Yesterday afternoon I broke the long stall on the "birb" quilt - put together a few more blocks and tried one of the half-blocks. I have about a dozen blocks left to do, and most of the half-blocks, but I'm hoping I can be motivated to work a little on it regularly and get it done sooner rather than later (I need to get back to sewing more; I enjoy it and I neeeeeeeed to work down on the fabric stash).

I went to the JoAnn's today and spotted this fabric when I walked in and it seemed so perfect (the colors are all colors in the bird fabric and I really like the design, especially on the back of a fairly plain quilt), so I bought a bunch for the backing:

quilt back

Still not sure if I will hire this one out to quilt or do it myself, though at the rate at which I hand-quilt I should probably hire it out.....

And I went to a few other places (Ulta, and Five Below and Home a la Mode and one of the antique/local artist shops....). One of my online friends and I are doing a "winter doldrums" swap of small things and I found some fun stuff to send her.

I found this at Five Below and it was a total impulse purchase:

kitticorn blanket

I once opined a person couldn't have too many of these smallish fleece blankets. This one has kitticorns on it (cats with uncorn horns and wings and rainbows) and so I couldn't resist it. (I did wash it first - I am paranoid enough about any new fabric items that's going to touch my skin gets washed, because of that old episode of "House, MD" where the kids got poisoned by pesticides from their jeans....which I guess actually WAS based on an actual thing that happened).

But yeah. It's super cute, and it's been so cold in my living room (lots of windows and at the exposed front of my house - it seems to be hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than the rest of my house), so it's nice to have.


Friday, January 12, 2018

chilly Friday morning

Nope, not going in - coughed much of last night (taking an expectorant before bed was probably not a brilliant idea) and it's v. cold outside and I don't have anything I HAVE to do to prep for Tuesday's classes that I have not done yet. So in a bit I'm going to try to motivate myself to do a bit of clean-up/put-away of stuff, and some laundry, and maybe a little handquilting or something.

But a couple of photos, first.

This is the last actually-finished item I made over break:

Matane mitts

These are the "Matane" mitts (link to pattern on Ravelry). I modified it a good bit - making things longer (the mitts in general but also the thumb) than written. I was mostly intrigued by the idea of a top-down mitt (most are knit from the cuff to the fingers; these are knit from the fingers down).

I used a String Theory Colorworks yarn for these - Continuum in "Temporal Rift" (which I THINK is an allusion to Dr. Who; the colors resemble those in the Fourth Doctor's scarf). I'm also making a little hat (from the excellent Scraptastic Hat pattern, which is a nice simple hat that works with fingering weight yarn and works up fast). I'm not quite done with it yet, but when it's done, I'll post a photo of both together.

One other photo. I took the tree down yesterday (the ornaments are all put away; the boxes I bought for them work a treat - these were stiff cloth boxes with trays segmented off into either 16 or 20 slots (depending on the size of the box) and you put the ornaments in the trays. They now occupy less space than my old "original box they came in or egg carton" method and are probably better-protected. The tree is in its bag but that's sitting in my dining room because (a) I'm not strong enough yet (not totally over being sick) to move it to the closet at the back of the house and (b) I need to clean up a little to make a better space for it.

But I wanted a little cheer to remain, so I put up all the cards I received - both before break and the ones that came during break, on the grounds that I need to be able to enjoy the ones that came in my absence.

I got a LOT of cards. This makes me happy. You know the bit from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" where Charlie Brown feels like no one likes him because he didn't get any cards*? So I guess by that logic, I must have a lot of people that like me...

(*And I've read that for many years after that special first aired, hundreds of cards addressed to Charlie Brown would show up in the mail, because a lot of kids felt bad that Charlie didn't get any cards)


There are about 25 cards there. Granted, yes, one is from the brokerage I use (well, my uncle is a stockbroker there) and a few are from a card-swap, but a lot AREN'T. And that's nice.

One came all the way from Portugal, and one from the UK, and another from Australia (and has a koala on it). So yes, I want to leave these up for a while. 

Another thought - perhaps the resolution I make for this year? Is to put out positivity to the world: to look for things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, and to emphasize those things, to show them to other people. And to ignore the people who either run down the things I love, or who seem to be trying to detract from their own faults by talking about the faults of everyone or everywhere else. Because I can affect my own behavior, but no one else's, and it's happier for me to point out the good things than to deplore the bad ones that I have no control maybe more conscious-ignoring of what goes on in politics is in order, and more emphasis on "hey, this is a really good novel" or "this particular new food product is good" or "This yarn is really nice to knit with" or whatever....because while I don't really believe in karma, I think you do get back what you put out, and maybe I've been (like Lisa Simpson's bathmat metaphor) absorbing too much of the bad stuff.....

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Once more around

Well, since we've all made one more circuit of the Sun (at least, based on how we currently mark time; I think if it were up to me to world-build, the New Year would begin either on one of the solstices or one of the equinoxes; that seems more logical). And because Kelly did this again, I guess I will:

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't really make resolutions; they tend to be things like "Change your personality!" at their base that are probably unlikely.

I did think of one resolution, but then broke it like four days in to the new year: "Stop taking responsibility for things that are not your responsibility" because I think a lot of my distress and getting side-tracked from what I WANT to do is that - I see something that "someone" should attend to, and decide that I need to be that "someone." 

How did I break it? My mom and I were at the Jewel-Osco and one of the floor mats on the way in was kind of off-centered and it was triggering the automatic door to keep opening and closing, and this was on a very cold day, and I was like "I am going to go and move that mat so the people working in Produce don't get blasted with cold air every 30 seconds" and my mom kind of rolled her eyes and walked to the service desk nearby and told the woman there what was happening and "maybe one of your workers could move the mat"

So, yeah. But maybe I try to do that more - I get tired of carrying stuff I shouldn't have to carry.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

My cousin had her baby a few days into 2017, but other than that, no.

Did anyone close to you die?

A couple people at church. Thankfully only that. One was not-unexpected. I won't say the student who was murdered was "close" to me but I still feel bad about that whole situation.

What countries did you visit?

Only went to other countries through books - mostly to 1930s and 40s England, I guess

What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

More equanimity, more laughter, more time to do what I want to do, more of a sense of security about higher ed as a career in general and my university in specific.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Winning that award for research, but also nurturing a research student. And teaching a new class from scratch.

What was your biggest failure?

I don't know. Not saving more money? Spending on "frivolous" stuff (like vintage ponies) that someday my heirs will go "what the heck was she thinking?" about. Not being brave enough to tell a few people off who probably deserved it.

What was the best thing you bought?

The big new Christmas tree, I think. At least, among frivolous purchases. It's hard to remember what else. I bought a lot of small things but no appliances or jewelry or even really shoes...

Whose behavior merited celebration?

Some of the students, who worked hard and earned good grades. Some of my colleagues, who continue to keep good cheer and enthusiasm in the face of a culture that wants to believe what we are doing is either useless or harmful. The people at church who "keep on keepin' on" despite our small size and low funds, we still do a lot of outreach - most recently providing a social option for college students who want some kind of fun, sort-of-wholesome, small-group "dinner and games" type thing once a week. The people in my town who do things like keep a food bank running, who provide temporary housing for people fleeing bad circumstances, who provide that kind of grassroots help to people who might otherwise fall through the cracks or have to wait far too long for "official government" help.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Big and small: the big, lots of people in government. People who do stuff like embezzle money or harm other people or use their position of power to demand things of people they should have been embarrassed to even ask for. Small: the people who flip other drivers off on the road for not speeding "enough," people who vandalize stuff, people who are rude to others, especially to service workers.

Where did most of your money go?

Well, in seriousness: to the bills (utilities, gas, food, maintenance) and to put into a retirement fund that I sincerely hope will be enough to keep a  roof over my head and food on my table. Disposable income? Books, yarn, vintage Ponies, stuffed animals Doki Doki crates, make-up. I should feel bad about that level of frivolity but I don't.

What did you get really excited about?

The eclipse, once it arrived (I rolled my eyes during the run-up to it). Working with the research student and also with a couple of other dedicated students in my classes. The idea of becoming a 'technical editor' on a small journal. Getting to go meet up with my friend Laura for a day of shopping, getting to meet up with Lynn.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Happier, actually: last year I had just gotten home after my mom's fall on the ice and all the worry about "would she get better enough" for me to leave and also all the stress of trying to keep a household running when I am used to "floating" a lot of things in my own household. I also feel some relief and pride I successfully taught a new prep outside of my field of expertise - and that I don't have to do it this spring. (And in fact, I have  "only" three lecture classes to teach)

Thinner or fatter?

About the same. I'd have said "fatter," except I think this last bout of a URI caused me to drop a couple pounds.

Richer or poorer?

Poorer in the sense of immediate cash (not teaching summers any more, at least not until I can be promised I won't be doing full time work for adjunct wages) but probably richer in the sense that the money in my retirement account is probably accruing more than it was this time last year.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Knitting, quilting, laughing, hanging out with friends, reading, new experiences of some sort....

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Worrying. (The perennial answer).  Feeling bad because I said "no" to what were truly unreasonable requests.

How did you spend Christmas?

With my parents. It was quiet but it was fine. I do feel these days it's over too fast and I never enjoy it quite enough.

Did you fall in love in 2016? (I assume he means "2017")

No, not really. I think that is a possibility that the window has closed upon for me.

How many one-night stands?

Ugh, no. As I said last year: I think this kind of thing has made it why people like me - who dislike the whole concept - find finding love difficult in this brave new world.

What was your favorite TV program?

I still love "Friendship is Magic," no matter what the people who argue it peaked totally in Season 2 say. And I still like "Star Vs. the Forces of Evil."

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I try very hard not to hate people but to hate behaviors. That said, I can't think of anyone who really rubs me deeply the wrong way now who didn't already in early 2017.

What was the best book you read?

Oh, man. Hard to think.....I read a lot of mystery novels, didn't-quite-finish a second pass at Moby-Dick.... Maybe The Box of Delights, even though it had "that kind" of an ending (no, I won't spoil it). Maybe The Brutal Telling, which was an Inspector Gamache novel...

What was your greatest musical discovery?

I don't know. I'm not very adventurous here. I mostly stick to the familiar....

What did you want and get?

 Lots of Ponies, a new Christmas tree, some of the stuff I asked for for Christmas....

What did you want and not get?

A sense of stability about my state's finances.

What were your favorite films of this year?

I didn't see any "new" movies; my favorite "new to me" movie was The King's Speech.

What did you do on your birthday?  

Worked, because it was a Monday. But the weekend before I went and bought yarn and fabric and went out to lunch.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017? 
"Same as it ever was" - a little bit earth-mother, a little bit preppy, mostly things that are comfortable and not too confining and not too warm on hot days.

What kept you sane?

Successes at work; my friends both at church and online; books; knitting.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Given what's gone on and what's whispered (or shouted) about so many male celebrities now, I think I'm gonna take a pass on this one for this year. (I assume "fancy," in the old British slang sense, as in "I'd like to snog that guy")

What political issue stirred you the most?

Also taking a pass on this, because I tend to feel the big issues are the ones in which no one cares what I think, and the smaller ones have some degree of futility. (The eco-park we were hoping for this time last year is probably dead, given some of the resignations in City Hall.) I think I'd rather be involved with things like disaster relief than political issues because in those cases, I actually feel like I'm doing some good, even if it's just the small good of handing a hungry person a sandwich.

Who did you miss?

Sometimes I think about people like Mike Royko and some of the other commentators/newsmen of old, and I really wonder what they'd say about the bizarre new world we seem to be living in. I miss a lot of the people who use to write sort-of-tart commentary but who cared more about the ideas and less about THEM being the story - I think too much of our news now has become newsperson-as-celebrity, and they want to be the story rather than the story being the story....

Who was the best new person you met?

Sadly, not a lot of new people in my life this year. If I can count meeting "in person" someone I had just known online, the meetup with Lynn and her husband....

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017:

Sort of a continuing and unpleasant lesson from 2016 - that sometimes you can do your absolute best, sometimes you can be as honest as the day is long, and still, your success is not guaranteed; that being a good person doesn't mean you win in this world. It feels monumentally unfair and I see no option OTHER than continuing to try to be a good person (because God help me, I cannot do otherwise) but I also have to recognize that sometimes things are totally out of my hand and nothing I can do can prevent bad things.

If you take selfies, post your six favorite ones:

Not really a selfie-taker (other than using webcamera) but I think I'll take a shot from every other month of last year:




August (technically, this was taken with my camera on timer)



Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

 I dunno. I did the one from "Hallelujah" last year about "I did my best, it wasn't much" and I still stand by that as kind of summing up my existence:

"I did my best/ It wasn't much/ I couldn't feel/ So tried to touch/ I've told the truth/ I didn't come to fool ya.// And even though/ It all went wrong/ I'll stand before The Lord of Song/ with nothing on my tongue/ but Hallelujahs."

I guess I don't change that much year to year...

Or maybe another one, one from a group popular in my youth:

"Stand in the place where you live
Now face north
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven't before
Now stand in the place where you work
Now face west
Think about the place where you live
Wonder why you haven't before" 

Or maybe a much shorter lyric, from another song by the same group: "Everybody hurts/ Take comfort in your friends...."



some random thoughts

* It's remarkable what a relief some little things are. Driving in to my office this morning, both my ears finally totally unplugged. Often when I have some kind of URI thing going on, they will get plugged - either from congestion, or often if I'm not careful blowing my nose. I always worry about it because I know plugged Eustachian tubes are one way you can develop some nasty ear infections*

(*some years back, my mom developed an infection very deep within the ear - it was actually a mastoid infection. It was scary because the symptoms didn't map to normal ear-infection symptoms; my dad wound up rushing her to the hospital, thinking she had had a TIA - so did the doctors, at first - but after MANY tests, they found the infection with an MRI. A course of antibiotics later and she was fine. The one other bit of good news was that the various tests she had to have ruled out the presence of heart or vascular disease. But it was a scary couple of days)

But also, it's one of those little quality-of-life things. I am aware enough (some might say "Sheldon Cooper enough") of sensations to be really annoyed by things like a plugged ear.

So I feel a lot better right now. I coughed some last night, but I slept pretty well. And I don't have a fever this morning (I had been taking 500 mg Tylenol morning and bedtime to knock back the fever because this one made me feel so crummy). I didn't take any Tylenol this morning and I think I can stop it now, which is good.

Also, the worries I had ("Is this turning into pneumonia?" "Am I just normal-tired, or is this 'dangerously-sick tired'?" "I'm not starting with sepsis, am I?") are going away as I start to feel better. (I am guessing what I felt last night was "normal-tired," considering my traveling-while-sick and all.)

Also my sense of smell and taste are returning (I often lose them - probably lose taste because I've lost smell - during URIs). I often worry when that happens, like "what if they never come back" because then I could never again enjoy some of the nice cosmetic-type products I buy because of their scent (rose is a big favorite of mine these days, and I like mint soap). And it affects my appetite badly (I am quite sure I would lose weight if I lost my ability to taste for an extended period; my feeling during those times is often, "I might as well eat the blah-est but most healthful things because what does it matter?")

* I do need to "put Christmas away" this afternoon. I am in the office for a short while this morning to get a few things together for when classes start Tuesday, but I'm going home at lunch - we are supposed to get sleet and snow and I'd rather not be out in it, and would rather have my car garaged. So I'm going to untrim the tree and put the other stuff away this afternoon. It feels a little sad - as I always feel with Christmas, I feel like I didn't ENJOY it enough, somehow. It will be nice to get my living room back (the tree takes up a lot of space) but I will miss the glitter and the prettyness and the specialness.

I do plan to take all my Christmas cards - most of which came while I was gone, so I need to take time to enjoy them - and line them up on my piano top so I still have a LITTLE cheer for January. (I am also contemplating clearing off the coffee table that sits in front of my non-functional fireplace and putting lots of the bits of pressed glass I have on it, and either put unscented tealights in the glass, or see if I still have enough of the battery-operated fake tealights that work, and have a little flickering display for a while. It helps to have something pretty and sweet in January.

January is my second-least-favorite month. (August is least-favorite: hot, dry, it's been hot and dry FOREVER, no holidays, and usually we have to gear up to start back to school even though it's hot - I like back-to-school, but in mid-August it feels too early). February is not nearly so bad because (a) my birthday falls at the end of it and I use that as an excuse for a day of self-indulgence and things like yarn-buying and (b) by February, we're usually getting close to it being spring, which is probably the prettiest season here. (And spring tends to last longer here than it did in Illinois, where winter can hang on for a long time). January is often cold and has bad weather (ice rather than snow here, and ice is always bad). And there's the "you just had a month of fun stuff and cheer, now put that all away and be serious again" attitude. And it doesn't help that there is the whole "resolution" thing. By and large it seems the cooking channels have backed off of the idea they had several years ago of "Let's show only 'healthful food preps' in January," probably because watching fish poach or broccoli steam is not as interesting as watching someone make bread or Tex-Mex food. But still, it does seem that January is meant to be an ascetic month, and I'm not so sure that seems ideal. (Or: I've noticed an uptick in the ads for online dating where they hint that "finding someone to love" should be a resolution you make. And yes, it would be nice to have someone to love, but it seems to me that's not the same kind of "I can make that happen through sheer force of will" things the way that, say, giving up sugar in your coffee or walking 2 miles every day is - it depends greatly on the other people around you, and I think any resolution that is at least partly dependent on others is probably not a good resolution)

* I'm hoping I'm totally better (or close enough to totally) this weekend to go do something. (And I hope the weather is OK). I feel like I want to do an Ulta run and maybe one or two other things, maybe go to the antique shops in Denison.

* And yes, classes start Tuesday (we get MLK, Jr. Day off, though they are once again trying to encourage us to do volunteer work. I dunno. I feel like I do an awful lot the rest of the time and I feel a bit like I feel about Valentine's Day - if you have someone in your life you truly love, you show them you love them EVERY day, that Valentine's Day is not some kind of "gonna make it up to you" day because it doesn't work that way - that people should try to find some service that suits them and do that on a regular basis, whether it's through their house of worship or an environmental group or a social-services thing....and take just one day out of the year and figure they're now good for the rest of the year. And so, I am telling myself I can feel Zero Guilt about not going and, I don't know what this year's project is, but Zero Guilt because I am helping produce a journal and I do stuff at church and I'm the new Wesley Center rep for my church and I feed the college kids a few times a semester, and so on). And also, I do a lot of those things at times that are not otherwise "big" times.

And you know? there's a slightly-heartbreaking PSA that State Farm put out this year, about not giving up volunteering when the holidays are over:

And yeah. I've heard that - that often agencies have to turn away would-be do-gooders on Thanksgiving or Christmas or whenever (I hear lots of parents griping that they will take their "ungrateful kids" to serve at a soup kitchen so the kids can learn to feel happy with what they have, and I'm kind of sure that grumpy, inexperienced teenagers doing that kind of service are not exactly what the people running the service need....), and that come March or June or whenever, it's hard to find people to help. (Same with giving to food banks and the like. At least here in town the main one puts out regular calls of "we need peanut butter" or "if you can spare some cans of beans or tuna, we can use it" so people don't forget)

* And I am happy to find out that one of our excellent former students (he earned a Master's degree; I was on his committee) is coming back to adjunct for us this spring. He will get the office next to mine which has not been regularly occupied since the geneticist we had before we got the person who is now my chair - for a while, another adjunct used it, then it was empty, then a visiting scholar used it, now that he's gone....I'm glad I'll have Phillip as a neighbor. (We got our excellent TFT person who runs the intro labs that way - she earned a Master's here, worked a bit as an adjunct, then we were able to hire her full-time (and she managed to escape the cuts in 2016, thank goodness: we NEED her for the job she does; a full-time lab coordinator is an important thing when you have many lab sections and she is v. good at that kind of efficient coordination). Maybe we'll get lucky and eventually be able to re-hire Phillip as TFT, which means he would get better pay and some benefits and we could put him on more classes. (I bet he could also do intro Conservation, and free up one of the Fish and Wildlife dudes to teach something else).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

And I'm home

Break was generally good, except for the weather - it became EXTREMELY cold right after Christmas, and so my plan of walking 40 to 50 minutes a day to keep up with exercise had to come to a stop because I don't think frostbite is a good trade-off for avoiding weight gain....previous to that, I had been going out every day and walking around my parents' neighborhood. There are lots of places to walk - nearly every street has sidewalks, and there are lots of little side streets. I also figured out which was the oldest developed area in the entire neighborhood (narrower sidewalks, houses set farther back on bigger lots, different house style). It was interesting and I am contemplating trying to add 20 minutes of walking to the end of the day here (weather permitting) (On top of my regular exercise in the mornings). Of course in my town people are not so scrupulous about keeping their dogs indoors/behind a fence/on a leash so I might be better off just walking up on campus before I leave for the day - there is a walking trail there.

My parents are doing fine. My dad is doing a lot better - the main concern was he had opened some sores on his legs when he fell, and he can be very slow to heal. (Well, also, he wound up with a staph infection in one of them, and had to go on antibiotics). But he was getting better, and the visiting nurse was pleased how well things began progressing after the antibiotics. He isn't so good at doing the PT exercises he was prescribed, and my mom is not willing to nag him very much about them. (Though I will say, from my experience with exercise: keeping up with it is a good idea for general health. I know I feel better, and I have fewer problems with my bursitis, when I can at least walk for 40 minutes a day....)

I knitted a lot and crocheted a lot. (Photos to come later). It was too cold to go out and do much, and also, a couple of the old favorite restaurants had closed down. I guess even there they are seeing the changes that are happening in how things work - sadly, I suspect what some people say, that "the middle is being hollowed out" is true - the very high-end places that rich people go to are still there, the super-cheap (and not that good) fast food is still there. (And the same with clothing stores. And other things....)

Unfortunately, even with mostly sticking at home, I wound up catching a nasty cold. I think it developed either Friday or Saturday (meaning I already had it when my mom and I went out to the farm store for more birdseed and ice-melter, so I didn't catch it there). Not sure how I got it. Maybe at the barber shop when I got the split ends trimmed off my hair, maybe at the grocery store - it kind of stinks that I didn't go anywhere all that "fun" but still wound up sick.

Traveling back was less fun than it might have been with the cold. The worst of it was over (now it's mostly moved into my chest and manifests as a cough and messed-up voice) but still: my sense of taste is wonky (because my sense of smell is messed up), breathing isn't as fun as it might be, my nose and upper lip are terribly chapped from the endless nose-blowing. I have Mucinex (well, generic equivalent: $10 at the Kroger's rather than $32 for the echt stuff. (I guess that mucus spokescritter makes a nice paycheck?). I took a hot shower with a lot of steam and I have Tylenol, which I guess does a LITTLE bit towards making me feel better (I do not like to take NSAIDs any more: stomach worries, and also, I've read more about them being a concern for heart issues, even in people without heart disease). And again, with Tylenol, you have to be VERY careful about dosage - the "effective" dose and the LD-50 are not that far apart, or at least that was how it was explained to me. (I am taking about half what they recommend, and only taking it in the morning and at bedtime).

I did beg off of Board Meeting tonight. Someone had already cancelled Elder's meeting, I guess under the assumption I wouldn't be back yet, so I don't feel quite so bad (not making people come out for no reason a half-hour early) and it's probably better for me to just go to bed early tonight.

I do have to take down my tree (sigh). I think that's a task for tomorrow afternoon; if I'm feeling better I will go in in the morning and do a bit of prep towards classes starting on Tuesday but we might get some wintry weather in the afternoon, so I figure I plan on coming home at lunch and staying home.

I picked up my mail. Surprising lot of Christmas cards that arrived after I left, so I think what I might do is open them and then after I take down the tree, line them all up on the piano so I can have a little bit of cheer for a little longer....January can be kind of hard because all of the prettiness and sparkliness and fun is put away and instead the tv is full of ads for weight-loss plans and online dating and stuff like that that is supposed to be resolution-related. (I think January is a bad time to do resolutions, anyway - the only month worse than January is August, which is hot, dry, no holidays, and usually school starts back up...)

Monday, January 01, 2018

We made it!

If you're reading this, we all survived to the start of 2018. Yay us.

Here's hoping 2018 is at least better than 2017 was, globally speaking. I get that that's a low bar, but....

(I will be back "home" - at my home - around the 10th....)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

I found it!

My all-time favorite version of "What are you doing New Year's Eve" is finally up on YouTube.

Mel Torme. Obviously when he was quite young (tone of his voice, which is higher than in later years, and also the rather fuzzy quality of the recording).

But yeah, I kind of love this version. More so than many others:

A happy New Year to you. (I never do very much to celebrate: don't drink, don't like staying up late...)

And for the sake of completeness, here is a later version. Better mastered, but Torme's voice has dropped a bit in pitch:

Friday, December 29, 2017

real-time post

Well. So, we went from "A white Christmas is rather unlikely this year" (when I arrived up here on the 19th) to "We might have one" (a couple days out) to waking up Christmas Eve to a couple inches of snow.

Still, I got what I wanted: My mom and I got out to the 7:30 pm service, even though the roads were not great (and even though she, being overtired and concerned over a problem my father had a couple days before, had smashed one of the side mirrors on the car, and because it's an adjustable mirror AND it's an old car, it was hard to replace - in fact, the one the autoparts store sent to their mechanic shop was not the right one, and so the receptionist/co-owner there is having to try to track down the right one for that make/model), we got out and back safely.

Christmas was good. Quiet, but good. I enjoyed Christmas dinner with a good bit more cheer this year than last, considering that (a) my mother wasn't injured this year and (b) I didn't have to cook it and clean up after it ALL myself.

Other than that, we've been stuck in a lot: snowy, extremely cold, my father has a few lingering health issues (he is out right now at a doctor's appointment) and so my mom doesn't like to be gone too long. And I don't like driving in snow much, and I especially don't like driving with a smashed driver's-side side mirror (my mom claims it doesn't bother her, she uses the rear-view one more, but I guess years of interstate driving down to Sherman has trained me to rely heavily on the side mirrors). (There's still a mirror THERE, but you can't really see well in it so you can't rely on it).


One thing I've been doing is sort of desultorily reading through my (paternal) grandfather's memoirs, which one of my uncles has been editing/typing up from the holograph form. He described my grandfather as "somewhat eccentric" and I guess I agree at this point (a few days ago, when I was not so far it, I would have merely said "interesting," but...)

My grandfather was born in 1895 (Yes, my family is demographically odd; it turns out my grandfather didn't father his oldest child until he was 40: I think my grandmother must have been a *good* bit younger than him even though I never thought about it). Both my parents were late-in-life babies for their parents, and I guess I was a late-in-life baby for my times. (My mom was in her early 30s; she once remarked she was irritated by the OB referring to her as a "geriatric primagravida")

Reading my granddad's writing is interesting. I  never knew him well; I was eight when he died and I think he probably didn't know how to take small children (I don't, either). I mostly remember him as a very old man with a shock of white hair and a raspy laugh, and he smelled like pipe tobacco. (Even to this day the smell of pipe tobacco reminds me of my paternal grandparents' house). But there was so much more there. I now kind of wish he could come back for a few days so I could talk to him as an adult - but then again, I'm not sure he'd know what to make of my generation, or (based on some things he's said) a woman who is effectively a professional and independent.

(Then again: quite a shocking number of his relatives, and the people he grew up around, never married. I guess that was more common in the lower-middle class years back, when the idea of "how would I support a kid" was a bigger concern, and of course no reliable birth control - even if my granddad's faith (and that of his milieu) would have condoned its use)

He was definitely a romantic. I don't mean the Casanova kind of romantic (though he did seem to have more than his share of innocent crushes as a schoolboy), but the kind of romantic that looks at the world, thinks, "this could be better than it is" and feels somewhat disillusioned that it is not.

In fact, a lot of the disillusionment I've felt in recent years - the idea that things of the mind (and perhaps even the heart, or the soul) are devalued in our culture, that the only kind of love that's seen as mattering is the carnal kind, with love-of-your-offspring perhaps a close second, that the kind of people who "get ahead" tend to have slipperier morals than what I would strictly approve of.....and all of that seems like vintage Granddad, based on things he's written.

And it makes me wonder. How much of personality is genetic? Could I have inherited some of his tendency to be over-fond of books, easily falling into crushes but easily disillusioned out of them when the object of my affection turns out to have feet of clay, longing for a world where people are more left alone to whatever intellectual pursuit they are called by, rather than pressed to "wake up, you've got to make money."

I don't think it's memetic. My dad seems not to have the romantic streak my grandfather had - I suspect he takes after the more-practical German side of the family. He certainly LOOKS more like his mother's side of the family (as do I: a lot of people on my granddad's side were quite handsome, but with leaner faces and sharper features than either my father or I have).

He was VERY Irish - that sort of stereotypical Irish romanticism, I guess, comes out in his writing (I suspect he played it up as a "thing," just as I joke about my mania for being on time for things being part of my Prussian ancestry). And he was VERY Roman Catholic. (Which is amusing, because some other bits of family history - for example, that they owned land at a time of British occupation of Ireland - suggests the family was not *always* Catholic, and perhaps wasn't for much of their time in Ireland. But then again, there's they saying "no zealot like a convert," though the conversion apparently happened in his grandparents' generation at the latest). But...he does seem very much a man of his time and place (the lower-middle-class or perhaps even working-class Irish boroughs of Chicago).

He was involved tangentially with WWI - he was a pilot in training for the Air Corps (he refers to it as the Air Force but I *think* in those days it was still the Army Air Corps). He was at Love Field for much of his training, and it's sort of uncanny to me to think that, literally 100 years ago, my grandfather was walking around in Dallas and Fort Worth, not THAT far from where I live now. (I have only been to Love Field once in my life....when I was interviewing for my current position). But I recognize the street names from Dallas traffic reports....

My grandfather seems to have been quite an intellectual as a young man. I knew he had wanted to be a writer - I once linked a poem he wrote, called "To the Steger" - and he did work for a number of years for the Chicago Tribune (in fact, I think that was the longest and most-steady type of employment he had). But in his youth he was fascinated by the wireless (then a new thing - he writes about Marconi) and he was also very much into the Classics. He writes at length about his time at St. Ignatius, which I guess was both a high school and college in Chicago, run by Jesuits. He writes  of his love of the Eclogues  and other Latin poetry, and boasts a bit at his skill at taking rough English translations and putting them into meter (iambic pentameter - and yes, I'm impressed, my few experiments with writing poetry, I found getting the meter right very hard).

He also notes something I find somewhat unsettling: he wanted to become a Jesuit priest. In fact, several times in his memoirs he notes that. What kept him from asking to be recommended to go through the discernment process? One of his crushes - an unrequited love for a tomboyish girl named Sis, whom he idealized and dreamed of marrying (until she apparently broke off contact with him in the early 1920s).

And it makes me wonder: If Granddad had taken orders - he wouldn't BE my Granddad. My father and his brothers wouldn't exist. **I** wouldn't exist, at least not in the particular form I am now. And it does make me wonder - years and years ago, I think I wasn't even in high school yet, my mom made the offhand joke that "If your dad hadn't disliked Harvard and transferred back to the University of Michigan, you'd probably be an Eastern 'chick.'" But it did kind of make me think: WOULD I be an "Eastern chick," or would I just not exist? Or would my mom have gone on to marry, I don't know, some farmer's son and I would be a Michigan girl with different interests and different attitudes? And I find myself thinking about that again, after reading about Granddad's longing to have been a priest.

(Though I suspect some of it may have been the romantic image of the teaching priests at his high school; he might have found himself unsuitable when going through discernment - just as happened to one of my cousins, who may well now wind up getting married HIMSELF, seeing as he's taken up again with an old girlfriend)

But what I wonder is this: would I have still been here somehow - maybe through my grandmother having married someone else, but still having had the man who became my dad? Are we each, in some way, pre-ordained to exist, because we're "supposed" to be here - and so, even if my dad HAD liked Harvard*, somehow, in some form, there'd be someone with my particular outlook on life and whatever talents I may have? I admit to me that thought is somewhat comforting: that I'm somehow meant to be here, I have a purpose I am hopefully fulfilling, and it's not all just random. (Or, as the slightly-silly poster in the kids' Sunday school room at my church says: "I must be somebody 'cos God doesn't make junk")

Then again, it's possible we are all more or less just happy  accidents (perhaps in some cases, not such happy accidents; I look at people like the various tyrants of this world, and the grasping politicians, and the debased individuals who would exploit children or vulnerable young women, and I think: surely that is not their purpose in life, as much as I joke about "if you can't be a good example, be a terrible warning." Though on the third hand: we have free will and perhaps even the basest tyrant was someone who had a higher purpose at one point, but they chose selfishness instead?)

At any rate: meant to be or happy accident, I'm glad my grandfather met and fell in love with the stolid German girl he wound up marrying, and that my dad came along (and that he didn't like Harvard, and so, transferred to Michigan, so he could meet and eventually marry my mom). But it is weird and interesting reading my grandfather's memoirs.

(*I think he went there to please HIS dad, who, I admit, seems a bit of an intellectual snob in that way. I see it in myself - another way, perhaps, that I'm like my Granddad despite having barely known him - the valuing of things like degrees and liking the "prestige" of a "meaningful" school and all that. Though Harvard now is not what Harvard was then, I think....and at any rate, my dad wound up at what used to be called "The Harvard of the West," and he went to a freshman mixer, where he met my mom, and they started dating, and then some years later, when they were both accepted to the same grad school, decided to get married so they could save on rent.....and then, ten or so years later, I came along...)

Snow at Christmas

As this is a pre-written (embargoed) post, I have no way of knowing if we had snow or not. More years, more often than not, where my parents live now, we don't. It might be cold, but either it's cold and too dry for snow, or else it's just above the threshold of freezing, and rain comes instead.

(Rain and 40 degrees F is, in my mind, far more miserable than snow and, say , 25 degrees F. Especially if the rain comes with wind and the snow is just falling nicely through calm air).

I remember from childhood that more often than not, there was snow at Christmas - enough that the one or two "green" (really: brown, given the state of the lawn) Christmases were a considerable disappointment. Part of that is I grew up in the 1970s, a historically cooler decade (and yes, there were people back then predicting a new Ice Age, something that has largely been forgotten). And also, I grew up in the shadow of Lake Erie - not QUITE in the heavy snowbelt that ended around Ashtabula, but still within the outer belts. Most years there was a few inches of snow; one or two years there were FEET.

Snow is more fun when you're a kid and don't have to drive in it. And when you don't have to go to work and contend with slush and either ruining your good shoes, wearing ugly floppy galoshes over them, or wearing some kind of snow boots and carrying your shoes (along with your briefcase, lunch, possibly a thermos of coffee, and whatever other impedimentia your job required). I don't remember for sure what my dad did - I think he went the galoshes route - but it must have been a pain. (When I was a grad student, when we did have snow, I guess I just wore old shoes and didn't worry too much. And anyway, my university was pretty good at snow removal so the sidewalks were usually clear).

But I do admit I like a *little* snow at Christmas - maybe just some pretty flakes on Christmas Eve day, and no accumulation until after people are safely home from services that night....but then maybe a couple inches on Christmas day, enough so kids who got sleds or other snow toys can go out and enjoy them, and so it looks pretty (at least for a while, snow covers up a lot of the late-fall ugliness in the world - a couple inches and it doesn't matter you never got around to raking up the leaves).

It does make it harder for people with mobility challenges, and I'm all too cognizant of that now. Better to have it for one day, when you don't have to leave the house, and gone the next. (Where I live, if we get more than a dusting of snow, everything shuts down until it goes away and I generally don't have to leave the house.)

Failing snow at Christmas, I'd rather it be clear and cold (and dry) than rainy. And I'd rather have it be a little rainy than "hot" and sunny. (I have had people tell me there have been a few years in recent years, down where I live, where it was close to 80 on Christmas. That feels wrong, for a Northern Hemisphere person. They loved it; they said they chose to do the turkey as smoked turkey using the grill. But I would feel discombobulated if it weren't at least cold.)

I dunno, though. Sometimes I do wish I could go back to childhood for just a few hours, and have the excitement of snow at Christmas - snowmen, and snow angels, and snowballs - without having to worry about "how will I get to work" or "I have to shovel the sidewalk."

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Lots of memories

One thing this season does is bring up memories. Good and bad. Of late (I wrote this on 12/12), it's some memories that make me a little....not sad, exactly, but wistful. Missing how things were:

1. I pulled out my goofy Christmas hat. This is a chu'ullo style hat, but knit in red, green, white, and gold, with some more Scandi-style colorwork designs on it. First of all, I think of the colleague who, upon first seeing me in it, shook his head and chuckled and said, "Only you, Erica. Only you." And it reminds me of a time when I was a bit more carefree than I am now...

I also think about knitting on it. I know it was December 1998 (so: the hat is now 19 years old). I know that because it was my brother's wedding - my parents and I, sitting around in their hotel room in Indianapolis, waiting for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, and my dad watching the Clinton impeachment proceedings on C-SPAN. And me knitting on the hat.

And how things have changed. I didn't know that in the next year I'd have a job that took me 700 miles from there, and in a few more years, my brother and sister-in-law would move to Virginia and have a kid....

2. Thinking of my parents' cats, when I see video of cats attacking tree ornaments. They never did that, exactly, but they were always around, and I miss them. Even though it's been nearly 10 years now that they've been gone. I still dream about them some times.

3. Thinking about childhood Christmases and how there was always that one toy where it was the Best Thing Ever that you got it for Christmas and you were so happy. And I cannot think of a material thing that would make me that happy again as an adult. (Maybe the secret is: reasonably lucky kids are happier than adults ever will be.)

4. Thinking about people who are gone from my life. In most cases, this is because they've died, but in some, it's that I've lost track of them. I think of how, when I was in high school, my parents would send out like 100 Christmas cards and I envisioned doing that some day. Oh, I send out cards, but actually more in a card-swap with  people I don't know that well than to people who were old roommates or former co-workers or distant relatives or the like...And I wonder how different my life would be if I had managed to stay in touch (In a lot of cases: people moving around a lot after college, in a few cases: people who are bad at writing)

5. When I had more time and energy for stuff. I think of the years I baked like eight batches of cookies for various functions at home, and I'm amazed now by that. I'm sure the beta-blocker has sapped away some of the energy I once had, and increasing demands at work has taken still more. But I miss that....

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

And it's over.

One thing I've learned about how adulthood is different from childhood: the run-up to Christmas is the good part. The various parties with nice food or singing with friends or even token gift exchanges. The lights and decorations. The appearance of festive food and festive things, even in otherwise drab groceries. The feeling, for about a month, of specialness and prettiness. And it culminates with church on December 24, which in some ways is the best service of the year - for one thing, it's at night, which is different and special.

And then it all kind of goes away. Usually, the day after Christmas, the channels that have been playing Christmas music - sometimes since before Thanksgiving - go back to their regular formats. The Christmas movies are mothballed for another year (except for a few channels, like Hallmark, that do a "Christmas in July" promotion, and I'm sorry, but I just can't get into that. I can't watch Christmas movies when it's 110 degrees out). And it's back to Ordinary Time, or at least, for those less conscious of the liturgical year (for the rest of us: we have until Epiphany, but it's kind of hard to keep up the Christmas spirit when everyone else seems to want to move on to the run-up to Valentine's Day - a holiday I don't really celebrate).

When I was a kid, it was different, of course. December seemed to drag on FOR-EVER. Of course, time in general seemed slower when I was a kid, because I'd lived less of it, and because I was less busy than I am now. But it seemed like forever from the day I sent off my Santa letter and the "big day." I couldn't wait for Christmas and I'd tell my parents that and roll my eyes when they told me I'd feel differently when I got older. (They were right).

I also remember other things - shaking the wrapped packages, or feeling of them to see what they contained. I don't do that any more; I want to be totally surprised when I open it. (Usually, it's not as much of a surprise; since I moved away from home my parents know my wants less, and I have to supply a list, so I know it will be one of about ten different items, and that's less fun than when I was a kid, when it could be ANYTHING).

We decorated more when I was a kid. I'm sure it was because my brother and I were kids, but also, maybe, my parents had more time - or for my dad, it was more of an escape from work, just as my having a tree up, and lights, and little LED candles in the window, and putting out a few of my special dolls and animals is a nice escape from work for me, and I can come home at night and look at them, even if I'm having to sit and grade as I do.

I don't remember us doing a lot of activities outside the house (other than church). I guess we went to the mall to see Archie the Snowman, and when I was really young, there was a Breakfast with Santa some Saturday in December....but I don't think my parents went to parties and stuff. (When I was in grad school - that was when the at-work parties started. My dad's department had a potluck lunch, which was always fun and good. Spouses were invited (and anyway, my mom was an adjunct at times), and I was invited as well - I usually brought a tray of cookies and candy I had made.

(Ah, for those days. When I had time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make a few batches of cookies and candy, and plenty of eager recipients to eat them).

And there was a party in my department, often a potluck in the evening, and also get-togethers with food during exam week. (And Secret Santas, which I've talked about before).

And really, as an adult, I need those things - because Christmas itself, so exciting when I was a child, has become a quieter day. There are never really any new toys to look at, there's rarely snow any more (and I don't really play in the snow like I did when I was a kid).

And yeah, it makes me sad when it's gone, put away for another 11 months or so. It's hard to find a lot else special during the rest of the year - there's Easter, though that's not a "big" holiday in the US and is mainly church for me. And few people care that much about my birthday even if I try to mark the day. But for most of the rest of the year, there's just not that much, which is why I try hard to enjoy the run-up to Christmas as much as I can, and I kind of wish that we carried it on to Epiphany....

Monday, December 25, 2017

A blessed Christmas

(van Hanthorst, 1622):

(And yes, of course, that's not terribly accurate; but most of the Nativities I remember from my life often featured a blonde Mary....more commonly Joseph did have dark hair and beard, but even he looked more European than Semitic. Then again - as the choir at church sang a couple weeks ago, "some children see Him lily white....some children see Him bronzed and brown....some children see Him dark as they..." and I can't really quibble with that idea; it seems right to me. So for me as a child, a blonde or light-brunette Mary with fair skin, though perhaps not historically accurate, might have been relatable...)

And yes, a lot of the Old Masters do tend to idealize - look at the light there, and the comparatively clean clothes - what was probably a dirty, and (for Mary) unsettling and frightening time.

A great deal is made - as it should be - that the One who could have come in any form (as a conquering warlord, which I guess is what some followers actually wanted) chose instead the vulnerability of infancy....and even more, an infancy started in a precarious and not-entirely-safe place.....

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Santa's big night

And yeah, as an adult (and even as an older kid), the real Christmas is what happens in church, not under the Christmas tree, but this is a big big memory of mine, so one more song:

Oh, that takes me back. One of the Christmas records we had when I was a kid had this on it (I think it also had Autry's version of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer on it). My mom, when she was a girl, was a big Gene Autry fan - where she lived, and when she was a child, the "westerns" were still a thing at the movie theater, and the "singing cowboy" was her favorite actor. So of course we had Gene Autry Christmas songs sometimes, and really, that was all I - as a kid of the 1970s - knew him for.

I always liked this song better than "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," with its suggestion that you're being surveilled by Santa*

(*The "Elf on the Shelf" thing seems an extreme of this. My grandma had one of the proto-elves like the one used for that, but for her it was just a funny decoration. And in fact, I bought one at an antique shop about a dozen years or so ago in memory of that, but I don't generally put it out now because of the silly trend)

Instead, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" contains the statement that Santa knows we're all God's children (inclusivity!) and does comment "it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, he loves you just the same," which yes, I can see people thinking of as "problematic" today, and perhaps it was part of the good fortune that I had the childhood I did because I did not know ANYONE who was "too poor" to get at least one gift from Santa when I was a schoolgirl. (And the Jewish kids in my school had Chanukah, so they got presents too. And chocolate gelt.)

And yes, I realize, there are kids who for whatever reason, even though their family celebrates Christmas on some level, they don't get gifts. (And that's part of why I do the Toys for Tots donation). I didn't know anyone when I was a kid who did. We lived in a fairly well-off town (I often felt we were one of the poorer families. We probably weren't - it was probably merely that my parents were frugal and didn't believe in conspicuous consumption the way some families did. I had friends whose families had less than mine did, and they still got "Santa presents." As did my brother and I. And I do suspect doing the big Christmas thing when your kids are small is one of the great joys of being a parent. And I do happily remember MANY years, coming down on Christmas morning and seeing that thing, that one toy I REALLY wanted, under the tree (Santa didn't wrap the presents he brought to our family....)

And yeah, I don't know. I get that materialism isn't that good of a thing....but one way in which kids are fairly powerless (or at least, my brother and I were when we were kids) is that they are dependent on their parents for stuff....we received truly tiny allowances (ten cents per year of age, until I hit high school, when mine was raised to $2 a week.) So toys of any size, we had to wait for Christmas or our birthdays. And when I was really small and Santa was still a literal thing in my mind, I always figured Santa would bring the stuff too large for my parents to get me (and sometimes he delivered).

So yeah, I had the image of Santa as a loving and generous giver. Oh, not over-generous - there was always stuff we wanted but did not get, but of course, such a thing is not good for a person. But my concept of Santa was a lot more "he loves you and that's why he wants you to be happy" and less "you'll get good stuff if you're good, and if you're bad, you'll get coal or a switch" (Oh, that was joked about, but really - my brother and I were pretty good kids, and I don't remember EVER being worried - despite being a rather anxious child about many things - that I'd get coal.

And really, isn't the "He loves you and wants you to be happy" vs. "You better watch out or he'll catch you being bad, and then you'll get it" sort of the dichotomy in how different people have been taught about God, as well?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

and "Yes, Virginia"

A few weeks back Roger ran a post about the famous "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" New York Sun editorial. He had mentioned it to a younger staffer who was TOTALLY unfamiliar with it.

I guess I'm getting old. Because it surprised me someone would NOT know that. I seem to remember that the Akron Beacon Journal used to re-print the editorial (which by then had perhaps passed into public domain) every Christmas. Or at least, I KNOW I read it somewhere as a kid. It is a good thing to read. It doesn't explicitly say "yes," and it doesn't explicitly say "no." As an adult, I realize what the editor was doing: not wanting to let a child down, but at the same time hint that Santa was really more....metaphorical....and if she remembered the editorial when she was older, she'd probably figure that out.

the full text of  her letter, and the editor's lovely and sensitive response

I kind of think there was also a television special a few years back based on this? (Yes, but it's almost 30 years ago now. Which might as well be 100 years, for some people). And there was an animated one that I may well have seen as a child.  And didn't Macy's did a holiday campaign on this theme?

But it does concern me when bits of the shared culture fade away. Already there are references I make that I realize only my non-traditional students get. And there are funny disconnects - a couple years back I had a student who didn't know what a "spigot" was, in the sense of "an outdoor water tap." (Apparently that is a more upper-Midwest thing, but it may also be a bit generational).

And I know I don't get stuff. I've had to scurry off to check "Urban Dictionary" a few times when the students giggled at something I said, in case I inadvertently said something that had a second, "bad" meaning (So far: no. But I'm sure it will happen.)

I never know how much of this stuff - knowing things like this - are me being a bit of a nerd (I read copiously as a child, I read somewhat less as an adult but I still read and I am interested in history) or perhaps, some would say, show my privilege a bit: my parents got a newspaper, I read it, my parents cared about us knowing this kind of stuff.... and how much of it is people not bothering to look much past their noses? I know I've had a few students down the years who seemed depressingly and monumentally incurious - I remember asking someone once, when they couldn't come up with any ideas for their research project, "What interests you in biology?" and they just kind of shrugged and said, "Nothing, really" and I wanted to shake them and go "WHY ARE YOU MAJORING IN IT, THEN?" And also, the cases of people not knowing stuff (like how to calculate an average) that I would argue an adult SHOULD know - and getting angry with me when I expect them to know it.

But yeah. I don't know most current music outside of a few things friends refer to. But I know Bing Crosby and Dean Martin and I often recognize the old tunes used in advertising and wind up going "Why on earth are they using a song about the poor people of Paris to sell face cream?" and the like....

And I admit I take some pride and pleasure when I recognize something someone older than me or more well-versed than I am in classic American pop music refers to, or when I make some comment about it and they go, "You know, that makes sense"

But it does make me sad that it seems we're fast approaching a day when we all have a very fractured cultural "language."

Friday, December 22, 2017

"Make it So"

Apparently there's no snow in space, nor are there sleigh rides or Christmas trees.

But Capt. Picard is trying to get into a holiday spirit:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

not unalloyed joy

I know I wrote about this before.

I do like - at least, as an adult, I do - the Christmas songs or hymns that recognize that life isn't perfect. That acknowledge that this world is fallen, people can be selfish, circumstances can be against you.

And yet, at the same time - you can still find moments of hope or even of happiness.

First, the straight-up hymn. I've said before how this is a favorite of mine, from a poem by Longfellow. (And I vastly prefer the tune by Calkin by the modern arrangement by, I guess it's Casting Crowns? Though a lot of the Youtube videos credit Calkin and then have the (IMHO) more-insipid modern tune)

I'm using the Burl Ives version again because I can't find another version that (a) uses the Calkin tune and (b) isn't needlessly "oversweetened" (this one approaches it, but pulls back a little):

Again, my favorite bit is the second and third verses....

And then some popular songs. I think the 1930s and 40s provided us with more good pop-music Christmas music than most other decades. I don't know why. But I do know in the 40s there were lots of people longing for home, because they were on some distant shore. And at home, people were longing for their loved ones and also trying to figure out how to manage with rationing (which was worse in the UK than here, but still, it existed here).

So we get "I'll Be Home for Christmas" (spoiler alert: he won't really, if you listen to the last line. I'm pretty sure this was written because of Our Boys Overseas in the 1940s).

It is kind of a sad song, full of longing - but again, there are some years (or some circumstances, if you have no family left) that being "home for Christmas" is just not possible. And I think acknowledging that not everyone will be among family - or perhaps, even among friends -  at Christmas.

I tend to think Crosby's version is the best, it was certainly among the first if not the first:

And of course, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," at least in its original (movie based) version - there's acknowledgement that this year isn't so hot, but, maybe, sometime in the future, things will be better. And again: sadness and longing (things aren't that good) but hope (maybe sometime soon, they will be):

Yeah. That was kind of how last Christmas happened, with my mom laid up and me scrambling around to try to "make Christmas" all myself, as much as I could. (Here's hoping this year is better)

(And yeah. I also kind of miss having a lot of family nearby. Not that we ever did....but I can imagine how it might be nice if you had well-loved aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents in the same town, and could just go from house to house, admiring the decorations and enjoying the holiday).

And another one, from a bit later in time (in terms of production, though the story is set - at this point - at 1929):

And here, here is someone (Auntie Mame) somewhat-desperately trying to keep her spirits up (in light of the Depression just having started) by celebrating, by jumping into the whirl. And yeah, I think there are a lot of us who do try to dump a bunch of glitter and stick snowman stickers on whatever conflicted feelings or sadness we might be feeling....and maybe that's okay, at least for a while, as a coping strategy, too....

And yeah, I know there are others. (I don't particularly like "Blue Christmas," even though that's another one that comes to mind). And I do think it's good and right to acknowledge that Christmas isn't necessarily 100% happy

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Persistence of specials

Something that is interesting to contemplate: many of the Christmas animated specials on tv are much, much older than the kids watching them (older, in some cases, than their parents - and in some families, perhaps even older than the grandparents, if people had their kids young).

The best (in my opinion, and you're welcome to quietly disagree but I will fight you if you say otherwise) is "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

This special was made in 1964. Five years before I was born, and I'm pretty long in the tooth, especially to be watching animated specials.

But it is, in fact, quite - ahem - special. It shows some of Schulz' uncompromising nature on these things. I've read that Charles Schulz - who was a fairly devout Christian - insisted upon the Luke 2 passage being read in the special. (And it's still there, today. I watched the special a couple weeks ago when it re-ran, and there it was. And I teared up, as I always have as an adult at it).

It's not the most polished animation ever. In fact, some of the expressions, some of the head shapes, are weird and awkward. They hadn't figured out how to turn a flat comic-strip figure into a cartoon character that was supposed to give a hint of 3-D-ness. (The recent Peanuts movie was much better at that).

And also, the dialog: the kids are outright mean to poor Charlie Brown. (Well, except for Linus, who I would argue is perhaps the most complex and interesting of the kids, and I often imagine that if there was an alternate universe where these kids grew up, Linus would turn out to be a minister or a counselor....). And Charlie, himself - these days, he'd have been written up in school for his sadness, and possibly have been on medication.

But, these characters really aren't children, are they? Aren't they adult thoughts and attitudes put into the bodies of children, in order that we maybe see some adult follies?

Lucy, who is needy, who wants Schroeder to notice her and to be told she's pretty (she tells herself she is).

Sally, who just wants stuff, gifts, things ("...and send as many as possible") showing the sheer avarice that some people can get up to.

Schroeder, who is fairly monomaniacally focused on one thing - his music - and who won't brook advice from others (his sarcastic, toy-piano, one-finger version of Jingle Bells, when Lucy keeps making suggestions).

Shermy - who I don't think appears in any later cartoons - as the person who is disappointed with his lot ("Every year it's the same thing: a shepherd")

And on, and on. (Violet is mean, a real queen bee. Patty is also mean but less so - she seems to be a bit of a follower. Perhaps Silver Spoon to Violet's Diamond Tiara, if I may cross the cartoon streams a little).

But Charlie Brown: instead of being happy and uplifted by the promise of Christmas, or the thought of getting gifts, or even being out of school for a couple weeks, he feels let down. It's actually kind of alarming to listen to the dialog (or read the script - and there are scripts out there) without the cartoon, it really is kind of depressing dialog.

But then again: isn't that a lot of us? We have things no king of the 1500s could even have dreamed of. Those of us of modest means by today's "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" standards still have warmer homes, better and more abundant food, and many other unimaginable blessings (dental care! vaccinations! Clean water to drink and hot water to bathe in!) for people even five or six generations ago. And yet, we are not happy. I fall into this trap myself: I get my head too far into my work. Or I look at the people who do wrong and seem to prosper (no shortage of those these days) and wonder if maybe being a person with morals is just a fancier way of saying "chump." Or I see people who are doing financially better than I am, or who seem better at sloughing off their work, or whatever, and I feel discontented.

And really  - a while back, I referenced "A Mighty Fortress" and the line about "And though this world/ with devils filled/ should threaten to undo us" and noted that in my case, the "undoing" is more about giving up hope or being ungrateful for the million things I do have because it seems I can only see the five I don't....and that sort of ingratitude is its own sort of sin, at least, in some theologian's eyes.

But it seems a very common one, and that kind of dissatisfaction is common enough that Charlie Brown is made to feel it.

And yet. And yet, there is a redemption - towards the end of the movie, when Charlie runs out of the auditorium in frustration, the kids gather up the tiny, pathetic tree he chose (it was the only "real" one on the lot, apparently, and it "seemed to need him"). And they decorate it, using decorations taken from Snoopy's prize-winning display....and it turns out, as one of them says, "It's not such a bad little tree after all."

And really, isn't that our lives? When we stop and LOOK at what we have, or when we take a breath long enough to, I don't know, let the little kid who ran up to us at church hug our leg, or pet a friend's dog....that life and what we have isn't so bad, after all?

And I think yeah, there are those universal themes there. Schulz, even though he was neither really a theologian nor a psychologist, I think he understood human nature better than  many degreed versions of either, and was able to show it in the simple morality plays of his comic strips.

(I read Peanuts extensively as a child. I've talked before about how my mom had to explain to six-year-old me what "sarcasm" was from one of the strips, and how I had the books that my parents had owned when they were grad students - compilations of the old, early 1960s era strips).

But I think that's why the special has lasted, despite the sometimes-clunky animation and the fact that there are things in it (corded phones! Christmas tree lots with aluminum trees!) that kids today might not be familiar with at all.

A couple years ago, someone at Think Christian wrote a piece about the persistence of the show, and I agree with many of their points: Why 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Still Resonates 50 Years Later.