Sudden death

A dear friend of more than thirty years, who was my age, died suddenly last week. If you are a praying person, I ask that you hold up her husband and their children to God in prayer.

One thing I’ve learned is that grief and loss are terribly difficult but even more so in this pandemic. I cannot tell you the number of friends I know who lost loved ones during the past year or so yet cannot grieve them and honor them in ways they normally could. Somehow, that compounds the pain.

Sudden death is shocking and although I believe all things are in the Lord’s hands, I cannot seem to wrap my mind around it or understand it. Maybe that is part of the point, to learn once again how powerless and weak and out of my depth I am or can be, and thus to surrender this big thing to God.

I know my friend is with God and forever free of the bonds and trials of this world. And that is the very best thing. But I am ineffably sad.

Tick tock time

As our anniversary present to each other, yesterday, my wife and I picked up a large grandfather wall clock. See photo below. Turns out it isn’t antique as we originally thought; instead, it is a replica. Even so, we are really pleased with it, and it is the first of this kind of old fashioned clock we have ever owned. It seems now as if it has always been here. The soft tick tock is soothing, and the hourly chimes are, too.

We purchased the clock from elderly people in a tiny place about 40 miles north of Madison, WI. It was quite a long drive for my wife and I, but in the end, we felt it was worthwhile. It was bitterly cold and snowy but we navigated the roads safely.

At over three feet tall, the clock now takes up a prominent place on the wall of our living room. I hope it will be a sort of family heirloom.

A light in dark places

May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

J.R.R. Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring

I love this Tolkien quote. It seems quite appropriate for the dark times in which we live. There is a lot of Christian allegory in Tolkien’s LOTR, I think, and this quote seems especially appropriate because I believe there is a lot of darkness in Christianity today, including among evangelical Christians. Last week’s events demonstrate that pretty clearly given the way in which so many of the pro-current administration mob and those at the rally that led to the storming of the capitol claim to be Christian. One of the speakers at the rally is a longstanding family friend who, in my opinion, has clearly lost their way.

Another light-related quote that is a favorite of mine:

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:5 (KJV)

Personally, there has been a lot of darkness in my own life of late, too. Relationally, my family and I continue to struggle, and it gets all of us down. At times, I feel hopelessness and despair. Not good things at all. Many days I struggle (physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally) with deep-rooted problems.

Ultimately, I believe Jesus is the Light and the Way. My salvation and hope are in him, not in my circumstances. This is easy to write but not so easy to live. Another scripture quote came to me in writing this post:

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.

Malachi 4:2 (NLT)

That’s an amazing word picture, isn’t it? Just contemplate it for a bit.

We live in a time of darkness and chaos, where institutions and principles and truths seem continually challenged and under assault. And where true courage and principled leadership are hard to find. Recently, I finished re-watching the LOTR movies with my youngest child. I’m not as fond of the Hobbit trilogy but we have advanced to re-watching them next. I can’t help but see many spiritual truths and lessons in them. I also simply enjoy the scenery of the land to where I’d love to run away with my family if given the chance: New Zealand. Some of it, especially the background in the scenes of Rohan, are familiar to me, having been there years ago.

Where I live, the days are pretty cold and frequently dreary. However, I am thankful to notice the fact that the days are already beginning to lengthen once again. I love the light. I don’t mind the cold or snow but I do get down when there isn’t much light. Next to the chair where I usually sit, we recently placed an electric wood stove. I enjoy the warmth and light it provides on cold winter mornings, and so thought it appropriate to include here as the featured image. I took the photo very early this morning, while wrapped in a blanket and drinking a cup of coffee.

Leftovers

Usually, the thought of eating leftovers is not a happy one, but things are different during the holidays. In many ways, leftover food tastes better than it did when originally prepared, and certainly does not bear the burden of high expectations. I am rather down on high expectations ’round about now, and it is one of the reasons I am thankful that Christmas Day is over and done with so that we can move on to other things.

Our Christmas meal was honey mustard glazed ham, seven-layer salad, scalloped potatoes, caprese salad, stuffing, and crème brûlée for dessert. Also for dessert were some candies one of our kids made earlier. It was all very good.

Now that Christmas is past, I am feeling a little bit of cabin fever. I want to go out and about, but I’m struggling with motivation to do anything much. Such is life, and I realize how fortunate it is to be able to be sated with good food and at the same time, not do much of anything.

Wake up, I made breakfast

Today is Christmas Eve and it is a holiday from work, so I slept in a bit. But not too much, because one of our children was awake all night making various goodies and told us, “Wake up, I made breakfast!” Breakfast included scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, and toasted English muffins. But no coffee, so I made some.

The kids are excited about what they’ll get for Christmas even though we won’t be spending it with anyone else and even though they are in their late teens (one just turned 20). I’m glad about that, because I am hoping they will be really surprised and happy with the gift that my wife and I bought for each of them. Our family tradition is to open presents on Christmas Eve, and then in years when we have the money to buy things to put in them, we open Christmas stockings on Christmas Day. This year, my wife and I bought several goodies for each child so we will have stockings to open tomorrow. But the main gift opening will be tonight.

Because this Christmas is so unusual in that we are staying home by ourselves, we hope to make it extra special for our children. This evening, we will have a sort of smorgasbord of finger foods, the centerpiece of which will be an extensive charcuterie with various meats and cheeses. We’ll have other goodies as well, including egg nog and various desserts. Later today, I’ll make fruit cake. Tomorrow, our main meal will be a rich menu of foods featuring a Christmas ham and crème brûlée for dessert.

Even the weather is cooperating with a bit of snow, although I doubt there’ll be any accumulation. Also on tap will be binge-watching various movies. Last night, for example, we watched Hacksaw Ridge, a great movie with a strong message, although it was rather gory in parts, depicting the violence and destruction of war.

I think I’ll need to redouble my efforts to walk every day just to make up for all of the eating.

Unlimited

What would you do if you knowingly had an unlimited amount of something? If you think about it, so much of what we do relates to things that are limited in some way. Our time is limited and so is our money. Our patience and our strength are limited, too. So is our ability to love and our willingness to forgive, if we are really honest with ourselves.

This question about having an unlimited supply of something comes to my mind as a result of recently switching to a so-called unlimited wireless data plan for my family. I can’t recall ever having this before. It always cost too much money, really. But our cellular provider is currently offering a very good deal and my wife and I decided to make this switch. It made me stop and think about implications. For as long as I can remember, I worried about running over my data limits (previously, about three Gb per month). Can’t do this, can’t watch that, can’t stream whatever unless or until I am in a wifi hotspot. Or so my thought process went, and that mindset is now deeply ingrained.

Having unlimited high speed wireless really changes things. I am not so reliant on my home wifi or on someone else’s wifi that happens to be “free.” I can watch a movie or download a new app or FaceTime with someone while out and about, and not have to worry about running over. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t have to worry about my late teen/early 20s kids on my plan who constantly are connected via all kinds of bandwidth heavy ways, and hector them to remember not to use all of our wireless allowance. Of course, there are caveats, and our cellular provider says they reserve the right to artificially limit bandwidth if demand is high. I get that. Even so, it feels oddly liberating to have an unlimited data plan.

It seems to me that we are entering a new era of Internet accessibility, and the ability to have (relatively unfettered) access on connected devices is the present day equivalent to living near where a railroad is built or a new highway. I am very lucky to be able to afford this access, and I realize it is denied to or unreachable by millions of people around the world. Many people, including those in my chosen profession of librarianship, rightly see this as a social justice issue. So in my own case, I write all of this without any sense of gloating. Instead, it makes me realize just how fortunate I am.

Consider: what would you do if you had an unlimited supply of something? How would it change your world?

Tech rich

Although there has been a lot to be disappointed about lately, there has also been some good stuff happening as well, especially when it comes to technology. I recently discovered that my favorite maker of iPad cases with keyboards, Logitech, has a case designed for the iPad Pro that includes a trackpad. This is something I have long wanted but the eye-watering price tag of the Apple version of the case put me off. The Logitech version is more than $100 less, and I was able to purchase one with faculty development funds. (Yes, even with all of the budget strictures, I am still able to spend a small amount of money on things that help or enhance my work. I am grateful for this benefit.) I have used the case now for about two weeks and am very happy with it because it makes the iPad Pro even more useful.

Also, I am writing this post on a brand new MacBook Pro provided by my work, which I picked up yesterday. It is the highest level of laptop device they provide and wasn’t even what I asked for (a replacement MacBook Air, since the one I had was about 5 1/2 years old). Needs must, as they say, since this was the only one they had in stock ready to give me. I jumped at the chance and am now getting used to that Retina display, the fancy toolbar, Touch ID, and many other previously unusable features such as Sidecar. That latter feature is pretty slick, by the way.

My wife and I drove to campus to pick up the new machine yesterday and I took that opportunity to pick up a few more things from my office, which I haven’t been in for several months. The primary thing I took home with me is my 21 inch widescreen monitor, and I also am getting an articulated arm to attach it to my home desk (the super cheap one we bought at Ikea some months ago). With that in place, I’ll be all set in terms of a highly functional home workspace. That is a good thing since I have many more months of remote work still ahead.

Currently, I am feeling tech rich, almost embarrassingly so.

One of the lucky ones

My last post was rather down in the dumps. Some might even call it an exercise in self pity, and maybe it is. I do realize, though, that I am one of the lucky ones. I have a job. Many people don’t, including many people in my profession. I think of this quite often given that I teach Master’s and PhD level students in library and information science every semester, and frequently am called upon to write letters of reference for them.

In the midst of this difficult time, one of the ways I’ve been cheering myself up (sarcasm) is by learning more about historical events including the Holocaust and, more recently, the Balkan Wars. Real uplifting stuff — not. It started when a family member sent me a link to the video testimony of a Holocaust survivor. The video was almost six hours long, but in turns fascinating and horrifying. There are dozens of these testimonial videos, perhaps hundreds, and I am grateful for this publicly available witness. I have watched several more, and they give the world an indelible opportunity to understand what happened.

I have also been doing a lot of reading. A recent novel had as the main backdrop to its storyline, the wars in the former Yugoslavia. The story was truly gripping and sparked my interest in learning more about these relatively recent events. Unlike World War II, these events are ones I witnessed and lived through, but from a great distance. I really did not pay much attention to them at all, I’m ashamed to admit. Although I’ve dug up many different videos relating to these wars to watch, one particularly long video that I watched last night gave me a fairly complete sense of the intricate sequence of events that resulted in these wars, which is really helpful.

A primary and somewhat alarming realization gained from all of this is how similar these events are to the present day and how they fit like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into an overall explanatory map of why things are happening today. I do not claim to have a clear overall picture; instead, I see a lot of parallels and lessons from these events that explain or elucidate the present day political landscape. And frankly, the more I learn, the scarier things get. These events really do help to see through at least some of the deliberate political fog of the present day. I realize even more now how very dangerous the political climate is in the U.S. and what might still happen. I also see a clear pattern of devious political influence from external sources that should never be underestimated. As a general rule, Americans are grossly ignorant and self-absorbed, and we ignore world events at our peril.

In sum, this is yet another heartwarming, uplifting post for readers. (In case it isn’t clear, that is sarcasm, too.) However, I believe in the One who holds the whole world in His hands, and nothing is a surprise to Him. He knows all things, sees all things, and understands the deepest depths of our dark hearts. He loves us anyway.

Fruit cake for Christmas

In the love-it-or-hate-it category for most people is fruit cake, a staple of Christmas food. As a child, I hated it. As an adult, I like it a lot, especially if it’s homemade and has plenty of alcohol baked in. In other words, I love the kind my mother always made.

I’ve never made the stuff, myself. A few days ago I spied a video with recipe for fruit cake that looked easy and boozy, and decided it’s about time I tried making some. That is on the agenda for today after soaking the fruit overnight in about 100 ml of golden rum. It doesn’t look too hard to make a loaf, and I’ll report back on how it tastes at a later time.

Meanwhile, the dogs (well, two of them, anyway) posed for photos in front of the Christmas tree last night.