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.


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.

The day after

‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Oops, wrong holiday. However, the same sentiment applies. Yesterday was a quiet, peaceful day capped with a great meal that almost everyone had a hand in making. For example, I made dessert, something I haven’t done for many years. The leg of lamb was cooked on the grill, and was really delicious. We all ate together at the table (a rarity) and had good discussions with one another (even more of a rarity) while enjoying many good things to eat.

As I write this, I was sitting alone in our living room until my wife joined me a few minutes ago. It is a fairly dreary day outside but inside is a bit brighter with the Christmas tree lit. We bought WiFi-connected electrical plugs so that I can now control the Christmas tree lighting from my smartphone. It is a nice feature yet at the same time, I wonder if it’s just the latest pinnacle of American laziness. A remote-controlled, WiFi-enabled bed frame, then a Christmas tree — what is this world coming to?

I know many people who are really struggling during this time, and my thankfulness for a quiet and peaceful holiday is tempered by that knowledge. There are so many people who are alone and lonely right now, missing departed loved ones, struggling with anxiety or dysfunction, or overwhelmed by the chaos and stress of the times we all live in. Or all of the above mixed together. Of course, there is also the travesty of hunger, the shortage of food availability in a country that is among the most prosperous the world has ever known.

My mood hasn’t been improved by reading a few opinion pieces in today’s NYT about the recent election results. Or by the fact that today, known as Black Friday, is traditionally a day where many people participate in an orgy of shopping for Christmas. It is a spectacle that is a shadow of its formal self in these Amazon-dominated times, yet still somehow makes me feel ill.

For some reason, my mind turns to a favorite, well-worn scripture:

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Psalm 119:15 (NIV)

Flowers growing in hard places

A favorite devotional for me is L. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert. Today’s entry referenced flowers growing in hard places, and I thought it was an apt phrase for my experiences this past year. The soil of life has been spare and minimal, squeezed in between rocky, hard places. But even so, looking back, I can see flowers, bright spots, in the midst of difficulty.

One example of this is how my relationships with my wife and children have developed and grown during the enforced stay-at-home work during this pandemic. I think we are in a better place than a year ago, although I know a lot of hard work remains. A symbol of this was when one of my children decided to install the Christmas tree earlier than ever before. About a year ago, that child was in hospital during Christmas and we could not celebrate it together on that day. This year, we have a beautifully decorated Christmas tree that was put up with Christmas music playing in the background. It meant a lot to all of us to realize anew how much we have to be thankful for.

Relationships with my own side of the family have likewise grown and changed for the better. I would go so far as to say that we are closer to one another, and have shared more of our lives, than at any previous point. Rough spots remain, but I take this situation as another flower growing in hard places. As previously mentioned, this relationship growth has occurred almost entirely through the use of weekly Zoom meetings, which is remarkable.

This year, we are staying at home for Thanksgiving. Rather than let that get us down, we are rethinking the whole thing in positive ways. For example, no turkey for the Thanksgiving meal. Instead, we will have roast leg of lamb (personally, my favorite, but everyone else is enthusiastic about it as well). We will have a lot more Christmas decorations up by the time that day arrives than we’ve ever had before, inside and outside. I’m sure we will have some Zoom calls during the day to check in with family and friends as well.

Some other flowers that have grown and bloomed in hard places:

  • We bought paint in a nice blue color to paint the front door, the side door to the garage, and surrounding trim. This will be the first time we’ve ever painted them. We need to get the job done soon, though, because the weather will only get colder. When finished, it will be a huge improvement.
  • For the first time ever, soon, all of the leaves in our yard will be raked up and burned. In addition, all of the gutters and the roof are fully cleaned for winter — another first.
  • Our front deck has been thoroughly cleaned and repaired.
  • We have tiles and other repair ideas ready to go for revamping our entryway.
  • We were able to afford to have our youngest dog spayed, which will help her calm down quite a bit and hopefully cause less daily chaos.
  • I’ve applied for a new job and feel at peace about whatever happens.

There are many hard places, still, and I suspect there always will be. But it is heartening to look back and see that God is moving and guiding me to learn and grow in new ways. I am thankful.

Pine warblers, migraines, and job cuts

Friday was noteworthy because we spotted a pair of pine warblers at our feeders. As far as I know, I have never seen this type of bird before as they are not common at all around here. The pair at our feeders was likely migratory, and they didn’t stay long enough for me to get a photo, unfortunately.

Migraines are more frequent than ever and frankly are getting very tiresome. A new prescription medicine that is supposed to help is having no effect so far. I’ll just have to keep trying various solutions.

Most of my mental energy has lately been focused on the reality that there will be some job cuts at my place of work. We have a mandate to achieve a 10% reduction across the board, not just in our collections funds, but on the operational side as well. Frankly, it is gut wrenching. Of course, many other institutions of higher education are much worse off, and that helps keep things in perspective while at the same time, providing little comfort.

It appears that I have been largely proven wrong about my institution’s handling of an in-person semester. We are almost to Thanksgiving now, and the Fall semester has pretty much played out as planned and hoped for. However, the pandemic is wreaking more havoc than ever in our region and we are approaching the real possibility of another lockdown.

My family and I plan to spend the Thanksgiving holiday by ourselves. Disappointing, but necessary.

Work, work, work

A lot of physically demanding work got done this weekend, thankfully. I cleaned out the gutters, which is a dangerous thing to do when you have a two story house on a hill. But it really needed to be done since so many pine needles and leaves had long ago clogged up the downspouts. We can’t afford to install gutter guards yet, but that would be really helpful in preventing the problem.

I also finished power washing the front deck and part of the house, removing years of dirt, grime, and gunk. The front deck was especially important to finish so that the cracks in between the boards in the walkway were cleaned out to enable water to drain. Over the years, as dirt accumulated, the deck became especially slippery during wet and cold weather.

Many more things are left to complete, including painting the front door and the side door to our garage, as well as the surrounding trim. The garage needs to be cleaned out for the first time in about 15 years, as well, and there is quite a bit of yard work to finish. One of the teenagers helpfully did a lot of leaf raking and burning already, but there is more to be done.

It’s all work, work, work.

Here’s the good part, though. For the first time in years, all of this necessary work around the house seems possible and doable. That is a sign that I’m getting better, physically, and that the modest amount of exercising I’ve been doing is helping. Another positive is the weather right now, which is practically perfect in every way. Soon, the weather will turn much colder.

A bed frame behemoth

Thanks to the amazing generosity of a family member, we have a new bed frame for the first time in 20 years. And not just any old bed frame: this one has an astonishing list price and comes with multiple power and USB outlets as well as its own, dedicated smartphone app. It is also a behemoth, weighing in at well over 200 lbs. It massages, it maneuvers the head and foot of the bed into various positions, and it even makes a fresh pot of coffee on command and cures cancer. Well, not the last part, but it might as well.

What is equally remarkable is that we were able to get the thing into our house and installed in our bedroom with a minimum of people thanks to my idea to purchase a $20 thing at Menard’s called Ready Lifter. Basically, it’s a large canvas strap that can be attached to two harnesses that allows two people to lift and move heavy objects pretty easily. We’ll be using this a lot more in coming days as we continue to clean out and clean up our house to fix it up.

You know we live in strange times when a bed frame is sophisticated enough to have its own smartphone app. And the strangeness extends to the not-quite-yet-finished presidential election in the U.S. The “hanging chad” controversies of the 2000 presidential election are but a vague and far-fetched dream compared to what is currently happening. On a more positive note, I am thankful that so far, it seems like there is not as much election-related violence as feared. But there is still plenty of time for that, and I have no illusions about longer term discontent. After all, we have a popular vote count that is the highest total in history, and although there is a clear winner, the margin of victory is still uncomfortably close.

The weekend will be occupied with lots of grading, as well as further thought and work on job application essays. <sigh>