Friday, December 27, 2019

Coffee for Christmas

For my wife's family, rather than everyone getting everyone presents, we have a gift exchange. We all send a list of things we'd like. I listed a whole bunch of things that were well under the cost limit--it's nice to get a bunch of stuff, you know?

When it came to it, I pretty much forgot what I'd asked for. There was a cylindrical-ish package and I was like "oh, it's that wine I asked for." Even though it clearly wasn't heavy enough to be a bottle of wine, I shook it to see if it would slosh.

It did not, because it was this:

The Aeropress coffee maker. I'd had my eye on this thing for, geez, probably a decade now, and even though it isn't that expensive, I'd never purchased one. I mean, the coffee I made in my French Press was pretty good (until I neglected to clean it and the mesh thing got moldy); the coffee I made in my coffee drip cone (bought for camping) was absolutely adequate. There was a lot of hype around the Aeropress, but I'm not exactly a coffee snob. I like what I like, and that covers a wide range of coffees that absolutely include "whatever's free at work."

That said, this really does make excellent coffee. My only complaint is that it doesn't make more at one time. It seems completely inconceivable that filling it with water up to the "2" marking is a cup. I fill it up to "4" and that still doesn't fill up either my Contigo travel mug or my larger Yeti travel mug. both of which just seem like a normal serving. So it's also "amazing" in the sense of being amazingly small. But whatever.

Maybe I drink "too much" coffee though. Whatever that might mean.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Merry Christmas

This Christmas, I got...

more laundry to do, apparently.

Littlest got sheets for her bed (along with wall clings) with characters from her favorite (-ish) show, PJ Masks, which she wants on her bed more or less immediately (fair enough), which means laundry must be done. Plus Middlest and Firstest got quite a few items of clothing, and the sooner they're washed the sooner they can be worn. So yeah, I got laundry for Christmas.
Littlest wasn't really ready to be awake yet, so she was crying on my lap while this was taken.
Also, relevant to the above photo:


I didn't get just laundry, of course. It was a really nice Christmas. We might have gotten too much stuff for the girls, really, and we were probably compensating for last year, when I didn't have a job. But the excitement was palpable, pretty much every gift was a hit, and we still had Second Christmas to look forward to at my in-laws!

All in all, a great Christmas, even if the video that I wanted to post caused me no end of difficulty and ultimately resulted in this post being delayed by 36 hours.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

It's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas

Just in time, too!

With temperatures in the high thirties through low fifties the past several days, all the snow has melted, so no white Christmas for us. It's also been strange working in a field that isn't education--I'm not used to having to work any of the several days before Christmas, never mind on Christmas Eve!

I was also realizing last night as we were wrapping the last of the presents that I've hardly listened to any Christmas music this year. My wife put some on the radio on our way home from Thanksgiving, but that's about the only time I've heard the music of the season.

Still, it's clearly just about that time.

The presents have been piling up under the tree for weeks now, my wife picked up my mom yesterday to stay with us for several days, and I was seized by an unaccountable desire to cook a ham for dinner. At the same time, I was compelled to buy an industrial-sized package of cinnamon rolls for tomorrow morning (I've made them from scratch some years, but when I saw them in Costco for the purchasing, I decided that I could find better uses for my time).

I'm looking forward to seeing how everyone likes their gifts. I got my wife something she really wants and something else that I think will be a nice surprise. After doing a ton of research (probably almost nearly 15 minutes), I made an impulse buy at the bookstore for my mother, which I think she'll love. It's Sherrod Brown's book on 8 influential senators who sat in the desk he sits at--she loves Brown, in general she loves reading about current political figures, and she enjoys history, so this book is a real triple threat. I think the girls are going to love so many of the things we got for them and I'm getting excited to see their reactions tomorrow morning.

Also, I got this guy early, so I'm already a Christmas champion, my friends.


I think we would have waited until tomorrow to open him, but I already knew he was coming and, besides, we couldn't leave him in a box when he wants to break free.

Argreements

I had lunch the other day with a bunch of guys from work, most of whom I don't know very well. One of them is pretty loud and opinionated, and I thought more than a few of his opinions were uninformed and/or wrong-headed. There was a part of me that wanted to argue with him, but I also had the sense that it would be completely fruitless and annoying. It seems pretty clear that this guy already knows everything there is to know.

It did occur to me later that part of the reason this guy probably thinks that he's so smart is because nobody ever bothers to argue with him. And when they do, I'm sure he "wins" by wearing them out. Just a reminder for anyone who needs to hear it: just because people stop arguing with you doesn't mean you're right, and it doesn't mean that they don't think you're underinformed, an idiot, and/or a jackass.

***
I feel pretty confident in saying this because, on further reflection, it's entirely possible that I was this guy at some points in my past. For sure, I had ideas that I felt pretty strongly about and would happily argue until the other person came around to my way of thinking. I know I thought I was pretty smart, pretty clever, and absolutely correct. I mean they couldn't counter my arguments! Clearly my beliefs and opinions were unassailable, because they couldn't be assailed. I hope I didn't rub other people the way this guy was rubbing me, but if I'm being honest... well, it's not unlikely, even though I have a hard time thinking of myself that way.

In any case, I think--I hope--I'm a lot better at listening, at considering, at reconsidering than I was back then. I'm less inclined to have those passionate arguments these days, but I hope that when I do, it's a different spirit in which I have them, one that is open to learning something, to having my own mind changed, and perhaps one that might actually be more persuasive since, as they say, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Sentimental Christmas

I suggested to my family that we go ahead and have Christmas tonight, December 23, so that all the wrapping paper and packaging can go out with the trash tomorrow.

I'm sentimental like that.

My idea was vetoed before it could come up for a vote.


The Year in Books: First Trimester

Thanks in large part to audiobooks (and the wide range of them that my local library offers) I consumed a lot of books this year -- Goodreads tells me it's 94 as of today, and I expect to add some more before the year concludes. My year broke down pretty neatly into three 4-month blocks: from January until early May I was staying home full-time with our daughter, which allowed for a lot listening time as I did things around the house or drove to pick up kids. From mid-May until the end of August I was training for a new career, which didn't leave nearly as much reading time. And then from September until now I've been working at my new job, which gives me about 45 minutes in the car each way to listen to books and podcasts, not to mention occasional walks during the work day.

Given that the list is so long, I thought I'd reflect back on the first third of 2019 for this post and save the other reading for later. 

Lois McMaster Bujold is an author that I've been aware of for decades, but only read a couple of her books, a standalone that I probably read 25 years ago and the first book in her fantasy series that starts with The Curse of Chalion, maybe 10 years ago. I wasn't consciously avoiding her, but hadn't sought her out. As I was looking for good fantasy from my library's audiobook downloads, I came across her work and decided to finally dive into her famous Vorkosigan saga. At the end of 2018 I went through the three books that tell the story of Miles Vorkosigan's mother, and between January and early March I read the other 11 books in the series. I really enjoyed them all--they're easy space opera reads that nonetheless have more meat to them than you'd expect. The characters are well-drawn and especially as they build over so many pages, growing individually with evolving relationships between them, she built to some really powerful moments, particularly in the later books. 

Enjoying those as much as I did--and also sometimes waiting for the next volume to be available from the library--pulled me into re-reading The Curse of Chalion and finally reading the rest of that series. Again, very good reads. I also enjoyed her Sharing Knife series. She's an excellent writer with really steady output over the years, and her recently-conferred Grandmaster status was well-deserved.

In late December 2018 I enjoyed Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver, and in January I also loved a different fairy tale retelling from her, Uprooted. Speaking of continuations, there were a few series that I continued in 2019 that I started earlier, reading the 2nd and 3rd books of Josiah Bancroft's excellent Books of Babel series in January and April, and I'm eagerly awaiting future volumes there. I continued Anna Smith-Spark's Empires of Dust with book 2 in February (and I'm reading the concluding volume now). 

I tried some new, independently-published books, largely because I got free copies, but they were nothing special, sad to say. Not bad just ho-hum. 

A couple series I started that were not ho-hum included Mark Lawrence's One Word Kill (Impossible Times #1) and Peter McLean's Priest of Bones, and I read the second book in each series later in the year. 

There wasn't much that wasn't fantasy or sci-fi during the first trimester, but what I did read was very good. I'd somehow never read The Diary of Anne Frank, but it was part of the curriculum for a teaching job I applied for, which was enough prompting to get me to read it, and I'm glad that I did. Really powerful work. I also read White Fragility, a really thought-provoking look at race in America. 

A couple others bear mentioning before I close. First, N.K. Jemisin's How Long 'til Black Future Month, a fantastic collection of stories from the author of The Broken Earth Trilogy, which I read last year, and The Inheritance Trilogy, which I'm in the midst of right now. Nalo Hopkinson's Sister Mine came out of nowhere for me, but it was among the best books I read this year. Iain M. Banks' Consider Phlebas was the first book of his that I read, and although it didn't pull me right into the rest of his work, I expect I'll get there eventually. Finally, I thought that Christopher Buehlman's The Lesser Dead was a fun and interesting take on vampire stories. 

I finished out the first trimester with some re-reads: the first two books in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, which I loved as a kid but hadn't read since--I thought it held up quite well all these years later. I also revisited Jim Butcher's Codex Alera, which I realized I had never finished. I still like his Dresden Files novels better, but these were better than I remembered them (though I suspect they might fall into the category of books that--to me--are better to listen to than to read). 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Heimat

A month or two ago, I read an article called The Glossary of Happiness, about a project collecting words from other languages that don't have a precise equivalent in English. Throughout this month, I'd like to explore some of those words (yet another plan that didn't come through--yet).

Heimat (German, “deep-rooted fondness towards a place to which one has a strong feeling of belonging”)

The place that came immediately to mind for heimat was my alma mater, Kenyon College.

1.

All four years of college, I sang in the Chamber Singers, a choir that rehearsed daily and spent 11 days each spring break touring a region of the country. At every stop on tour, at every concert, our encore piece was "Kokosing Farewell," the "unofficial alma mater," and it was deeply ingrained through that singing (to be fair, lots of alumni who didn't sing in the choir also feel connected to the school songs--my wife and I bonded over school songs on one of our early dates). With all the time we spent singing together, Chamber Singers was a special kind of family, with connections made even deeper by the conscious efforts of our director. Every year in the fall, he and his wife would invite the choir in groups of six to his house for a lasagna dinner (he wasn't the only professor to invite students in, but that lasagna dinner was part of every single year of college for me). The food, the conversation, the camaraderie: I loved it. That, right there, went a long way toward imbuing my Kenyon experience with heimat, helping me feel like I belonged, like the college was home and my professors and fellow students were family. So much so that I'm drawn back every four years for the choir reunion, where not only do I see many of my favorite people from college, but where that family grows as I meet new people with that same connection to the choir, younger and older than myself. Even as the group expands, it's anchored to a place and an experience that is shared.

Little-known fact: to each of my daughters, within the first hour or so that they were out of the womb, I sang to them "Kokosing Farewell," the unofficial alma mater of Kenyon. Perhaps you'd call it early indoctrination, but that's not really it. The song does have something of the feel of a lullaby, but I think also that when I thought about comforting my newborn children (well, especially the first one, before it became a thing I did with all of them), Kenyon was a place that felt comforting to me, in no small part because of my experience in the Chamber Singers, of which this song became a representation.

2.
Of course, college is not just singing and lasagna dinners. It was also a place where I found a brotherhood that deepened the sense of heimat I have for that campus.

Like most only children, I didn't grow up with siblings. And so--like many onlies--I sought out surrogate brothers (and sisters) as I moved through the world. Although I didn't join a fraternity in college, I guess you could say I forged fraternal bonds anyway. Long story short[er], in my sophomore year I met the guy who would become my best friend, and he was enmeshed with a group of guys he lived with (6 of them). And over the next few years, another group of guys would merge with that group, tied together by a few of us who crossed over. We had a core of +/- 12 guys, a group that's shown itself to have permeable boundaries over the past 20 years since we graduated, easily absorbing new "dudes" just like they were always there. Some number of us have managed to get together most of the last 20 years, and when we do we find the bonds of friendship have only strengthened.

As I get older, I find that there really is something remarkable about those relationships that formed early, whether in high school, college, or my early 20s. Those relationships, too, have heimat baked into them. Maybe it's harder to form these kinds of relationships in adulthood because we're pulled in different directions by our family connections--spouse, children, parent(s), extended family--and so don't have the time and energy to nurture those new friendships. Or maybe it's harder because adulthood encourages us to raise more shells between ourselves and others, while in our younger days we were more open and uninhibited. We can still find some measure of that openness with these old friends because they've already seen us at our uninhibited worst (and best) and love us anyway, and that history of trust keeps the door open between us.

Earlier this fall, my best friend let me know that he was going to be heading to Kenyon for work and wondered if I wanted to get together. I live about 2 hours from campus now, so I took a day off work so we could get together and hang out, spending a solid 24 deepening our own connection to each other and to that place that was literally home for four years and has been a figurative home in the 20 years since.

Enjoying the crisp fall air, coffees, and heimat at the gates.