Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas 2009

After several days of trying to get around to writing a post about Christmas, and even attempting it a few times, I have realized that it would take me a month to write a very detailed post. So, I’ve decided to leave it largely up to the photographs we took to tell our Christmas tale. I’ll try to keep the comments to a minimum, but a few details will be needed.

On Christmas Eve, Melanie made broccoli and cheese soup (from scratch!) and served it in bread bowls that we had special ordered from the supermarket. Melanie likes the idea of having homemade soup and bread bowls as a Christmas Eve dinner tradition. She certainly started this tradition off right—the soup was delicious! Even Eddie ate it, though he avoided any sizable chunks of vegetable that made their way into his bowl.

Peter, on the other hand, preferred only the bread bowl.

Eddie sips some wine grape soda.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, we let Eddie and Peter each open up a gift—a smaller-sized Christmas blanket for each of them. We then headed out to drive around looking at Christmas lights, the blankets in tow. (Eddie and Peter both fell asleep during the drive, and as a Christmas miracle, Melanie and I were able to transport them into their beds without waking them up when we got back home.)

Christmas morning…

Santa left his traditional tins full of candy; notice the empty plate and glasses where treats for Santa were left out the night before.

As one of the sweetest gifts she’s ever given me, Melanie had two of my guitars professionally restrung, tuned up, and cleaned up. They had been missing strings for a very long time. In the last five days, I have probably played more guitar than I have in the last couple of years. As a fun side note, the 1994 Fender Stratocaster I am playing in this picture was apparently all the rave at the guitar shop. Melanie said all the employees wanted to check it out and were asking her lots of questions about it. They’d never seen a finish like that, they said, and they wondered if it was a custom built guitar. According to Melanie, “It felt like being cool for a minute.”

Here’s wishing you a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Season

On Friday night, Melanie was chatting on the home phone while I was on the cell phone. I was talking to my dad about the death of my aunt nearly 30 minutes earlier, while Melanie was talking to her pregnant sister-in-law about the labor pains she has recently begun to feel. It was a poignant evening, with each of the poles of the circle of life peering its head into our home.

Melanie and I are not going home for Christmas this year. Wait. Scratch that. We’re staying home for Christmas this year. Our home. I’m not sure that everyone out there understands this decision. But truth be told, I feel like we’ve already reaped the benefit of focusing on our own little family. We’d love to be near others and share the season with them, but given that we don’t live near our families (and friends) of origin, I’m glad we’re keeping things peaceful rather than dealing with the stress of travel. I doubt that we—Melanie, Edison, Peter, and I—have ever felt as involved with each other during the Christmas season as we do this year. It’s a wonderful thing, especially when you realize how beautiful and important your own family is. I haven’t been this excited about Christmas in who knows how long. Part of this is probably that our kids—Edison, more particularly—are getting old enough to appreciate and get thoroughly excited about Christmas themselves. (Because Peter learns from his older brother, even he is a bit more interested in Christmas than Eddie was at Peter’s age.) That helps, but I also think it’s nice that we have the time and energy to do a lot of Christmasy things together, rather than scrambling to visit everyone (and everything) that we don’t get to see at any other time of the year. Kids—ours at least—go through such an adjustment period when you fly them across the country, throw them in an unfamiliar house, and expose them to countless relatively (no pun intended) unfamiliar people. It takes its toll, not to mention the adjustment to a new time zone and a new climate. Yes, I’m indeed grateful that our Christmas season has thus far been quite peaceful.

It might seem bizarre to some, but I’ve always found there to be something quite beautiful in death. Perhaps because of my faith, I always see it as an opportunity to reassess what really matters about life, to draw nearer to those whom we love (including our God), and to be more forgiving of both ourselves and of others, because really, feeling negative is such a waste of precious time. I wasn’t incredibly close to my aunt, but as I learned of her departure from this world, I just felt a strong sense of love for her. It’s a nice feeling. I love feeling love for people, and I think it’s easier to do than we sometimes let it be. In some odd way, my aunt’s passing will make this Christmas all the more special. As someone who still regards Christmas as a religious holiday, I’m grateful for the love—and hence the divinity—that I’ve been able to experience as a part of Christmas this year.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might

So, I was looking at this post I wrote about a year and a half ago, just a couple of months before moving to Tallahassee. The post centers on what I called my “Tallahassee Wishlist,” a list of items I dreamed of acquiring as I entered into the most recent chapter of my life. As I noted at the end of this list, the only item I truly expected to acquire was a new backpack, primarily because it was the cheapest item on the list. As I revisit the list, however, I am surprised to find that most of the items I mention have in fact made their way into my hands, somehow or another. Since moving to Tally, I have acquired a new desktop computer, my first laptop, a new backpack, a new couch, and yes, even a few new items of clothing. Realizing this makes me feel quite spoiled. I feel like I’m far from living the high life, but I could probably be a lot more appreciative than I sometimes am. That being said, with my last list of wishes yielding such a high “come true” rate, I figured I’d update my list of semi-significant wants. Here goes nothing!

I would like:
  • A new bed (for reasons noted here)
  • A new rocking chair for the kids’ room (as Melanie will attest, it’s a necessary item to have, but the hand-me-down rocking chair we currently have is beginning to come apart at the joints)
  • A new suit (because the only official, complete suit that I’ve ever personally owned is now 10 years old and has a hole in the crotch; I’ve never purchased a suit on my own before, so I admit to being somewhat intimidated by this one)
  • A new microwave (probably not too urgently, but ours, which is probably seven or eight years old, sometimes emits an odd, somewhat mechanical smell that should probably be taken as a warning sign that the microwave is about to explode)
  • A Blu-Ray player (because among the things I’ve acquired in the last 18 months that are not on the aforementioned list is a 32” HDTV – might as well enjoy it for what it’s worth!)
  • A new car (because I’m just not sure how long the current one will last – it has passed the 100,000 mile mark and recently developed a stuttering problem; a costly repair could be quite problematic for us, and it seems the money might be better spent on something newer if it ever came down to that)
I could probably add to the list, but I should quit while I’m ahead. It’s already a rather grandiose list, owing to the bed and the car. I’m hoping the latter item isn’t truly necessary, but the bed … well, it’s only getting worse. That might have to be our major purchase of the year, assuming tax breaks and/or other acts of generosity make it even remotely feasible. Despite the good fortune Melanie and I have enjoyed, none of it could have happened without others being so kind to us. So thank you to all those who know what we’re talking about. And, if I revisit this list 18 months from now and find that we’ve somehow managed to acquire some of these things, I’m sure I’ll be thanking you again.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm Thinking Insulting

When traveling back home from Hinesville, Georgia over Thanksgiving weekend, Melanie, Eddie, Peter, and I stopped for dinner at an Arby’s tucked away in an oversized truck-stop gas station. I was there introduced to Arby’s (Arby’s’?) latest campaign, which plays off of the recent trend in fast food to offer $5 deals of some kind or another. (Not long ago, I read a very interesting story about the $5 foot-long Subway campaign, whose astronomical success is credited with inspiring many other eateries to offer similar deals that capitalize on the magic five-dollar mark. Unfortunately, I no longer have a link to the story.) Arby’s, however, has chosen to up the ante by offering $5.01 combos, because as the sign on the restaurant’s door informs you, they’re worth the extra penny.

OK, sure. I guess that’s clever. But really, the take-home message that I get from these cutesy little ads is that Arby’s is petty, annoying, and full of itself. Presuming that they reign supreme on the fast-food front, Arby’s is going to rub it in my face that they charge more than the other guys, all the while smiling and reminding me that, hey, it’s only a penny, so I’ve got no room to complain?!? It’s like tacking a $.01 privilege-to-eat-at-Arby’s fee onto every meal, a fee that I’m supposed to feel honored to pay! I suppose Arby’s expects their customers to feel like they’re getting something so much better than McDonald’s at the cost of a mere penny, which is basically nothing. But I don’t like the none-too-subtle implication that because my penny is so worthless to me, I might as well donate it to Arby’s for being God’s gift to the fast-food industry. As Melanie observed, taking one piddling penny extra from every customer is bound to make a noticeable difference at the end of the fiscal day for Arby’s. And something about the way Arby’s is going about getting this extra penny strikes me as incredibly smug.

But it gets worse…

Take a gander at the below advertisement, which doubled as my placemat but which I decided to keep as evidence of Arby’s’ self-importance. As if Arby’s’ campaign wasn’t condescending enough, they’ve gone through all the trouble of printing coupons for $.01 off their combo meals. The message: sure, we’ll let you get a combo meal here at Arby’s for the same price that you’d pay elsewhere, but not without belittling you by making you go through the effort of tearing out a coupon and presenting it to our cashier , making it absolutely clear to us that you’re pathetic enough to deserve that penny. In the end, you can either embarrass yourself by actually using the coupon, or you can strive to keep your dignity by silently assenting to the $.01 privilege-to-eat-at-Arby’s fee. It’s as if their smugness has just become the cheddar to our beef faces … by which I mean that they are metaphorically rubbing their smugness in our faces much in the way that they non-metaphorically smear cheddar sauce all over the roast beef in their Beef n’ Cheddar sandwiches … which I guess isn’t too funny when you have to explain it. Regardless, even if we overlook the apparent smugness of this campaign, Arby’s’ $.01 coupons threaten to undermine the entire point they are trying to drive home. One could easily interpret these coupons as Arby’s’ way of saying, “OK, we won’t really charge you a penny more! That was just a joke. We’re not really worth it, and we know it, but the campaign wouldn’t work unless we actually charged an extra penny, so we did. But see these coupons? That’s our way of saying just kidding! Nobody really has to pay an extra penny!” Does the stupidity of this campaign ever end?

I do admit, though, I have to laugh at the official coupon jargon found in the small print of these coupons. Not valid with any other coupon or offer? I guess I’ll have to choose between $.01 off my $5.01 combo meal, or a buy one get one free combo meal. Hmmm, tough choice. And what’s that? Only one coupon per customer per visit? That truly is a shame, for otherwise I might find it well worthwhile saving up 501 coupons and getting myself a free combo meal. Now that I might do.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?

In my own glory days of blogging, I wrote an average of just over seven posts a month. I also read a handful of other blogs that were updated regularly, not including the blogs of my family and friends, which were also updated quite frequently. That was almost five years ago. Nowadays, I find the blogosphere—or at least the parts of it where I used to hang out, including my own blog—to be largely deserted. Desolate. Quiet. Several of the blogs I used to read are now defunct. Some linger on, but the posts are few and far between, and often brief. This isn’t a complaint. It’s just an observation, though admittedly one that makes me a tiny bit sad. I felt quite connected to my family when we all maintained our blogs and took the time to comment on each other’s posts. Now it’s hard to find the time to write, it’s hard to find the time to read, and if we do take the time to read, it’s hurried, and we don’t bother leaving a comment. So nobody feels like they’re really talking to anybody. And that doesn’t really motivate me to write, personally. I keep it up because this is largely my only form of journal keeping, and I want to do that. But my posts have been dwindling lately. And it doesn’t much seem to matter.

Ironically, I feel much more dissociated from people now that everyone has migrated from Blogger to Facebook. The real-time updates of Facebook are better than nothing, but they don’t strike me as very engaging, notwithstanding the ability to comment on anything anyone says. A Facebook status update is nothing compared to a thought-out, or even a stream-of-consciousness, blog post. I don’t feel like I’ve really connected with anyone on an emotional or psychological level just because I’ve read their latest 10-word status update. And I don’t feel any more connected even when certain people update their status about ten times an hour. It’s just too passive. It’s people tossing out a witty quip, or leaving the equivalent of a two-second voicemail to no one in particular on a public answering machine. When people feel they are meeting their interpersonal needs by typing “Hey you! Miss you! Write to me sometime!” on someone’s Facebook profile, or clicking the “Like” button underneath someone’s public, third-person declaration that he/she is “going to need a lot of coffee to get through this day! LOL!”, isn’t that a bit depressing?

Don’t get me wrong – I hang out on Facebook and am glad I do. When a family member was recently hospitalized, I only knew about it because I saw someone’s comment to another person buried in a list of invitations to start up my own virtual farm and try to outscore a dude I haven’t seen since fourth grade on Bejeweled. So Facebook has its perks. And certain people would probably have the same complaints about blogging itself that I do about social networking sites. But somehow blogging feels a little more personal to me. A little more like communication. Alternatively, it seems to me that instant communication threatens to put an end to any meaningful communication whatsoever, simply because anyone who has more than one sentence to share (what a blabbermouth!) is bogging everyone else down. Anyone else agree? Or better yet, did anyone even read this?