Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Return of Randomalia
Now with illness-induced rambling! 

Teaching remotely -- via one-page instructions to a class substitute you've never met, in this case -- is getting a bit odd. Instruction via full network potential is one thing -- I've done the blog/chat/forum/courseware thing myself, as teacher and student, and I hope next time to post instructions for labs and webquests on a blog, then send in the address -- but curriculum without pedagogy isn't really my thing. For all my classroom discourse about King Content, I never really meant to shave style from substance.

On the other hand, quitting smoking on the fly turned out to be a breeze. 8 cigs since Sunday was all I had been able to gag down anyway, and most of that wasted. Hard to tell if the illness, the meds, or just the sheer mental weirdity that immediately follows the quitmoment is to blame (yes, I've done this before) but man, am I flying.

Been hard hanging with the kids much, though. Cassia asks me to hold her all the time, but I don't have the stamina to dance; Willow was a peach in the doctors office -- lots of curious questions, though I was little help explaining the stirrups -- but I miss being able to lie down with her at the end of the day and make up yet another story of Simon and his magic chalk, sing quietly of the things she is not (trees, birds, ceilings, floors, bed, pillow, ad infinitum) until her own breathing becomes heavy and I slowly, carefully, slip my arm out from under her neck and sneak away.

Heck, I miss being able to lie down. Stupid lungfluid.

Once bonus of being upright so long with little work to do and no alarm clock to follow is the time catching up on the virtual world. Mock The Stupid and Overheard in New York are guilty pleasures delivered in big gulp size. Elsewhere, the AV Club interviews a surprisingly sedate, thoughtful Fred Armisen, and sequel week over at McSweeneys brings us a hilarious account of The 4 Year Old On A Blind Date, which sounds much less funny than it turns out, trust me. It's not all funny, either -- I even managed to learn some stuff, though don't ask how I ended up there...or what, exactly, one learns from discovering a multiply-feminist critique of copyright laws.

Once you have children, listening to music with headphones becomes a much more fulfilling experience. Especially good music. And I ain't talkin' no iBuds, either. Gillian Welch into Steve Earle, warm and fuzzy on my ears? Maybe it's the 10th hour of nonsmoking talkin', but it just doesn't get better than that.

Though Byrne's playlist is enough to make me regret skipping that Laura Cantrell show that night in San Francisco with Dad all these months ago. Hey, Dad, there's some great downloadables over on her website; I especially like this toned-down cover of Letters, and this Bragg and Wilco cover. Oh, and where the heck did Doug Sahm come from? This rocks, man.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:02 PM | 0 comments

And I've Got The Note To Prove It 

Spent the day at a series of medical errands, from doctor's office to pharmacy to nearby hospital for X-rays (to rule out pneumonia; results tomorrow).

Diagnosis so far: a severely contagious and long-lasting acute asthmatic bronchitis.

Now I'm sequestered home until next Tuesday on doctor's orders, with five different kinds of meds for all sorts of primary and secondary symptoms -- from the bronchial wheeze to the starburst headaches and gushing nosebleeds I get from coughing too hard.

As an added bonus, according to the nurse practitioner, I have now officially quit smoking whether I like it or not. I think her actual words were "Unless you want to spend the rest of your life on oxygen and steroids, you just smoked your last cigarette."

Let's see...a pack and a half a day times 18 years...carry the one...yeah, that sounds about right. 197,100 cigarettes and I'll be stopping just like that. No problem, hun.

Congratulations accepted in the comments below. What with the usual symptoms of cold turkey quitting, the uppers and downers in the meds, and my 33rd birthday on Sunday, it's going to be a pretty odd week from here.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:51 PM | 4 comments

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Death Of The Second Self?
Not All Who Wander Are Lost: Now In Its Second Week Of Illegality! 

Via BoingBoing:
Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity...
Of course, the statute doesn't define annoyance. And, as Declan McCullagh reminds us in the above-quoted article, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to lean on anonymity, from blogging about a boss' sexual harassment to sending an anonymous "Letters to the Editor" via email...not to mention the developmental benefits of identityplay.

But "Preventing Cyberstalking," an innocuously titled easter egg squirreled away in the otherwise unrelated Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act, is no joke: Criminal penalties include stiff fines and up to 2 years in prison.

See you in jail, folks.

Counterpoint: More Anonymity Is Good, Wired Editor-At-Large Kevin Kelly's suddenly much-more-dangerous idea. Also via BoingBoing.

Oddly Disappointing Update, 3:45 pm:
According to the resulting BoingBoing thread, the new act does not do what we think it does, and the word "annoy" dates back to my thesis subject: the Communications Act of 1934.

Fat Lady Hasn't Sung Yet Second-Tier Update, 5:37 pm: After hearing these critiques, McCullagh continues to maintain that the law has indeed changed as he described it. Question mark added to entry title in response.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:30 PM | 0 comments

Reading Ahead 

File under 52 Books in 52 Weeks

Home sick, which explains both the unusually avid blogging (see features on David Byrne's Radio Mix and The World Question Center below) and the completion of a second book in my 52 Books series: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005.

I've enjoyed the Best American series for years -- my parents tend to buy me the Best Essays and Best Fiction collections for Hanukkah, and I find the collections thorough, well-selected, and ultimately prized. The addition of Dave Eggers to the mix in 2002 brought a new perspective but no less scintillating a selection criteria: this year, Eggers and his crew of intelligent, iconoclast adolescents have once again found the best of short writing from all over the Dewey Decimal map, fiction and non- alike. I'd single out a few short pieces for special note, but they're all that good. Really.

Never posted a review of McCourt's Teacher Man, the first book of my 52, finished over the weekend, but that's okay -- just read it, for the wry voice and the storytelling. Even if the teacher stories don't resonate, it's a quick read of hidden depth, easily and skillfully mixing tales of McCourt's development as a teacher over 30 years with his personal history outside and before his life in the classroom.

Next on the list: McKibben's The Age of Missing Information.

For those keeping track, updated booklists will live on the sidebar, over that way ------>

posted by boyhowdy | 11:15 AM | 0 comments

Radio David Byrne 

BoingBoing -- who loves Jim White as much as I do -- points to this month's playlist over at Radio DavidByrne.com: a wonderous and well-selected assortment of neo-country, clocking in at four hours plus, featuring the unquestionable best of Lucinda Williams, Wilco & Billy Bragg, Emmylou Harris, Jim White, Waylon Jennings, Lyle Lovett, Shelby Lynne, Laura Cantrell, et. al.

Byrne's monthly radiostream comes complete with genre-defining liner notes of the highest quality; past month playlists from this metamusician have included classic country, old-school club music, psychadelic artists new and not-so, italian classical, and single-artist features from Missy Elliot to Bob Zimmerman.

Posted with my father in mind, but recommended for pretty much anyone with ears. And acceptable bandwidth, of course.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:56 AM | 0 comments

Dangerous Ideas, Dangerous Minds 

What if The Bell Jar wasn't wrong after all? Is the world fundamentally inexplicable? Will parenting require licensure in just two generations? Is school inherently bad for kids? Are there some ideas so dangerous that the world's best and brightest should not (and do not) mention them, let alone discuss them?

Each year, The World Question Center asks over a hundred of the brightest minds in science and technology to consider one question. This year:
What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

Answers range from religion to race to reality in evry shape and size; from the complexity of "The simulation and the real have become permanently and inacceptably interchangable" to the irresistable simplicity of "This is all there is." Each is mystifying and thought-provoking -- even those few which merely respond that some ideas are SO dangerous they should not be spoken.

Plan on hours to read terrifying "what-if" results from the likes of George and Freeman Dyson, Sherry Turkle, Clay Shirky, Stewart Brand, Richard Dawkins, Howard Gardner, Diane Halpern, Michael Nesmith (!), Stephen Pinker, and a holy host of fellow futurists, psychologists, historians, builders, makers, shakers, and science-types. You'll never look at the world the same way.

I blogged about this last year, too!

posted by boyhowdy | 9:49 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ill Winds 

You sound really sick today, Daddy. You should take some pills or something.

Yesterday it was a cold, the full-blown worst of the season: sneezy, achy, chilly, brain-fog-to-the-point-of-hallucination, compounded by the irritation of dust and dander kicked up by a flurry of pre-guest cleaning until the lungs felt like fire, the head felt like cotton wool.

It drove me from the in-laws house to a surprisingly head-clearing trip to downtown Brattleboro, where I finished the last few pages of McCourt's Teacher Man over a latte, and ogled a man in a tree playing guitar to the aging hippies walking by, the usual crowds of halfgrown Saturday smokers loitering there, cool, backs against the bricks in the midtown lot.

But respite was short-lived. Last night it was something else again: stuffed and tired to the point of delirium, a hazy nose-bleeding two hours down south and home again, all funereal dinners quickly forgotten in the rush to return.

This morning it's full-blown bronchitis, a familiar and feared annual visitor. I can barely breathe; my limbs and head ache alternately icecold and feverfuzzy; the headache teeters on the edge each time I cough my penultimate rasp, desperately drawing breath. Hot showers, horseradish, even forced glasses of juice and water have little effect.

Five classroom days per section to the end of the semester and a wholesale changeover of students at work -- after two days funeral leave, it's tempting to go in tomorrow just to make sure their last days are cohesive, since my hybrid position rates no substitute willing to actually carry on curriculum. But alas, I know this weakness; know that tomorrow and perhaps the next day too I will be neither sensible nor clear for my students or myself. Pity, that -- there was so much left to do.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:33 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, January 05, 2006

As If Reading Made It So 

Woke up to a leg cramp: the world's best alarm clock, gets you on your feet in a hurry.

Outside among the stillwhite trees some sort of precipitate fills the air like a shimmery scrim. We're off North to help with the arrangements for Darcie's Grandmother, so I head down to check for forecasted driving conditions online.

To my surprise, according to the map on Weather.com, though the surrounding states run from light snow to rain, we're dead center in a totally dry spell.

Just then, the air clears outside.

Two days of funeral leave off from work; we'll be back in Brattleboro by noon. Taking Teacher Man with me; if all goes well, I'll post my first report from my 52 Books project when I return, or sooner.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:40 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Baby's First Adjective 

After years teaching kids and adults to be aware of gender issues in media and technology application, I consider myself a media-sensitive feminist.

My wife and I have made a conscious decision to try to raise our children without the traditional trappings of dick-and-jane societal gender preconcepts. For years we have spoken of heterosexual marriage, for example, as but one of many possible options for our daughters -- both in our own conversations and in talking to them about their own eventual choice-making.

All the more ironic, then, that after hi, dadi, kitty, doggy, tree, light, and a holy host of proper nouns, the 8 month old suddenly smiles today and begins naming parts of the universe pretty.

Maybe she learned it from the three-year-old. Sigh. And they both treasure dolls more than anything. Guess there's some serious nature involved in gender identification after all.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:09 PM | 5 comments

All Wet 

Note to self: buy conditioner...

Cory calls it: though the Erasable Shower Note Tablet could come in handy, getting great ideas from shower to organizer (or, in my case, to brain) remains a problem.

Still, a neat present for the man who has everything, including a constant stream of good ideas. Waterproof crayons could come in handy elsewhere, too.

Now, if only someone would create an archivable/tranferrable solution for ideas logged in the car, I'd be all set.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:41 AM | 3 comments

Monday, January 02, 2006

RIP Edith Jones 

She was old when I knew her -- the family matriarch, widowed decades earlier, long a solo presence in the life of my in-law family. Though a vague persona down the road apiece when I first met Darcie's family, by the time we married ten years ago she was in the house next door to Darcie's parents, and we visited her often, cleaning her garden, raking leaves in the fall, chatting on the porch, washing the windows in the spring.

She was opinionated, and -- truthfully -- often oddly so. Her closest relatives found themselves on "the bad list" for the most minor transgressions, often without even realizing how they got there. Early in our acquaintance I got myself in hot water at a holiday dinner by defending the recently-learned concept of situational ethics; it was months before she was willing to forgive, and there's no knowing if she truly ever forgot.

She was religious, a commited churchgoer and knitter for church sales until her very last driving days. Rumor has it that when she first learned I was Jewish, she asked if I was "one of those Jews for Jesus, at least" -- figuring, with little knowledge of the true JfJ credo, that belief in Jesus would be a saving grace for a grandson-in-law.

Edith was always given the head of the table at any gathering, where she could hold court with reminiscence: of growing up one of seven siblings on the farm, life with husband Harry home and off in the military, her years in the classroom. It became a kind of family tradition for those of us in the grandchild generation to run new prospective mates through the tiral by fire -- I did it for years; Josh's girlfriend Clay reminds me that I made it a point of handing the responsibility to her the first time we met; most recently, Alicia's husband Matt has held the honor -- and his own -- with aplomb.

Her family -- three daughters, six grandchildren -- loved her very much, and with good reason. She loved my children, and was gentle and firm with them in turn. And, in case it isn't obvious, I liked her a lot, which is more than most of us can say for our grandmother-in-laws, isn't it?

Edith never wanted to grow infirm in her old age. She was a trouper for so long this last year, watching her TV and filling every surface in the house with jigsaw puzzles in various stages of completion as always, even as the memory started to go, the body started to betray. It surely saddened her to have to move towards assisted living these last few weeks, initially prompted by a stay in the hospital.

She seemed healthier Friday, coming off a half hour of physical therapy for a short chat and plenty of close contact with four generations of her family. But last night Edith ended up in the hospital again, and today Darcie's father called to let us know that Edith did not make it.

It's what she wanted, but whether Edith was right about the world and its afterlife is not the point. The point is, though it took a little longer than she intended, she went out the way she lived -- on her own terms, flying solo, and sure of herself. I'm proud to have known her, and know that she is happier where she is now. Goodbye, old gal. We'll miss you terribly.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:02 PM | 1 comments

Read Any Good Books Lately? 

Got a fave highculture author? Know a new theory-of-everything, or a memorable memoir? Act now: help me regain the literary mind!

Been surfing the "year's best" lists on the way to compiling a draftlist for my 52 Books in 52 Weeks quest, but it's going pretty slow. On the list so far:

  • Teacher Man, Frank McCourt
  • The Age Of Missing Information, Bill McKibben
  • The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas L. Friedman*
  • Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell
  • Pretty much any book recommended at BoingBoing.

    To assist me in my quest, merely recommend a book in the comments below. If it looks like a good candidate, it'll join Assassination Vacation on my newly-created 52 Books amazon wishlist.** Serious fiction and non- only, please.

    *Thanks to Dad, who gave me the book, I did technically start TWiF in 2005 -- but I left the book at work, and have no time to read there. I'll begin again, recapture the flow, and plow through the bookmark like nobody's business.

    **My birthday is in 13 days. Hint, hint.

    posted by boyhowdy | 12:29 AM | 6 comments

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    One Is Silver And The Other Gold 

    A day-and-night at the in-laws: errands, supper, rural R&R; ice everywhere, the smell of stallcows permeating the crip air. Next morning, a trip across the river to Keene for a stop-in with Darcie's grandmother in her new living facility digs, a movie with Darcie while the in-laws watched the kids.

    New Years Eve ever farther North, with Darcie's brother, his long-time live-in, and the annual oldfriend crowd for the fourth consecutive. Too much to drink too late into the evening; awoke at 7 -- in a shared bed, to the baby, in a borrowed room -- for sitzbath and our usual gig: making breakfast for the hungover hordes, real maple syrup and heavy on the butter and pork.

    Stopped by invitation at the old school on the way home, my first time back since they threw us out into the temporary unknown. Hugs and recent backstories with old friends, first at a hanukkah party where Willow played rowdy with a band of half-familiar faces, then spur-of-the-moment across the street, where Willow and once-wee Zinnia played suspiciously well out of sight while close couple Peter and Michelle helped us coo over the baby.

    Pensive on the way home. We have no new friends (yet). Willow socializes seldom, not enough to make attachments like the ones she revisited with ease this evening. We do not wander as we should; we do not travel far enough when we do.

    It's a wonderful thing to find my fears so high up Maszlow's pyramid. But for all that life has regained its center in the past year, a wandering life is never completed. There is always room for improvement.

    Resolved, then: In 2006...
    • I will put family first -- and more often.

    • I will work to ensure that my children have the gift -- and the benefits -- of socialization, peer play and friendship.

    • I will not be afraid to look backwards, even in the dark, as long as I have the family I love.

    • I will make new friends, and keep the old.

    All that, and 52 books. Fifty three if I actually manage to write one. Fasten your seatbelts, folks. It promises to be a hell of a year.

    posted by boyhowdy | 9:52 PM | 1 comments

    Thursday, December 29, 2005

    Resetting The Bar
    Planning The Literate Life in 2006 

    Thinking about new year's resolutions, since we'll be on a three-day with Vermont family over the year's crossing.

    Other than the obvious -- quitting smoking, staying centered, raising the kids right -- much of what I've been steeping in is the possibility of reconnecting with the literate world. The blogging has become a little less frequent than I'd like; true, as well, that the backlog of unfinished drafts grows exponentially as the kids grow older.

    I'd rather not give up on so much brainspark, so there's one resolution right there.

    Onn a greater scale, though, I wonder if I so seldom revisit drafts because I've started to accept the oneshot shortform habit, caring more about logging life than writing it, never the intention for the blog in the first place.

    The resultant brainstorm calls to mind several previously dismissed commitments which, over the three years I've been blogging, have made their memeway across the blogosphere. Under reconsideration, then:

    52 books in 52 weeks

    I've always dismissed this phenom as underwhelming; for years I've read a book a night, though mostly the easily-read -- mostly trash scifi, fantasy and Robert parker mysteries. In the past year, however, with the advent of kids-plural, and a job which has rearraged my schedule towards the comprehensively diurnal, I'm reading less.

    If I'm going to claim the literate life, perhaps it's time to turn this accident of temporality to the good, to rejuvenate brain and time with a renewed focus on the cream of longform writing.

    Aiming for quality over quantity would be worth doing well; weekly review would add new depth to that which I do read . As an added bonus, redeveloping the habit of marginalia, a subjective necessity for reviewing, would put my money where my mouth has recently been.

    Added bonus, of course: though the trash would still beckon, it would be embarassing to end up reporting so often on trash fiction. The public life helps us stay honest; here, it would help me justify succumbing to the equally powerful pull of the bigger, more brain-bumper books.

    Already on the list (and on the shelf): McCourt's "Teacher Man," McKibben's "The Age of Information."


    Reading, of course, is only half a true literate life. Writers write, and -- exceptions aside -- the reality of blogging is that most of us are not going to get a book deal just to repackage the archives. Though blogging is satisfying for so many reasons, the temptation to create something less ephemeral and more comprehensively substantive has been an everpresent itch.

    The world's most serious global writer's prompt, (November-as-) National Novel Writing Month has been for me both terrifying and untimely. But the summer months beckon, and Darcie has offered to support us (temporally and kid-wise, since a teacher's salary spreads through summer regardless) if I want to write a book this summer.

    Not sure where I'd start, or what I'd address -- not even sure if I'd rather tackle fiction or non -- but planning for the summer gives me six months to prep and narrow in; creating my own non-November nanowrimo might provide for a focused time to draft and brainstorm, if nothing else.

    They say the brain slows down as you age, especially past thirty; it's probably too late to produce the great american novel, but something personally satisfying would do. Reading some great novels would help. Non-fiction, too. See above.

    While the issue of recapturing the literate life is on the table, it's worth noting that I've stopped wrestling with the fleeting lines of poetfodder that cross my blanksheet brain semiregularly, other than a few poems written & "published" at Asinine Poetry for the sheer silliness.

    But that's a blog for another day. So much of my text-time is spent on short forms these days, from student papers to magazines to, of course, the half-baked and oft-dialogic shortform of the blogosphere. Note to self, then: reconnect with the literate longform, both as reader and writer, before it is too late.

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:55 AM | 1 comments

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    Better Than The Old Mall 

    Took the day off from holidays and headed down to Manchester, Connecticut, to The Shoppes and Buckland Hills, mostly a) to see if it was closer than our usual Massachusetts haunts (a hands-down no-brainer at 40 minutes), and b) to spend a few hours indoors with the kids without having to clean up the mess afterwards.

    Nice surprise, actually. Less busy than we expected, given the post-Boxing Day rush, and the usual assortment of middle-class finery, from Abercrombie to Victoria's Secret. Better, though, the mall was designed with parents in mind: a ubiquitous pet store with uberpuppies on display, a conveniently-placed madhouse of a Huck Finn-themed "soft play area" for the kiddies, and an honest-to-goodness circus-themed carousel -- Willow's favorite thrill -- in the food court to hold back as a reward for good behavior. No Gap, but we'll spend our gift cards another day.

    Also, a novelty: few ATMS, but plenty of wall-installed "card balance readers" throughout the mallhalls. Makes sense, I guess, from a mall perspective, to keep patrons megaspending smoothly on the edge, but we didn't see any in use.

    Mostly window shopping and light-ogling, then, though we did end up getting a few odds and ends too much on sale to resist: enough Hanukkah gifts to last the rest of the season, plus placemats and napkins at the Christmas Tree Shop next door for tomorrow's belated Christmas with my wife's family.

    Candles lit late upon our return -- Willow loves her new tiara and shimmery fairy princess wand, the baby seems pleased with her transparent Playskool rainstick, both fell asleep early for once.

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:21 PM | 1 comments

    Holiday Moments 

    From the interfaith challenge of full-family inclusion to the complexities of other people's travel, illnesses, and the demands of an ever-growing set of significant others, Hanukkah and Christmas have become a weeklong mashup of a celebration this year. Some highlights:
    • Realizing that taking on the mantle of Santa Claus is actually a fulfillment of the highest form of charity in Judaism.

    • Hanging apples, strung popcorn, and peanut-butter-and-pine-cone ornaments from a bough of small trees in the meadow with kids, wife, and in-laws, and then singing carols for the deer and birds to come.

    • Discovering Overheard in New York while waiting for my family to arrive for Hanukkah.

    • Finally reading my brother's girlfriend's blog from her trip to India.

    • Meatless supper (latkes and veggie soup) with my parents and siblings.

    • Giving my NYC-based brother half of our garden-to-be as a Hanukkah/Birthday present, so no matter how bad the urban life gets, he can always come home to a plot of land in the suburbs.

    • Giving my parents a "First Tuesday Cafe", so now they have no choice but to come once a month for homecooked food.

    • Giving my sister hardware and a Home Depot gift card.

    • Getting some great stuff from them, including the entire Muppets first season on DVD, Frank McCourt's new book about teaching, great comedy on CD, this year's Best Non-Required Reading (with short foreword by Beck!), Bill McKibben's Age of Information, and a new watch.

    • Discovering that our new home's staircase is slinky-perfect...and learning to trust the kid at the top of the stairs.

    • Taking the three-year-old on a walk through the slushysnow woods so we could both clear our oversugared heads after a long, cranky Christmas afternoon cleaning house, and -- upon arriving at the banks of the stream -- kneeling with the kid on my knee, only to have her initiate the world's most rewarding conversation:


      Yes, kid.

      This is so nice. I'm so glad we're here. Thank you SO much for taking me.

      Yeah. Merry Christmas, kid.

      Merry Christmas, Daddy. Can we do this every year?

      ...and then making it home just before the rain began.

    After cleaning most of the day yesterday, and hosting today, we're devoting tomorrow to people-watching in random shopping meccas as-yet-to-be-determined.

    Coming Wednesday: belated Xmas with Darcie's family. And -- maybe, if we're lucky -- the rain will stop.

    posted by boyhowdy | 12:27 AM | 1 comments

    Sunday, December 25, 2005

    Christmas at the Howdy House 

    Is that all there is?

    Baby's first Christmas!

    Merry Merry, Everybloggy! Click on pix for larger sizes and more.

    (Only six hours until Hanukkah...)

    posted by boyhowdy | 11:07 AM | 0 comments

    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Becoming Santa 

    Last year, the very idea of Santa was too fearful for us to need to take on his mantle. Santa to the two-year was too much larger than life to be a comfort: that he might sneak furtive and fat into her own house caused no end of terror. We had him visit Grandma's, arriving afterwards to get the goods and goodies.

    Santa the man still scares her, some. She still shies away from mallmen, hides her face from the Santa Train namesake. But a month or more of storybooks and preptalk has reinforced the correlation between giver and gifts; a lifetime of love for all things furry and fourlegged helps her focus on reindeer and sleighs over the man in red.

    A year grown braver, and -- so long as she need not confront him; as long as his reindeer jingle on the rooftop only while she sleeps -- she awaits his stopover.

    And so I eat the cookies she so carefully selected, leaving just enough crumbs to remind her in the morning. Darcie writes the note, half rebus for the preliterate, signs His name in red ink. Baby elf in hand, we fill the stockings, bag and box the few small presents we have accumulated here and there between mortgage payments.

    I, too, believe Santa never dies -- that he is eternal, though he loses his iconographic symbology somewhere on the late cusp of childhood. Writ large, the generosity that he represents is first and foremost the single most important gift we can give our children.

    But the gift of childhood is itself enough for now, and it is, after all, what she needs most of all from us -- for what is childhood without the imagination, the externalization of that utmost value, the personification unsullied by a thousand commercialities?

    Somewhere between surrogate and embodiment, then. Bearded, oft jolly, Daddy by day, but in the dark of night, the spirit of the season, arranging these few small gifts, all we can afford, here under the twinkling tree, as eager for morning as she. In becoming Santa we give without recognition, in the name of the very idea of generosity, all ego gone, the highest form of mitzvah. In being Santa, we, too, recieve his gifts.

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:23 PM | 1 comments

    Friday, December 23, 2005

    2005 Realistic Resolutions, Revisited 

    With work finally over for the season, it's time to begin looking to the year ahead. As a way to explore realistic yet productive goal-setting, vacation (finally) plus a nifty new laptop from the fine folks at work* gives us a moment to revisit last year's year-end resolutions. A point by point systems check:

    1. Resolved: I will smoke slightly less, make several halfhearted attempts to quit, and feel guilty about it.

      Surprisingly, I seem to have done better than expected here. I now take a single smoke-break at work, and not even that when things get hectic; gum helps me get through the day instead. Net smoking is down, and guilt is hardly present. Goal met, if not exceeded.

    2. Resolved: I will try to put Willow to bed one night a week, as requested. However, I will put her in charge of reminding me.

      Though Willow still seems to need Mommy for that last ten minutes, multiple hour-long dark-room story sessions and half-bedtimes a week counts, doesn't it? Goal met/exceeded here, too.

    3. I will return library books on time, or at least take that crucial first step of putting them in the car when they are due.

      Increased use of public libraries has made this harder, but we've only had two late fees to pay since September. Goal met/exceeded.

    4. I will eat at least one marginally healthy food item per day.

      Hmm. Milk in coffee does not make it health food, but eating school lunches 3-4 days a week has led to an increase of fruit. At home, I eat what Darcie puts on my plate, and there's veggies with almost every supper. That said, pizza night mitigates what would otherwise have been a perfect score, so far: Daily goal not met, but intention easily surpassed.

    5. I will not get addicted to more than 5 new technologies. On second thought, better call it ten, just in case.

      Easy. Lack of access to technology during the summer of homelessness followed by ultimate settlement in a job three to five years behind the times tech-wise left me bereft of new addictions save a few web-based services (gmail, flickr). No worries, mate!

    6. I will blog a minimum of seven times a week, though it may mean overblogging on Fridays to catch up.

      Our first major snag, resolution-wise: summer on the road was mostly unbloggable; change in lifestyle leaves me averaging 4-5 blogentries a week. Failed, but perhaps for the best reasons of all: time gets spent instead on sleep and family.

    7. Similarly, I will not update my blog so many times a day that the better entries remain predominantly unread, unless I am really, really bored.

      New concern instead: not blogging enough to keep readership. Are you out there, folks? Goal exceeded, unfortunately.

    8. When the new baby is born in April, I will remain in hospital with my wife for at least half of every day.

      Goal met! Thanks to in-laws ad parents, who wached the elderkid and made this easy.

    9. I will arrive on time for work for at least the first month of my new job, when I get one.

      Close call, here -- I tend to make it in with the kids, but I should be getting there beforehand. Not technically late, but we'll call this one a draw.

    10. I will make shorter lists wherever possible.

      Oops. Sigh...ten is such a nice neat number for lists, isn't it?

    Final analysis? A few subtle calls, but overall, I seem to be batting well over 500. Seems realistic resolution-making makes for some easy-to-meet benchmarks, eh? Watch this space for a new set of resolutions for the coming year.

    *New company laptop is shiny, but it comes with administrative functionality locked, which means no new X-mas music on the iPod until next year's season. Coming resolutions will likely include convincing the district to give me admin-level access in-building, since my work may ideally involve software- and settings-tweaking needs and, really, you don't want to spend a tech's salary trailing me at all times, do you?

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:54 PM | 0 comments

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    How Not To Celebrate Winter's Arrival 

    Though today is short, and the night is very long, having a fire in the furnace pipe is hardly an appropriate celebration.

    No fun staying up through much of the long night waiting for the low-level creosote burn at the chimney base to die down, either. Nice to meet the local fire folks, though.

    Bonus: I now fully understand how our hybrid wood/oil furnace works. We'll be on oil until we can get the chimney sweep in.

    posted by boyhowdy | 11:48 PM | 2 comments

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    This Is Not A Menorah 

    The image you see here accompanies newsstory ACLU Challenges Menorah Display at Capitol, a new note in an old and already-stale seasonal issue.

    Since there seems to be no laws against candelabra display (yet), I figure either someone at the Nashville City Paper is in big trouble for using the wrong stock image, or the ACLU is about to find they backed the wrong horse.

    Via Fark, which has 418 comments and counting, and where the stupid seems to be happening on all sides, as it is everywhere. I'm trying to stay out of stupid this year, so I'll say this once and then move on:

    As long as all are both welcome and iconographically represented to a reasonable degree in a given community's spaces overall, I see no reason why a single display should be either outlawed or somehow inclusive of all other religions.

    I'm proud, by the way, to have been asked to light the hannukiah at Sunday night's holiday service and potluck at our UU church on Sunday night...and to have brought the kid up to do the actual lighting, with guidance. Now that's the way to do it, folks. Thanks to our minister, who found a way to make me feel included for who I really am...and to share mutually, with family and community, in doing so.

    posted by boyhowdy | 9:28 PM | 4 comments

    Perma-Pattern Recognition 

    Can you tell what this is a photo of?

    Spent three years of my life in a cage touching lightning; on alternate days, when I wasn't talking cold-blooded edutainment with a ten foot boa wrapped around my lap, I stood on stage evoking schoolgroup oooohs with the above image and a lexan overlay.

    Disappointingly, it seems, once you've seen the cow, you'll always see the cow.

    Still can't see it? Check back with original image source BrainBashers for an isolated view of the bovine.

    posted by boyhowdy | 8:53 PM | 0 comments

    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    If You've Nothing To Blog... 

    Informatics guru Alex always gives excellent advice and analysis.

    Today I am taking some.

    posted by boyhowdy | 11:55 AM | 1 comments

    Saturday, December 17, 2005

    Santa Train 

    O little town, we love it so -- from Halloween parade to Christmas crafts bazaar, and now a day spent on the Santa Train, with increasingly familiar faces alongside: from the droopy-mustached cop who still subs at the local high school after serving his 30 years teaching "Psych- and other -ologies" to the aged train conductor crisp in cap and uniform, and of course the increasingly known yet still unnamed peerparents and their own bundles of joy.

    And what a train it was! Miles of slow-moving snow and trees and half-iced river beside the whole way to neighboring palmer and back; warm wooden chairs and wide tables for each wide-eyes family of kids and relations; sparkling decor hung from the slowly swaying carriage. Goodie bags of popcorn balls and candy canes, coloring books and crayons and Christmas pencils, passed out by a Mrs. Claus type.

    And, of course, twinkly-eyes Santa wandering the aisles, letting the curious infant tug on his beard from her grandma's arms, practiced enough to know not to push too hard our three-year who retains but a smidgen of the nervousness and fear she exhibited last year.

    In its first year of heat (provided by some local insurance company) the Santa Train remains a freebie, sponsored by the local supermarket et al but miraculously unadvertised -- so many folks showed last year that we suspect they decided to keep it on the down-low this time around in order not to disappoint but a single kiddie, young or old.

    The line was longer at the other end, of course, where Palmer residents waited by ice sculptures and the old train depot still-standing for their ticket-time ride. But for all the bagpipes and girl scout cookie saleskids in thin mint costumes, Palmer is bigger, and can forever remain the town we rejected at the last minute with no regrets.

    We're happy to be in a place where we can feel part of this little and widespread 8 thousand just a few months after arrival, where the faces grow more friendly and familiar each day; where the community need not even complain of tax-dollars spent on such wondrous community celebration. Monson, our home: where no reservations are necessary, the coffee is hot and free as we wait for the train by the redlight crossing, and event directions like "line begins where the depot used to be" are not just sensible, but feel right somehow.

    posted by boyhowdy | 5:42 PM | 1 comments

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    Sleet In Heavenly Peace 

    There's a winter weather advisory out for tomorrow. Snow overnight, turning to sleet and freezing rain for the morning commute.

    If the weather is bad, but not bad enough to cancel school, the usual mountain route becomes too treacherous to navigate. I have to take an alternate and muchlonger route to work, which means getting up earlier than usual -- say, five a.m. instead of the usual five thirty.

    I should be sleeping, but am I? Of course not. I'm waiting up to see the snow.

    Looks like the childheart wins out over logic again. One more great thing about teaching for a living, I suppose: for the rest of your life, you're licensed to dream of snow days.

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:58 PM | 0 comments

    Bruises And All 

    No, I haven't seen Narnia; won't be there for King Kong; haven't been to the movies in over a year, in fact, and even then it was a solo outing, The Incredibles in an almost deserted theater while on vacation in West Palm Beach while Darcie stayed home with the kid; the next night it was my turn to stay while she went off alone.

    No dates, and most days the wife doesn't even leave the house at all. We've had the rarified afternoon hour over coffee and windowshopping while one parent or another tried their darndest to keep the kids entertained, but we've never paid for a babysitter, and truly wouldn't know who to call if we needed one.

    Evenings we stay in and settle ever more deeply into the still-new house. On the best nights we play together, four on the floor by the pelletstove fire; on the worst nights the kids steal our energy and our partnership like leeches, and we drop off to sleep at different times having said few true words to each other save I think she needs you and I'll take it while you help her brush her teeth.

    It's not always this bad, but it has been this week especially. They're in a tough place, together and separately: both getting over vicious colds, cranky and hoarse. The tiny one cuts teeth, the older throws full-out tantrums, throws blocks at her little sister minutes after coming out of the last time-out for throwing pillows at the Christmas tree, bites hard enough to leave bruises that last for days and, when she cannot, screams I want to bite you! I want to bite you! from the relative safety of her room.

    Standing in the lunchroom today handing out popcorn to promote yearbook sales I found myself explaining to yet another middle schooler that, no, we have no television reception by choice, because when I come home at the end of the day I want to talk to my family, eat supper together, keep them from the advertising universe, give them whole programming when they and I need it most from start to finish on our own terms, but mostly be together as a family, face each other instead of facing together a screen.

    The kids get it, and are impressed. This newlife role modeling is harder than it was at the boarding school, but in our lightest hours we have more to show, are more the us we want to be, and it makes me proud to show them the way we wish to be, can be, have chosen to be.

    I don't mention the biting, keep my sleeves buttoned to hide the bruises: this, too, shall pass, and they don't need to see it. It's enough to know that, most days, the life we try so hard to have is the life we see before us; enough to know that, some day, we will trust them enough with each other, trust ourselves enough to leave them behind; trust the universe enough to catch up on our movie theater popcorn, enough for a backlogged lifetime.

    posted by boyhowdy | 8:48 PM | 1 comments

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    First You Break It, Then We'll Buy It 

    Came home yesterday to a new hardwood computer cabinet, finally delivered sans accompanying loftbed for the three-year-old, as the latter (bed, not kid) appears to be on order indefinitely.

    Cabinet -- a sort of pretend-it's-a-display-case model, with doors that hide the tech away for visitors and kidfriendliness -- looks great, especially next to the tree.

    Looking up, though, I was initially struck by what appeared to be two suspiciously identical scratches, one on each side of the upper panel.

    Oh, don't worry, says the spouse. Like much of the furniture we've seen over the past few months, it comes pre-distressed.

    Which brings up an interesting image, to say the least: it would appear that all across the cabinet-making and furniture-building industries are a series of employees whose sole purpose in life is to mark up and mar the work that their coworkers have just painstakingly finished building and staining. Carefully and with uniformity, to be sure, but still: what kind of culture is this when immediate off-the-line pre-destruction is not only desirable, but - in many cases - costs extra?

    posted by boyhowdy | 10:46 PM | 0 comments

    Respect Your Books By Writing In Them 

    Great Wynia manifesto Lifehack Your Books: Dogear, Writing In Books, and Apologizing to Librarians via BoingBoing today. I'd paraphrase, but the original post is dense, clear, and personally resonant, so let's start with the meat of the matter:
    The first taboo I think everyone should just plain get over is the taboo of writing in books. I write in most of my books. Notes about the content, things the content reminds me of, etc. When you just plain write in the margins, inside the cover, etc. there’s no way the notes for that content will get lost. They’ll forever be attached to the text they refer to.

    The second is the folded over page corner (dogear). I know some of you just tuned me out as a heretic, but I dogear pages. Worse than that, I dogear for 2 different purposes. I use the top right corner of the right page as my bookmark. I also use the bottom corner of a page that contains something interesting as a marker as well. That lower dogear is often accompanied by notes written in the margin. By folding over the bottom corner of interesting pages, I can quickly look at a book of mine and see how useful I find it. It also lets me flip through a book I haven’t used in a while and easily find the bits I’m likely to want to find again...

    Worth noting that Wynia makes a clean and much-needed exception for library books...the postmodernistic phenom of the dissolving relationship between book and mind thus becoming inherently in tension with the idea of the communial copy of the single text. But that's why neither downloaded text nor libraries are supposed to make the concept of book ownership moot -- because only in owned hard copy, the bottom corners fat with new discursivity and reader-value, can we truly READ as we should, an approach which practically mandates Wynia's methodology, or somthing quite like it.

    Well, that, and the lovely smell of the new book.

    In this model, then, for true active/dialogic readers like we intelligentsia, the library can exist as a place for first-look -- a community space where exposure occurs, that we might then make careful decisions about future purchase, however seldom.

    Incidentally, I have pretty much always used the two-tiered dogear method Wynia desribes -- top of the page for placeholder, bottom as a semi-permanent flag or marker for material of relevance -- and do not think it was ever taught to me so much as evolved -- a convergent evolution not so odd when you consider that there are only two corners per page available, and few-to-no other ways to make the book from outside call to page and paragraph for later reference, revisit, and rehash.

    Also worth noting: ten percent of the grade for the Modern American Culture class I taught at NMH years ago was based entirely on in-book notation, both presence and quality. In truth, this was partly to pre-empt resale, since I wanted students to think of their books as (once read) part of an ongoing and potentially permanent dialog with the world of ideas.

    But the rest of the point was to engender the kind of active engagement that underlies any method such as Wynias.

    In the end, it doesn't matter which comes first, habit of mind or habit of bookcare; truly, one cannot live without the other.

    From the collegiate concept of active pencil-in-hand reading -- the professorial ideal too often underutilized by students, and almost always dropped by readers after college -- to the relatively new concept of the hypertextual, in which readership becomes a part of authorship via choice and commentary, much of the way our brave new world sees the word practically insists upon such tactics.

    Another way of saying so: Wynia suggests this is book-respect, but as his title ("lifehack") implies, it is equally mind-respect.

    Kudos to author Wynia, then...but even MORE to those who pass/are passing it along with (not so ironically) a similar kind of metanotation to that described, except in digitext version. For what else is a high-order blog for, in the end, but exactly this, save in small-byte form? Annotate below, fellow read/write/r, and dogear to your heart's content.

    posted by boyhowdy | 9:25 PM | 1 comments

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Chalk And Other Local Talk 

    Now that permawinter seems to have arrived, how interesting to discover that the name of our new hometown, when turned upside-down, says NO SNOW.

    Via the tall, chalk-on-black, freestanding and daily-changing sandwich board at the only gas station in town. Ah, small town life -- how sweet it is.

    Also interesting: MassLive has forums for each town in our region. Most seem to be filled with the same old dozen-or-so, but it's a neat way to get at the town-meeting-equivalent heart of the townships in which we've landed. No comment about the average politico-social bent of the regulars, though -- you'll have to go see for yourself why I've decided not to weigh in. (Hint: the big topic in one such forum right now is a proposed boycott of stores that do not wish shoppers "Merry Christmas.")

    posted by boyhowdy | 6:20 AM | 0 comments
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