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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 24: “Let your love flow to all living things”

Saturday, 24. December 2016 22:18

First to the title, I know this is not a quote from a Christmas song, but a dear friend once pointed out how it was in many ways the underlying theme of much of great literature, and if it isn’t the message of Christmas, I don’t know what is.

Well, we’ve made it…again.  Whatever is going to get done is done, and we will discover again that what didn’t get done doesn’t change much.  In a little more than an hour, I will be heading for Christmas mass, and then (at least in a post Santa Claus world) Christmas is fully here.  

I’ve struggled with my Christmas wish this year more than any other, not because I can’t think of something to wish, but it seems there are too many things needed (and like Aladdin I’m not able to wish for more wishes).

There’s no getting around it, 2016 has been a very hard year for many people, lots of struggles, lots of loss, lots of pain.  And, let’s face it, there is a lot of fear and not much optimism for 2017.  Daily reading of the news feels more and more that our country and our world are a drug-induced vision that is horrible, but from which we must certainly, eventually, come down…only there is no coming down. Cynicism has always been a protection for some like me, because by believing in the worst of our fellow human beings and our world, we are seldom disappointed. However even the hardest of cynics have to look at 2016 and say, “Wow, I didn’t see THAT coming!”

This is the worst Christmas message I have ever read

So my wish for you, for us all, this year is a little different.  It is a wrapped gift.  Inside is whatever is needed to see and make possibilities that we can’t see today.  I know that we will be faced with a multitude of challenges and will need many reserves of energy, hope and love.  These I wish for you.  This gift contains whatever is that thing that will keep us each working and fighting for the world that this day represents. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.  He has come to his people and set them free,” reads the banner hanging on the wall behind me.  Christmas is the story of the ineffiable stepping in and changing the story for the good of all people (that’s 100%, not 1% or 99%).  In 2017 let’s dedicate the year to changing the story, and the yet unwrapped gift contains hope, perseverance, and above all love.  I pray that in the gcoming year you will each be given that thing you need to carry on, to believe, and to change the world.

I will be back in 11 months to do this again.

Merry Christmas! I love you all.

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 23: “Still muddling”

Saturday, 24. December 2016 6:18

Part of the “rules” of this blogging exercise each year is that there are no themes, no structure, no preset topics.  Each day’s topic (with the exception of the two carry-over posts) was thought up on the day.  I don’t keep a notebook of possible subjects ahead of time (though that might be a great idea).  The only two days for which I have a yearly agenda are the 23rd and 24th.  Today is the day of reckoning, looking back and trying to make some sense of the previous twenty-two entries.  Tomorrow is my Christmas wish for anyone who has patiently slouched toward Bethelehem with me.

So what do I make of the “24 Days of Blogging” 2016 version on this penultimate day? Like past years, it certainly is a mixed bag.  There have been a couple of ed-tech pieces, a few pieces about weird Christmas traditions, a couple of rants, a few cheats, and several unclassifyable rambles.  I wrote much less about Christmas carols than in previous years, and I didn’t mention. A Christmas Carol once.  I found it harder to discover odd traditions from our history and from other countries and I’m wondering if that vein is getting tapped out.

Though it’s a bit risky to judge the quality of the pieces so soon after writing (I often appreciate one year’s work a year later) my general feeling about this exercise as a whole is that it has matched much of my life during this past year, “muddling through.”  This has been a hard year in many ways for me and for many others, and that has been reflected in my life, in my work, and in my writing.  So few of the pieces had real passion or enthusiasm, many of them lack a clear defining idea, much of the writing lacked the cleverness or spark of previous years.  On several days I wanted to simply say, “No mas!” and retire from the venture.  I was also much less enthusiastic about promoting posts after they were completed.  I didn’t put links in twitter, and missed many days in Facebook.  I know far fewer read these than in past years.

But I wrote (something) and I posted (something) every day, because this is what you do, you muddle through.  Sometimes ideas are plenty and the writing flows through the fingers to the touch screen like electricity, but sometimes it doesn’t.

There is a beautiful winter song called “The Fallow Way,”

I’ll learn to love the fallow way

And gather in the patient fruits 

And after autumns blaze and burn

I’ll know the full still, deep roots

That nothing seem to know or need

That crack the ice in frozen ponds 

And slumbering in winter’s folds 

Have dreams of green and blue and gold 

I’ll learn to love the fallow way 

And listening for blossoming 

Of my own heart once more in spring 

As sure as time, as sure as snow

As sure as moonlight, wind and stars

The fallow time will fall away

The sun will bring an April day

And I will yield to Summer’s way

So maybe this has been a fallow year, but I hope that by muddling through, there might be a springtime not too far behind.

Will I do this again next year?  I don’t know.  I suppose in part it depends on if there is a next year, which I mean only somewhat facetiously.  I enter 2017 with the same fear as most, the dread that perhaps we in our narcissism and recklessness have passed the tipping point, and we and our old world will not be able to correct the path we have “chosen.” I pray that we and our good old world will be stronger than that, and I will leave it there for now.

Thanks to any who have read these posts.  You are a miracle.  I have repeatedly said that I would write if no one read this, but I am blessed that people do.

So I’ll end here, because I have to think up one hell of a Christmas wish for tomorrow.

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The 24 Days of Blogging Day 22: “How I miss that old fashioned Christmas! “

Friday, 23. December 2016 3:42

There is nothing better than an old Christmas tradition.  Whether it is the tree, or the mistletoe, or Krampus, these yearly reminders of our past can’t help but bring joy every year.  However, there is nothing worse than a fake tradition, a “tradition” that has grown not from our past, but from our desire to create a past in the future.  Let’s examine two examples of this today.  

The elf on the shelf, what a charming Christmas tradition.  A mischievous elf (in the form of a doll) travels around the house, scouting the way for Santa Claus and verifying that the children continue behavior that will merit his visit.  Occasionally a very clever child will spot the elf, but by the next day he will have found another hiding place.  Generations of children remember scouring the house for the clever elf and watch fondly as their own children take up the search.  

Except the elf on the shelf is not a tradition that is generations old.  The entire activity seems to date back to 2004 with the publication of The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell.  The book was sold with a doll so that the tradition could be taken up in the houses of the buyers.  But it is faux tradition, something that feels like it has been done for years, when it actually was a fad, the Pokémon of the early 2000s.  The desire for this marketing approach can be seen, well, in the title of the book.  The inventor of a game is not allowed to say it is a tradition, and the way that the word tradition is used to give gravitas to the activity is in the best spirit of commercial Christmas (in this way perhaps it is traditional). The Elf on the Shelf tradition is the Monkees of Christmas traditions…prefabricated and prepackaged with the faint whiff of false authenticity.

The second fake tradition is a game for adults that does have a short history, but has degenerated into the same commercial crassness in a short number of years.  The Ugly Sweater Competition was a healthy and enjoyable mockery of overly earnest and overly ornate Christmas wear. It was a terrific time for friends to gather with Aunt Bertha and Uncle Fritz’s old sweaters and laugh (and drink) at the excess of glitter, pom poms, and misguided yarn.

Though the USC (Ugly Sweater Competition) never claimed to be a generational tradition (in fact, they drew much of their popularity for their mockery of tradition), in a short time the purity of this mockery became tainted.  Target and other retailers sell “Ugly Christmas Sweaters” specifically for these competitions.  To create something gaudy pretending that it was not intended as gaudy is such a contradiction (I suppose hipsters would call it meta).  An even more disturbing development is “Ugly Sweater Chic,” people simultaneously wearing and mocking gaudy Christmas fashions, creating a level of cool beyond that of the North Pole.  Starbucks sells gingerbread men with ugly sweaters. The Ugly Sweater tradition has very quickly jumped the, well, reindeer.

As always I welcome your comments.

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 21: “Walking in a winter wonderland”

Thursday, 22. December 2016 2:28

Despite the fact that we have been bombarded with winter scenes and winter songs, today is the actual first day of winter.  The shortes day of the year.  I understand that it actually isn’t a shorter day, only shorter daylight,  it this sort of leads to the kind misperception I want to talk about today.

I was watching a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson about common misconceptions.  He quoted the general perception that days get longer in the summer and shorter in the winter.  This jives with our general feeling about this, we think of the darkness of winter and the eternal daylight of summer.  Tyson said that not only this not true, it is the opposite of truth.  Days get longer in the winter and shorter in the summer. This is so counter intuitive that I had to think about it for a while, but of course, he’s right.  Today is the shortest day of the year, so each day after today gets longer.  The first day of summer is the longest day of the year, so each day after is shorter.  

While there is no intrinsic value to daylight over night, there is an internal optimism that is felt by all with more daylight.  If this is true, then winter is an optimistic season, a season of light.  Of course most everyone knows that the Christian feast of the Nativity was a baptism of a former feast of the unconquerable sun.  Ancient peoples saw daylight going steadily away, and the feast celebrated the yearly recognition that the world was not going to disappear into unending darkness. 

So winter is a season of growing light, not darkness, and the last day of winter will be the same length as the first day of summer.  Happy winter, the season of light!

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 20: “and have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”

Wednesday, 21. December 2016 5:06

Ok, today I have to beg off.  I have a cold, or allergies, or hay fever, or the plague, or something that makes me want to bang my head against the wall because it feels better than the headache I have!  

Today is the last day of Autumn, and suitably Autumn has ended with the dry winds that set my sinuses into a four-alarm fire.  I always get this around Christmas time.  For years when I was singing in church, this attack was also accompanied by a nice bout of laryngitis, which more than once made midnight mass a challenge.  

What’s the worst is that I can’t sleep.  I came home after my last meeting today intending to sleep the rest of the afternoon, but I sat fully awake watching episode after episode of Murdoch on Netflix.  

So you’ll have to pardon me.  I can’t write one word today…nothing from me at all.

Image:  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/34/Blepharitis.JPG/320px-Blepharitis.JPG

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 19: “Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us, once more.”

Tuesday, 20. December 2016 5:00

This past weekend I had a little problem with my iPhone.  My work email account suddenly stopped downloading, and I wasn’t able to access it despite reentering my password or even deleting and recreating the account on my iPhone or iPad.  At the same time a lasagne number of my contacts suddenly disappeared on my iPhone, but not on my iPad.  This didn’t make any sense at all, because these two devices were supposed to sync.  I tried every fix I could think of or find with no luck.  I spent a weekend unconnected and furious.

I often work with people who have trouble with their devices.  I sympathize with their challenges, and luckily sometimes I can fix them.  However, I know there is always a sense of betrayal.  We sell these devices, literally and figuratively, to people and promise that they will make lives easier.  When they fail in this function, it is a betrayal.  For them, it is a betrayal by a stranger.  However, when I have a problem and when I can’t figure out what’s going on, I feel like I am being betrayed by my own children.  My wrath is without equal.

Luckily I found that the email problem was caused by an expired password.  After I restored the email accounts, my contacts reappeared.  This was an incomplete resolution, because though I understand the email part of the equation, the contact disappearance still doesn’t make sense.  I watch my phone like a, unfaithful friend, I hope that things will go well, but I can’t trust…at least now.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 18: “All I want for Christmas is you”

Monday, 19. December 2016 5:13

As I said in my post yesterday, I attended my favorite holiday part of the year last night.  The house was beautiful, the conversation was flowing, and the food was delicious, but my favorite part of the evening was the white elephant gift exchange. I have participated in these activities at several parties and gave generally found them to be tedious and dull; however, this exchange with this group transcends these experiences and becomes something truly memorable. 

The white elephant gift exchange is actually a hybrid of two traditions, the gifting of white elephants, useless objects around the house, and the yankee swap, a picking and trading gift game.  However in most areas these two have become synonymous and combined. Even if the gifts are purchased and desirable, the game is still called “white elephant.”

The yearly exchange at this party is fun and memorable because it has three elements crucial to a successful WEGE (White Elephant Gift Exchange).  The first element is tradition, lots of stories about past years’ gifts and recipients, yearly arguments about the rules,  and certain players known for their ruthlessness.  The second element of success are gifts that balance strangeness and wit.  It’s fine to put a used horseshoe in a gift bag, but unless there is a story attached, the gift (whether found or purchased) falls flat.  The final element of success is controversy.  If there are no arguments, brutal steals, and general poor behavior, then there is nothing to remember or laugh about next year.  This year we had one recipient of a very nice present actually leave the party and go home to protect his find. This morning Facebook is overwhelmed with discussion, real and facetious. 

With these elements the WEGE can become, not a lengthy experiment in tedium. 

As always, I welcome your opinions. 

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 17:  “The door is always open, the neighbors stay at home”

Sunday, 18. December 2016 1:42

I’m off to a Christmas party tonight, so I can’t write much.  As I grow increasingly (and frighteningly) older, I find I look forward to a couple of select parties more than any other part of the season.  Tonight I go to the house of my dearest friends who yearly throw the party I look forward to all year.  I’ve made a new appetizer, Beef Wellington Bites, and I’m wearing my finest. I love this party, I love these people.  Gave a great Saturday before Christmas week everyone…drive carefully 

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 16:  “…and the friendly beasts around him stood”

Saturday, 17. December 2016 2:17

Those who have read this Christmas collection for years know of my fascination with Victorian Christmas cards.  These early cards are notable for their distinct lack of traditional Christmas symbols, colors, or messages.  Though we often see Victorian England as the source for many of our current traditions, clearly there was also quite a few “traditions” that didn’t make the cut.  I present as evidence a wonderful card I found today. 

Where to begin?  Frogs?  Is there a less seasonal amphibian, much less animal?  I don’t recall any reference to frogs croaking in the manger of Bethelehem.  Likewise , secular “Santa Claus” lore is filled with many animals, but no frogs.  There are no Victorian traditions of frogs and the birth of our Lord.

Even if the artist simply liked frogs, this card is not handsome frogs beneath a Christmas tree (or under the mistle-toad), not are these cute cartoon frogs wishing us all a joyous Christmas and a “hoppy” New Year.  These are violent frogs, frogs with weapons, frogs that will cut you.  This is a murder scene, and the victor flees the scene after leaving his weapon in his victim (probably after wiping the handle for prints).  The motive for the act seems clear, as the perp carries a sack of (conveniently labeled) money.  Though one could argue that this might not be a robbery, but self defense, the haste in leaving the crime scene seems to tell a different story (as does the clear guilt in his eyes).  The card (like the evidence) tells the story of a homicidal frog, apparently getting away with his crime.  It’s difficult to connect this act to any of the Christmas stories generally told to children.  

And why does the fleeing frog have clothes while his victim has none?  Why was a frog, naked of anything but a sword and a sack of money. doing in the field that Christmas morning?  While the murderer might have removed the victim’s clothes to hide his identity, there is nothing in the crime scene to indicate this.  I fear this, like virgin birth and consubstantiality, this is destined to remain a Christmas mystery. Is this all part of an electorate plot, or a heist gone wrong?  Were they partners until one just got greedy?  What exactly are we seeing?  

May your Christmas season be filled with (sometimes baffling) surprises!

Image:  http://hyperallergic.com/261847/have-a-creepy-little-christmas-with-these-unsettling-victorian-cards/

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The 24 Days of Christmas, Day 15:  “All I [don’t] want for Christmas” (Part 2)

Friday, 16. December 2016 6:13

Though it might seem not in the spirit of Christmas to be criticizing well-intentioned projects and efforts, unless we are willing to be critical of mis-direction, we will not find the best direction for student learning. Yesterday I talked about my long time dislike for SmartBoards, a high priced product that was limited in its capabilities and even more limited by underutilization by teachers.    It’s like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry bought his father a PDA (remember PDAs), but the father only used the device as a tip calculator.  

Today’s device is one that I once thought might be a valuable adddition to a classroom, and teachers seem to use it, but it seems to reinforce old models.  So I add to the wall of shame…the document camera.

A document camera is simply what the name implies.  A camera captures documents and other objects on a platform, and the images can appear on a computer screen or projector.  The device allows a teacher to show “legacy” documents that aren’t in digital form, three-dimensional objects, or demonstrations.  Though these devices originally were expensive (ranging from $700 -$900), but they have come down to $100 or less.  Will falling prices, more and more schools have installed document cameras in classrooms.

However, when I see the device in operation, I often feel like we are taking a step back to the days of the overhead projector.  I see few innovative uses and a lot of filling in paper worksheets and actually writing notes like we used to do in the board.  Like an overhead, the device ties the teacher down to a “nest,” and the focus is on the platform and not the students.

Changing what is used but not what is done is a trap, and only through ongoing aggressive evaluation and question can we truly change education.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image:  http://img-aws.ehowcdn.com/615×200/cme/cme_public_images/www_ehow_com/photos.demandstudios.com/getty/article/154/82/AA004853_XS.jpg

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