Day 20: Ships Ahoy!

Friday, 20. December 2013 22:24 | Author:

I saw three ships come sailing in

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day

I saw three ships come sailing in

On Christmas Day in the morning.


You've probably heard it as many times as I. The bouncy joyful melody, originally from the eighteenth century, is sung by choirs, soloists, and instrumentalists. Though seldom sung as a church carol, it is familiar to all and in the regular rotation of all classical and semi-classical Christmas stations. I heard it twice this morning.

But why ships?

According to the story of the song, three ships carrying Mary and the Christ child sailed into Bethlehem. But how did this image every come into the mind of the lyricist? Of course there is no mention of ships in the Infancy Narratives. Though there is no mention of transport, all tradition suggests that Mary and Joseph would have walked or taken a beast of burden. Even if a ship were available, the closest body of water to Bethlehem is 20 miles away, so “sailing in” wouldn't be possible.

Obviously I don't mind dramatic developments to the Christmas story, but most of the stories and songs build on the scriptural base. How ships became intertwined is a mystery to me, and online explanations don't help much. There is a suggestions the lyric was tied to ships taking the relics of the three magi to Cologne Cathedral in the thirteenth century. Since it is a traditional hymn, there is no one to authoritatively give any information. Somehow this song sprang up among the English country folk, but how and why is anything but intuitive.

There are so many traditions and stories and songs surrounding the holiday. Many of them awaken nostalgia, or joy, or religious feeling.

But “I Saw Three Ships” remains a nautical conundrum. Anchors aweigh, my Lord Fa la la la la la la la la

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image: 'View from Big Brother, Egypt 2008'

http://www.flickr.com/photos/16903262@N02/2471594862. Found on flickrcc.net

 

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Day 19: Carpet Balm

Friday, 20. December 2013 4:59 | Author:

Today was an amazing day. Since the day we moved into our house 10 years ago, we've been saying that we need to change the carpet. The house had lovely white carpet that was installed shortly before we bought it. I understand that white carpeting helps the house look clean and large. However, with a preteen child and three dogs, we knew that this white carpet would be an unforgiving record of every spill mess or domestic disaster. In the early days we tried using carpet runners and shampooing the carpet weekly, but after a very short time it was clear that white carpet and we were completely incompatible,

And so we lived for over ten years, each year vowing to do something about the carpet, now stained with various puppy and other household accidents. The shampoo machine had little effect, and even professional cleanings didn't last very long. So we talked often about the need to change the carpet, and nothing happened. Between finances, time, and initiative, something always got in the way.

Until this year. At the end of the summer we finally had three rooms converted to laminate wood floors. Very nice, but the carpet still remained through most of the house. And then on Tuesday of this week I received a text from my wife, “new carpet being installed on Thursday and Friday.”

For the next 48 hours my wife and I ran helter skelter, trying to prepare for this. My main observation is that no one knows how many things are on a floor until preparing for new carpet. Everywhere we turned, there was another pile of stuff, boxes that hadn't been touched since our last move. Exacerbating this were the Christmas decorations that had to be carefully taken down. Probably the worst were the floors of the closets. I found Jimmy Hoffa in the back of mine. Luckily we had a very wonderful team of installers who were willing to move almost everything, so no furniture had to be carried.

This morning before they started I took apart my computer setup. In my haste, I pulled wires and cords without any thought of putting it back together. My wife asked if I took pictures of the setup so I would know where everything went, and I had to admit that was a really good idea…if I had done it.

Anyway, I am happy to announce that the carpet is laid. In fact, they finished the entire job in one day. It looks even better than I had hoped, and feels wonderful underfoot. We have an enormous job to put everything back together prior to having the family over for Christmas, but it was worth it: crazy, stressful, impossible, but definitely worth it.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image: Carpet

 

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Day 18: Krampus Baby

Thursday, 19. December 2013 4:33 | Author:

I had to go back and check the last two years to see if I had written about this before, but I couldn't find anything, so here goes.

Among the many bizarre traditions associated with the Christmas celebration around the world, one of my favorite is a little-known figure named Krampus. The tradition is most likely of Germanic origin, though it spread through the entire region. Krampus is a horned, beast-like creature who is the counterpart to St. Nicholas. As St. Nicholas would reward good children, Krampus would punish the naughty (a much more frightening embodiment of coal in the stocking). In many countries the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas is called Krampusnacht as the beast would come to town and either frighten naughty children or (in some tellings) put them in a sack and take them away.

Of course this tradition has led to many celebrations involving costumes and, of course, alcohol. Sometimes the figure of Krampis accompanies St, Nicholas, doling out punishment while the Saint focuses only on the good children. In some German communities, the tradition of exchanging greeting cards with the image of Krampus Krampuskarten continues to this day.

I have just been informed by my wife who was walking by while I'm writing that Krampus was featured on a recent episode of Grimm, so the legend lives on.

The thing I find interesting about Krampus is this human need to capture the duality of existence. St. Nicholas represents generosity, good will, and joy, so there must be a second figure to reflect the darker angels of our own nature (my wife describes Krampus and Santa's evil twin). We do not believe in the possibility of reward without the threat of punishment.

When I was in the classroom, I had my students pick term paper topics from a hat. I loved the lifelike randomness of the process. Once I suggested to the students that I should put in a slip of paper that would excuse the chooser from writing the paper while giving him or her an A on the assignment. The students obviously liked this idea. However, I continued that if I did that, I would need to also put in a slip that said the chooser would get an F. In saying this, I was giving voice to Krampus, not evil, but an equalizer. I never did this for various ethical and professional reasons, but it was an interesting discussion.

I'm not saying whether this is good or bad, but it certainly is human. You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I'm telling you why…Krampus will come and put you in his bag to take you away where you will never be seen again!

As alway, I welcome your comments.

Image: 'Vintage Christmas Krampus Postcard'

http://www.flickr.com/photos/66974474@N00/327822121 Found on flickrcc.net

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Day 17: Troll the Ancient Yuletide Carol, Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

Tuesday, 17. December 2013 15:54 | Author:

In a few of these entries, I've talked about my love of Christmas songs and carols, and by some of the analysis of lyrics it should be clear that I spend way too much time thinking about this. Today is my opportunity to explore the other side of this topic and mention the songs I hate, songs that my life would be infinitely better if I never heard again.

Although the list trends toward pop songs, I don't dislike pop Christmas songs as a rule. “Christmas, Baby, Please Come Home” by Darlene Love ranks at the very top of my like list. Likewise, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” is a great pop song (there is a wonderful version of this song on YouTube with Miriah Carey joined by Jimmy Fallon and the Roots playing classroom instruments).

There are also some songs that are beneath contempt and therefore not included. This would include novelty songs like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” or the barking dogs “Jingle Bells.” I don't understand why anyone would listen to these more than once (although I understand that they do). I have to include (the word treacly doesn't say enough) “The Christmas Shoes” here, though I understand that some people like it; they shouldn't.

So here is my top 7 list, and yes, I am aware I just spoke about lists yesterday:

“Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” Brenda Lee: The idea of a rock beat to a Christmas song is OK, but I've yet to see a Christamas party hop.

“Jingle Bells Rock” Bobby Helms: Everything that is bad about “Rocking” is bad about this x10

“Feliz Navidad” Jose Feliciano: If I didn't hear this song so often, I might not hate it so much, but “from the bottom of my heart,” is very hard to take.

These three have the further distinction of being virtually the entire playlist of most radio stations. Please, stop already!

“Blue Christmas” Elvis Presely: Can someone tell me what is Christmasy about this song?

“The Little Drummer Boy” Boring, pa rum-pa-pa-pum

“Mary Don't You Know?” Somehow this has become the go-to song for earnest young people. Stop

“Last Christmas” Wham: This will become the Jingle Bells Rock of our era.

I would love for people to add Yule songs that they hate. I would also love for someone to explain why the radio continues to play the big three

Image: 'Singin Bells'

http://www.flickr.com/photos/32093606@N08/3127408381 Found on flickrcc.net

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Day 16: Makin’ a List, Checkin’ it…10,000 Times!

Tuesday, 17. December 2013 3:25 | Author:

Confession time.

In the last few months I've fallen into a distressing Internet addiction. I regularly swear that I will stay away from these pages, but I get a little bored or tired and suddenly I'm there again. I know I should be reading or writing blogposts, something productive, but again and again I give into my dark compulsion. Afterward when I'm depressed and filled with self-loathing, I make the same promises, knowing that my will isn't strong enough to keep them.

I read lists on the Internet

Probably I see this most on Buzzfeed, but I've noticed them on any other of dozens of “news” sites. I've even started to see lists on mainstream sites like the Los Angeles or New York Times. No matter where, as soon as I see the words “top ten..,” “15 things you don't know about..,” or any number followed by a noun; click, I'm hooked. It is particularly a problem at this time of year, as I can resist finding out little know facts about Christmas, Christmas carols, Christmas movies, Christmas specials, etc.

Here is a list of lists you can find on Buzzfeed right now:

  • 21 Bachelor Pad Tricks that Will up Your Game
  • 15 Things Every Kick-Ass Uncle Knows To Be True, As Told By Jesse And Joey
  • 12 Things All Stage Managers Understand
  • 16 Disney Holiday Specials to Warm Your Heart
  • 27 Versions Of Wham!’s “Last Christmas” Sung By Artists Around The World
  • 14 Books From 2013 Every Music Lover Should Read
  • 17 Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” Ornaments That Are Works Of Christmas Tree Art

OK, you get the point

I tried to figure out why I (and so many others by the look of it) am so attracted to lists. To organize my thoughts I (of course) made a list:

  • A list gives the reader the feeling of learning without the effort of heavy reading.
  • A list helps provide order to a chaotic world.
  • A list provides opportunities for surprise, recognition, and argument, particularly when ratings are involved.
  • A list gives the reader tidbits to share.

Do you like lists? Any idea why?

As always, I welcome your comments

Image: 'January first'

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10953991@N00/2162700587 Found on flickrcc.net

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Day 15: Fantasia on Christmas Carols

Monday, 16. December 2013 4:24 | Author:

Among my favorite classical Christmas pieces that I listen to every year, one of the best is Ralph Vaughn William's Fantasia on Christmas Carols. This piece for soloist and choir combines three traditional English Carols into a retelling of the story of the fall of humankind and the joyous celebration of the Savior's birth. I was lucky enough to sing this piece when I was in choir, and I have a warm feeling remembering both the rehearsals and the performance. Some people find it a bit slow and heavy, particularly at the beginning as the Baritone, accompanied by cello, formally declares the purpose of the piece and resells the story. The language is extremely formal, and probably stuffy for some.

The first thing which I will relate
Is that God did man create
The next thing which to you I'll tell

Woman was made with man to dwell

But soon the choirs join in, and the piece starts moving.

My favorite part of the entire piece is in the final movement. Amid sweeping orchestral accompaniment and soaring voices, the men get to sing the final verse.

God bless the ruler of this house and long on may he reign
Many happy Christmases he live to see again
God bless our generation who live both far and near
And we wish them a happy, a happy New Year

 

In so many ways, this encompasses the warmth of the Christmas celebration. Apart from the dated references to a ruler of a house, I love the line “God bless our generation who live both far and near.” The blessings of Christmas are extended for all.

So on this third Sunday of Advent when we celebrate Gaudete! I wish for us all the same thing:

  • To live to see many more Christmas times
  • To feel God's blessing along with all humankind
  • And to have a Happy New Year!

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image: 'A Christmas Carol'

http://www.flickr.com/photos/68187565@N00/4211897997 Found on flickrcc.net

 

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Day 14: iDon’t Know What iFeel about This

Sunday, 15. December 2013 0:40 | Author:

I was reading articles from the CNET site this afternoon and I came across a picture and article that caught my attention. The full article is here, but as much as the article, it was the picture that caused a series of reactions in me.

My first thought was, “this must be a joke.” As soon as I saw that it was real, I thought, “Well, that's terrible.” and I'm sure, by reading the article that most people feel the same.

But then I thought, “Why is it terrible?” When our daughter was a baby she had a similar chair with hanging toys for her to see and touch and manipulate. This chair has those same toys plus a screen to see and touch and manipulate. There are pictures and video of our daughter in her chair in front of the television (this is probably showing that I'm an awful parent, but we do have an amazing daughter despite). This child can watch the screen of the iPad and might be more actively involved. How is this worse than my daughter's chair?

But then I thought, “you are blinded by your tech orientation.” This chair is based on assumptions that haven't been proved and could have effects long after the chair itself is gone. Do I know if this is a healthy viewing distance? What is the effect of manipulating digital objects instead of physical ones? Does this feed a lifetime of technology addiction?

So I don't know what I think. Like most things in tech, there isn't a simple answer. You can't always trust your gut reaction…or your reaction to that reaction.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image: Taken from article

 

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Day 13: We Wish You the Merriest

Saturday, 14. December 2013 7:36 | Author:

I love Christmas carols, love to hear them, love to sing them. Today I attended a madrigal feast at one of my high schools and was able to enjoy the many choral groups and individuals sing a wide range of sacred and secular Christmas songs. The kids did a wonderful job, and I liked almost everything…

…except the singing of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Now, the young lady who sang it did a fine job, but she did one thing (I'm certain without knowing it) that bugs me about this song.

As most know, the origin of the song was in the musical Meet Me in St. Louis written by Hugh Martin and Robert Blane. Judy Garland sang the song to her sister at a sad point of the story as the family faced separation and loss. The concept of a “merry little Christmas” is that they should take the little joy and solace that they can from this Christmas, and hope for better days ahead.

Here are the original lyrics

Have yourself a merry little christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little christmas
Make the yule-tide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, well have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Over time these lyrics have been adapted by pop singers to remove most of the sad references. The line “Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” is revised to the more saccharine “From now on our troubles will be out of sight.” Several similar changes are made throughout the song, culminating with the replacement of “Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow,” to the sweet sounding (but unrelated to anything else) “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

Of course most modern renditions are completely separated from the original context, and I understand why a singer would want more upbeat sentiments. However, without the painful nostalgia of the original lyrics, there is no logic to the idea of a merry “little” Christmas. Why, when everything is so great, would we want to wish a merry little Christmas to someone? It feels a little like the Christmas machine is uncomfortable with the suggestion that anything about Christmas could be less than ecstatic. I appreciate the fact that this song talked about other types of Christmases, ones that are the reality for many.

The original is sweet, sad, and nostalgic. The updated version makes no sense to me, and it grates on me any time I hear it, even when sung beautifully by a great high school student.

As always, I welcome you comments.

Image: 'Christmas Spirit'

http://www.flickr.com/photos/13907834@N00/5270349562 Found on flickrcc.net

 

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Day 12: My True Love Gave to Me

Friday, 13. December 2013 3:17 | Author:

Wanted to write about something else today, so I'll continue my list of diocesan technology directions at a later date.

During the last half hour of television, I have seen four car commercials. All four have indicated that their product would make a lovely Christmas gift. Three emphasized this with enormous bows on the roof of the beautiful luxury vehicle. This has become such a recognizable holiday tradition that they are barely noticed; cars with bows are as common as Santa, snowmen, and Starbuck's holiday cups.

Tonight, however, I was troubled by these commercials, or more by a question they provoked:

“Who is buying and giving cars as Christmas presents?”

Now, I'm not saying it doesn't happen. Even as a child, I remember stories of lavish gifts among the super rich. The car for the 16th birthday has become a staple on television. I'm certain there are always people of means who spend extraordinary amounts, but these are luxury cars far beyond that gift for the new driver. Somewhere every year, the Christmas morning automotive reveal from the commercials is being played out. But how many of these luxury gifts are really being given?

Since I began writing this, the have been three more giftcar commercials, all for luxury models. I'm certain that they must be effective; companies don't spend money year after year on ads that don't produce. But who are these people? Surprisingly, I have never given nor received an automobile as a Christmas present, and I don't know anyone who has. There has never been a Lexus beneath my tree or a Audi in my stocking.

In saying this, I'm not suggesting that I need or would want a car. Frankly, I can't think of a more audacious and uncomfortable gift.

But somebody….

As always, I welcome your comments

Image: 'Mary's Christmas Museum 2012 – Auto bokeh'

http://www.flickr.com/photos/12836528@N00/8275105683 Found on flickrcc.net

 

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Day 11: Where Are We Going with This?

Thursday, 12. December 2013 4:56 | Author:

As we get closer to year's end, like most, I spend some time meditating on what the year meant and how I've changed or developed professionally or personally. I may share some other reflections in the coming days, but one thing I know for sure, this is the year that the direction I want to lead my schools in terms of technology finally crystallized. Before this year I had vague notions of directions, but if you held me down, I couldn't articulate a clear program. But now I can list five goals that make up my to do list of ed-tech accomplishments I want to complete before I leave this job.

I'm going to break this topic into two days to avoid an overly long post (and to fill more days).

The first step is to provide bandwidth to all schools that is adequate to support the huge demands of a technology rich environment. The movement from local to cloud based audio, video, and services, has exponentially increased the amount of bandwidth consumed by each device. Since even the high demands of today may be dwarfed by tomorrow, it is vital that this bandwidth be scalable. To support this, we are negotiating diocesan contracts with ISPs, running all bandwidth through a centralized location, where we provide filtering and firewall protections to all networks. All school sites have fiber connections which allow for easy scalability with no hardware upgrades. Negotiating a single contract saves money compared to schools negotiating alone, and schools can realize savings by eliminating local filters and firewalls.

We are close to finishing this first phase, and it has been harder than anticipated. Dealing with ISPs has been a true challenge, and I have learned to accept that they are always lying to me about timelines or costs. Unfortunately in our current systems, these companies hold a stranglehold on broadband access; they know it and operate accordingly. So often I have given schools assurances that things would be completed by a date, only to be made a liar by our ISP partners. Another area of challenge was educating schools about the costs of a fiber line. Even with discounts, the new lines cost significantly more than previous DSL or cable which are limited and not scalable. Schools who had $50/month service designed for consumers were suddenly faced with monthly bills of $300. This was a slow process which I did not do well at first. Finally, trying to adjust any filter system to meet the diverse needs of 35 sites is a slow process guaranteed to frustrate all involved.

The second direction is the implementation of a single student information system (SIS) called Sycamore for all elementary schools. An SIS does much more than store student information; it operates as a parent communication system, grade book, report card system, web portal, and other services. Most schools already had an SIS, but they were paying a single school rate, every system worked differently, and there was no way to gather census and other data from the diocesan office. By purchasing a single SIS for all schools, we can save money, centralize training, and gather census data without having schools fill out forms. Implementing a single system also can guarantee that all schools have an effective system to serve teachers, parents, and students.

Hell have no fury like a school that is asked to use a new student information system. Like any new piece of software, there is a learning and a comfort curve. Over time, users learn shortcuts and stop having to think while doing repetitive tasks. A new system starts this process over again, and makes it feel like the new system is inferior. Too many times I had to repeat the mantra, “You'll hate it until you love it.” I know years from now the system will be changed again everyone will complain about moving off the “intuitive” Sycamore system. The SIS project will be completed will full implementation next year.

I'll save the other three goals for later.

As always, I welcome your comments

Image: 'Our Direction'

http://www.flickr.com/photos/68634595@N00/116220689. Found on flickrcc.net

 

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