Tuesday, December 26, 2006


This time of year, you tend to hear the story about how the angel told Mary she was going to have a baby, and she said, "How can that be? I am a virgin," and then there was no room in the inn and she put the baby in the manger.

And kids in school are taught stories like about Betsy Ross and Paul Revere.

With both religious and historical stories like that, they're told in such a way that I know I'm supposed to revere them, but they don't really do that much for me and I don't know how factual they are.

Recently I heard some stories about when my grandmother was younger. These stories reminded me of where I came from and who I have the potential to be. They made me feel better about who I am and gave me a sense of how to better live up to my potential. And I realized, those other stories from religion and history are supposed to be the same way. That's why those stories are so revered. Because for some people, they had that effect.

But I was writing the other day about how traditions may change with time. The stories that inspired people once may not be the stories that are needed today.

You may say "Stories? What about facts? People should know the facts of what happened." I think one of the reasons the stories I cited don't seem interesting is because they don't seem real. Even in the cases where the things presented are factual, they are kind of presented in a vacuum. You don't know about things in the context that to you are important. So even if all the facts that are presented are actually true, the stories themselves don't ring true because they don't tell the whole story, they leave out parts that I would consider important.

There are many things that have happened in the past, and different people are interested in different aspects. Quite often, when one person tells the story of what they did today to a family member, the person telling the story and the person hearing the story think different things are interesting. In particular, it seems men often want to know just the basic outline of what happened, while women want to know who were all the people who were present and who they are related to. Also, men are more likely to want to know about things pertaining to mechanical and electronic gadgets, while women are more likely to find such things completely uninteresting and irrelevant to what's really important.

Monday, December 25, 2006

My Christmas traditions

To me, Christmas is mainly a solstice celebration. Traditions of lights, music, family, and gifts bring warmth and light to the darkest time of the year. I’m not all that Christian, but my interpretation of Christmas does take one piece from Christianity: I think about Jesus’ teachings of treating all with love, so for me it’s a time to reach out to other people – to visit relatives, to give gifts, to send cards, to help the needy.

My family’s Christmas traditions have evolved over the years as our needs have changed. As of recent years, here’s how we celebrate Christmas: During the evening on Christmas Eve, we may sing Christmas carols and/or go to church. However, it’s not necessary to do anything. Christmas Day is the main day that we celebrate.

On Christmas morning, some of us go for a walk while others are still asleep. I think going for a walk is a good way to celebrate just about any holiday. Being outside in nature helps you appreciate the important things in life.

After everyone is awake and has had breakfast, and the walkers are back from their walk, we open our stockings. I guess some people have specific big, red, decorated Christmas stockings which one would not use for any other purpose. We use big socks that my mother wears as a layer between her regular socks and her boots. We used to have scraps of cloth with each person’s name on them which we pinned to each stocking. In later years, we used scraps of paper which we put in the top of the stocking or near the stocking. This year, my mother just remembered which is which by how the socks look, e.g. which is a bit more stretched at the top, which has her initials written on the toe with a permanent marker, etc.

What takes up the most room in the stockings is the fruit. We each get three or so apples or oranges. These are just taken from the kitchen and returned to the kitchen afterwards. Except some we keep in the living room and eat as we continue opening the stockings and presents.
Also in the stockings there may be some small item such as a pen, a small notebook, or some small, silly toy.

The other item in the stocking is a piece of paper with a list of scrambled words in it. Unscrambling our words is a way we spend time together at home that day and on subsequent days. When we make scrambled words for each other, we pick out words that are appropriate for that person. For example, my mother loves nature, snow, and Christmas, so for her I scramble words like “snowflake” and “spruce.”

After the stockings, we do the presents. One person hands out the presents. Only one present at a time can be opened, and everyone has to be present in the room when it is being opened. Sometimes we have to have a pause when someone runs out to get a snack from the kitchen or something.

We re-use our wrapping paper, ribbons, and labels. We have some wrapping paper that we have been using for over a decade, though we do eventually throw it out when it gets too worn out. We have a box for each in the center of the room. As soon as we unwrap something, we put the wrapping paper, ribbon, and label each in the appropriate box. That way, as soon as we are done unwrapping, the supplies are already ready for next year and we don’t have to clean them up. The key to being able to re-use wrapping paper is using ribbon to hold packages together, rather than the tape, which is what other people use. When you use tape, the wrapping paper tends to get more torn up as you unwrap it. However, when we get gifts wrapped by people who use tape, we do try to re-use the wrapping paper. And in giving gifts to other people, we may use tape when wrapping them, because why use a ribbon on someone who isn’t going to re-use it?

Most of us don’t like too much materialism or shopping, especially at malls. Some gifts are ordered online. One of us is old-fashioned enough to order by mailing in a paper order form. CD’s are a popular gift. In fact, my brother recently exclaimed, “I can’t wait until Christmas so we can open our presents and listen to them!” Homemade gifts are also good, such as a hand-knitted dishcloth or a compilation of family history information.

We do exchange lists of what we want for Christmas, but people also give gifts they think of that weren’t on the list.

After we finish opening the presents, we have a meal, usually cooked by my stepfather. We used to have spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad. This year, three out of five of us don’t eat wheat, so we probably won’t be having spaghetti. In fact it’s hard to think of anything we can all eat. However, one of the planned menu items is butternut squash. We had acorn squash on the 24th and buttercup squash on the 23rd. Butternut squash is my mother’s favorite, so she was saving it to have on Christmas.

After the meal is over, then we have the rest of the day to stay in together, working on our scrambled words and listening to our Christmas presents.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas and tradition

In folk music, people refer to "the folk process" as how songs change as they are handed down from person to person. I think the same goes for any tradition. People change them to meet the needs of the times and the individuals. Some people cherish traditions and don't think they should be changed. I don't think we should change just for the sake of change, nor stay the same just for the sake of staying the same. If we cherish a tradition, then let's not change it. Some people can do something a new way if they like it better that way, while others can keep doing it the old way if that's what they prefer.

The problem is that people observe traditions communally, and those who participate together may not all agree on which way they prefer. Sometimes some compromise and communication is needed.

Christmas is a big holiday in the US. It was "originally" supposed to be about the birth of Jesus, but it has grown way beyond that. Some people participate in Christmas rituals even if the holiday has no religious significance for them. Some people might think that's silly, to go through the motions of Christmas without believing in the religious meaning. I would say it's not silly. It just shows that the traditions of Christmas have evolved, as all traditions evolve. People find something of value in certain rituals of Christmas, even though the religious aspects may not have meaning for them. And, Christmas was actually adapted from pagan solstice celebrations, so it's not exactly true that the original meaning of the holiday was Christian.

For those who find great Christian significance in their Christmas traditions, that's fine with me. But it's also fine with me that for some people, it's more of a solstice celebration, a holiday about bringing warmth and light to a time of darkness. The materialistic version of Christmas is not as fine with me, not because I think it's wrong that people have taken the Christianity out of Christmas, but because I don't think our society's excessive materialism is healthy for humanity or the earth.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Alternative medicine

We need alternative medicine because the mainstream medical system don't know enough. They focus on prescriptions. There are so many other kinds of remedies out there that they don't know about. We need people like naturopaths because they can tell us how to actually get cured. However, thanks to pharmaceutical companies, most of the research that has been done has been on prescription drugs. There isn't as much research about alternative medicines. There's also not as much regulation. So it's a lot easier for some quackery to get in there too. But just because some quackery can get in there doesn't mean that it's all quackery. There is some research that has been done on alternative medicines, and there are some practitioners who keep up with the latest research. Alternative medicine should not be dismissed just because there hasn't been as much research funding for it. We need to be educated consumers, but we need alternative medicine, because so often, it can make your ailments so much better.

2006 in review

2006 was probably not the best year I ever had. I was sick most of the time. Some of the time, maybe a total of two months spread over the course of the year, I was sick enough to be home in bed. The rest of the time, I was well enough to be going to work, but that was about it. Just dragging myself to work, trying to stay peppy long enough to do my work, and not having the energy to do much more. I did much less of the things I used to do, like go to concerts, go on walks, ski, go on trips, hang out with friends, etc. It seemed like on top of being sick, I also had nothing going for me in my life -- no friends, nothing interesting going on professionally. But that probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was too tired to see people or do anything interesting. I've felt cynical and jaded over the past year, about my work and about friends. In my work, it used to be like faculty and staff all worked together to serve students. Now it's like the job of faculty is to write proposals and the job of staff is to serve faculty, and students are useful when they work on research, but otherwise, they are an interruption. As for friends, I'm done with them. I've been too tired to go out with people, and too tired to put up with people behaving in any way other than exactly how I want them to. If they're not going to help me when I'm sick, I just don't have the energy to waste on doing whatever it is they want me to do.

But now I'm not feeling so sick any more, so I find myself in a more positive mood. And looking back on the year, I find that although I thought it was a year of disillusionment, dullness, desolation, and sickness, there were actually many bright spots.

Good things about 2006:
  • I managed to go skiing a couple times before I got sick.
  • I took Nia.
  • I had a radio show. I'm thankful to the station members who have made me feel welcome and/or showed me the ropes, including Howard Jack, Mickie Lynn, Richard Berkley, Sean McLaughlin, Harry Carter, Robert Otlowski, and Allison Guidry.
  • I helped my father move.
  • I volunteered at the Clearwater festival.
  • I went rollerblading a few times.
  • I rented a kayak once.
  • I had some nice times with Meisha.
  • Jesse lived with me some of the time, and now still lives in my town.
  • Jesse helped me when I was sick.
  • Stephen visited me.
  • Daisy and Jake visited me.
  • I talked to Nathan.
  • I got to know Ethan.
  • I had a good conversation with Nate.
  • I talked to my mother on the phone a lot.
  • I found a sense of direction for my professional development.
  • I started three blogs.
  • I grew a garden.
  • I went to Maine.
  • I read some enjoyable books by Tamora Pierce, thanks to Ethan's recommendation.
  • I read some interesting articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, thanks to Bob passing his old newspapers on to me.
  • Speaking of Bob, I have a supervisor who shares my student-oriented view of my work.
  • I will be spending the holidays with family.
Some of the things I did, I did in a more tired way than I normally would have. For example, I rented a kayak, but I didn't paddle vigorously. I paddled some, drifted some, paddled some. When I went to Maine, I spent a lot of time sitting by the ocean. Normally, on such a vacation, I would spend my time hiking or rollerblading. Over the past year, I've had to live at a slower pace. It was frustrating when I thought of all the things I couldn't do, but eventually I slowed down my expectations and found pleasure and peace in the things I could do.

For 2007, I'm hoping for better health. Assuming my health cooperates, I plan to keep up with some of the activities and people that I found worthwhile in 2006, including my radio show and Nia. I hope to do a bit of skiing and rollerblading too. But I'm hoping that my main focus of attention will be on professional development. And if I have the time and energy left, maybe I'll try going to Quaker meeting. Other stuff, like dance classes and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, will have to wait. And I'm not planning on having a very active social life. 2006 was a year when I was forced to turn inward, because I didn't have all the outward stuff that used to be part of my life, and now that I'm there, I want to stay a while. I want to build up some inward stuff before I turn outward again.

Folk Culture

At tonight's concert, the performers were Bridget Ball, Christopher Shaw, John Kirk, Kevin McKrell, and Brian Melick. In my world, they are all famous people, but I realize that most of the people outside of folk have never heard of them. They don't usually all play together, it was just for this show.

I was sitting there thinking there's something I don't like about Kevin McKrell. I decided maybe it was that he's part of the Irish music culture rather than part of the folk music culture. I like folk music for the sound of it of course, but I also like the culture. I like being around people who share my values. It's the same type of culture as the people who are Quakers or who go to food co-ops. Just as folk music is music to be sung by everyone rather than just by professional musicians, in Quakerism (at least the unprogrammed version), anyone can speak, rather than professional ministers. And in food co-ops, all the members share in owning the store.

It's not just the participatory nature that makes those things what they are. A group could be participatory but not share my culture and values in other ways.

This is not what this post was going to be about. I had three things to write about 1) musicians 2) values 3) the past year. This was going to be the post about musicians but it turned into the post about values instead. Before I get any farther astray with the values, let's get back to musicians. I was thinking that what bothered my about Kevin McKrell was that he was from a different culture or had different values. But it's not like being part of folk culture correlates exactly with me liking a musician. Bridget Ball, Christopher Shaw, and John Kirk epitomize folk culture. But of all the musicians performing, it was Brian Melick I'm the most excited about. For some reason, I don't think of Brian Melick as epitomizing folk culture as much as the others. He just doesn't have that crunchy granola vibe or something. However, it seems logically that I should think of him as folky, in that he does get people involved in making their own music. He teaches people to make drums.

Anyhow, the reason I like Brian Melick has a lot to do with the personality that he shows on stage.

So my conclusion is that my liking a musician has a lot to do with who they seem to be as a person. It's not necessarily about fitting my idea of the folk culture, it's just there has to be something that appeals to me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Actors who look alike

Marianne Jean-Baptiste of Without a Trace looks like CCH Pounder of The Shield.

Poppy Montgomery of Without a Trace looks like Diane Neal of Law & Order and Jennifer Finnigan of Close to Home. In these cases, their faces look different, but their hairstyles, figures, and characters' personalities are similar.

Scott Wolf of The Nine, Everwood, and Party of Five looks like Michael Muhney of Veronica Mars.