Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This year

Those of you who are pretty close to me and/or have been following this blog awhile know that 2009 has not been the kindest year to me. I got sick, my mom got sick and eventually passed away, we were broke all year, I recently was fired from a job I had just started, and I'm still not on my feet yet. So of course I'm really tempted to join in with the many people saying "Good riddance, 2009, get the fuck out of here."


But I find myself unable to say that sincerely. Because two things - two wonderful, interwoven things - have happened this year that have made it all worth it.

One is that I have made more friends this year than I ever have at any other time in my life. I should explain a little about myself here: I am not good at making friends. During my time in school I "made friends" by kind of awkwardly tagging along with people - most of whom didn't seem to want anything to do with me once school let out for the day. After I left, I sought friendship online. I found real friends there, many of whom have still stuck around some 8 years later. But after that, I never made any new, real friends on my own. The friends I made were either friends of friends, or college classmates who I never saw again once our shared class ended. While all of these people are valuable to me, the problem was that I had no confidence in my ability to actually seek out friendship. I still felt like I did in high school, like I was just tagging along with other people's friends.

This year was different. I can't count the friends I made this year, and I'm not going to try. Friendship isn't something to quantify. But what's amazing is the diversity of my circle now - not just of demographics, but of interests. No matter what I want to talk about, there will always be at least one friend I can bring it up with. I didn't have that before. It's a really enriching, exciting experience.

I also feel like I have a safety net. I am not exaggerating when I say that if everything bad that happened this year had happened a year ago, I would not have gotten through it. There's been an incredible outpouring of love and support (both emotional and financial) from all of my friends, but most incredibly from people who were strangers as recently as eight months ago. I can't wrap my head around that, so I'm not even going to try. But I'm really glad for it.

The second major thing that's happened is probably both a cause and a result of the first: I've become way more open to other people's views. I used to carefully guard myself and try not to let in anyone who didn't agree with me on this or that thing. Now, I try to judge people by how they treat other people, not by their political views. Admittedly a lot of this has come from finally "getting my way" politically and realizing it didn't make that much of a difference. I got tired of hating half the country regardless of whether they'd done anything to me, so I decided to be more patient with other people's views. It has really helped me broaden my understanding of the world, live with a lighter heart, and be able to call a much larger group of people my friends.

So while I'll still probably look back on this year as one of my worst, I'll also remember it as one that ultimately made me a better person. And so I think I have a new favorite blessing for ringing in a new year:

May the new year bring you twice as much learning and half as much heartache as the last.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The longest night of the year is the perfect time...

To light a homemade candle (with a star for each day of Advent...)

Make a batch of sunny cookies to welcome back the light...

Help the critters find a snack for the long night ahead...

Glimpse the first sunset of Winter in your rearview...

Draw in close to the people you love (even if they are a little blurry)...

...and watch a little boy's face light up. (Not sure if I mean Jack or Juzer here!)

Happy Winter, everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dreaming of the Blogosphere?

(Note: I hate catchy buzzwords like "blogosphere", but I couldn't think of what else to call it here, so eh.)

I had a pretty weird dream last night. Now, to understand it, you first need to know that I am a massive lurker. I love to read blogs of people who don't have much in common with me, to see how different people live and how those people are actually similar to me. It's kind of the same effect as watching shows about the Duggars or the Gosselins or what have you, except much more personal and real. (And with less child exploitation.) And of course, once you've been following a favorite blog for some time, you begin to feel like you really know the person writing it. In a sense, you do - but they don't know you from Adam. So it can feel sort of creepy and voyeuristic, too. I have occasionally met people in person, usually unschoolers, whose blogs I'd been following without commenting, and I felt weird about it. I'm not sure why I feel weird, since I'm happy for people to read my blog - otherwise I wouldn't put it out in public! But it does make some people uncomfortable.

Anyway. Onto my dream.

The setting was... weird. It was like a mix between an unschooling conference and one of those big church revivals with a rock band and so forth. Yeah, I can't think of a weirder combination of things, but that's dreaming for you. Anyway, there was this one family there which was like, a combination of a couple different families whose blogs I read. These people aren't unschoolers (they weren't unschoolers in the dream, either - I'm still not clear on the nature of the "conference"), and I'm really not likely to ever meet them in real life. So I was pretty surprised to run into them in the dream. Everyone was in like, a main conference room together, and I was hanging out and chatting with one of the family's kids, just having that awesome kind of interaction you get at unschooling conferences where conversations flow freely without any kind of age gap.

I don't remember exactly what happened next, except that I introduced myself to the mom and she got freaked out by me. I'm not sure if it was over a religious difference (there was, like I mentioned, a sort of religious tone to the event), or if she was just freaked out that some stranger had been reading her blog and was talking to her kid (which does sound weird, phrased like that!) But she started backing away and telling me not to talk to her and to leave her alone, and she grabbed her kids and went back toward her cabin or whatever sort of buildings this place had.

In the dream I felt really hurt by the whole thing, because I genuinely liked this person (from what I'd read) and didn't want to upset or scare her. So I went and found her (she was still outside) and... I don't remember how the dream ended, exactly, but I explained why I liked her blog and I think she calmed down and talked to me. I don't think we ended up being buddy-buddy, but I do think we had a conversation. The end of the dream is pretty hazy.

What stood out about the dream is how real it felt. I woke up feeling like I had honestly met this person and had to convince myself that I hadn't. I also woke up feeling genuinely embarassed, like maybe I shouldn't be reading people's blogs. That's pretty silly though - people blog to share information, and if they were that afraid of strangers reading what they've written, they wouldn't make it public. And most people do not freak out and run away if you say you love their writing, unless they have serious social anxiety.

Still, it does make you think about how weird it is to put your life out to the whole internet - blogging is kind of like being the star of your own reality show. It's on a much smaller scale, true, and most bloggers I know don't have the sort of ego that would make them see themselves that way. But it means that occasionally, you're going to run into what could reasonably be described as fans - people who know all about you, while you know nothing about them. Unsettling as that may sound, I find it exciting too - it means your ideas are reaching people who might never have considered them otherwise.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Watching, Listening, Reading: (Mostly) Holiday Edition

I got this meme from Idzie, and it's called "F.A.B. share" for Film, Audio, and Book share. I guess you're supposed to share what movie or show you're watching, what album you're listening to and what book you're reading, in case someone might like to pick them up on their next trip to B&N. However, in my situation - being a geek and having limited funds for entertainment - all of those pretty much boil down to "what internet are you internetting on the internet?" So this won't entirely conform to the meme's original purpose. But hey, I've never been much of a conformist ;)


Yesterday, someone linked me to BetaMaxMas, a site that simulates watching TV at Christmastime in the early 80s. It features things such as Christmas episodes of Who's the Boss and Perfect Strangers, the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas special, old Christmas commercials, and even Ronald Reagan's Christmas address. (I've never liked Reagan's politics, but the man knew how to give a speech.) It's mostly just for fun 80s-kid nostalgia, but I love the idea of using the internet to simulate living in different time periods. Why aren't more people doing that?

Also, tonight I'm going to make my pathetic goy attempt at making something resembling latkes, which will not end well. While I am eating the inevitably charred results, I'll watch Eight Crazy Nights.

Now, this movie has kind of stupid humor, but I love it for a few reasons. For one, it's full of songs, and they're great. The main storyline is also surprisingly sweet - it even has a few tearjerker moments. But mostly I like it because when I was 18 or so, I went through a phase where I was fascinated by Judaism, and decided to have a little makeshift Chanukah celebration, complete with a "menorah" made from candles I found around the house. It was very peaceful, quietly observing a holiday by myself. And it was then that I watched this movie for the first time, so it brings back a nice memory that I might have forgotten otherwise.


Lately I've been listening to a Pandora station I made out of my favorite Christmas music: slow, melancholic, quiet songs, especially ones with a medieval or Renaissance feel. Currently I have a playlist of these songs on my sidebar, but for archival purposes I'll go ahead and embed it here, too:

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

I love all kinds of Christmas music, but I think the reason I love the quieter stuff the most is that in my mind, the holidays and winter in general should be a time to rest and turn inward. If the year was a day, winter would be the night: you've done your work, you've done your playing, and as the sun fades you surround yourself with warmth and family, light and nourishment. As far as I'm concerned that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.


I tend to do all my reading online these days, and of course, I'm mostly drawn to blogs. Lately I've been going through the archives over at By Sun and Candlelight. Now, some of you may be curious what is drawing me to a Catholic, school-at-home family's blog. I actually discovered this blog when I first stepped into the world of homeschooling blogs, before I learned the word unschooling and connected it to what I'd been doing. What I love about this blog is that it has so many ideas for how to live in tune with the changes in the seasons. Part of the reason I always get depressed in January is that I no longer feel the sense of ritual and being in touch with nature that I get when I'm celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I've been seeking ways to bring that same feeling to the rest of the seasons, and Dawn's blog has been an immensely helpful resource as I plan ways to do that in the coming year.


Well, when I started this meme I didn't realize what a holiday-themed post it would turn out to be! I may redo this meme occasionally. I think it makes for a nice snapshot in time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas meme

I know, I know, this blog is turning into a black hole of memes. That's not really my intent, but my head hasn't been clear enough for proper blogging lately.

1. Wrapping or gift bags?
Wrapping! I love to wrap presents, I love the way they look wrapped, and I love unwrapping them. Gift bags take some of the ceremony out of it. Plus, they're too easy to peek into.

2. Real or artificial tree?
I've never had a real tree. My family never had money to be buying a new tree every year, so we always just used the fake tree my grandparents bought in Miami. Note that my family left Miami in 1973, so this tree is a serious relic, as trees go. We eventually bought a better one, but I still have the old tree, which I put up in my room. It smells like Christmas to me.

3. When do you put up the tree?
Thanksgiving weekend, usually. When I was a kid we'd put it up when we first got the urge - sometimes as early as mid-October. One year we just never took it down all year. That ended up being a shitty year so maybe it really is bad luck to leave it up past Candlemas :p In my defense, I didn't know what Candlemas was until last month or so.

4. When do you take the tree down?
January. My great-grandma insisted it was bad luck to take it down before New Year's, so it's family tradition to leave it up at least until then. And an Episcopalian friend tipped me off to the whole "Christmas lasts until Epiphany" thing, so now I even keep lighting it till at least the 6th. I pretty much prolong Christmas as long as possible, because I like shiny things.

5. Do you like egg nog?
I like soy nog. Regular eggnog is too thick and weird for me, although I've never thinned it out with liquor like you're supposed to. I assume that would make a difference.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
Hmm... in terms of overall enjoyment, my Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64. In terms of Christmas morning joy, it'd be this frilly white buggy for my baby dolls, because it was the only gift I got that was "from Santa".

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Nope. My Christian parents and grandparents never even had one. I'm not sure if my mom thought it was "idol worship" or if they just didn't want to deal with the possibility of cats knocking down the baby Jesus and chewing on him. Both are equally likely.

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
An Aladdin toothbrush. See, I hated brushing my teeth as a kid, and my grandma was always struggling with me about it. So my family got me this nice electric toothbrush with Aladdin and Jasmine on it. The big mistake was giving me that to open as my special Christmas Eve gift. Needless to say, it didn't go well, and I pretty much refused to ever use the toothbrush because it reminded me of that night. Yuck.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Mail! Christmas is usually the one time of year I get to exchange real, tangible things with internet friends. It's nice.

10. Favorite Christmas Movie?
The Christmas Toy, if that can count as a movie. It's a mostly-forgotten Jim Henson special from the 80s about toys that can walk around as long as no humans catch them, but if they get caught they're frozen forever. I used to sneak into my playroom and try to catch my toys moving. Clearly I was not an altruistic child.

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
If I have a steady income? Summer.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Christmas tree cakes!

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?
I used to do clear on the living room tree and colored on mine, but this year I did color on both. It looks nice.

14. Favorite Christmas song(s)?
I like the slow, almost melancholic ones - Christmastime is Here, O Come O Come Emmanuel, Coventry Carol, that sort of thing.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
Home, or close to home.

16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Anyone can, with the help of Google, so me listing them here isn't really going to impress anyone.

17. Angel on the tree top or a star?
I have a pretty silver angel on the living room tree and a garish, color-changing star on the other. I like to cover all my bases.

18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?
I used to always open one on Christmas Eve (usually a small one), and the rest on Christmas morning. See worst present story above.

19. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
The endless debating over whether Christmas can be secular, whether to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy holidays", whether cereal boxes with Santa on them will piss off non-Christians, etc. It's pretty silly to have all this fuss considering people have been dragging pine trees inside in midwinter since long before Jesus came along. Can we all just agree that lights are pretty and move on?

20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color?
Err, well the tree in my bedroom gets all the glass ornaments, but that's not so much a theme as a desire not to have my cats shattering glass all over the living room.

21. What do you leave for Santa?
I don't know - cat poop?

22. Least favorite holiday song?
The Christmas Shoes. Kill me.

23. Favorite ornament?
All the handmade stuff I used to think was ugly as hell: little crocheted stockings from my great-aunt Libba, styrofoam bells my mom made in the 70s, spray-painted wreaths I made in elementary school, that kind of thing. Until recently I refused to put any of this stuff on the "nice" tree, but now that I'm by myself it's nice to be reminded of family when I look at the tree.

24. Family tradition?
My favorite WAS going over to my (now late) great-aunt Evelyn's house before Christmas and helping her decorate her tree. She was an extremely finicky woman, especially about how her house looked, so the fact that she respected my decorating ability enough to let me do her tree meant a lot to me. Plus, she always had pound cake and vanilla ice cream.

25. Ever been to Midnight Mass or late-night Christmas Even services?
I don't know if any Protestants ever do that, but Southern Baptists don't, and Unitarians definitely don't, at least in my experience. So no.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas in Holland

If you have no idea what the hell is going on, this will help:

Great quote/post

I love this description of people who are "unschoolers at heart", from Lapaz Home Learning:
"We want to work hard because we are driven by our own internal goals, our innate curiosity, our personal obsessions. We like to do things because we we want to, not because we have to. We will work like madmen at tasks of our own choosing, but the minute that an external taskmaster rears it’s head (even if only on paper)– we balk, we fight and we stomp our metaphorical feet like a two-year-old newly asserting his individuality."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Best of 2009, Day 1: Best Trip

There's a great meme/writing prompt/thingy going around, called the Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. I love reflecting on the year in December, so I'm all over this. I don't know if I'll make every day, but I'll do it until I get bored or distracted by a bunny or something.

December 1 Trip. What was your best trip in 2009?

This is a tough one. Just last month I took an amazing trip to Roan Mountain, TN for the ARGH unschooling gathering. I stayed with my friends the Bannisters, and it was a wonderful time. Tennessee in the fall is probably the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen (or at least, it's tied with Sedona), and I loved being with a whole ton of people for Halloween.

But I think I'm going to have to give the best trip prize to another trip, just because I did so many different things and met so many people. In late August/early September, I went to the Northeast Unschooling Conference in Boston, and Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I consider this one trip because it was all planned together, and because I barely had time to breathe in between! A few highlights:

-At NEUC, I got to make some great friends, including Idzie and her mom and sister, Eli, Michael, Jean, Hannah, and a whirlwind of other people! It was my first unschooling conference, so I really had a great time.

-Also in Boston, I got to stay (a little bit) with my friend Valerie, who moved up there last year. She also came down with us for Dragon*Con. The first afternoon I was in Boston, we sat at her house for a few hours just playing a stupid old fighting video game where I kept making my dude act stupid and grab people for no reason. It was funnier than it sounds in writing.

-This was my first trip to anything remotely resembling "the north" (farthest north I'd been before was Virginia), and also my first time taking a train, a taxi, and a city bus. People from big cities are laughing at me now, I'm sure, but I was SO excited to be on a train. I did make sure to put on that "I'm not a noob please don't mug me" pokerface, though :p

-At Dragon*Con, I got to see a lot of really awesome famous people in person: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Patrick Stewart; Terry Gilliam of Monty Python; and Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, the creators of The Venture Bros., which is one of my favorite shows.

-Also at Dragon*Con, Valerie and I learned the entire Thriller dance in three hours to participate in an attempt to break the world record for most people doing the dance at once, organized by my friend Kimber (who I didn't know at the time, but we've become friends since). It was one of the most fun things I have ever done, and reminded me how much I love to dance! Unfortunately Guinness didn't accept us for the record (there's been a LOT of controversy about that, long story), but we did get into several other record books.

-Finally, after Dragon*Con I made a bunch of friends on various forums that I never would've gone to if it hadn't been for the con. Some of those forums helped a *lot* in keeping my spirits up when my mom died.

So that was my favorite trip this year. What was yours?