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February 3rd, 2016
10:46 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 3 February 2016
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Describe love using all five senses.

Love is the taste of the chicken tenders that you ordered at a fancy restaurant, even though you didn't want to, because your daughter wanted to take a chance on ordering something more adventurous on the menu and you agreed to order something "safe" in case she didn't like what she ordered and wanted to trade plates.

Love is the sound of your toddler's voice at three am saying "Daddy, I'm sorry, but I wet the bed again".

Love is the smell of soiled diapers coming from somewhere in the room, and the subsequent absurdity of walking around the room smelling everyone's butt as you try to identify the source.

Love is the touch of your partner's hand, when you're too tired to do anything more than that.

Love is the sight of your kids walking out into the world and making it better, and wondering where they managed to learn that.

2. February is Canned Food Month. What's your favorite food that comes straight from a can?

These days?  Probably Coca Cola Zero.

3. A principal in a UK school recently sent home a letter to parents requesting they (the parents!) dress appropriately when escorting their children to/from school (basically saying please don't wear your pajamas) You can read the letter here. It's gotten a lot of publicity, both positive and negative. Your thoughts? And do/did you ever make the school run (or hit Starbucks, Walmart, etc) in your pjs?

I really can't get worked up about this.   Parents judging other parents appears to be a popular pastime in some areas.   I'm just glad the parents care enough about their kids to make sure the kids are getting to school.   Everything else is minor in comparison.

4. Crew neck, V-neck, turtleneck, scoop neck...which is most prevalent in your wardrobe?

Mostly V-neck --- my wardrobe is mostly polo shirts.

5. I read here recently a list of four things to avoid so you wake up happier. They were late night snacks, hitting the snooze button, social media just before bed/upon waking, checking emails.
Are you guilty of any of these behaviors? Which on that list do you need to work harder at avoiding?

The only thing I tend to do is late-night snacking ... which I need to avoid because I need to avoid snacking period, because I'm overweight.

6. Share something you remember about a house you lived in as a child? Of all the homes you lived in as a child, which did you love best?

I lived in one house through the end of sixth grade, and another through high school (where my folks still live today), so the first house is really my only "childhood" home.   It's hard to say what I remember the most ... maybe the pocket doors with the odd latches that separated the kitchen and one of the bedrooms from the back entryway and stairwell to the basement.

7.  Your favorite movie based on a true story?

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

This week, our campus lost another faculty member.   Professor of Mathematics Brian McCartin passed away on Saturday.   He had just retired in December due to failing health, though none of us really knew how bad things were.

For a number of years, my office was just around the corner from his.   We didn't interact much --- but when we did, it was delightful.  He had a background in computing as well as in mathematics.   So when I was having problems figuring out the reason why matrix LU factorization was such a big deal, he was gracious enough to explain it to me without making me feel foolish.   He hosted a few mathematics seminars that I attended (my background in computing is heavily mathematical), and he always made me feel welcome.
Students seemed to like him as well, for all the right reasons.

He was nationally renown as well, though I never really knew that until much later in his career.  He won a couple of prestigious national awards in mathematics based on a couple of papers he published.

And yet, it was never beneath him to work on all the mundane duties that we all have to do in university life to keep the place going.   He spoke truth to power, even when it was unwelcome --- and was also gracious enough to apologize when he'd gone too far.

He was also the chair of the department promotion committee during the year that I applied for promotion and tenure (a big deal for us academic types).   I'll never know what was involved in that, because such processes are usually secret, but the process went very smoothly for me when it didn't for others.   I'll credit him with helping to make that path smooth.

Since he knew he was coming to the end of his career, he was given the special opportunity of giving his "Last Lecture" (a great tradition in academia).   I attended, and was astounded at how much I was able to understand of it.   So many lectures I've attended by researchers seem to be focused on intimidating the audience by showing how superior the lecturer's knowledge is ... and I often end up hopelessly lost within the first ten minutes.   His lecture was different; he showed the brilliance of his work while bringing you along to understand it along with him.   You should watch it for yourself.

We lost Reg Bell in July 2015.   We lost Brian McCartin in January 2016.   Yet again, the campus feels a little bit emptier this week.

Rest well, my colleague.   Your final proof is completed.   QED.

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February 2nd, 2016
10:40 am
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 27 January--2 February 2016
Yeah, so I'm six days late.

1. Share a winter memory from your childhood.

It's hard to pick one.    I can think of going outside to play in the snow in my big snow pants and boots, and putting plastic bags over our shoes as we slipped them into the boots in order to get the boots to actually fit over the shoes.

2. What was on your blog this time last year? (Besides the Hodgepodge of course!) If you weren't blogging, what in the world were you doing with all that free time?

I wasn't doing much blogging last year at all; the Hodgepodge has gotten me back into it.  (And what is this "free time" you speak of?)

3. Ellen Goodman is quoted as saying, 'We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential.'
Do you see more flaws or more potential in your life at the start of a new year? Have you done anything specific this month to address either one? Does the new year truly begin for you on January 1, or is there some other month of the year that feels like a fresh start and new beginning?

Potential?   There's plenty of it.   But little time or (as of late) energy to pursue it.  

For me, the new year begins on July 5th.   That's when I get ready for the new academic year here at Kettering.   (Just like for many other teachers, Labor Day is really the beginning of the year.)

4. Who's an athlete you admire or respect and why?

Lately, it's probably Peyton Manning.   I appreciate his straightforward approach to questions.   You know what he thinks.   And he's polite.   And he's got the same dorky sense of humor that I do.

5. Do you like cream in your coffee? Whipped cream on your pumpkin pie? Cream cheese on a bagel? Sour cream on a baked potato? Cream of wheat for breakfast? Have you ever had a scone with clotted cream? Of all the creamy foods mentioned, which one sounds most appealing to you right this very minute?

I don't drink coffee, and I don't like cream of wheat.   The others are good.   Alas, they all sound good, and I'm overweight.

6. Where were you last kept waiting for 'hours on end'? Or for what felt like hours on end? How well did you cope?

Sitting here waiting for the final word on my car, which is in the shop getting $3K worth of safety repairs done on it.   I'm not coping well.

7. Believe it or not, when next week's Hodgepodge rolls around it will be February. Huh?!? Bid adieu here to January in seven words or less.

Where the @#$! did the time go?

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

I think I've recovered from six months of teaching on overload.   Now, I need to get my @#$! in gear and start using this time for productive matters.

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January 21st, 2016
12:19 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 20-21 January 2016
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side Of The Pond.

1.  Speaking of skating...when did you last 'skate on thin ice', 'skate over the details', 'encounter a cheapskate', or just plain skate?

I think I went rollerskating with a church group a couple of years ago.   It went ... okay, after awhile.   I'm not the best on skates.

2. What would you say is the biggest problem of people your age?

It's hard for me to say in general ... though middle-age weight gain is probably the most obvious issue that comes to mind.

3. What's your favorite accessory? Is it something you wear every day, often, or only on special occasions?

I don't know that I accessorize much.   My style in clothing is rather simplistic.

4. January 20th is National Cheese Lover's Day. Are you a lover of cheese? What's your favorite dish made with cheese? Last thing you ate that contained some kind of cheese?

I enjoy some cheeses, though I don't know enough to know what cheeses I like and don't like.   (The texture of brie makes me a bit squeemish, though even there I'm starting to get used to it.   Moldly cheeses ... no.)

Favorite cheese dish?  My wife occasionally makes a casserole-stirfry-thing with rice, peas, and cheese (and probably some kind of meat that I'm forgetting).  It holds together pretty well.

Last cheese?   Yesterday, the lunch buffet at one of my meetings had a cheesy mashed potato dish.

5. What's something guaranteed to make you roll your eyes?

Mindless memes on Facebook.   (Mark Zuckerberg is giving away money to anyone who shares this!   The White House doesn't believe in Christmas trees!  Red Bull contains bull semen!)

6. Your favorite book series?

I don't read a lot of book series.   The one I've been in most recently, though, is the Richard Bolitho naval fiction series written by Alexander Kent.

7. Why did you choose your profession?

I'm not entirely sure.   It sort of chose me.   I enjoyed computers, getting a little exposure at home from my dad, and people always said that I'd be a good teacher.   At some point, the two of them came together.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

About the only good thing about the Flint Water debacle is that we seem ... finally ... to be moving past the "disaster porn" stage of the crisis.   I'll be quite happy when all the celebrities quit talking about it and we can get back to fixing the damn problem.

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January 14th, 2016
09:45 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 13-14 January 2016
The Wednesday Hodgpodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Share one thing that really makes your day.

A student who comes and starts a conversation with me about a topic --- any topic --- that shows their curiosity and desire to learn more.

2. Lots of these kinds of lists out there, but one found here says the fifteen most colorful places on earth are:
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy~Burano, Italy~Havana, Cuba~Rio de Janiero, Brazil~Chefchaouen, Morocco~Balat, Istanbul, Turkey~Menton, France~Jodhpur, India~La Baca, Buenos Aires, Argentina~Guanajuato, Mexico~Capetown, South Africa~Valparaiso, Chile~Wroclaw, Poland~San Francisco, California~and Pelourhino, Salvador, Brazil.
Of those listed which would you most like to see up close and in person? Of all the places you've seen or traveled in your own life, what would you say was one of the most colorful?

I've not heard of most of these, so it's hard to know which ones I'd choose to seek out.

Probably the most colorful place I remember was Yosemite National Park.   We visited a few years ago on spring break with the kids.   Spring breaks are weird for me because I'm usually just coming off of nine months of teaching and I spend a lot of time trying to de-compress and discover the world once again.   I can remember looking around at some of the sites there, just coming out of that stupor, and saying "wow ....".

3."Everything you want is on the other side of fear." Jack Canfield  In general, would you agree or disagree with that statement? Why?

Nope.   Too trite.   There are plenty of things we want that aren't within our reach.   Sometimes, that's a good thing.

4. Imagine you're stranded on a desert island and dessert appears...what do you hope it is? Do you ever struggle to remember which spelling is desert and which is dessert?

Dessert on a desert island?   Something cool and sweet, then.   A nice fruit and yogurt parfait, perhaps?

And, no I don't usually have a problem with spelling those two words.

5. What song almost always makes you cry?

6. January is National Soup Month.  Everything from soup to nuts, in the soup, thick as pea soup, souped up...which saying most recently applies to your life in some way? Explain.

In the soup, I suppose.   The semester has begun ... and sometimes, it's just time to hold on for dear life and see what comes.

7. Write a two word note to your younger self. What does it say?

Hold fast.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

I'm only teaching one course this term instead of three.   I need to start figuring out what I'm doing with the blessing of all this extra time.

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January 7th, 2016
01:48 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 6-7 January 2016
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side Of The Pond.

1. Are you ready for new? Is 2016 likely to be very different than 2015? Do you want it to be?

As Yoda said: "Difficult to see.   Always in motion is the future."

I'd like 2016 to be different from 2015.   Mostly because 2015 seemed an awful lot like 2014.   I feel like I'm stuck in a loop.

2. January 6th is National Technology Day. Currently, what is your single biggest struggle or frustration when it comes to technology?

I don't know that I have a single frustration.   Grant, I'm in the "technology business" as a professor of computer science.   That doesn't mean that I'm a master of all forms of technology --- far from it --- but it does mean that I can usually defeat any problem after enough time and energy have been wasted expended.

3. It's that time again...time for Lake Superior University to present a list of words (or phrases) they'd like to see banished (for over-use, mis-use, and general uselessness) in 2016. You can read more about the decision making process here, but this year's top vote getters are-
So (at the start of every single sentence), conversation (as in hotly debated topics where we're invited to 'join the conversation'), problematic, stakeholder, price point, secret sauce, break the Internet, walk it back, presser, manspreading (common in larger cities where some men take up the entire bus or train seat by sitting wide), vape, giving me life (refers to anything that may excite a person or make them laugh), and physicality
Which of these words/phrases would you most like to see banished from everyday speech and why? Is there a word not on the list you'd like to add?

The one that jumps out at me is "stakeholder".    But that's because I've sat on too many strategic planning and assessment committees, which are all concerned with identifying and listening to "stakeholders".   Of course, "stakeholder" then comes to mean "any yutz who thinks they know how to do your job better than you do, but are unwilling to help you do it".

4. Share one of your current health related goals.

I don't have a goal.   Don't get me wrong ... I need to lose weight.   But having a goal would imply that I've put a plan in place to do something about it.

5. Let's talk fifty shades of gray. As in the color. Gray is currently a popular color in home decor, paint, wardrobes, hair, wedding party attire, and more. Are you a fan? Do you have the color in some variation in your home or wardrobe?  Gray hair, the old gray mare, gray matter, gray area...which gray idiom can you most relate to right now?

Gray can work.   I have a gray blazer that my ex-sister-in-law found for me on a garage sale shopping trip once that is really quite nice (though so woolen that I tend to wear it only during the cold months).

As for idioms ... I think "gray area" is the one that appeals the most right now.   I'm so tired of reading political attacks on my Facebook wall from partisans on one side or the other of issue, who can't seem to acknowledge that many issues do have legitimate shades of gray.

6. Certain foods are considered 'lucky' if eaten on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. Cooked greens to bring economic fortune, black-eyed peas or lentils also symbolize money, pork which symbolizes progress, fish for good luck, and if you're in Spain 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. Did you eat any lucky foods on the first day of the year? Is that a tradition in your home? Of the foods listed, which most appeals to you?

I don't think we had any of those on New Year's Day ... of course, we were traveling that day, and eating leftovers before we left on our travels.   My wife (who comes from Pennsylvania German stock) has a grand tradition of eating sausage and sauerkraut on New Year's Day.   (We had it on January 2nd.)

7. What's the single biggest time waster in your life and what, if anything, will you do about it this year?

Probably Facebook, if I was honest.   Not sure if I'll do anything about it.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

Due to an unexpected cleaning project at home, a copy of the classic devotion book My Utmost For His Highest randomly moved to the top of a pile.   I've decided to try reading through it this year.   I've never been a fan of these sorts of devotion books --- taking a single verse and riffing on it goes against the way I was taught to study the Bible.   But the essays have been remarkably thought-provoking so far.   We'll see how long this lasts.

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December 30th, 2015
10:16 am
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 30 December 2015
The Wednesday Hodgepodge is courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Share a favorite memory/moment from the week of Christmas.

This December was incredibly rushed for me this year.   I felt like I spent the whole month running from urgency to urgency ... grading, family events, grading, cleaning, and more grading.   December is always a hard month for me, but this December seemed particularly rough.

My goal was to get all the "stuff" done by Christmas, so that I could take a real break from life with my family and be totally present with them.   After adjusting some expectations (like the fact that household decorating just wasn't going to happen, and that unbalanced checkbook will just have to wait a bit longer), I got everything done by about 4pm on Christmas Eve.

At our church's Christmas Eve service, as I was standing around waiting for the service to begin, I was struck again by a thought I've had on several preceding Christmases.   Jesus came into a world that largely wasn't looking for him --- or, if they were looking, they were looking in all the wrong places.   And, yet, Jesus came anyways.

I beat myself up regularly over the fact that I never seem to be able to joyously participate in the Advent season; I wonder why I can't seem to get past the "tyranny of the urgent" that fills my December.

The good news is: that doesn't matter.   Jesus came anyways.   The historical reality of the Incarnation doesn't depend on my recognition of it.  Jesus loves me, even if I'm unable to recognize it or respond to it as often as I should.

And that's the moment of relief I needed this week.

2.  If someone wrote a book about your life based on the past year, what genre would it fall under? What would the title be?

"Waiting for Godot", perhaps?   It's just felt like that sort of year --- doing the same thing, over and over again, but not really having any sense of how the next day will be any different from this one.

3. What made you feel patriotic this year?

Nothing, really.

Patriotism is weird for me.  It's not that I don't appreciate all the wonderful privileges I have as a US citizen.   But my allegiance to my heavenly kingdom often puts me in conflict with my loyalty to my country.   And so many public displays of patriotism seem to fall into either jingoistic displays ("America, love it or leave it"), or thoughtless rituals ("yay, Independence Day gives me a 3-day weekend!").

Having said that, my favorite place to visit is Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns.   This year, on a field trip, my daughter got to participate in a wreath laying at the Tomb.   Can I have a patriotic feeling by proxy?

4. What experience from this past year would you like to do all over again?

I know I've probably said this in a previous posting, but it's worth saying.   I'd go back to the AP Computer Science Reading.

I rave about my association with the AP Computer Science program regularly.  This year was especially meaningful for me.   For what seemed like the first time, I realized that I really belonged.   Don't get me wrong; these people are wonderful, warm, welcoming, and loving folks, and have been since the first time I entered the group.   But this year, for whatever reason, I was able to receive that love in ways I hadn't in previous years.  

5. What song lyric sums up or is a reflection of your 2015?

6. On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate 2015?  (10=stellar) Why?

As others have said ... 5, maybe?   I don't know how to answer this.

7. What part of the upcoming year are you most excited about?

Is it weird to say that I'm not excited?

So much of my life --- in all of my different roles --- seems reduced these days to "do the task in front of you".   I don't have any overarching vision of what I'm supposed to be accomplishing.   Maybe that's because the things in front of me are, in fact, the important ones.   Or maybe I'm missing something.

Having a grand vision of the future isn't something that is guaranteed to any of us.   And so I feel a little odd complaining about not having that grand vision.   If I force myself to sit and think about it, I live a good life, with many daily blessings.

But I miss that feeling of wanting to jump out of bed in the morning to start the day because amazing things are coming.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

The culture wars over the holiday season, including the fake "war on Christmas", are yet another reason why it's hard for me to enjoy December anymore.

But on Friday, a marvelous thing happens.   I can say "Happy New Year" to anyone, regardless of their religious or political persuasions, and not have to worry about causing offense.

Happy New Year, y'all.   May your hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want.

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December 16th, 2015
09:42 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 16 December 2015
The Wednesday Hodgepodge occurs courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. What's your biggest 'first world' problem?

My weight.   I'm overweight (perhaps even technically "obese", if you use the official BMI measures).    But I'm not willing to take the time to do the hard work that it would take to get my weight down.  (I'm choosing to use that time to do other things --- many of which are good.)

2.  Each year Time Magazine names a 'Person of the Year', someone who has 'for better or worse...done the most to influence the events of the year.' It was recently announced they've named Angela Merkel Person of the Year for 2015. You can read more about this year's selection here. Your thoughts? If you were in charge, who would you declare Person of the Year?

I'll admit that I don't follow international politics nearly as much as I used to.  Actually, I don't follow most forms of politics as much as I used to, either.  Being a red voter in a hugely blue Congressional district and a mostly blue-leaning state means that there's little influence I can wield anymore.   I have too many other things to do (see question 1) to take much of an interest in things that I can't do anything about.

The few paragraphs I read from the article suggest that Merkel is a fine choice.   Who would I choose?   I'm not sure.  Hadi Partovi?  Ahmed Mohamed?   Pope Francis?

3. Do you have a nativity set in your home? If so share it's history and how you display the pieces.

We do.   It was a gift from my wife's uncle, who decided at one point that all of his relatives should have nativity scenes.   We don't do anything particularly unusual to display it ... mostly it's finding the box and finding some clear space to put it out (which we haven't managed to do yet).

4.  Do you make an extra effort to give back in some way during the holiday season? How do you encourage those who need encouragement this time of year?

I don't make much of an extra effort this time of year.  In part, that's because I make efforts to "give back" throughout the year.   It's also, in part, because the month is so #@$! busy for me that I simply can't take time for "extra efforts".  

It's also hard for me to encourage others, because ... well, I'm the one that needs encouragement.

5. Who is your favorite person to shop for? Why?

Wait, are you saying that "shopping" can be an enjoyable activity?   I don't understand  ....

6. What's the last delicious thing you ate?

At our holiday luncheon today at work, we ordered some appetizers ... I ate quite a bit of the spinach and artichoke dip.  Yum.

7. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is________________.

Can I pass on this one?   It's hard to spread cheer when you're not terribly cheerful.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

I find that I'm re-posting a lot of things to Facebook these days.   Every now and then, someone will come up to me in Real Life and tell me that they appreciate all the interesting things I re-post.   So I must be doing something right.

Lately, I find that I'm re-posting a lot of things that are other people's first-hand accounts of things.   It's hard to me to advocate effectively for just treatment of others, when I live mostly in a position of privilege.   (The last thing I want to do is become a Wadhwa.)   But what I can do is amplify the voices of others.   They can speak to their ideas far more effectively than I can.

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December 9th, 2015
10:44 am
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 9 December 2015
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1.  Many families have a story they love to tell every year around a holiday. Does your family have one? Are you the star of that story, or does another family member take center stage? Share your story if you want.

We really don't have a story that we retell every year.   (At least, a story we enjoy retelling.   There are other stories.   But those are for another posting.)

2. Are you afraid to speak your own opinion?

I have become less and less afraid to do so --- especially at work.   Coming to the recognition that I'm pretty much stranded in my current position has led to an odd sort of feeling of freedom when it comes to raising my opinions.

3. Pantone has announced the color of the year for 2016, and for the first time have chosen two shades-rose quartz and serenity. Hmmm...did you know serenity was a color? You can read the thought behind their selection here, but essentially it's blending the warmth of rose quartz with the tranquility of a very soft shade of blue. So what do you think? Are these colors I'd find in your home or wardrobe? Will you add something in these shades to either place in the new year?

The colors are fine.   Pleasant, even.   But my wardrobe tends to be simple, monochromatic shirts and pants.   Little creativity, but little way to get anything wrong.

4. If you could be in a Christmas carol, which one would you choose? Why?

Maybe this one?

(Okay, it's a little odd having a southern spiritual sung very formally by an Anglo tenor with a symphony for background.)

Why this one?   Maybe because I'm drawn to the message.   God enters our world, and most of the world doesn't take notice.   What a tragedy --- then, and now.

5. December 9th is National Pastry Day. Will you celebrate? When did you last purchase something from a bakery? What's your favorite treat that falls under the heading of pastry? Do you make it yourself or buy from the professionals?

Well, I did just have a donut.   Our department has taken up the practice of buying donuts for our students during advising season.   They won't come and get their academic advising done, no matter how many reminder emails we send out ... but put out a box of donuts, and they'll be lined up at the door to get advised.   Our administrative assistant figured this out a while ago, and it's been one of the best things we've done.

6. When it comes to holiday decorating_____________________________.

... I wish I had more time.   I'd love to do more than I have time to do.

7. When did you last laugh so much it hurt? Explain.

Honestly, I can't remember the last time.   More recently, I've taken to reducing my dear daughter to that kind of laughter.   But ... I'm too busy, and too stressed.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

My grumpy mood is starting to pollute most of my conversations.   At least I'm conscious of it.

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December 2nd, 2015
08:39 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 2 December 2015
The Wednesday Hodgepodge is courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Did you watch The Charlie Brown Christmas special Monday night? Who's your favorite Peanuts character and why?
"Most psychiatrists agree that sitting in a pumpkin patch is excellent therapy for a troubled mind."~Linus
Would you agree?

I did watch the special, though in passing.   The two-hour extravaganza around the forty-minute special really dragged on for me, though.

My favorite character: Charlie Brown.   I've always felt like the kid to tries to fit in and just misses.   (To a certain extent, I still feel that way.)

I would probably agree with Linus ... I find it extremely hard to sit still, which probably means that I need to do it more often.

2. Describe a sound from your childhood. What does this sound bring to mind?

This was a hard one for me to think about ... and then I finally came up with this one:

Growing up at home, in the pre-Internet era, we had a few Christmas music albums around that we played a lot during December.   My dad had a bunch of sound equipment, including an old reel-to-reel audio tape player.  Mostly, Dad used that for making recordings of various things.   One of the audio tapes we'd listen to, though, was a long tape of Christmas music from a bunch of different albums.  (I never knew where he got the albums; it was probably his version of a "mix tape").

The first album on the tape was the first Chipmunks Christmas album.  This was exceedingly cool, because the tape deck had a setting that would allow you to play the tape at half speed ... which, it turns out, was exactly the right speed to hear the Chipmunks singing in their normal tone of voice, over-exaggerating the consonants, cutting off together, and so on.  Imagine my delight to discover that David Seville was actually the voice of Alvin!   :)

Back to the tape ... the last album on one side of the tape was the John Gary Christmas Album.   I never knew the singer's name until I searched for it just now (and discovered, much to my surprise, that I could order a copy of the album from his estate).   This song was the last song on the album, and also the very last song on the tape, which meant that when I heard him singing the high note at the end of the song, I had to stop whatever I was doing and walk over to the tape deck and be prepared to shut it off and reverse the tape to play the second side.

Wow, that brings back memories ...

3. You've won a trip to a winter wonderland...would that excite you? Which one of the following would you most want to experience (or which one would you dislike the least)-see the Aurora Borealis in Norway, stay in Sweden's Ice Hotel, go dogsledding in Lapland Finland, take a winter wildlife safari in Yellowstone or celebrate Winter Carnival in Quebec?

I think a trip would be delightful.  Where's the best geocaching?  :)  I'm not sure which of the options would be the most interesting.

4. Who or what keeps you humble?

Parenthood.   Everything else that I've done in my life I've been trained for, in one way or another.   Nothing trains you for parenthood.   And when you make a mistake, it's your children who suffer.   It's incredibly humbling.

5. What part of preparing for Christmas do you like the most? Explain.

I wish I could say there was something that I liked about preparing for Christmas.   It's not that I hate anything about the preparations, but ... it's all work, one way or another.

Put it another way ... the part of prepating for Christmas that I like the most is the part where it's done.

6. Gingerbread-yay or nay? Is making a gingerbread house part of your family holiday tradition?

Never been amazingly thrilled by gingerbread.   My wife does tons of baking of Christmas cookies, but not gingerbread.

7. What's one thing you want to start, do, or complete before the calendar rolls into a new year?

I have to get my checkbook balanced and charitable donations done.   I'd really like to have all my grading done.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

December is a hard month for me.

It's the last month of the semester, which is always hard no matter when it is.   You have to get caught up on all the grading that you didn't do all term, plus you've got to get your final exams written, and then you have to grade all the exams.   Of course, your students are just as stressed, dealing with your class as well as all the other ones they're taking.

And then it's Advent, which means a bunch of other things also need to be done.   Christmas decorating.   Christmas shopping.   Lots of extra events to attend.

And, somehow, I'm expected to reflect the fact that this is a season of joy.   Even if I don't feel particularly joy-filled.

Today, I had an interesting conversation with a friend.   Amidst the wide-ranging conversation, I realized one slight error in my thinking.   Advent isn't a season of joy: it's a season of expectation.

Think back to the first Christmas.   Martial law has been imposed by a foreign invading army.  The invaders have forced onerous travel on the population in order to fill their coffers.   The religious leadership of the era seems more concerned about preserving their own positions than fighting for justice.  

Looks pretty bleak to me.

And it's into that world that God makes his entrance.   Granted, just about everyone ignored the entrance --- the only people who seemed to notice were the foster parents, some farm hands working the night shift, and a few foreign professors.  

But God nonetheless made his entrance into this world --- a world that desperately needed redemption.   And if most people weren't willing to acknowledge his entrance, that didn't change the mission.

Advent is a frustrating season for me.   But I can take that frustration and channel it into expectation: looking for the One that will redeem all of this brokenness.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

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November 27th, 2015
06:51 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 25-27 November 2015
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1.What's something you wish you knew how to do, but feel like it's too late to learn?

Play guitar.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm a piano player, and I love playing the instrument.   But I've always been a bit jealous of guitar players, because the guitar is so much more portable than a piano.   I'm sure I could learn; my musical background would be more than sufficient to get started.   But I simply don't have the time to go through all the months (years?) of playing guitar when you don't sound good at all because you're still learning.

2. Your least favorite thing to shop for? Why?

Um.   I would normally say "automobiles"; I hate the slimyness of the entire process.   But the last three cars we've bought have been under "fixed price discount" programs, which mostly eliminate most of the slime.

So ... I guess anything else that has to be "sold" rather than "bought".   Insurance is probably the first example that comes to mind.

3. How has the celebration of Thanksgiving today changed from when you were growing up?

I can remember getting up early to watch the parades on TV.  The parades are still there, but I haven't watched them for years.  As for the celebration itself, not much has changed, other than the fact that as a married man I have two different sets of parents to satisfy (usually in alternate years).

4. What's something that when other people see it, reminds them of you? Explain.

I'm not sure ... I don't get a lot of that.   Though for at least a little bit of time, I had people telling me that I look like Jamie Hyneman (from Mythbusters).   I've actually started curating my mustache, partially to encourage the comparison, and partially because it looks cool.

5. If you could guest star in a TV show, what would it be and why?

There's not a lot of episodic television I'm watching these days, so it's hard for me to pick something from that genre.  Maybe a guest judge on a reality competition show ... purely because of the ego trip to be considered an "expert" on something, I guess.

6. Have you ever farmed or spent any time on a farm? Are there farm stands in your little corner of the world and do you make it a point to shop there? If so, what item do you particularly like to buy from a roadside stand or farm shop?

I've always lived in fairly suburban areas.   However, my dear wife grew up on a 92-acre farm in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, so I get to visit that farm from time to time.   We don't have a lot of farm stands around, though we do like to frequent them when we can.   In particular, we like fresh sweet corn in summertime.

7. What's something you've experienced recently that made you feel a sense of awe or wonder?

Last week, we had our first snowfall of the season in Michigan, and it was significant --- 8-10 inches in our area.   Of course, it's 60 degree right now, so the snow is gone.   But that first drive outside in the snow was wonder-filled: such beauty.   It caught me a bit by surprise this year.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

About a month ago, I started getting notices from Facebook regarding its new "On This Day" feature, where you get to see your posts from this day in previous years.   I've started looking at them pretty consistently.

You know what I've observed?   I complain a lot about my job.   And I have been for many, many, many years.   To be fair, some (much?  most?  all?) of it is justified.

But I'm not going anywhere.  This job is what it is.   I'm going to have to find a way to find joy in the job, even if the job conspires to suck all the joy out of it.   Because I don't want to turn into one of those cynical old grumpy professors I look at and sneer at ... and am probably starting to become like.

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