Monday, December 31, 2012

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Many of you will recognize the title of tonight's post as a snippet of the first sentence (and paragraph) of "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. That one sentence in its entirety, 119 words, 169 syllables with a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease of -34.1 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 47.6. The two metrics, courtesy of, would at a passing glance indicate that sentence would be impossible for most people to read much less comprehend. Yet the juxtaposition of the best of times enjoyed by England and the worst of times endured by France in 1775 is easily understood along with the subtle mockery by Dickens of "its noisiest authorities". "Giving him/her the dickens" was a phrase meaning giving someone the devil back in Shakespeare's time, a couple centuries before Charles Dickens took pen in hand, though Mr. Dickens made a literary career out of bedeviling the unjust.

The past year was a study in juxtapositions. For some of you, it was the best of times. There were births, graduations, engagements, promotions, weddings, new homes, favorite teams making the playoffs, and other celebratory achievements. For others, including me, 2012 was the worst of times. There were deaths (and far too many of them), divorces, lost jobs, lost homes, player lockouts, misfortune, and dashed hopes. And for the remainder of you, 2012 was a just year, not good nor bad,  indistinguishable and immemorable from other years.

Humans are optimistic by nature. For thousands of years we have looked to the New Year as an absolution of  the shortcomings and misfortunes of the old year and look forward with optimism that the new year will be better. It is more than huddling with people outside to see a ball or some other object drop, cuddling up with someone special while watching television coverage of new year's celebrations worldwide, or hoping for a kiss from someone special at the stroke of midnight, though all are enjoyable endeavors.

New Year's symbolism echos our optimism. The melancholy and decrepit old year is ushered out and the joyous and innocent baby new year is pressed into service. Our old year is weary from our tribulations, melancholy from our sorrows, and decrepit from the burdens we bore while our new year is energetic, happy and fit. We have weathered millennia of tragedy and strife and no doubt will face other challenges in the upcoming year, but for this brief instant in time, all is happy and well. "Out with the old and in with the new" indeed.

For those of you on the roads tonight, please be careful and lay off the joy juice before driving. If you're outside watching something drop (besides the temperature), stay warm and enjoy yourself! And for those of you spending time with loved ones (or just a loved one), make the hugs meaningful and enjoy your first kiss of the new year. Happy New Year and may 2013 be better than 2012 for all of you!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

'Twas the night after Christmas

Another Christmas has come and gone. The presents have been opened, the meals have been enjoyed, the dishes are done (or mostly done), and for many of us, our travels are completed...until the stores open for after Christmas bargain shopping, returns, and preparing for the New Year's party. I tip my hat to those of you in retail who made it through the day today. I also hope that everyone had a happy and safe Christmas.

I spent Christmas Eve at my brother's place in Goodhue. My parents also made the trip from southwestern Minnesota. John and Nina hosted a very nice gathering. There were new foods to enjoy and a lot of laughter to share.

My nephew Jake was there and introduced us to his girlfriend. It's hard to believe he's old enough to be dating much less having a driver's license. I also found out my friend Kellen's daughter Amanda got engaged. In both cases the Romans would have shaken their heads and muttered "tempis fugit" which roughly translates to "time flees". Albert Einstein once explained the theory of relativity by saying "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." The happy times seem to fly by so quickly while the unhappy times drag on for an eternity.

Christmas Day was my day of solitude. It wasn't a long, sad day and I got through it. I visited Lucy at the cemetery and saw there were very few human tracks besides mine in the whole cemetery. Dawn Valley is only about 30 acres so I can see just about the whole area from the roads through the cemetery. There were deer tracks at nearly every grave that had a wreath or flowers placed. It was also one of the few times I have been there when there as no breeze. That was a blessing since the temperature was only about 10°F at 4:00 in the afternoon. Suzy called last night to chat which was appreciated. It was so different without Lucy actually being with me.

I met my cousin Julie for breakfast today. We went to Jensen's Cafe in Burnsville. It was my first time there, and I was surprised at how huge the servings are and how steady the business was (parking sucks). I haven't had a chance to see her since Lucy's funeral so it was nice getting mostly caught up. I have a couple friends I hope to catch up with next month.

Technology has allowed us to stay connected to loved ones, at least when the technology works. There was quote an uproar over Netflix having a several hour outage on Christmas Eve. Working technology has allowed us to reconnect with friends and family living thousands of miles away. I am quite grateful for those advances. Email is nice, but seeing a live smile is better. Phone calls are more personal, but a face-to-face conversation is still so much better. Skype and other video communication services come close, but can't transmit a handshake, a hug or a kiss. There is something intangible about contact that technology will never match.

Take a few minutes to set aside the shiny new Christmas present device (or the not-so-new device) and hug a loved one. In my area of the world it is cold enough where a hug warms a person on the outside, too. That's why the pause button was invented!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ordinary World (8 months today)

I've mentioned before that Lucy enjoyed music. Two of her favorite songs were by Duran Duran, "Come Undone" and "Ordinary World". "Ordinary World" was written in memory of a friend of Simon LeBon, the lead singer. The lyrics are both wistful and hopeful, what you would expect after losing someone close and trying to rebuild a life without that person.

Even after eight months, the world is still not ordinary but it's a lot less cold and dark. Much of that is attributable to one amazing and several wonderful people. At this point the new ordinary is a world with almost no joy and fleeting happiness but I'm adjusting to it OK. I still miss Lucy, and I always will.

Joy and passion are inexorably intertwined. My career in software development lasted as long as it did because I was passionate about quality development. Development requires a great deal of creativity and creativity blooms from passion which is fueled by joy. As such, I won't be re-entering the software development industry any time soon. It's hard to do a great job when one's heart isn't in it and I refuse to merely put in time or be a burden on a development team.

Perhaps that sounds much more dour than it really is. Lucy spoiled me in the years we were together, and I spoiled her in return. I cannot remember a day I spent with her where I was not happy, and nearly all the days were filled with joy. Looking back over the past 240+ days since her passing, I can count one day of joy and maybe a dozen with happiness. The rest are just days, though thankfully only a few could be counted as bad days and a few could count as good days. I had to adjust expectations for the first time in many years. It's part of the healing process. The landscape has completely changed and I am learning my way around and finding new landmarks. Happiness is a glow on the distant horizon that gets a bit brighter as I plug away at moving forward.

Of course there are positives. I am thrilled for my friend Gerry following the birth of his fourth grandchild earlier this morning. Lucy's cousin Chris is waiting on the birth of her first grandchild in late March and perhaps some of her stories will be in "The Minnesota Farm Woman" blog. I also reconnected with a friend I hadn't seen in a couple years and had quite a bit of fun despite my newly acquired anxiety of crowded places and each of us changing our appearance over the past few years. There have also been an assortment of friends and family starting new jobs, moving to new homes, or becoming newlyweds. It's been a very busy few weeks. I wish all of them well on their new endeavors.

The house is decorated. I'm finishing off a couple Christmas letters to get the last of the Christmas cards in the mail. It's hard to believe, but the kitchen is presentable after the whirlwind of baking. Getting housework done is still a challenge. My hat is off to the single parent maintaining a full time job, a house, and a child or several.

The 10.7" snowfall Saturday night has settled a bit because of some above freezing days and sunshine. We are expecting another round Saturday. This may start as freezing rain with some ice accumulation first. I hope the forecast is wrong as I would rather deal with a foot of snow than a tenth of an inch of ice.

Christmas plans are always fluid because of weather. Lucy would have her Christmas shopping nearly completed by Labor Day. I'm still trying to figure out what people want. Plans and presents should be closer to finalized in another week.

My biggest accomplishment was baking some traditional Christmas goodies that Lucy (primarily) and I would make every year. I managed to do so without burning the house down, having a profanity-laced tirade or creating a hazardous materials incident. I made enough to share with Julie and Suzy. None of us required emergency care after ingesting the piirakkas or red velvet cupcakes. I do have to admit that for the cupcakes I broke down and bought Betty Crocker Buttery Frosting rather than make a creme cheese frosting. I'll chalk it up as a win. Hey, they're still talking to me...I think (just kidding!)

Take some time during the hubbub of the season to rejoice in the ordinary. Be thankful for a routine and navigating a familiar landscape. Life can still be an adventure which does not require exotic surroundings. Give your loved ones a meaningful hug and thank you for your time.