On Sailing The Wine Dark Sea by Thomas Cahill (2003)

Book coverTechnically, this is not a book report, as I listened to the abridged form of this book on tape. No, really, on tape. I procured it sometime in the misty past and saved it for such a time as I would sit down around an old cassette deck to listen to these things. Fortunately, though, instead of waiting for that time, I bought a user vehicle with a cassette deck in it, and I got to listen to this audiobook, which I had filed with our Teaching Company Great Courses.

Which is not; whereas those are taught by professors with some experience in making material interesting, this is a book read. So the language is more book language than spoken language, and it sounds like it. Olympia Dukakis reads it pretty flat.

So: Why do the Greeks matter? I guess the book makes the case that Ancient Greece is the font of all Western thought, especially when blended with the Judeo-Christian tradition coming out of Israel in the early A.D.

The book recounts tales from Greek mythology and turns its attention in turn from story-tellers, poets, philosophers, and statesmen with a little bit about the military history, but it’s not the focus. It’s a high level summary, with plenty of time spent on pederasty and glowing reviews of the statues of young men. This, combined with the infrequent use of casual vulgarity for no other reason than signal the author’s authenticity and twenty-first century sensibilities, led me to stop listening to the course when my children were in the car.

Oh, and it does get a little left towards the end with a bit of misdichotomization between the Classical Greek and the Christian worldviews, and I didn’t have to see the date of the book’s publication to know what strutting, smirking simpleton contrasted unfavorably with Pericles and Kennedy. To be fair, Kennedy doesn’t measure up to Pericles as a stateman for the ages, either. Also, I’m not sure how you say the classical Greeks were more into “social justice” than the Christians, but I’m well-educated enough to perhaps write a counter-argument were I needing to publish or perish or convinced that anyone at all would read, much less be convinced, by my effort.

So at best, you can revisit some things you should probably already know about Greek history (although perhaps the book’s target audience, possibly those educated in the latter half of the twentieth century, wouldn’t).

It’s a pretty good indicator, again, of why I should really travel a little further afield of classical history when I’m picking out things to listen to in the truck. I remember more when I start out knowing less, and that seems a better use of my time.

Inviting The Pests

When we bought Nogglestead, one of the outlets in the corner of the lower level had a Bell Howard Ultrasonic Pest Repeller plugged into it. It was out of the way, so we just left it there. For a very long time. Seven or eight years.

However, we have professional pest control services for bugs and quadrapeds for mice, lizards, and snakes. So about a year ago, when I was plugging or unplugging something from behind the chairs or perhaps doing one of our decennial vacuumings behind the reading chairs, I unplugged it and set it on the bar behind the coffee pot and electric tea kettle.

So how long has it sat on the bar back there? Months, if not a year or so. It’s behind the coffee pot, so when I’m at the bar making coffee or feeding/watering the cats, it’s not immediately in sight. And the reading chair (as depicted here, but the pots and the pest repeller are tastefully cropped from the mess) is in such a position as I don’t see the counter from it. So it can rest there comfortably there forever.

I doubted that it served its claimed purpose; the only mouse intrusion we’ve had was when one got in from the garage when we stored the cat food underneath the bar sink–right next to the repeller. The mouse didn’t have to cross any cat-patrolled ground for a snack, and I’ve not seen any other evidence of mice in the house since we’ve moved the cat food to a different cabinet. Nor did it keep out the various snakes, frogs, and lizards that the cats used to find (but they haven’t found in a while, which must mean the new cats are lazier than their predecessors, or the reptiles and amphibians are more cagey).

And I have not seen an uptick since I unplugged it.

So I’m finally trashing it. I’m not sure if this falls under depackratification (probably not, since it was not mine to begin with) or deRooneyfication (probably not, since simply discarding something is not a project). More likely it’s but another example of how, like my sainted mother, I don’t like to rush into anything. Or vacuum behind furniture.

But I hope the rodentia of Greene County do not read this and come over now that the ultrasonic pest repellent is gone. I’d hate to think they’re posting it on Rattit and commenting right now.

The Very Manly Weekend Of Brian J. (I Hope)

About last year this time (well, early March), I did an indoor triathlon, and the toxic masculinity and toxic femininty that drives, if not toxic, well, then frankly insane people to participate, (and, frankly, people not, good with commas in complicated sentences) (where was I? Oh, yes, about to comma), leads me to thump my chest and proclaim how masculine I am, or not, based on what I did that day (or, weekend).

So, let us recap:

  • On Saturday, I participated in the first Chesterfield Family Center Indoor Triathlon. I say first boldly because this means I’ve been in all of them ever which is a little like the triathlon coach at the YMCA having been in all of the Republic Tiger Triathlons (which is eighteen or nineteen so far). So my participating in all the CFC triathlons so far is a little like that, but easier.

    I was stoked (should I have put that in bold, or should I have placed an extraneous comma somewhere?) because the indoor triathlon had only a ten minute swim, and I am not a very good swimmer (the triathlon coach might not have actually given me nicknames, but he could have). So I thought that would not put me too far behind.

    But then I read the scoring system, and apparently, it was scored according to your position in each event added together, and the lowest score wins. Well, I thought, coming in 21st in swimming would put me so far into the hole that I would not recover unless they awarded negative numbers somehow, so I thought I was outside the medal range, but.

    I got second. Out of like 24.

    I’m not sure how it happened, but given that the swimming was given by lengths of the pool, I can only assume that there were a lot of ties among people who swam twenty and fifteen laps meant I was in third or fourth or fifth and not actually 21st.

  • I did some overdue chores around Nogglestead on Saturday and Sunday. How overdue? Well, I vacuumed the lower level, which includes the office in which I spent ten or eleven hours a day. You have heard of the Nogglestead Christmas stragglers? Well, if we’re being scientific, the real stragglers are the bits of plastic “Christmas tree needles” and glitter still on the floor, okay? I am not proud of it, but I did it.
  • I reupholstered a hassock, sort of.

    The footrest has two top panels that you can remove to store things inside the body. Covered in faux leather, it sits before our main television, and after almost ten years of feet resting (and football games and their attendant book browsing), children playing, and cats a-leaping, were worn to the point where I covered them with a throw blanket to hide the panels’ damage. Sometime last fall or early winter, I picked up some black faux leather from Hobby Lobby to replace the worn brown because I’ve heard that black goes with anything (except, I fear, a black belt with brown shoes, although I’m not sure why).

    So as I was teaching my oldest child a lesson about procrastination and that, sometimes, you can spend more time dreading, putting off, and regretting putting off a task than it takes to do the thing. And that I’m more prone to do that with something I don’t know I know how to do.

    But the results, this time, were adequate.

    My beautiful wife was amazed that I knew how to do upholstery. But I didn’t; I figured it was a little like wrapping a Christmas gift, but with staples instead of tape. A little like that.

    Now, to tackle the arm of the sofa where leaping cats have torn, but that repair is not as simple and will require a bit of faux leather gluing, so I’ll put that off for a while yet.

    On the downside, the project has not been on my to-do list long enough to count as actual DeRooneyfication.

    On the plus side, I have enough faux leather left over to make something for my beautiful wife.

  • I grilled. In the cold. And the rain. And the fog.

    Although that’s not really impressive. I’ve grilled four times in the last week, and today’s weather was not as bad as some this week.

    But you know what’s bad weather for grilling?

    Jupiter. Maybe.

So I’d like to say I’ve had a good, masculine, fulfilling weekend. How about you?

UPDATE: My beautiful wife informs me that I have not done anything so masculine this weekend so as that she would wear anything I would make out of those scraps.

But there is next weekend, I think to myself.

Going Backwards with Brian J.

I mentioned that I had a stack of books on the side table of my sofa that I browse during football games and that some of the books, especially the ones with high text-to-pictures ratios tends to fall to the bottom of the stack and remain on the side table for years. Furthermore, I mentioned that I made it a mission this year to go through the stack and read those books to clear them away.

Well, I moved them to another book accumulation point, the side table beside the reading chair.

But yesterday, in light of the Super Bowl, I went through the stacks and selected a couple of books from my to-read shelves (not from the books that had hibernated on the sofa side table for years, as those books were clearly not fit for browsing during a football game):

Some of these had, in fact, resided on the sofa side table in years past. But I did not expect to be that involved in watching the Super Bowl itself, so I thought I could read more text-heavy tomes during the game.

And then I didn’t actually watch much of the Super Bowl.

Gentle reader, that is how these things get started. There’s no telling now how long the books will remain on the sofa side table, unread. But, with history as a guide, it could be years.

Well, no. I have already cleared them to the reading side table where I shall browse them relatively quickly. Or perhaps leave them for years. Those very years will tell.

Great Moments In Package Design

So we’ve got to design a bag for cherries. Of course, we’ll put a zipper at the top to keep the cherries from spilling out; all grape and prepackaged produce bags have them, so it’s a matter of course.

But you know what we need to really differentiate our bags? How about cutting holes in the bag to make it easier for the customer to pick up the bags on impulse.


Brian J., Did Nogglestead Get Any Junk Mail On Saturday?


I would say that it’s all my shell companies that I use to hide my ill-gotten gains, but, really, we have mail for two former owners of my beautiful wife’s company, two current owners of the same, me, and the “media company” owned by the son of this home’s former owners (nine and a half years gone) that left a couple of swords made from table legs and scrap lumber in our shed (that my boys still haven’t found and bludgeoned each other with and that I cannot throw away in case of apocalypse where I’d wish I hadn’t thrown them away should somehow I lose my two real swords and halberd and, oh, yeah, guns).

But six pieces of mail from what looks to be the same campaign? Indeed.com is casting a very wide net.

A New Christmas Straggler 2018 Emerges

Well, it sort of emerged. I found another Christmas decoration in the first place you would think I would look: The mantel in the living room.

It’s a litte sculpture that was hidden behind a framed photo. I found it when I was dusting. I think it’s supposed to be a church. One of my sons made it two years ago, when he was ten. And he’s no worse with the polymer clay than I am.

You’re right, it’s the first time I’ve dusted the mantel this month, and I would have found it earlier if only I were a better housekeeper.

But I’m too busy blogging for my seven daily Google-search readers a day to bother with maintaining or improving the place I live. Besides, after nine years, we’ve about sucked the blood out of Nogglestead, and it might be getting time to find a new host.

And here I thought I caught the annual Christmas Straggler two weeks ago.

All Rules Must Be Explicitly Stated

For Christmas, my oldest son received a gift card to a local sporting goods store along with a skateboard helmet, and at the end of last week, he actualized that gift card into a skateboard.

Which has led me to needing to announce the rules for the skateboard. Rules which I would have thought are akin to natural laws, that my pre-teen boys could reason or infer out of other rules that they have been told as well as the laws of physics they know.

Oh, but no.

I have had to promulgate:

  • No riding the skateboard in the house.
  • No skateboarding in the dark.
  • No skateboarding in the rain.
  • No skateboarding before 6:30 am.
  • No skateboarding in the dark and rain before 6:30 am.
  • No firing Nerf guns from on the skateboard.
  • No shooting BBs at someone on a skateboard or bike. (I threw the latter in because it seemed like a good idea.)
  • No skateboarding on ice.
  • One person on the skateboard at a time.
  • No riding the skateboard into the house or any part of it.
  • No hitting another person with the skateboard.

And so on.

That’s why the call me Daddy Deutoronomy. Or they would if they’d thought of it.

Musings on Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations

Book coverSo the guidebook to this course presents me with a little dilemma: Should I count it as a book against my annual reading or not? I mean, I counted the guidebook for the course From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History as a book, but not the one for Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion. Of course, the former was over 100 pages, and the latter was like 25. The guidebook to Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations is 72 with the glossary, timeline, and bibliography. All right, you have convinced me to count it as a book read in 2019 even though I listened to the course probably over a year ago and only completed the guidebook now because I found it at one of my book accumulation points.

At any rate, this is a fascinating course, twelve lectures in all, that covers Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations (with a bit of a nod to early civilization in the Indus River valley, but as this last was not that well explored at the time of the course, it only gets passing recognition). The course covers the Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, so you’ve got lectures on Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Israel, and the Persians as well as mention of the Hittites and Chaldeans and other tribes in those time periods who made a name for themselves.

As I mentioned in the book report on From Yao to Mao:

The fact that this succession of different groups controlling different regions could all be called “Chinese” history. You’ve got, for example, Mongols, Manchus, and various other tribes from outside the Chinese homeland taking over, succeeded by other non-Han peoples running things. But scholars continue to call it “Chinese” history. It would be like calling all of ancient Near East history Babylonian history (or Iraqi, perhaps) history–you’ve got different groups coming in and controlling the region around the ancient city of Babylon, but it’s Akkadian history or Chaldean history or whatnot. There’s not quite the enforced commonality you get in “Chinese” history. One has to wonder if that’s because in the 20th and 21st centuries, there’s a single Chinese government trying to control a large territoriy comprising different tribes’ homelands and to prevent fracturing or another tribe, so to speak, assuming power.

This sort of holds true for the Egyptians, whose civilization is controlled at various times by tribes from the Delta, tribes from up the river, and Greek peoples. The tribes that roam back and forth over Mesopotamia, though, aren’t characterized as a single civilization. I wonder why this is. The limited geography of Egypt versus the distributed loci of the other civilizations’ power? Aliens?

From the lectures and the guidebook, I come away with a vague understanding of the succession of the small empires and their chronology, and I will have something to say about the origin of the peoples in real life called Akkadians or Cimmerians when my boys are old enough to watch The Scorpion King or Conan the Barbarian.

Reviewing the guidebook makes me want to go through the lectures again, which is probably as high of praise as I can put into a brief report on the course.

Also, in retrospect, I want to count the much shorter guidebook for Elements of Jazz to my annual list.

Musings on Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion

Book coverI go through phases listening to these CD courses, and I think I’ve figured out the secret. I tend to accumulate courses in subject areas with which I’m already familiar, like philosophy or literature, and they underwhelm or bore me. That, and if they’re a summary course from the 21st century, I’ll find enough to disagree with politically to not really want to finish them. But something I’m not really familiar with, such as deep dive history courses (not summary courses) or music courses, these I listen to with some zeal, and I learn a lot more from them probably because they’re completely new knowledge to me and not merely rehashing what I already know.

I really enjoyed this course for those reasons, if they are the real reasons why I get away from listening to these in the car, and because I rather like jazz music, but I’ve not really been educated in it. Until now, a bit.

The course is eight lectures. The first seven talk about a building block in the evolution of jazz, and the last has the lecturer, a known jazz pianist, improvising with some other artists to illustrate how it works. The building blocks include cakewalks, ragtime, blues, swing/big band jazz, boogie and bop/bebop, and modern jazz including free jazz, cool jazz, and fusion.

I’ve learned a heck of a lot about music, including what syncopation means (although I’ve read the word, I’ve never tied it to the actual sound), the origins of the words in jazz (jazz, ragtime, bebop, and so on). And I’ve identified the styles of jazz I prefer (swing, cool jazz, and fusion)–although I would have probably guessed these. Also, I like free jazz like I like Matisse. Which is not at all.

So I’m glad to have spent, what, six hours on this course. I wish it were longer. I wish I could play a boogie woogie bass line on the piano. I have tried because of this course. So take that as an endorsement.

Unfortunately, I have a five foot shelf of other courses which on DVD and/or fit the bill of courses that I have mentioned aren’t the ones I get the most from. So expect other entries in this series irregularly.

The Dirty Tricks of Pseudo-Bachelorhood

Me: “Hey, boys, Mom’s traveling for business. Want to watch Captain America?
Boys: “Yeah!”

That is, of course, the Captain America television movie from 1979. Which first aired thirty years ago tomorrow (January 19, 1979) as a matter of fact.

I probably saw this first on cable television late at night when it was still relatively fresh.

So the boys and I watched this collection of man driving/man riding on a motorcycle montages punctuated by stoic surfer dude reluctance to accept his father’s mantle. They think it could have used more guns and artillery, as always.

But I have ruined Captain America for them like I ruined James Bond. But they’ll probably be happy to watch the second film, Captain America 2: Death Too Soon sometime soon. Because, hey, it’s screen time after a fashion.

Pseudo-Bachelorhood Culinary Creation

I’m not saying my eating habits go a little primitive when my beautiful wife who is also a very good cook travels for business.

But for breakfast this morning, I’m taking a hunk (not slice) of cold roast beef and dunking it in coffee.

I have created the American Dip.

That’s pretty much the recipe, but you need some a priori roast beef for it. Which is not an Italian dish. It just means someone, for example a traveling wife, must have provided you with roast beef beforehand. Or, lacking that, you can grill a piece of beef instead.

Just make sure the coffee is black.

The Book Accumulation Points of Brian J.

I might have mentioned in my recent book reports that I’m working my way through the stack of books beside my sofa that I’ve stacked up to browse during football games. Some of them prove to be harder to browse than others, and they will sort of fall to the bottom of the stack and hang around on the side table (actually, a twenty-something year old Sauder printer stand) for years until I get tired of the stack and reshelve them, partially read or not. The stack contains, generally, a couple books or chapbooks of poetry, art monographs, collections of photography, or craft books.

This year, as the football season has just about ended, I’ve decided to actually read the books in the stack.

No word on the vintage collection of short story magazines underneath, though.

Which got me thinking about the places where incomplete books congregate at Nogglestead.

My chair side table contains the books that I’m currently actively reading or wish I were reading, even if the active part was several years ago:

How many years has it been since I started reading the book on the timelines of history on the bottom shelf? Long enough that the start date is in the middle of the book and not the end. The collection of Shakespeare I started at the beginning of last year is there, as well as the Riverside edition I bought late last year because I thought it might be easier to read. A collection of Keats and Shelley. The first book in Copleston’s History of Philosophy. An encyclopedia of religious leaders. Probably Rabbit Run by Updike yet. There’s a year’s worth of reading there, and that doesn’t count The Count of Monte Cristo which sits on the bar beside the table.

The stack on the dresser in the bedroom is growing:

Last summer, only two books were there: The Montaigne collection (which has been on the dresser since summer of 2017) and Streetcorner Strategy. The dresser acts as a repository for my carry books, books I stick in my gym bag when I’m going to spend a couple of hours at the dojo or that I’ll carry along to appointments. After a while, my zeal for reading them runs out, and I pack along something else, which leaves these partially completed orphans on the dresser, presumably until I reshelve them sometime in 2020.

The longest-tenured collection, though, is in my bedside drawer:

I don’t know if I’ve ever bothered to reshelve books that I’ve put in the drawer.

A couple (five?) years ago, I read in bed before turning out the light, so I got a couple of short chunk books that I could put down when I was sleepy and pick up without having to reread part of a narrative. But it’s been a long time since I did that, but because the books are out of sight, I don’t feel compelled every so often to clean them up. The drawer also contains a collection of Pablo Neruda verse from the days when I read poetry to my children while they played. When they were pre-school age. Eight years ago? Note the volume of Ogden Nash on the dresser was in the drawer for a number of years until I pulled it out last summer for reading on the deck on summer nights. Of which there were not enough to complete the collection and clear it completely from these photos.

I don’t know how many of the books from these accumulation points I’ll actually get through this year–after all, I am still accumulating books from the usual sources that will tempt me into reading them before books longer in the queue.

But however I trim the aging collections, it will feel like de-Rooneyfication when I do, and any stack I complete will come with a slightly greater sense of accomplishment than the other things I read from my to-read shelves.

Another Thing To Be Self Conscious Of

The meatloaf stain on my shoe.

I was rearranging the contents of the lower level refrigerator the other night. We use it mostly for drinks, so it’s generally full of water bottles and sparkling water, but we also use it for kitchen refrigerator overflow. We cook certain items in quantity and freeze them for later use or for sharing with people who might need a meal at church. So it’s not uncommon to find ten hamburgers, a couple packages of salmon, and/or a couple of loaves of meatloaf in there.

Kind of like the other night.

We had a couple gallons of milk to fit in there until space opened in the upstairs refrigerator. My oldest brought it down and put it into the refrigerator, storing one of the gallons on its side, which is a recipe for disaster (young men, it seems, have whole cookbooks full of such recipes). So I started adjusting the contents to move the milk to the top shelf, but the carton containing cans of sparkling water caught one of the glass pans of meatloaf, which caught the other pan of meatloaf, and both tumbled a bit to the bottom of the refrigerator. Thankfully, no pans broke and no meatloafi (because meatloafus is from the Latin) spilled onto the floor.

However, the following day, I noted an odd splotch on one of my shoes, and I could not figure out what it was for a while. But then I realized that some of the grease from a meatloafus had spilled.

I tried to clean it off, but the water contacting the stain elicited the savory scent of fresh meatloaf.

So I’m walking around with a meatloaf stain on my shoe, and I’m sure that everyone is looking at it. I’m not due to replace this pair of shoes anytime soon, so I’ll probably walk around with it until it fades eventually in the rain and puddles. Although I’m not ruling out rolling in the mud like a freshly walked dog. Not just to cover the stain, but also because it makes people nervous when I do.

Hey, my eyes are up here!

A Pun That Needs Explanation

Mango but pawn in game of life

When I was working as a produce clerk while at the university, a friend of a co-worker asked me if we had any mongoes. I didn’t recognize what she was asking for, and my co-worker explained that she was from Puerto Rico and was asking about mangoes. Of course, it was a dive of a grocery store so it didn’t have mangoes, but I’ve pronounced it the Spanish way ever since.

Even though, apparently, the fruit is not native to Central and South America as I thought; it’s native to Asia. Well, I have a choice to make now that I have misinformed my family: I can correct my assertion to them and further illustrate the fallability of the father in this household, or I can let it lay and maybe let them discover at some future time that their father was comfortable making daft assertions that were untrue.

You know what I’m going to do already, don’t you?

This Christmas, I put a mango and a kiwi in each of my boys’ stockings, and I finally served them up, but the boys didn’t like them. I tried a couple of segments and found they tasted a little like mango but a whole more like pickled herring. I guess it’s hard to get tree-fresh mangoes in Springfield, Missouri, in December.

That’s right: I am changing the subject.

The Hidden Shame of Nogglestead

It’s no secret to our neighbors, but we burn Duraflame logs at Nogglestead.

Of course, if you’re a long-time reader, you might have expected as much. Of course, the Duraflame log depicted in that post from 2011 gathered dust in the fire box for seven years before I lit a fire at the end of November, 2017. And once I got the fire lit, I kept it going, lighting something almost every night throughout the winter last year.

I had a little other miscellaneous wood laid up for that ice storm in 2009, but they were what bundles I could find at the grocery store at the time. I never laid in a proper supply of firewood, so I tried with the fresh bundles I bought at the grocery store, but they were not very dry, and I often had trouble lighting them.

I didn’t lay in a supply of firewood this year as I couldn’t find anyone in my circle who knew someone selling it, and I didn’t want to go onto an Internet forum (Facebook marketplace or Craigslist, you damn kids call them) to have some random fellow deliver me a load of…. something (low trust society, donchaknow). I did read in the news that firewood sales are becoming scarce around here as land in the near-populated areas are getting cleared for development (and the trees piled into the middle of the lot and burned because that’s cheap and convenient).

So I’ve gone with Duraflame logs because they light easily, for the most part, and they last three or four hours (a little less if you light one when the remnants of the previous one is still hot). I mean, it’s more expensive than the wood would be at eighty dollars a cord, but they’re three dollars each when you buy a pack of nine at the warehouse club.

So I felt like a fop for about a year about it. It’s an expensive(ish) fire affectation, and the neighbors all know it because the scent of a wax log differs from that of real wood (also, it doesn’t crack or snap; it just makes a little bit of a hiss as it burns).

But, you know what? I’m not ashamed (too much) any more.

It’s not because I suddenly have embraced a 21st century-style identity of Person With A Trait Not Widely Accepted And Probably Needs To Be Corrected Who Suddenly Advocates, Nay Demands Everyone Else Adore It (the celebrated PWATNWAAPNBCWSANDEEAI lifestyle).

Mostly because I realized a Duraflame log is still more work than a gas fireplace, and the lack of effort bothered me. Also, I have insufficient know-how in all phases of firecraft, from selecting and stacking wood to lighting a nice fire easily every time, so I felt like a lesser Man for using Duraflame logs.

But it’s not like you just flip a switch or use a remote and there’s fire. It does include some work. I have to empty the ashes weekly and clean the gristle off of the glass in the doors. And I do have to stick the fire log (or firelog, as the package indicates) and light it.

Although, to be honest, I think that the clean-up work I accept for this facsimile of a log fire might mark me further as a sucker.

I am sorry I brought it up now.

The Christmas Stragglers 2019

As I might have mentioned, we took down our annual Christmas decorations on New Year’s Day, and I was very, very careful to go through all the rooms to find the decorations I put out. I actually put one tchotchke in our bedroom, and I got that packed up. I got the one on the end table that was hidden from sight because of the way we turned our sofa to make room for that *$&*@!! Christmas tree. I got the things in the dining room, including a little American folk are Twelve Days of Christmas thing that my mother-in-law gave us as a joke but which we put up every year where she gets to see it all through Christmas dinner.

But, ah, my foes, and ah, my friends, when I looked at the kitchen, I looked from the dining room at the space on the top of the cabinets where we put what few kitchen tchotchkes we have, and there was nothing.

I did not look at the counter.

It’s a little serving set that we got from somewhere that I set out on the counter where it gets in the way of Christmas cooking and baking, but what says Christmas more than something getting in your way when you’re already feeling pressured because of the holidays and you have to get something done and DAMMIT there’s something else?

At any rate, I will get them boxed and stored before I splatter them with eggs and breakfast materials this year, unlike Christmas stragglers in 2012 and 2013.

The Inconvenience of Pre-Strung Christmas Trees

In 2016, we decided to get a second Christmas tree for our lower level. Because I didn’t like putting on Christmas lights–every time I did, I put a corner of a mantel into my kidneys while winding or unwinding the Christmas lights, I thought we could get a pre-lit or pre-strung Christmas tree for our upstairs–and move the old tree downstairs.

Well, that was very easy. In 2017, when we put up the new pre-strung tree and plugged it in. All we had to do was put the ornaments on. Previously, it had been a two or three day process: Put up the tree, fluff it, string the lights, and decorate it. But the new process was essentially two steps and something we could do willingly in a day.

But that was then. 2018 was now. When we plugged in the tree, several sections of the tree were unlit. I spent an hour or so trying to identify the bulbs that burned out and knocked whole strands out, but ultimately I could not, and resigned myself to stringing additional lights in the dark zone before decorating it.

Then, after we got the ornaments on it, another section went dark. And remained dark because I would have had to fuss with the lights through the ornaments or lay a new strand of lights over the ornaments.

I was in the mood to pitch the thing (or donate it to a charity garage sale and let someone else fuss with it for a couple of dollars), but these lights were not embedded in the tree; they were strung on the tree. So if I took them off the tree, I would still have a tree for next year that I could string lights on. It seemed like a good, economical idea. Especially since I was not going to replace this tree with a prelit tree of any sort next year that I would essentially rent for a trouble- and hassle-free single Christmas.

So after I packed up the Christmas decorations and ornaments yesterday, I started on the lights. It was then that I discovered that:

  • Some individual lights were held on with individual clips, which meant I had to pop off the clip on each branch of the tree except
  • some lights, generally the ones at each side of a main branch, were zip-tied to the respective branches, so I had to carefully find the camouflaged zip ties and cut them without cutting too much of the branch or fake fronds with them and
  • The strings themselves were not individual lines; several times, the wires separated and went to the other side of the tree for some circuit reason that made sense to someone other than myself. So I would come to these Y intersections and cut one section of them, hoping I would find the other end of it eventually.

The total time to remove 600 lights and their clips and zip ties: Four hours.

Which I guess isn’t too bad. 600 lights removed in 4 hours is 150 lights an hour, or 2.5 per minute. But the metrics ultimately don’t make me feel better.

About the time I really, really came to regret the decision is same time I thought I was almost finished. The total elapsed time of really, really regretting my decision and thinking I was almost done itself was about two and a half hours. But once I get onto a task like that, I must finish no matter the cost in sanity or spending my entire day off messing with that tree.

Worst of all, as I was working, I couldn’t help think that somewhere in China, some young woman has to put the lights on these Christmas trees, several a day, or she’ll be fired and have to return to the provinces to eke out a living on a substinence-level farm. The perspective didn’t help.

You know, I read a lot of Buddhist Zen and mindfulness stuff, but I never really got into the zone of it while working on the Christmas tree because I was too busy resenting the task. Which was probably even unnecessary. Clearly, I was hanging too much onto my self and a preference to do something else with that time even if I didn’t know what that was.

Worst of all, it kind of felt like a recap that replayed my 2018: A simple task, expanding to fill all the available time and leaving me having done something without actually feeling a sense of accomplishment for it.

So next year, I will pull the our existing Christmas lights out of storage (not the ones from this tree, which I basically cut off and would never have figured how to get onto the tree again given their strange separations), I will test them before I put them on the tree, and the tree will be lit the old fashioned way: Over the course of days, and with many mantel pokes to my back which I will appreciate as I never have before.

The Two Ice Cube Tray Settings Of Brian J.

When filling the ice cube trays at Nogglestead, I have two settings:

  1. I overfill the trays, triggering a minor ice age in the freezer as the ice cube trays freeze to each other or overflow, producing ice stalactites that hang from the ice cube trays and spill onto frozen foods below, forming structures only a wampa could love.
  2. I overcorrect for the above problem so that the ice “cubes” are actually tiny little ice “tiles” about an eighth of an inch thick.

One would think with years of practice, I would be able to thread the basketball hoop of filling an ice cube tray properly, but I have not. I believe the word “incorrigible” applies. Perhaps “inveterate,” too.