Wednesday, December 29, 2004

too fast

It seems only fair that, for those of us who enjoy the months of preparation for and anticipation of the holiday, we should be allowed to celebrate it for more than a mere 24 hours. I propose a plan to extend Christmas to a full week! Seven days of joy and good tidings. Maybe those "12 days of Christmas" folks had the right idea.

Things went relatively smoothly for our Christmas. A few glitches cropped up. Despite my best efforts to get the newsletter mailed before the holiday, it didn't happen. I did manage to print and copy it, and print and stick address labels, and affix stamps to envelopes on the 23rd and 24th. But there just wasn't enough time to write a personal note on each and stuff them into the envelopes. They were mailed on the 28th.

I also encountered (and absorbed) a conglomeration of illnesses, but that is fairly typical when I'm hanging with about 25 relatives and friends in close quarters, in winter. The vast majority of those under 18 had some sort of bug, and I am a bug magnet. The price I pay for being with the people I love for Christmas! We ran into some light, blowing snow and a bit of traffic congestion on the drive home, but otherwise, the weekend went well.

The good things that occurred are too numerous to mention. Everyone had fun. And we even managed to get all 20 family members arranged for a formal portrait. All in all, a good holiday. Now, if I can just muster up the motivation to get through this quiet last week of the year, I'll be ready to get back into the non-holiday swing of things on January 3, 2005. Of course, then my birthday and a business trip to Hawaii both come within days. How lucky I am that I always have something to do. Life is good.

Friday, December 24, 2004

now they tell us!

Yesterday's New York Times has a brief history of Christmas gift giving that is enlightening. It doesn't change the fact that I love finding gifts I think the recipients will appreciate and enjoy. I love wrapping them in festive paper to heighten the appeal and the mystery. I love seeing reactions once the paper is gone -- in whatever fashion, dignified or other, it was removed.

Every year, there are grumblings that Christmas is too commercial. Although I agree that all the advertising is over the top, if it all went away, I'd still be buying gifts for my family and friends. Because what it all comes down to is bringing a little happiness to those I love.

Merry Christmas. Only 17 and 3/4 hours away!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

forty-eight and three-quarters hours...

You know, for a day off, this has been the longest day of my life. I was up at 5:00am with Ted, and was already working when he left for work shortly thereafter. And I basically have been working ever since. The only TV I watched was little bits while I was folding any of the four loads of laundry I did. I did eat breakfast, but at my desk while working on the newsletter. I did eat lunch, but at my desk while I was burning Christmas CDs for my family. I did watch the whole video tape (no, not DVD -- VHS tape) of "It's a Wonderful Life," but I was wrapping presents while I watched. Heck, I even put away recent purchases and organized cabinets when I went to the bathroom! No rest for the weary!

There was very little wasted time today. Only when Ted came home from work did I stop long enough to eat dinner and relax with him for a bit. That was about two hours -- of my 18-hour day. Nice vacation! But I did listen to my beloved Christmas music most of the time. Despite the wide range of songs I heard (all day long), I have one song in my head now that I've finally turned it off. Dan Tyminski's cool, country-ish version of "Frosty the Snowman."

Off to bed for me. I finished the newsletter and must go to Kinko's very early tomorrow morning to see if they can print it by the end of the day.

To all, a good night.

fifty-four hours 'til christmas

My sister and I used to count down the days until Christmas, usually starting several months in advance ("...only 74 days until Christmas!"). We had additional incentive, as both of our birthdays fall quickly after the holiday (hers is five days later, mine ten). I just wanted Christmas to come. Sure, we were excited about the gifts. We weren't hermits! But I love the happiness and spirit that the holiday brings, and it has always been about that for me.

The news anchors count down to remind people how terribly little time there is left to shop. I know there are many people who don't like the holiday or are stressed out by it, for any of a number of reasons. I hope I don't annoy them too much. But I'm not going to curb my enthusiasm for the holiday just to be politically correct. I love Christmas. This affection for the holiday was probably exacerbated by the fact that my father is Santa Claus. But that's a story for another day.

advertising disguised as humor

While reading the New York Times this morning (my favorite newspaper), I discovered a couple websites that exemplify the new trend toward burying commercial sponsorship in humor. To wit, Burger King and Method Hand Wash.

I'm off to chip away at my To Do list. Lots to do. Only three days until Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2004


Except for today, I'm taking this week off from work. I'm not going anywhere, I don't have any last minute shopping to do, and the house is clean. I'm just going to make dinner every night, work on our Christmas newsletter, reorganize our file cabinet, and attach a wreath to the grill of my car. Maybe, if I'm feeling ambitious, I'll bake some cookies. I need to decompress, and I have the vacation time to do it.

There was something else I was going to write here, but I've thought better of it. Curious? Hahaha!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

singing and writing a happy life

The New York Times has an interesting op-ed piece on Christmas music. I’m happy to say that my personal collection is much more varied than the ASCAP ranking. I do go through phases, and admittedly, the “chestnuts” Passy references comprise one of those phases.

Today, however, my proclivity is gospel (Mahalia Jackson, Take 6, The Boys Choir of Harlem, Mervyn Warren). Although I’m listening to a mix of genres thanks to iTunes, the volume goes up whenever a gospel song starts. Even Harry Connick, Jr. gets into the gospel spirit with I Pray on Christmas.

I pray on Christmas that the sick will soon be strong
I pray on Christmas, the Lord will hear my song
I pray on Christmas that God will lead the way
And I pray on Christmas, He’ll get me through another day

I can’t help but to clap my hands, stomp my feet, and sing along loudly. Well, I sing along loudly when I’m by myself. If I did that at the office, I’d probably be limiting my career options, and if I did it at home, I’d probably be divorced. My high school band teacher prided himself on regularly proclaiming that I could sing correctly (right notes, right phrasing, right rhythm), but the quality of my tone was just really bad. I was the accompanist for my high school chorus, and the choral teacher finally resigned to keeping me behind the piano after attempting to give me singing lessons. I can admit it: I wasn’t born to sing in public.

Writing in public, now that’s a different thing. Hence, sanguinary blue. I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to blogging as I’d hoped, much in the same way I’ve struggled with dedicating the time to my journals or even the occasional stab at prose or poetry.

This can be attributed primarily to two reasons. The first is the volume of work and holiday projects I’m currently experiencing. So the test of that excuse -- um, I mean reason -- will be how well I re-enter the blogging practice after the holidays and my big January business trip. The second reason is the amount of time I spend writing. The first draft is easy: unhindered, I can type well over 100 words per minute. But I’m freakishly meticulous about editing to the final product. A simple newsletter article, for example, will take me 20 minutes to write and three weeks to edit.

My lottery fantasy is that I would be able to concentrate exclusively on writing (and taking as much time as I need for editing). The random windfall is doubtful, and so instead I must dedicate myself to reprioritizing it within the confines of my current job/income/lifestyle. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not buying a PowerBall ticket today.

I’m inspired by both good and bad writers. The good ones stir my soul and make me yearn to write something that might be equally stirring to someone else. The bad ones remind me that my writing can be (and often is) better than these people who have somehow managed to get themselves published (and paid to write). This sounds egotistical, but at the risk of exacerbating that impression, it’s true.

About eight years ago, I self-published a chapbook of my poetry. My inspiration was the then-recently-published chapbook by one of my college professors, which I purchased. It was dreadful (sorry, Dr. Reilly). I didn’t connect to it at any level: his style was unpleasant, his content was dry, and any passion he might have had for his subjects was not apparent. He only occasionally made good use of the splendid words the English language provides. I remember scouring every poem to find something – anything – that was provocative in any way. I found a single phrase that I liked, but it was surrounded by countless morose and stagnant phrases. I’ll stop short of saying that his writing is unilaterally bad because I’ve only read a portion of it (because he is frighteningly prolific). But what I’ve read, well, let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. So, I thought I could do better.

My chapbook was entitled She Gathers Voices. I love the image of that phrase. It was well suited to the variety of poems I included in the book, which ranged from a handful of haiku and other reasonably new poems to a sampling of older ones that went as far back as my high school days. It’s only slightly ironic that I didn’t write the title (a friend in my online poetry group wrote it as the first line of a haiku about me, and yes, he gave me official permission to use it in the book). I also made no attempt to work with a publisher. I formatted, printed, and trimmed each page myself, and I bound the books by hand (a technique I learned at church camp in 1975). I cannot attest to their durability, as I neither made a copy for myself (too work-intensive) nor made any attempt to followup on those purchased by my family and friends.

Another irony is that the only other notable English teacher in my life, Ian Veitenheimer, is an amazing writer. Stunning, really. He was a huge influence on me, not only because he was my teacher (twice, Freshman and Junior years) and my advisor (in my four years on the school literary magazine, two as Editor), but also because he’s a complete word wonk like me.

When I was in elementary school, any time I opened the dictionary to find a word, I’d end up spending half an hour flipping through the pages and reading more definitions. I would read the dictionary. I thought I was mildly insane for this little hobby of mine until I met Mr. Veitenheimer, who showered upon me and my classmates 10 new vocabulary words every day of the year in a publication he called the “SAT Lexicon.” So enamored with it was I, that I convinced Mr. V. to give me copies of the new ones even after I’d graduated. So, why wasn’t this good influence my inspiration for the chapbook? Timing, really. And I did dedicate the book to Mr. Veitenheimer.

I read yesterday’s The Rural Life piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times. I really enjoy his writing style and admire the content. In part, this article about winter on the farm reads thusly:

No matter how unprepared I am, I always imagine preparing for a winter you can't muddle through. It's a deep, wooded season. Time pauses and then pauses again. The sun winks over the horizon, glinting on a snow-swept lake - just enough light to wake the chickadees.

The eaves are low all around the house that this winter comes to, and I've surrounded the entire house with cordwood, leaving gaps for the windows and doors. Winter will go nowhere until I've burned through it all.

I have no plans except to rake the snow off the roof after the next big blizzard, and carry out the ashes from the woodstove, and read everything I've ever meant to read.

Of course, a daydream like this isn't really about winter or snow or firewood or even the feeling of having prepared every last thing that needs preparing. It's about something far more elemental, the time that moves through us day by day. It's an old human hope - to have a consciousness separate from the consciousness of time. But it's always a vain hope.

I'll never get that much cordwood stacked, and never need to. Winter comes and goes in the same breath, condensing right before your face on a day when the temperature never gets up to 20 degrees.

And with that, it’s time for me to go do some more Christmas preparation. Ted’s at work this morning, which makes it a perfect time for me to wrap his presents. And I have to get to Costco when the door opens, so as to avoid the thickest of the Saturday-before-Christmas rush.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

it's the most wonderful time of the year

I've imported most of my holiday CDs onto iTunes and synchronized them to my iPod. After removing the duplicates ('duplicate' being the same version of the same song by the same artist), there are 860 songs thus far. The remaining CDs will add another 100 or so.

I love Christmas music. And winter music. And New Year's music. Some Hanukkah music. I've even got a couple Kwanzaa songs. Some people are irked by the mere existence of such songs, but I can't get enough of them. I listen all day long, every day, for weeks and weeks. In my car. At work (as quietly as possible, so as not to disturb/offend my co-workers). At home. On the computer. Everywhere. My library of seasonal songs runs (alphabetically) from Adeste Fideles to 'Zat You, Santa Claus? It encompasses countless genres by hundreds of artists.

This is one of a listful of projects I have in the weeks leading up to Christmas. With only nine days to go, I'm glad it's mostly completed. It was one of the more important projects, as it serves as the foundation to all the others (i.e. I listen to all this music while working on the other projects).

But now it's late, and I should either be working on more of said projects or getting a reasonable night's sleep. Methinks the latter wins tonight. No guarantee as to whether or not I'll blog again before the holiday. Merry! Merry!

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Each picture on my blog has turned to a little red x. I'll do some investigation and see if I can fix that. Meanwhile, this will officially be my shortest entry thus far, as I have a lot more work to do on our Christmas newsletter, and Christmas is only a tiny bit more than two weeks away. So, off I go.

Monday, December 06, 2004

lips chapped by the wind

Half of a chicken salad sandwich on wheat bread with lettuce and tomato, a handful of mini pretzels, and a Fresca. It must be lunchtime.

I went to Chicago over the weekend. It was actually a business trip. I stayed at the hotel where we’ll be hosting our big meeting in 2006, met my contact there, and walked through the conference space. I also went to the Field Museum to observe a caterer as it prepared for a formal dinner for 1,300 people. A co-worker of mine who is on the planning committee for this conference volunteered to join me there, as she is not only a Chicago native, but also has actually catered events at the Field!

She was a tremendous tour guide and font of event knowledge. I got to see the Magnificent Mile, including the only buildings left standing after the Chicago fire, lots of great architecture, and more stores than should be legal on one road. We also wandered through lots of cool neighborhoods, including the little one that Wrigley Field is plopped right in the middle of. I had already seen Soldier Field because it’s directly across the street from the Field Museum. It looks like a space ship crashed into a Roman temple. But I digress. She also shared a couple small-but-fantastic eateries, one for Saturday dinner and one for Sunday breakfast (mmm, Smoked Salmon Benedict, yum).

Despite being a mere 24 hours long (I arrived at the Sheraton at noon on Saturday, and was back at the airport by noon on Sunday), it was a good trip. My feet are a bit sore, and I had a killer muscle cramp in my right calf, but it’s all good. And yes, Chicago being windy in the meteorological sense (as well as the political one), my nose was roughened from all the blowing and my lips chapped. I’m keeping Wyeth and Proctor and Gamble in business.

I am already booking another trip to Chicago in February (whose idea was that?) to see another caterer in action, and actually get to taste food from them and the one from this past weekend. If only the convention I’m attending in Hawaii was after my February visit to Chicago. I know... boo-hoo, poor Kelly has to go to Hawaii in January.

Lunch is over. Back to work! Didn't even get in a game of Bejeweled. Oh well.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

an observation on blogs

It's been a week since my last post. Thanksgiving preparations and some traveling (then subsequent catching up after the traveling) have sapped my time. I do occasionally make it online to wander around a bit, so maybe it's more a lack of energy than of time that I haven't written anything. Maybe it's a sign that my blog will suffer the same fate as my journals -- the gradual decrease in entries. Sigh.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I sometimes wander online. One of the things I've taken to doing is clicking the NEXT BLOG link at the top of the site. After admiring as artlike those blogs written in foreign languages, I stop and read those in English (I am woefully monolingual). Most times, I'll read four or five posts and maybe the blogger's profile. I've actually replied with a comment on one blog whose author I didn't know, just because I felt she and I had a lot in common.

But the overriding impression I have of the selection of blogs I've encountered is that many of their authors are using this medium as a means to express opinions they might otherwise not express. Topics considered taboo in "polite company," such as politics and religion, are all over the place in the blogosphere. To some degree, it seems that anonymity is the fuel that powers this engine. While I understand that urge, it's difficult for me to take seriously any topic opined by an unidentified source. I've been tempted to use my blog for a bit of quiet activism myself, but I am not anonymous.

That leads me directly to something my father taught me: if you're going to espouse an opinion, have the courage of your convictions to identify yourself. Anyone who may be affected by your tirade will be able to put the information into context by understanding the author. It's impossible to trust an invisible source. Without knowing the source, it's all fiction.

My lunchtime two cents.

Kelly Cox Semple