Category Archives: Holidays

Clearing the slate

December 19, 2015

Sitting at Té one last time.  Having a cup of tea and looking around.  Remembering and thinking.

I’m going to miss this place so much once it shuts down.  So many happy afternoons and evenings spent here in all sorts of weather.  Just writing, thinking, and relaxing.  Places like this exist to nurture the soul.

But time moves on and things change.

At the end of each year I come up with a list of goals for the next year.  I’m sitting here reading a copy of my goals for 2015 on my smartphone and shaking my head in dismay.  Such an ambitious plan and so many things that went wrong almost from the start.

I think it’s fair to say that 2015 was not a good year for me.  Strangely enough I find that most of the people who I know concur with this viewpoint.  I know of almost no people who consider 2015 to have been a good year.

This particular year began with a financial investment that went bad and barely broke even, to work challenges all year-long, to a very painful personal relationship episode, to a seemingly endless series of small but annoying mini-disasters that I had to work my way through, and finally to some health related problems at the end of the year that persist.

So here I sit with the weight of it all crushing down on me.

Despair is a narcissistic state of mind.  In a way it’s pleasant to lose oneself to despair and let your worries and fears take over.  No responsibility, just let things happen as they may.  But after a while you realize that it’s not getting anything useful done. So you stand up straight, square your shoulders, and look your problems right in the eye.

Or that’s what I normally do.  This time though I have to sit back for a second to take a deep breath and let out a deep sigh.  Middle age makes it a bit harder to pick up the pieces.

Okay, one more time.

An extremely trimmed down set of goals for 2016.  Sixteen  pages were way too much.  Focusing on the core fundamentals of my life and loosening up my goals as to what constitutes a “win”.  Normally I would council doing the opposite and tightening up goals and making goals harder to achieve.  This however is going to be a rebuilding year.  If I can get back to the state that I was in at the end of last year I will be ecstatic.

Looking back at last year’s goals I think that I was trying too hard to please other people in my life.  To make their lives better.  I was also trying to use other people’s goals in my life and in a sense live up to their expectations.  I need to live my own life and fulfill my own dreams.

So I start off fresh and cast away everything that isn’t useful or is in fact hindering me.  Firstly I will try to fix my broken body so I can then mend the rest of my broken life.  I have few extended goals that I want for myself this year.  I don’t know if I will be able to reach them but they’re there for me to aim for.

Two years ago I wrote about the barren landscape and how we craft the future.  We also craft our problems and the situations that get us into those problems.  But, we can also craft the solutions to those problems.

I finish the last of my matcha and buy a bag to make my own at home.  I leave Té for the last time.

Thank you for one last memory.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and the bah humbugs

I’ve been on a theater kick for the past couple of years and we are right now at the tail end of the 2015 Fall theater season in Houston.  I just have to say that the theater scene in Houston keeps getting better and better all the time.  Houston has gained a national reputation for its fine dining choices and I can see a time when it gains a name as a live theater mecca as well.

But anyways, some of the local troupes that I follow put on Christmas and holiday related plays to cap the year.  Stark Naked Theater put on “Ho Ho Humbug 2.0“, Bayou City Theatrics put on “The 12 dates of Christmas“, and the Classical Theater Company put on “A Christmas Carol“.

The last is of course the classic Charles Dickens story and I wanted to see it as I’ve never seen it performed live but the other two were contemporary stories set in or near present day America and dealt mainly with how we perceive and deal with this time of year.

For better or for worse, people in this country have come to associate this holiday season with certain things.

  • Religion of course.  This is a christian holiday and at one time this was a predominantly christian nation.  Whether you agree with it or not you can’t deny that there is an influence there.
  • Traditions that bind us to certain European countries where Americans originated from
  • Commercialism which is more of an american tradition.

From the late 19th century till about the Mid 20th century this was the Christmas season (the term “holiday season” wasn’t in widespread use).  Government, Church, and commercial interests helped spread and foster the season and developed it into what we came to know as Christmas time.

But then in the mid 20th century we began to see this change over time.  People started to notice that this time of year didn’t resonate with everyone.

One of the earliest examples was the Peanuts Christmas TV special where one of the characters proclaimed that Christmas was a racket and controlled by some company “back East”.  This illustrated the disconnect that some people had always felt around this time of year.

Mass media began to notice that besides the Christian majority that there were people from other faiths in this country and that more and more new Americans were arriving from non western European lands.

At the same time, commercial interests were moving to leverage the holiday for all it was worth.  Store displays are now put up as much as two months in advance and even though there has been some consumer backlash over this, they don’t seem to care that much.

I thought about all these points as I attended the plays I mentioned up above.

Christmas Carol is of course the original story about someone who has disconnected from the holiday.  Scrooge had consciously made a decision to set himself apart from humanity.  The spirits show him that this was not always the case and that he still had time to fix this condition.

12 dates of Christmas was a story about a woman who loses her fiance at Thanksgiving time and for the next 12 months has disastrous dates with various men.  She reflects on how “family centered” that the holidays can be and how single people can feel ostracized around the holiday season.

Ho ho Humbug 2.0 was the most poignant of the three.  A writer, that hates the holidays, needs a temporary job to make his rent and by accident winds up playing a store Santa Claus.  Through some soliloquies the writer explains that even as a child he had never connected to Christmas and that he felt that this job was a farce.

As the play progresses and he interacts with his co-workers and with the customers, he comes to see that Christmas means so much more than the commercialism, the decorations and customs, and even the religious aspect.  Christmas had a distinct meaning to everyone he met.  In the end he doesn’t embrace all the aspects of the holiday but he comes to find a way that he can celebrate the season and make it his own.

I think that last point is the most important.  I see some people decrying the holidays as being too commercial, too religious, too superficial.  But then I look around at people from other parts of the world cheerfully celebrating the holiday and pretty much just ignoring the bits that they don’t like or understand.

For example, Christmas is huge in Japan for the gifting aspect.  Not many Christians there.  I know some Jewish families that put up Christmas trees and focus in on the gift giving and celebration aspects.  Last year I was on vacation in the tropics at this time of year and I saw some of the locals decorating their hut with a Christmas tree.

I guess what I am trying to say is that you need to make the holiday your own in order to enjoy it.  Most people enjoy the season out of habit.  But for those that find the season to be a chore or a bother, I think that if you look more closely that there is something there for you to enjoy as well.


Merry Christmas

Birthday lessons

We celebrated America’s 239th birthday yesterday.  To most people it’s a chance to get off work and relax. Most of the population doesn’t sit back to consider the declaration of independence or the revolutionary war or the impact and meaning of these to their lives.

The few people who are paid to do this, social commenters, political writers, and those that make a living speculating about such things will usually crank out the same series of articles every year.  Either the founding fathers were God-fearing capitalist patriots trying to forge a new form of government in a howling wilderness or they were atheist, proto-marxists throwing off the shackles of oppression and  creating universal suffrage for all.  Most of the written pieces fall somewhere along this continuum with some detours delving into the issues of women’s suffrage or slavery. Depending on what websites you visit you will see one opinion voiced more than the other.

Of course not one of these views is wholly correct.  The founding fathers were a mixed lot of idealists and scoundrels, laissez faire capitalists and anarchists, land owning gentry and yeoman farmers, church elders and worldly men.  Each group had its own agenda and reasons as to why they wanted to break away from London’s control and the only thing they had in common was a realization that they would need each other’s support to achieve independence.

One thing that they all recognized however was the need to do something new and radical.  To post a logical declaration of grievances against their existing government and provide a sort of logical proof for the need to break away and to form a new government of their own.

I think that has been a vital part of the American character since before the start.  The urge and ability to try something new and not shy away from it just because it wasn’t something that had been done before.  Of course innovation and new thinking can occur anywhere in the world and at any time in history but I think it’s rare that it has ever been so widely accepted as it was in the early American era by such a large population.

I think it was a side effect of the excitement of being part of a new nation in a new land that allowed people the freedom and flexibility to think about new forms of government, the willingness to gamble on new ventures, the acceptance of new technologies, that sense that over time the nation would “improve” itself and that technology would leverage us all into a new golden age.

I find that somewhere along the way we lost that vital spirit.  Perhaps as early as the late 19th century but certainly after World War II.  We went from being a nation excited and curious about the possibilities and challenges of the future to being a nation in love with a past that for the most part didn’t exist in one way or another.  From being excited at the prospect of change and new thinking to being terrified of the idea and demanding that we stay in a social and mental limbo.  From pulling together in common cause to blaming each other for past and current woes.

Rather than trying to solve situations to find the maximum benefit for all of us we have balkanized our populations into competing and often hostile camps that could maybe pull together and benefit each other but for the most part practice mutual antagonism as a sport.

If we continue on our current route I am certain that we will not see another 239 years.  I don’t see us going past another 100 years.  Either our own inertial forces will rip us apart or competing nation states will begin using our confusion against us and will feast on our self-made misery.

We should respect the past and learn from our mistakes and follies if at the very least to honor the sacrifices of those that came before us.  But we should also remember that they made those sacrifices not for us to stay in the past but to progress forward and up into a better tomorrow.


The holiday hustle

Sometimes people can be so ridiculous.  The 4th of July is coming up and people are already plotting and planning on how to get the most of a single day off.

They shuffle extra days off, doctor’s visits, vacations, and any good excuse to stretch out a three-day weekend into five or six days.  I’ve already had to reschedule phone conferences, projects, and have had to move quickly to get proposals out to people before they leave.

I have to say that some people really have some gall and don’t really care what this does to co-workers and colleagues that suddenly have their work lives altered to suit their needs.

Things really get bad around the end of the year with Christmas and New Year’s.  In these cases I’ve known companies to shutter for up to 2 weeks at a time.  Granted, the holiday period is a traditionally dead time of the year business wise.  Budgets have already been spent, new budgets don’t kick in till January and there seems to be a collective expectation that no one else is doing anything so why should we?

But wouldn’t it be better if instead of trying to make every short holiday longer why not cancel holidays and just give people more days off during the year.  Maybe instead of 2 weeks off during the year, why not 21 days to do with as you want.  Break it up into 3 one week vacations.  Plan ahead and do all 3 weeks at once.  Take the time off when it suits you instead being forced by convention to take certain days off.

I think if you let workers have more control over their time that they will reward you with being more productive during the time that they are there.

My cooking nightmare

[Author’s note:  This is a reprinted article from Thanksgiving 2007.]

Well my parents are out-of-town for the holiday but of course everyone expects food and no one was making the offer to cook so with less than a week to go I made a decision.  On an errant whim (and fueled by overconfidence borne out of watching too many episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Cooking nightmares on BBC) I decided to fill in and cook the family Thanksgiving dinner this year.

A totally traditional menu.  The turkey of course, homemade stuffing, freshly made cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, veggies, gravy, cornbread muffins, and pies.

I got a thanksgiving cooking book and started shelling out big bucks at the local supermarket for the best stuff I could get my hands on.  First thing to look at was the oven.  Which I didn’t.

Wrestling a 20 pound turkey into a tray and tying up the legs and buttering it up and hoping that it doesn’t fall on the floor.  Keeping it cool but not cold overnight.  I got up at 5 and started the day.  The oven turned out to be underpowered. Luckily I started the turkey at 6.  Lucky cause at noon it still wasn’t done.  Didn’t help I suppose that I was looking in on it every five minutes.

The cranberries were the best.  Cranberries with raspberry preserves with a hint of lemon, and cinnamon.  Well worth the couple of bubbles of cranberry sauce that burped and scalded my arm with blazing hot cranberry goo.

The potatoes were another matter.  My level of respect for my mother took a huge leap.  It’s no wonder that peeling potatoes is a punishment in the army.  I find it remarkable that I didn’t slice my fingers up with all that peeling.

The stuffing was touch and go.  I added the bread along with poultry spices, chicken stock, pecans, raisins and sausage.  It looked like old oatmeal, but I gave it a stir and it passed it through the oven to give it a golden brown color.

Around noon I got desperate and cranked the oven to 500 degrees.  After half an hour I took the bird out and made the gravy.

Ideally the veggies were supposed to have been freshly chopped and prepared but while I was shopping I looked and considered and I knew I wouldn’t have the time.  Frozen.  Hopefully fresh next time.

The pies, jeeeeeez, the pies.  One can of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar.  The sweet potato pie.  Yet more peeling.  Boiling them and then mashing them.  More spices but with orange juice added.  They took so long I was jumping up and down at the dinner table checking on them and they came out just in time.

By comparison the cornbread muffins were a breeze.  They had to share the oven with the pies but they got done faster.

In between everything running into the dining room and setting things up.

Round 5 in the afternoon running to change out of the food smeared clothes and washing up cause promptly at 6 everyone arrived.  Three brothers, my sister, my sister-in-law, and 4 nieces and nephews.  My sister and sister-in-law helped clean up and I lucked out that the dishwasher didn’t have a mental breakdown.

I don’t know how mom does this every year, and I can understand why she gets touchy afterwards.

Maybe pizza next year.

Holiday traditions if and when appropriate

I really don’t want to put the “Bah humbug” on the season.  I’m not the Scrooge type that wants to abolish holidays.  Really I don’t, but you have to admit that sometimes people go way overboard on all the traditions stuff.

I came back from vacation last week and didn’t recognize the neighborhood due to all the decorations on the front lawns.  The next morning before dawn I went out to run and amazingly at 5AM people had the decorations on?  For who?

All the hold music on phone systems are the same Christmas carols, not to mention the muzak in stores and even background music in offices.

Of course everything is Christmas themed.  It’s enough to make a person wince.

I’m perfectly fine celebrating the season.  I have no problem going to see friends and family and doing the traditions.  But let’s face facts.  Most of this other stuff, the lights, the music, the Christmas themed everything isn’t done for the Christmas spirit.  It’s done in the name of business.

The season is becoming inundated and overloaded for the sole purpose of selling things, and for making more money.  Come round July 4th or Halloween and the trappings may be different but the aim is the same.  Squeeze the public for as much money as possible.  Swamp and overload everything as much as possible with the appropriate theme and never mind if people are sick of it, keep pushing more.

The real shame of it is that it ruins the season by over selling it.  We risk the danger of people being turned off and becoming jaded over time and not wanting to celebrate the season as it is no longer special.

Come on guys, less is more.  We were happy when the decorations weren’t so elaborate.  When you had to find a living breathing choir of actual people to sing a carol or when you had to find the one and only Santa in one location in the mall and not 3 different Santas.

Like I said, I don’t propose to boycott Christmas or not celebrate but for my part I will keep the Season special by doing less and enjoying it more.

Holidays and alternatives

Just to get it out-of-the-way, I’m not a fan of the holidays.  I’m not any sort of misanthrope or anything but honestly I’m not someone who enjoys hours and hours of planned activities and pageantry and ritual.  Small little intimate gatherings planned on the fly and with little to no structure.  That’s what I like.

So you can imagine what my reaction would be to family holiday parties and dinners.  Not really keen on them.  Even less when I have to host and there’s no early escape for me.  My family has wonderful people and it’s got nothing to do with them.  Rather as an introvert I can only take so much before I feel trapped.

But as bad as that gets, the alternative of having to spend holidays alone is even worse.  I’m not talking about the Memorial days or July 4ths or Presidents days.  No one really cares what you do or don’t do on those days.  The big ones, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.  Those are the ones that get to you.

I’ve spent a few of those alone over the years.  Sometimes it was bad scheduling.  The other people in the family had other plans or were otherwise engaged.  Sometimes it was a last-minute snafu and I couldn’t be there.  Those things can’t be helped.  Of course sometimes it was bad planning on my part.

One New Year’s in particular I decided I should pass the holiday alone on vacation.  I went to New Orleans for a week.  The week itself was fine.  The crescent city loses nothing in Winter and I argue that the cooler weather actually makes the experience better.  New Year’s eve however was anything but a good experience.

All day long I got the sense of people planning and getting ready for something special.  I know that I came here alone and that I hadn’t planned to be with other people but before it didn’t matter.  Now all of a sudden it did seem to matter.  The restaurants were booked solid and they would not take single diners for any reason.  I don’t remember where I ended up eating.  As the evening wore on and I was in my hotel room I suddenly got this sense of claustrophobia and extreme solitude.  I needed to be around people.

So I headed over to the French Quarter and wandered round waiting for the stroke of midnight.  I  ambled into Jackson square where the fortune tellers come out at night and do readings.  Just out of curiosity I consulted one and asked her about my future.  She was a palmist and went through her routine of ogling and tracing out the creases in my hand.  Finally she pronounced that I would die around 45 years of age from a heart attack and I would be alone.  Not exactly what I’d been expecting.

I wandered the crowded streets full of semi drunken revelers, tourists, sailors, pick pockets, thugs, and policemen.  Sometimes the throng was so densely packed that I could barely get through but in spite of that I felt alone.  Midnight came and went.  People all around me were doing the midnight kiss or hugging each other and wishing each other a happy new year.  I wandered off into the darkness away from the celebrations that would go into the dawn and silently walked back to my hotel pondering the hard-won wisdom that I had just acquired.

I went home the next day and asked my family all about their New Years and listened intently to each and every detail.  I don’t say that I look forward to holiday parties and planned activities for holidays but it’s definitely preferable to the alternative.


hectic holiday aftermath

I love being lazy.

At least I used to.  Holidays, not vacations mind you but short one or two-day holidays, were opportunities to do nothing and to take delight in just being. I could linger in bed sometimes up to 11 in the morning sleeping, reading, or watching TV.  Once I discovered online games I could stay in my PJ’s till 3 or 4 in the afternoon sitting in front of my desktop involved in some online adventure.

But not anymore.  Holidays now mean extra work on the day back or work during the holiday to keep things from piling up on the day I return.  Even though I’m out of the office, my overseas customers aren’t.  Even my clients in the US expect to have replies to their queries and to pick up the threads of a deal from before the holiday immediately.

How was I able to ignore this for so long?  One answer is that I didn’t use to have so many responsibilities.  I’ve inherited or created responsibilities over the years and I know from experience how work piles up if I just let these sit till I’m back in the office.

My method of dealing with this backlog has changed over time.  I used to do some “pre-work” and address some issues before I left the office before the holiday.  A sort of pre-emptive strike.  But half the time the situation would change over the weekend and I just created more work for myself.

What I’ve switched to now is to doing little bits of work over the holiday.  I telecommute so my office is with me at home.  Since I’m always up before dawn I do some light office work.  I chase down old leads and contacts with emails, I update sales spreadsheets, I clean out directories and old files.  Things that need doing but aren’t heavy-duty work.  I also peruse the email traffic that’s come in during the holiday so I don’t get any nasty surprises when “I return”.

I swear I’m not a workaholic.  If anything this is my way of not having to work harder.  I think it’s a great way to keep the work load down and to use time that I might normally waste.



Who likes being sick?

Don’t answer that.  I don’t want to know.

In a sense I am fortunate that I don’t get sick that often.  I have escaped the flu season without taking shots for so long that I don’t even remember my last flu vaccination.  I can weather most colds at work and soldier on without a pause in my work rhythm.

But when some malady grabs hold of me, it really knocks me down.  I get listless and dull.  I get apathetic and nothing seems to matter much.  These last few days I’ve been down with some sort of food poisoning and haven’t wanted to do a thing.  Luckily most of our clients have the “Christmas disease” and I haven’t had much to do so it hasn’t affected my work performance that much.

Earlier this Summer though I came down with something much worse.  Triggered by insect bites, poison spray, and too much stress I came down with a case of hives.  This is a severe skin allergy with no specific cause.  The skin turns a bright red like a bad sunburn and It is itchy to the point of being painful.

I went to see my regular doctor and skin doctor and got conflicting medical advice.  One said I should cut down all my activities and avoid irritating the skin by overheating or sweating, the other said go on with my life as normal.  They both prescribed immune suppressant drugs and sedatives which forced me to go with the former advice rather than the latter.

This inactivity just raised my stress as I worried about my physical state more and more as I was laid up doing nothing.

Finally after almost 2 months, the tie was broken by a third doctor.  An allergy specialist said to go on with my physical activities and prescribed heavier sedatives.  Although I was groggy I returned to my physical activities.  In time the hives subsided.

But I have to admit the damage has been done.  Before the illness I was doing 6 to 7 days a week of running or exercise.  I had a good rhythm going.  My weight goals were progressing on schedule in a predictable manner.

Since the illness I regularly miss 1 or 2 days at a time.  This causes me a lot of worry.  I have been able to arrest any weight gain resulting from my inactivity and stabilized my condition but I have to admit I’m stuck.

The holidays haven’t helped things either.  My time isn’t always my own.  When I think I am getting into my routine again I suddenly have to do some holiday related chore and exercise time has to be put on hold for “another day”.

I am hoping that with this new year I can wipe the slate clean and really refocus my efforts.  I so need to do this for myself.  Apart from the physical benefit to be gained are the mental benefits or disciplining my mind and body to a regime of actions which will benefit me in many other fields.

I’ve made too much progress now to slip.  My goals are so damn close that I can taste them and that makes this endeavor that much more important.

All I want for Christmas is a salary

I’ve noticed that some folks that I know won’t go to black Friday sales and will postpone shopping until the week before Christmas.

It’s not that they hate the maddening crowds or don’t like a bargains.  It’s that in the back of their minds they’re thinking about their paychecks and whether they’ll have a job by the end of December.

Being a salaried employee can be nerve-wracking at times.  Job security is a fleeting thing in the contemporary work place and the competitive nature of jobs can mean that you’re out in the middle of December looking for a job and that it’s going to be a lean Christmas.

So should employers take this into account when considering a dismissal?  Do they have a moral obligation to postpone firings till after the holidays?

Of course not.  The main focus of a business owner is to keep money coming into their business and to keep the paychecks flowing to those workers that are assets to the company.  Keeping people on for sentiments sake is fine but it drains money from the company and keeps your team from working at peak efficiency.

You have to remember that firings are typically not done on a whim or for capricious reasons.  Employees that are going to be fired usually have an established bad track record and that this is the last step of the process, not the first.

I do think that an appropriate step is to let a worker that is of dubious quality know that their job performance is not up to par before the holidays begin and that they are at risk of being dismissed in the near future.  They may decide to leave on their own or at least they can modify their holiday spending plans in advance.  I think that’s as much as an employer can do in this type of situation.

The only other thing I would add is that the employer has to take into the consideration the welfare of the rest of the company team that are doing their jobs well and that due to their efforts are entitled to their Happy Holidays.  Keeping bad employees on for sentiments sake is just harming everyone in the long run.