Reclaiming Christmas

For years, the adult members of my family have had the tradition of choosing names out of a hat each Christmas. The name you pick is the person you are getting a gift for that year. It is a really nice tradition, relieving us all of the pressure to buy presents for each member of the family. That way, each of us can also sped a little more money on one gift than we otherwise would if we had to buy several gifts.

I have really appreciated this tradition over the years because it did help to get me out of the holiday frenzy. Since I have been an adult (and when or if that has actually occurred is up for debate), I have never really enjoyed the holidays because of the Christmas chaos. I have hated everything about it: the insanity at the malls, the lines snaking out the door of the Post Office, the incessant holiday music wherever I go, the boxes of cookies and candies around the office which I feel obligated to imbibe only to end up feeling sick later, and the flowing cheap wine, egg nog, or other nasty alcoholic concoction that makes me feel even worse. I dread the lines of cranky people with crankier children at the airports going to visit Grandma, the crowded planes. And I, along with millions of others, have persevered through all of this to reach the crazy family at the other end of the journey, whom I love, but let’s face it, at the holidays we’re all a little more challenging than usual.

The pressure of performing at Christmas gives me anxiety. I have chosen some years not to participate, or to participate in a limited way, not traveling, not sending cards, not decorating my house, and abstaining from the candy and cookies. But ultimately I have found that I still get sucked in against my best intentions even so. At best, I would feel inspired to shower my beloved with gifts and spending beyond my means. At worst, I ended up feeling sad about not reaching out to friends that I normally don’t have the chance to connect with over the year, and really sad that I didn’t find a place to hang the stockings or put up the few decorations that I have.

The truth is, I love Christmas. And much in the way that I am in a constant struggle to embrace my Christian identity which has been hijacked by right-wing zealots with a heartless political agenda, so has Christmas been hijacked by the retailers and architects of an economy that is entirely driven by consumers. It is true, and even though everyone seems to know it, we all seem to turn away from the fact that Christmas is the single most important consumer holiday. The majority of retail sales happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And this just isn’t a sustainable way to have a healthy economy. I don’t know much about economics, but I do understand that it is folly for an economic system to rely on our collective ability to make money during the work week, go to the mall on the weekend and buy stuff, most of which will eventually end up in a landfill.

The way most of us celebrate Christmas isn’t healthy or sustainable for many reasons.

I won’t wax nostalgic for times gone by that were simpler and better. I have no illusions that Christmas wasn’t the chaotic consumer frenzy that it is today when I was a kid. I loved Christmas as a child, and I loved the presents (I don’t know how my parents did it with five children). As a child, for me Christmas was about the anticipation of the gifts I would receive. I loved all of the other things, too: the decorations, the carols, the food, the gatherings, the television specials, and the telling of the story of the birth of Jesus.

But for a child, it was all about the presents. For an adult, it has become all about anxiety and stress.

I think I have finally found the way to celebrate Christmas in a way that I can really enjoy. My beloved and I did not exchange gifts. We are staying at home together for a cozy day of relaxing, game-playing, reading, eating great food, enjoying each other’s company, and being grateful for all that we have. This year for the family gift exchange we all made gifts to charities in honors of each other instead of buying each other stuff that we don’t need (more about that in posts to follow). We didn’t get a tree that we would have to dispose of later, though we did hang some lights and put up a few decorations. We will send out a few New Year post cards to let our far-flung friends know that we think of them and love them even if we can’t see them.

And I will continue to write these blog postings as an exercise of creative expression and as a way to stay in touch with people. I figure if I keep putting it out there, people will stop by and keep connecting or reconnect. And it’s working!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Multislacking Day

It is the Day After Thanksgiving, a national holiday in and of itself, a day that celebrates one of America’s favorite passtimes: Slacking. Today, I am taking the celebration to a new level: I have embraced the art of multislacking.

Yesterday, G and cooked our asses off in the kitchen for our traditional feast. Today we’re enjoying leftovers and laziness. I am entertaining myself finding random websites while G and I watch re-runs of Cold Case and Scrubs. I got sucked into the surfing vortex that is wont to happen when I find one interesting website that leads to another and another and another. That is how I found out about the definition of multislacking, according to the Urban Dictionary. I also learned about the Word of the Year Contest sponsored by the American Dialect Society. I nominated the word “bromance.”

Yes, I’ve been finding a little of everything today, as evidenced by my bookmarking on Ma.gnolia.

Today is the day that slackers and multislackers can enjoy this pass time and feel virtuous. Today is also, as most everyone knows, Black Friday, the beginning of the Christmas holiday shopping season and biggest shopping day of the year. It is also International Buy Nothing Day. I have done my part in observing this day buy not only buying nothing, but also doing nothing.

Honestly, G and I seem to go in spurts where we are really busy, going all the time until we drop and can’t do any more. And we’re anticipating another busy time coming up after this weekend, both of us going back to work to demanding jobs, the crazy vortex of the holiday season that no matter what I do I cannot help but get sucked in. So, yes, I’m not kidding myself that couch surfing is really some sort of social or political activism and is doing anyone besides me any good. And I do hope and strive to achieve a better work/life balance than this blog would reflect (that was one of my great hopes for returning to the Midwest, after all).

I promote and try to live out the values of International Buy Nothing Day. My family has agreed, at the suggestion of my niece, that we don’t have a gift exchange this year, but rather make a donation to our favorite charities. And I do believe that getting sucked into the vortex of the Internet is healthier for me than getting sucked into the vortex that is the consumer craziness.

This year I am resolved to achieve the work life balance that I so long for, practice healthy amounts of work, regular yoga practice, church, creative outlet. And yes, occasional multislacking. It’s all about balance and moderation.

I Really Do Hate Cilantro

It happens just about every day. Each time I check my blog stats, I can see what search engine terms people are using to find my site (or more precisely how folks stumble upon my site with Google or whatever). Almost every day folks find my site by looking for the combined terms “cilantro” and “soap”. I’m not sure what these random strangers are hoping to find, but I guess they are finding a kindred spirit, a fellow cilantro hater, when they find my posting about the evil weed. I posted this entry seven months ago (April of 2007), and since then I have been getting hits on that posting just about every day.

Clearly I am not alone.

My entire family agrees with me that cilantro tastes like Palmolive, which offers me some comfort. I know a few people (not related to me) who share my taste, but often I feel alone in my abhorrence of the stuff. G and I now live near “Little Saigon” in Chicago, which has many Vietnamese restaurants that we are just beginning to explore. I really love pho and the fantastic sandwiches and pancakes that this regional cuisine is known for, but I cannot let my guard down about the cilantro. I really love to eat this food, but the evil weed just ruins it for me. My beloved loves itf, so we either order separately or ask for it on the side, which usually suffices. But once in a while we order a dish whose description mentions nothing about cilantro, and it is permeated with it.

I know, I know, it is hardly the end of the world, and there are certainly precautions I can take. Most restaurants will accommodate my tastes. But how would you like it if you were really hungry and just waiting with rapt anticipation for an absolutely savory bowl of deliciousness only to find that it has been generously seasoned with soap flakes?


My observations about my blog stats are entirely unscientific, but I can see that I am not isolated. There are many others out there like me. In fact, there is a web-based social networking site dedicated to those of us to detest cilantro. Of course I had to join the community. My problem is that I love all of the foods I can think of that often contain cilantro. I love to eat, and I’m very adventurous about it. I’m not picky. I just happen to feel very strongly about this one thing.

Really, cilantro is a total buzz kill. For those of you out there who are looking for affirmation, you have found it. You are not alone!

Blog Action Day (October 15, 2007)

Okay, so really Blog Action Day has come and gone, and I really wanted to participate. So, I am going to anyway with a post-dated entry. I’m sure my friends and family will indulge me because they all know that on October 15 I was in transit, moving my entire life, me, my partner, and my cat, from Oakland, California to Chicago. Let’s just say that the days preceding and just following that date were a little busy for me.

So, this year, Blog Action Day was about the environment. G and I are actively trying to live more sustainably, embracing habits of eating mostly organic, buying products locally grown and made, recycling, trying to walk more and drive less, and using environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Being in the midst of one of my biggest life changes, moving 2,000 miles to another city, I can say that some of these values were set aside, put on hold, if you will, and some might say chucked out the window because it is either inconvenient or expensive.

This move has put me in touch with just how privileged I am. Movers packed our stuff, loaded it onto a big truck, and as I write this, someone is driving our things across the country to our new home, and more movers will come to carry it all up three flights of stairs. Professional house cleaners came to scour our apartment once it was empty. The day before we left, Gillian and I went to have pedicures.

No matter what, moving is stressful. I was able to hire people to do a lot of the physical labor for me, and I still feel tired. I have done a good deal of heavy lifting to get us here, but nothing like Dan who could carry three heavy boxes at a time down our stairs and out to the truck. I am incredibly grateful, and I fully recognize my privilege.

And even so, I was not able to do everything in an environmentally friendly way because G and I could not afford it. We didn’t want to keep our hide-a-bed sofa, and when attempts to give it away were unsuccessful, we paid some haulers to take it away. The “environmentally friendly” haulers (as they marketed themselves) charged $50 more than the regular haulers that we hired. And they turned out to be a gay couple that we really liked who recycled all of their hauls in an environmentally sound way, anyway.

It’s interesting to me that the “green” hauling company feels that they can charge more for offering the same service that is marketed in a different way. The “green” house cleaners would have cost hundreds of dollars more than the cleaning ladies from our neighborhood, who I’m pretty sure don’t use environmentally friendly cleaning products.

I believe in the “green tax,” paying more for products that are made sustainably and that do not harm the environment. I will patronize local businesses over big chains to support the local economy instead of large corporations. I will pay more for organically grown produce. I have the ability to pay more, and because I want to do my part and be a good citizen, I will. But it is a privilege to be able to do so.

Living green should not be a luxury. It is a responsibility. If we’re going to live in a capitalist economy, and if the captains of industry are really interested in doing good for the environment, then they need to find a way to make green accessible to all. Some say that demand from the middle class will create green trends at all class levels.

While I’m suspicious of WalMart’s new “organic” line of food, I have to ask the question, isn’t this the way things should be going? Sure, WalMart is capitalizing on the whole green/organic movement, but this is also a company that caters to the working class with its low prices. Believe me, I’m no fan of WalMart, but isn’t this kind of marketing the right idea? Shouldn’t the green movement want to reach the working class in any way possible? Can’t the green movement find a way to capitalize on WalMart’s efforts to promote green living?

As we settle into our new home, G and I will clean the coils of our refrigerator with green cleaning products, replace old bulbs with CFL bulbs, educate ourselves about the green movement here in Chicago, support local businesses with sustainable practices, and otherwise continue to pay the green tax here. We will be mindful of the things we accumulate, acquiring things that will contribute to our quality of life, recycling and regifting things that we no longer need or use. We probably won’t shop at WalMart, but I won’t look down my nose at anyone who does. We probably will shop at Whole Foods, which won’t make me feel more virtuous.

I do whatever I can in my daily life to leave a lighter footprint, and I will continue to write and talk about ways that green living should be a responsibility for everyone, not a choice only for those who can afford it. This is the only way that living green will make a real difference.

Why I Love Ma.gnolia

I have become a social networking fool. You can find me at any one of many social networking sites, most of which I list in the side bar of my blog. By far, Ma.gnolia is my favorite.

Ma.gnolia was founded by my friend and fellow Earlhamite, Larry Halff. Put simply, Ma.gnolia is a tool where you can save and share bookmarks. This is useful for many reasons. First, you can access your favorite sites from any computer. You can also create your own tags, essentially categorizing, and organizing your bookmarks in a way that feels natural to you.

The beauty of it is that you can share your sites with others who share your interests, and discover new sites in the same way. This is where the social part comes in. You can create or join groups with shared interests (like knitting or yoga). You can also have contacts with other Ma.gnolia members, which also facilitates sharing sites. The three latest links that your contacts and groups have saved appear on your home page. There’s also little side bar menus which show you the most recent links that random people have saved. You can also see the “Hot Groups” which shows you groups that are particularly active. It is so satisfying to see my links and my groups appear in those side bar menus. It makes me feel so popular.

One really nice feature is that you can thank people for their links. I have made a few contacts that way, thanking or being thanked. I was thrilled the day that Henry thanked me for my Out in Scripture link. It was just such a nice thing to be thanked for sharing a link that I like. I added him as a contact after I saw his link to the Music Row Democrats, a website for promoting country musicians with progressive politics. Since then, I have been able to keep tabs on the links that Henry is sharing, which is really cool because he is discovering stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily come across on my own.

I have waded into the waters of social networking, blogging, and the like this past year, tentatively exploring the possibilities. Information professional and shy person that I am, this is a perfect way for me to gently put feelers out there and see what building on-line community is all about. I plan to do more on a professional level in the coming months, but I’m still feeling a little be timid about it. The personal and the professional really collide here, and I have been more comfortable having a clear separation between my two worlds.

However, as I go further down the road into management in my career, I really appreciate it when people bring their whole selves into the work place. It’s how creativity can really be applied to help build a better mouse trap, if you will. So, to lead by example, I will begin to share more of what I am setting up professionally with my colleagues, starting with two groups that I have created on Ma.gnolia, Development Research and Fundraising and Philanthropy.

Sharing these Ma.gnolia groups more widely with my professional colleagues will give folks access to my personal web presence. They’ll be able to check out my Ma.gnolia profile, see what groups I’m interested in, and check out the link to my blog, which will lead them to my presence on Pandora, MySpace, or Cork’d, which will tell you what I think about the wine I am drinking (though I have yet to use this one much, I just think it’s really cool).

Ultimately, This is what I want, because this is bringing social networking to full fruition, which I feel I have yet to do. I’m nervous about it, but Ma.gnolia is a web tool that I think my fellow information professionals will get really excited about.

And that’s what social networking is all about, right?