the other theo

There is no dark side of the moon really… as a matter of fact, it's all dark.

Month: January, 2015

A Logo From Another Time

Visiting with my grandparents on my Mom’s side when I was small brought many things.  There were the old toys in her attic.  There were the small 7 oz. bottles of what would now be called craft soda, but then was just a local soda company that just managed to hang on since who knows when.   There were visits to the neighborhood store built onto the back of the house where the owner lived a block up the hill that seemed to inevitably mean walking home with a piece of candy or two, some of which were shiny new brands and some decidedly retro for the time.  There was home baked bread.  There was french toast in the morning served with ridiculously thin bacon.  There were new TV shows, some of them classics; I first saw Speed Racer and Tom Baker-era Doctor Who while visiting my grandparents.

Among these many memories were different things to make chocolate milk.  I never developed a taste for plain milk.   I still like to have something in it, if I can.  At home, we always had either Nestle Quik or Hershey’s syrup.   When I visited my grandparents, it sometimes was one of two other things: Ovaltine (the malted kind, not the malt chocolate flavor) and Bosco syrup.

Ovaltine is something I’ve had other times since, either at my parents or since I moved away.   I still have a glass jar of the malt chocolate stuff in my pantry at home.   Globalization and the desire to provide maximum profit to investors may have resulted in the solid brown glass turning to brown plastic on the store shelves, but I just refill the old jar.

Bosco is more of a unicorn.   We never had it much in my parents house.  Sometimes an opened bottle would come home from my grandparents’ house, but it was either never carried locally or it was available at grocery stores where my Mom didn’t regularly shop.

It’s a memory that’s faded substantially over the years, but it never completely left me.   With the emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web in the 1990’s, it was a name I could track down.   It was easy to see that it was still out there, but living thousands of miles from my parents meant that it wasn’t likely to show up in stores anywhere nearby (at least in those days.)   The makers of Bosco appear to be, by and large, dedicated brink-and-mortar loyalists who cultivate the nostalgia that their product generates.   Looking at their web site, I see that the few sellers near me are listed as seasonal, meaning good luck finding it.  That said, of course Bosco is available on Amazon.  It’s a big mistake to be otherwise, these days.

So, it was something of a surprise when I went to the hardware store of all places and spotted this:

IMG_1635I went in to get a LED light bulb, a most 21st century invention.  I came out with that, and a flood of memories from the Ford and Carter eras.

I’ll give the chocolate a B grade.   The chocolate is flavored with vanilla for a certain round flavor profile that elicits all kinds of nostalgia.  Those feelings are probably manufactured because my sense memory for taste isn’t that good.   The consistency and mouth feel of the chocolate let the bar down.   The chocolate feels a bit gritty, not smooth, as you eat it.   Still, the memories are priceless.

I guess I’ll have to get a bottle of the syrup online to meet the product again.  It’s been a long time.

Sometimes When Things Go Right, They Still Go Wrong

One of the trials of having a small child is the button pushing.  Thankfully, the Peanut is not too much of a trial in this regard.   He pushes buttons occasionally, but not enough to be a serious problem.

We have a dedicated file server in the house.  It sits under my desk in the “office”.  It’s only got one button on it, the power/reset button.   The Peanut hit it last week.   That normally shouldn’t be much of a problem.   In this case, powering the system on caused one of the fans to sound like a small kitchen appliance.   Worse yet, it was one in the power supply.

So, I took an hour or two last weekend and replaced the power supply.  Now I can barely hear the system, but there was another problem.

I decided to put a monitor on the computer to verify that everything started correctly after the new hardware was installed. When I did, I discovered that there were some errors worth bothering about:
godzilla smartd errors

This was not good.  It was one of the disks that hold my iTunes library and the collection of SVG files that the Missus uses for crafting.

The good news that the disk is part of a two disk mirror using the ZFS file system on FreeBSD.   While the disk itself was reporting errors, the ZFS file system reported no errors whatsoever.

The disk in question was only(!?!) 1TB and getting a little on the full side anyway.

So, I bought two 2TB disks and replaced the defective disk and then the other disk in the mirror in two separate steps.   ZFS faithfully copied the data from the existing disk in the mirrored pair each time.  Easy.

Well maybe not so easy because I had this problem when I was done:

zpool data status

This happens because newer disks organize data in 4KB sectors, not the traditional 512B.

Fixing it required me to do what I’d hoped to avoid: backing up the data, wiping out the data zpool, and restoring it from backup.

Thankfully, ZFS doesn’t make doing that terribly difficult.   Thanks to eSATA it only turned out to be a morning’s worth of work.

Gojira, Lord Of Storms

Among several other activities last weekend, I managed to see last year’s second attempt by Hollywood to make a real kaijū eiga, Godzilla.

I was very pleased to see that it was far, far better than the first attempt… which I can’t even bother to watch all the way through.  While it is flawed, it definitely fits in the canon with some genuine thrills and spectacular visuals.

The Good

Godzilla emerging from the Stygian depths to put the smack down on some giant insect-looking creatures, that’s classic Toho.

Visually equating Godzilla with the forces and balances of nature (storms and tidal waves presage his appearance), hail Gojira, Lord of Storms!

Effectively turning Godzilla into a Lovecraft-ian Old One, that’s cool.   “In his house at R’lyeh, Gojira waits dreaming”.

The inversion of the Godzilla from creature deprived of a home by humans and the atomic bomb to corrective force of nature unconcerned with humans was an interesting one.

Visual references to most of the large scale human disasters in the last 15 years worked well.    We had, in no particular order: nuclear reactor failure on a Japanese coast,  tidal waves destroying large swathes of coastal shoreline, and another massive destruction in an US city.

The new Godzilla design and roar were awesome.

While Pacific Rim embodied the brightly colored Godzilla movies of the 60’s and early 70’s, this movie reached back for the moody atmospherics of the original 1954 film.

The Bad

You could tell that Bryan Cranston and Juliet Binoche had to be doing it for the love, because their roles were FAR too small for actors of their talent.

Ken Watanabe was also under-utilized.   He tried to go for the stoic sort presence that Takashi Shimura had in the 1954 film but it didn’t work for me.

The first person narrative of one character at all the points of action was too difficult for the film to sustain for its entire length.

The Ugly

After watching the movie (only once), I awoke the next morning  and realized that I couldn’t tell if the final battle took place around Chinatown in San Francisco or Chinatown in Oakland.  Since it was shot in Vancouver, that’s not surprising, I guess.   I think they even got the BART logos wrong at one point.   Would recognizable landmarks be too much to ask?

Bryan Cranston’s toupee was beyond awful.  I know he’d just come from filming Breaking Bad and all, but still.

The stupid stuff:

  • floppy disks that are still readable after 15 years in a dilapidated house with data files that modern software can still understand,
  • inconceivably stopped traffic on the Golden Gate when San Francisco is being evacuated that no one seems to doing anything about (and a bus driver who doesn’t roll down a window to hear what a cop is saying),
  • eggs of creatures that can survive dormant for millions of years being destroyed by a gasoline fire,
  • a clockwork nuclear fuse that somehow uses absolutely no electrical circuitry to trigger a nuclear weapon,
  • a nuclear missile that six guys can carry like a casket or a coffin.

 

Bruised

Starting the Peanut over with a new speech therapist was surprisingly tough on me.

While he was successfully working with his last therapist, I tended to focus on just that, the success.   Oh, he spontaneously tried a new word the other day.   He tries to imitate sounds more than he used to.   He said “help please, Daddy” without prompting.  He said “I love you, Daddy” with some prompting from the Missus.   Given where he was even six months ago, that seems like amazing progress.

When the Peanut is with someone new, it is much more obvious how far he needs to go.  He speaks very few words.  He has trouble pronouncing certain sounds.  He doesn’t make that much eye contact.  He relies on gestures and ASL signs to communicate.   I can generally tell what he wants or needs.   How long and how far do we have to go before the Peanut can meet a stranger and communicate what he wants?   Though it’s a mountain we’ve started to climb, I can’t see the summit of it yet.

My soul felt bruised by the process.  This is my child.  As much as I see him as the healthy, vital, intelligent kid that he is on the inside, he has some serious special needs.  They’re fixable to a large extent, and thank God for that.  I still ask the questions that all parents probably ask when their children have problems:  Is this my fault?  Is this something I did?  Is it because I was too old?    I just felt a twinge of angst the rest of that day we saw the first therapist.  It’s a feeling I hope has a name, but I don’t know the word.  Like schadenfreude or weltschmerz, it’s probably one of those moods that have name in French or German or Russian, but not English.

A bright moment from both the days when we saw new therapists last week came when the Peanut spelled his name, saying the letters as I wrote them down for him.   They were both very impressed with that.   Like I said, we feel that the Peanut is a pretty smart kid behind that wall of apraxia.   That he knows his letters and numbers much like other smart kids his age just proves that “special needs” and “smart” are (or can be) two entirely different attributes.

Help, Even More Than You Need

How ironic that a simple scholar, with no ambition, beyond a modest measure of seclusion, should out of the clear sky, find himself besieged by an army of fellow creatures, all grimly determined to be of service. – Dr. Edward Morbius, Forbidden Planet

Having a son with special needs, it’s easy to see how there will be times when help won’t be there when you need it.   The thing that is not as obvious but equally true is that sometimes there is more help being offered than what you need or want.  What do you do about that?

A case in point: after a rocky start to the school year, the Peanut settled nicely into his new schedule for school and speech therapy by mid-October.  For about six weeks, everything was GO: the Peanut made progress, our costs were down, and we looked forward to the rest of the school year.   We needed to remain wary.  At the start of December, the Peanut’s speech therapist that she was switching schools within the School District (to one closer to where we live) and that the Peanut would start seeing someone new in the next week.   After a single hand off session where both the old and new therapists were present, we got further news.   Because of problems with her therapy license, the new therapist would not be able to start until after the Christmas break.

Meanwhile, the Missus and I had an action item left over from the Peanut’s parent-teacher conferences back in October.   An open item on the Peanut’s IEP (or Individualized Education Program – the agreement about what classroom accommodations and services the School District agrees to provide) was to have him evaluated by a school psychologist to see if classes to help him with his social skills would be a good fit.   That seemed like a good idea; while the Peanut seems to be rather bright and has a sunny disposition, we don’t see him engage in much cooperative play.   Now that either could be because both his parents were pretty happy playing by themselves as children, or it could be because his inability to talk is getting in the way.   We don’t know.   I sent the necessary paperwork for evaluation in back in early November (I think) and we heard nothing for weeks.

In mid-December, I finally called the Special Ed department of the School District and left a message (all calls to the published number on the School District web site seem to go to department secretary’s voice mail.)  First, I asked if the Peanut could keep seeing his old therapist.   She is now working at a school closer to our home, and we liked that they made progress together.   Second, I asked about the evaluation with the psychologist.

That second item was the one that attracted attention.  We got a call from a psychologist a few days later.  She wanted to see the Peanut in his regular preschool class, and arranged to observe him during the last class before Christmas vacation.   That went reasonably well, but it was hardly a typical day for the class and she could only observe him for about 45 minutes.   She called us later, saying that she wanted to observe him again on a more normal day and to also have an IEP meeting with us and his speech therapist to discuss further evaluation.   She arranged the meeting time with the speech therapist and we confirmed.

The meeting turned into a bit of a mess.   The speech therapist asked that the meeting take place in her therapy classroom.  When the psychologist, the Missus, and I showed up the therapist was nowhere to be found.   A visit to the school office did not help because they had no clue what was going on.   Eventually, we learned that the new therapist had left the district.  We also met with the psychologist in the school principal’s office and we agreed to pursue further evaluation for services.

This is now where the “too much help” part comes in.

The Missus and I were unimpressed with how events that directly affected the Peanut’s speech therapy were communicated to us, to say the least.  They essentially weren’t, and the Peanut’s therapy seemed to be falling through the cracks.   That prompted a series of phone calls between the Missus and the woman who schedules speech therapy for the District.  The woman seemed properly contrite about the mix up and informed the Missus that a new therapist would be starting right way.   The Missus asked if the Peanut could continue with his old therapist since she was now closer to where we live.  The answer to that was ultimately no, because there was no room in his old therapist’s schedule.  Instead, another alternative was presented: there was a therapist at our neighborhood elementary school that could take him.   The Missus and I talked it over and made a counter offer: could we see the Peanut with both therapists and then choose where we went next?   That idea was well received and I agreed to take the Peanut to our neighborhood school since the Missus would be working that day.   We both agreed to meet the replacement to his old therapist the following day.

The trip to the neighborhood school started out a little rough.  I went to the school office and asked to see the name I was given.   No one there knew who she was.   The regular speech therapist at that school was called, and she knew where to direct us.    I soon learned why this person’s name was not familiar in the office: this therapist was newly assigned to this school to perform IEP evaluations of students, not regularly treat them.    Beyond that, she seemed both pleasant and capable.  The Peanut seemed fascinated with the new environment, and spent much of his time wandering around the room.  The therapist seemed to understand that this was happening, and took it in stride as best as she could.

Talking with her, the nature of the offer to work with her became clear quickly.  It was something of a special accommodation.  Now whether that was because the District knew they screwed up and wanted the opportunity to mollify us, I don’t know.   They just heard that we might be happier if we could go somewhere closer to where we lived.   So, they offered us the opportunity to do that, and talked up the qualifications of the person who would work with the Peanut, if we did.   It was very well meaning and designed to be helpful, but I also quickly learned that it underlined a lack of global understanding of what was going on with the Peanut’s IEP.

The reaction to the new room caused the therapist to raise a point no one else bothered to mention until then:  if the upcoming evaluation by the psychologist resulted in placing the Peanut in a pre-K Special Ed class to work on his social skills, a new speech therapist would be assigned to him to work in conjunction with the class at the school he would attend.   I immediately understood the potential problem with that.  It took the Peanut a few weeks to adjust to his new schedule in the Fall and I’d just scheduled the evaluation with the psychologist in 3 weeks and a meeting to discuss the findings in 5 weeks.   Given that schedule, the Peanut just might just be getting used to the new school, new room, new therapist, and new therapy schedule at about the time when it all might have to change again.    It was not conducive to good progress this year.

After I shared that bit of insight with the Missus, she and I agreed that we would choose the therapist at the school where he saw his old therapist if he got along reasonably well with her the next day.   The school, the room, and the schedule would be the same.   With fewer variables, there was the possibility of greater progress.

The appointment did go reasonably well.  We got there a little late.  Of the two, the second therapist was perhaps a little less personable.   That’s not a problem, as long as she understands what the Peanut needs and gives it to him.    She was all business and made sure to get some time to get some work with the Peanut in even though they started late.    In the end, we went with her.

The whole process felt typical of what we have experienced so far with the Peanut.   We, as parents, look to a circle experts to help us understand and deal with the Peanut’s apraxia. Some are experts on medicine, some in education, and some in navigating bureaucracy.  These experts generally mean well, but their advice and actions can appear to be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory.   We, the parents, are let into this circle more or less as peers because we are experts on our son.   We often know little to nothing about the other areas of expertise, but it falls to us to separate what’s meaningful for the Peanut from all the noise.   I guess that’s called “advocating for our son.”

Sometimes too much help creates noise, and it can be the toughest kind of noise to filter out.

Ready For My Closeups, Mr. DeMille

I got an e-mail from Match.com that included this today:

Match is turning 20 this year (Class of ‘95 baby!) and to celebrate, we’re taking a look back at the original site when it first launched in 1995. Our records indicate that you first registered on the site back in 1995, and I’d love to chat with you about your experience.  We’re looking for some great, original adopters of online dating to feature in our 20th anniversary PR launch and to possibly speak to a few media outlets.

So yes, I am considered to be a “founding member” of Match.   Talk about the past coming back to haunt you.

The Things You Say Sometimes

Something I found myself saying on social media this week (now deleted):

I would go to a prayer meeting if there was bourbon and Count Chocula afterward… well, unless it was cheap, rotgut bourbon.

That is all.

Pono Blues

With announcements by Neil Young (about the Pono player) and Sony (about the $1200 Walkman) at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, it seems that high definition audio is back in the news.

Speaking as someone who started out being schooled in the Electrical Engineering arts, I’m somewhat skeptical about the whole thing.  As others have noted, the term high definition audio doesn’t specify anything.  An an analogue to high definition video, it presumably indicates a digital standard that is to compact discs what the Blu-ray disc is to the DVD.  I find that inference to be somewhat ironic since digital music players started out using low bit rate MP3 files that employed lossy compression which produced sound with far inferior fidelity to the 44.1 kHz/16-bit uncompressed audio available on compact discs.

Time and technology have improved the quality of digital audio that can be purchased online or ripped from compact discs at home, but how much is too much?  Bigger sampling rates, higher bit resolution, and less compression translate into bigger digital files.   The values selected for compact discs were not selected randomly as others have discussed extensively, and to my mind, quite convincingly.   The Red Book compact disc spec was not designed to be a compromise when it came to the quality of sound it reproduced.

There will always be those who quibble about the quality of the compact disc standard.   Sony and Phillips even went so far as to develop a successor standard, Super Audio CD (SACD) and this case is instructive.  The specs of SACDs are in every way superior; frequency range, dynamic range, and capacity are all better than Red Book CD and should exceed the human capacity to hear.   Yet, double blind testing by the Audio Engineering Society (AES) shows that SACDs do not sound better than CDs — in tests with about 550 people (many of them professed audiophiles,) slightly less than half correctly identified the SACD.    If SACD truly was better, the results would show something substantially better than the 50/50 outcome of a series of random coin flips.

So why bother with new standards like SACD?  I believe the biggest gain is in digital mastering.   Sony developed Direct Stream Digital (DSD) that substantially simplified and improved the equipment mastering chain for converting music on analog tapes or directly storing data from digital mixing boards.  As a next generation format supposedly superior to CD, Sony and other labels also took the time to make sure that SACD releases were re-mastered carefully to DSD instead of rushing crap out into the marketplace as was done with CDs in the 1980s.   I’d be curious to know if the sample loops in the AES study were taken from the same DSD master (e.g. different layers in the same hybrid-SACD.)  Proper experimental method suggests that they should.   A meaningful follow-on would be to compare the DSD version to some previous re-master in double blind tests.   My bet is that the mastering is a big part of the thing.

(That said, I own some SACDs.  I love the format and the sound.  Perhaps it is confirmation bias.)

As for the quality of the hardware itself, Apple sets the standard in the personal digital player domain and I’m going to guess that they would want to set it reasonably high.   Steve Jobs was partially deaf, and he could not demand audio perfection completely out of personal experience.   Yet he was known for making products into art, and I’m sure he did not want to put the Apple logo on a product that did not meet a fairly acute listening standard given the state of technology at any point and time.   Is an iPod/iPhone a true audiophile device?  Probably not.  I’d guess that it’s good to excellent, but not mind blowing.  Better circuitry for a dedicated listening device is a niche something like Pono could fill.

Where the Apple player and its competitors really fail (if you can call it that) is the ear buds or earpods.   There is only so much you can do with such a small volume of space.   They look cool, sure.  Apple also tries hard to create a product with real substance, but an over ear headphone can provide much better sound reproduction.   I recently acquired a pair of Grado SR60e headphones, and the improvement in listening experience is significant.

Finally, more and better options for digital data files are a welcome development.   A link in the sound reproduction chain that not too many people talk about is the file format and conversion software.   The initial popularity of digital music players was fanned by MP3 files — a format whose digital audio output is only an approximation of the input in order to get real size savings (i.e. lossy compression.)    Apple devices use AAC files with some some well understood software to create them, which is clearly a step up while still using lossy compression.

A number of audiophiles say that better fidelity and detail requires files that use loss-less compression — the reproduced output is identical to the digital audio input.   The price for that fidelity is file size — I recently started using Apple Lossless Audio Compression (ALAC) files for CDs I rip and they take up 8-10 times the amount of disk space.   I couldn’t fit my whole CD collection on my current iPod using ALAC files, but I should do some a head-to-head comparison one of these days to investigate what the differences are like.

Given much more economical fixes I can make to my music listening, I’m going to give Pono and its ilk a pass, for now at least.

I recall hearing Neil Young say that “we are living in a sonic dark age” in an interview or at a press conference sometime about 20 years ago.  At that time, he extolled the virtues of vinyl and analog sound in an industry that was milking the upgrade to compact disc.  I’m glad to see that he now sees that it’s a largely digital landscape. Trying to raise the level of expectation from the listening public is a laudable goal.   I’m just not sure that sound engineers would agree that he’s going about it in the best fashion.

Heat And The Home

Alton Brown linked to an article on the F*x News web site on the Blue and White social network today:

restaurant_food

I know that this article was shared with Mr. Brown on his Wall yesterday because he was called out and paraphrased in it.   Perhaps he likes it.  As a culinary school graduate and food show producer, perhaps he agrees with it.

Now, I have zero personal experience in a restaurant kitchen and haven’t been to culinary school.  I watch a lot and I read a fair amount.  I’m a fan of food science.   So what I’m about to say is probably armchair quarterbacking of the highest magnitude:

This article scores kind of high on the “bovine scatology (BS)” meter.

Speaking as someone who is trained as an engineer and a scientist and who loves to cook, I believe focuses too much on ingredients and presentation.  The use of salt, fat, and shallots to increase flavor only applies to home cooks who actively eschew such ingredients.  The implication is that somehow we could all churn out restaurant quality food if we just had better recipes and a little more time.

I think that Bill Buford’s book “Heat” does a much better job of discussing why restaurant food tastes different (or at least a more appealing one, to my mind.)   Mr. Buford’s thesis is that the differences are more driven by the process of commercial cooking.   Simply put, restaurants cook at a larger scale than home cooks ever will, and that has secondary effects.  There is more opportunity for flavorful fond to develop on pans that cook several batches of meat or bones.  Pasta water accumulates starch and lends flavor as the night goes on.   Meat is dry aged in the walk-in.   Sauces (or their components) and other ingredients are made ahead and allowed to age before final assembly.   Restaurants are able to buy better ingredients (USDA prime vs. choice) in different portions (whole steaks or roasts) with greater freshness than home cooks get at the supermarket.  Finally, restaurant cookbooks are at best an approximation that transforms recipes that are notes by professional cooks on a commercial process to feed dozens into a list of ingredients and procedure that feeds 6-8 people.

The use of hot ovens and homemade stocks gets closer to what Buford talks about, but it is not the whole picture.   The overall thrust is not even close.

Speeding To The Unknown Shore

As I settle in to my first full week back in harness at work, a lot of people are asking each other “Well, how were your holidays?”

My answer is invariably “good”.   Too often at this time of year, things are rush, rush, rush.  Despite the fact that little business actually gets done at this time of year, someone in my management chain decides that a milestone must be met before the year ends.   That creates a scenario where all the rushing to complete the perfunctory tasks for Christmas at home must compete with a deadline at work that could often be more realistically set for mid-to-late January (when it often gets hit anyway.)

That did not happen this year.  The fact that I am transitioning between two projects coupled with the fact that I have not gotten feedback that is blocking progress on a couple issues means that stress and urgency levels at work were lower as Christmas and the New Year approached.  As a child, Christmas is a thing that happens to you.  You cannot help but take it in, and you often wish that it doesn’t happen to you fast enough.  Christmas is a process for adults, making it happen for others.  If you don’t have time to step back and observe that process, it just races past and is something to be survived, not enjoyed.   The extra space in my schedule this year allowed me some enjoyment.

The season was not without irritations.   I wrote at the beginning of December that my weight was up and that I would need to be dedicated through the end of the year.   My spirit did not fail me in that, but my body did.  I developed soreness in my hips, especially on my right, that was aggravated by the motion of the elliptical trainer I primarily used to work out.   It seemed obvious that exhaustion and repetition were straining, not training.  The equally obvious response was to rest, worries about additional holiday weight gain be damned.   Weeks on, that approach proved effective; I am not able to push myself to the high level I ideally want to burn calories, but I can work out (more moderately) without damaging myself and start the process of getting back in better shape.  I’m now probably about 8-9 pounds above my current weight loss target, but I feel like the worst is behind me.

A key system in the house also decided to fail just as the year ended.   I’ve noticed for the last 2 years or so that the thermostat would just not turn the heat on sometimes.  In the past, I usually was able to reset the thing or change the batteries and it would start working again with enough fiddling.  We keep the house cooler at night and the heat went off in the evening of December 30th.   It did not come back on the following morning, December 31st.  Fortunately, I got a replacement thermostat a year or two ago.  I put off installing it because I was generally able to get the old one working.  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I was a grump for a little while until I got the new one installed and discovered that it worked.   After that, it was all good and I could relax.

Christmas itself followed our regular pattern: Mass on Christmas Eve and dinner with family on Christmas Day.  We went to church with the Missus’ Dad not far from the apartment where he lives, about 15 miles away.  They roll up the sidewalks at about 7pm up there on Christmas Eve, as we discovered last year when it was nigh on impossible to find a place to eat after Vigil Mass that starts at 6pm.   We took that lesson to heart and got a couple pizzas before Mass started, and reheated them at my father-in-law’s apartment.  As I said to the Missus as we drove home, it went very easy.

The Peanut cleaned up on Christmas morning.  He got 4-5 boxes full of stuff from Santa that were taller than he is when stood up on their longest sides.   He got a tricycle, another vehicle called a Plasma Car, a Little People car track, two different tee ball sets, and large, complicated-to-assemble marble track.   He was surprisingly easy going about all this loot.   The Missus’ Dad joined us for the Great Unwrapping, and didn’t arrive until after 9:30am.   The Peanut was perfectly fine about waiting to open gifts.  That fact that made the Missus somewhat question his maternity, for whom an unopened gift can be a taunt that repeatedly whispers “open me… open me… open me” as soon as it is seen.

Once the Great Unwrapping completed, I made brunch with buttermilk pancakes, bacon, sausage, and mimosas made with some prosecco.

Dinner on Christmas Day took Julia Child as its inspiration.   It was Steak Au Poivre, garlic mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, and a salad, much of the recipes coming from Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.  It wasn’t tremendously high stakes cooking, but left me feeling fatigued at the end of the day anyway.   It all came out pretty well, even if I hadn’t made the steak or the potatoes in the better part of ten years.

We were joined by the Missus’ Cousin T. and her family for dinner.   We don’t get to see enough of the extended family at holiday times, and it was nice for them join us.   I did fail my guests in one small respect: the Missus recalled that T. had some food allergies, and believed that they were wheat-related.   That turned out be wrong.  T. has problems with dairy, and here I am cooking French-inflected food with tons of butter.   Oh well.  We still had a good time and T. found enough to eat.  Live and learn.

I spent the three days after Christmas not doing too much of anything in particular, except eating leftovers.  After that, went to work the first two days of the following week, and then was off until the first Monday of the New Year.

If Christmas was the holiday where I felt like I was rushing around to create the day for others, New Years was gloriously lazy.  I got some takeout Chinese food from a restaurant whose chief virtue is the short drive from our house and was in bed by 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve.  The following was fend for yourself breakfast, and a holiday party at the house of friends that afternoon.

I watched bits Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln over the break.  In it, Abraham Lincoln speaks of a dream where he is speeding on a ship toward an unknown shore.   I feel like I was on that ship for much of the year, what with the Peanut’s problems with talking, the associated issues with medical insurance, and the back and forth at work the culminated in some layoffs back in October and put the project I worked on for nearly two years in mothballs.   The speed of that ship began to slow as the holidays approached for reasons I mentioned above.  By that first weekend of 2015, that ship finally stopped and I felt centered in myself for the first time since I don’t know when.

I’ll take an end of year like that anytime.

ps.  For all my fretting about ornaments this year, we only damaged one and that was my fault.  I tried to reach behind the tree to clean a piece of dirty train track in the back and knocked this Santa loose from his hook.   He rolled over my shoulder, down my arm, and hit the floor just beyond the round area rug that generally protects our ornaments.

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