17 Days and Counting

I have a special treat for you all today, a guest post!  I’ve mentioned her here before, but the illustrious Dear Wife would like to address your attention today.  So, without further ado, I’ll turn you over to her:

It’s less than three weeks until Christmas, which means that I’m scrambling to write a Christmas letter and print cards for our friends and family.  This year, I plan to print our photo cards at www.shutterfly.com.  We used Shutterfly to print BT’s birth announcements earlier this year and they turned out wonderful!  We recently had some amazing family photos taken by a friend and I can’t wait to show off BTs cuteness and our growing little family in our Christmas cards from Shutterfly.
 
I love Shutterfly’s Christmas photo card (http://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery/christmas-photo-cards) and other holiday photo card (http://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery) designs for this year.  Also, now that I have oodles of cute baby pictures, I’m considering using Shutterfly to create a calendar (http://www.shutterfly.com/calendars) with some of my favorite photos.  I’m also eying some of the other photo gifts contemplating which I like most.
 
Back to our Christmas card – each year we’ve been married I’ve written a letter updating family and friends on the big happenings in our family during the year and mailed off the letter, a photo card, and brief personal notes to our friends and family.  It’s also a nice way to briefly document our year and I’ve been saving a letter and photocard each year and plan to put them in a scrapbook.  It will be nice to be able to flip through to see how our family has changed. 

Giving Thanks

For those of you in the U.S., you will most probably be spending the day with your families celebrating our annual commencement of the college football bowl season.  I, myself, have no interest in football, but I will be with my family today observing a holiday which, in the U.S., happens bizarrely to coincide with the aforementioned football-related event.  I speak, of course, of Thanksgiving.  To which, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

I won’t regale you here with tales of dread winters, Pilgrims, and Wampanoags, nor of Turkeys Past.  But, as is somewhat traditional, I shall endeavor to list the things for which I am grateful this year:

  1. My Dear Wife and my wonderful son, B.T.  I don’t always express my appreciation as fully as I should.  But you should know that I love you both.
  2. The opportunity to live in a  free and democratic nation.  It’s not perfect (this nation), by any means, but it has a lot going for it.  But I am so very glad to live in a place and time when I am relatively free to pursue my own destiny and make the most of my life.
  3. Education.  I’m in school, getting ever-so-closer to my graduation day when I earn my Sheepskin Second Class (i.e. the MBA).  And I am so ready to be done.  But I am so very lucky to have had the opportunity to learn more and advance myself.
  4. Good food, good friends, good family.  Though not in that order.  I love my family, and am grateful to be able to spend this holiday with them.  Not just my Dear Wife and son, but my parents and siblings and nieces and nephews as well (my wife says they are called “nildren”).  What’s more, I’m very lucky to be able to say that through my wife I am now connected to another wonderful family who I am likewise always happy to visit or have over to visit.  On this Thanksgiving day, I am thankful for all of them.
  5. My Home.  It’s small – some might say cozy.  But it’s very nice.  It was precisely what Dear Wife and I needed at the time.  And I am grateful each day to go home to it, and to those who dwell there with me.
  6. The opportunity and the will to write.  Writing time is scarce these days, but it will not long be so.  I’ve always loved writing stories, since the earliest days of my childhood.  I still love it, and frankly can’t go long without taking the chance to sit and write.  And I’m always glad that this is a part of who I am.  I’d rather be a writer than any other kind of crazy.
  7. Applebutter.
  8. Chocolate.
  9. Excellent books and other forms of entertainment in the various Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Speculative genres.  I don’t have much time to enjoy it all, right now.  But things will ease up soon, and I shall enjoy it all with much gusto when things do.
  10. All of you.  I’m grateful for you, the readers of my blog.  Someday, I hope to be published.  When that day comes, I hope you’ll all stick with me.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Applebutter!

A few weeks ago, Dear Wife, B.T., Shasta and I took part in an annual Watkins-family tradition.  We hopped in our car and drove about two hours outside of town into the foothills of the Appalachians, to apple country.  Dear Wife and I have been apple picking every year together since before we were married, and we enjoy it a lot.  About a week after we went apple picking, I started work on another Watkins-family tradition. Using an old “family recipe” passed down to me by me cobbling together different pieces from other recipes found on the internet and then adding in my own concoction of spices, I spent a good chunk of the following Saturday, and most of Saturday Night, making applebutter.

Applebutter (or two words, “Apple Butter“, if you prefer, but I like it as one word), for those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, is a bit like an extra-thick, sweet, dark, spicy applesauce. It can be used as a spread in the same way as jam or jelly or preserves. When I was growing up, I always preferred applebutter over jam or jelly to go on my peanut-butter sandwiches. Or to go on fresh, hot toast. Or just about anything really. Applebutter is just great stuff.  (I highly recommend you try some.)

But I started to notice, a few years ago, that it was getting harder and harder to find applebutter on grocery store shelves. And often, when you could find it, it wasn’t very good quality applebutter. I had learned somewhere along the way that I sometimes like to cook – especially when I’m cooking for a non-singular number of eaters (which is to say, for more than just myself; it’s too boring to cook for just myself)… so I decided to start making my own applebutter!

I didn’t know much about it, at the time, so I looked up some recipes and got some good ideas. This gave me the place to start.  I needed a recipe that I could safely prepare and store in jars for the coming wintry months, and I needed to know a little about “home canning”.  But there was something missing from those recipes. So I added a little additional flavor to my “secret” recipe.

But deciding to make applebutter is not for the faint-hearted.  It can take hours to do the necessary slow cooking that reduces and caramelizes what starts, essentially, as applesauce into that thick, dark, rich goodness.  Frankly, it’s just not something you’re bound to do unless you were already an applebutter addict, like me. 

Genuine, Homemade Watkins Applebutter

Genuine, Homemade Watkins Applebutter

This is the third year I’ve made applebutter, now. I missed last year because I was too busy with school, but Dear Wife and I missed the applebutter so much we decided I’d just have to find the time to make it this year.  And I made an extra big batch, to make sure it would last through the year. It took all day, about 30 apples, 18 jars of various sizes, and Dear Wife’s new Canning pot and tools, but I’ve tasted it, and the results were worth it! Here’s a glamour shot of the finished product, with a few of the apples we picked (whose cousins ended up in the pot).

A Day Off from Work

Monday was Memorial Day here, so I thought I’d just share how Dear Wife, B.T., Shasta and I spent the afternoon.  Feel free to move on if this sounds boring.

Early in the day, we four, as a family, went for a pleasant walk around the neighborhood.  Which is to say, Dear Wife and I took turns pushing B.T.’s stroller and leading Shasta’s leash.  But both were saintly, at least for our walk!

A good chunk of my day was whittled away by homework.  This is an ever-present problem for an evening student.  Dear Wife and I estimate that we’ll get back about 12 extra hours a week from class and homework once I’m done with my degree next year.  This doesn’t sound like much, maybe, but it can make a big difference.   Some of that time – maybe up to two hours a week – will be redirected toward writing, but the majority of that time will go toward spending with family, one-on-one time with Dear Wife, and various around-the-house projects that need doing (the latter occasionally referred to in circles of married-friends as the “honey-do” list).  I look forward to being able to spend more time with family.  Although, I fear that some few of those freed hours will actually be consumed by whatever company at which I find myself employed at that time.

The day ended, though, on a more traditional note for Memorial Day.  I barbecued out (chicken, specifically).  My barbecuing skills continue to improve.  I spent a lot of time, growing up, watching my own dad barbecuing.  But, I never made the attempt to barbecue under his watchful and well-practiced eye.  I intend to rectify this error with my own son: I hope to mentor B.T. in the finer points of barbecue, such as I shall have learned them, so that he can start his own barbecuing path from a higher plane than that at which I began.  Now, Dear Wife seems to believe that I ought to covet after a gas grill, but I was raised on charcoal grilling, and raised to believe charcoal grilling (involving, as it does, real fire, and not that artificial gas fire) tastes better.  Taste and the relative manliness of having started a fire by rubbing two sticks together (one of which was, of course, a match) aside, Dear Wife points out this particular benefit of gas grilling: you don’t have to wait for the fire to start and for the briquettes to reach the appropriate level of grillitude before throwing your food on the fire.  Which could save between ten minutes and a half-an-hour, depending on the day, between “I’m hungry” and “Food’s ready”.

We capped the day off by watching the original Star Wars on DVD.  I say original, but what I really meant was I accidentally put in the wrong DVD so we got the “digitally remastered” version in which Han did not shoot first, even though everyone knows that’s blasphemy.  Except Dear Wife, who had never seen Star Wars.  So, of course, I dutifully explained to her just why, as this scene was coming up, what she was about to see was in fact heresy, and she pretended that I wasn’t crazy whilst doing so.

We could also say that Star Wars was B.T.’s first movie, but that’s stretching things a bit.  No offense against the little tyke, but he wasn’t interested so much in the movie.  And he fell asleep about halfway through it.  Which is probably the best result we could’ve hoped for.  In retrospect, maybe the stirring John Williams score and the vacuum-filling explosions and lightsaber buzzing were just what the doctor ordered.  Probably the longest stretch of sleeping poor B.T. did all night, because he seems to have caught a case of the allergies, or somesuch, which kept him awake and annoyed the rest of the night.

After finishing Dear Wife’s maiden voyage into Star Wars infested space, she had this to say (if I recall correctly): “It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting!”  Faint praise, perhaps, but she did follow up with this addendum: “I’d watch the others with you, too.”  On the other hand, during the movie, she said this, when I commented on the upcoming action: “It’s an action movie?  But it has a plot.”

Saturday Short

Yesterday’s post was extra-long – it took me more than twice-as-long to write as any normal post.  Ordinarily, I would have tried to split it up into multiple posts, to get several day’s worth of material out of it, but I thought the gist of my analysis would lose cohesiveness if I broke it up.  So you got the long, hard slog.  And today you get this short post.

Let me clarify that my intention yesterday was to do an analysis of the various forces acting on the publishing industry and extrapolate what that might mean for writers.  I certainly don’t discount the alternative models that people are experimenting with as we speak.  It’s far too early to tell what will come of all this, as there is little evidence to suggest whether these alternative models will succeed.  (The established history of self-publication is replete with the desiccated husks of publishing disasters and a few, rare, shining beacons of fabulous success.  But the changing world, by definition, means that the old rules may no longer be valid.  We have to reevaluate everything in light of what we know is true that wasn’t true then.)  I’ll be talking in the coming week about some thoughts I have for other possible alternative successor-models for today’s traditional publisher.

In other news, I’m still looking for reviewers for my short story.  My wife reported that she liked it (barring two points of confusion she had that stemmed from some aspects of the twist ending; I’ve attempted to add a little more exposition to help clear it up without, hopefully, slowing it down too much.  Just a line or two, maybe a couple dozen words.)

Besides that, if all goes well, we will be installing the new TV cabinet doors on our previously existing built-in entertainment center and bookshelves.  We are excited to be making our entertainment center more functional.  If that project succeeds, there may be Wii-playing in our future.

My Renaissance

In considering how I spend my time, and whether I am making progress toward my goals and expressing my potential for “genius”, I’m forced to think both more deeply and more broadly about what I do.

One of the challenges I struggle with, personally, is the sense I have of a lack of meaning in my job.  I often feel that what I do there, right now, has little or no measurable or positive impact for the company that employs me.  The question that arises is whether this is because I am personally bored by my job, because I am not fulfilled by the work that I do, or because there are barriers in my job that prevent my work from adding value.  Certainly my employer did not hire me with the intention that I not do any work of value.  But I wonder, if I were to leave tomorrow, what would happen?  The immediate consequence would be that (until I was replaced) my department would be unable to fulfill its role in providing accurate and timely analysis of forecasted financial expenditures.  The consequence of that would be that the CFO and other financial directors in my company would not have some of the information they need in discussions with other decision-makers in the company.  The supposition that this would be of detriment to the company, however, is based on the assumption that this financial information is very useful to the primary decision makers in making their decisions.  I frequently have the sense that it is not.  This leads me to wonder, is there something more I can be doing in my job that would be more useful or valuable than generating financial forecasts that are of limited worth?  If I don’t find financial analysis fulfilling, what fields would I find more fulfilling?  Are those fields of worth and value to either my current or future employer?  If I can’t make a meaningful impact at my current company, is there some place else where my efforts will be more meaningful?

The purpose of that train of thought is to illustrate two things.  The  first is that it is difficult to understand and measure the impact that we can have, because it depends on a lot that is outside our control.  The second is that analyzing what we do and how we do it might, hopefully, lead us to finding ways of doing something better.  And if there are impediments outside our control, in our current situation, that prevent us from doing better, then perhaps we can change our situation.

This leads me to a simple conclusion: at the end of the day, I need to feel like I’ve done some good, that I’ve made some progress toward my goal of expressing my genius by improving those around me. 

Genius, in its most commonly understood sense, is in the act of creating something of lasting value and meaning.  Creation, itself, is genius.  That creative potential exists within each of us, and I know it exists within me.  When we think of geniuses, our thoughts turn first to those whose impact has been monumental, even global: the Leonardo da Vincis and Albert Einsteins and Martin Luther Kings and their ilk.  We follow those names closely with the names of those who have had more profound and personal impacts on ourselves and others more like us.  I might add J. R. R. Tolkein to my list, or John Williams, and even Robert Jordan.  Their impacts are more narrow in scope, but no less meaningful to those individuals who have been affected by them.  But rarely do we consider the quiet geniuses whose impact is most often felt only at the personal level: mothers and fathers, teachers, friends, mentors, ecclesiastical leaders, community leaders, and peers.  But in each of these roles, great and small, we have endless opportunities to create moments, circumstances, and means by which the lives of others are improved.  This privilege, this responsibility, is not limited to those only of great intellect or immense natural talents.

The Leonardo exhibit highlighted one thing very clearly: that genius like that of Leonardo da Vinci doesn’t exist without context.  It doesn’t arise in a vacuum.  Each of us is influenced and improved by the genius of others.  And each of us has the potential to influence and improve others around us.  This is the purpose of nearly all worthwhile human endeavors: a virtuous cycle of continuous betterment.  That I can apply myself to this task is my hope.  That is my renaissance.