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Friday the office is closed; I have the day off. This is a surprise, for I normally work on 31 December. In the past two weeks hardly anyone else has worked; apparently all the counselors took time off at the holidays. This morning I will review my 2021 journal and reflect on what did/didn’t happen this year.*

As is the wont, we won’t be going out this evening – again. There’s a part of me that always feels a bit sad or deprived by this. I envision all my nearest and dearest going out tonight to fabulous parties, dressed to the nines, having themselves a ball, while I sit home in my bathrobe watching the world go by. Boohoo and woe is me. Someday I may insist on going out, but not this year, what with covid19. Someone had a scare at work this week: he told he was exposed to someone who had tested positive. He had to stay home and get tested; yesterday the results came in: negative. He’s back to his ushering job, but is was a close call and a reminder one can still get it even with vaccines and boosters. Thus, we are staying home today and I will be partying with a bowl of shrimp cocktail that I’ve been saving for this grand occasion.

We open Christmas prizes today, perhaps before or after supper. My prizes for Someone are wrapped in gay colors* and ribbons and wait under the tree. I hope he likes them. I haven’t seen signs he’s wrapped or done anything for me so I am going to be surprised or this will be a one-way gift-giving endeavor.

I will call SIL #2 and wish her a happy birthday; I will text The Boss-lady too for it is also her birthday. I will call Father this evening and wish him Happy New Year. Every 31 December my parents would get together with two other couples, The McCartneys and the Macintoshes. They did this every year as far back as I can remember. Of the six, I believe only my father and Mrs. Mackintosh are the only ones still alive. I wonder if they will call each other; I hope they do.

As is custom, I will say “Rabbit! ” as the last word of the year spoken out loud; it is the first word of the new year as well. Brother #2 and I saw this suggestion in a kiddie-calendar when we were youngsters and we’ve been saying it ever since. The other brothers picked it up in turn. I don’t know if this superstition actually does any good at promoting luck, but it is a comfort knowing on 12/31 at 1159:59 PM all my brothers and I wherever we are will be saying the same word at the same time, and thinking of each other. It is a pleasant thought the last thought of every year goes this way.

So, in this last entry of Spo-reflections for 2021, I wish Spo-fans and readers far and near a prosperous and happy new year.

See you in 2022.

Rabbit !

**Turns out not much.

*My paternal grandmother was one of the last who used the adjective ‘gay’ to describe something or someone as cheerful and colorful. Whenever I use the word by that definition, I think of her.

What’s top of my mind: New Year’s Eve. Normally we don’t do anything on this most festive of nights; driving out to a bar in Arizona traffic is something to be avoided. I fall asleep around 1020 PM local time, after watching on television the ball drop in Times Square.* This year Someone and I exchange our Christmas prizes this evening. I plan to have some shrimp, something I associate with the holidays. There is a bottle of ‘the boy’ that is getting old; perhaps I will open it for the sake of the evening. Happy new year, everybody!

Where I’ve been: Barnes and Noble. Once upon a time long time ago in a faraway land, going to bookstores was a regular pleasure of mine. I have not been to one in a long while. On Boxing Day I went to the B&N in the nearby mall. Fascinating! – and not in a good way: the store seemed bereft of books. Rather it had a coffee shop doing a fine business, and a large section for puzzles/games. I went looking for blank journals, a daily planner, and some face calendars. These were minimal pickings at best. Alas, Babylon! These objects are going out like the antiquated bookstores that house them. This makes me sad.

Where I’m going: The nephrologist. The Good Doctor wants me to see one, based on my recent KFTs (kidney function tests). I can accurately predict what this doctor will say and do. I will be asked to do a 24- hour urine sample. He will redo the KFTs, and declare they are indeed ‘down’. He won’t have any advice, other than to keep hydrated and follow up with him in another six months so he can watch them decline. All docs is quacks.

What I’m watching: Statistics. Each December I review my goals and compare them to previous years. This includes my weight, the number of books read, the number of shirts made, the traffic stats on my blog, and the number of times I have rolled down grass hills. The scientist in me loves doing this sort of stuff, to see patterns and correlates to make predictions and plans for the new year.

What I’m reading: My 2021 journal. It’s amazing (and a bit disturbing) the events I forgot happened each year until I reread my daily entries. After I go over them, I make a list of the ‘highlights’ and put these in a summary in the back of the book for future reference.** Every year I read my former self fretting about the crisis de jour and realize not only have I survived them all I don’t even remember most of them. It is a comfort. Note to future self: keep this in mind when 2022 delivers onto you fresh crisis.

What I’m listening to: The little match girl. Every New Year’s Eve since I was a boy I read or listened toa recording of Mr. Anderson’s tale ‘The little match girl’. I had a Walt Disney LP with his stories; I was happy to find it on The Tube of Yous so I can hear it again. I suppose ‘The Mouse’ would not make such a recording now, as the story has all sorts of disturbing elements by today’s standards. While it is a sad story, it ends in glory, appropriate for entering into a new year.

It’s what’s on the menu

What I’m eating: Black-eyed peas. Every year Someone insists on black-eyed peas ate on the first day of the year. Last year we waited until New Years day to buy some, and Uncle Albertsons was fresh out! This sent Someone into a gummy panic of potential twelve months of bad luck. We managed to find a tinned version and ate that, to great relief. This Friday, as part of his prizes, I am giving him a bag of dried peas that I purchased a few weeks ago. Who says I ain’t considerate?

Who needs a good slap: No one leaps to mind. I can’t think of anybody at the moment. It’s too bad, as I’ve had some rancor rising on and off this week and it has no cathartic outlet. I need a Backpfeifengesicht. Spo-fans are requested to leave modest proposals in the comments and I will rate them on my now-legendary 1-5 scale.

What I’m planning: New Year resolutions. I have three for 2022; two are concrete/measurable goals and one is a philosophy of which to be mindful:

Every day have five minutes of sitting doing nothing.

I don’t remember a time when I had any. This shall be done with no music, no podcasts, and no activity – just sit still with my eyes closed and be quiet. Five minutes per day is the starting time; maybe in time it will expand towards 15 minutes. I think this will do me a lot of good. Let us hope so.

Every day discard a useless or unwanted item.

I wrote about this yesterday. I start 1 January with the bowl of replacement bulbs for strands of Christmas and Halloween lights we no longer have.

“No hurry; no pause

I recently read this and thought it a good slogan to apply to my 2022. I rush doing everything, as if there is some sort of timer goin. This rushed approach often causes emotions of vexation and feeling worn out – and mistakes are made. This is apparent when I am cooking: I bungle , I get frustrated, and by the time the dish is done I’m too tired to enjoy it. The point here is to slow down but keep going, like The Tortoise in the Aesop fable. I read 95% of the results wanted can be accomplished calmly putting one foot in front of other. “slow is smooth; smooth is fast”. Worth trying.

What’s making me smile: George the Cat. Every year at Christmas Brother #3 makes us all a calendar full up with family photos. He didn’t made one in 2020 and 2021 as nobody went anywhere to make such photos. For 2022 he made a ‘beefcake’ calendar for our niece, Warrior Queen, using twelve photos of Gorgeous George, B#3’s cat, in provocative pussycat poses. Yes yes yes I want one too; he is sending me a copy.

*I wake up briefly at midnight local time when the neighborhood idiots shoot off guns.

**I wish I had a shilling for each time we fail at recalling in which year so-and-so visited or which year we went to that-place. When this happens, I pull out my journals and look in the backs at the summaries until I find it, and then I read the actual entries – and remember. Many events would be lost to memory otherwise.

That does it. I start one of my new year’s resolutions this week: every day I will throw out something. Yesterday while rummaging about the larder I discovered a tray with candy canes from 2020. I put them there to ‘some day eat’. I was about to put away the 2021 candy canes for the same reason. This little bit of lunacy stiffened my resolve to be rid of something, anything each day in 2022. I will put it in my “Way of Life” app to remind me. I will do OK with this one.

I will start with the useless things, objects away that won’t be used ever again. I start with the year-old candy canes. While in the larder I also discovered a canister of breadcrumbs with the expiration date circa 2018. After the larder is depleted of old and never-to-be used items, I am going after several hand-held controls for various television screens long ago discarded. They go next.

Some things go directly to the dustbin but many are still useful just not for me. These will go into a ghost bag to bring to Goodwill. Indeed there are three large bags of clothes in the master bedroom closet, so old I don’t remember what’s in them. I will trust my past self the clothes therein are indeed items I won’t be wearing ever again.. I will add a few more items until the bags are bursting and off to the charity bins they go.

Someone points out these items are not particularly taking up needed space in desperate need of clearing, so why throw them out, on the grounds of ‘just in case’. While there is some logic to this, the psychological purging this will provide me is worth the risk I may throw out something I later regret doing. That said, the odds are good we won’t be needing those tape-cassette recordings of Broadway soundtracks, or the paperbacks we read so long ago we have forgotten we have them (or recall their contents). These go to the library or the ‘book bin’ outside Uncle Albertsons.

I thought to put in my journal (for I write daily) what item was ostracized that day, but I think maybe I won’t. While it may be amusing a year hence to read ‘today I discarded the electric toaster, the broken one that has been sitting in the garage for years”, there may be a part of me that longs to get a replacement, so I better not tempt my future self. I don’t trust him to not get more.

Lots of folks make New Year’s resolutions, noble vows to better themselves. Some folks pish-posh this ritual on the grounds they are already continuously improving themselves, and others decline on the conviction they are fine and require no improvements (oh the horror!). Alas, many who make resolutions fail. This is too bad, as it discourages one to try to mend something they know they should or really want to. Here is what I tell my patients to do – and do myself. Spo

Rather than make cosmic resolutions like “learn Spanish” a better approach is to do the following: every day – hopefully at the same time, to get it into your muscle memory – do five minutes of Spanish lessons. That’s it. Set an alarm and if you can, tell someone you are doing this, so they can remind and prompt you. Urs Truly’s iPhone goes off every day at 830PM as if to say “Hey, whatever you are doing, and regardless of motivation, stop it , and go do five minutes of Duolingo”. Getting started is the hardest step, so once you start doing your five minutes you are likely to keep going. Feel good you did something; mark it down on a calendar for you or others to see, or use an app like “Way of Life”. I have done ‘every day for five minutes do some Spanish”and this is nearly 1,000 days in a row now. I don’t need the iPhone to remind me anymore, for I start thinking about it around 8PM, so I go ahead and do it. The reward (besides learning Spanish) is I now have motivation to do this. Mind! Motivation is the end emotion, not the start. “I don’t feel motivated” is pushed aside and is not relevant.*

I accomplished my 2021 resolutions that were simple, repetitive, and realistic. The once a month jobs, like ‘soup of the month’, I had circled on a face calendar to see every day to remind me to do this.

“Do two CME courses per month” failed miserably as I did not have it on my calendar; it was a vague to do sometime, which seldom happened. In 2022 I plan to do better by applying the mentioned rules.

I am thinking now about what I want to accomplish in the new year, like ‘every morning drinking a glass of lemon water’, and “clean out the rubbish’. Journeys begin with a single step and succeed with regular walking; developing good routines and habits are similar.

*Sometimes there is unconscious drives not to succeed, or mixed feeling/consequence to do a task. This need exploring at the beginning.

Today is Boxing Day; despite my many efforts to figure it out I still don’t quite know what one does to commemorate it. Here’s what I will be doing. Since Someone and I pushed opening prizes to New Year’s Eve, I have time (lovely!) to get some items and wrap them all at a leisurely pace. I usually go to Barnes and Nobles between Christmas and NYE, to get me new calendars and a blank journal. This year is a bit ticklish as I usually know on the 25th if I received any calendars. This year I should wait until NYE to buy any lest I get duplicates.

The meals I so meticulously planned this weekend got all rearranged. We were too tired on Christmas Eve to make dinner, so Christmas Eve Dinner became Christmas Day Dinner. Christmas Day dinner is now happening today for Boxing Day. Several dishes were ‘first time making this’ types – and they didn’t turn out as as hoped. I made scones – for the first time – to have some buttered with tea (how jolly!!). I’ve never ate a scone, let along made them, so I had no reference how they compare to proper ones.* For a week we will be eating holiday réchauffé.

The week between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve is usually a quiet one at work as people forget they have appointments and do not show. The office is empty; apparently I am the only one working these days, but the phones will be ringing with calls from frantic patients remembering the new year means new deductibles or a change of insurance (or doctors) and they want their prescriptions filled before the stroke of midnight when their situations change. This happens every year.

This week I start working on the new year’s resolutions, after first reviewing how well I did with this year’s.** After the holiday hiatus from The Most Austere Diet, it’s time to get back to more sensible eating, but more on that anon.

Happy Boxing Day, whatever that may be!

*Someone told me mine looked more like cookies, but tasted OK. He’s only had scones at Starbucks, so this may not be objective either.

**Mixed, as usual. I do better when the goals are simple, daily, and I record what I did – like my men.

Happy Christmas to Spo-fans far and near!

Christmas Day will always be just so long as we have we.

Christmas 2021 is atypical as it is mostly postponed. We are doing ours a week hence on New Years Eve. It will feel strange to wake this morning and not open stockings and prizes – this is only the second time in my life this has happened. This gives Someone a much needed rest after all those wretched Nutcrackers. Christmas Eve dinner is delayed until today to become Christ Day dinner.

I have great no plans today other than to make breakfast and a dinner. I will call my many relations and I will send ‘Merry Christmas!’ messages to my loved ones. It will be quite a laid-back day. If I don’t watch myself, it could easily translate into a depression. No doubt I will go-a caroling to all my blogger buddies and wish them all a happy holiday.

May this Christmas season be a happy one for thems who drop in to read my scribbles. You make my Christmas lovely, knowing you are out there.

ho ho ho and God bless us everyone.

Spo

Here’s an old photo of Urs Truly in his Grinch Shirt, which still fits and looks good !

Someone works his last “Nutcracker” Christmas Eve afternoon. The odds are good he will come straight home and directly to bed. This is understandable, but a pity, as I ‘ve planned a resplendent Christmas Eve dinner. I don’t have anything else to write about at the moment, so I thought I would share. Spo.

Poinsettia Cocktails. Last year Christmas Eve we were invited to Kobalt, our favorite watering hole. Kat, our favorite bartender (oh how I miss her!), was working that night. I was horrified at the notion of spending Christmas Eve in a bar – this sounded shocking and depressing, but admittedly more pleasant than the crowd at St. Joan for ‘midnight mass’ at 7pm.* Truth be told it was jolly good fun. Kat served poinsettia cocktails – which is what I am concocting tonight. It is cranberry juice, a bit of simple syrup, some sparkling wine, and an orange twist.

Oyster dip. The Lovely Neighbor (I miss her as well!) would invite us over on Christmas Eve for drinks and nibbles. Her mother, the late Merle, always made an oyster dip. I will make some myself in honor of her and the day. I thought the recipe was a complex one but in fact it is merely tinned oysters and a certain type of diced tomatoes, served on crackers. I will eat it with relish.

Stuffed jalapenos. Years ago in Santa Fe, after a lunch in which we drank Bloody Marias, we did some temulent shopping which included a chile-shaped metal stand in which to roast jalapenos. We felt foolish at first for this purchase, but over the years we’ve used it many times. What goes for stuffing, varies with the season and one’s fancy. This year’s poppers will have in them cheese, bacon, and chopped onion.

Salmon. My Christmas Eve dinners now always have a salmon as its centerpiece, and I am not Italian either. I cooked mine in a foil wrap. The sockeye salmon (proper salmon, no rubbish) bakes in a sauce with basil and spices. I tried this before and it didn’t work out; the foil had a puncture and it made a frightful mess of things. I will double-wrap this bad boy so as not to repeat the error.

Green bean casserole. Dammit I want some, so I am making some. I will do it the good-old Midwestern way using tinned beans and cream of mushroom soup. Don’t judge. I grew up on this sort of stuff. It made me the man I am today. I will coif it a bit and make it ‘southwestern’ with some added chilies.

Speaking of Midwest traditions, my late Mother always had a birthday cake on Christmas Eve for Baby Jesus. These cakes never had candles I recall, as Baby Jesus was in our hearts and not around to blow them out. Someone and I won’t be having a cake this year, but I made some cookies. BadNoteB (the dear!) sent a recipe for ‘PMS ginger chocolate cookies’. I will serve them for ‘small chocolate cone’ tonight.** I don’t have any pain, so the ‘Pain Management Service’ element of the confection will be lost on me. I hope they pair with Constant Comment tea, which is the the official tea at Christmas time.***

Cheers!

*Over the years, attendance at midnight mass has dropped off considerably, apparently no one can or wants to stay up that late anymore. The mass, rescheduled for 7PM, swells its normal capacity five-fold and is quite boisterous what with children running around. Given covid19, I will keep away – again.

**Spos refer to all desserts as ‘small chocolate cone”. This is like the British calling all their desserts ‘pudding’.

***Addendum: I just cooked a batch of ~ 3 dozen of these cookies. They are scrumptious. The ginger and the chocolate make a lovely balance to say ‘this isn’t just an ordinary chocolate cookie’. I give them 5 stars.

The Winter Solstice entry I wrote earlier this week was a bit glum. After I wrote it, I started thinking on the theme therein of darkness vs. light. Whenever I’m in the doldrums, I turn to certain essays written by the ‘greats”. This essay is based upon the writings of an acquaintance named Patrick, who does the podcast “The Wise Hypocrite”. Spo

It’s easy to get depressed about the state of mankind, given our tendency towards negative bias. It also doesn’t help that when we tune into anything for we instantly see the all the world’s woes. People are indifferent, rude, even malicious, getting away with figurative or literal murder, because they can. Nevertheless, there are people and artwork that remind us we are capable of creating good and beautiful things; some of these transcend time and cultures to inspire us to do likewise. These splashes of sparkle remind us although we have darkness in us, we also have light.

But what if darkness and light co-exist within a person or people I know or read about in the news? What if someone with great artistry is also despicable? Am I able to look past that person’s darkness to find the light within his soul or his work?

Charles Dickens has been on my mind, as it is that time of year when his “A Christmas Carol” is on everyone’s mind, whether in book or theatre form. Mr. Dickens was a visionary and a man of great artistry, but historians agree he was a bit of a louse. In contrast to his works which extol us to treat others better than we do, he was abusive to his wife, indifferent to his children, and often money-obsessed and self-centered. The more you know about the man the harder it is to like the fellow.

Should this matter? Although I would be justified to feel so, I can’t get myself to despise Mr. Dickens. It is hard to believe that someone who created stories of such beauty and pathos is devoid of warmth and compassion. He is responsible for some of the finest works of literature; it has so enriched my life and has raised my awareness of what I can achieve. He wrote about characters with great faults yet are worthy of empathy. We need to keep applying charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence to others, not only to faulty artists but to everyone. The great work is not to forget the darkness, but to focus on the light.

What’s top of my mind: Christmas menu. Christmas Eve and Day will be low-key events here at La Casa de Spo. Someone will probably crash for the long weekend, after his marathon of “Nutcracker” jobs. While he settles down for a long winter’s nap, Urs Truly will be in the kitchen, preparing meals. There is salmon on the menu for Christmas Eve and a breakfast casserole for Christmas Morning. For Christmas dinner, I plan on baking an ersatz Honey-glazed ham. Most of these items and the sides are ‘new and adventuresome’ recipes, so fingers are crossed they pan out.

Where I’ve been: Several grocery stores. I feared for shortages, but I am relieved only one item on my shopping list is unobtainable: spray can whipped cream. Someone always makes this from scratch, but this year he asked to just use the canned stuff. Alas, Babylon! Nobody seems to have any. Maybe I am not looking in the right areas? I am not sure if it is with the milk products or what. In the end I may just whip up some anyway, as I am attempting again making a Christmas pudding. No rubbish whipped cream on my pudding thank you very much!

Where I’m going: Barnes and Noble. Now with the pressure off to have prizes bought and wrapped for Christmas morning, some of my last-minute shopping can be done at a leisure pace after the 25th. I can take advantage of any bargains too. I always go to Barnes and Noble after Christmas to get a blank journal for the pending year; let’s see if they have a new board game on sale that Someone would enjoy playing.

What I’m watching: Snow. I miss snow, particularly at this time of the year. On The Tube of Yous there are several videos of snow fall, ranging from gently-falling flakes to windswept blizzards. I feel good watching them; I could do so for hours.

What I’m reading: Eloise at Christmas. I have a handful of books from my youth I enjoy reading at Christmas time. The perpetually six years old Eloise lives at The Plaza, which she makes her personal playhouse at Christmas time.

What I’m listening to: My favorite Christmas tunes. My iPhone has hundreds of Christmas carols. I have narrowed down 60 of them to a new playlist: “Christmas favorites”. There is one for each carol, chosen as ‘the best of the lot’. There are a few ‘new to me”. Here’s one:

What I’m eating: BBQ Peanuts. Every year at Christmas time I combine at jar of dry roasted peanuts with a 1/4 cup of BBQ sauce, some melted butter, garlic salt, and a few drops of hot sauce – the hotter the better. The peanuts are cooked on a cookie pan on parchment paper at 350F for ~ 20 minutes, being mindful they don’t dry out and burn. They are the official Christmas munching snack here at La Casa de Spo. This year’s batch wasn’t too hot. Next year I should use more drops.

Who needs a good slap: The b-stards who burned down the Yule Goat. Every year in a town in Sweden they erect a large straw Christmas display of The Yule Goat and every year someone tries to burn it down. Most years someone succeeds, unfortunately. In the past few years The Yule Goat survived, which was heartening as it seemed to give hope about surviving the pandemic. Last week, TYG 2021 was torched and is gone.

I give the arsonists on a 1-5 scale, 5 slaps.

What I’m planning: Burning the house down. Speaking of arson at Christmas, I have a deer and special silver candelabra in the shape of a reindeer. There are four smaller versions on the dining room table, with long red taper candles in each of them. On Christmas Eve I light them, along with the tea lights in the various containers about the house. Every year when I do this Someone frets I will burn the house down. It hasn’t happened yet, but one can hope.

What’s making me smile: The Phallogical Museum in Reykjavik. My Icelandic heartthrob Mr. Gunnarson on The Tube of Yous recently opened his chili advent calendar to find a jar of hot pickles. While examining the pickle on the end of his fork, he made a comment ‘It looks like something out of The Phallogical Museum.’ I looked this up. Patience above! There really is a museum of that name! I won’t go into details on this; I will just say the notion of a museum entirely devoted to such objects not only makes smile but guffaw out loud. I wonder if it has a gift shop? The mind boggles.

Every winter about now I try to write something profound and reflective in honor of the solemnity of solstice. Being in the dark is sometimes when the light of inspiration best shines forth.* Many cultures in the northern hemisphere have some sort of ritual for this day. It is hard for modern man to appreciate the season of winter was a chancy time; some would not survive to see the spring. There were food shortages and illnesses and cold to carry one off. The fact the sun returned every spring didn’t assure anyone that this would always happen. Thanks to the pandemic, we are feeling something our ancestors experienced every winter: will we survive to see the spring? Perhaps the world is in a sort of solstice: stagnation and dark times, with wonders will the light return or will we decay into darkness.

The pandemic reminds us of our frailty and mortality and frailty. This should shake us up to be mindful and not let our lives go to waste on useless and meaningless past times.

I try to end my solstice entries on a hopeful note, making a simile to the return of the sun when things look darkest. This year, I am not feeling so hopeful. The sun will slowly return, but I don’t see warmth and good times ahead. Rather than feeling hope, there is some comfort while some of us will not live to see the spring it won’t be all of us. We will do what needs to be done and do The Right Thing. That is my solstice message for 2021. Persevere.

*In literature this is called ‘Ascensus averni’, where a character descends into a literal or psychological hell to encounter some sort of truth or revelation. They return to the surface a different person. They are not often happy for the Journey, but they are wiser.

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