Holiday Traditions

This post comes out of a recent conversation with friends over coffee, in which we were talking about our respective families’ traditions for the Christmas season and where those traditions came from.

  • Food: we cook much more frequently over the Christmas break than during the rest of the year, where by “cook” I mean really cook (as in make stuff that takes more time than we would normally have during a typical day). A big part of this is tied to work schedules: the lab where I work shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s Day each year and I usually bracket that with additional personal leave to stretch it even longer. This is something we’ve just sort of grown into over the past 10 years or so.
  • The Christmas tree: usually up around mid-December (these days tied to Ian’s arrival home from school) and down on the 1st or 2nd of January. My least favorite tradition, truth be told.
  • Christmas music: we almost always have some sort of Christmas or holiday-ish music playing during this same period, with “The Andy Williams Christmas Album” occupying a special place in the play list as the most important. I remember listening to this each year as a kid, and at some point we ended up with it on CD. Cheesy, but still my favorite Christmas album (probably as much for the memories as for the actual music).
  • Baking Christmas goodies: my fudge, Ian’s peppermint strips, sugar cookies (most decorated, of course), Deb’s pecan fingers, holiday breads. Some to eat, lots to share and give as gifts. This is something both Deb’s and my families did as we were growing up.
  • Clam chowder and candlelight church on Christmas Eve: the clam chowder part is from my family; we both grew up going to church on Christmas eve.
  • Hot chocolate and cookies before bed on Christmas Eve: something my family always did after coming home from church.
  • Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning: this is something my mom did some years as I was growing up, and I love getting up early on Christmas morning and making them for my family.
  • Christmas stockings before breakfast on Christmas morning, opening gifts after breakfast: definitely from my family, rather than Deb’s. Stockings were always one of my favorite parts of Christmas growing up, and still are. The challenge at this point is convincing Li to let Ian sleep until something he would consider a “reasonable” hour (maybe a little after 8:00 am, these days).
  • The bibliophilic elf: each year, each of us gets a book from a certain literature-loving elf, something we started about 10 years ago. This tradition is one of our own.
  • Jigsaw puzzles: more from Deb and Deb’s family than mine. Deb always gets a puzzle started and everyone helps, whether it is looking for a piece or two as they walk by, or pulling up a chair and sitting down for an extended period of time to work on it. There is almost always a puzzle or two under the tree for all of us each year, and we often work through half a dozen or more before the puzzle table gets put away.

We also tend to play lots of board and card games, and we tend to stay up late watching movies (or, the past couple years, binge-watching something Ian has found like “Firefly” or “Battlestar Galactica”), but I’m not sure those have yet reached what I would consider full tradition status. We also almost always spend a few days with my parents and with Deb’s parents somewhere during time around Christmas, either here or at their respective homes; again, part of our typical Christmas Season but not necessarily what I would call tradition.

 I’ve thought about some of these things this Christmas, given a conversation with Deb back in mid-December when we were talking about Christmas. There is actually quite a bit about “Christmas” I really don’t like: the busyness, shopping, unwanted obligations or things we do just because we feel like we ought to or are expected to (we all have them, right?), dicey travel conditions, the clutter, the overly-commercial aspect that Christmas has taken on. The parts I really like are the time spent together as a family (all of us home from work and school) and the food (the eating but even more so the preparation together). Some of that almost certainly comes through in looking at what we’ve turned into our family traditions.

The streak continues…

My streak of some sort of travel anomaly is clearly alive and well, based on my experience today traveling to DC.

… my streak of bad luck traveling. OK, not seriously bad luck, but just enough to make one wonder.

I’m in DC this week — traveling with Jeff — for work, and rather than wait for the trip home at the end of the week to continue my stretch of some sort of travel anomaly, we decided to get it going early this time: some sort of failure on the “igniters” on the plane scheduled to take us from Salt Lake to Cincinnati as they started the engines to leave. (Igniters? Sounds more like something we’d find on a rocket…)

An hour and a half later, we left Salt Lake which meant of course we just missed our connection in Cincinnati, so we got to hang out in the Cincinnati airport and enjoy a (not-so-fine) dining experience there rather than somewhere good (read: with food) in DC. The interesting part about just missing our connection is that our bags made the connection and were waiting for us in at the Delta luggage place in the bowels of the airport. Of course, we only went there because our bags didn’t come out at the baggage claim place for our flight. Go figure…

A good thing: our hotel is right next door to a 24-hour CVS, so Jeff is in CVS heaven this week.

More St. Louis…

We are ready to get home again. Ian and Teagan’s preso on Wednesday morning went very well, the Arch is cooler than I expected, we had great Indian and sushi… and if all goes well, we’ll be home to our own beds tomorrow evening.

Teagan (l) and Ian (r) at the top of the arch (01/2010)
Teagan (l) and Ian (r) at the top of the Arch on Wednesday afternoon (01/2010)

… and I think we are all ready to be home again.

Ian and Teagan’s presentation on Wednesday morning went really well, striking a nice blend of the geek stuff. They seemed comfortable doing it, and seemed to have fun in doing it. Very well-received by the audience, and I think it was more than just being polite; a number of them were genuinely impressed with what these guys had accomplished. As a dad, to say I was a little proud of these guys would be a big understatement.

They had a bit of time in the afternoon when there wasn’t anything on the conference agenda that appealed to them during the afternoon, so we wandered down to the arch (our hotel is less than a mile from the park with the arch, or “The Arch”, I suppose). I have to admit I was not expecting all that much, but it was way cooler than I had anticipated… and not just the weather, although it did start snowing while we were up at the top. I knew it was big, but I really didn’t have a sense of its scale and it really is pretty impressive. We walked back to the hotel in an increasingly-dense snow shower.

Sculpture, downtown St. Louis
A rare splash of color in St. Louis: cool jazz sculpture in the snow near Laclede's Landing in downtown St. Louis (01/2010)

Food has been a pleasant surprise here in St. Louis, to put it mildly. We had excellent Indian on Wednesday evening at India’s Rasoi on Euclid with Bryan (Ian’s and Teagan’s mentor); it was exceptional and we all came home impressed and stuffed. We went a little lighter this evening with very good sushi (edamame, nagiri, and a couple different rolls) from Wasabi on Washington, then we wandered around in a cool foodie grocery/deli called Culinaria on 9th and came back to the hotel with ice cream.

Tomorrow we head for home, and we’re all ready — at least mentally — to be home again. Likely to be a long day, given that we aren’t scheduled to get back into IF until almost 11pm… I can’t say I will feel bad about leaving St. Louis. It has been cold, almost exclusively grey, and damp the whole time. Aside from the food and the Arch, there just really isn’t much here that we’ve seen that would make me want to come back but I also recognize that we haven’t had much of a chance to get out and do much and January in the midwest really hasn’t given St. Louis much of a chance to impress.

St. Louis so far…

St. Louis so far is definitely a mixed bag: ugly ride into town on the train, but a decent hotel and good food. Awards presentation for Ian and Teagan yesterday morning, their big presentation this morning, and sushi on the menu for tonight.

Ian and Teagan on the train into St. Louis
Ian (l) and Teagan (r) on the train into St. Louis Monday afternoon (01/2010)

… is kind of a mixed bag. Ian, Teagan (a friend of Ian’s), and I are back here for the week for a conference (more on that in a bit), but I don’t yet really have much of an opinion aside from initial impressions. We flew in on Monday and rode the train from the airport into the downtown area to the hotel. The train ride was grey, brown, and rust: a grey blustery day, nothing green in sight, and passing through areas of run-down industrial and urban decay on the west side of the city. I’m a little surprised at the lack of effort on the part of the city to do anything to clean up the area, given the impression it leaves on someone new to town. Depressing.

The hotel where we are staying and where the conference is being hosted is pretty decent and is big enough that it doesn’t seem stretched to hold us all. Decent food within walking distance (very good Italian at J.F. Sanfilippo’s on Monday — made even better by great service — and decent Med last night at Nara’s). Looks like several sushi and Irish places close to us, too. We’ll probably check those out the next couple evenings. We haven’t really had much of a chance to get out and see anything, but the food and the hotel have been a bit of a counterpoint to the ride in…

Ian and Teagan were presented their awards at the conference yesterday morning in one of the plenary sessions, following a great presentation by Alan Paller of the SANS Institute. I’ll post a picture or two if I can track them down. They have their presentation this morning; I’m sure both of them will be glad to be past that so they can just enjoy the rest of the conference.

Chicago: Last day

It’s been a full week here in Chicago; we’re almost done with the conference and presentations. Now if we just make it out of O’Hare on time…

I head for home later today, and with any luck will be back in my own bed this evening…

It’s been a really full week here in Chicago. Three of the four presentations we’re involved in are now past — I  have one left that I am leading today — and one of them went well, the others not so much. That’s fodder for another post (or not). At any rate, it has been a good week here in Chicago:

  • We’ve been able to connect (or re-connect in some cases) with people we work with and rarely get to talk to face-to-face
  • A couple of very interesting sessions at the conference itself
  • Great weather, good food (had good deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East on Superior on Tuesday, and a pretty good filet at Shula’s steakhouse last night), and a pretty decent conference facility

Now if we can just make it out of O’Hare on time this afternoon. I was amazed at how quickly we got out of O’Hare when we came in Sunday evening (under 15 minutes between when we stepped off the plane and when the shuttle pulled away from the curb), but I think this will likely be a different story.

I am missing Deb, Li, and Ian. This post from Jeffrey Zeldman’s blog yesterday hit home; I just wonder if the postscript is a noun, a verb, or just an exclamation…