Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Feast of Stephen

St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr; the Western church celebrates St. Stephen's Day on December 26, the second day of Christmas.  That's "the feast of Stephen" that one hears about in Good King Wenceslas. (Never mind that he was really a duke and his name was Václav!)

Today is St. Stephen's Day, and after the frenetic rush to Christmas, it seems to be time to slow down a bit.  My Feast of Stephen will be a modest one by comparison to some peoples' excesses of the past two days, but I've invited a few friends over and we will surely enjoy ourselves.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure of Emory Cottage is cooking.  The kitchen was designed to be both an efficient workspace and a friendly social space.  It's big enough to be both at the same time for half-a-dozen people.  We'll have as much fun preparing the modest feast as we will eating it.

I've always delighted in silliness, so I loved How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  The centerpiece of tonight's feast just has to be ... roast beast.  Not the whole beast, for there are only a few of us, but I got a wonderful beef tenderloin from the market early this morning.  It'll be roasted and served with a port wine sauce.

What else?  Well broccoli gets flown in from the southern hemisphere almost as easily as from California, and it's a cool-weather vegetable anyway.  A Cheddar cheese and beer sauce should make it go well with the roast beast.  As long as I'm roasting, perhaps some roasted potatoes with rosemary.  With a salad, home-baked French bread, and perhaps some cheese beforehand, that should make a pretty nice feast.

Except we need some dessert.  I haven't had any pumpkin pie yet this season, so I think I'll do that.  And, since I'm buying things flown in from elsewhere, perhaps some strawberries and raspberries in Grand Marnier for those who do not care for pie. (I'll hide the spray can of whipped cream from the guests.  ... Oh, wait!  That won't work because they'll all be in the kitchen.  Oh, well.)

I'm looking forward to a pretty easy day of preparation, ending surrounded by friends.  I'd like to think St. Stephen would be pleased.

December 27...
Everything worked, and a good time was had by all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What's The Matter With Kids Today ?

Last week I was invited to a "Career Day" at a big high school in Marietta, Georgia, possibly because I can do a double-feature: I can tell what it's like to be an information technology manager and also what it's like to be a college teacher.

I went with a little trepidation.  Remember the song Kids from Bye Bye Birdie?  "Kids! They are just impossible to control! Kids! With their awful clothes and their rock an' roll!"  I was pretty certain the end of civilization had already begun, and that it had started in high schools.

Ms. March, a mathematics teacher, took me to two of her classes to talk with the students for half an hour or so.  The first was a class of freshmen, so they were 14-15 years old.  At first they let me talk, but they'd been given a list of questions to ask, and a couple of students broke the ice with the canned questions.  I got a few questions that weren't on the list, too. Although, when I asked who wanted to be a teacher, only two of them raised hands, they seemed genuinely interested in what it was like.  They were more interested in teaching than computing, too.

The second class was much smaller, and juniors, so perhaps 17 years old.  They were more at ease (not to say rowdy!) with having a visitor in their class.  With a couple of exceptions, they were engaged in the discussion and interested in learning about something new.

Was there weird clothing?  Sure!  On the other hand, they probably thought my blue blazer, white shirt with regimental tie, and khaki gabardines were pretty weird, too.  Why, no item of my clothing had a skull anywhere on it!

These are the kids Strauss and Howe call Millennials.  They'll make up most of the U.S. Congress when I'm an old (older!) man, and one of them will be President in my last years.

I haven't made a study of generations, but I've watched many people make the transition from childhood to adulthood in my college classroom over the past 14 years.  I think of the college class of 2015 as part of the Digital Generation.  They have no memory of a time without computers and the Internet, of course we send manned flights into outer space, and of course the kids' "gear" interoperates wirelessly and seamlessly.  That's the way things work... I thought you knew!  (They've also never heard a telephone ring.  Their phones play music and their parents' phones make a gobbling sound like an electronic turkey.  Yes, I do have a cellular phone, and yes, it has a ringtone of two brass bells of different pitches ringing alternately.)

If I worry about these kids at all, I worry they're being over-protected and that the transition to the reality of adulthood will be a rude, possibly fatal, shock for them.  When I was that age, we walked to school, and yes, it was uphill both ways... in the snow!  The more important point is that, between 3:15 when I got out of elementary school and 5:30 or 6:00, I was "out playing."  My parents didn't have a clue where I was, and everyone thought that was OK.  The phrases "soccer mom" and "bicycle helmet" were not a part of the English language.  The only danger I ever heard a parent worry about out loud was polio.  The other dangers were as prevalent then as now; we simply didn't worry about them.  And, mostly, they didn't kill us.  I guess I'm with Friedrich Nietzsche on that one.  (And if any of you kids is reading this, look it up!  We didn't have Google then, either!)

My trip to Sprayberry High School left me feeling pretty good about the kids who will be running the world when I'm a little old man.  I hope they invite me again next year!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In Praise of Things Warm

When I built Emory Cottage, I built in a few small luxuries.  I've lived here for about six months now, and the weather is beginning to turn chilly.  Now that it's late in the fall, I have realized that my small luxuries all have to do with keeping warm.

The first, and perhaps the greatest of the luxuries is the hot water system.  I bought a good gas-fired water heater, but the most important thing is that the hot water pipes are arranged in a loop and equipped with a pump.  So, hot water is pumped out of the tank, through the loop, and returns to the tank.  That means I have instant hot water everywhere in the house.  (That's good, because the guest bath is about as far as you can get from the water heater!)  The plumbing contractor installed the piping and a fractional-horsepower pump.  I insulated the pipes with closed-foam insulation, available from Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.  An eighteen dollar Intermec seven day electronic timer runs the pump when I'm at home and turns it off when I'm away or asleep.

I was a little worried that my hot water luxury would be expensive to operate, and I am happily surprised that it's not.  My gas bills have been less than those for the tiny apartment where I lived while I was planning and building Emory Cottage.  While I was waiting for water to warm up in the apartment, hot water was coming out of the tank and cold water was going down the drain.  When I turned the water off, pipes full of hot water warmed the spaces in the walls.  I'm using less water, too, because I don't have to let it run to warm up.  So, this luxury actually saves a few cents to a few dollars every month.

The second luxury is a mirror heater.  That one does cost money to operate; it consumes about 70 watts whenever the vanity light in the bathroom is on.  It's worth every penny of it because I can see myself in the mirror when I get out of the shower!

The idea for the tile heaters in the bathrooms came from the Roman hypocaust, the forerunner of modern central heating.  The tile heaters cost money to run, too, but it is a delight to step out of the shower onto a warm floor.  The toasty toesies make it worth every cent.

By replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, I have probably saved enough electricity to pay for operating the mirror and tile heaters.

The final luxury is a gas starter in the fireplace.  I can go from dark and cold to a cozy fire in just a few minutes.  When I finally get too old to carry logs, I can install a "gas log" and still have fires in winter.

I'm looking forward to a toasty-warm winter in Emory Cottage.